The generation game and the 1 per cent

by John Quiggin on August 5, 2015

For a generation (fifteen years) or more I’ve been writing and rewriting the same piece about the silliness of the “generation game”, the idea that one’s year of birth matters more than class, gender or race in determining life outcomes and attitudes. But this is a zombie idea that can never be killed.

Stephen Rattner in the New York Times is the latest example, with a piece showing that US Millennials (those born after 1980) are doing much worse than previous generations at the same age, despite higher levels of education. Rattner notes the role of the recession, now nearly a decade old, but then jumps to the conclusion that it is the Baby Boomers, as a group, who are to blame. His only evidence for this is the long-discredited claim of a looming crisis in Social Security.

Rattner doesn’t present any evidence about the recent experience of non-Millennials, but his piece leaves the impression that the experience of doing worse than older cohorts at the same age is uniquely Millennial. So I thought I’d do his work for him, and dug out this graph prepared by Doug Short HouseholdIncomeByAge As can be seen, the group suffering the biggest loss, relative to older cohorts at the same age, are those households with heads aged 45-54 in 2013, a mix of late Boomers (for aficianados, this group is called Generation Jones) and early X-ers. But the main point is that median household income is falling for all groups except the 65+ cohort (mostly called Silents in the generation game). Part of this is due to declining household size, but (IIRC) household size has stabilized recently as forming a new household has become less affordable.

Rattner doesn’t mention, even once, the obvious and well-known explanation for the fact that median income is falling while mean income rises. This can only occur if the distribution of income is becoming more skewed, with the top tail (the 1 per cent) benefiting at the expense of everyone else.

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The Senate (not that one) blocks the TPP

by John Quiggin on August 4, 2015

The failure of talks in Maui last weeks to reach final agreement on the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement raises new, if slim, hope that this corporate wishlist may not be delivered after all. Friday was the last chance to get a deal that could be pushed through the US Congress before 2016, when Presidential campaign politics might disrupt everything. If that happened, and the new President opposed the deal it might never happen.

Although there were a bunch of issues that prevented a final deal, the biggest one was the demand for new protection measures for US pharmaceuticals (typical of what are absurdly still called Free Trade Agreements), and the biggest single obstacle was the attitude of an obscure legislative chamber, the Australian Senate. This piece in Inside Story gives some of the background.

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As I keep mentioning, I’m teaching Nietzsche. Regarding which, I have a request of sorts to place before our knowledgeable commentariat (and I can’t stop the ignorant ones from chiming in as well, but that’s modern life.) I’m going to include a unit, near the start, in which I offer a sampling of diverse responses to/interpretations of the guy. I think most students come to Nietzsche with … notions. I am not concerned to dislodge all that, certainly not at the start, but I think it might be efficient to encourage explicitness about it, if possible. To that end, I’m going to offer a menu of options. Maybe the students will say: yeah, that’s kind of my impression of the guy, from what I’ve heard and read.

This morning I went quote hunting in Mencken, Russell and G.K. Chesterton (not because I seriously think my students are going to show up on day 1 a bunch of junior Chestertonian-Menckenite-Russell-heads, in need of de-programming. I just like this stuff.)

H.L. Mencken, The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche:

“Broadly speaking, they [Nietzsche’s ideas] stand in direct opposition to every dream that soothes the slumber of mankind in the mass, and therefore mankind in the mass must needs to suspicious of them, at least for years to come. They are pre-eminently for the man who is not of the mass, for the man whose head is lifted, however little, above the common level. They justify the success of that man, as Christianity justifies the failure of the man below.”

I could quote more Mencken, but let me proceed to Chesterton and Russell, who are hilariously arch and contemptuous. (I’m not planning to share all this with students, but some.) [click to continue…]

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Capitalism Can’t Remember Where I Left My Keys

by Corey Robin on August 2, 2015

My column in Salon this morning is about left v. right and why time—history, tradition, past, present, and future—is not what divides left from right. With the help of two new books by Steve Fraser and Kristin Ross, I discuss the bloody civil wars of the Gilded Age, the Paris Commune, Marx’s archaism, and how the memory of pre-capitalist society can fire the anticipation of a post-capitalist society.

Ever since Edmund Burke, founder of the conservative tradition, declared, “The very idea of the fabrication of a new government, is enough to fill us with disgust and horror,” pundits and scholars have divided the political world along the axis of time. The left is the party of the future; the right, the party of the past. Liberals believe in progress and the new; conservatives, in tradition and the old. Hope versus history, morrow versus memory, utopia versus reality: these are the stuff of our great debates.

In “The Reactionary Mind,” I argued that this view of the political divide is incorrect, at least as it pertains to the right. Beginning with Burke, conservatives have been less committed to tradition or the past than to a hierarchical vision of society. In Burke’s case, it was aristocrats over commoners; in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, it would be masters over slaves, employers over employees, husbands and men over women and wives. And so it remains: the most consistent feature of contemporary American conservatism is the GOP’s war on reproductive freedom and worker rights.

But if the right’s window does not open onto the past, must the left’s open onto the future? Not necessarily, claim two fascinating new books: Steve Fraser’s “The Age of Acquiescence: The Life and Death of American Resistance to Organized Wealth and Power” and Kristin Ross’s “Communal Luxury: The Political Imaginary of the Paris Commune.” When it comes to past and future, they show, the left can be as ambidextrous as the right. What’s more, it may be the left’s ability to look backward while marching forward that explains its most potent moments of power and possibility.

What Fraser shows, with vivid set pieces drawn from the nation’s most violent battlefields, is that far from presenting itself as the enemy, the past was viewed by workers and farmers as a resource and an ally. In part because the capitalist right so heartily embraced the rhetoric of progress and the future (no one, it seems, was content with the present). But more than that, historical memory enabled workers and farmers to see beyond the horizon of the capitalist present, to know, in their bones, what Marx was constantly struggling to imprint upon the mind of the left: that capitalism was but one mode of economic life, that its existence was contingent and historical rather than natural and eternal, and that because there was a past in which it did not exist there might be a future when it would cease to exist. Like the nation, capitalism rests upon repeated acts of forgetting; a robust anti-capitalism asks us to remember.



In his “Reflections on the Revolution in France,” Burke is supposed to have given voice to the conservative dispensation by describing society as “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.” Yet who in and around the Commune had greater sensitivity to the delicate and mutual dependencies of past and future: The anarchist Kropotkin, who spent an entire week in prison tapping out the history of the Commune to his young neighbor in the next cell, lest it be forgotten? The Communard geographer Élisée Reclus, who called for solidarity “between those who travel through the conscious arena and those who are longer here”? Or the reactionaries in charge of the French regime, who spent the better part of the 1870s forbidding anyone who managed to survive the Commune from carving any mention of it on their gravestones?





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Sunday photoblogging: Rome, Sant’Andrea della Valle

by Chris Bertram on August 2, 2015

Rome: Sant'Andrea della Valle

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Adam Smith in action

by Henry on July 31, 2015

The New York Times:

Brian Canlis, a co-owner of his family-named restaurant, is also a client. He said he was fond of Mr. Price, but was more discomfited by his actions. Mr. Canlis is already worried about how to deal with Seattle’s new minimum wage, which rose to $11 an hour in April and is scheduled to reach $15 an hour for small businesses within five years. The pay raise at Gravity, Mr. Canlis told Mr. Price, “makes it harder for the rest of us.” Mr. Price winced. “It pains me to hear Brian Canlis say that,” he said later. “The last thing I would ever want to do is make a client feel uncomfortable.” But any plan that has the potential, as Mr. Price has put it, to “set the world on fire,” is bound to make some people squirm. Leah Brajcich, who oversees sales at Gravity, fielded complaints from several customers who accused her boss of communist or socialist sympathies that would drive up their own employees’ wages and others who felt it was a public relations stunt.

The Wealth of Nations

We rarely hear, it has been said, of the combinations of masters, though frequently of those of workmen. But whoever imagines, upon this account, that masters rarely combine, is as ignorant of the world as of the subject. Masters are always and everywhere in a sort of tacit, but constant and uniform combination, not to raise the wages of labour above their actual rate. To violate this combination is everywhere a most unpopular action, and a sort of reproach to a master among his neighbours and equals.

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Demography and irreligion

by John Quiggin on July 30, 2015

A few months ago, I was a bit surprised to read a report put out by the Pew Research Center predicting that the proportion of the world population without a religious affiliation would decline sharply by 2050. The basic argument sounds plausible: an increase in the unaffiliated proportion of the population within countries will be more than offset by faster population growth in countries with higher rates of affiliation. The main points are presented in a peer-reviewed article in the journal Demographic Research, which suggests the analysis should be solid.

Still, I thought I would dig a bit, and found a longer version of the report here, including the projection that Christians would decline from 78.3 per cent of the US population in 2010 to 66.4 per cent in 2050. That seemed like a very slow rate of change, so I did some amateur demography of my own. I found another Pew report, released almost at the same time, which focused on the beliefs of Millennials (those born from 1981 onwards). This report showed that less than 60 per cent of Millennials currently report a Christian religious affiliation, compared to around 70 per cent of X-ers (born 1965 onwards) and much higher levels for older cohorts.
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David Frum on the crisis in the mediterranean

by Chris Bertram on July 29, 2015

David Frum is a US pundit, who writes on US politics. So, being based elsewhere, I don’t usually pay a lot of attention to him. Unfortunately, today, somebody drew my attention to this article in the Atlantic in which he argues, as a prelude to some boilerplate anti-immigrant conservative points, that the people who are crossing the Mediterranean are economic migrants rather than genuine refugees. Although there’s a rather dismissive mention of Syrians at the beginning of the piece “just 30 per cent” (30 per cent of a large number is a lot of people), the message of the piece is clear. Frum calls in aid the Canadian journalist Doug Saunders, who knows his stuff and usually writes sensibly on immigration matters.

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Hey, Kids – Colors!

by John Holbo on July 29, 2015

Do you like colors? Do you like art? If you answered ‘yes’ to both questions, you might find this site interesting.

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Nietzsche Wins The Internet in 1886

by John Holbo on July 28, 2015

Couple weeks back I pointed out Nietzsche was an internet theorist avant la net. He is a nice observer of the psychology of it.

Stand tall, you philosophers and friends of knowledge, and beware of martyrdom! Of suffering “for the sake of truth”! Even of defending yourselves! You will ruin the innocence and fine objectivity of your conscience, you will be stubborn towards objections and red rags, you will become stupid, brutish, bullish if, while fighting against danger, viciousness, suspicion, ostracism, and even nastier consequences of animosity, you also have to pose as the worldwide defenders of truth. As if “the Truth” were such a harmless and bungling little thing that she needed defenders! And you of all people, her Knights of the Most Sorrowful Countenance, my Lord Slacker and Lord Webweaver of the Spirit! In the end, you know very well that it does not matter whether you, of all people, are proved right, and furthermore, that no philosopher so far has ever been proved right. (Beyond Good and Evil, Part 2, 25, The Free Spirit, trans. Judith Norman)
Lord Slacker and Lord Webweaver are perfect, not to mention the Knight – ahem – Troll. (“Ihr Ritter von der traurigsten Gestalt, meine Herren Eckensteher und Spinneweber des Geistes!” Not sure about the German connotations of ‘Eckensteher’ – corner stander. Does it mean: flaneur? Guy who hangs out on the stoop, just watching the passing show? Rubbernecker, wallflower, guy who has been sent to the corner by teacher? Probably not that last.) Some of you will want to continue reading the post. Others will already be running to stick bits of the above passage into a Meme Generator. O joy! (For a circa 2012 value of ‘joy’.) [click to continue…]

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One of our Twitter accounts is missing

by Henry on July 27, 2015

A public service request – someone, presumably a Crooked Timber reader, put up a Crooked Timber Twitter account a few years ago, to automatically tweet new posts that we put up. Which was very nice of them – but it appears to have stopped working sometime back in 2013. If the person who put this together reads this and would be kind enough to let us know the password so that we can put it all back together, we’d be grateful (we presume that he or she has abandoned this little project himself or herself). If anyone knows who did this, and could contact them, we’d be grateful too (the only two accounts that the Twitter account follows are WTDirect and the PHL Jokes Initiative, if that’s any clue). Or if this turns out to be abandonware with no known owner, and there’s some way of getting Twitter to release it that someone knows of, also good by us.

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Sunday photoblogging: Hekla, Iceland

by Chris Bertram on July 26, 2015

Hekla

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On the New York Intellectuals

by Corey Robin on July 26, 2015

I first read Irving Howe in college, in Andrew Ross’ seminar on intellectuals. We read Howe’s ”The New York Intellectuals.” I don’t remember what I thought of it. What I remember is that Howe was an object of great attraction for someone like me, the epitome of the independent left intellectual.

At some point in graduate school, I grew less enamored of the New York Intellectuals as a whole: in part because of their compromises or collaboration with McCarthyism, in part because the ideal of the independent left intellectual lost its allure for me. Howe’s star fell somewhat. Which is ironic because Howe was one of the few anti-Stalinist intellectuals who managed to keep his bearings during the McCarthy years.

This past year, I’ve been re-reading Howe. His literary criticism, which I used to love, now leaves me cold (I’d add to my list of resentful essays I discuss in that post his bitchy reassessment of the battle between Virginia Woolf and Arnold Bennett.) But to my great surprise I’ve been newly impressed by his political criticism. When he’s not obsessively whacking Tom Hayden or the Berkeley radicals, he can be astonishingly keen and prescient about the weaknesses of the American Left, the contradictions of the welfare state, and the long-term impact of McCarthyism. Free of that crabbiness of spirit that so often mars his judgment and makes his voice so grating, he can see what’s moving and what’s stagnant in the American current.

This morning, I re-read “The New York Intellectuals.” It first appeared in Commentary in 1969. It has two weak moments: when he’s rehashing his critique of the Stalinism of the American Left of the 1930s and 1940, and when he’s gnawing on the “new sensibility” of the counterculture and its spokepersons (Marcuse, Mailer, Norman O. Brown, even Susan Sontag). They feature that pugilism that Howe is so often celebrated for but which now seems so tiresome and familiar. When he’s not rehearsing his case for the prosecution, Howe can really rise above the material.  [click to continue…]

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There’s been a lot of back and forth about economic reasoning and the EU. This article by Kevin O’Rourke, takes a different perspective, one that is well worth reading, exploring the consequences of economists’ handwaving over utility for the technocratic politics that we face today. I’ve seen other efforts to make this kind of case, but they haven’t been nearly as clear or accessible.

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Beyond Galilee

by John Quiggin on July 24, 2015

If there’s to be any chance of stabilizing the global climate, a large proportion of existing reserves of coal will need to be left in the ground. The Galilee Basin in Queensland, estimated to contain 27 billion tonnes of coal, enough to raise atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by several parts per million on its own, is arguably the biggest test case in the world right now. Fortunately, the latest news is good.

The critical project is the Carmichael Mine proposed by Indian conglomerate Adani . To get the coal out Adani proposed a new rail line and a port expansion at Abbot Point. A Korean conglomerate, POSCO (originally a steelmaker)m was named as the builder of the railroad, with the prospect that POSCO would take an equity share and the Korean Export-Import Bank would lend money on favorable terms. If the rail line is built, other projects could go ahead. One such project, owned by Bandanna Coal (now in receivership) was just approved by Environment Minister Greg Hunt.

It now seems clear that Adani is mothballing the project. A month ago, the engineering design teams were told to stop work, and now Posco’s contractors have been sent home. Coincidentally or otherwise, Posco has announced the intention to return to its steelmaking roots, with aggressive cuts to its engineering and construction divisions.

Adani is still blaming regulatory delays, but this seems increasingly implausible. The sacking of the engineering teams will set the project back many months, if not years, and burning your primary equity partner doesn’t seem like a sensible response to regulatory problems. At this point, I’d say the strategy is to obtain and bank the regulatory approvals then hope that the price of coal increases in the future. This seems unlikely, given the collapse of demand in the US, declining demand in China and increasing Indian focus on renewables, in which Adani itself is a big player.

Moreover, with every year that passes, the obstacles to coal projects of any kind get bigger. Most international development banks will no longer lend to such projects, global banks are under similar pressure and institutional equity investors are being pushed to divest. It’s unlikely that the proponents of new coal projects in Australia will ever again see a government as favorable as the Abbott government, so if they can’t succeed now, they will probably never do so.

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