Social democrats in the twin-peaked world

by Henry on January 6, 2015

Paul Krugman wrote last week about the rise of a ‘twin peaked’ world in which the global poor are doing much better, as are the extremely rich, while the working class are doing badly in comparative terms. He asks:

Who who speaks for those left behind in this twin-peaked world? You might have expected conventional parties of the left to take a populist stance on behalf of their domestic working classes. But mostly what you get instead — from leaders ranging from François Hollande of France to Ed Milliband of Britain to, yes, President Obama — is awkward mumbling. (Mr. Obama has, in fact, done a lot to help working Americans, but he’s remarkably bad at making his own case.)

The problem with these conventional leaders, I’d argue, is that they’re afraid to challenge elite priorities, in particular the obsession with budget deficits, for fear of being considered irresponsible. And that leaves the field open for unconventional leaders — some of them seriously scary — who are willing to address the anger and despair of ordinary citizens.

There’s plausibly a structural story behind the inability of conventional leftwing parties to challenge conventional orthodoxies and respond to the needs of their traditional constituency. They haven’t really relied on this constituency for a long time. Peter Mair’s Ruling the Void hasn’t gotten nearly the attention that it deserves, perhaps because it came out after its author’s death. But Mair – an expert on the evolution of political parties and party systems – makes a strong case that leftwing parties in Europe today have become profoundly disassociated from their voters. This is in part because of ordinary people withdrawing from political parties – the membership of mass parties has collapsed over the last few decades. However, it is also because the elites of parties don’t rely on mass membership to provide resources – instead they rely on resources from the state and networks where they are firmly embedded with other elites. The result is that European political parties rather than representing their constituents to the state, tend to represent the state and its imperatives to their constituents.

This helps explain the extraordinary haplessness of mainstream leftwing parties faced with the politics of austerity. It’s reinforced by the politics of the European Union, which was purpose designed as a non-democratic space (into which, however, bits of democracy have crept over time).

bq. Despite the seeming availability of channels of access, the scope for meaningful input and hence for effective electoral accountability is exceptionally limited. It is in this sense that Europe appears to have been constructed as a protected sphere, safe from the demands of voters and their representatives.

National policies are constrained by EU institutions such as the European Central Bank and other institutions, which are designed to be non-majoritarian ones “from which parties and politics are deliberately excluded.” The result is that:

bq. insofar as competing policies or programmes are concerned, the value of elections is steadily diminishing. Thanks to the European Union, although crucially not only for that reason, political competition has become increasingly depoliticized.

European voters, mainstream European parties and European leaders have increasingly learned how to live without effective participatory democracy. And now it’s biting the social democratic left. The withering of links between leftwing parties and their electoral base, combined with the movement of real decision making to the European level, leaves these parties in the cold. They neither know how to connect to voters any more, nor have any real program for change on those occasions (thanks to exhaustion with their opponents) they actually win office. It’s little wonder that so many of their voters are defecting.

{ 256 comments }

1

Map Maker 01.06.15 at 4:10 pm

” instead they rely on resources from the state and networks where they are firmly embedded with other elites. The result is that European political parties rather than representing their constituents to the state, tend to represent the state and its imperatives to their constituents.”

The TGV to Serfdom? Perhaps it is just that the political parties in the earlier eras were less effective in gaining rents from the state and had to be responsive…

2

Anarcissie 01.06.15 at 4:40 pm

What are people supposed to be voting for? They can’t get structural change by voting even if they wanted it.

3

MPAVictoria 01.06.15 at 4:43 pm

“nor have any real program for change on those occasions”

People keep saying that the left doesn’t have any “new ideas”. Well I don’t want new ideas! I want the left to support the same ideas that it was advocating 60 years ago. A strong social safety net back up by powerful protections for labour unions. We know that these things together raise living standards for the average person. So why change?

4

William Timberman 01.06.15 at 5:00 pm

The suspicion is growing that his won’t end well, but how it will end seems to be anybody’s guess. Paul Krugman would like it to be 1960, but is smart enough to keep the lights off when he looks ahead for confirmation. The geopoliticians-in-charge would like to convince us that it’s 1947, but will press ahead regardless. More thoughtful analysts seem to fear that it might be 1914. Sellers of apocalypse are laying out their wares in chain letters, church basements, and splinter parties everywhere. Sometimes, in moments of ignorance, one has to wait for further evidence. January 2015 seems to be one of those moments.

5

Ze Kraggash 01.06.15 at 5:07 pm

In the United States of Europe, the role of a national government is to make its territory attractive to capital. Thus, any national pro-EU Left would be a contradiction in terms. Of course these conditions do generate plenty of populist support for national (and now even international) anti-EU Right. And, perhaps, there’s already the new phenomenon: populist anti-EU Left, in Greece. Something’s cooking.

6

js. 01.06.15 at 5:08 pm

This is in part because of ordinary people withdrawing from political parties – the membership of mass parties has collapsed over the last few decades. However, it is also because the elites of parties don’t rely on mass membership to provide resources – instead they rely on resources from the state and networks where they are firmly embedded with other elites.

This vaguely reminds me of Colin Crouch’s Post-Democracy, which I’m pretty sure I first checked out on your recommendation, and which was excellent. Mair is now on the reading list. Thanks!

7

bianca steele 01.06.15 at 5:14 pm

@5

I found Naomi Klein’s book, The Shock Doctrine, enlightening on that, though she hardly spends any time on Europe (none, I think, beyond Thatcher), and doesn’t suggest why Milton Friedman’s ideas would have caught on there.

Personally, I’d hope left-wing parties would be able to think about the needs of their constituents in terms other than the kind of “anger and despair” that should be listened to for what they’re a symptom of, not as a plain description of a real need. If not, it should be no wonder they’re losing votes.

8

bob mcmanus 01.06.15 at 5:14 pm

Jacques Bidet, A Key to the Critical Companion to Contemporary
Marxism
, 2001

“Marx focused analysis on demonstrating that underlying the appearances
of wage-labour exchange is concealed exploitation. But he also disclosed that
this is not realised by the simple relationship between wage-earners and own-
ers of the means of production. For it always assumes the intervention of the
other pole of the dominant class – that of the manager, the organiser, who
directs, having supposedly been chosen for his competence. The power of
‘competence’ (supposed, professed, qualified) is of a different kind from that
of ownership and extends far beyond private production, since it is equally
deployed in the public sphere of administration and culture and, in truth,
throughout society.

Marx was unable to complete a study of modern class structure, of which
he nevertheless set out the main elements. If we wish to take up his outline
today, we must in particular appreciate that the dominant class comprises
two poles, one based on the market and on ownership, the other on organisa-
tion and ‘competence’ – two poles that are at once complementary and com-
paratively antagonistic. Like ownership, competence too is socially defined
and recognised by means of specific titles (degrees, etc.). This bipolarity gov-
erns the existence of two distinct poles of hegemony, to which we can relate
the pair of ‘Right’ (more on the side of ownership and the market) and ‘Left’
(more on the side of organisations and their competences) – a pair whose
content varies enormously from one capitalist society to another (republi-
cans and democrats here, conservatives and social democrats elsewhere), is
always fluid and problematic, and preserves itself only by misrepresenting
itself, with each pole being hegemonic only to the extent that it can in some
way represent the other within itself and thus pass itself off as guarantor of
the general interest.”

9

bianca steele 01.06.15 at 5:15 pm

Maybe someone could draft a response to Krugman’s column in the style of David Foster Wallace’s essay on David Lynch.

10

bob mcmanus 01.06.15 at 5:49 pm

A little more from Jacques Bidet, cite above in 8

“Along with the former Third World, it
affects all developed capitalist countries, particularly those of Europe, whose
institutions of a socialist orientation, constructed in the course of a century
and once so powerful and resonant – and sometimes going well beyond the
‘social state’, especially in their economic dimension – are gradually being
dismantled, in a process that nothing seems capable of checking.

The obvious question facing Marxists is why things are thus. According to
the type of hypothesis offered by ‘historical materialism’, such a reverse can-
not be explained exclusively by political developments – by the implementa-
tion of the neoliberal project, conceived as a machination or conspiracy on the
part of capitalist élites. The old adage according to which, at a certain point, the
development of the ‘productive forces’ calls into question the existing ‘social
relations’, is especially pertinent here. ”

Uhh maybe, “politics local, capital global?”

Trotsky was right, Bernstein and Sheri Berman tragically wrong.

11

Eskimo 01.06.15 at 5:55 pm

I was thinking about the vacuum facing left-of-center politicians in Northern Europe while watching the first season of the Danish series Borgen. Both before and after becoming Prime Minister, Birgitte Nyborg doesn’t seem to have any interaction with her constituents.

12

Bruce Wilder 01.06.15 at 5:59 pm

In the now-dying thread on consequentialist arguments for deontological claims, we seem to be circling the American-liberal loss of righteousness, which is surely another aspect of the same phenomenon. In the U.S., the left does not seem able to muster a convincing case against torture — at least not one that involves prison for anyone, but whistleblowers. Krugman talks about “soaring inequality”, without any apparent awareness of economic predation; for Krugman, in retrospect the GFC was a well-understood (by economists) bank-run, not the crescendo of fraud, followed by the coda of predation. Obama turned his Treasury department over to the giant banks; he did next to nothing for people in trouble on their home mortgages, though he had vast resources to do so.

All of the righteous conviction and aggression seems, oddly, to be on the Right. If Greece has the effrontery to elect a popular government in the Syriza coalition, the Greeks can expect to be on the receiving end of some extensive cruelty. Syriza, on paper, has a remarkably conservative program. Whether Syriza are an example or counter-example of the phenomenon Henry identifies, I could not say on my knowledge. It would certainly seem a plausible hypothesis that the extended suffering of Greece has revived at least the potential of mass support for a party of the left. Maybe, some case can be made regarding the Five Star movement in Italy as well.

What I want to draw attention to though, is Bruce’s maxim: conservatives make revolutions. It’s the pre-emptive counter-revolution that sets the house afire. And, maybe, we are about to see that in Greece, which seems on track to give Syriza a majority, as PASOK splinters. Not because Syriza offers anything programmatically, or has much in the way of leverage to act effectively, even if it does gain office, but because the Empire Strikes Back.

13

bianca steele 01.06.15 at 6:04 pm

for Krugman, in retrospect the GFC was a well-understood (by economists) bank-run, not the crescendo of fraud, followed by the coda of predation.

Well, in The Return of Depression Economics Krugman does blame the shadow banking system and the repeal of Glass-Steagal, among other things. I was reading it at the same time as Klein and they made an interesting counterpoint, though I’d expect an academic like Krugman to have filled in the blanks Klein points to better than he does in that book.

14

Chris Bertram 01.06.15 at 6:05 pm

Thanks Henry, very useful piece. Hence, in part at least, the likes of UKIP. One difficulty, though, is that the project of “reconnecting” with the base, pursued by some within Labour (the example with which I’m most familiar) identifies that base with what it was 40+ years ago (or what they imagine it was). Hence the literally insular politics of Blue Labour and the obsession of people like Danczuk with the “white working class”. The trouble is, that working class is gone or going, its institutions are weak and it is numerically diminished. So social democracy needs a new base to connect to.

(I’ve been reading Gorz’s Farewell over the past few days, a book marred by the fact that it has to engage with the presumptions of the French Marxist intelligensia of the early 1980s, but there’s a lot that he got right. Maybe a CT post to come.)

15

Vladimir 01.06.15 at 6:10 pm

It’s a big ask to make a structural argument. I don’t thinks it’s surprsing that an ideological party can become a brokerage party with a strong status quo bias after achieving some success. However I would question whether the classic working class constituency even exists today. I imagine that most people using this term have a range of individual/household earnings in mind rather than the actual type of work performed. The traditional working class occupational groups – manufacturing and mining – are today smaller in terms of their relative size in many countries; their labour unions less influential because the can influence fewer voters directly. From Henry’s other blog, Nicholas Carnes discussed how personal income of legistlaors can affect their voting preferences: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/monkey-cage/wp/2014/01/07/millionaires-run-our-government-heres-why-that-matters/

16

Rich Puchalsky 01.06.15 at 6:13 pm

A look at the career of Gro Harlem Brundtland might be interesting. She saved tens or hundreds of millions of lives through activities such as organizing the response to SARS and through organizing the movement to reduce cigarette smoking. She was one of the founding creators of the concept of sustainable development. But her major triumphs were technocratic and global in nature: her multiple terms as Prime Minister of Norway don’t seem to have accomplished anything remotely as influential nationally.

17

Roger Gathmann 01.06.15 at 6:15 pm

An excellent analysis by Mair. Although I think he does what pol sci people have a habit of doing, and under-emphasizes corporations and in general corporate culture. It isn’t just state networks, or some non-profit, that the politico and the family turn to – it is very much the banks, the fortune 500 companies, the lobbyists, etc. Look at Holland’s disastrous choice of Jerome Cahuzac for the Minister of the budget, and the way it came out that he was actually a major offshorer of his money, into swiss and singapore banks. The whole thing exposed, briefly, a collaboration between the political players and the elites that closed up after he resigned. But we get hints again and again – for instance, the news story about Thomas Fabiusm, the foreign minister’s son, casually purchasing an appartment in Paris for 7 million euros which he came up with by “magic”, claiming to be a good gambler. The other side of Mair’s story is that extra-party lefty organizations on the left, notably labor, have withered, and in so doing no longer exist as channels for a public figure to arise in. The whole burden is then thrown on the party, just as the party has become weakened and enmeshed with Capital.
In France, at least, the socialists, who were always an odd group on the left (formed in the opportunistic image of Mitterand) represent no form of socialism at all. In both domestic and foreign policy, for instance, Holland is far to the right of Chirac – who was the last of the Gaullists.
The natural impulse of the leftist is to cry out for a third party. But the third party option is as doomed as the second party option, because there is no collaborative extra-party organization with which the third party can collaborate. A party in and by itself cannot achieve any goal that countervails Capital.

18

David 01.06.15 at 6:21 pm

The original European Community was purposely designed to be supra-national (and in that sense undemocratic) to get over the original sin of nationalism which had devastated the country twice in fifty years. But in those days there was a European political class which had survived the war, had often been in the Resistance, and in general had a politically responsible attitude, and a broadly social democratic and economically interventionist mindset. I think the founding fathers of Europe would have been horrified to see what its political class has now become, with all its corruption, careerism and cynicism, and its ideology of staring-eyed neoliberalism.. In addition, of course, Europe institutions have now grown to a size, and degree of intrusiveness, that few originally envisaged.
But the real failure is not in Europe but nationally. Parties of the supposed Left abandoned their economic agenda because it was too difficult and controversial, and because their own elites were increasingly drawn from groups that actually benefited from neoliberal economic policies. For want of anything better, they substituted a social-liberal agenda (gay marriage being the prototypical example) with which they tried to differentiate themselves from a Right whose economic ideas they largely shared. But such initiatives gained very few new votes, whilst often alienating their traditional supporters. It has therefore been easy for parties of the radical right to outflank the parties of the Left from the left. If those parties of the Left disintegrate in the face of the National Front, UKIP and their analogues, they will have only themselves to blame.

19

bob mcmanus 01.06.15 at 6:38 pm

14:So social democracy needs a new base to connect to.

Bertolt Brecht Lives!

(If that is the case, would it not be simpler,
If the government simply dissolved the people
And elected another?)

20

Chris Bertram 01.06.15 at 6:49 pm

mcmanus, your crack would be funnier if the Pegida morons weren’t chanting “Wir sind das Volk” this very week.

21

Thornton Hall 01.06.15 at 6:51 pm

Economist, heal thyself

What Krugman fails to realize is that the language of Very Serious People originates not in political gatherings but in the academy. More than any other institution, it is the Western Economic Tradition which controls the way we have these debates.

If that tradition had a methodology that allowed for reality to either confirm or falsify its various tenets, then the set of good economists like Krugman would be close to coextensive with the set of economists employed at major universities. The sad irony is that Krugman, just like all the Freshwater crowd, continues to insist that there is no other way. Either a priori or (in Krugman’s case) a forteriori, they have all concluded that the current methodoly is the best possible.

22

William Timberman 01.06.15 at 6:58 pm

Wer is das Volk? is the relevant question. Pegida isn’t the answer, even if BW is right about conservatives being the real revolutionaries. First, there must be, will be blood. Nur dann kommt die (neue) Moral.

23

jake the antisoshul soshulist 01.06.15 at 7:15 pm

That disconnect is causing ruptures on the right in the US, as well. The Tea Party populists are disconnected from the establishment right. In a microcosm, Ted Cruz vs. Mitch McConnell. No one detests McConnell more the the Tea Partiers.

I don’t know if he will be successful, but Rand Paul is working to unite the three factions of the American right behind him. He does appeal to the Libertarians, and at least some of the religious right, but the big money establishment does not seem to trust him. If he can establish national appeal with the former groups, the third will probably fall in line.

24

novakant 01.06.15 at 7:25 pm

Call me cynical, but whenever vox populi raises its ugly head it seems to shout something along the lines of “kick out the foreigners (and other selected deviants), they’re taking our jobs, make children all day and their cultural practices are icky”. Of course, if we want to be nice about it, we could say with some justification that this is simply a projection of the existential fears of vulnerable economic groups onto another, even weaker one. But I think what’s mostly at play here is just deep seated, good old fashioned racism and general hatred of “the other” – it’s proven very popular time and again and the rightwing parties are happy as pie to feed these base instincts.

So in the face of resurging xenophobic populism and nationalism, I am actually very grateful that the much maligned “EU elites” are keeping both the plebs and national governments at bay – god help us if the EU became truly democratic. The longterm solution is to dismantle the European nation states and find an equilibrium between supra-national and regional power structures.

25

bianca steele 01.06.15 at 7:25 pm

Bob’s comment really is funny if either the government did elect a new people, or if he’s concluded that Marx had no idea what kind of revolution his theory was going to lead to.

26

Thornton Hall 01.06.15 at 7:31 pm

@Henry
You’re at GW, right?
Why not take the debate out of fantasyland? The snow is beautiful and it’s not that cold. Why not put on your boots and spend 30 minutes walking over to the Capitol? Raul Grijalva and the rest of the Congressional Progresive Caucus got back in to town yesterday and it’s unlikely John Boehner will have anything for them to do. You could simply ask them why “The Better Off Budget” they proposed seeks to reduce the National Debt to 65.5% of GDP? That seems like a low number. Is it because they are dissociated from their constituents?

It really wouldn’t hurt to ask.

27

Jacques René Giguère 01.06.15 at 7:32 pm

@ 6 “Thus, any national pro-EU Left would be a contradiction in terms.”
A unified european left could do it. That they don’t want to show the extent of the problem.

28

J Thomas 01.06.15 at 7:39 pm

#21 Thornton Wilder

The sad irony is that Krugman, just like all the Freshwater crowd, continues to insist that there is no other way. Either a priori or (in Krugman’s case) a forteriori, they have all concluded that the current methodoly is the best possible.

Somehow when I first read that I read “monopoly” for “methodoly”. I don’t know why. They don’t look that similar on the surface.

29

Thornton Hall 01.06.15 at 7:59 pm

@J Thomas
Hah! Someday my smartphone will learn to spell.

/One other thought: in class terms, politicians are the same people they’ve always been.

There has been a massive change however: pre-WWII the press was working class, lucky to sport a high school diploma. Now they have convinced themselves the field is something one can get a Masters in.

That this shift is almost never noticed tells us who controls much of the discussion.

30

David 01.06.15 at 8:19 pm

I wouldn’t be so hard on the vox populi. Some of us were born listening to it. All the evidence is that purely hard-line anti-foreigner and anti-immigrant parties attract only a small proportion of the electorate to their views. The issue here is “foreigners” only insofar as ordinary people, the unwashed plebs that European elites so dislike, are those who actually suffer from the negative effects of globalisation, job exportation, immigration and European “competition” policy. It may be inelegant and oversimplified to mix all this up as “foreigners”, but it’s how a lot of people think. The Left, which used to be the party of the common people now holds them in contempt, not least because its leaders benefit personally from these very same factors. It has carried out the first part of Brecht’s recipe, and has dismissed the people. Unfortunately, it can’t find another one.

31

David 01.06.15 at 8:35 pm

Why is Syriza winning, and does their party model seem like it could be cloned throughout the European continent?

32

fledermaus 01.06.15 at 8:47 pm

“But I think what’s mostly at play here is just deep seated, good old fashioned racism and general hatred of “the other” – it’s proven very popular time and again and the rightwing parties are happy as pie to feed these base instincts.”

Even granting this premise, unless your “EU elites” are actually prepared to address these concerns in a substantive way this xenophobic power base will only continue to grow as more and more people become impoverished in order to give free money to European bankers.

But sure, go ahead and continue to sneer. That’ll bring them around to your way of thinking.

33

Henry 01.06.15 at 8:51 pm

Thornton Hall – you’ve shown yourself to be a pest on other CT writers’ posts, and you don’t seem particularly interested in reading (or you’d have noticed that this is a post about European social democratic parties). I don’t see that you contribute anything, and would like you not to comment on my posts any more. If I see comments from you, I’ll delete them.

34

Henry 01.06.15 at 8:57 pm

Chris – one of the useful things about Mair’s book is that it talks about the weakening of parties as happening from below as well as above, as people become disengaged. There’s some interesting possible crossover with the arguments of Herbert Kitschelt at Duke about the difficulty that social democratic parties faced as their coalition fractured into working class and middle class life-style and environment people.

35

hix 01.06.15 at 8:57 pm

Really, Syriza as a role model? Come on. I get im far out of touch with the policy preference consesus here when it comes to this topic, but does it really have to go so far that Greece insanity gets to be made the heroe -_-. At least look to Spain instead?

36

Roger Gathmann 01.06.15 at 9:17 pm

There’s a nice story in Le Monde this morning about the resignation of the head of the CGT syndicat, who refused to put CGT’s face on the anti-austerity movement. One of the things that brought him down was the revelation concerning the expenses on his house and office. These people really live and think like CEOs, now. The CEO-ization of upper management – be it of charities, universities, parties, unions, etc. – is not, perhaps, the cause of the collapse of the left’s defense of social democratic economics, but it is certainly the symptom. http://www.lemonde.fr/economie/article/2014/11/25/le-bureau-de-thierry-lepaon-renove-aux-frais-de-la-cgt-selon-le-canard-enchaine_4529229_3234.html#meter_toaster

37

The Temporary Name 01.06.15 at 9:22 pm

In Ireland there’s a referendum on same-sex marriage coming up*; presumably that was a good read of a constituency on the part of Labour. Someone’s figured out the dark art of divining what people think is just. Why that justice and not the rest?

*Rejection of the base instinct to demonize the other?

38

David 01.06.15 at 9:55 pm

(Not the David who made the Syriza comment).
To the Lepaon example (and “paon” means “peacock” in French, how interesting) I’d add that French trades unions have been pretty ineffective at protecting their members’ wages and working conditions, so they too are losing support. Whilst a large working class exists in most western countries, it’s made up largely of people who have a middle-class mindset. In reality, a call-centre operator today may have a less secure and relatively less well-paid job than the factory worker who was his or her grandfather. But whereas it was relatively easy to organise five hundred factory workers who lived in the same town and walked or took the bus to work, it’s far harder to organise the same number of people on temporary contracts who drive half an hour to work from different directions. The destruction of communities, one of the proudest achievements of neoliberalism, has effectively made organised mass political parties impossible, or at least very difficult.

39

novakant 01.06.15 at 10:48 pm

Once the xenophobes stop blaming the wrong people for their misery, start looking at the facts and maybe showing a bit of fraternité as well, I’ll happily join them in bringing down neoliberalism – that, however is the necessary condition, otherwise they can all go f@ck themselves.

/sorry, this pegida business is just unbearable

40

Tabasco 01.06.15 at 11:03 pm

This discussion is way over-engineered. Historically European social democrats faced the accusation, which they never properly refuted, that their program was just a watered-down version of Soviet communism. With the failure of Soviet communism they retreated to watered-down neoliberalism. They convinced themselves that Thatcher was right – There is No Alternative.

Never underestimate the desire of center-left politicians to be seen as being responsible.

41

Luke 01.06.15 at 11:33 pm

bob hits the nail on the head. I’m actually surprised at how willing people on the left are to accept the neoliberal line about the shrinking working class. In structural terms (i.e. as wage labour), the working class, be it global or national, has never been so huge in both a relative and an absolute sense. What has changed is that old chestnut, ‘class consciousness’. We need to look at unfashionable questions of ideology, social discipline, and organisation, and how these relate to global markets.

Also, @39, don’t forget about Ebert supporting the Freikorps. It’s easy to paint the centre-left as cowed by the right, but historically, it sometimes looks like genuine conviction. Sometimes, a cigar is just a cigar.

42

Brett Bellmore 01.07.15 at 12:08 am

Well, Tabasco, you can’t properly refute the truth. Perhaps a lot of European social democrats themselves thought of their program as watered down Soviet communism, and lost heart when it was proven to them that the pure quill really didn’t work. It would be nice to think of them as actually learning from experience.

Of course, all political elites attempt to insulate themselves from the need for support from the base, and having succeeded, treat the base to what the elites think they ought to get, and ignore what the base wants. That’s the oldest story around: Somebody gets power claiming they want to help you, and once they have it, use it for their own ends. All hierarchies degenerate in that fashion if remaining in a position of power isn’t directly tied to making the people underneath happy, and no elite are ever going to refrain from trying to cut that tie.

The sad fact is, power attracts people who shouldn’t have it, and once they get it, they don’t mean to part with it, or use it as somebody else would like.

43

MPAVictoria 01.07.15 at 12:24 am

Brett if I am a watered down Marxist you are a watered down nazis.
/Or maybe we are both just are what we are

44

Brett Bellmore 01.07.15 at 12:31 am

You don’t think some fraction of European social democrats couldn’t have been Marxists, just trying for incremental progress in the direction of their ultimate goal? Seems reasonable to me, not every European communist would have thought openly pushing for a direct jump to communism was a smart tactic.

Heck, I’m an anarcho-capitalist. I just think constitutional government and the rule of law are a step in that direction from where we are now, and see no practical way to immediately get rid of government. But I still know where I want to go, even if I can’t see a way yet to get there. I find it very easy to believe that a lot of democratic socialists would have been similarly situated communists.

45

ZM 01.07.15 at 12:36 am

In defense of the current French government (about which I am not well educated overall) I heard at a conference last year that they set up a new nationalised bank worth several billions the funds of which are intended to support sustainability, social enterprises, and technology development . Since in Australia our past Labor governments dismayingly privatized our State and Commonwealth nationalised banks some decades ago I think this new nationalised bank is a commendable thing.

There being so many mentions of Brecht is interesting – last year one of the leading urban planning professors at uni published a paper called Coming Through the Slaughter (after a Michael Ondaatjie book) about the past few decades of growth – and it was bookended by quotes if Brecht which makes me think of it here.

Now I think of it the essay also points to a well known failing of Krugman in terms of him not engaging very well (AFAICT) with material and ecological limits and the temporal nature of things. The move away from a temporal understanding was pointed to ages ago by the Marxist scholars of postmodernism where if I remember rightly the argument was that space started to be the basis of understanding rather than time. I will copy some passages from the essay below – which is based on his new book The Urban Condition

“I, Bertolt Brecht, came out of the black forests.
My mother moved me into the cities as I lay Inside her body.
And the coldness of the forests
Will be inside me till my dying day.
– Bertolt Brecht

The bloodiest century in history gives way to an era of urban opportunity, but in a world unsettled by planetary scale threats to natural and human orders. Ulrich Beck (2009) speaks of a ‘dialectics of moder- nity’, underlining the simultaneity of triumph and crisis in a world pervasively and continuously remade by capitalist modernisation. Beck casts us in an age of unprecedented global risk marked by an auto-genesis of threat that seems integral to capitalism itself: of world global society wracked by the agonies “…self- dissolution, self-endangerment and self-transformation” (2009:163).

The terrible and terrifying dialectic of modernisation was revealed continuously through the twentieth- century, as the scale of the paradox reached ever upwards to the twin heights of accomplishment and extinction. In 1961, through the heavy pall of the atomic age, John F. Kennedy, recognised,“The world is very different now. Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life” (in Watson 2012:12). It was a moment of revelation that was both appalling and enthralling. Other moments of species insight were to follow: the dawn of a Silent Spring (Carson 1962) that masked the poisoning of Earth’s ecology, the first view from space of a finite world and The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972). Later, recognition that centuries of carbon capitalism had squandered the planet’s ability to support life, potentially all of it.

The modern conversation has fixed progressively on this great contradiction of human development. Nar- ratives collide. Triumph is reread as calamity, and progress retold as regress. There were foretellings. Long before President Kennedy’s declaration, Marx and Engels scorned the boasts of the industrial bourgeois who “like the sorcerer…is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells (Marx & Engels 1985[1848 ]:85-6).

The new world we re-inherit will be, in the words of the late Australian musician David McComb, a beautiful waste. We should not fear it terribly. Our extraordinary capacity for making convivial things, including from ruined cities and spoiled landscapes, will remain undiminished.

To eyes that can see, this miraculous power is already quietly at work in the world’s metropolitan ruins and ‘doomed peripheries’. In Detroit, slaughtered industrial behemoth, a community farming initiative estab- lishes agriculture in urban badlands in quest for better health, justice and renewal of human purpose. Rebel Cities in the Global South refuse the wasteland destinations charted by neo-liberal urbanism (Harvey 2012). These urban natalities witness to species optimism and courage in dark times.

We ate the fruit of knowledge. We cannot undo its work. We cannot go back to the first light of purity. There is only the way ahead. Eden must be renewed in our own cultivations. Homo urbanis should find its good home in the city not in a new age of enchantment. The miracle of modern recovery that awaits us is, as Arendt explained, our inborn ability to endlessly produce the new…against the odds. The Promethean dream is reaching its improvident end. We wake in a time of vast possibilities. Something awful is being born, but also something new. The odds, if we take them, are in our favour. In the next world we can be monarchs of the beautiful waste.

In the earthquakes to come, I very much hope
I shall keep my cigar alight, embittered or no
I, Bertolt Brecht, carried off to the asphalt cities
From the black forests inside my mother long ago.
– Bertolt Brecht ”

http://www.sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/files/mssi/MSSI-IssuesPaper-3_Gleeson_2014_0.pdf

46

otpup 01.07.15 at 12:38 am

Thanks for the recommendation of Mair, sounds really interesting.

I have been interested in the connection between electoral dis-proportionality and the decline of the Left. Both the UK and France have highly disproportional system (compared to the rest of Europe). Contrast to Germany which despite having most of its proletariat base sealed off in the East still had fairly robust soc-dem politics in the post War period largely I am assuming because of a more proportional electoral system.

In short, the quality of the political democracy helps determine the robustness and longevity working class anchored social democracy. It’s the ability of voters to discipline the representatives in multi-party contest that makes representative democracy have the possibility of really being accountable to the base (the Anthony Downs argument). I don’t think it makes sense to generalize about the Left in Britain (let alone the US) where the 2.5 party system helped the Left fritter away it’s huge demographic advantages with the small more purely parliamentary (and more purely social democratic) states such as the Scandinavians etc. Of course, the decline of the social democratic tradition in those places is crucial to understand as well.

47

Matt 01.07.15 at 1:05 am

Ah yes, well known minarchist Brett Bellmore is back. He wants no more government than essential: enough armed force to prevent abortions, ensure that Carnegies and Waltons keep their loot, and invade/occupy Iraq. And not a single aircraft carrier group more!

48

ZM 01.07.15 at 1:34 am

(Henry – this comment is awaiting moderation as I mistyped my email address – if you could please delete the one in moderation it would be appreciated)

In defense of the current French government (about which I am not well educated overall) I heard at a conference last year that they set up a new nationalised bank worth several billions the funds of which are intended to support sustainability, social enterprises, and technology development . Since in Australia our past Labor governments dismayingly privatized our State and Commonwealth nationalised banks some decades ago I think this is a commendable thing.

There being so many mentions of Brecht is interesting – last year one of the leading urban planning professors at uni published a paper called Coming Through the Slaughter (after a Michael Ondaatjie book) about the past few decades of growth – and it was bookended by quotes if Brecht which makes me think of it here.

Now I think of it the essay also points to a well known failing of Krugman in terms of him not engaging very well (AFAICT) with material and ecological limits and the temporal nature of things. The move away from a temporal understanding was pointed to ages ago by the Marxist scholars of postmodernism where if I remember rightly the argument was that space started to be the basis of understanding rather than time. I will copy some passages from the essay below , it is based on his book The Urban Condition (2014)

I do not think past solutions are going to be able to be replicated now given the depletion of resources, poor state of the ecologies and living species diversity and numbers and climate and ocean systems, and high numbers of people globally as well as other cultural factors.

“I, Bertolt Brecht, came out of the black forests.
My mother moved me into the cities as I lay
Inside her body.And the coldness of the forests
Will be inside me till my dying day.
– Bertolt Brecht ”

The bloodiest century in history gives way to an era of urban opportunity, but in a world unsettled by planetary scale threats to natural and human orders. Ulrich Beck (2009) speaks of a ‘dialectics of moder- nity’, underlining the simultaneity of triumph and crisis in a world pervasively and continuously remade by capitalist modernisation. Beck casts us in an age of unprecedented global risk marked by an auto-genesis of threat that seems integral to capitalism itself: of world global society wracked by the agonies “…self- dissolution, self-endangerment and self-transformation” (2009:163).

The terrible and terrifying dialectic of modernisation was revealed continuously through the twentieth- century, as the scale of the paradox reached ever upwards to the twin heights of accomplishment and extinction. In 1961, through the heavy pall of the atomic age, John F. Kennedy, recognised,“The world is very different now. Man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life” (in Watson 2012:12). It was a moment of revelation that was both appalling and enthralling. Other moments of species insight were to follow: the dawn of a Silent Spring (Carson 1962) that masked the poisoning of Earth’s ecology, the first view from space of a finite world and The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972). Later, recognition that centuries of carbon capitalism had squandered the planet’s ability to support life, potentially all of it.

The modern conversation has fixed progressively on this great contradiction of human development. Nar- ratives collide. Triumph is reread as calamity, and progress retold as regress. There were foretellings. Long before President Kennedy’s declaration, Marx and Engels scorned the boasts of the industrial bourgeois who “like the sorcerer…is no longer able to control the powers of the nether world whom he has called up by his spells (Marx & Engels 1985[1848 ]:85-6).

The new world we re-inherit will be, in the words of the late Australian musician David McComb, a beautiful waste. We should not fear it terribly. Our extraordinary capacity for making convivial things, including from ruined cities and spoiled landscapes, will remain undiminished.

To eyes that can see, this miraculous power is already quietly at work in the world’s metropolitan ruins and ‘doomed peripheries’. In Detroit, slaughtered industrial behemoth, a community farming initiative estab- lishes agriculture in urban badlands in quest for better health, justice and renewal of human purpose. Rebel Cities in the Global South refuse the wasteland destinations charted by neo-liberal urbanism (Harvey 2012). These urban natalities witness to species optimism and courage in dark times.

We ate the fruit of knowledge. We cannot undo its work. We cannot go back to the first light of purity. There is only the way ahead. Eden must be renewed in our own cultivations. Homo urbanis should find its good home in the city not in a new age of enchantment. The miracle of modern recovery that awaits us is, as Arendt explained, our inborn ability to endlessly produce the new…against the odds. The Promethean dream is reaching its improvident end. We wake in a time of vast possibilities. Something awful is being born, but also something new. The odds, if we take them, are in our favour. In the next world we can be monarchs of the beautiful waste.

In the earthquakes to come, I very much hope
I shall keep my cigar alight, embittered or no
I, Bertolt Brecht, carried off to the asphalt cities
From the black forests inside my mother long ago.
– Bertolt Brecht ”

Brendan Gleeson , 2014, Coming Through the Slaughter: Ecology of the Urban Age
http://www.sustainable.unimelb.edu.au/files/mssi/MSSI-IssuesPaper-3_Gleeson_2014_0.pdf

49

david 01.07.15 at 1:59 am

But Mair – an expert on the evolution of political parties and party systems – makes a strong case that leftwing parties in Europe today have become profoundly disassociated from their voters…

Were they ever associated with their voters? It is hard to observe the glorious ideological and policy triumph of, say, the Attlee government in establishing the postwar consensus, and fail to notice that it triggered severe and irreconcilable internal Labour conflicts even as the policies themselves went from strength to strength.

I’ve noticed a tendency for historical memories of the postwar social-democratic consensus to be revised as something that the left grassroots at the time embraced, rather than vociferously condemned as corporatist oppression.

50

Andrew F. 01.07.15 at 2:15 am

I’m my mind has been dulled from hearing the same drumbeat during the most recent iteration of the euro crisis… so in political terms, all I can understand is:

After years and years of democratic deficits (a topic of some discussion since at least the early days of the monetary union), the only answer to the accumulated democratic debt is quite clearly democratic austerity. Eventually these austerity measures will replenish the coffers of civic and political engagement, allowing for confidence and faith in the system to be restored and for political investment and political credit to return to normal levels after a period of adjustment.

There are a few steps in the plan (only three or four are really crucial steps, and the rest are just very important) yet to be finalized among the concerned governments, supranational institutions, and assorted interest parties, but no doubt coordination will occur in due time.

That’s all tongue in cheek – I don’t have a firm view yet on European prospects for this year, but I’m starting to incline towards making a more optimistic call than some.

51

Steve Sailer 01.07.15 at 4:18 am

David’s referring to Brecht’s poem “The Solution:”

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

52

QS 01.07.15 at 4:20 am

The other party to watch is Podemos in Spain. Their leader seems to get it:

https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/12/pablo-iglesias-podemos-left-speech/

53

Randy McDonald 01.07.15 at 5:10 am

David:

” In addition, of course, Europe institutions have now grown to a size, and degree of intrusiveness, that few originally envisaged.”

Really? All of the central institutions of the modern European Union, including the Commission and the Parliament, were set up fairly early in the 1960s, as was discussion of tight integration akin to that of the contemporary EU. There was even, in the abortive European Defense Community, talk of a complete military union that has no contemporary parallels at all.

54

Brett 01.07.15 at 7:29 am

@Randy McDonald

If anything, the current European Union is a watered-down vision of what it was “supposed” to be. Before the current crisis, I remember hearing complaints about how admitting a bunch of new, poorer European countries prevented the EU from becoming the tighter organization it would supposedly be if it was only the rich European countries.

In the mean-time, there is a European Parliament that is democratically elected and that has legal powers, if anyone bothers to organize and put them to use against the non-democratic institutions in the EU.

55

Chris Bertram 01.07.15 at 8:14 am

@luke “I’m actually surprised at how willing people on the left are to accept the neoliberal line about the shrinking working class. In structural terms (i.e. as wage labour), the working class, be it global or national, has never been so huge in both a relative and an absolute sense. What has changed is that old chestnut, ‘class consciousness’.”

Even if “class consciousness” were all that had changed, you’d have to ask why? The working class, as a plausible collective agent for social change, a group that through its institutions could remodel and manage society as a whole, is utterly diminished. That’s notwithstanding the vast numbers of people in waged jobs (often temporary or part-time) who are in some technical Marxian sense “proletarian”. Even if we take the small numbers that remain in what used to be considered the industrial core of that class, they couldn’t take over their factories and run them without capitalists, for the simple reason that they probably make widgets that contribute to some larger thing, their production is useless without the other components of that process, and widget-production can easily be switched elsewhere. Get your head out of the sand and stop repeating the eternal verities about Marxism and class: they don’t give you either a plausible programme for how to change society or a plausible vision of a future one.

56

otto 01.07.15 at 9:26 am

The most left wing, pro- worker if you like, states in the world, perhaps even in all world history, are in the contemporary European Union. Sweden and Denmark for example (are their politics hollowed out?), but others too, each with their own particular features of course. Much of what the EU does “constrain” has little to do with the politics of redistribution between classes. Similarly, much of the contemporary question of social democratic crisis comes down to more specifically to the Euro. The Euro does indeed appear to have been a very stupid idea, too similar to the Gold Standard, as many people warned when it was being proposed. If there was a general weakness to social democrats (both party officials and affiliated technocrats/thinkers) in Europe in the 1980s and 1990s, it is that they were willing to cluelessly sign up to half-baked EU-wide single currency proposals.

57

George Berger 01.07.15 at 9:36 am

Unless I am mistaken, neither article nor comments mention TTIP, TPP and TISA, respectively the Trade and Investment Partnership (US-EU), Trans Pacific Partnership (US-many Pacific nations) and Trade In Services Agreement (few know what, where and how). These are Free Trade Agreements being discussed and/or negotiated in secret, now.
One aim is to reduce barriers to investment by the USA in the public services of other countries. Many here in the EU feel that the intended result is the privatisation, sale and outsourcing of, say, hospitals. This is nothing less than a corporate coup-attempt. TTIP has been well-documented online but its full expected impact has been largely kept out of the media and party-political programmes. The European Commission has attempted to limit information and public discussion, with some success. Here are several introductory sources. First, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal-full-frontal-assault-on-democracy . Now an example, relying on the work of Linda Kaucher, the person who alerted many of us to TTIP http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/12/how-eu-making-nhs-privatisation-permanent . Finally, Linda Kauchers excellent exposition of TTIP http://occupylondon.org.uk/information-kit-useu-transatlantic-trade-and-investment-partnership-ttip/ . These show that the European Commission has dissociated itself from communication with and interests of, the EU residents. The voting records of the EU Parliament show that most parties have followed the Commission in this (here is the most important instance so far http://term7.votewatch.eu/en/financial-responsibility-linked-to-investor-state-dispute-settlement-tribunals-established-by-intern-4.html , to be read after the sources above), and that little of this has been honestly communicated to the EU and US public (but see this http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/05/bernie-sanders-michael-froman-tpp_n_6419874.html ). Some trade union centrals have been writing about this. I’m more familiar with the online blog of the Swedish central, LO. See the posts there by Kjell Rautio, in LO Bloggen , The LO Blog. LO’s main statement in English, is here: LO.se/home/lo/res.nsf/vRes/lo_in_english_1366027847830_ttip_lo_tco_saco_pos_pdf/$File/TTIP_LO_TCO_Saco_pos.pdf .

58

David 01.07.15 at 10:20 am

”Get your head out of the sand and stop repeating the eternal verities about Marxism and class: they don’t give you either a plausible programme for how to change society or a plausible vision of a future one.”

There is certainly no creditable center-left vision re: how to change society, or even, seemingly, how to prevent it from getting worse. We could do without self-satisfied left-liberal Anti-Marxism, thank you.

59

David 01.07.15 at 10:22 am

@53, 54 and 55
Lots of points here, and what you think about them depends to some extent on your perspective: if you have dealt with EU institutions professionally, for example.
It’s quite true that the founders of Europe had very large aspirations, but it’s also true that the likes of Schumann and Monnet never anticipated the extent of the current power of EU institutions, especially over the lives of ordinary people; There have in fact been many changes and extensions to the competences of the Union, especially since 1992. The Commission (not member states) for example has its own Foreign and Security Policy, with a budget of around 1Billion Euros a year, not subject to any oversight. (The EDC was a completely separate initiative, pushed especially by the US, in the early stages of the Cold War).
European institutions in the wider sense have not only multiplied but, like all institutions, have tried to expand their field of activity. The European Court of Human Rights, for example, whatever you think of the quality of their judgements, has taken on a political role which it was never designed for, and increasingly issue judgements which overrule parliaments, and make ordinary people (many of whom are impeccably “pro-European) feel helpless and angry.
But it’s actually competition policy which is the worst. The Euro (@56) is certainly partly responsible, but it wasn’t a mistake, it was designed that way; I recall listening to a German banker in 1998 explaining how, with perfect transparency of wages and prices, private companies could always choose the cheapest option from anywhere in Europe. The example he gave was German companies contracting with Portuguese transport firms, because the latters’ costs (and thus prices) would be much lower. In turn, this would force German drivers to accept lower wages and poorer conditions. He seemed quite cheerful about the idea.
To an extent, this has actually happened. the EU’s manic cheapest option competition policy has prevented governments even from intervening to prevent exploitation. There was an item on French TV news last night about French abattoirs threatened with closure because their German competitors were employing cheap immigrant labour (not all of it legal, apparently) and so selling meat more cheaply in France.
Finally, this madness also applies in public purchasing, where anything except the most trivial contract has to be competed among all EU countries, and decided on price. Thus, in the region around Paris last year, the authorities tried to ensure that the food in school canteens came, if not from France, then at least from countries in the EU where you could have confidence in the hygiene standards. They were slapped down, because under EU purchasing rules (“free and fair competition”) you are forbidden to take such things into account. Schools cannot therefore assure parents that their children are not eating meals (supplied largely by private companies who look for the cheapest suppliers) that don’t contain Romanian horse meat. Those who make these rules, of course, send their children to private schools where the same rules do not apply.
In such circumstances, ill-feeling about Europe, and about immigration (as opposed to immigrants, which is a different issue) is entirely understandable, and not the fault of ordinary people.
And let’s not get to hung-up on the industrial working class angle. Some trades unions and professional associations in France are quite strong (teachers, civil servants, medical personnel) because they work in large structured organisations. Cleaners, for example, are quite heavily unionized, and so open to approaches from left)wing parties. But as I said, organising the dispersed, insecure, fragmented lumpensalariat is a different issue.

60

Chris Bertram 01.07.15 at 10:32 am

“We could do without self-satisfied left-liberal Anti-Marxism, thank you.”

If I say “your plan won’t work”, that’s true (or not) independently of whether I have one that will. It isn’t a pissing contest. (I’m glad to see that you think it obvious that my own aspirations are “centre-left”.) Your wishing that classical Marxism will provide us with workable solutions won’t make that so; your invocation of classical Marxist views as a purity test simply shuts down debates we need to have if we are to find a viable path to a more just society. Ditto for mcmanus et al.

61

David 01.07.15 at 10:46 am

“Your wishing that classical Marxism will provide us with workable solutions won’t make that so; your invocation of classical Marxist views as a purity test simply shuts down debates we need to have if we are to find a viable path to a more just society. ”

The problem being that the only ”debate” to be had with the Center-Left usually involves the degree to which they are willing to accede to the economic priorities of the Right. Full stop.

”Social democracy” doesn’t work either because it is inevitably undermined by Rightist attacks and center-left squishiness. That is the answer to the riddle of why the Left and Center Left are being destroyed today – they don’t offer a credible vision of an alternative form of society. They limit their critiques to ideological issues (racism, feminism, etc.) and accuse opponents further to their left of being misguided, naive Marxist mad men.

People are disillusioned with the modern left because they actually want change of more than just rhetoric.

62

Chris Bertram 01.07.15 at 11:02 am

So @David, I write:

“I’m glad to see that you think it obvious that my own aspirations are “centre-left””

and you reply:

“The problem being that the only ”debate” to be had with the Center-Left usually involves the degree to which they are willing to accede to the economic priorities of the Right. Full stop.”

(In my experience there is no useful conversation to be had with a person who already knows what you think, quite independently of what you have expressed.)

63

David 01.07.15 at 11:07 am

That is a bit of a cop-out. Go on and take offense and leave the conversation in a huff then.

64

Ze Kraggash 01.07.15 at 11:15 am

“What has changed is that old chestnut, ‘class consciousness’.”

I don’t know if it has changed; perhaps it’s just been successfully neutralized. Professionally, scientifically.

Here’s a quote from the piece I read recently, by Steven Mann, American diplomat: “As hackers have shown, the most aggressive way to alter software is with a “virus,” and what is ideology but another name for a human software virus?” Nice, eh?

65

jkay 01.07.15 at 11:21 am

Why be a Know-Nothing when Shrub the Know-Nothing did Iraq and killed our economy and screwed up everything else? Iraq was a sad REALITY for Iraqis, and our dead economy for us.

Want to not be Shrub and do well? Then thinking and googlechecking and skepticism are the way, remember.

Want a chance for a real job, ever? Then remember to vote Dem as much as you can, as annoying and wrong as we are. After all, the Republicans vote against your jobs; their program’s the Depression Plan that has worked so WELL in Europe creating an economic depression there. Obama did Keynesian stimulus that helped alot here, first thing, by contrast.

But Obama did say books worth of stuff and better, do tons of advertising during his campaigns, though arguably he should’ve said more in the byelections.

66

guthrie 01.07.15 at 11:22 am

david #49 – do you have any links/ books about the response of the rank and file to the corporatist policies?

67

bob mcmanus 01.07.15 at 11:45 am

60: “Classical Marxist?” Naw, most people know I am interested in the names on this list of Post-Marxists and Post-Structuralists (and cybertheorists, world-systems, maybe accelerationists). I read a lot of stuff, a wide variety of stuff.

Funny, I hadn’t noticed that Bertram had contributed an article to the Bidet anthology. No surprise as to the topic. I wonder whom among his fellow contributors are considered acceptable. I can guess Bertram is no fan of Callinicos (just finished a book of AC’s this week; also Jodi Dean;finished the Arrighi). Probably the entire section on post-structuralists can go. World systems?

May a thousand Marxisms bloom, as the saying goes. My impression is that the Analytical Marxists think the other 999 aren’t worth reading.

68

reason 01.07.15 at 11:49 am

There is a policy that points the way forward, simple transparent redistribution (i.e. basic income or as I prefer to call it national dividend). But the old left (because it identifies with labour) cannot embrace it. We should be prepared to accept that labour may never more have the leverage it once had. Leverage in the modern world requires purchasing power – give it to people.

So yes, we may need a need a new left to achieve that. I had great hopes for the pirate party in Germany, who seemed to be saying some of the right things, but then they lost their way (perhaps because they were an amalgam of libertarians, anarchists and socialists, but perhaps also because they had no patience with the mechanics of seeking power).

69

bob mcmanus 01.07.15 at 11:51 am

Link fail; sorry

Post-Marxists

70

David 01.07.15 at 11:55 am

”There is a policy that points the way forward, simple transparent redistribution (i.e. basic income or as I prefer to call it national dividend). But the old left (because it identifies with labour) cannot embrace it.”

Meh. I think the Old Left could quite easily get behind the cause of Basic Income. It would require some politicians actually advocating it with regularity to change the system as it currently exists, however.

71

J. Parnell Thomas 01.07.15 at 12:07 pm

72

Mario 01.07.15 at 12:09 pm

Might be related: Oh, dear!. It’s from BBC’s Adam Curtiss, so not a nutter vid, at least not obviously so. But who knows?

From the clip:

[…]a strategy of power that keeps any opposition constantly confused.

73

Jonathan Hallam 01.07.15 at 12:31 pm

Hi,

Political elites either care predominantly about members of their own elite class (broadly, Conservatives) and act selfishly benefiting the first peak, or they’re altruistic out-of-group (broadly, Liberals, New Labour). But being altruistic out-of-group there’s no driving philosophical reason for them to be selfish on the national level, thus driving the second peak via free trade mechanisms, overseas aid and so forth.

JMH

74

bob mcmanus 01.07.15 at 12:43 pm

Tcherneva and Wray (pdf) have been arguing against the Basic Income (and for a Job Guarantee) for probably decades. I oppose BI.

But what brought me back was encountering the name Philippe Van Parijs in MaxSpeaks comments. Won’t add another link, so from Wiki:

“Philippe Van Parijs (French: [filip vɑ̃ paʁɛjs]; born 23 May 1951) is a left-libertarian Belgian philosopher and political economist, mainly known as a proponent and main defender of the basic income concept[1] and for the first systematic treatment of linguistic justice.[2]”

Where had I seen that name recently? The list of Analytical Marxists.

75

reason 01.07.15 at 1:15 pm

Bob McManus @72
I don’t like a job guarantee, I think the micro-economics stink (basically the world today is too specialized for it to possibly do much useful). What job are you going to give people that can cope with very high turnover (as people join and then leave constantly as they get better offers) and how would you sensibly resource it (with the skills of the available workers , and so the technology they need to work with, constantly changing). People just wave their hands when I mention this, but what is the point? Are you really saying that working is good just from a moral point of view, rather than because it does something useful? And aren’t you worried about the possibility of monopsony and misuse of power (if people are no longer concerned about the health of the private economy because everybody has a job and then more and more power accrues to those administrating the job guarantee). We can reinvent the Soviet system if we are not careful.

76

reason 01.07.15 at 1:18 pm

J. Parnell Thomas @71
From memory the arguments made there are mainly US centric political arguments, not arguments about the basic concept. I’m allowed to disagree with him, we can chew gum and walk at the same time.

77

William Berry 01.07.15 at 1:42 pm

bob mcmanus @8:

I am curious as to what you think of Michael Albert’s (“Marxian” but non-leninist; non-statist; radically democratic and basically anarchistic) PARECON, which makes the same structural analysis given in condensed form in the Bidet passage you quote. Bidet’s professional management class appears to correspond to Albert’s “co-ordinator class”.

Apologies for not having read the intervening thread; will get to it as soon as I can.

78

J Thomas 01.07.15 at 1:48 pm

#72 bob mcmanus

Tcherneva and Wray (pdf) have been arguing against the Basic Income (and for a Job Guarantee) for probably decades. I oppose BI.

How come? In terms of physical stuff we could support the whole population at a level of around, say, $20,000/year each without much trouble. Oil is currently the limiting factor, and housing. We build ancient-style houses that are hard to heat wherever there are currently new jobs, and then when the jobs move elsewhere the houses sit there. Rent is very high where there are jobs and low elsewhere. It’s a system that would be ripe for reform except that upper-middle-class people can invest in rental housing as a sort of cottage industry, and the banks want it the way it is.

There’s the issue that if people weren’t terrified of poverty then they might not work desperately at jobs they hate. But that’s a psychological issue that could be dealt with other ways.

79

bob mcmanus 01.07.15 at 2:02 pm

BI is complicated and off-topic, except very indirectly perhaps with reference to the demographics and ideology of support. Hardt & Negri support BI; tiqqun opposes BI vehemently.

Some other thread, though.

80

Rich Puchalsky 01.07.15 at 2:03 pm

“Tcherneva and Wray (pdf) have been arguing against the Basic Income (and for a Job Guarantee) for probably decades.”

Bob Black, The Abolition of Work. People are going to go around and around saying “but guaranteed income causes hyperinflation” and “but enforced make-work for everyone is not what we really want” until they accept that we really need a lot less productive work.

81

Ronan(rf) 01.07.15 at 2:37 pm

I always find the radical critique of the ‘centre left’ off base (not to say tedious). There really isn’t any reason (IMO) that the ‘centre left’ should be expected to give any real credence to those further to their left (at least those ideologically not liberals, such as anarchists or Marxists). To me, the point of mainstream liberalism is to *contain* radicalism (whether on the left or the right) so the failures of the left over the past number of decades is much more a failure of leftist radicals than it is the centre.
This is the most truthful and convincing recent explanation I’ve come across for this position:

” liberalism is, at its simplest, about “improving people’s lives while treating them alike and shielding them from undue power.” .. Early liberals believed a new society was emerging that would change politics for good. Political and economic revolution had created a new kind of person, “the individual,” with changed beliefs and interests, who would demand more from government and put up with less. Society was in conflict, rife with clashes between rival interest groups and between capital and labor. Fundamental to liberalism was the idea that such conflict could only be contained, never eliminated. That was the primary task of politics. Institutions were designed to prevent domination by any one group and to embed the liberal “habits of bargaining, persuasion and compromise.” The first liberals, like the French politicians Benjamin Constant and François Guizot, devised political schemes with these aims in mind. Political representation and the separation of powers were intended to check absolute power, restrain majority rule and free people to get on with their lives without having to worry about politics.

The liberal dream, Fawcett writes, was “a myth of order in a masterless world.” Crucially, for liberals, this was only a dream. What distinguished them from conservatives was their belief that progress toward such a world was possible; what distinguished them from socialists was their belief that they would never get there. Conflict was intractable; there was no utopia in which politics would cease. The aim of liberalism was to manage conflict, while still treating people with “civic respect”—a catchall phrase for the various kinds of legal and political equality owed to citizens of liberal societies.”

http://www.thenation.com/article/193673/liberalism-doesnt-start-liberty#

As a left liberal my preferences might be closer to anarchists and Marxists than facists or anarcho capitalists, but they’re certainly closer to the centre right than anyone else. Why should liberals ‘take radicals seriously’ if the primary point of liberalism is to contain radicals ? If radicalism became a threat to the liberal order then sure, but until then..
Personally I would hope for a more coherent far left, but since that’s not then coming the people liberalism is containing are the right and so policy has shifted to the right. The failure is on the far left in not creating a meaningful, actionable alternative. Liberalism is just doing what it’s supposed to do.

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David 01.07.15 at 2:47 pm

Well, left liberals usually can’t and won’t state what you just said openly, Ronan, largely because they feel entitled to votes from farther to their left. The posture they adapt then is to pretend to be more authentically leftist than the actual left so as to deflect criticism while, in actuality, shamelessly shifting right.

Of course, most people do sort of (emotionally) prefer leaders and policy makers with actual, detectable preferences and ideas beyond self seeking and politicking.

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Dan Kervick 01.07.15 at 2:59 pm

I think it’s really important to move beyond the concept of the “safety net”. What we need to work on providing is full employment, economic security, democratic equality, an equitable sharing of social resposibilities and the fruits of social living, and the dignity that comes from meaningful engagement in the collective social project of self-government as a mature, adult citizen. Some safety net elements will probably always be needed for the irredeemably forlorn, but the goal of the left should be to see to it that the safety net withers away as a set of social institutions, and is replaced by a “participation net” that guarantees continued participation in the world of citizen politics and meaningful work despite whatever economic dislocations and disruptions come our way.

The safety net is an elite defense mechanism for dividing the middle and lower ranks of society into the toiling workers and the non-worker dependents, fostering class resentment, undermining solidarity, perpetuating elite managerial control and blocking non-elites from access to meaningful social and political decision-making power.

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reason 01.07.15 at 3:08 pm

Bob McManus @77
“BI is complicated and off-topic” yes as a policy is it off topic, but as politics not at all. Why hasn’t the left moved in this way. Why are they afraid to promote naked redistribution (and with a policy promoted originally by Milton Friedman)? I think it is is because they still see their role as tied to promoting the interests of “the working class” and not to promoting the interests of the poorer sections of the community. That is the real hold – and promoting union power is going EXACTLY in the wrong direction if you look at it that way.

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reason 01.07.15 at 3:10 pm

P.S. I should also point out however that a lot of the left in the West these days is green, and this sort of naked economic war view of things excludes them. But I note in passing that the Green party in Germany has endorsed BI.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.07.15 at 3:12 pm

Henry, it’s an interesting thesis.

It looks to me like this is the overall path that both Europe and the US traveled, over several decades:

1) Acceptance of the tenets of the welfare state.
2) Diminution of working-class political activity, as its welfare needs were met.
3) Diversion of its potential leaders into government stewards with perqs.
4) Sociological filtering of the field of economics into technocratic management, dialed down to bullet points amounting to neoliberalism, avoiding any serious challenge to vested interests, and even now, politely dancing around the politics of questioning the financial subsystem.

(Thus, when Krugman writes, “The problem with these conventional leaders, I’d argue, is that they’re afraid to challenge elite priorities, in particular the obsession with budget deficits, for fear of being considered irresponsible,” — he might have noted that it is HIS VERY OWN FIELD which has instituted this fear and anointed it as truth, and almost all of them are still doing it, to this day.)

5) Thus, for the whole population, a general constitution of nescience, prevailing over limited time-budgets for cognition — in an era of increasing complexities; and coming after an era when most people in the Atlantic economies were partially satisfied with the status quo.

It could be thatEurope has thrown another wrench into things with monetary union. But this might also force a new structural solution. After all, they are not going to jettison the welfare state. And however dispirited they are, they observe that the United States already exhibits the embarrassing moral degradations of pursuing neoliberalism. So, although the paths had been parallel up to now, in some ways the people of Europe may benefit from the example of the United States, which shows the next steps to avoid.

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Denis Drew 01.07.15 at 3:17 pm

THE BEGINNING OF THE WAY BACK TO UNIONIZED AMERICA — AS EASY AS BURNING SUGAR UNDER WATER? YOU JUST NEED A (constitutional) CATALYST!

Unlike freedom of commercial speech (e.g., advertising soft drinks) which ranks significantly short in importance of political speech (e.g., Gettysburg Address), freedom of commercial association is so much an organic component of a free life (e.g., maxing out the market payout for our economic efforts), that it should rank just short of freedom of political association on economic grounds alone — but should be recognized as fully equal to political association (freedom of assembly) because labor unions are the only place where the great majority of Americans can assemble their political effectiveness (e.g., organized campaign financing and legislative lobbying).

Recent Wisconsin Supreme Court: “… collective bargaining remains a creation of legislative grace and not constitutional obligation. The First Amendment cannot be used as a vehicle to expand the parameters of a benefit that it does not itself protect … ” [my emphasis]
http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/supreme-court-to-rule-thursday-on-union-law-voter-id-b99321110z1-269292661.html

Labor’s threshold question: could any government — local, state or federal — constitutionally bar all union organizing and collective bargaining. Seems constitutionally impossible in the face of the First Amendment — so, while laws may balance constitutional rights against other interests — at what point can collective bargaining of and by itself be said to switch its nature from being a fundamental constitutional right to being a “creation of legislative grace”. I don’t see how anybody can point to any such point.

Establish collective bargaining as a fundamental right in federal court on the level with freedom of speech and we can change the culture of America overnight — even just by making unions as essential to genuine democracy a major national issue, win or lose on first try.

Go labor! Morning in America.

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Denis Drew 01.07.15 at 3:18 pm

FIRST MUSINGS OVER WHAT TO DO NEXT — WITH FIRST AMENDMENT PROTECTED COMMERCIAL ASSOCIATION:

I just read in Which Side Are You On that the Warren Court killed the Norris-LaGuardia Act’s clear stated intent to ban federal injunctions against strikes (including wild-cats, sit-downs, even if there is a no-strike clause in the contract) …
… which still left 48 states to do what they pleased. (Congress can set the jurisdiction of federal court.)

Imagine (as John Lennon would say [now looking down?]) a federal court ruling (far West states likely) or better a US Supreme Court ruling finding collective bargaining to be a fundamental First Amendment right. All such rulings would probably fall.

50 states have the right to regulate contracts. Federal law may dominate labor law under the present regime. Under protecting freedom of association states would seem to have a lot more leeway (maybe they could even do it now) to setup union recognition rules (I’m talking American style majority, exclusive representation unions; there is a move afoot to organize some minority unions too — universal practice in “right-to-work” Europe — even under today’s federal setup, but out of style for so, so long).

Imagine (John Lennon) Washington State, Oregon, California and Nevada setting up centralized bargaining schemes (could work for retail workers, not for airlines probably).

Point is, once you get ruling anywhere recognizing free association labor rights, the damn should burst everywhere. All the states that bar their employees from organizing would get hauled into many courts. Crackpot laws like Illinois’ just passed requirement that public school teachers must have 75% to strike (they did) should drop.

All the Koch brothers can do cannot keep one lawyer from going to court and sending all these many dominoes cascading in an avalanche of labor organizing.

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reason 01.07.15 at 3:24 pm

Bob McManus
Just a general point to someone who is perhaps anti-ideological.

Why should I see your view of the world as relevant anymore. I’m a middle class son of a middle class father, who earns the vast majority of my income from work, but non the less has a net worth of the order of decades of after tax income. I’m neither working class nor capitalist, dividing the world that way seems to me completely irrelevant. My interests are clearly the interests of the 99% against the 1% but not clearly the interests of labour versus capital.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.07.15 at 3:28 pm

Me: ” until they accept that we really need a lot less productive work.”

Looking back, I see that I wrote an unintentional ambiguity: I didn’t mean that work should be less productive per hour worked than it is now, but that society needs far fewer hours of productive work than we work now. A whole lot of this crisis of “we need jobs for everyone, where can we find them?” occurs because higher productivity per hour means that we really don’t need most people to have jobs. The right wing solution is to keep the 99% desperate and turn productivity into paper wealth that can be funneled off to the 1%, but left wing solutions about having everyone be workers really aren’t much better. The heritage of Marxism generally harms the left because of this.

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reason 01.07.15 at 3:35 pm

Rich Puchalsky @88
I think we are on the same page.

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reason 01.07.15 at 3:38 pm

P.P.S my comment @87
I’m not so much suggesting that my PERSONAL interests are all that concern me, I should have included that I want to live in a basically egalitarian middle class world. Which is basically what I grew up with in the 1960s in Australia. I think there has been class warfare since the 1980s – of the 1% against everybody else, not of capitalists versus workers.

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Barry 01.07.15 at 3:55 pm

Thornton Hall 01.06.15 at 7:59 pm

“There has been a massive change however: pre-WWII the press was working class, lucky to sport a high school diploma. Now they have convinced themselves the field is something one can get a Masters in.”

I think that we also don’t appreciate the fact that the people who owned and ran those newspapers were incredibly right-wing, back in the day. IIRC, a majority of newspapers opposed FDR, even after massive successes.

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Barry 01.07.15 at 3:56 pm

Andrew F. 01.07.15 at 2:15 am
“I’m my mind has been dulled from hearing the same drumbeat during the most recent iteration of the euro crisis… so in political terms, all I can understand is:

After years and years of democratic deficits (a topic of some discussion since at least the early days of the monetary union), the only answer to the accumulated democratic debt is quite clearly democratic austerity. Eventually these austerity measures will replenish the coffers of civic and political engagement, allowing for confidence and faith in the system to be restored and for political investment and political credit to return to normal levels after a period of adjustment.

There are a few steps in the plan (only three or four are really crucial steps, and the rest are just very important) yet to be finalized among the concerned governments, supranational institutions, and assorted interest parties, but no doubt coordination will occur in due time.

That’s all tongue in cheek – I don’t have a firm view yet on European prospects for this year, but I’m starting to incline towards making a more optimistic call than some.”

Would you please explain WTF you are asserting?

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Scott P. 01.07.15 at 4:02 pm

“They neither know how to connect to voters any more, nor have any real program for change on those occasions (thanks to exhaustion with their opponents) they actually win office.”

The same, though, can be said for non-politicians on the left. Even among the posters and commenters here I’ve never seen anything that can be considered an alternative political program, just lots of critiques of the existing alternatives. Lots of vague “we need to build class-consciousness” or “we need to weaken the power of capital”, but nothing that translates to actual policy, as far as I can see.

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reason 01.07.15 at 4:08 pm

Scott P
With respect, it seems you haven’t read the thread.

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mud man 01.07.15 at 4:16 pm

From my subterranean perspective, the problem with parties is that they agglomerate an arbitrary set of positions … ideological consistency is often considered pretty, but let’s be practical. The result is that the weight of issues is diluted, important mainly as bargaining leverage for other issues with the goal of assembling a majority, any majority. Then the modern world has acted to destroy polities that demand particular loyalty from their representatives: neighborhoods, classes, ethic groups, labor groups. Nothing stands between the individual and the entire social milieu. So what’s a professional governor to do but be a broker? At best an honest middleman, but there is no leverage available at the fulcrum and grease is for the squeaking wheel. And why should the rest of us tolerate such shenanigans?? But we must start small, truly.

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J Thomas 01.07.15 at 4:34 pm

#88 Rich Puchalsky

I didn’t mean that work should be less productive per hour worked than it is now, but that society needs far fewer hours of productive work than we work now. A whole lot of this crisis of “we need jobs for everyone, where can we find them?” occurs because higher productivity per hour means that we really don’t need most people to have jobs.

Agreed! And I want to hypothesize that in recent decades one of the big drivers for increasing employment in large corporations was Parkinson’s Law. Big corporations developed a layer of private bureaucracy. Managers got more status by having more people under them. When there were more people in the bureaucracy they created more work for each other.

It kept going like that for awhile and then we got the push to downsize. “Never mind what you need, the stockholders want the price to go up and the stock market will have more confidence in us if we fire a bunch of people.” Managers found they could still push product out the door with fewer people. The remaining workers didn’t necessarily have to work harder, they could just leave out some of the stuff that didn’t need to be done. Fine for everybody except the people who were fired.

I try to imagine a nation with BI. It’s easy to provide everybody’s needs. But then what do people with money do? I’d expect them to wear expensive clothes that wear out fast, that fit the latest fashions. They would eat exotic food that you can’t buy with Basic dollars. They would buy this year’s computers, while most people could only afford last-year’s computers. The latest software would be for them because they’re the market, it trickles down to the masses next year.

It’s cheap to produce necessities. It’s expensive to advertise variant products to show that people who buy them are the elite, the special ones who deserve the special best treatment. You can’t do that for everybody.

So it would get us nothing like equality. It would still be worth doing, if we can’t do better.

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William Timberman 01.07.15 at 4:49 pm

The problem with liberalism as defined @79 above is that it’s fine in theory, but as Piketty et al. have very humbly pointed out, it tends to be rotten in practice. (Ironic that this is a reversal of the classic liberal indictment of Marxism, but perhaps the less said about that, the better, at least for the moment.) As long as the class of people who benefited from liberalism was growing, it could claim allegiances even among those sweeping the crumbs from under its tables, and marginalize those malcontents who weren’t content with those crumbs as a reward for their patience.

But what of the present and future liberalism? Now that the New Deal, and the grand and noble wars-to-save-democracy, and the trente glorieuses, and the Wirtschaftswunder are all well and truly behind us — looking forward and not backward, as it were — what of the promise of liberalism? Looking a bit shopworn, is it?

I thought so fifty years ago, when the sainted liberals were trying to ship my 20 year-old ass to Vietnam, and I think so now. The problem, of course, is that after 50 years of subscribing to the idea that there must be some sort of New Left out there that might work, with nothing more to show for it than a New Left which redefines itself every decade or so, you can stick a fork in me — I’m done.

If we’re going to talk theory, though, or ideology, I’d still prefer mcmanus to Krugman, and not just on aesthetic grounds. As far as the political principles I actually try to live by, Bruce Wilder’s come pretty close, even though he still calls himself a liberal. (There’s something wistful, almost mournful, in in his expression of loyalty that appeals to me, I guess — that, and the fact that we appear to be roughly of an age.)

So let’s agree for the sake of argument that the Left is bankrupt. How long do you think Liberalism’s checks will continue to be cashed? Forever? Till Hillary Clinton’s term is over? Till Greece is scourged and driven from the EU? Till the world is finally safe from democracy? Pfui, Teufel!

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reason 01.07.15 at 4:57 pm

WT @97
What can I win from that expression of nihilism? Do you have a platform that will improve things, or will abandoning Liberalism (rather than pointing to a path for reform) result in the world getting better or worse? Being a grumpy old man may be gratifying, but it is pretty useless.

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William Timberman 01.07.15 at 5:16 pm

reason @ 98

Grumpy old men are accustomed to being useless, and aren’t bothered that younger people find us so. It’s their turn in the tank, and more power to them — because it’s power they’ll need, after all. Justice may be served by striving, but striving alone is never enough to see justice done. Events have to conspire a bit in our favor.

Will they do so in the future? I think that the answer is probably yes. Not in the near future, perhaps, although I suspect that it will be sooner than the pundits are assuring us. Francis Fukuyama is almost certainly wrong, in other words, but Krugman is very likely wrong as well. It’s also true, I think, that the process of renewal will inevitably be a lot more chaotic, even violent, than any ideology can contain, or that any single lifetime can foresee.

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bianca steele 01.07.15 at 5:19 pm

@64

Oh, more disease (“‘communication’ also has a meaning in epidemiology, you know”) metaphors, please!

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bianca steele 01.07.15 at 5:23 pm

I’m tempted to comment on the neat coincidence of 100 referring to 64, which is 100R16, but I won’t.

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bianca steele 01.07.15 at 5:25 pm

Plus it isn’t. 64 is 100R16. More coffee for me.

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Luke 01.07.15 at 5:57 pm

@55
Whoah there! No eternal verities or iron-cast programmes, just an attempt to restate the problem. Yes, I’m a Marxist, and yes, I think class is important: which leaves me with the problem of explaining how working class strength has declined alongside continued proletarianisation.

Also, a couple of misapprehensions. Firstly, the working class never was an island; the economy has been globalised for hundreds of years. The structural power of the widget makers was the threat to drop tools, not to go it alone. What has changed is the increased threat of outsourcing, capital mobility, improved logistics, lowered tarrifs, etc.

Also, unemployed and under-employed people aren’t ‘technically’ working class, they simply are. Employment in the 19th C. was hardly secure, and encompassed all kinds of professions, but for some reason poeple have this idea that the ‘proper’ working class is a bunch of full-time factory workers. Likewise, some people have middle class social status while being employed and managed as workers. What’s new is — and this gets back to my original post — that even people on the nominal left are resistant to thinking of themselves or there interests as working class, as this thread amply demonstrates.

@bob
While I’m not entirely sanguine about (or opposed to) the idea of a basic income, your source making the knuckle-dragging libertarian argument that downward distribution of wealth simply causes inflation which hurts poor people the most is not making a great case for the anti-BUI side.

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Ze Kraggash 01.07.15 at 6:03 pm

“Do you have a platform that will improve things, or will abandoning Liberalism ”

One doesn’t need any platform to point out that capitalism-liberalism is in a deep crisis.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.07.15 at 6:25 pm

reason: “What can I win from that expression of nihilism? Do you have a platform that will improve things […]”

Well, previously you said that you liked the pirate party of Germany, noted that many of them were (European) libertarians and anarchists, and also said that they had no patience with the mechanics of seeking power. (Electoral power, presumably.) There’s a contradiction there. Either you can start with people who are happy to seek power and confident in their special knowledge, in which case you get the rise of Marxism redux and then presumably the crash of Marxism redux. Or you can start with some variety of anarchism, in which case all of the same things one used to hear about Occupy come to the fore: “Where is your platform?” “Don’t you have leaders and a set of demands?” “Why won’t you take electoral politics seriously and join the system?” etc.

Most social change within democracies has come about as a response to largely unorganized, mass response to a dysfunctional system, response that can’t be channeled and controlled by the usual left groups that speak to power on behalf of their clients. (I’m paraphrasing roughly from James C. Scott’s “Two Cheers For Anarchism”.) It can’t really be created at will, nor can it be avoided if events continue as they are. Is it nihilism to write that?

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Roger Gathmann 01.07.15 at 6:46 pm

55 – yes, the old working class centered on manufacturing has been relocated. But I don’t see the irrelevance of Marxism here. I think Edward Wolff has used the notion of non-productive labor, which Marx elaborates in the second book of capital – what I would call circulation work – to good effect in analyzing the recomposition of what we can now call the wage class in the US – in Growth, Accumulation, and Unproductive Activity: An Analysis of the Post-War U.S. Economy, reissued in 2006. Plus, of course, Marx’s long ago prediction that certain guild professions – doctors, lawyers – will in the course of time be proletarianized seems to finally make more sense. In the US, guilds – jobs in which the state has to licence the worker – are much more powerful than unions. And it is to the world of guilds that the focus has shifted. Uber is a great example of the probable end of a guild force. Here’s a paper by Krueger about it: https://www.princeton.edu/ceps/workingpapers/174krueger.pdf

This of course complicates the story of how the countervailing force of labor operates, in the EU as well as the US. Certainly the most prominent guild to be put under attack in recent years is that of teachers – from the elementary schools to the professors. There is an astonishing lack of awareness of the place of guilds – or “licenced occupations”, to use Kruegers term – in the developed economies.
Don’t throw out your Marx is my advice.

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Ze Kraggash 01.07.15 at 7:09 pm

Hey, if you can spare 15 minutes, listen to what this Russian guy has to say on the subject: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K_KCeerpAFs

You may like it, and if not, you’ll have a good laugh. Either way not a complete waste a’time.

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Scott P. 01.07.15 at 7:15 pm

“Scott P
With respect, it seems you haven’t read the thread.”

I’ve read the entire thread. Perhaps you could point out what I missed. There was one person calling for a basic income, which did not seem to win much support. What else?

Take, for example, Luke above:
“We need to look at unfashionable questions of ideology, social discipline, and organisation, and how these relate to global markets.”

That’s not a platform. That’s a suggestion for some analysis that might perhaps lead to a platform down the line.

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Ze Kraggash 01.07.15 at 7:38 pm

“It can’t really be created at will, nor can it be avoided if events continue as they are. Is it nihilism to write that?”

No, it’s common sense. Moreover: there is absolutely no way of knowing what kind of system (or, more likely, several different systems) will emerge by the transformation, or on the ruins, of this one.

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David 01.07.15 at 8:34 pm

This comment thread has convinced me that the only political ideology that will matter going forward into the future is Chinese Transhumanism.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.07.15 at 8:52 pm

I think it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen. In the long run, no one will be required to work, due to the fact that machines will be able to perform all tasks. Most people will work creatively in science and arts however, and everybody will speak 10 languages, because new and approved drugs will increase cognitive ability while eliminating self-aggrandizement as a motivator.

Before this happens, in the middle run, creasing automation will put more and more people out of high-paying jobs, sending them to lower-paying service jobs, and this will exacerbate the two-tier income distribution of the very rich and everybody else, but the very rich will suffer income losses due to the increasingly lower demand from everybody else, and they will suffer wealth losses from the normal processes of dynastic discombobulation and occasional government expropriation of one sort or another.

Before this happens, in the short run, the economy will have an upswing, and all the dullard pundits will declare the problem solved, the right will resurge with all its dumb arguments about the primacy of self-interest etc., the problems of increasing healthcare and welfare needs and aging democraphics will linger unresolved and will resurface for further scrutiny in the next business cycle downturn, but the internet continues to accelerate the number and connectivity of smart people who are getting increasingly fed up with all this bullshit.

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Matt 01.07.15 at 9:26 pm

In the long run, no one will be required to work, due to the fact that machines will be able to perform all tasks.

I think that this is mostly correct. I am much less sanguine about how the rest will play out. At a minimum I very much doubt that everyone will speak 10 languages and contribute to the sciences and/or arts. The world continues to lose minority languages and the main international languages continue to gain in dominance. It is far from certain that drugs can increase plasticity and creativity to the point that everyone learns many languages and composes music just on a lark — though that would be great if it does happen. I would guess that most people in a post-work world would not leave notable contributions to art or science but just enjoy themselves however they like. And that’s perfectly fine. “Socialite” is already a respectable status for someone who doesn’t need to work; insisting that everyone will produce science and art when they no longer toil for food and shelter seems like a thin veneer over an outdated idea about the inherent virtue of work.

In the worst case, the automation of everything (including guard labor) means that ruthless people who already have a large stock of self-reproducing machinery can simply eliminate the people they don’t want to share anything with. In the second worst case there is war between would-be eliminationists and their enemies.

In a much better case there is no increase in large scale warfare or genocide, but the occasional homicidal maniac can still build pretty much any weapon he can procure blueprints for, barring pervasive surveillance and other prevention measures, since building them will no longer require specialized human skills. You could build a simple cruise missile in a single barn, if you had a decent selection of tools and all the specialized skills for making explosives and machining and assembling parts. The tools are going to become ubiquitous and the skills no longer required. The potential threats include pretty much any weapon that was available to national armed forces in 1944, plus computer guidance upgrades.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.07.15 at 9:27 pm

Excuse me, that should be, “In the middle run, INcreasing automation…”

I will leave “democraphics” alone, though; I kind of like that.

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bob mcmanus 01.07.15 at 9:32 pm

111: I think it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen.

Not clear to me.

Peter Frase has expanded his classic “Four Futures” article into a book released several places several formats right around now. Googling is easy.

Egalitarianism and Abundance: Communism
Hierarchy and Abundance: Rentism
Egalitarianism and Scarcity: Socialism
Hierarchy and Scarcity: Exterminism

After thinking about those, go back and re-read the original post. And maybe read about the First Gilded Age, and understand that the oligarchs have studied it more than you. They’d rather have servants, but not if they make trouble.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.07.15 at 9:37 pm

It is far form certain that drugs can increase plasticity?

1. Today, January 7, 2014:

“Researchers at Johns Hopkins have found out how a protein crucial to learning works: by removing a biochemical “clamp” that prevents connections between nerve cells in the brain from growing stronger. The finding moves neuroscientists a step closer to figuring out how learning and memory work, and how problems with them can arise. A report on the discovery appears Jan. 7 in the journal Neuron.” (Johns Hopkins)

2. Yesterday, January 6:

“New drug design enhances brain signalling by a factor of 1,000. Chemical-biological research from the University of Copenhagen sheds light on important communication processes in the brain by means of new effective molecules that improve the starting point provided by nature by more than 1,000 times. In the long term, this new knowledge may lead to psychopharmacological drugs with fewer side effects. The results have just been published in the recognised journals Nature Communications and Angewandte Chemie.” (University of Copenhagen)

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Lee A. Arnold 01.07.15 at 9:40 pm

Bob McManus: “After thinking about those, go back and re-read the original post.”

I won’t bother. Right-wingerism is an intellectual and emotional debility, and it will be crowded-out and usurped.

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geo 01.07.15 at 9:51 pm

Lee @111: Nunc dimittis …

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Matt 01.07.15 at 10:02 pm

Yes, it is far from certain that drugs can increase plasticity. There is a wide gap between basic biological knowledge and usable pharmaceutical interventions. In the early 2000s shortly after Gleevec was approved and the Human Genome Project had declared success, I attended a very optimistic lecture by one of the scientists behind Gleevec explaining how the explosion of biological knowledge and rational drug design were going to revolutionize pharmaceuticals and health in general. More than a decade later that early excitement has proven over-optimistic. Cancer survival rates have not improved faster than in the 1990s. Many billions of dollars have gone into attempts at Alzheimer’s therapies with zero success. The only effective anorectic or basal-metabolism-boosting drugs for weight loss are still old ones, known from the 1970s or before, all carrying serious risks of adverse side effects. There is no guarantee that just because you can identify a biological mechanism that you can also develop a drug to manipulate that mechanism with acceptable efficacy and specificity.

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Matt 01.07.15 at 10:19 pm

Correction: apparently my information about anorectic drugs is outdated. Since 2012 the FDA has approved 4 new anorectic drugs for the treatment of obesity. For many decades the only effective appetite suppressants were amphetamines and structurally related drugs that had significant chronic risks of myocardial damage.

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bob mcmanus 01.07.15 at 10:29 pm

116: I meant Farrell’s at the top of the page, the one about Euro technocratic elites being disassociated from their base. I am very interested in the original topic, and what Farrell et al have in mind to fix it. I even consider the topic important, and the left-liberal self-analysis perhaps even more important. Certain aspects are discussed in my Marxian and anti–neoliberalism sources, oh from Gramsci to Dumenil and Levy Hardt and Negri many more. It just seems apparent that a lot of the language is alien to the political science crowd. But’s that’s ok.

I am even sympathetic to Bertram’s search for a new base and wish him luck, most of his allies and causes are mine also. I am just not sure that even if he cobbles a new social justice majority that they won’t need some of the tools he has abandoned to be able resist the forces of reaction while still maintaining egalitarianism. So far, not so good.

I started talking about Weimar ten years ago. It really wasn’t the Right that worried me.

Right-wingerism is an intellectual and emotional debility, and it will be crowded-out and usurped.

This will be a great comfort to those worried about Pegido, UKIP and the other neo-fascists. Marxist have often considered this kind of optimism, inevitabalism, reformism to practically translate into opportunism.

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ZM 01.07.15 at 10:32 pm

“In the long run, no one will be required to work, due to the fact that machines will be able to perform all tasks. ”

This is not very likely because you are forgetting that material resources are finite and stocks are dwindling and there is very high numbers of people in the world.

Automation if things people can do is a very annoying waste of resources and diminish meant of employment in my view.

In town we have a bacon factory – when I was young this was owned still by the local family that started it, they used Australian pigs which were slaughtered on the abattoir there and there was lots of factory workers living locally.

Now since I don’t think people should eat animals I am not going to praise the old bacon factory for its bacon making.

But I will note it was sold and has been under several different foreign ownerships now – the pigs are no longer Australian and slaughtered at the abattoir (this improves the smell of town to be frank) but are from Northern Europe and slaughtered and frozen there then shipped here, the factory plant has been upgraded with more automation so there is less low skilled work but more work for highly skilled engineers, and high management is from overseas so they fly in betimes and stay at hotels which is good for the hospitality industry but not for sustainabilit, as town has gentrified more factory workers are bussed in from other towns or the city.

As you can see – all of this has just decreased the environmental and social sustainability of the bacon factory and our town and provided no benefit to animals.

We had an engineering professor give a talk and he told us about the time he bought a leaf blower because he was sick of the time and energy it took to rake the leaves off the path , then some years later he developed a back problem – raking the leaves would have helped his back and used less materials and energy fuels than the leaf blower.

I asked engineering students about a circular economy where everything is appropriately recycled and they said it was difficult for machines since the third law of thermodynamics seems to apply to machines. I asked a blacksmith and they said the problem is mixing different metals together without a recipe just gives you pig iron and then it’s hard to separate them again to their elements. I asked Chinese students since it is the Chinese government’s policy to have a circular economy and they thought the problem is not solved in China either yet. I asked a professor whose specialty is comparing the Limits to Growth scenarios’ predictions with historical reality since the 1970s and he said a circular economy that only managed to recycle 75% of things would stave off the collapse like the high tech scenario but then after a bit lengthier period due to resource decline you still get a collapse – his paper concludes that the beginning of a resource-diminishment/increased difficulties to extract resources collapse will inexorably begin in the next 15 years – his hope is that there might still be time to transition to a lower resource using society in this period we are now in.

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The Temporary Name 01.07.15 at 10:40 pm

“In the long run, no one will be required to work, due to the fact that machines will be able to perform all tasks.”

Since there’s an existing security state apparatus, hire everyone into it and program 30% of the robots to be thieves.

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William Timberman 01.07.15 at 10:41 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 111, geo @ 117

To continue in a liturgical vein, I don’t find the libertarian Agnus Dei, as described in Lee’s first paragraph, to be entirely convincing. I loved Brautigan’s All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace as much as any of the flower children of my era, but I don’t suppose any of us reckoned on Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, or the NSA. One is tempted to say that all blessings, divine or otherwise, will be mixed.

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J Thomas 01.07.15 at 11:22 pm

#121 ZM

Automation if things people can do is a very annoying waste of resources and diminish meant of employment in my view.

I once met a woman who worked during WWII in a factory that made crackers. She lined up the rail-things that perforated the crackers, and the ones that perforated some lines deeper so the crackers would break along those lines before packaging. She did an excellent job, she was the best in the factory at doing that. Her wastage (mostly from having the lines crooked) was very low, less than 0.3%.

After the war they kept her even though she was a woman. But in 1950, after eight years on the job, they fired her. Somebody had created a machine that did her work. Its waste was essentially zero. It was much cheaper to run the machine than to pay her.

Would you prefer to give that job back to a person? Day after day, put the lines on crackers so they will crack along the lines? Would you like to work at that job for 45 years and then get a pension? Knowing all along that a machine could do your work cheaper and better?

Well, but that’s manufacturing. What about management? Say you’re supposed to decide what to do about something. If in fact you know what to do in every circumstance, then an expert system will do your job better than you can. But maybe what you do is to find new and better solutions, and test them to find out which are really better, and reprogram the expert system? That’s a high-level expert job and it should be worth considerable money, particularly if you actually make important improvements in the bottom line. But just learning the flowchart so you will know what to do without being told? Not worth much.

One thing that humans are valuable for that machines can’t do at all, is negotiating with human workers. But the fewer human workers we have the fewer negotiators we need to handle them.

Another thing that humans are far better at is sales. The human touch. How often do you buy from a recorded phone call? Compare that to the number of times you buy from human telemarketers. There will always be job opportunities for human beings to do cold-calls and try to sell you stuff.

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Dan Kervick 01.07.15 at 11:35 pm

I assign somewhere close to zero credence to the hypothesis that in the long run nobody will be required to work; we will keep filling up our lives with work at least so long as capitalist and classical liberal habits of thought, innovation, capitalization and social organization prevail.

People continuously devise new activities to satisfy previously unimagined or unsatisfied desires during whatever open time has been liberated by increased productivity in generating our whatever was our prevailing standard of living ; and they continuously devise new ways of turning those initially informal activities into new forms of exchangeable wealth and more varied income; and they continuously turn these new forms of wealth generation and exchange into new patterns of formal labor that are incorporated into normative social institutions ; and they continuously demand that people exchange a reasonable about of their own labor in exchange for the forms of income that are then available under the new, augmented system of production. It goes on and on.

Human desire is potentially endless; and the ingenious creation of new forms of work and desire satisfaction is also endless under a system that is devoted to the unbridled liberation of desire, the entrepreneurial exploitation of desire and the capitalization of the innovative modes of desire-satisfaction. This can’t end unless modern societies adopt a more calmly settled and restrained way of life, and build social institutions designed to tame greed, aggression and craving rather than unleash them perpetually. But I don’t see that happening soon, since everyone from libertarians to standard-issue liberals to anarchists in the contemporary world seems to agree that the unleashing of desire, the permanent expansion of radical individual “liberty”, and the consequently unregulated hunger for satisfaction of almost every kind of desire we can imagine for ourselves is a good thing.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.07.15 at 11:48 pm

Henry I apologize and I realize that we are far afield from the problems for social democracy in the aftermath of European monetary integration, but I question the value of continuous naysaying without examination of all the possibilities. Particularly when one of the things that gets people on board with political change is simply optimism, because politics is an emotional process. Thus:
______________________

@ Matt #119: What is your argument: that something cannot happen, or that it may not happen, or that it is happening, but not fast enough to do any good? Medicine is at the very beginning of having the right tools for the job, after millennia of haphazard results. Biotech, genomics, nanotech, imagining, and mass computation are combining into a big process, and the rate of discovery appears to be accelerating exponentially. I would like to know what you think would prevent this. Is there some sort of epistemological or metaphysical limitation?

And what is “plasticity”? Last June, researchers at University College London found the molecular pathway that salamanders use to regenerate limbs. Last November, researchers at Houston Methodist succeeding in reprogramming human scar tissue for new blood vessel growth. Just the subfield of stem cell research is exploding. It is no longer necessary to destroy embryos and the cells can be cultured on synthetic carbon nanotubes. Do you think all of this sort of stuff is not headed toward practical results?
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Bob #120: “This will be a great comfort to those worried about Pegido, UKIP and the other neo-fascists.”

I specifically wrote in my comment #111 that in the short-term the right would resurge. We have a fight on our hands.

By the way, a British comedian named Stewart Lee may be the best comic alive, and here is a bit on UKIP:
http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x23yv5y_stewart-lee-on-immigration-paul-nuttall-and-ukip_fun
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ZM #121: “This is not very likely because you are forgetting that material resources are finite and stocks are dwindling…”

I absolutely agree that we have to end pollution and that there are specific problems with some forms of energy use. But there is no demonstrated linear relation between the use of material resources and growth, that would necessitate destroying the biosphere. Things can be done cheaper, lighter, with less entropy. The combinatorial possibilities in the periodic table of the elements still unexplored are almost endless, and we are beginning to get inklings that discoveries at the quantum level will afford us useful materials. I think the question here is not whether we can make the transition to a soft future of material abundance for everyone, but whether we can get out of current patterns quickly enough to avoid collapse.
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William #123: Sorry, I am definitely not a libertarian. And I’m also straining to understand where I might have intimated that life would be perfect. To avoid further misinterpretation, let me try to put it another way: Despite the best efforts of the most dogged Ayn Randian capitalists, in the future they are going become irrelevant, and it is technological automation which will do it to them. You can’t make money if you’ve put all the workers out of work, so the workers don’t have the incomes to buy your products. Thus, capitalism might simply be transcended (a possibility which I believe was considered by Marx). In the meantime, events already somewhat reflect what that might entail — growth of the welfare state; and now some serious economists are broaching the issue of permanent “helicopter” money.
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Dan #125: “we will keep filling up our lives with work at least so long as capitalist and classical liberal habits of thought, innovation, capitalization and social organization prevail.”

This is precisely the contention with which I take issue. I don’t think those are eternal human verities, I think they are psychological malfunctions and their convenience is coming to an historical end. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that half the people in the Euro area already feel the same way.

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J Thomas 01.07.15 at 11:48 pm

#125 Dan Kervick

People continuously devise new activities to satisfy previously unimagined or unsatisfied desires during whatever open time has been liberated by increased productivity in generating our whatever was our prevailing standard of living … etc

Sure. So what a BI could give us, is that people don’t have to do much work to satisfy their basic needs. Food, potable water, breathable air, clothing, shelter, healthcare, internet connection, entertainment, limited travel. Instead they will work to increase their social status and whatever else they want.

I regard this as an improvement. If we could arrange things so we have only a minimum of homeless people who will be homeless until they can get jobs and who can’t get jobs while they are homeless. Etc.

Currently more than half of the government money that goes to people who are disabled or unable to work for various reasons etc, goes to administering the program. A whole lot of it is to decide who qualifies and who doesn’t. So if it ever reaches the point that half the population is on such programs it would be cheaper to give them to everybody than to decide who deserves them.

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Matt 01.07.15 at 11:52 pm

[The end of mass employment] is not very likely because you are forgetting that material resources are finite and stocks are dwindling and there is very high numbers of people in the world.

Dwindling material resources are unlikely to stave off automation. Suppose that fossil fuels and nuclear fuels have run out. People and cargo can still be moved much faster than in the 18th century via electrified rail transport. The least resource intensive way keep trains running is with renewable electricity derived from water, wind, or sun. Growing plants and using them as fuel for combustion engines is much less efficient. Growing plants and feeding them to human laborers who will turn the generators with muscle power is much less efficient still. The best combustion engines are more than twice as efficient as muscles at turning chemical energy into mechanical work, and combustion plants can use anything flammable, not just the small portion of plant matter that humans can eat.

The only thing that can halt automation’s encroachment on labor IMO is a general collapse of infrastructure/knowledge, not resource constraints alone. The “iron law of wages” for machines reaches a lower level than that for human laborers. Idle machines do not require food. They can be locked in a warehouse for years without ill effect. They are not killed by summer heat or winter cold. If human laborers are competing against machine labor in a resource constrained world ruled by market logic, the human laborers will not command high enough wages to avoid starvation.

Either humans will go extinct or they will manage a circular economy eventually. There is nothing conceptually special about humans over machines when it comes to recycling materials. The second law of thermodynamics (which I suspect you meant rather than the third law) applies to all physical systems, living or not. As long as there is an external energy source to drive processes, like sunshine, high-entropy materials can always be turned back into low-entropy materials. The only elements that are irreversibly “used up” by humans are nuclear fuels like uranium.

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Brett Bellmore 01.07.15 at 11:57 pm

“Suppose that fossil fuels and nuclear fuels have run out. ”

It can be easily established that nuclear fuels will not run out until well after the Sun moves off the main sequence, and the Earth becomes utterly uninhabitable. Now, fossil fuels, they’ve got a few more decades, and that’s it. But nuclear fuels? Let’s not make such unrealistic assumptions.

But I have to salute you for not indulging in that Georgescu-Roegen “Fourth law” nonsense. Yup, only nuclear reactions “use up” atoms, chemical processes can always recycle them.

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William Timberman 01.08.15 at 12:00 am

Lee A. Arnold @ 126

You may not be a libertarian, but those busy young beavers bringing us the technological solutions you foresee, and apparently favor certainly are. To catch something of the flavor of their world view, and the origins of my skepticism, have a look at this article in the latest issue of Harper’s Magazine. It’s unfortunately behind a paywall on the Web, but there’s gotta be an issue lying around somewhere near you.

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Matt 01.08.15 at 12:18 am

What is your argument: that something cannot happen, or that it may not happen, or that it is happening, but not fast enough to do any good? Medicine is at the very beginning of having the right tools for the job, after millennia of haphazard results. Biotech, genomics, nanotech, imagining, and mass computation are combining into a big process, and the rate of discovery appears to be accelerating exponentially. I would like to know what you think would prevent this.

My argument is that it may happen very slowly or not at all. In graduate school I did computational biology/biochemistry research and I was peripherally involved with proteomics research in the same department. It was all very scientifically rewarding. But a lot of what biologists learned in the last 15 years is not “here’s how to get what we want from biological systems” but “biological systems are even more dauntingly complex than we thought in the 1990s.”

You can review the historical record of new chemical entities introduced each year in the European, Canadian, or American drug markets. The pace of pharmaceutical innovation as measured by new chemical entities introduced has actually slowed rather than accelerated in the past decade, despite rapid increases in computing, genomics, and fundamental biological knowledge. The problems seem to be getting harder faster than the tools are getting better. The only reason big pharma companies still have healthy stock prices is because of waves of ruthless layoffs and mergers. I don’t think it is impossible that in the future we will have treatments that can give adults enhanced brain plasticity, or limb regeneration, or several decades of additional healthy life. I don’t think it is guaranteed either, especially not guaranteed in a particular time frame.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 12:18 am

Brett #129: We are not going to need nuclear anyway. In December Australian researchers announced photovoltaic-to-electrical conversion of 40%.
______________________

William #129: The fact that some of the busy young beavers, who are bringing us technological solutions, are libertarians, i.e. are economically and emotionally infantile, is immaterial to my argument. My point is their ability to influence events will be circumscribed by other events, and there is nothing they will be able to do about it. And some of those busy young beavers are beginning to understand what is going on; see for example Martin Ford’s book, The Lights in the Tunnel, available for a while for free, here:
https://econfuture.wordpress.com/about/

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 12:30 am

Matt #131: All the studies I have accessed about this explain the problems as either political economics or the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D model. See for example Nature, here:
http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v8/n12/full/nrd2961.html
If you know of a study which shows that the problem is that the inherent complexity of biological systems prevents increasing knowledge about them to result in an increasing rate of discovery of effective treatments, I would please like to read it.

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Dan Kervick 01.08.15 at 12:32 am

@#126

This is precisely the contention with which I take issue. I don’t think those are eternal human verities, I think they are psychological malfunctions and their convenience is coming to an historical end. It wouldn’t surprise me to find that half the people in the Euro area already feel the same way.

I don’t really disagree with you J. But if it is a psychological malfunction, it is a malfunction that is deeply entrenched in Anglo-American culture – especially American. The prevalence of the anarchist strain in the left response to 2008 and the libertarian strain in the right response makes me think that the default emotional response in the American psychology to the manifest social failure brought on by the explosion of unbridled individualism and acquisitiveness is to unleash the individual even further, and to continue destroying functional governmental institutions, civilized standards and restraining moral norms even more. American popular culture seems positively barbarous these days; more infantile, shallow, violent and avaricious by the day. There is something in the contemporary American character that seems to find even the most modest social obligations and civilized restraints to be an intolerable intrusion on our greedy, unhinged egos.

I agree that the European mindset seems different.

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William Timberman 01.08.15 at 12:43 am

Lee, I’d probably be better off, I admit, if I avoided arguing with optimists — as a matter of convenience, if not of principle. I can’t prove you wrong, nor do I really want to, given that I have grandchildren I’m fond of. It’s worth noting, though, that optimism based on presumed technological advances has always been an iffy proposition. From the Gatling gun to Atoms for Peace, antibiotics, and genetically engineered staple crops, examples of inventions which failed to deliver quite what they promised are legion. Add them all up, and do you really think that they point to some sort of singularity which will eventually rescue us from our current follies? Maybe so, but at this point I wouldn’t call it an even bet.

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ZM 01.08.15 at 12:55 am

“Would you prefer to give that job back to a person? Day after day, put the lines on crackers so they will crack along the lines? Would you like to work at that job for 45 years and then get a pension? Knowing all along that a machine could do your work cheaper and better?”

I did not say about whether I would enjoy a factory job – I said about limitations of diminishing material resources and so much unemployment, underemployment and informal economies meaning your scenario is unlikely to come true.

If no one at all likes to work in biscuit factories, biscuits are not a necessity of life so then you can just cancel out biscuit making as a field of production. We have local small scale biscuit and pudding businesses though and some people seem to like making biscuits and puddings fine at this small scale level. Else wise people can just cook their own biscuits at home which is a simple enough task as even children can cook biscuits.

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ZM 01.08.15 at 12:58 am

Oh, sorry Lee A Arnold – that was a response to J Thomas’ comment not yours, my apologies

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MPAVictoria 01.08.15 at 1:00 am

If the alternative to working in a biscuit factory was poverty, I probably would very much like making biscuits. If the alternative was spending more time at home with my partner and our pets… Well that is another story all together.

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Matt 01.08.15 at 1:07 am

Matt #131: All the studies I have accessed about this explain the problems as either political economics or the pharmaceutical industry’s R&D model. See for example Nature, here:
http://www.nature.com/nrd/journal/v8/n12/full/nrd2961.html

I think “political economics” is a decent partial explanation. It is a good explanation for why infectious tropical diseases mostly affecting poor people have been under-researched. It is also a good explanation for why companies aren’t aggressively seeking new antibiotics despite the pressing need. Old antibiotics have been (ab)used to the point where many bacteria are resistant. New antibiotics that overcome those resistances will have their use regulated more tightly to prolong medical effectiveness, which also means that there will be less revenue potential during the patent exclusivity period.

I don’t think there’s positive evidence for faulty R&D models causing problems until some institution demonstrates a quantitatively superior R&D model, as measured over several years by rate of new chemical entity approval or at least development cost per approved NCE. Did the Nature article mention any institutes, commercial or otherwise, that are bucking the trend and getting faster/cheaper NCE approvals from their R&D? I don’t have access to academic articles behind paywalls any more.

When I talk about the biological problems getting harder I am particularly thinking about cancer and Alzheimer’s. People are discovering ever-finer subtypes of cancers with different genetic characteristics, and it is sometimes possible (as with Gleevec) to develop targeted therapies that are much more effective for some subtypes. These narrowly targeted therapies have clinical trial costs comparable to other drug clinical trials, but they can only serve a small subset of patients compared to e.g. a generic “breast cancer” treatment; the ratio of research effort expended to numbers of patients served is going up.

It’s even worse with Alzheimer’s. Rivers of money have been spent by many institutions try to reverse, prevent, or delay the progression and none of the attempts have amounted to anything in humans. It and other forms of dementia remain completely untreatable despite the vast unmet need, market potential, and effort already expended.

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J Thomas 01.08.15 at 1:16 am

#137 ZM

#121 Automation if things people can do is a very annoying waste of resources and diminish meant of employment in my view.

I probably misunderstood what you were saying here.

If no one at all likes to work in biscuit factories, biscuits are not a necessity of life so then you can just cancel out biscuit making as a field of production. We have local small scale biscuit and pudding businesses though and some people seem to like making biscuits and puddings fine at this small scale level.

Is there something wrong with making crackers or biscuits in automated factories? If transportation is fast and cheap, you might get better crackers that are cheaper. So people don’t have to work harder to get less.

I like the idea of working less to get more stuff. That’s kind of what productivity means. Except if somebody else gets all the extra stuff, and I only get as much as somebody else decides my work is worth, and they decide I work less so I get less, that sucks.

More stuff created with less work. Obviously good.

We can if we want make things we couldn’t otherwise make, because we could work the same amount and make extra stuff. Obviously good.

It takes less work to make everything somebody else wants made, and he pays only for the hours worked so people get less stuff. He gets all the extra. Not good.

So why does he get to decide how much stuff to make and how much to pay people? Because he’s the boss. You can’t build your own largely-automated factory to compete with him, because if you do then prices drop to the variable cost — very low — and stay there until somebody runs out of money and has to drop out. Only monopoly works unless big buyers demand a second source, then it’s a duopoly. High fixed cost, low variable cost is a trap for competitive markets. Doesn’t work.

But one automated monopoly can outcompete anything that isn’t automated. Nothing really wrong with that except that people who depend on jobs for a living will starve.

Any economic argument on a blog is inevitably oversimplified. But what’s the gotcha I missed?

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Matt 01.08.15 at 1:18 am

If the alternative to working in a biscuit factory was poverty, I probably would very much like making biscuits. If the alternative was spending more time at home with my partner and our pets… Well that is another story all together.

Indeed! But if the biscuit factory operates for the benefit of a private owner, he’s not going to keep hiring biscuit making workers he no longer needs. I don’t think relying on everyone’s self-interest is a great way to ensure general prosperity. And if the biscuit factory operates for the benefit of the community rather than a private owner, I’d rather have an unconditional income than being assigned a costume and role at Ye Olde Biscuit Factory Theme Parke. “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work” is not a state of affairs to be hoped for.

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MPAVictoria 01.08.15 at 1:44 am

“I’d rather have an unconditional income than being assigned a costume and role at Ye Olde Biscuit Factory Theme Parke. “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work” is not a state of affairs to be hoped for.”

Agreed. And I enjoyed the ye olde biscuit factory line. :-)

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ZM 01.08.15 at 1:55 am

There is quite a difference in biscuits and puddings made by small scale businesses employing just basic machines and local people and using normal sorts of biscuit ingredients and those biscuits that are made by big conglomerates with corn syrup and other overly processed ingredients and heaps of preservatives and big machine vats then shipped and trucked all over the world.

If towns and suburbs were responsible for making their own biscuits then you could also do away with all the useless and soon discarded packaging materials as people could just take their own reusable biscuit tin to their local biscuit makers to be filled up.

And the question of material resources dwindling is not just about energy fuel resources but non renewable metals and rocks and and renewable woods and grasses and so on dependent on climate and healthy soil and rains etc.

“System dynamics tells us that a physically growing system dominated by reinforcing feedback1 will eventually run into some kind of physical constraint, in the form of balancing feedback.

We cannot engineer away the confines of a non-renewable stock of oil, coal, gas, iron, aluminium, copper, uranium or certain groundwater aquifers. What if we were to switch entirely to renewable natural resources?

Acknowledging the methodological limitations, the Global Footprint Network (2012) estimates it now takes the Earth one year and six months to regenerate what renewable matter we use in a year. In other words, stocks can act as buffers; the outflow from a

From the above, it is clear that flows of matter and energy through the global economy have increased in absolute terms. Technological eco-efficiency has not been able to compensate for the expansion and may even have added fuel to the fire. Nevertheless, the mainstream sustainable development movement has trusted heavily in technology for solving the conflict between growth and the environment (WCED 1987; Weizsäcker et al. 1997; Schmidt-Bleek and Weaver 1998). This position is again very prominent in the eco-economic decoupling and green economy discourses (Brand 2012).

In conclusion, our economies must vastly be remodelled despite the engineering illusions that vindicate business as usual. “Clean coal” is an obviously deceitful example of this, but even our more genuine technical efforts cannot fully close material cycles and certainly cannot close energy cycles. Perhaps they do not need to. The natural system has the capacity to absorb a certain amount of our waste and pollutants. It also has the potential to generate a constant inflow of renewable resources. Within bounds, engineering could serve to maximise the durability of stocks by minimising throughput. The engineering concepts and frameworks discussed in this paper surely have something to offer in this regard, but they will end up chasing their tails if we do not address the social and economic forces driving up production and consumption. This expansion is instigated by the economy and catalysed by technology, but is eventually bound by ecology.”

real-world economics review, issue no. 68
A systems and thermodynamics perspective on technology in the circular economy
Crelis F. Rammelt and Phillip Crisp [University of New South Wales, Australia / University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands and EcoSolve, Australia]
http://www.paecon.net/PAEReview/issue68/RammeltCrisp68.pdf

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J Thomas 01.08.15 at 1:57 am

It just occurred to me, did I miss the connection between this thread and the TV show Twin Peaks?

Political parties trying to maintain a superficial air of respectability while underneath they have weird relationships and hidden agendas?

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 2:01 am

William #135: I think pessimism and cynicism are good partial methods for analysis, and I employ them regularly, because we should look at worse case scenarios to figure out what may happen, to understand our own weaknesses and to plan for alternative actions.

But, if not accompanied by optimistic analyses, then we are going to miss the importance of some events, and not see how some opportunities ought to be handled.

I think that is the case here. Why give pessimistic reasons to defend the welfare state? That’s not the way to win hearts and minds. Why buy into the neoliberal fear of printing money to finance the deficits?

Why aren’t these intellectualized as good things, proper things, optimistic things? If capitalism slowly divests itself of evermore numbers of workers, and then divests itself of the capitalists as well, that could be a GOOD thing.

“…the means of labour passes through different metamorphoses, whose culmination is the machine, or rather, an automatic system of machinery (system of machinery: the automatic one is merely its most complete, most adequate form, and alone transforms machinery into a system), set in motion by an automaton, a moving power that moves itself…” (Grundrisse)
______________________

Matt #139: In the little I have read about this, I think that the phrase “R&D model” refers to the management of the company including its relevant investment portfolio, not to the in-lab practices. And the political economy of the thing also refers to the extended intellectual property rights and “economic rents” or windfall profits. E.g., some companies would rather keep older drugs on the market as an easy cash cow, and not take on the risk to develop new drugs, etc.

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Bruce Wilder 01.08.15 at 2:11 am

Why imagine that there is a “neoliberal fear of printing money to finance the deficits”?

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 2:19 am

Why imagine it indeed? They are all over the place, and replete throughout the Eurozone policymakers for example. There is no need to imagine.

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J Thomas 01.08.15 at 2:20 am

#146 Bruce Wilder

Why imagine that there is a “neoliberal fear of printing money to finance the deficits”?

I haven’t pinned it down, but somebody above posted a link to a criticism of BI that claimed it couldn’t work because if the government spent $3 trillion/year on basic income, it would have to print the money and we would have hyperinflation and the whole thing would collapse.

They said it sounded like a good idea at first but it must inevitably fail because of the hyperinflation. Too bad.

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bob mcmanus 01.08.15 at 2:50 am

148: Oh hell, here is another very long critique of the Basic Income by Randy Wray scroll about halfway down.

Let’s do a model. Ten people, guaranteed not an income but a std of living (certainly we can agree that simply handing out a permanently fixed sum will miss the goal?). In other words, the BIG must be indexed.

Ten people competing for 9 apartments at $100 a month. Second month the tenth person has enough money to bid $200 (or $110). Landlord increases rent for all 9; gov’t increases BIG; carry on.

Meanwhile, four of the ten are out being activists and so less new apartments are built.

Wray has a lot of other arguments in that part 2 of two parts.

Wray remains a left-liberal capitalist and does not advocate short-term systemic change. He does not want to (publicly) interfere with pricing mechanism.

I am not so limited, and can approach BIG from another angle.

In late monopoly capitalism, what matters above all is pricing power. Who are the price makers and who are the price-takers? Without democratic socialistic pricing power, any redistribution downward or cash transfers can simply be turned into a pass-through from the middleclass to finance capital. And that is exactly what for instance the ACA Obamacare was designed to do, increase inequality and transfer political power to the 1%.

Now granted, in many cases the recipient of a cash transfer will receive a great service in the meantime, but there is a reason a) we simply do not provide the service directly, and b) price controls on Obamacare really stink.

I don’t care if you give everyone a million dollars, without pricing power, capital will just eat it up.

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J Thomas 01.08.15 at 3:19 am

#149 Bob McManus

I don’t care if you give everyone a million dollars, without pricing power, capital will just eat it up.

Agreed. But currently with automation you have high fixed costs and very low variable costs. You don’t get competition because when you do, everybody who’s stuck competing loses his shirt.

There’s probably room for some pricing power somewhere in there.

If we could lower the fixed costs a lot, government could supply the fixed costs and let competition provide cheap commodities. The BI commodities don’t have to be all the same, but the customer-ordered variations would be within limits that don’t drive up the price much. Meanwhile sell true custom stuff to people who’re willing to pay high prices for it.

There’s room for something workable.

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Bruce Wilder 01.08.15 at 6:38 am

I would really, really like to see this thread return in the direction of the OP. If anyone cares to discuss . . . ?

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Brett 01.08.15 at 8:43 am

What’s there to really discuss? The EU drifts along on bureaucratic inertia, because most of the EU’s population is still comfortable enough with the status quo so as to not seriously disrupt it. Hell, even the Greeks don’t want to dump the Euro quite yet despite five years of misery that could have been blunted if they’d dumped the Euro in 2009 and then devalued the Neo-Drachma.

And it’s not like there aren’t democratically accountable channels that could be used to put real pressure on the EU change. Aside from the national governments, there’s the EU Parliament and the powers that it does have, few as they may be.

@bob mcmanus

Ten people competing for 9 apartments at $100 a month. Second month the tenth person has enough money to bid $200 (or $110). Landlord increases rent for all 9; gov’t increases BIG; carry on.

Unless another landlord moves in and builds housing at the $100/month rate. Or the tenth person moves away to somewhere where there is housing available at that or a lower rate.

As for the BIG in general, I prefer it because it’s less obviously corruptible than a guaranteed-job program. The latter gets you either a ton of people doing various kinds of tedious make-work in public jobs, a ton of people “publicly” employed who are essentially contracted out to private companies with the government acting like a colossal temp firm, or a private-sector job subsidy program – all with all manner of extra spending and administration to try and run the thing, and resolve the inevitable complaints over bad placement and the work.

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Bruce Wilder 01.08.15 at 8:53 am

It is a strange sort of comfort.

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reason 01.08.15 at 8:56 am

#145 Lee Arnold
I think you are right that the drugs will exist, I just think it is unlikely that they will be made available to everyone without a fight. That is one of the great unseen disasters of the last 30 years, that science has reduced the work it does for everyman and has increased the work it does for the global elite.

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reason 01.08.15 at 9:00 am

Bob McManus @149
One often ignored feature of BI is that it will have a strong regional impact. More people will move to where they can afford to live rather than where they can find a job (and to some extent the jobs will follow them).

But I thought the policy was off topic but the politics was on topic?

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reason 01.08.15 at 9:11 am

So the on-topic point is that the left seems to have lost its way because it no longer seems to have a clear goal. It needs to rediscover that goal – in moving towards a more egalitarian society. The emphasis on representing the interests of “working people” is a wrong direction, because it let them be manipulated by corporatists who note that
1. Most people work for corporations
2. If companies are doing well they may well employ more people.

Break the political bondage, by breaking the tie that “employment” has over the striving for egalitarianism.

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reason 01.08.15 at 10:24 am

P.S. We this problem for the left most clearly with Global Warming. Global warming is a priority with left, until there is unemployment, when everything immediately goes quiet as the right labels anti-global warming policies (falsely) “job killers”. A BI would mean a bigger automatic stabilizer.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 1:18 pm

What I mean by dividing the possible future into long term, medium term, and short term scenarios, and then developing optimistic arguments to get from here to there, is something like this: not to advocate for the basic guaranteed income, but advocate to print money to cover VERY specific needs, right now. As follows:

Let’s hypothesize that, in the long-term, secular stagnation will continue to spread, due to globalization and automation. Even many advanced intellectual tasks will eventually become rote machine tasks, as Silicon Valley now realizes. If so, then the world population inexorably divides into 0.001% who own most of the assets, and 99.999% who are each other’s baristas and personal trainers. That is, 99.999% will be doing things which are fun and feel good, and mowing the lawn, but are not necessities and are not subject to productivity increases that cause incomes growth. But that means there is a dividing-line where the 99.999% has to buy the physical necessaries, e.g. the machines and some of the food, from the 0.001% who end up owning them. And because the 99.999% don’t have incomes growth they cannot pay for them. It finally becomes totally obvious to everybody what is happening, and so, either the 0.001% go out of business, or they turn entirely to extracting rents from real estate, and are expropriated.

(Real estate, because it is one of the few things that doesn’t need productivity increases yet still grows in value because there are some locations where everyone would prefer to live, and we want to preserve other locations for ecosystems and natural wildlife. So real estate is like gold, except that people need a place to live, but don’t need gold to live.)

Sort of like the 19th century scenarios by Marx etc., and adopting things from economists through to Schumpeter, but instead of the confusing 19th-century attempts to describe it in terms of use-value vs. labor’s exchange-value, we just say, that money HAD BEEN constituted as a circular system, rather neatly expressing the approximate value of goods by the mechanism of supply and demand, and rather neatly including the additional change in value by innovation to be continuously more productive. But, workers are slowly cut-out of the processes of innovation, therefore cut-out of the processes of incomes growth; they don’t have the money to make the demand for the goods. Thus long-term, increasing demand stagnation.

And this process has become newly apparent to us with the financial crash, because before it, the world wars destroyed so much wealth that it temporarily leveled the incomes disparity, and fooled most everybody into believing the hypothesis that capitalism eventually makes everyone more equal, while the illusion was increasingly supported by household credit expansion.

Now, the response to this argument is usually along the lines of, “The number of things to do is endless, and people will always find things to do!” But this is NOT the argument.

The argument is that the things remaining for people to do, that machines and computers cannot do, or that we don’t want them to do, are not things which have innovative productivity growth, and therefore incomes growth. (Because how many lattes can you personally handcraft?) So this is the source of the dividing line between the 0.0001% and the 99.9999%: continuous innovation for increased productivity.

And of course, real innovation is necessary to the private financial system, because innovation is the sole source of returns to financial investment, unless real estate grows in quantity or value, for non-innovative reasons.

— Okay, most everybody here knows this argument so far, because people here do a lot of thinking, and the argument has been building since at least the 19th century.

So let’s look at the medium- and short-term, in view of where the long-term is heading: If people are slowly, naturally being priced-out of the demand side, it might look like what is going on now: globalization, dislocated labor, and increasing division of incomes into a two-part distribution. This would not be nefarious, it would be step in the direction of WHAT WE ALL WANT. But because we have not gotten to total automation yet, the remaining productive jobs are not covering the needs, and this lack is growing.

And we are caught in a psychological bind. We don’t want to destroy self-interest as a productivity engine, but we’ve got social spending problems. We don’t know how to solve these deficits, and part of that is psychological.

So my proposal is to make the optimistic case. Let’s print the money continuously to cover the part of the deficits that pay for goods and services which meet certain market failure characteristics, ONLY. This has gotten way too long, so I will telegraph the rest:

1. Government should continuously print money and pay directly for the portions of education, healthcare, infrastructure, environment and retirement which are in deficits. 2. It must be on items which cannot increase moral hazard in recipients. 3. It need not cause inflation, if it is variously geared to the specific market failures in each needy sector, and to the growth or diminution of demand, within these sectors. 4. We need better politicians, and voters’ understanding to monitor and safeguard against government capture by business and the financial system. 5. It must be on items which do not provide normal returns to investment to private investors, for the various reasons given in studies of public finance. 6. If tax cuts are to be dynamically scored, then government spending should be dynamically scored, including the positive public externalities which private investment cannot financially internalize. 7. In addition, there is no theoretical reason why the various kinds of return to investment in “human capital” need to be cost-benefitted in the same numeraire. So you can take the previous dynamic scoring, and stick it up your butt. 8. There is no reason why the simple expansion of all money in the economy must be linked to the private return on investment, or the private creation of bank deposits, and the (presumed) increase of productive efficiency which creates that return. There could be, for example, TWO sources of money. 9. The private financial system does not have the human resources to manage enough investments to make our own current system work, and relies instead upon easily-traded debt and its derivatives (based 70% on barely-innovative real estate, you may have already noticed), plus extraordinary government capture, in order to make its profits. 10. The private financial system has expanded to such a large percentage-share of the GDP that its own need for profit is choking the non-financial “real” economy via falling natural rate of interest, and causing a continuous Minsky condition. 11. The private financial system is NOT more transparent than government, and it may be less so. At the very least, if they are Too Big to Fail, i.e. under government guarantee, they should be busted down to government salaries. 12. As we began this: automatization and computers are beginning to make so many workers unnecessary to economic production that the private sector has begun to generate permanently insufficient incomes (called “secular stagnation”) to buy the goods and services, and new entrepreneurial start-ups are laudable but will never suffice. So therefore printing money ab nihilo to pay directly for the necessary goods and services which are in deficits, is the ONLY way to avoid increased taxation on the wealthiest incomes. Q.E.D.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 1:27 pm

I hope this directly spoke to the needs expressed in the OP.

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reason 01.08.15 at 1:38 pm

Lee A. Arnold @158
I just thought it fair to point out, that actual policy is a bit off topic, because the topic is about politics not policy. But I also don’t think I agree fully with you, and I really don’t see how you sell an idea like that (look how long it took you to expound it.

I can’t say I read it all too closely, but your last sentence left me just puzzled:
” So therefore printing money ab nihilo to pay directly for the necessary goods and services which are in deficits, is the ONLY way to avoid increased taxation on the wealthiest incomes.”
OK – but why do I want to avoid increased taxation on the wealthiest incomes (talking here as “the left”)?

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William Timberman 01.08.15 at 2:06 pm

It seems to me that the global poor are doing much better needs to be looked at with a little more skepticism. We may one day hear more fully about the story of primitive capital accumulation in China or Bangladesh, but I doubt that it was less brutal than it was in Britain a couple of centuries ago, in no small part because it happened so much more quickly, and on so much larger a scale.

That said, there’s a long list of reasons for the dissociation of left parties and their constituencies in Europe, some, but not all of which were detailed in the OP. One of the principal reasons, it seems to me, is that politicians can no longer tell the difference between politics and management, and actually believe that this is evidence of their cleverness.

It’s easy enough to see why. Even apart from the need to be where the action is, and to keep the campaign coffers filled, asking how to do something immediately attracts armies of experts and technicians, and places the entire physical and intellectual infrastructure of post-industrial capitalism at your disposal. Asking why we should do something in the first place tends to marginalize you

Given a little time, how to keep oil prices above $100 a barrel is a question every VSP and his staff feel they can answer. Ask why we don’t institute policies that provide a guaranteed minimum standard of living for everyone, or boost our investment in universal health care, or keep the carbon in the ground, and everyone immediately checks his stock portfolio. Anyone in the parliament who complains can go try his luck selling pitchforks and torches to the rabble. The sunk-cost fallacy indeed!

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 2:08 pm

Reason, 1. Politics is ultimately about policies. Espousing them is how you make a party and win, and enacting them is what you do after you win.

2. The final phrase is not about you, it is about whether the WEALTHIEST want to avoid increased taxation. Because there are only two peaceful ways to go, here.

If the answer is “yes”, they do want to avoid increased taxation, and I presume it is, then I just tried to make the argument that the ONLY peaceful alternative is to print money for a very specific circumstance, or what economists call “direct monetary financing of deficits” for social needs.

And it will actually increase wealthy incomes, due to the dynamic scoring of an economy with bigger participation.

I don’t think this should matter to the Left, one way or the other, because it gets us all to the same place in the long term.

I don’t think it should even matter to the Right, but they are intellectually more short-sighted, and locked emotionally into this “self-interest” thing, by which you ascend a material hierarchy by personal merit, which they think is an eternal human verity of conspicuous consumption and greed, instead of being what it really is: a social cognitive bias that emerged in the 18th century. (See Arthur O. Lovejoy.)

Of course the Left has its own emotional needs, often on display here, so maybe it does matter to them, which way it happens.

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J Thomas 01.08.15 at 7:01 pm

#158 Lee A Arnold

What you said was long and complicated, so I want to repeat the important parts (what looked important to me) in my own words.

The economy is set up so the tiny fraction with most of the capital gets an increasing share of the income. We can argue that they are the ones increasing productivity and the people who have jobs mostly are not, so they deserve it. But the result is that mass demand for mass products will fall. A traditional argument.

The government can fill in the gaps by buying the stuff that people obviously need and can’t afford, particularly public goods that individuals can’t very well pay for. There are various caveats, like we have to not give people stuff that will encourage them not to take care of themselves, and we have to not buy shoddy stuff made by people who figure the final users have no say in it, and we have to avoid corrupt politicians, etc. But optimisticly we can do it.

The government has to either tax the money, borrow it, or print it. The owners will not put up with high taxes. The financial system is already failing in various ways and adding a lot of government debt will hurt more. So we must print the money.

At this point I have a bunch of questions. One of them is, if the existing financial system is inadequate, what should we replace it with and how can we do that? Will it still be inadequate when the government prints money?

Second, will the money printed which is not taxed back, cause a lot of inflation? If so is that bad? Would the richest people prefer inflation to taxes?

You argue that this is the only peaceful approach, and it is heading in the right direction so optimisticly we might continue in the right direction later. I haven’t exactly seen the argument that it’s the only peaceful way, but put that aside. Will it work? If not, maybe there is no peaceful way and we will inevitably have violence. But that isn’t optimistic. Optimism is hoping there is a peaceful way that works. But if I could be more optimistic, maybe there are two peaceful ways that could work? Or five?

And here’s something that may be unrelated to your ideas — I want lots of people to have opportunities to do productive innovation. You argue that almost everyone will be cut out of that. To some extent the rules of the game are determined by the available technology and can’t be changed except by accident due to innovation created for other purposes. But is there anything that could be done to help open that up? Even if innovation turned out like a lottery, where a few people win big and most get nothing, it would still be better than having most people walled off from it entirely.

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ZM 01.08.15 at 7:40 pm

William Timberman,

“It seems to me that the global poor are doing much better needs to be looked at with a little more skepticism”

I think Henry accidentally was inaccurate there – because the twin peaks Krugman is talking about are the global very very wealthy, and the developing world’a rising middle classes (especially China’s and India’s)

“What Mr. Milanovic shows is that income growth since the fall of the Berlin Wall has been a “twin peaks” story. Incomes have, of course, soared at the top, as the world’s elite becomes ever richer. But there have also been huge gains for what we might call the global middle — largely consisting of the rising middle classes of China and India”

He notes it is positive the alleviation of some poverty in the developing world . But
says then this leaves the developed world working class in “the valley of despond” as their incomes stagnate.

I think printing money hand over fist is not a good idea since Germany did that and look where it got them – wheelbarrows of money. And this is what Krugman says is a problem – the working classes are not having their desires met by normal political parties – and if you look at the first GFC (ie the depression) – this too happened and ended up with nasty parties in power in various countries and then the war then the economies recovered.

The obvious best option for social democratic parties is to work out a war-time-mobilization-style economy without having to have a war at the same time and to respond to our environmental challenges and maldistribution issues, and thus lead people out of the valley of despond and away from nasty political parties.

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MPAVictoria 01.08.15 at 7:43 pm

“The obvious best option for social democratic parties is to work out a war-time-mobilization-style economy without having to have a war at the same time and to respond to our environmental challenges and maldistribution issues, and thus lead people out of the valley of despond and away from nasty political parties.”

Newsletter, would like to subscribe etc.

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Jacques René Giguère 01.08.15 at 8:44 pm

ZM: printing monet didn’t lead to hyperinflation. Hyperinflation, caused by war reparations, broken trade patterns and franco-belgian occupation of the Ruhr lead to printing money.

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Bruce Wilder 01.08.15 at 8:56 pm

I asked, why hyperinflation? (@146), and now I suppose I cannot complain that Lee answered in such a full way (@ 158).

On the economics, Lee has many of the necessary elements, but few of the relationships right, but at the core is the denatured, “politics is about policies.” No, Lee, politics is about power. Politics is about who gets what, when. (Think of the scene from GoT, where Petyr Baelish suggests that knowledge is power, and Cersei Lannister demonstrates in contradiction to the arrogant Petyr that power is power.)

Policies, or, rather, the rhetoric of policies (which seems to be what attracts Lee’s attention), is about saying smart things to stupid people wrapped up in a story with a moral, and having them accept the narrative parable as “true”. Sometimes the smart thing is a clever lie or a glittering promise. Sometimes the smart thing is a critical intervention that turns an impasse into a path forward. It may be that optimism is often part of the sales pitch, though people are also programmed by nature to accept sales pitches that feature grim sacrifice and discipline, which, I suppose figures in why austerity has been such an easy policy to sell despite its manifest shortcomings. (Varys: “Power resides where men believe it resides. No more no less.”)

Some astute politicians have spoken of political rhetoric as a work of dreams. It is a remarkably revealing metaphor, and one that may be quite an accurate description. Political deliberation and debate is a body politic thinking aloud, but not in a fully conscious way. There can be significant gaps between what is felt and what is said and what is meant. Writing political history is made daunting by the sometimes tenuous connections that form among the motivations for political action, the avowed intentions of the participants and the outcomes in political and economic structures and policies. Try to explain some great revolution or momentous development: the English Civil War, the French Revolution, the American Civil War, the Meiji Restoration or, relevant to this thread, the emergence of the European social welfare state and the European project. It is genuinely hard to keep any summary story tethered to even the most salient facts, and that’s in retrospect, with the dissociation of distance in time to aid objectivity. Some other commenter mentioned the odd dissonance of policy success and political stumbling about that accompanied the Attlee government’s efforts to construct a social democratic regime in Britain in the immediate aftermath of WWII.

Political arguments are the arguments of dreams. No one is looking to take a course in economics in a political campaign, and the arguments take the form, not of syllogisms or theorems, but of hypnotic trance induction. It forms one of my chief objections to Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) (which apparently has influenced Lee?) that, while they do what I think economics should do habitually, which is build operational models (and not rely on analytical models for diagnostic interpretations and policy prescriptions), their disquisitions for a popular audience are as much hypnotic trance inductions as those infomercials one runs into on the web — you know the ones where someone explains how the famous doctor or economist is going to reveal some deep secret about weight loss or aging or how to make money in the coming economic crash in this free video if you just stay with it for the next ten minutes . . . Pretty soon, the conscious mind, with all its critical caution is exhausted and who knows what nonsense is about to be poured into your unconscious.

MMTers love to distract and amaze with their counter-intuitive demonstrations that money is just an accounting artifact. And, in fairness to MMT, it is a part of their doctrine that the stable value of money actually is anchored by the fiscal capacity of the state to, yes, collect taxes. And from another MMT perspective, Money is valuable because it can buy stuff, stuff produced to earn money — money is “backed by” produced goods and services. (Lee apparently missed that part of the lesson.) Governments can print money and there’s a political power, a policy power, in that freedom, but governments cannot print oil or any other natural resource, and if money loses its value as an enumerator or incentive or store of value, that’s going to be a serious, serious problem for society.

The dream and the subsequent institutionalized reality seldom bear sufficient resemblance to even support the fatuous assertion that the dream has been a true parent — perhaps a Holy Spirit has inseminated a Virgin; probably not. Soaring words about the rights of man or his salvation may form the preface, but the chronicles of man are yet to record the millenium as epilogue. (And, here’s a news flash: the proletariat of 1789 or 1848 or the more recent Arab Spring, contra the liberal b.s., were hungry or fearful of being hungry. Not hungry for “freedom” or “democracy” per se, so much as just hungry or in fear of famine and desperate in their benighted circumstances.)

The body politic lies sleeping, many of its parts barely aware of their participation in a common enterprise, and its “thinking” is more dream than conscious, deliberate awareness. It is not always so. The body politic can awaken, the people mobilized into participation, wanting to understand, perhaps shocked into common awareness by some stumble of the dreamwalker in the night. Or, the body politic can continue in its Pareto Paralysis, a shrinking ruling minority serving their own increasingly short-sighted self-interest while trying to prevent recurrent nightmares or crises from awakening a society to its desperate situation in a confused despair about how to act or what to do.

I do think “the system” in which people find their lives and the scope of their ambitions and possibilities embedded does seem oddly foreign to us. It is not just a matter of fish failing to notice the wetness of water; for “the system” (any institutional system, not just “capitalism”) to function, as individuals we have to have only a limited consciousness or awareness of its artificial and fictive qualities. The rules of the game are always in play a bit in the roughing of the refs and such, but the game breaks down when it is only the rules themselves in dispute, in play. We can be aware that money is only inherently worthless pieces of paper or bits in a bank computer’s database on an intellectual level, but we all have to act as if we believe in the value of money and the values it enumerates for us, so that we can coordinate with one another, and just generally get on with life. When we are too cynical about it, we are also too strategic and the coordination and cooperation begin to break down. It doesn’t have to reach the total breakdown of hyperinflation, or a stock market crash or a deflation leading into depression. Even if only a small, expert minority are being cynical and manipulative — emailing each other, “I’ll be gone, you’ll be gone” in the night — and the rest of us remain passive and politically impotent in the face of the resulting depredations, the system begins to fail.

It does seem to me that the present state of dissociation from a popular base (and the atomization and de-politicization of society?) on the the left (and on the right, too), contributes to the general incapacity of the political system to generate the moral righteousness to check the descent of the financial system into predation. To me, that is the story of the Euro crisis. There’s a very effective moral narrative that blames the victims. Whenever I bring up the plight of Greece, which I’ve seen up close and personal in the poverty and frustration of so many ordinary people, I am told about the Greek inability to collect taxes or contain the corrupt use of the civil service as political patronage. Somehow, the international Media makes sure everyone knows about those shortcomings of Greek political economy. There’s lots of wringing of hands. There is no alternative. The Greeks are in a desperate situation through every fault of their own and are being bailed out with the best intentions, but institutional reforms must be implemented, sacrifices must be made to appease the market god.

There’s a deer caught in headlights, or maybe a moth drawn to the flame, feel to the way the centre-left is drawn to the concept of “secular stagnation” with its morally vacuous narrative featuring a studied lack of political agency. These big abstract things like globalization are just happening to us. Nobody is doing them.

I see that as the Left is no longer for any mass constituency, it is also no longer against any parasitic elite. The concept of opposed and competing interests has dissolved into a politics of grand coalitions in which no one is to blame. Lee wants to exempt the Rich from taxes!!! I guess, because he doesn’t imagine they are doing anything wrong, anything that in an earlier era would have brought criminal prosecution or the guillotine into play.

Several commenters have gone back and forth over the advisability of a basic income versus a job guarantee as a policy deus-ex-machina. (I’m struck by how this division parallels debates over a carbon tax versus “cap-and-trade” — also an abstract, “technical” policy deus-ex-machina.) Again, there’s no moral righteousness attached that I can see, though, perhaps some awareness of a moral hazard argument lurking in the wings. I call it a policy “deus-ex-machina” because it seems so detached from any theory of politics that would explain why a polity that will stubbornly refuse to respond to 25%+ depression-level unemployment would adopt an “automatic” policy solution. We are going to have an “automated” politics to match our “automated” economy; no one will have to participate.

I agree, by the way, with the perception that much economic activity in the developed countries is at a too high a level, too many working too hard “selling” junk and otherwise engaged in economic activity with a net negative value. I get a queasy feeling in the pit of my stomach when I see some nostalgic soi disant liberal — probably more like me than I care to admit — praise “pro-growth liberalism” or call for “equitable growth”. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Brad DeLong, you reactionary fool). I don’t know how this plays out in Europe, where half the states on the continent lag so far behind the other half in per capita income — I would love to see someone discuss the cross-currents, as North-South (Germany v Italy and Spain) cut against West-East, with the aspirations of Poland or Latvia or Romania conflicting with the experience of France or Spain. (Ukraine — why did Europe overthrow the government? Is no one worried about the transit of Russian gas? You think Greece is a deadbeat debtor! Is it about buying farmland? Playing chicken with Putin? What?) . Globally, the problem of resource limits can not be separated from the increasing predatory dysfunction of the global financial system from the destruction of institutions in the Islamic world, where resource limits are biting hard.

A policy to pension off the lemmings before driving them off the cliff doesn’t seem optimistic to me, but ymmv.

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Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 9:01 pm

J Thomas #163: 1. I don’t think that the private financial sector is inadequate, exactly. It’s almost unbelievably crooked, but that’s an unrelated story. But it is not in the business of creating money without getting a return on that new credit, or on that new investment.

I would argue that the financial system is over-adequate, because the rate of interest has been falling for decades. It has more money than it needs to invest in real goods and services, so the competition among the money lenders is driving the price of money down. The private bankers usually complain, “Oh, it’s the central banks keeping the rates low,” but that is more misdirection; Wall Street could just refuse to buy Treasuries, and send the rates up. They do not, because they have no place else to park their surplus money. (As DeLong puts it, there is a global shortage of safe bonds to invest in.)

2. I don’t see how it could cause inflation, if it follows certain criteria: restricted to spending that is currently in deficit; restricted to spending directly on social needs that do not increase moral hazard (e.g. education, retirement); restricted to spending with certain market irregularities such as finite demand (e.g. basic healthcare, wildlife protection); restricted to spending with low or very long-term rates of return that usually require government participation and payback guarantees to private investors anyway (infrastructure).

There’s a lot of books on other details in each of those sectors for policy design, so there’s no need to take this part of the discussion further here. Note that it means that on the supply-side in those sectors, providers will expect to have income ceilings unless they themselves find ways to innovate, which is ALREADY pretty much the case (e.g. Medicare service providers, park rangers, etc.)

171

ZM 01.08.15 at 9:11 pm

Well I am not sure about the order of hyperinflation and printing money – but printing money did lead to there being too much money around. I heard last year we now have too much money at the moment anyhow and it is a great bother for the people to find investments – the government can solve this investors dilemma in the near term by taxing the extra money and using it for endeavours for the public good instead.

MPAVictoria,

There is a reasonable amount of discussion here about a war-time-mobilization economy strategy for responding to climate change – there is a group Breakthrough (I think not connected to the other Breakthrough but I’m not certain) that puts on conferences and which is linked to one small political party (The Save the Planet party) but I have some reservations with regard to them seemingly being undetermined about whether to support elites or non-elites, and what looks like support for Geoengineering interventions ahead of substantial reforestation. But they have really also done a lot of work in creating events for public dialogue on the issue, got some good ideas and organisation and very good speakers like anti-apartheid activist Janet Cherry and Paul Gilding the environmentalist who spoke about a global war-time-mobilization strategy, and former liberal leader here John Hewson who has done a lot of work on fiduciary trust responsibilities.

Some papers are published on a war-time-mobilization style economy this one is co-authored by Mark Diesendorf who is quite reputable

“While some of the strategies presented in this paper may seem unrealistic by the standards of today’s debate, they may seem far less so when climate crises strike or society finally decides that it does not want to be a perpetual Boiling Frog. There will still be major obstacles to overcome and limitations to consider. While the scholarly literature on the technological component of the energy transition is far reaching, another important facet of the rapid transition narrative, the ‘how to do it’ component, however, needs more work. The goals of ensuring that systemic structural (and behavioural) changes are initiated and current structural (and behavioural) challenges and impediments are overcome as quickly as possible, remain important in the transition agenda.

In the context of international cooperation for rapid mitigation, the war experience could also provide a rich narrative that is beyond the scope of the present paper. The US Lend- Lease Program and the Marshall Plan for restructuring Europe and Japan could provide lessons to support rapid transition activities not only in developed but also in developing countries.”

http://www.ies.unsw.edu.au/sites/all/files/DelinaDiesendorf_EnergyPolicy-v2%5B1%5D.pdf

172

Bruce Wilder 01.08.15 at 9:30 pm

Lee A. Arnold: I don’t think that the private financial sector is inadequate, exactly. It’s almost unbelievably crooked, but that’s an unrelated story.

Wow.

173

J Thomas 01.08.15 at 9:31 pm

#168 Lee A Arnold

I don’t see how it could cause inflation, if it follows certain criteria:

Maybe my thinking is too old-fashioned, but I was taught that you have so many dollars circulating, and they change hands at some average speed, in exchange for stuff people want to buy.

If the amount of stuff increases at some slow rate, and the amount of money increases at a faster rate, you need people to hold onto their money longer or it’s more money competing for less stuff.

You could take money out of circulation by taxing it. Or borrow it and don’t spend it. Maybe the Fed could borrow it and not spend it, and people dream about all the money they’ll have later that they aren’t spending now. I dunno. I can imagine various ways to sequester surplus money without actually taking it away from anybody, and all of them have a certain dream-like quality to them….

174

Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 9:52 pm

J Thomas #171: But you don’t have so many dollars circulating. What’s happening now is that some of the money is just going into the value of pricey real estate: some of it is not circulating.

175

Igor Belanov 01.08.15 at 9:59 pm

“The obvious best option for social democratic parties is to work out a war-time-mobilization-style economy without having to have a war at the same time and to respond to our environmental challenges and maldistribution issues, and thus lead people out of the valley of despond and away from nasty political parties.”

What the heck do you want to ‘mobilise’? Labour, Capital, Resources, Public Opinion?
Do you want to reintroduce rationing? Give bureaucrats extensive powers to interfere?
Increase production in a society where waste and pollution are already rampant?

If that is the best social democracy can do, then it is better off dead.

176

J Thomas 01.08.15 at 10:02 pm

#172 Lee A Arnold

J Thomas #171: But you don’t have so many dollars circulating. What’s happening now is that some of the money is just going into the value of pricey real estate: some of it is not circulating.

I don’t get that. If the US government prints money and spends it, that money circulates unless somebody keeps it under his mattress or holds it in his hot little hand and doesn’t spend it.

If he does spend it for pricey real estate then whoever sold him the real estate will spend it, and it circulates.

If he buys pricey real estate and the result is that the “value” of all the other real estate goes up and everybody pretends they have more money, that doesn’t make the money circulate faster. Not unless they get loans with that real estate for collateral and then spend the money. But the pretend-money due to the value of the real estate is not the money that the US government prints and spends.

What keeps the printed money from circulating?

177

Ze Kraggash 01.08.15 at 10:12 pm

“Ukraine — why did Europe overthrow the government? Is no one worried about the transit of Russian gas?”

Americans did it, not Europe. It was organized by Victoria Nuland, American neocon, Kerry’s assistant.

Who the hell cares about gas. They got distracted by Iraq and Afghanistan, and missed the bus: suddenly Russia was back in the game again. Now they are back to the ‘grand chessboard’, it’s all about beating down the potential competitor. Including, incidentally, the Cuba turnaround: Putin visited Cuba a few months ago and forgave some $30 billion of Cuban debt. The real shit is geopolitical: that’s power; printing money, taxes, that’s all minor, technical details.

178

Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 10:18 pm

Bruce #167: I think it certainly would cause hyperinflation unless the money-financed spending is restricted to goods and services in long-term deficits, and with certain characteristics (i.e. finite demand, no moral hazard, and a few other things as I tried to describe). I don’t think the MMT people specify that, although I haven’t read any of them.

179

Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 10:28 pm

J. Thomas #174: Sorry, I was responding to this sentence: “I was taught that you have so many dollars circulating.”

Exactly, except that as it stands right now, all the money in the economy is NOT circulating. (Some of it is being parked in real estate prices, etc.) If the government printed some money, then yes, that money would be circulating. And after that, if it turns out that, at current tax rates, this additional circulation makes higher revenues thus lower deficits, then, in the next year’s budget, the government does not need to print as much money.

180

ZM 01.08.15 at 10:52 pm

Igor Belanov,

“Increase production in a society where waste and pollution are already rampant?”

No I think overall production needs to be reduced to a sustainable amount and therefore current patterns of maldistribution and wastefulness like packaging materials need to be addressed – so I think some sort of rationing is a simple way of achieving this aim in the near term. Computers are very advanced now and there are lots of people who already work in global and national logistics so they are well ready to move into developing a good rationing and distribution method.

I am dubious it would be possible to nationalise the whole economy in the near term – but since we need to act in the near term then the parliament should be like a war-style-cabinet with all parties and the war-style-cabinet would then need to mobilise both labour and capital to make a sustainable society and stay within at the most 2 degrees of warming etc and keep biodiversity and replenish fish stocks and stop ocean acidification etc –

I heard about participatory-public-private-partnerships in Brazil working well since they are more transparent and include public participation not like our PPPs so maybe something like this could be used.

Taxes can be higher and only a certain amount of shares in businesses allowed to be legally owned by the one person or the one family so as to not have to nationalise everything but also preclude too high concentrations of ownership in particular individuals or families

181

Rich Puchalsky 01.08.15 at 10:52 pm

Bruce Wilder @ 167: “The body politic lies sleeping, many of its parts barely aware of their participation in a common enterprise, and its “thinking” is more dream than conscious, deliberate awareness. It is not always so. The body politic can awaken, the people mobilized into participation, wanting to understand, perhaps shocked into common awareness by some stumble of the dreamwalker in the night.”

Poetry

So it won’t be a one-line reply, here’s another one:

Pumpkins

When I went walking, the world to see
Five people came to speak with me

The first was a boy who was missing a nose
He said that the good that we do only grows

The next was a man without any hands
Who told how simple joys make no demands

The third was quite fat, and grinning and blind
And gloried the faith that in God I could find

The fourth was a woman missing her ears
Who murmured that confidence banishes fears

The last was a girl with only one leg
She smiled that the upright need never beg

The dance of the mangled blocks every path
And all I can do is laugh and laugh

182

Bruce Wilder 01.08.15 at 11:21 pm

Lee A. Arnold @ 176: goods and services in long-term deficits

I admit I’m having trouble wrapping my head around what you mean about goods or services being “in deficit”.

J Thomas @ 171: you have so many dollars circulating

The hydraulic view motivated some elegant algebra, but was always wrong. Money is not some viscous fluid, circulating like oil lubricating an engine. It’s how we keep score, and it is how we make deals with the future. Our expectations about the future are often disappointed, and adjustments must be made, and into those black holes of expectations dashed, “circulating” money can disappear as into the vortex.

Money wants to earn a return, and if it earns a return by reducing the net disposable income of labor, by charging more for health care, or education, or credit or payday loans, or lottery tickets or rent on an apartment . . . oh well. Says’ Law anticipated that people would bring goods or services to The Market to get the Money needed to demand goods and services, creating a balance in which demand created supply and vice versa. But, the modern financier can squeeze money out of the vulture capitalism of dismantling a business, stealing a pension, making a payday loan, charging for the use of a “privatized” prison or courthouse, etc. It adds up into the macroeconomics of “secular stagnation”.

183

Lee A. Arnold 01.08.15 at 11:52 pm

Bruce #180: There are long-term government budget deficits, and they cover goods and services which the market for various reasons does not adequately provide. To solve this, we could 1. reduce the spending, 2. increase the taxes, and/or 3. print the money for specific applications — separately, or in a mixture.

Secular stagnation, in Mill, Marx, Keynes, Schumpeter, etc., is a mechanism that is not caused by a moral problem; it is accompanied by a moral problem. Moral indignation can be very useful in politics, of course, though it swings both ways, and has a short shelf life.

184

Bruce Wilder 01.09.15 at 12:21 am

And, in the Larry Summers version of secular stagnation, am I to overlook the role of the man himself as a policymaker?

It is not moral indignation, per se, that I think is missing, so as much as a notion of the public good as a conviction and guiding principle. Justice is the public good on which all other concepts of a public good are founded. For leaders and followers, the concept of a public good arises from the sense of cooperating in a common enterprise on which all depend and from which all derive benefit — their conflicting interests resolved fairly and effectively, in a shared, public interest.

If leaders no longer feed their dependence on followers and followers no longer feel themselves members of a commonwealth, that isn’t just sad, it heralds breakdown into dysfunction for political economy.

Making everything into a laundry list of technical policy proposals or meaningless policy dichotomies (e.g. carbon tax v. cap-n-trade), without the conviction to be a reliable arbiter when the details must be resolved, is not an effective left politics. At least not effective for the public welfare; it might be quite effective in reconciling the sheep to the slaughter for the benefit of the global wolf pack.

185

Peter T 01.09.15 at 12:32 am

j thomas @127: Currently more than half of the government money that goes to people who are disabled or unable to work for various reasons etc, goes to administering the program.

I lack the patience to google this for every major country, but here in Australia, administration costs for most programs do not exceed 5%, and even very broadly construed across all social programs (state and federal) do not exceed 20%. Government programs of this kind are usually more efficiently run than, say, banking, even though all too often loaded down with all kinds of vicious requirements.

186

Robespierre 01.09.15 at 12:35 am

Surprising that the thread has gone this far without mentioning that the sort of policies that would cushion the living standards western working classes – protectionism, limits to delocalisation and the enforcement of existing global hukou arrangements – are most vocally advocated by the racist-right parties.
Also (@ZM), if these graph-makers use “middle class” in the same way as theEconomist when speaking of developing countries, it means anywhere between 2 and 20 dollars a day, i.e.: really working class. Truly rich Chinese (or the rich overseas Chinese who most benefited from China’s growth) are few enough and rich enough to count as inthe right-hand peak.

187

J Thomas 01.09.15 at 1:02 am

#180 Bruce Wilder

The hydraulic view motivated some elegant algebra, but was always wrong. Money is not some viscous fluid, circulating like oil lubricating an engine. It’s how we keep score, and it is how we make deals with the future. Our expectations about the future are often disappointed, and adjustments must be made, and into those black holes of expectations dashed, “circulating” money can disappear as into the vortex.

Yes, but how would that work in this case? Say that the government prints an extra $3 trillion this year and spends it on social services. To make it simple, say that those services are entirely automated, so that businesses get an extra $3 trillion and pass it on to stockholders. Again for simplicity say that the businesses and the stockholders combined pay 1/3 of the extra money in taxes, leaving $2 trillion that stockholders have.

Some of those stockholders were about to go bankrupt and their defaulted loans would reduce the money supply. But the extra dividends mean they don’t. Some of the money goes into government bonds, resulting in reduced bond prices. With reduced bond prices they bid up stock prices. Their money sitting in broker accounts goes to banks who really want to lend it, but to who? Rates are low and qualified debtors are few. Meanwhile prices for the various luxury goods that stockholders buy go up.

Next year the government wants to do it again. They need to buy the same amount of social services since nothing has changed for the people who needed social services last year except some of them have babies. They print another $3 billion and get ready to spend it. Why should the various corporations sell them the same goods and services for the same price they did last year? How can they make an increasing profit and justify their increasing stock prices by doing that?If the government gives money to poor people, the poor people will spend all their money for whatever they can afford, so prices will go up. Maybe things that the government buys directly, the government can hold firm on price because it’s the only buyer.

So anyway, I guess it’s possible that the economy could create so much extra goods and services each year that things run smoothly. That’s possible. When I took freshman economics they said that back then each dollar changed hands about 4 times a year on average. I’d expect it to be faster now, but at 4 times a year would the economy create $12 trillion worth of extra stuff a year?

If the government prints $3 trillion a year in new money, and somewhere along the line the excess falls into a black hole, whose pockets will it fall out of? Will somebody be hurt that much? If so, who?

Well, but it’s BI detractors who say we need $3 trillion/pear. Lee A Arnold presumably wants to spend much less. But still, if they create more money doesn’t a lot of it have to evaporate somehow? Inflation hurts everybody who was already holding onto money, in proportion to how much they held onto it. Who does disappearing money hurt?

188

Lee A. Arnold 01.09.15 at 1:21 am

Bruce #182: You’ll have to tell me how Summers’ account differs enough to be a version, because I don’t know. And if you are waiting for people in policy or politics who don’t make mistakes, then you are going to be complaining for eternity.

189

Bruce Wilder 01.09.15 at 1:30 am

Mistakes.

I’ll keep that word in mind.

190

Lee A. Arnold 01.09.15 at 1:35 am

Well in that case, why don’t you just go for the Godwin’s Law confirmation, and be done with it. You know you want to!

191

William Timberman 01.09.15 at 1:38 am

Don’t forget the passive voice, either — as in mistakes were made.

192

ZM 01.09.15 at 1:46 am

Henry,

If you are keeping an eye on the comments – I am sorry to be a bother but as far as I can tell the OP needs two corrections

1. As I mentioned in a comment above Krugman’s piece identifies the twin peaks as the wealthy and then the growing Asian – primarily Chinese and Indian – middle classes

2. Robespierre asked for more details so I looked at Krugman’s graph but I couldn’t read it very well so I went to his source which is a CUNY paper here –

https://www.gc.cuny.edu/CUNY_GC/media/CUNY-Graduate-Center/PDF/Centers/LIS/Milanovic/papers/2013/WPS6719.pdf

But AFAICT this paper has the opposite conclusion actually – in 1988 there were twin peaks and now there is just *one peak* due to growth in Asia , stagnation or lowering in developed world working class, and deterioration in sub-Saharan Africa

“The shape of the global income distribution has also changed during the 20 years considered here (referring to the baseline scenario without adjusting for missing top incomes). In 1988, the global income distribution displayed a twin-peak shape which has since disappeared mostly thanks to the high growth of China whose deciles have “filled up” the area between $PPP 2,000 and $PPP 6,000 that was relatively “hollow” in 1988. The period has also witnessed a remarkable increase in what may be called a “global median class”, with incomes ranging from $PPP 2 per capita per day to $PPP 16 per capita per day: the share of the global population belonging to that group has increased from some 23% to 40%”

So as you can see the paper and its graph shows the demise of the twin peaked world of 1988 – not its rise.

If I am not mistaken I think this error best be corrected right away. Krugman should correct it on his blog too hopefully.

193

ZM 01.09.15 at 1:55 am

Also another conclusion in the paper is that global inequality possibly hasn’t actually declined over the period

“When we allocate this rising gap entirely to the top tail, we obtain an increasing within-country, and ultimately global, inequality. Before, we argued that the change in the global Gini index observed for the full sample (and using incomes directly reported in the surveys), was probably not robust to plausible standard errors. This robustness check further supports a more cautious view about the decline in global inequality: if indeed surveys tend to underreport incomes at the very top, it could well be that global inequality, measured by the Gini index, has not gone down during the twenty-year period considered here”

194

john c. halasz 01.09.15 at 2:04 am

I was at the VT state capitol today, joining in the protest against Gov. Shumlin’s betrayal on health care. (He was re-elected today, 110 to 69!). We were in the foyer in front of the legislative chamber, singing our protest songs. The police made sure we left a corridor for people to move through, and though we thought they would enter through the back way, it turned out that the parade of dignitaries for the ceremony would enter through the front and march up the center aisle. Last of all came Gov. Shumlin, and while he waited, he reached over to shake my hand. “I’m john halasz,” I said. Then a few steps down he shook Brian T.’s hand, who he dimly seemed to recognize, (a long time radical environmental activist). Then he proceeded into the chamber. He’s a pure politician; it’s just an instinctive reflex for him.

http://vtdigger.org/2015/01/07/analysis-shumlin-built-lead-airplane-single-payer/

195

Brett 01.09.15 at 8:52 am

It’s appalling that Shumlin dumped the entire project instead of trying to do something less but still good even if it’s not ideal, like the “public option” mentioned in your link. Another way might have been to make Medicaid the default secondary insurance if you’re not otherwise insured, coupled with restrictions on private insurance coverage termination so that companies don’t just dump extremely sick people on it when they have private coverage.

That said, he’s in company. It’s going to be hard to get some form of single-payer passed just at the state level, and Vermont’s not the first state to try passing universal health care reforms.

196

reason 01.09.15 at 9:36 am

I think I should point people at this:
http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/22/a-note-on-the-political-economy-of-populism/?_r=0
Robin Hood is still popular. The real issue is why it isn’t the platform of the left.

197

bob mcmanus 01.09.15 at 11:05 am

Robin’s personal blog gets all the good stuff, like the Wolin interview. Penultimate post hawks a book by friend Steve Fraser, The Age of Acquiescence. I posted the following and repost it here, because “acquiescence” ties into the original post and a book I’m reading, Jodi Dean’s Blog Theory about among other things, “the decline of symbolic efficiency” which turns desire into compulsive drive. (Yeah, Lacan and Zizek). Comment is in moderation there, and I presume it will be deleted, since it pushed back against the insight of his friend.

Acquiescence? If Fraser thinks no one is complaining, maybe he needs to subscribe to twitter of visit some blogs or watch Fox News. Rather than silent acceptance, what I see is compulsive complaint.

I see no shortage of verbal resistance out there. The question is why power is able to ignore it, and why verbal resistance is not being converted into effective political action.

Debord’s Integrated Spectacle or Jodi Deans’ Triumph of Communicative Capitalism.

We are paralyzed by the spectacle of watching ourselves complain like the chicken and the chalkline. Deliberative democracy has become declamatory democracy.

Exit, voice, loyalty? We were told if we made our voices heard, change would come. Well, Babel is out there, and we are fascinated by it, and think the common carrier suffices for the common good. We are somehow satisfied, or at least preoccupied, by leaning out the window and yelling we aren’t going to take it anymore.

198

Lee A. Arnold 01.09.15 at 1:43 pm

I would like to hear from Henry on what he thinks about the relative weights of his structural argument vs. the comprehensibility of the issues. I think it is true that as Bob McManus writes in #195, some people are “somehow satisfied, or at least preoccupied, by leaning out the window and yelling.” But those kinds are always around. I think that an allied problem, perhaps the fundamental problem, is that the real macro issues are too complicated for regular voters to learn, whether through lack of time or resources, and even the so-called experts (such as economists) don’t agree, and argue among themselves, and so the plutocracy finds it easy to thwart the public conversation by hiring a few minions to cite the standard old canards, and then buying the next election.

Ecosystems theorists have been saying this for 40 years, and the Jan. 2014 Krugman article linked by Reason at #194 says the exactly the same thing, though in nicer language. Krugman ends by recommending that President Obama focus on inequality (the column preceded the 2014 State of the Union), an issue of popular agreement. Now, Krugman’s new column linked by Henry in the OP, points out that Obama is mumbling on the issue.

The question I have for Henry is this: the structural argument might imply that the Euro’s macro issues are comprehensible to social democratic parties, and the only real difficulty is disconnection between the leaders and the base. Do you think that this is the case?

199

Metatone 01.09.15 at 1:48 pm

Coming to this late, I’m sad to see that the point made by otpup @46 was not picked up and expanded upon.

A missing issue, most easily illustrated in the US and UK, is the advancement of “technologies of electioneering” which range from polling, advertising and targeted contacts all the way across a spectrum to outright gerrymandering.

Key in this is that (particularly in the UK) voters have been in part disengaged because their votes don’t influence the final result. Many working class people stopped voting because they live in areas where their candidate is not going to win, even if every “working class” voter in the constituency supported a single candidate. Others found themselves in “heartland Labour” where an incremental vote adds nothing to the political calculus…

200

Metatone 01.09.15 at 1:54 pm

Gah, forgot to say that depending on the system (and as we look across the developed work there are many different electoral systems) the technologies of electioneering have developed to preserve certain facets of stable competition between the big players. A lot of this is related to the costs of the “electioneering technologies” and the need to court donors… The media also play a big role in supporting stable equilbria by writing off outsiders.

201

reason 01.09.15 at 2:14 pm

Metatone @197
Obviously you needed to add @198 because the retort would be that that is a very UK centric answer and doesn’t explain the change over time. It certainly can’t be used to explain electorates within an Australian system or a proportional system as is commonly used in Europe. There have been massive reallignments under proportional systems. (With for instance the FDP in Germany which used to always be in government virtually disappearing and Greens regularly appearing in government coalitions. But the question has to be why the SDP has not responded to its diminished vote by adopting Robin Hood as advocated by the Linke and even partly by the Greens). I think it is because it still sees itself as being allied to the “working class” (as is obvious from its Rheinland/Bremen fortresses). If it would drop “working” and concentrate on the common good (or just the common man/woman) it would have more chance of success.)

202

Rich Puchalsky 01.09.15 at 3:05 pm

ZM @ 190, thanks for going back to the original paper and turning that up.

bob mcmanus @ 195, what you write is instantly familiar but not quite right. I don’t think that anything has changed in terms of how much or how often people complain. (Although the Internet does transmit complaints further so that instead of a few neighbors hearing them a much larger group of people potentially does.) What’s changed is the willingness of elites to let complaint force action. We live in the era of the unhidden secret, where e.g. it can be proven that an administration faked evidence to get us into an aggressive war, but when they brazen it out nothing can be done about it. Or that spy agencies are surveilling everyone, but nothing happens in response. Or with the banksters and the absence of legal action around the recent bubble, etc.

There comes a point when I’ve expressed what I mean better through poetry than through anything else, in keeping with the fundamentally dreamlike nature of our politics, but I’ll stop linking to yet more of it. There are a whole constellation of sayings or ideas around truth: “the truth will set you free”, “speaking truth to power”, the Orwell quote about how “telling the truth is a revolutionary act”, “exit, voice, loyalty”, ideas about crusading journalism or brave hackers uncovering secrets, the Freudian idea that liberation from the effects of unconscious material is achieved through bringing it into the conscious mind. All of these saying or beliefs about truth are false, since elites don’t really care whether secrets are uncovered, and having the truth known gives no leverage in doing anything about a situation.

Why verbal resistance can’t be converted into political action is another topic, but the presence of verbal resistance itself doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re “fascinated” by it in the sense that it’s preventing us from taking action. It’s just a kind of relic.

203

reason 01.09.15 at 3:20 pm

OK,
let me try another tack to make my point clearer. Most of the commenters here would self identify as on the left. So I’ll direct to three questions to people in that category:
1. Would you agree or disagree that a policy of increasing marginal tax rates (say back to Clinton levels) combined with a universal dividend equal to all the money raised would be a net benefit to most of the population?
2. Would you support it, as the way the Left should try and position itself for the future?
3. Can you explain why the none of the main centre left parties in the western world are proposing this?

Point 3 is the solution to the puzzle raised in OP.

204

MPAVictoria 01.09.15 at 3:43 pm

“1. Would you agree or disagree that a policy of increasing marginal tax rates (say back to Clinton levels) combined with a universal dividend equal to all the money raised would be a net benefit to most of the population?”

I am for raising the tax rates. Less sure about the universal dividend. I would rather see that money go into a huge infrastructure program and, if I am pretending I am american, setting up a Universal Health Care system.

“2. Would you support it, as the way the Left should try and position itself for the future?”
I think the left needs to talk more about the “insurance” part of social insurance. We are all fragile creatures. I could get hit by a bus tomorrow or have a child in a year with major disabilities. The average person is not equipped to self insure for these kind of contingencies. There is a need for social insurance of all kinds to provide support and help to those special cases. And if we were truly honest and rational we would understand that any of us could be one of those “special cases”.

“3. Can you explain why the none of the main centre left parties in the western world are proposing this?”
I think it is a combination of factors.
A) An elite corporate owned press which completely buys into market fundamentalism
B) The lack of effective left wing leaders from outside the top 1%(B is linked to A)
C) A break down in community among average people.

/Great questions reason.

205

William Timberman 01.09.15 at 3:48 pm

Given that you like poetry, Rich, you might consider when the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake. Before the mode change, of course you invariably have to put up with an increasing cacophony of false notes.

To put this insight into prose, first complaints become general, then someone — as Bruce Wilder would have it — makes up a new story, the story catches on, and the change in how we actually do things comes, when it comes, in a rush. Along with the Civil Rights breakthroughs of the mid Sixties, the signal anecdote about this progression in my own lifetime was the metastasis of anti-Vietnam protest. In the view of the general public, we went from a few lazy, smelly, bearded and sandaled malcontents to the harbingers of a new political reality in less than three years. (Walter Cronkite’s Tet epiphany was, to my way of thinking, a symptom rather than a cause of the new consensus.)

You’ll no doubt argue that after the euphoria of a swift transition in public opinion comes the counterrevolution. True enough. Vietnam was over in the public mind by 1968, but thanks to the diehards who owned all the bombs and bullets, the malady lingered on until 1975. As Ta-Nehisi Coates also tells us, the mid-Sixties Ciivil Rights euphoria appears to be something of an illusion in the light of current voter ID laws, incarceration rates, and the open season by police nationwide on African-American youth.

All true enough, but as Bruce Wilder would also have it, nothing is ever truly over. The only point I’m trying to make here is that the story comes before the change, and those putting that story together with their agonies of thought and action are never really sure that anything will really change until the moment the change occurs, and sometimes not even then.

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reason 01.09.15 at 4:03 pm

MPAVictoria
Thanks for responding – but in a way you show what the problem is. It is not clear that you sell your priorities – but we could sell straight redistribution (and your priorities are just redistribution in kind.) But notice you didn’t answer question 1 or question 2 (they were yes/no questions) and I’m not sure of your answer to question 3.

My feeling is that the old social democratic parties everywhere are still psychologically bound to the idea (as most people in a sense are) that we “earn” our income and so see their job as supporting “employment” which to some extent stops them being able to support redistribution (which it is becoming more and more obvious is what we need). The central left needs to stop running away from the word redistribution. Embrace it, transparently.

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MPAVictoria 01.09.15 at 4:14 pm

“My feeling is that the old social democratic parties everywhere are still psychologically bound to the idea (as most people in a sense are) that we “earn” our income and so see their job as supporting “employment” which to some extent stops them being able to support redistribution (which it is becoming more and more obvious is what we need). The central left needs to stop running away from the word redistribution. Embrace it, transparently.”

I completely support redistribution. However sending people small checks in the mail isn’t really much of a program. That money would be better spent on infrastructure investments. Now if you are talking about creating a Universal Basic Income, that I could get behind.

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J Thomas 01.09.15 at 4:16 pm

#200 Rich Puchalsky

What’s changed is the willingness of elites to let complaint force action.

Yes. I think.

We live in the era of the unhidden secret, where e.g. it can be proven that an administration faked evidence to get us into an aggressive war, but when they brazen it out nothing can be done about it.

I don’t have that much personal experience with this sort of thing. The oldest example I remember is Nixon. The government lied to get us into Vietnam, and Nixon ran on a campaign that he would get us out of the war with our honor intact. Which looking back on it sounds a lot like getting out of a cheating adulterous affair with your virginity intact….

Johnson had spent 5 years fighting Vietnam. Nixon spent 7 years getting us out of Vietnam. My Lai came while he was getting elected the first time, and the Pentagon Papers were published 4 years before the last US unit left.

A lot of people were outraged about Vietnam, but what got Nixon to resign was more than anything that the investigation into Watergate revealed tapes of him using very bad language, which got a lot of citizens to believe he should not be President.

I think maybe it was mostly before my time that the elites let complaint force action.

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reason 01.09.15 at 4:36 pm

MPAVictoria
“Now if you are talking about creating a Universal Basic Income, that I could get behind.”
A baby needs to walk before it can run.

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reason 01.09.15 at 4:37 pm

I look to forward to a world in which the centre left and centre right argue transparently about how much to redistribution rather than whether to do it all.

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reason 01.09.15 at 4:38 pm

oops
parts of speech all mixed up .. redistribution … should of course be … redistribute …

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reason 01.09.15 at 4:42 pm

Another way to put @207
You are letting the perfect be an obstacle to the good. I see no way of moving to UBI without phasing it in over a considerable period of time. And once people start getting regular checks (most efficiently of course through their own registered account – including a public option) they won’t like anyone who stops it.

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MPAVictoria 01.09.15 at 4:45 pm

“You are letting the perfect be an obstacle to the good. I see no way of moving to UBI without phasing it in over a considerable period of time. And once people start getting regular checks (most efficiently of course through their own registered account – including a public option) they won’t like anyone who stops it.”

Okay but what if that money went to invests in much needed infrastructure or universal healthcare instead? Do you really believe people would be better off with a 50 dollar a month check then access to healthcare?

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Rich Puchalsky 01.09.15 at 4:56 pm

reason: “I look to forward to a world in which the centre left and centre right argue transparently about how much to redistribute rather than whether to do it all.”

But of course they do that now. European social democracies, and to a lesser extent the U.S., do have progressive taxation combined with some kinds of universal social support that equate to some level of redistribution.

I think that at a fundamental level you’re not acknowledging that the major left theories never really supported what you think it supported. As another thread here recently went over, Marx specifically opposed the idea of redistribution (e.g. in “Critique of the Gotha Program”). Mom-Marxist socialism was still defined in terms of the state owning the commanding heights of the means of production, not by the state as redistributor. And the anarchist left finds a fundamental problem in this being a state function at all, as opposed to a societal one.

So the idea of pretty much keeping society as it is but of redistributing the profits is fundamentally a left-liberal one. At such, it’s technocratic, and that’s why so many of the arguments about it are technocratic ones about hyperinflation and make-work and the proper design of a system to be administered by the government. But technocracy — as we’ve also gone over here quite a bit — is one of the fundamental things associated with, as cause or effect, the disempowerment of the mass left. I don’t see any way to start with a technocratic position and then get the mass support that you’d need to actually implement it against elite opposition.

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J Thomas 01.09.15 at 4:59 pm

#211 MPAV

“You are letting the perfect be an obstacle to the good. I see no way of moving to UBI without phasing it in over a considerable period of time. And once people start getting regular checks (most efficiently of course through their own registered account – including a public option) they won’t like anyone who stops it.”

Okay but what if that money went to invests in much needed infrastructure or universal healthcare instead? Do you really believe people would be better off with a 50 dollar a month check then access to healthcare?

Healthcare will be treated as a special case that will not get us any closer to BI. Traditionally we have had the argument that once you have spent 100% of your savings, then the emergency department should take a look at you for free whenever you have a life-threatening emergency….

It isn’t that they want people to lose all their money and die. It’s that they want to spend the minimum required by human decency on your healthcare while you die.

I want a carbon tax. Tax fossil fuels at the source, and divide that money evenly among all US citizens. Finance the tax and the redistribution from the general fund, don’t use any of the tax money for anything except redistribution. The money gets credited to your debit card every week.

So when businesses use taxed fossil fuels and don’t get any of the tax money, they pass the tax along in their prices. Things you can buy that are low-carbon get cheaper relative to things that produce a lot of carbon. Give people an economic incentive to burn less carbon.

It wouldn’t be rich people who got indirectly taxed more — unless they happened to burn more carbon. Poor people who use more than their share of gasoline and heating oil and electricity from coal etc would also pay more. If you use the average amount of carbon, the higher prices balance out the tax money you get. But still if you find ways to use less, then some of that tax money is just money in your pocket.

If we had that for fossil fuel we could expand it. The technical parts would be already set up, and when the fossil fuel use goes down and people see their benefits drop it would be only natural to use the system for something else.

But of course, the GOP believes climate change is a hoax and we don’t need to burn less carbon at all, and right now they control all of Congress.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.09.15 at 5:06 pm

J Thomas: “A lot of people were outraged about Vietnam, but what got Nixon to resign was more than anything that the investigation into Watergate revealed tapes of him using very bad language, which got a lot of citizens to believe he should not be President.”

No, not really. Without taking a position on whether Nixon’s resignation really meant much in some larger sense, what got Nixon to resign was the intervention of a few elites, critically including those from both major American political parties, who determined that it wasn’t going to be acceptable for him to go on. Otherwise he simply would have brazened it out as later politicians did.

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Rich Puchalsky 01.09.15 at 5:11 pm

William Timberman: “Given that you like poetry, Rich, you might consider when the mode of the music changes, the walls of the city shake. Before the mode change, of course you invariably have to put up with an increasing cacophony of false notes.”

Thanks for finding a metaphor suited to the kinds of things I like, but a quote from Plato would be more reassuring if I were a Platonist. Music can be turned into a commodity like anything else. If the story comes before the change, but we’re never really sure whether the change is going to happen in advance, did the story really come before the change? Or did the change happen and then we looked back into history and found a story that seemed to prefigure it, when really that story existed among many others?

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Lee A. Arnold 01.09.15 at 5:42 pm

Reason #201: ” Would you agree or disagree that a policy of increasing marginal tax rates (say back to Clinton levels) combined with a universal dividend equal to all the money raised would be a net benefit to most of the population?”

Here is a good illustration of the complexity in the issue that will destroy any agreement on it:

1. Let’s say I agree.
2. But marginal tax rates on the wealthiest are ALREADY back to Clinton levels; you are therefore talking about raising the marginal tax rates back to Clinton levels on everybody else.
3. The middle and lower-middle classes might agree to have their taxes raised back to Clinton levels, once the economy gets going again.
4. But that still isn’t enough money to solve the entirety of the long-term deficits, only a portion of them.
5. Therefore, after raising all marginal rates back to Clinton levels and redistributing it as a universal dividend, the deficits remain.
6. Therefore, most people are going to ask: Aren’t you asking us to pay even more taxes in the future, above the Clinton rates, to take care of the deficits that we didn’t help to pay down?
7. And indeed, a very large number of people might insist that the quid pro quo for raising all marginal rates back to Clinton levels, is protection of Medicare and Social Security as they are now, because they are back under assault from the Republicans since the day after they took over Congress.

So Reason, the answer to your “3. Can you explain why the none of the main centre left parties in the western world are proposing this?” is because it is so easy to complicate a discussion of the immediate outcomes of the policy that most people shake their heads in incomprehension and disgust, and walk away from the issue.

Try this on any of your neighbors.

And so, to avoid the technical issues and confusiion, people call for a politics of the “notion of the public good as a conviction and guiding principle” (Bruce Wilder #183).

And the problem with THIS response is that it is too easily countered by the politics of preserving self-interest, of the Horatio Alger story. Which is very easy for people, even on the center-left, to swallow. (see: the Democratic Party).

So after that, we hear the argument about motives and mistakes and all the underlying nefarious evil, after the rhetorical manner of traditional left-wing parties. And, since most people don’t like negativity as personal choice or as politics, and that’s the end of that.

So then we hear, from Henry and many other academics, the attempts to give it a structural explanation. I think that’s putting the cart before the horse. But I would like to hear more, and in particular I would like to hear about to what extent the people of Europe have swallowed the self-interest, Horatio Alger story, because it seems to be implicit in their treatment of Greece, etc., if you discount the strong possibility of intellectual confusion.

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J Thomas 01.09.15 at 6:05 pm

#214 Rich Puchalsky

Without taking a position on whether Nixon’s resignation really meant much in some larger sense, what got Nixon to resign was the intervention of a few elites, critically including those from both major American political parties, who determined that it wasn’t going to be acceptable for him to go on. Otherwise he simply would have brazened it out as later politicians did.

You could easily be right. Was the difference that those elites cared about what the masses thought then, and they don’t care now? Or was there a difference in the masses? Or something else?

What struck me was that one of Nixon’s campaign planks in two elections was ending the war, and he ended it as slowly as he possibly could. After four years of not ending the war he brazened it out and campaigned a second time on ending the war.

We live in the era of the unhidden secret, where e.g. it can be proven that an administration faked evidence to get us into an aggressive war, but when they brazen it out nothing can be done about it.

Obama did something kind of similar with Iraq. Bush got us in there on the strength of Saddam’s nukes, and kept us there for 5 years. Obama promised to end the war, and took three full years to get the US ground troops out. Last year he started sending ground troops back in, while promising that he would not. I haven’t heard that any US airbases in Iraq have been rehabilitated yet, announced airstrikes have come from aircraft carriers and bases in Kuwait, Saudi arabia, Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus, and maybe Afghanistan, maybe UAE, I forget.

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Bruce Wilder 01.09.15 at 8:09 pm

reason: Why are [the Left] afraid to promote naked redistribution (and with a policy promoted originally by Milton Friedman)? I think it is is because they still see their role as tied to promoting the interests of “the working class” and not to promoting the interests of the poorer sections of the community. That is the real hold – and promoting union power is going EXACTLY in the wrong direction if you look at it that way.

Milton Friedman? Shouldn’t that be a clue for you? Think hard about who Milton Friedman was and why Milton Friedman was proposing a basic income as a policy.

Milton Friedman was promoting atomistic individualism, the myth of consumer sovereignty through the fabled Market, the volunteer military and so on. He was looking at the world FDR’s New Deal had built, an economic world carefully managed and structured, and he was re-interpreting it as a result of spontaneous emergence. He conceded “market failure” only grudgingly, arguing that every government intervention carried costs that could well exceed the distortions of a less-regulated “market”. He was making the world safe for the policy of deregulation that would undermine labor unions and destroy savings and loans and community banking.

I’m not saying that a UBI is a bad idea. It was arguably a good idea, but it was being proposed by a con artist with an agenda of destroying the spirit of social democracy — the “social” and the “democracy”. Akin to a love poem recited by a pimp.

Leaving the structure of the political economy to take care of itself, while the left hand struggles with the right hand about which pocket to put society’s spare change — that’s not a rebirth for the Left, that’s a funeral. And, it was designed to be such.

Lee A. Arnold @ 216 has a decent enough summary of the problem of sales pitches. He’s certainly correct that angry critics are not electable. And, he’s also correct that it is very easy, to “complicate” any discussion, to confuse people and exhaust their attention spans with even a slight gesture in the direction of dispute. J Thomas, several times, has made the point that disputes make it much harder to determine the truth, even when the truth may be fairly obvious, making it much harder to get consensus.

The politics of, “here’s a good idea, can’t we all agree?” has its applications, especially in a society that is already pretty healthy, because a sensible, decent politics (I won’t say, a good left politics, because left is relative) has already had a good run of it, a good run of improving society and the quality of its politics. The politics of let’s leave the political economy to be structured by the most amoral capitalist dominators and fraudsters, and then, after the dust settles, we’ll transparently (re!)distribute the surplus — that’s wrong and self-defeating on so many levels, it should not require extended explication.

One economic, not political, objection, which ought to be highlighted, is that there won’t be much of a surplus. To use an extreme to sketch the nation, the rich can be mega-rich in a slave society, but a slave society, however glittering the main house and fragrant the magnolias, will be a poor, weak society in the main, lacking the institutional structures of a more just and efficient social cooperation as well as the felt political solidarity that ensures a responsible leadership and trust in that leadership from the society as a whole.

My perception is that the states of Europe and the European Union are very much mixed, in regard to how they came to be where they are, in terms of building the complex web of institutions that underlay a social welfare state. The supranational institutions of the European were intended by their architects and supporters to strengthen a progress toward stronger, more efficient, and more just institutions across these countries, to strengthen the hand of a good politics.

With the Euro, the good intentions have soured into a neoliberal fraud. And, the Left has not been effective in countering this line of degeneracy.

It is surely not an accident that the “victims” of the Euro have been the Mediterranean states with the weakest institutions and social welfare states (plus Ireland), nor that the neoliberal proponents of the Euro argue for the sale of state enterprises and “liberalization”, while the social democratic parties find themselves with neither policy options (Hollande) nor rhetoric (Miliband) with which to oppose right-wing austerity and restructuring.

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js. 01.09.15 at 9:30 pm

ZM @190:

PK didn’t get it wrong, actually. If you look here, Krugman’s showing real income growth in the 1988-2008 period. This chart comes straight from the paper you linked (p. 31). In any case, neither PK, nor presumably Henry, are making a point about the (static) global income distribution as of 2008 or whatever.

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Metatone 01.09.15 at 9:58 pm

@reason – actually my thoughts explain the Australian upper house (which in turn explain a lot more of Australian policy than people generally describe) very well indeed.

The German realignment you point to is also less kind to your aggressive response than you appear to understand. The FDP has finally dropped out of prominence, but only many years after the SDP self-destructed ideologically. Indeed, the key question for this debate is rather “How did we end up the G. Schroeder?” And thus even in Germany, technologies and sociologies of electioneering have something to explain to us about the answer.

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Metatone 01.09.15 at 10:02 pm

@Bruce Wilder

Have you read “Europe: The Struggle for Supremacy, 1453 to the Present: A History of the Continent Since 1500” by Brendan Simms?

He’s rather maniacally focussed on competition between states as a driver for anything and everything. However there’s a good kernel of truth that greater democracy and spreading of the benefits of national wealth were for a long time propelled by the need for the elites to build a stronger nation to compete with other nations.

I have a half-formed hypothesis along those lines that it’s the final failure of conscription – Vietnam – that put that force to bed and led us to the current situation where elites no longer feel they need the rest of us…

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J Thomas 01.09.15 at 10:15 pm

#218 Bruce Wilder

The politics of let’s leave the political economy to be structured by the most amoral capitalist dominators and fraudsters, and then, after the dust settles, we’ll transparently (re!)distribute the surplus — that’s wrong and self-defeating on so many levels, it should not require extended explication.

OK, let’s make up something else.

How about this for a start: We need innovation and risk and all that stuff in industries that are improving fast. We don’t need them so much in mature industries.

So about the time that a consumer industry settles down and gets kind of predictable, let’s nationalize it. We can create a predictable amount of stuff for consumers, we can price it reasonably, and after awhile it will turn moribund as the needs it serves get met by some fast-improving new technology. That’s fine, at that point we shut it down and wait for some other technology to get mature enough to nationalize.

We don’t actually have to confiscate anybody’s business. If enough corporations are willing to sell out for a reasonable price, then fine. Otherwise build fresh and compete with them. The government businesses make an adequate product with no advertising cost and very low price. If the others can compete on style and pizazz and sell the sizzle then that’s just fine for them.

So, like, you might want three or four pairs of shoes a year. You scan your feet flexed all the ways your feet and ankles go, and the automated shoe-design program designs a shoe for you that’s a variation on their basic design, and if you don’t like it you can give them your own variant design. Very cheap, and if you want special fancy rhinestone shoes with 5″ stiletto heels you can buy them from anybody who makes them. The basic shoes don’t need a lot of innovation except as we find ways to make them cheaper and better, and ideas along those lines would be tried on a reasonably small scale first and then scaled up gradually, sometimes as the machinery wears out and needs to be replaced.

If we get a cottage industry in shoe repair and alteration, no harm done.

It’s (optimisticly) plausible that as you get more experience making a product that has lots of users, you’ll get better at it. The people who make a bewildering variety of stylish products won’t get better, except they’ll get better at advertising their styles.

Mature industries don’t need the expense and waste of capitalism — the planned obsolescence, the zero-sum competition, the advertising to persuade customers that the next model in the design process is a quantum leap ahead, the frantic attempts to control the distribution chain, etc. Leave that to the places it can pay off.

How many people would buy the cheap products? Everybody who can’t afford more expensive stuff, which includes everybody who isn’t independently wealthy and can’t get jobs that pay well. Plus everybody who likes the products and wants to save their money for something else.

Could most consumer goods be done that way? It depends. Things that are franticly evolving to fit our climate change goals probably couldn’t. A lot of military equipment could. Lots of it doesn’t really get obsolete that fast, the competition isn’t that stiff. The USA just likes to spend a lot of money hoping for tech improvements that will give us a temporary military edge.

Would CEOs really mind all that much if we did this? The low-end low-profit market for cheap people who don’t have much money isn’t usually where they want to shine.

Could it work technically, if the politics allowed it?

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ZM 01.09.15 at 10:57 pm

js,

Well I think Krugman did get it wrong because the graphs on Figure 1 p.31 are not what the authors are referring to when they are talking about “twin peaks” in their article – the term which Krugman borrows in his blog piece referring to their work.

If you look at figure 2 and figure 3 and most especially *figure 5* you see what the authors are talking about when they talk about how in 1988 there were twin peaks (the left side one ring the very rich and then the one to the right being the developed world’s working class) and then afterwards the left hand side peak declines to just a slight bump and the valley in the middle gets filled in by rising incomes in Asia.

The decline of the 1988 left hand peak is the phenomenon the authors are noting – as well as the rising of the valley bit which used to be between the peaks.

So if we are going to be talking about how social democrats should respond – I guess we need to do this in relation to the phenomenon of the decline of the twin peaks the source shows.

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bianca steele 01.09.15 at 11:36 pm

Whether Krugman’s column is right or wrong, the pattern where a country stays industrialized for a short time and then declines, as manufacturing moves to where labor is cheaper, is obviously both good for the world, and bad for political parties that count on both votes from the industrial working class, and ideas that assume an industrial economy is forever.

Making it worse, ideas that assume the industrial economy has been over for a long time (we’re “postindustrial,” in “late capitalism”), are where the action has been for quite a while. We’re just coasting off past achievements, apparently (as the countries now moving into industrialism will do in another hundred years). If the left and working class parties didn’t buy into that, they’d stagnate, I guess.

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J Thomas 01.10.15 at 4:17 am

#225 Bianca Steele

… the pattern where a country stays industrialized for a short time and then declines, as manufacturing moves to where labor is cheaper, is obviously both good for the world ….

Is that obvious? Is it good for the world in comparison to something else in particular? Better for the world than X?

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js. 01.10.15 at 5:40 am

ZM,

I’ll grant you that PK perhaps got the ‘twin peaks’ reference from the article wrong. But the fact that the middle classes in China etc. are doing even better (making the income distribution graph single peaked) really doesn’t seem to affect PK’s point about how the traditional center-left parties in Europe and North America are failing their traditional constituencies. How would it?

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ZM 01.10.15 at 5:58 am

Because its not just that the Asian middle classes are doing better but the peak for developed worlds working classes has gone down and the article says it’s even worse in sub-Saharan Africa where it was so low anyway and has gone down too.

I am not so good with graphs so it’s a bit confusing to me – but here is my explanation –

but it seems like the developed worlds working class was better off than the Asian middle class in 1988 . This is likely due to remnants of colonialism ? Now Asuan countries are stronger economies – their middle classes are above the developed world’s working classes. And rather than Asians filling in the valley – developed world’s working classes have gone down .

Now it’s quite racist to say that Western working classes should have higher incomes than Asian middle classes.

So the social-democrats can’t really do anything – unless they target the global rich and middle class for redistribution to the global working class and poor.

But numbers of actual working class people in developed countries either don’t understand or would rather go back to earning higher incomes than the Asian middle classes – hence the rise again of nasty sorts of parties.

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js. 01.10.15 at 6:02 am

Forgot to add in my last comment that part of the ‘single peak’ phenomenon appears to be the working classes in the developed world, global north, etc., doing even worse over the 1998-2008 period. Which only seems to reinforce Krugman’s point. (In other words, add the following after “China etc. are doing even better” in my last comment: and the working/middle classes in the developed world are doing even worse.)

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john c. halasz 01.10.15 at 6:11 am

When Niklas Luhmann was first propounding his theory of self-legitimizing political elites back in the ’70’s, it seemed preposterous. Wasn’t it just an artifact of his systems theoretical approach, whereby all social subsystems must operate on the basis of their own self-referential code? And doesn’t it miss the normative status of the very notion of legitimacy? And doesn’t his attempt to reduce all normative notions to functional explanations amount to an obvious category error? And what sort of norm, whether epistemic or ethico-political, would itself underwrite such a project?

But ever since, he’s come to seem increasingly prophetic.

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js. 01.10.15 at 6:11 am

Wait, the point is that you can, theoretically, bring up the developed working class part of the ‘valley’ (or whatever, that bit of the middle) by bringing down part of the super rich end of the spectrum on the very right. I mean, PK not arguing against rising standards in the global south; he’s worried about inequality in the internal economies of Europe and North America. I don’t exactly understand what you think the problem is here, honestly. (I’m not talking about internal political difficulties, just at a theoretical level you seem to find something objectionable in Krugman’s complaint about center-left parties that I don’t get.)

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ZM 01.10.15 at 6:21 am

js,

I think you could do that if all we are talking about is money – if you look at resource consumption I am not sure that would work. You would have to bring the billions of global working classes and poor up to the level of the middle classes who they compete with for resource consumption I would think? And we are already unsustainably over-consuming resources globally.

A war-time-mobilization-style economy for climate change and sustainability and to contract and converge is easily the simplest solution – this would go til at least 2050 by which time I will be old and the younger generation will have to work out what to do next.

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js. 01.10.15 at 6:39 am

That all may be right (I honestly don’t know), but does this have anything to do with what you were saying @190? I mean, as far as I can see, Krugman and Henry are taking about a genuine, deep problem about center-left parties in the developed world—how they’ve lost touch with their traditional constituencies—and while what you’re pointing to now is a real problem, I don’t see how it’s an argument against the former.

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ZM 01.10.15 at 6:48 am

I wasn’t making an argument that centre-left parties are in touch with their constituencies. I was just pointing out the error about the twin peaks bit.

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Brett 01.10.15 at 9:02 am

@J Thomas

So about the time that a consumer industry settles down and gets kind of predictable, let’s nationalize it. We can create a predictable amount of stuff for consumers, we can price it reasonably, and after awhile it will turn moribund as the needs it serves get met by some fast-improving new technology. That’s fine, at that point we shut it down and wait for some other technology to get mature enough to nationalize.

That becomes a problem if the new technology has the potential to drastically change the older, nationalized one. It’s much harder to change an oligopoly or monopoly than it is to change a firm that has to hustle in a more competitive market – just look at how the ISPs here in the US dragged their feet on increasing speeds and access to broadband until Mobile Wireless and new competitors (like Google Fiber) started threatening to eat their lunch.

Take self-driving cars, for example. Suppose we decide that the car business is a “mature, predictable industry” and nationalize the whole thing. Then at some point someone figures out how to do self-driving cars – are they allowed to start up their own car business to sell self-driving cars pending liability and safety issues, or do they have to go try and convince “US Motors” that this is a good idea?

The low-end low-profit market for cheap people who don’t have much money isn’t usually where they want to shine.

But that’s where they seem to go, eventually. Luxuries that can be mass-produced filter downwards as long as they don’t have high labor costs, and so forth. It even applies with the financial sector – the rise of securitization and stuff like mutual funds was all part of allowing for smaller pieces of access to be sold to a larger market, with (hopefully but not always truthfully) more safety.

The poor may only have pennies compared to the rich, but there are a lot more poor people.

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J Thomas 01.10.15 at 3:20 pm

#235 Brett

“So about the time that a consumer industry settles down and gets kind of predictable, let’s nationalize it. We can create a predictable amount of stuff for consumers, we can price it reasonably, and after awhile it will turn moribund as the needs it serves get met by some fast-improving new technology. That’s fine, at that point we shut it down and wait for some other technology to get mature enough to nationalize.”

That becomes a problem if the new technology has the potential to drastically change the older, nationalized one. ….

Take self-driving cars, for example. Suppose we decide that the car business is a “mature, predictable industry” and nationalize the whole thing. Then at some point someone figures out how to do self-driving cars – are they allowed to start up their own car business to sell self-driving cars pending liability and safety issues, or do they have to go try and convince “US Motors” that this is a good idea?

My thought is to let them do whatever they want. The government is providing a cheap standard product, one that consumers can customize some because of the marvels of automated industry. When somebody else provides a product that people can afford which they want more, then sales of the old product go down, the business gets wound down, at some point it looks like too much bother to refurbish the machinery and they get out of that business. Then when the new product has stabilized the government starts to supply a cheap no-profit version. They don’t have to buy out any existing businesses to do it, just if the product really has stabilized the existing businesses will be getting squeezed out of the market anyway, and most or all of the survivors might prefer to sell out rather than compete against the government version. Anybody who wants to keep battling for market share could do that. “Nationalization” was not the right word, but I’m not sure what the right word is and the right word probably has even worse connotations.

“The low-end low-profit market for cheap people who don’t have much money isn’t usually where they want to shine.”

But that’s where they seem to go, eventually. Luxuries that can be mass-produced filter downwards as long as they don’t have high labor costs, and so forth.

Sure, after the fixed costs are paid off then you can make cut-rate versions for the peanut gallery. Sometimes that seems almost perverse. Like, for computer stuff sometimes it’s too expensive to design inferior products to sell cheap, so they design the original product so it can be intentionally crippled to sell cheap. Sometimes even just a firmware change. It costs them slightly more to make a crippled product, but they don’t want to lower the price for the good stuff and there are people who can’t afford it who will buy something less.

The government could do that work and just sell the good version cheap. But in a few years it would be obsolete, so this sort of product is probably not be a good fit for that approach.

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john c. halasz 01.11.15 at 12:31 am

Self-driving cars are a) not really practicable and b) a profoundly stupid and basically capitalist idea. The same computer technology that would render them possible,- 20 or 30 years from now- could just as well be applied now to developing highly differentiated and personalized urban mass transit systems, powered by renewable electricity, at vastly lower cost, both in terms of finance and in terms of natural resource utilization. Though that, of course, would require public planning and investment, “political will”.

The less said about structured securitization as some sort of salutary “financial innovation”, the better.

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Robespierre 01.12.15 at 9:41 am

Anyway, twin-peaked world as used by Krugman referred not to the existence of two superimposed normal distributions of (log)income now converging into one, but to the fact that there have been two areas of high growth rate in income: the middle of the world income distribution (“China’s middle class”, whatever it means) and the very top of the world income distribution, while growth has been lowest around the 90th percentile (the rich world’s working classes), as well as the very lowest percentiles (undeveloping Africa).

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reason 01.12.15 at 10:27 am

john c. halasz @238
I think you are very wrong. Self-driving WILL have a profound impact but not as private items but as a public utility (they will to some extent eliminate the privately owned car – at least for the middle class). It will get its foot in the door though, because of an aging population. I don’t know how many accidents I read about locally here (they happen regularly) because some 80 year old has put his foot on the accelerator instead of the brake and driven through a window or a wall.

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reason 01.12.15 at 10:35 am

MPAVictoria @213
” Do you really believe people would be better off with a 50 dollar a month check then access to healthcare?”

No (well not all of them), but of course in most of the world they already have some access to healthcare. But that is not the point. It is not what I believe that counts. It is what can be sold to the population. And the 50 dollars a month in THEIR account is a clear symbol of the commitment of the “left” party to redistribution, in a way that a complex national health system that they still have to pay for is not.

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reason 01.12.15 at 10:38 am

And sorry, but I don’t have much time for the Marxists who are basically saying “we don’t need incremental changes we need complete revolution”. Well good luck with that program.

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J Thomas 01.12.15 at 11:23 am

#241 reason

” Do you really believe people would be better off with a 50 dollar a month check then access to healthcare?”

No (well not all of them), but of course in most of the world they already have some access to healthcare. But that is not the point. It is not what I believe that counts. It is what can be sold to the population. And the 50 dollars a month in THEIR account is a clear symbol of the commitment of the “left” party to redistribution, in a way that a complex national health system that they still have to pay for is not.

I suggest you push for that, and *also* push for almost the same thing in the form of a carbon tax.

When the purpose is money for everybody, you have a hard fight. When the purpose is a carbon tax that helps us toward climate change, and also helps toward alternative energy and energy independence, you might get more votes in favor. It might get passed decades sooner.

Then when people see their income from the carbon tax dropping because fossil fuels are being used less, it will be easier to extend it toward BI.

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reason 01.12.15 at 11:33 am

J Thomas
Yes I agree a distributed carbon tax is a good idea.

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reason 01.12.15 at 11:40 am

P.S. The point is to make a start. (To those who argued above that putting marginal tax rates back to Clinton levels wouldn’t be right – OK, OK the principle is a small increase – increase them by 1c a $ on top incomes and distribute the gains).

Eventually to move towards a BI (I prefer to call it a national dividend) means phasing out some existing transfer payments and increasing taxes on Jedermann, which won’t be popular even though the net effect on most people will be small and positive.

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Anarcissie 01.12.15 at 4:31 pm

reason 01.12.15 at 10:38 am @ 242
‘And sorry, but I don’t have much time for the Marxists who are basically saying “we don’t need incremental changes we need complete revolution”. Well good luck with that program.’

What if it’s true? Right now, if you want to have Basic Income or any other social democratic policy, what you have to do is convince the ruling class and their hangers-on that they will be better off if that policy is put in place (or, have that revolution). However, much of the discussion here has been about how to stir the proles up about social-democratic politics, which is different, and will not have a lot to do with policies, since at heart it’s more of the same.

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reason 01.12.15 at 5:03 pm

No you just need a majority of the voters. In the US the clear problem is with the parties, but they also hold primaries.

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Ze Kraggash 01.12.15 at 6:34 pm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swiss_referendums,_2015

There, provided you manage to overcome opposition’s propaganda, a majority of the voters might get you something. In the US, a majority of the voters plus 9 bucks will get you a pack of Marlboros.

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Ze Kraggash 01.12.15 at 6:40 pm

…incidentally, I see they’re also introducing online voting this year. Coincidence?…….

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john c. halasz 01.13.15 at 5:35 am

reason @ 240:

SO what exactly is your idea of efficiency?

With today’s already existent technologies, it is perfectly possible to construct highly personalized and differentiated mass transit systems in urban areas with sufficient population densities, (yes, as public utilities), regulated and stabilized by computer control systems. You’d just swipe your card and punch in your request, and within a few minutes, the required vehicle would be at your service, (2 seat? 4 seat? luggage space? etc.). If you want to save some money, a jitney cab type service would be available. Or, if you want to go really cheap, conventional mass transit with local and express lines. But there would be no need to squeeze everybody into a box like sardines. And there would neither be any traffic accidents, nor any traffic jams, since the routes and flow of traffic speeds would be computer-optimized. Nor would there be any need for expensive and redundant electric battery technologies, (which don’t really as yet exist). Of course, it would take time to build up such systems in a fully integrated and operationalized way, while removing all the potential glitches, but there is no reason why they couldn’t be completed within a couple of decades. The problem is far more a matter of politics and policy than technical feasibility.

On the other hand, self-driving automobiles would take decades to “perfect”, since training computers, (which don’t function at all like brains), to recognize and respond appropriately to all the myriad contingencies of urban traffic is virtually an insuperable task. (Not to mention in the U.S. at least, problems with legal liabilities). Further, in the U.S. the average automobile is used just 75 minutes per day, and the embedded energy in it manufacture is 270 bn joules. Currently 16.7 mn automobiles are sold per year. If 12 million were eliminated, that would reduce the energy requirement by 3 quadrillion BTUs, not to mention all the other natural resources involved, including those involved in battery storage, (since electrification is already 3 times as energy efficient as gas powered ICEs).

The self-driving auto concept is a capitalist boondoggle, intended to maintain wasteful capitalist overproduction for the sake of capitalist profit-seeking. The strategy is obvious, even if the ostensible “goal” is impossible. Advances in computer control can be transferred piece-meal onto luxury auto sales, even as a whole new market in batteries is created (Musk). It only appeals to those who can’t see 2 inches beyond there noses.

BTW though you’re generally a reasonable and well-informed fellow, the appropriation of “reason” as your handle is a bit presumptuous, since you don’t evince much awareness of how problematic the term is and it obviously isn’t your unique possession or qualification.

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reason 01.13.15 at 8:14 am

” You’d just swipe your card and punch in your request, and within a few minutes, the required vehicle would be at your service, (2 seat? 4 seat? luggage space? etc.).”
????
Where is this possible (and from A to B precisely, regardless of A to B), and how is that different from a driverless car functioning as a taxi?

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john c. halasz 01.13.15 at 8:50 am

@251:

Where is it possible? In any urban area with settled, predictable traffic patterns and flows. Where does it currently exist? Nowhere exactly, though I’d imagine there are lot of cities, (not in the U.S.), with elements of such a system. It’s different from driverless taxis in that it would be a fixed light rail system, which would eliminate redundant requirements for individual computer guidance and battery storage. The energy and resource savings/efficiencies would be immense compared to current urban transport systems, but, of course, in capitalist terms, such savings would be registered as a loss of demand. Basically, the street level would be for pedestrians, bicyclists, gardeners, buskers and the like, while the actual transport needs of people would be accommodated within the structure of urban life. (Increased concentration in cities, as opposed to suburban/exurban sprawl, would have to take hold, which would interfere with current economic rents, “property values”, which is one source of opposition, but how long can we afford to cater to an exclusive “middle class” as a political priority?) I’m no engineer, but I don’t see why such a system would be technically impossible and couldn’t be realized in full within a generation, (which is about all the time we have left to adapt).

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Anarcissie 01.13.15 at 3:47 pm

One of the most important purposes of a private vehicle is not to move people and stuff around, but to show status.

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TM 01.13.15 at 10:27 pm

Ze 5: A “populist anti-EU Left” is not new phenomenon. It just doesn’t fit the media narrative but until not so long ago, the role of Europe-Skeptic was filled mostly by left populists.

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TM 01.13.15 at 10:38 pm

44: “You don’t think some fraction of European social democrats couldn’t have been Marxists”

Social Democracy historically came out of Marxism. You should know that bit of labor history. Of course, hardly any living social democrat has any connection with the Marxist tradition.

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Shirley0401 01.14.15 at 2:24 am

J Thomas @215, reason @ a few places

I’ve seen an increasing number of relatively mainstream outlets discussing the ways a carbon tax might be harnessed to some sort of redistribution. For what it’s worth (not much), I’m all for it. A few have even mentioned the possibility of some sort of basic income (or citizen’s dividend, or minimum income). Here and there, the connection is two-way, with there being some sort of “incentivization” to reduce consumption as prices for carbon-dependent goods/services rise. I remember reading one that proposed some sort of BI-like prebate, provided to partially offset the higher prices, set at the amount someone would end up paying in carbon taxes if they were consuming whatever was agreed upon as a responsible amount to consume. In my fantasy world, I wondered if this amount would be enough to support the suitably low-consumption lifestyle of someone who decided s/he would let others burn their share of carbon in exchange for eating beans/rice and spending days reading library books and lying on the beach…
I just looked for it online, but couldn’t find it, although there were a couple with the word “prebate” in them.
Overall, I’m cautiously optimistic that people who wouldn’t have entertained such ideas a few years ago are at least considering the possibility that these might be possibilities worth considering.

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