Friday, August 29, 2014
New York Times pseudo-thinker Josh Barro: Don’t Want Me to Recline My Airline Seat? You Can Pay Me
And a response, Damon Darlin: In Defense of the Knee Defender
Barro appeals to an icon of economics: Ronald Coase. "[A]irline seats are an excellent case study for the Coase Theorem. This is an economic theory holding that it doesn’t matter very much who is initially given a property right; so long as you clearly define it and transaction costs are low, people will trade the right so that it ends up in the hands of whoever values it most."
Coase had plenty of time to clarify what he meant by his 'theorem' (which, as others have noted, was not a theorem anyway). A former student of his, the noted Deirdre McCloskey, has argued that the popular understanding of Coase's 'theorem' is mistaken. I'm not aware that Coase ever chimed in on McCloskey's argument one way or another.
The obvious problem with Josh Barro's (pathetic) line of reasoning lies in confused handwaving over property rights (or 'property' 'rights').
My first thought on reading Barro was: How American. Only an American would whine about rights over being able to shove his seat back into another person's face.
My second thought was: Josh should have paid more attention in his daddy's or Greg Mankiw's courses (not that either Robert Barro or Greg Mankiw have a particularly good track record in economics).
But the real issue is twofold. The practical component is: What rights does a passenger acquire when buying a ticket for a flight? The airline could designs seats in any of a number of ways.
The more general component is: How do we adequately describe or specify property rights to make sense of Coase's 'theorem'? The answer is that we can almost always come up with conundrums in any but the most painfully artificial examples of the kind that right-wing nutjobs like Mankiw and Barro like to advance an utterly disproven body of economic theory.
For example, in the case of the airline seats, why not pose the problem in terms of the air rights of the seat occupant behind the recliner? Philosophers (typically ignored by conservative economists who can't bear any inconvenient facts or thought) will point out that rights conflict. So there will be +no+ well-defined specification of property rights in the sense required by Coase. Logically impossible.
Friday, July 25, 2014
No mention of attacks on civilians sheltered at UN facilities.
No mention of Palestinian-hating Israelis like Rabbi Dov Lior or Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman ... or Benjamin Netanyahu.
No mention of the support of American anti-Palestinian bigots like Michael Bloomberg or Chuck Schumer. ...Or Barack Obama, who will never dare support the kinds of sanctions against Israel that he has brought against Russia, though by _any_ measure Israel's crimes are far worse.
No mention of how the "Middle East's only democracy" is clamping down on free speech and democracy for Palestinians _and_ for Israelis like those at B'Tselem, which has been barred from airing the names of the children Israel has killed.
Israel is firmly convinced it can win because of American support. And many people who claim to support peace refuse to condemn Israeli crimes or American support for those crimes — people like Roger Cohen.
Wednesday, March 12, 2014
Edward Snowden has rightly charged Feinstein with hypocrisy. So, too, has Norman Solomon.
There is a clear, recent precedent for this. German Chancellor Angela Merkel was silent when news broke that the United States had been spying on Germans (and pretty much everybody else). Then it emerged that the Obama-istas had also been monitoring Merkel's own calls . . . for over 10 years. Merkel, previously sanguine about the American Stasi, was upset.
The US, we now know, has been spying on pretty much anything that can utter a sentence. What threat the G8 and G20 summits presented is anybody's guess. But Canadian PM Stephen Harper allowed that, so maybe he knows.
Internet transparency advocate and computer surveillance expert Jacob Appelbaum has detailed, at length, the many ways in which the US spymasters track us. It is very disturbing. And Sen. Ron Wyden has said, effectively, "We ain't seen nuthin' yet." Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras and others who really know what is in the complete body of leaked NSA material have echoed Wyden. Jacob Appelbaum also led a Der Spiegel series on the NSA's spy kit.
Political theorist David Runciman argues that hypocrisy is part of what it is to be human, and especially part of what it is to be a politician. Witness, for example, the American and European hysteria over the Russian invasion ("incursion," in the language of American media) of the Crimean Peninsula. This is an act of "aggression," an "outrage," a "violation of international law." Israel, of course, has done far worse in the West Bank and Gaza for nearly 50 years. (To my knowledge the Russians have not killed tens of thousands of Ukrainians or "ethnically cleansed" hundreds of thousands.) And Russia has used Israel's excuse: It's defending its people. The US could hardly claim that (though it did try) in Iraq (twice) or Grenada or Nicaragua or Chile, or in any of a dozen or more other places that have enjoyed American "generosity" over the past 60 years.
Some resources (to be updated):
Jacob Appelbaum on the frightening array of technologies used by the NSA, CIA and others: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vILAlhwUgIU
Applebaum on NSA hacking unit and, believe it or not, the NSA's catalog of spy gear.
The Intercept. The new online journalism project of Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Jeremy Scahill, and others.
Thursday, January 30, 2014
Wealth Supremacism: The Real Reason the Harvard Study on Mobility is a 'Landmark' in the Eyes of American Media
The more important reason this is a 'landmark' study in the eyes of NPR or New York Times or Post pundits and editors is that it fits very nicely into the outcomes that they find tolerable. It fits into the prevailing attitude of wealth supremacism. The Bill Kellers or Robert Samuelsons or Cokie Robertses embrace inequality. That want more inequality. They firmly believe that the privileged are innately superior. They absolutely will not tolerate scientific findings that clearly support a case for redistribution of wealth. This cannot be overemphasized. How many mainstream observers of President Obama's State of the Union address obsessed over any possible redistributive implications of his statements:
- The Economist; "Obamacare and inequality — A healthy dose of redistribution";
- Conservative, Clinton-style Democrat William Galston at Brookings;
- Britain's Telegraph newspaper: "Barack Obama calls for more redistribution of wealth";
Here is 'noted' Harvard economist Gregory Mankiw: "Smart parents make more money and pass those good genes on to their offspring."
This is the thinking underlying eugenics, and it is a pervasive and growing conviction among American conservatives, moderates, and no small percentage of progressives. (And not just among Americans.) It is reflected in the cultish adoration of evolutionary psychology and evolutionary economics, and the gross misunderstandings of genetics and biology common among people generally, social scientists, and even many biologists. Stephen Jay Gould was an outstanding thinker on these issues. Richard Lewontin and others still write on these matters.
I highly recommend Dean Baker's writing on the Chetty mobility study:
Friday, September 27, 2013
"Robert Benmosche, the chief executive of the American International Group, said something stupid the other day. And we should be glad, because his comments help highlight an important but rarely discussed cost of extreme income inequality — namely, the rise of a small but powerful group of what can only be called sociopaths."Billionaire Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group (who through a $3 million birthday party for himself in 2007) said, "It’s a war; it’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939." Krugman left out Lloyd Blankfein's "We are doing God's work".
Berkeley scientists published a 2012 paper: "Higher social class predicts increased unethical behavior." Inequality promotes rule-breaking, indifference to others, etc., in those who are better off.
Is it any surprise that greater inequality causes greater immorality? In the course of their money-grubbing, the Benmosches and Schwarzmans and Blankfeins must realize that there is no real justification for anyone making billions while huge numbers struggle at minimum wage. People like Michael Bloomberg (whose wealth grew by about $4 billion in just one year) must either admit that they are leaches or they must invent some 'justification'.
Psychologists call it "cognitive dissonance". Orwell called it "doublethink".
In a different time, monarchs invoked a "divine right of kings". Blankfein, Benmosche, et al., think likewise, that they are divinely entitled. Right-wing economists like Gregory Mankiw appeal instead to innate superiority deriving from genetics. This is a familiar phenomenon in the US. Horrific American behavior in Iraq or Afghanistan is excusable because "Americans aren't really like that". Americans are "exceptional" — citizens of, as Christiane Amanpour put it, the world's "most moral country" or as Madeleine Albright said, "the world's only indispensable nation".
Whatever it's called, the outcome is the same — a wonderland in which gross misdeeds aren't simply justified, they're moral.
Inability to place blame where blame is due when doing so would undermine American jingoist mythology — an essential requirement for any American pundit.
The 1953 overthrow of Mossadegh. Years of of support for the brutal Shah. The 1988 attack on Iran Air Flight 655, killing 290 (after which the Vincennes Capt. Rogers was rewarded). Years of increasingly brutal sanctions whose only substantive impact is on average Iranians. Overflights by American drones. Likely US support for military incursions into Iran (as reported by Seymour Hersh), which are acts of war under the international law the US demands Iran obey. The placement of US forces in nearly every country bordering Iran. The Stuxnet attack concocted by the US and Israel. A constant stream of invective and bigotry from Americans against Iranians and Islam. US support for and training of the MEK and blind eye turned toward express violations by prominent Americans (like Rudolf Giuliani) of US laws against support for terrorism.
And Mr. Cohen's most glaring omission: The slavish obedience of American politicians (and pundits) to Israel's Likudniks, including AIPAC.
What about this is just perceived? What about it would given any Iranian, even the most liberal, any reason to trust the US?
The real question is what humiliations remain unperceived, still secret.
Saturday, September 7, 2013
Friday, August 9, 2013
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Jay Rosen of NYU has a nice essay on the inability of pundits like Jeffrey Toobin to tolerate support for Edward Snowden. Here are some of my thoughts:
Despite the appearance of contradiction (and while there is a tension), one can be consistent in thinking that the debate resulting from Snowden's leaks is good although Snowden's actions themselves are bad.
Jeffrey Toobin seems conservative to me. He certainly falls within the spectrum of standard American thinking where actions are justified instrumentally — by virtue of the good outcomes those actions produce. (The most dogmatically held example of this in the US is the conviction that enormous inequality is justified by the 'trickle down' effect.) So if the debate resulting from Snowden's actions is a good thing, Toobin must believe there is some overriding negative outcome that makes Snowden's actions bad. This could be a coherent argument, but neither Toobin nor others attacking Snowden make it because there is little real argument nor any wish for such in the mainstream about Snowden.
My suspicion regarding Toobin's (and others') distress over Snowden's leaks is threefold:
- Toobin and many journalists, scholars, observers like him (e.g., Matt Yglesias, Chris Hayes, David Gregory, etc.) deeply, personally identify with power, especially Washington ("This Town", as Mark Leibovich has described). They have powerful incentives to do so; their wellbeing as pilot fish depends on that of the sharks.
- They therefore see criticism of Obama or the US government as criticism of themselves.
- They are profoundly unable to conceive of the possibility that American leaders, in government or business, might be guilty of really awful wrongdoing. This is why years ago, for example, Toobin could casually attack OJ Simpson before the facts were in, but cannot criticize any American leader, like Obama, as a plausible candidate for war crimes charges.
Snowden or Wikileaks generate cognitive dissonance for the Toobins in America. They resolve the dissonance with just-so stories that exonerate American power. If they actually thought about it, they could construct a coherent argument. They are unaccustomed to doing so because the US culture is one that bitterly rejects challenges to power, fashion, wealth, fame.
"[D]emocracy here at home must be balanced against the requirements of security." What would be the response to: "Security here at home must be balanced against the requirements of democracy"? The notion that democracy brings demands seems to have been lost.
How would Obama or Sen. Feinstein or any of those who endlessly defend government abuses react if there were a broad, deep public demand for democracy, defense of rights, and an end to massive surveillance? If we have not already reached the point of no return, we are rapidly approaching one where a surge in public opposition would provoke a constitutional crisis worse than that seen in the Civil War. The crisis will likely never arise because the public is so misinformed, so deceived, and so dogmatic in its faithful attachment to American power that the demand will never be made.
Lest this seem like conspiracy theorizing or just handwaving, recall that in the Nixon years, calls by some within the administration for more troops in Vietnam were opposed because it was thought those troops might be needed in the US to quell domestic unrest. Recall also that both Bush and Obama made legal moves that would, in principle, undermine posse comitatus and allow use of US troops within the US.
Finally, despite racist hostility to Obama or malicious GOP opposition to anything Democratic, Americans are still overwhelmingly of the view that we owe obedience to political leaders. Americans identify the powerful in America with America itself. And they suffer under the delusion that they, any day now, will win the lottery and join the powerful.
Monday, February 4, 2013
... No beast so fierce but knows some touch of pity.
Gloucester (Richard)Charlotte Higgins, writing in the UK's Guardian newspaper, raises some doubts about the science and a far more important point about popular science.
But I know none, and therefore am no beast.
Skepticism regarding the validity of the claim that the remains are indeed those of Richard III has nothing at all to do with the more important, genuine issue of what discoveries like this have to do with broader scientific efforts.
I couldn't help noticing that the de facto spokesperson among the scientists on this project just happens to be the most attractive female, Jo Appleby. This is a symptom of a poisonous trend in the sciences — that to be worthy of public support, they must be popular and 'relevant'. The New York Times and the BBC both have pet, pretty scientists who write or host pieces from time to time. What a coincidence that they are so photogenic. Stephen Hawking is also a creature of this phenomenon. How good a scientist he is has less to do with his popularity than the freak-show factor, which brings an audience.
The standard for science today is the American Standard. It must have the potential to drum up millions in funding. We expect private corporations to lust after money and nothing more (though once upon a time, many leading firms had great pure research arms, like Bell Labs decades ago).
The same standard is applied to the arts and more or less every other human effort where once non-profit meant non-profit. Thus we see the absurd success of (con-)artists like Damien Hirst. Or Marc Quinn's gold (22 pounds of gold) statue of Kate Moss first shown at the British Museum. Important museum shows take a back seat to yet another round of Impressionists who will pull in hordes of ticket buyers. University presses like Oxford's or Harvard's, once specializing in books that might no more than five thousand readers, increasingly demand that a book be able to sell at least tens of thousands of copies to be 'worth' publishing.
Everything must be 'monetized' because contemporary culture values money above all things, even money as the only thing.
Monday, January 28, 2013
Paul Krugman writes again today on the intellectual bubble conservatives continue to inhabit while trying to pretend otherwise to win votes. Not only do Republican politicians live in an intellectual bubble (joined by conservative and pseudo-moderate Democrats), so too do journalists and scholars who claim to find 'evidence' supporting right-wing GOP economic policies. Conservative politicians may be grossly ill-informed or just weak-minded. But what accounts for undeniably very-intelligent researchers like Gregory Mankiw or Glenn Hubbard? Economics is dominated by conservative thinking.
The question is not whether the intellectual bubble exists, but, firast, how it is kept inflated despite all the evidence that should burst it and, second, what cherished belief is at its center.
I think the answer is profoundly troubling. A significant body of conservatives and pseudo-moderates (e.g., Cass Sunstein) are wealth supremacists. They believe that the wealthy are naturally superior — even biologically so. Gregory Mankiw stated this explicitly in his blog in August, 2009. He asserted that children of the wealthy perform better in school because they've inherited their wealthy parents' superior genes.
Conservatives (and pseudo-moderates) aren't all so extreme. But American culture is thick with evidence that many people, perhaps most, view the wealthy or famous as simply better people. It is quite amazing and disturbing that Americans have effectively reinstituted a divine right of wealth that many would have said we abolished two centuries ago.
Monday, January 21, 2013
Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Consider some of the other instances of Bloomberg's indifference to 'lesser' New Yorkers — stop and frisk, spying on Muslims, indifference to accidental electrocutions of pedestrians, construction accidents, flying to one of his several estates during a huge snow storm.
Bloomberg, like a huge percentage of American politicians and business elite, does indeed think he knows what's best for us. More so than many, and like a large percentage of the 0.1 percent, he also thinks he is just better than us. He believes that we owe him obedience, loyalty, and appreciation. This is a point made regarding many of the wealthiest Americans by Chrystia Freeland in her book "Plutocrats."
In direct opposition to many, I have always thought that Bloomberg should be disqualified from high elected office precisely because he is so wealthy. I do not believe, as many apparently do of Bloomberg, Romney and others, that a person is qualified because he is 'successful' in business (or that being wealthy is evidence of success in business; consider Wall Street post-crisis).
People were outraged by resources diverted to marathoners. How many could be housed in Bloomberg's five or six mansions?
How can a person worth many billions in any way grasp the circumstances of an average resident, even if he "came up from nothing" (something that is not true about Bloomberg anyway)? Some evidently do — perhaps Andrew Carnegie, George Soros. But we must ask what kind of person seeks to accumulate wealth on the scale of a Bloomberg. Can such a person be well-suited to hold office? What kind of indifference to others is required to hold such wealth when so many are so needy?
This is not an endorsement of strict egalitarianism, or even rough egalitarianism. It is a condemnation of radical inequality. Isn't it interesting that egalitarians are condemned as extremists but not those who embrace extreme inequality?
The mayor whom Joe Nocera considers one of New York's greatest has endorsed massive development projects, but has done remarkably little to address ongoing problems of the city's infrastructure or housing. Could someone who had ridden the city's subways for years allowed so little substantive improvement? Or someone who went to public schools spend so much time vilifying teachers? The answer, of course, is actually yes, but my contention is that someone of such long-standing, extreme privilege is too my removed from the live of the average to be able to govern well.
Saturday, October 6, 2012
Friday, October 5th, saw Bureau of Labor Statistics reports on the employment numbers for the US. It was good news for Obama, with the overall unemployment rate dropping below 8 percent. Strikingly, a large number of conservatives suggested that the numbers had been fudged to suit the Obama campaign. Most notable among these was former GE titan Jack Welch.
Indeed, the most telling development regarding the employment numbers was in the responses of many Republicans and conservatives. Some were surprising, like the idiotic blather of Welch who sounds more like a Tea Party lunatic now. Others, like those of Fox News, were just boringly predictable. They are of a piece with the birthed delusions still entertained by the likes of Donald Trump.
These responses have in common one thing — dangerous, malicious indifference to scientific fact, an indifference also seen on climate change, evolutionary theory, etc. All people show a capacity to 'massage' facts when trying to reconcile emotional responses with observation. But the comments of conservative 'leaders' like Welch or of many right-wing voters interviewed in the past 24 hours show something worse — an absolute determination to disregard all facts to preserve a dogmatic adherence to right-wing articles of faith.
The economics profession itself is not immune. Consider the right-wing economists who still tout the thoroughly debunked notion that lowering taxes invariably increases revenue (though over 35 years of Reaganite tax policy has failed to produce any evidence to support this).
The conservative fanaticism is so great that they'll destroy respected government institutions, like the Bureau of Labor Statistics, to further their agenda. Liberals have shown no comparable inclination.
Thursday, October 4, 2012
Wednesday, September 26, 2012
"[C]risis initiation is really tough."
Washington Institute for Near East Peace (de facto 'think tank' arm of AIPAC) is pushing for war with Iran. Patrick Clawson, director of 'research', made that remarkable statement, reported by Mondoweiss.
What a striking comment. Of course, the US has done a lot of crisis initiation. The Bush administration initiated the post-9/11 crisis with Iraq. I've often thought that the cruel sanctions regimes, previously imposed on Iraq and now on Iran, are calculated to provoke the victim.
When I saw the headline here, I thought that "covert attack" war's idolaters might have in mind would be more in the vein of old-fashioned US covert ops. During the Reagan years, the US would dress up its "advisers" and Contra terrorists in the uniforms of the Nicaraguan Sandanista soldiers, then have them commit atrocities while so outfitted. The idea, of course, was to bring down blame on the Sandanistas.
The IDF and Mossad are known to have their operatives dress up as Palestinians. Reports have noted that they are so well-trained that their accents can match regional Palestinian ones.
The caveat here is that such reports are easily misstated (over or under) and even more easily dismissed as "conspiracy theory." Past charges by Americans (especially African Americans and Native Americans) that FBI or local police forces were infiltrating protester ranks to sow discord or provoke violence have invariably been dismissed by the likes of Man's Greatest Newspaper, the Times. The catch is that such charges have repeatedly been shown to be true. For example, we now know that the NYPD infiltrated protester groups during the 2004 RNC and continues to do spy on Muslims and Arabs, including through planted NYPD operatives.
Seymour Hersh and others have reported on US/Israeli covert operations already underway in Iran. If these have failed to provoke the overt Iranian response that Clawson would like to see, one has to wonder why he thinks a sabotaged submarine would. My guess is he has something more drastic in mind — something like the 1988 US destruction of the Iranian Airbus, killing 290 innocents.
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Another tempest in a tiny, tiny teacup. In the past 18 hours (it's 4 pm on the East Coast), a fake Bill Keller op-ed has made the rounds. Within a few hours it was exposed as fake. The real giveaway was that it was better than any actual Bill Keller writing. The first I heard of the Bill Keller op-ed was as a fraud this morning, so it never even got to me as possibly genuine. I feel I missed out.
As for The New York Times and 'truth'. It's no coincidence that the traditional media trumpeted by the Times and by Glenn Greenwald's soon-to-be colleague at The Guardian are so much more expensive. The sheer cost of print or television serves as a gate-keeping device to keep out us proles who haven't gone through the brain-washing at the Columbia School of Journalism or the Kennedy School of Government.
Consider the largely-forgotten epitome of Times fraud — Judith Miller. People were pointing out her lies and fabrications about the Middle East, especially about Israel and Palestine, for nearly 20 years before she was finally ditched by the paper and editors that loved her.
The traditional media is just upset that the frauds being swallowed now aren't always theirs. Or worse — that the frauds exposed are theirs. John Burns, Bill Keller, Thomas Friedman, Walter Isaacson, and their ilk hate being caught out in lies. It's embarrassing when they go to the parties in the Hamptons or on Martha's Vineyard thrown by the people who paid for the lying.
There's been a recent tempest (a very small one) over suggestions that New York City develop "micro-apartments" — very small apartments catering to people who want to live in the big city at low cost. NYC mayor (emperor) Michael Bloomberg supports this proposal. There's been speculation over the real reason for his support, given that he owns five or six palaces around and about (a couple of adjacent townhouses in Manhattan, a place in Westchester County, his shorefront mansion in Bermuda, a mansion in London, and a place in Colorado, I think).
The economics behind developing smaller spaces is solid. But there is another rationale behind Bloomberg's push for microflats, one based on his conviction that the wealthier are just better.
There is an obvious way to provide more space for more people — build up. It wouldn't take a city of endless high-rises, the fifty-story, engineer-designed monstrosities that developers love. Going from 3 or 4 story standards to 5 or 6 would provide an enormous increase in space while still keeping many neighborhoods "cozy." But it costs more to go higher than it does to subdivide smaller.
More important, developers think in terms of dollars per square foot, and in their view, they are entitled to a minimum rent for a unit, based on its size. It can be a roach-ridden, bed bug-infested, rundown as you like. Square footage means money. And Bloomberg is a real-estate Keynesian (to adapt Paul Krugman's "military Keynesian" expression for right-wingers who endorse big government for military purposes). Bloomberg is a strong believer in government intervention to keep real-estate prices ridiculous.
Floor area is the most 'objective' (watch as real estate agents come up with an argument for why that 300 square foot hole is really 500 square feel) and tangible factor in valuing living spaces. A quick coat of paint, a cleaning, and air freshener and most people will over look the real problems in a 5 minute look at a place. (And most New York landlords will still gripe about doing even a minimal cleaning.) Smaller size is the most cheapest way to cram low-budget proles into otherwise pricey neighborhoods.
That brings us to part 2 of Bloomberg's thinking. He and his rich buddies will play loco parentis for us, but they sure as hell aren't going to have anybody telling them what to do. They want they're Manhattan MacMansions. But they still need their servants. But living costs are soaring and rippling outwards, so that places 50 or 60 miles from New York are seeing prices typical for Brooklyn (and Brooklyn sees Manhattan prices).
How are Bloomberg-style wealth supremacists to keep their servants within reasonable distance so they can get to servitude on time? Have to get those living costs down in town. And, as noted in part 1, the best way to do that is smaller area. Bloomberg and Co. do want Manhattan (and parts of Brooklyn — maybe) to be a gated community for Wall Street, but the last thing they want to do is anything resembling work — laundry, cleaning, cooking. They need their servants close enough so that they can be at hand at a moments notice (since, for now, the days when servants lived on-site, in the mansion, are still gone by — for now).
Monday, July 9, 2012
This election is highlighting the full commitment of many Americans (almost all of the super-rich and, I suspect, a majority of everyone else) to the divine rights (plural) of wealth. This is the firm conviction of Michael Bloomberg, Bill Gates, the Koch brothers, and of course, Mitt Romney. But it is also an article of faith among many Democrats, including Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.
The picture is complicated, but it is coherent and explains the social and economic development of the US over the past 35 years. It explains why even many poor Americans vote to deprive themselves and further enrich the wealthy. It explains the cult of testing in public schools, coupled with the vilification of teachers by people who send their own kids to private schools. It explains a criminal justice system that allows the systematic crimes of wealth to go unpunished while sending poor law-breakers to prison for years for even the most minor offenses. It explains why Obama, with an easy line of attack against Romney, instead pussy-foots about.
A wide array of public figures endorse wealth supremacism. And many more quietly endorse it while publicly paying lip-service to issues of justice. These quiet idolaters of wealth include people like Bill Keller, former Editor-in-Chief of The New York Times and son of Chevron CEO George Keller. They include Thomas Friedman, himself a billionaire by marriage. Numerous corporate executives, sports figures, and Hollywood stars are also among this number. Again, they may say all the right things, but actually doing something to counteract the trend is beyond their imagining.
The cult of wealth, the divine rights of wealth, are reinforced in popular entertainment, in schooling (both grade school and so-called "higher-education", in the criminal justice system, in housing — everywhere. Crucially, the notion of superiority the wealthy embrace today is not accompanied by notions of noblesse oblige endorsed by past aristocrats. I'll explore this further in forthcoming posts.
The first and most important of the divine rights of wealth is the right to wealth itself. Why do the rich have a right to wealth? Well, they are superior to the rest of us. They merit wealth. Why do they merit wealth? They are better — harder working, more intelligent, more honest, more virtuous.
This view was expressly endorsed by Harvard economists and Romney adviser Gregory Mankiw in a 2009 blog post entitled "The Least Surprising Correlation of All Time:"
This is the crux of the position held by an enormous percentage of the wealthy and by, as I said I suspect, most Americans.
In this simple statement we see a confluence of several seemingly disparate strains of thought. In this statement are elements of the reductionist thinking that plagues psychology (especially evolutionary psychology) today. We see also the tacit assumptions of virtue attached to wealth. We see elements of what is called "meritocracy." And we see the air of superiority embraced by those who are better off.
To all this and more, I will return soon.
Friday, July 6, 2012
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
The obvious test — one which the LZ Grandersons and George Wills (and George Packer and Bill Kellers ignore) — is revealed in the double standard. Do citizenry of other nations have obligations to resist nosiness? Iranians? Iraqis? Venezuaelans? Granderson's — sports expert and therefore expert on government — assertions (there is no argument or reason there) is brutally absurd.
The most obvious point is that government is exactly a creature of peoples' creation. Even dictatorships are. Governments are not sports or movie stars victimized by paparazzi pawing through garbage or hovering near bedroom windows. Governments have exactly and only those rights We the People give them.
To the extent that there might be something remotely substantive in Granderson's confusion it might be that somethings are necessary that are unsavory. At least the revolting Alan Dershowitz gets that those things still need to be public, hence his call for "torture warrants." If the people decided to make public all the top secrets of American nuclear weaponry, for example, it might indeed by unwise, might give guidance to 'enemies' up to no good, but it would not be a problem of "nosiness."
I think Granderson's is another example of class-blame. What he is really endorsing is what some endorse in Citizens United or endless protection of the wealthy against redistributive policy. We the People are getting too uppity. He's expressly rejecting the notion that government can be too nosy in its spying on American citizens (or worse — in its assassination of American citizens). It's we lesser Americans — the 90 or 95 percent — who should just accept our station in life.
Thursday, June 7, 2012
In a 2009 post, Mankiw offered a social-Darwinist account for children's school performance, including an allusion to reductionist genetic explanations of a kind very popular these days among conservatives and liberals (like, for example, Barbara Ehrenreich). The post is here.
Mankiw clearly thinks that different outcomes are in significant measure a result of fundamental, intrinsic, biological differences between individuals. The rich are more successful because they are just better — better workers, better thinkers, better innovators.
This thinking is very widespread in the anglophone, industrial democracies — Britain, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and of course the US. Moreover, it closely tided to a kind of supremacist thinking (and I do mean supremacist) found among the wealthy. Scan the comments of Michael Bloomberg or the Koch brothers or Bill Gates, and you will see a pervasive contempt for the less fortunate that is coupled with a conviction that these less fortunate are just less well-endowed with the natural talents enjoyed by the better-off. Centuries ago, this was overtly embraced as the divine right of nobility. Today it is far more subtle.
More importantly, it reflects a close intwining of tacit assumptions about social status, native talent, education, culture, heritage — many things. For example, Mike Bloomberg simply has no substantive interaction with those who are markedly less well-off; so, predictably, he views the less-fortunate as "Other." This view is reinforced by the socio-biological, reductionist account that says that behavioral differences are outcomes of genetic differences. It is further reinforced by the need all people share to view their own good fortune as something more than plain good luck. If Bloomberg is just lucky, then what justification is there for his holding the staggering fortune he does. He must "deserve" that wealth because he's better than the rest of us.
Why raise taxes on the poor then? Well, they "deserve it." In the view of the Michael Bloombergs — and, crucially, also in the view of the Arne Duncans and (I suspect) the Barack Obamas — the poor aren't just poor in a socio-economic sense; they are "poor specimens of humanity."
How do we test such contention as mine? Probably not in the neatly numerical way that economists and political scientists today demand. That, in turn, raises yet another issue of how our very methods of inquiry tend to promote some conclusions over others.
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Maybe the story is far more simple than anyone has supposed. Maybe the reason we see supposedly "liberal" thinkers constantly kowtowing to Obama is that the brand of Obama-obedient liberal asks not what "politicians owe us" but what "we owe them." Maybe what conservatives are getting right is that they do indeed ask "what politicians owe us."
Certainly, the balance of sycophantic go-along-to-get-along thinking seems to be found among safe, obedient liberals. They whine when conservatives are in power. Then when Obama-style liberals do exactly the same thing the conservatives did, they scream bloody murder at any progressives' objections to the crimes.
At least conservatives express their dissatisfaction when they feel it. The Obama-obedient liberal brigade seems to think that as long as you're sufficiently obedient, you'll be rewarded — like a good dog.
Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Here, then, is my thrill today, Tuesday, 5 June 2012. The Transit of Venus, taken at about 7:30 pm, Eastern time.
You can see Venus in the upper right quadrant of the sun. Through the clouds and roughly about the middle of the Sun, you can see some sunspots.
Monday, June 4, 2012
Paul Krugman writes this Monday of "This Republican Economy" and Barack Obama's and the media's unwillingness or inability to state the obvious regarding GOP obstructionism. I think Paul Krugman fails to grasp the nettle (to paraphrase the great left political philosopher G. A. Cohen speaking on John Rawls).
The most obvious liberal-progressive response to Mr. Krugman is that Obama and the media have failed to highlight know-nothing Republican obstructionism because they largely agree with it. On healthcare, foreign policy, education, Social Security, domestic security and a raft of other issues, Obama is conservative. The media in the US is likewise conservative. News organizations like the Times have supported war almost without qualification. They have raised only the most tepid challenges to Obama attacks on American civil liberties. They have largely supported talk of privatizing Social Security, even after the crimes of Wall Street. The list goes on.
If Paul Krugman's question for Obama is "Why the weak response," a question for Mr. Krugman is, "Why not take your own reasoning to the conclusion evidence supports?" This country, not just GOP fanatics, is largely conservative and anti-Keynesian. Obama is anti-Keynesian, just not as extreme as the GOP (on economics; he's more extreme on foreign policy and domestic security). When he had the choice, the opportunity, and the swell of opinion with him, Obama nevertheless surrounded himself with substantially anti-Keynesian economic thinkers (the exception being Christina Romer, who was soon forced out). Keynesians like Paul Krugman or Joseph Stiglitz were pointedly excluded.
Media elites (with some like Bill Keller related to industry executives, some like Cokie Roberts related to government elites, or some like Thomas Friedman being actual economic elites) identify with wealth, not with common Americans. Many academic elites do also.
As John Kenneth Galbraith noted decades ago, these people's interests align with wealth. Moreover, the perceptions of self among media and government elite align with wealth. Elite interests and ideas — to borrow a phrase economist Dani Rodrik has recently used — are highly homogeneous. The contempt Mike Bloomberg shows average Americans is widely shared among Democrats, not just Republicans.
Friday, June 1, 2012
Again, some thoughts motivated by Glenn Greenwald's observations of the revolting hypocrisy of Barack Obama on whistleblowing, leaks, terrorism, acts of aggression and war.
Let's suppose that all 'leaders' in positions of power are inclined to abuse that power. What is changing? Is it that Obama knows he can get away with it? Does he know that neither the GOP nor any in Congress or in the court system will oppose him?
Or is there a new sense of divine right that overrides prudential considerations? Do Obama and Bush and others now think that they are just so much better than the rest of us that they have the right to do whatever they please? This seems to be the attitude of supremacists like Mike Bloomberg and Lloyd Blankfein. I think it is the attitude that underlies the glaring advocacy of a two-tiered educational system — well-funded and private for the wealthy, and poor and public for the rest of us. So, too, for health care.
This, I think, is the New Feudalism — the attitude of those in power that they are just better than us.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
There are two issues, tangential to Glenn Greenwald's points, that deserve attention. Both revolve about the problem of perception and reality.
Greenwald notes that the New York Times's Bill Keller is the son of former Chevron CEO George Keller. So Keller is very unlikely to identify at all with poorer or middle class Americans. Increasingly, this is true of elite American journalists generally. They come out of elite universities, often having entered those schools out of elite backgrounds. They identify with the elite. This identification is bolstered by careful management by politicians and business titans. Andrew Ross Sorkin's close ties to Wall Street executives is a perfect example of this. Cokie Roberts, John Burns, Anderson Cooper, and many others, are excellent examples of this. They are very nearly diametrically opposed to a past generation of journalists who came up from nothing — people like Walter Cronkite or Bill Moyers. We see similar patterns in the Supreme Court, now proudly Harvard Law grads (but for one or two members, I think). Congress isn't quite so homogeneous, but it's going that way.
When the revelations of Wikileaks or others challenge the lies of government or industry, these elite journalists themselves feel challenged. What is Keller's whining about an unkempt Julian Assange if not a tacit assertion that Assange is 'beneath' Keller and those with whom Keller associates.
Comments like Glenn Greenwald's or revelations like those of Wikileaks threaten to make bare the reality of a media system that sees itself as part of the power structure, not investigating it. Nevertheless, Keller or Roberts or Burns want to believe their own lies, so they confront cognitive dissonance as they try to find reason to condemn Wikileaks.
There is a comparable, more specific, problem of perception and reality for Obama. He is a servile wannabe, but he wants to see himself as an outsider, a challenger — the challenger that many thought they were voting for in 2008. Why is Obama so determined to destroy whistleblowers? Because, more than most politicians in recent times, his public identity, and possible his personal one, rests on deception. He is not what he represents himself to be. He sees those who challenge that representation as threatening him personally. So he lashes out. Obama takes the Wikileaks revelations and other whistleblowing personally.
Monday, May 21, 2012
Romney isn't clueless — he's malicious. Huge difference. Like all of the advocates of Wall Street, including Timothy Geithner and Barack Obama most of the time, there is a deep, profound, dangerous streak of maliciousness at work. These are people who want to transfer wealth from the average to the rich, from labor to capital. These are people who firmly, devoutly believe in the divine right, the divine of superiority of wealth.
As conservative economist and Romney adviser Gregory Mankiw made clear in his blog a few years ago, conservatives (including most Democrats, like Obama) believe that the wealthy are genetically superior. These statements are made explicitly so there is no point pretending that this is a misinterpretation.
It is commonplace now to hear assertions of the genetic coding of morality, or every aspect of human behavior. The cult of reductionism to genetic, pseudo-Darwinian explanations is fully embedded in the popular discourse. Obama, Geithner, Romney, Mankiw, Dimon, Blankfein, Bloomberg all hold the absolute conviction that the wealthy are genetically superior. This is a profoundly dangerous state of mind. We have seen i it before. We know where it leads.
Krugman also has a blog post commenting on the blind, mindless ignorance of economist Edward Lazear (at Stanford and that right-wing haven of war criminals, the Hoover Institution).
As in his op-ed essay today (May 21), Paul Krugman is very generous to conservatives (and the many Democrats who follow their lead, as Obama does). Mitt Romney, Edward Lazear, Gregory Mankiw, David Brooks, Jamie Dimon, Lloyd Blankfein, and others like them are malicious, mean-spirited advocates of the transfer of wealth from labor to capital, from average and poor to rich. Worse, they are convinced of the genetic superiority of the wealth, convinced that the poor are genetically pre-disposed to stay poor.
It cannot be overstated how dangerous their thinking is.
Thursday, May 10, 2012
The New York Civil Liberties Union has caught the NYPD in one of its more glaring lies. And the NYPD has many many lies to its credit — about the 2004 GOP National Convention, Occupy Wall Street, spying on Muslims, spying on all of us. The newly-released NYCLU report betrays the racism behind Ray Kelly and Mike Bloomberg's stop and frisk policy. The cop claim is that stop and frisks deter crime.
The NYCLU shows convincingly that crime rates have been declining (if you believe the NYPD) while police stops have gone up. That much might — on the face of things — seem perfectly plausible. What is really striking is the sheer racial skewing of the search policy. In Bloomberg's first year in office (which came after many years of Giuliani touting his great successes in reducing crime), the NYPD stopped 97,296 people. In 2011, that number was up to 685,724. Did crime decline by that much? Was there a marked increase from Giuliani years when — if you believe the Giulianistas — crime was declining?
Here's the kicker: 87 percent — almost 9 in 10 — of those stopped were black or Latino men. And 90 percent of those stopped were guilty of nothing; they weren't even ticketed. Those stopped most often account for 4.7 percent of the city's population, but account 41.6 percent of stops. "The number of stops of young black men exceeded the entire city population of young black men (168,126 as compared to 158,406)." So some are being stopped repeatedly.
But Bloomberg has more lies to cover up the first round of lies.
First, they claim that the policy is justified because it works to reduce crime. Crime rates are down! But we know they were declining before the policy was begun.
Second, and even better, NYPD mouthpiece Paul Browne claims that the reason the cops are finding so little on their searches is that the baddies are leaving their guns at home! What evidence the NYPD has to support this is anybody's guess. Perhaps their spying extends even further than we've yet found reason to suspect.
So here is Mike Bloomberg's NYPD causal chain:
- Bad guy uses gun against victim.
- Victim describes crime to cops.
- Cops go in search of black or Latino guy with gun (because that's what the victim described).
- Bad guy has gone home to leave gun just in case he gets stopped and frisked. Did he ask momma to hide it in the cookie jar?
- Cops stop and frisk every young black man in the city and find . . . pretty much nothing.
Friday, April 20, 2012
With regard to the PUlitzer this year, I have to admit I've never heard of Shapiro, and I don't think I'm poorly read. One thing we can say with confidence: Auden has stood the test of time better, and a PUlitzer in 1945 didn't have any effect one way or another on that.
My own view is that prizes of the PUlitzer sort (or Nobel or MacArthur or take your pick) are really quite damaging. Some become obsessed with winning the prize. I knew a chemistry prof years ago who had been passed over while his colleague won for work they had collaborated on. The man was bitter beyond the telling of it. The joke among physicists was that it was called the "No-Bell" because the actual discoverer of pulsars — Jocelyn Bell — was ignored by the prize committee while her thesis adviser shared the prize (the physicist who had theoretically predicted the existence of pulsars, Thomas Gold, of Cornell, was also passed over).
Others, having won, can't get past it. And then there's the history of terrible recipients, not least the long list of real monsters who've won the Nobel Peace Prize.
A small handful of people have taken a stand against such prizes. The one who comes immediately to mind is N. David Mermin, physicist at Cornell. His public opposition to a Nobel Prize of any kind cost a stellar Cornell physics department at least a couple of Nobel Prizes in physics. Now, how could that be if the committee were saintly, impartial arbiters of genius that they would like us to believe they are? It's well-known that Graham Greene, though nominated more than any other for the Nobel in literature, never won because there was one person on the committee who swore up and down that no Catholic would ever win as long as he had anything to do with it.
It may be difficult to say whether the PUlitzer in poetry or fiction is politically tainted by short-sighted, narrow-minded bigots on a committee, but the prizes for journalism, history, etc., certainly are. An Eric Hobsbawm or Tony Judt or Edward Said is a wildly unlikely recipient (albeit, not impossible) compared with nice, safe candidates. I was astonished that AP reporters won this year for revealing the gross misconduct of the NYPD. (Giuliani would have called for closing Columbia University.)
Friday, January 13, 2012
Friday, August 12, 2011
- the Supreme Court's creeping grant of the status of personhood to corporations,
- the gross disparities in wealth and income (and all concomitant benefits, like health, education, longevity, etc.),
- Bush and Obama attacks on civil liberties (including Habeus Corpus, Posse Comitatus, whistleblower protections, protections for journalists — the few who actually investigate US government misconduct),
- the Democratic-Republican assault economic protections for elderly Americans.
- the effective criminalization of poverty,
- the cultural glorification of the New American Virtues — wealth, fame, good looks, longevity, fashion, etc.
It is time to stop pretending that this is an accident of other phenomena in the US. Rather, this is what the American elite want.
Americans equate wealth, longevity, "good looks" (in the form of housing, fashion, personal appearance) with virtue. Americans embrace the notion that the wealthier, longer-lived elite are better, innately better, morally better, intellectually better.
Americans embrace an innateness of status that was rejected by Europeans through the French Revolution and numerous other social upheavals.
Worst, Obama, most Democrats, all Republicans, and most important, the Oligarchs (the top 1% or so), want the rest of us to be worse off — in every sense.
This is an explanation that has all the merits attributed under the scientific method. It is simple. It explains what we observe. It has predictive power. Above all, it explains why Obama and others would pursue the policies they do despite overwhelming factual evidence.
Fine. But two obvious questions arise.
1. Is there a point where inequality provokes a backlash among the less-well-off? The answer in the US for decades has been no. Americans are remarkably, stunningly indifferent to the gross inequalities of the US, hands down the most unequal of all the industrial democracies. The US has one of the lowest social mobility rates in the world, even compared to non-democracies and less-developed nations. It has fares most poorly among its peers on health, longevity, education, happiness — very nearly every index of comparison. (The only country that does roughly as badly is Britain. What a surprise — the nation that has done most to parrot the American example.)
Despite this, as John Kenneth Galbraith long noted (among many others), Americans didn't seem to care.... American exceptionalism. Speaking on The Charlie Rose Show, economist Kenneth Rogoff's comment echoes something I've heard elsewhere: Americans "expect to win the lottery." Americans are generally happy to see others enjoy billions because a remarkable percentage of Americans are deluded into thinking they too will win any day now — this despite the US having a dismal degree of social mobility.
Will this change? Can it change? Can Americans develop a measure of anger? Can they rally the way the French or Greeks have? The way anybody but Americans do?
This brings us to the second question:
2. How are the US government and oligarchs suppressing American egalitarian impulses or protecting themselves against the same? I suggest that the national security apparatus/state that has been developing for years and has accelerated under Obama will be used to contain any American social upheaval — should any develop, which seems unlikely given the level of Americans' apathy and ignorance. Under Obama, domestic spying has grown. Obama has viciously sought to suppress whistleblowers, as Glenn Greenwald has described repeatedly. Moreover, we have an educational system which borders on systematic indoctrination. From grade school through university (especially university) we have a host of institutions that endlessly trumpet the unalloyed glories of both unlimited greed and the infallibility of the American way of doing things. I am frequently astonished by the extent to which extraordinarily well-educated, intelligent people show absolutely no inclination or ability to challenge American orthodoxy.
The writings of H. L. Mencken, John Kenneth Galbraith, Noam Chomsky, Mark Twain, and many others go into this over the length of American history. Today, we have many new voices — Naomi Klein, Glenn Greenwald among them. Yet Americans remain impervious to even the most obvious truths.
The wealthiest and their willing slaves like Obama and Congress (those members who are not among the 1% already, that is) have obvious incentives for pressing the dogma. But why so many Americans prove so indifferent is a mystery.
Friday, August 5, 2011
The Orwellian doublethink in Panetta and the Pentagon's assertions is something to behold. Note that the Pentagon is also angling for more money on the grounds that there are new security threats in the form of climate change, among other things. This hopelessly expansive, all-encompassing, "everything is a national security issue" thinking will will swell to include economic issues. Indeed, it already has, as seen in much of the hysterical rhetoric about China.
Paul Krugman noted, again, the other day that the US is looking more and more like a banana republic. One of the features of those failed states is massive numbers of citizens working for the military. Going into the military in many of these countries was the equivalent of going into business in western Europe or North America.
Have Democrats settled on the military as the only social program Republicans will support? Or is Obama just as spinelessly militant as Joseph Lieberman and war-hungry Republicans?
The US patted itself on the back over the success of its strategy of forcing the Soviet Union to spend itself into oblivion on 'defense.' On the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Zbigniew Brzezinski told Carter, "We have given the Soviets their Vietnam."
The US is now doing the same . . . to itself.
Monday, August 1, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Robert Samuelson Redefines "Wealthy"
Friday, 29 July 2011 17:27
The Washington Post once ran a front page piece questioning whether people who earned $250,000 a year, President Obama's cutoff for his no tax hike pledge, were really rich. However, it also features Robert Samuelson on its opinion page telling readers that seniors with income of $30,000 a year are wealthy. I'm not kidding.
In a piece titled "Why Are We In This Debt Fix? It's the elderly stupid," Samuelson tells readers:
"some elderly live hand-to-mouth; many more are comfortable, and some are wealthy. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports the following for Medicare beneficiaries in 2010: 25 percent had savings and retirement accounts averaging $207,000 or more."
Let's see, we have retirees who have their Social Security checks, plus a stash of $207,000. If someone at age 62 were to take that $207,000 and buy an annuity this money would get them about $15,000 a year. Add in $14,000 from Social Security and they are living the good life on $29,000 a year. And remember, 75 percent of the elderly have less than this.
To be fair, many of the people with $207,000 in savings will be older than 62 so their money will go further, but it is hard to believe that anyone can think of this as a cutoff for being wealthy, or at least anyone other than Robert Samuelson and his colleagues at the Washington Post.
Sunday, July 10, 2011
- Technological means;
- Vastly expanding conceptions of what constitute (a) threats and (b) legitimate means; and
- A disparate, dispersed but nevertheless organized body of very willing participants.
- Sheer numbers;
- Growing ease of communication;
- Commitment to a stable, sustainable, humanitarian solution.
- Absolute openness (combat secrecy with openness);
- Ever-repeated commitment to non-violence;
- An extended, open hand even to those with whom we disagree.