You can’t spell ‘Schumpeter’ without the ‘chump’

by John Holbo on March 20, 2016

This Matt Labash profile of Mike “Murphestopheles” Murphy, lately of Right To Rise fame – is fascinating. (People said ‘Right To Rise’ sounded like a late-nite viagra infomercial. I thought it sounded like a zombie flick, and I think this post-mortem of Murphy confirms me in that intuition. Although I see the other point of view.)

I suggest to Murphy that many of these things he’s decrying have been the tricks of his trade. He’s like a magician denouncing the false-bottomed top hat. “I don’t mind technique,” he says. “I can be shameless. I have a long career at this. But when everything is a short con, then there’s never another short con. Because you need trust, and you’ve destroyed it.”

I guess that’s my favorite bit. But it’s hard to choose. It’s like David Mamet rewriting P.J. O’Rourke, adapting Melville’s The Confidence-Man.

The anti-Trump argument from Murphy’s side is: running the long con is the only sustainable strategy. Trust is there to be betrayed. A resource. Question of when you burn it, and how brightly, not whether. The cynicism really is bracing.

This does suggest a simple, binary classification. There are so many ‘cons’ – neo, theo, paleo. How have we missed the elegance of a two box solution: shortcons and longcons. This also solves the riddle of ‘the Establishment’. Who, if anyone? Answer: any and all longcons, including the ‘anti-establishment’ ones. The rest: shortcons, like Trump. (It seems so simple, but I didn’t write the piece, or provide the quotes for it.) And the final lines:

“If we have real, creative destruction here with Trump, and we have Armageddon or worse, out of the ruins will come new successes. New movements. And eventually, new rackets.”

“And I’ll be in on them,” Murphy says with a half-smile. “I admit it, I’m a racketeer.”


Jeb! 2020!



Soullite 03.20.16 at 8:56 am

When a Democrat who is against free trade gets nominated, I will care about your childish arguments. But that is never going to happen, because the Democratic party is a wholly owned subsidiary of the banking industry.

Trump is against free trade. I will stand behind any candidate that is against free trade over any candidate who is for free trade. There are a lot of people like me — people who never got the chance to vote our opinion because this corrupt country has prevented anyone who shared it from being a major party nominee before, despite my opinion on free trade being the same as the one held by the overwhelming majority of people.

And a lot of people who don’t usually vote will crawl over broken glass to vote against free trade. Make no mistake about that. We are tired of not having our opinion heard. We do not care what little temper tantrums you throw over the fact that we don’t bow down and worship the issues YOU care about. None of you gave a shit about the working people of this country. You ran election after election on an invented ‘war on women’, while ignore the longterm war on the working class. Oh, you’ll claim otherwise, but you won’t be able to point to anything tangible, just conveniently failed efforts and broken promises. No universal healthcare, no EFCA, no nothing to help working people. Just programs for minorities and women, and then you wonder why the people you ignored are bitter and hateful for it.

You people… Jesus.


The Dark Avenger 03.20.16 at 11:26 am

Soullite, speed kills.


Lee A. Arnold 03.20.16 at 12:20 pm

It is a very entertaining read, the best of this whole season, so far. And a revealing look into the mindset of political consultants, in this case, a very entertaining one. Too bad for Jeb that Murphy couldn’t give him a transfusion of wit.

Murphy’s reasons for Trump’s rise and Jeb’s failure are:

1. The media landscape has changed completely (wrongfooting the old consultants, but Trump knows how to use it).
2. The reporters whom Murphy can access (and get published) are increasingly ignorant and reverting to simple horse-race poll coverage.
3. Enough voters are so angry with the “Establishment” that Trump, despite his idiocy, self-contradiction & infantility, is invulnerable to the other challengers.
4. There were too many other Republicans in the race.
5. Rubio & Cruz (in particular) wouldn’t join in with Jeb’s early attack on Trump (not that it might have mattered much), and in addition, the Jeb campaign sunk a big chunk of money into that attack.
6. There really isn’t one “establishment” for a consultant to wrangle, there are several establishments, with differing interests. (Murphy’s brief and useful typology is in Labash’s paragraph #79.)
7. Extra voter angers have been stoked by small-donation grifter operations, creating a “grievance industry”. (which has already been covered by some good reportage over the years. See Labash’s paragraphs 80-85).

Much of the discussion surrounding these points will be of interest to political junkies.

But for people who think seriously about the future, it is instructive to see what Murphy (and Labash) do not understand.

Just read Labash’s paragraphs #59-63. They are both working on the assumption that there are politicians who sell LESS snake oil than Trump, particularly in economics. They do not see that Thatcher-Reaganism is a dead-end, and has enervated the conservative intellectual discourse.

(Clinton-Blairism is just a speed-bump, to slow down the crash into that dead-end. It won’t work either, but that won’t matter much for this particular election.)


The Temporary Name 03.20.16 at 12:44 pm

Office décor is a reminder of a campaign lost. The “coffee bar” is a desk full of whiskey bottles, with everything on offer from populist Trumpian Fireball to finer Woodford Reserve. In keeping with the Irish-wake vibe, I go full-tilt elitist, helping myself to a 10-year-old Macallan that I take neat, not because I want to, but because the high-dollar super-PAC’s ghetto refrigerator doesn’t even have an icemaker.

I want me a super-PAC job.


Lee A. Arnold 03.20.16 at 1:04 pm

I imagine the title is a reference to Schumpeter’s term, “creative destruction”.

Most people don’t know that Schumpeter’s final thesis is that capitalism must creatively destroy ITSELF.

I believe that the single best explanation of our real state of affairs (even explaining the effluvium of this present US campaign season) — that is, the basic reasons why capitalism will unavoidably put itself out of business, while causing the intellectual decrepitude of its leaders, not least its economists — is in Schumpeter’s Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, chapters 10-14. Fifty-three pages of prescience written in 1942.


Jim Harrison 03.20.16 at 3:38 pm

Trump’s campaign is all distractions all the time. It’s not so much that Republicans can get away with things that Democrats would be called on, though that’s true enough, but that Trump puts out so much nonsense, bile, and extremism on so many subjects that the media is utterly baffled by so many targets. Indirection is essential to fraud.


Murc 03.20.16 at 3:53 pm

In the absence of Malaclypse, I feel compelled to remind people that soullite hates gay people and also women and nothing he says should be taken seriously.


Z 03.20.16 at 4:51 pm

Completely 100% OT, but no love for Putnam on CT?


Frank Wilhoit 03.20.16 at 5:33 pm

@1 : You don’t seem to have any clear notion of what the alternative to free trade would look like. I doubt you’d enjoy it. I’m guessing you’re old enough to remember the relative prices of things fifty years ago. You want that back? Do you have any idea how much you are concretely benefitting, today, from the amazingly low cost of transoceanic shipping? You wouldn’t be typing on a computer, for the first thing: you couldn’t afford it.

You are quite right that everything went to sh1t in 1973 — but it wasn’t free trade, it was the oil crisis.

@6 : “creative destruction” is the most ridiculous oxymoron ever invented. You’re either creating or you’re destroying. More humans get an emotional reward from destroying than get an emotional reward from creating. The rest is sophistry. Schumpeter evidently got an emotional reward from creating excuses for destruction. Pardon my lack of interest in this and other pathologies.


The Temporary Name 03.20.16 at 6:41 pm

Prior to NAFTA and whatever else home computers were within reach.


Lee A. Arnold 03.20.16 at 6:43 pm

Frank Wilhoit #10: ” “creative destruction” is the most ridiculous oxymoron ever invented”

No, “creative destruction” is originally the idea that old techniques and businesses are superseded by new ones, as almost everyone (including you, it would appear) commonly and regularly expects.

The seeds of this are in J.S. Mill although the first explicit description is in Marx, who observed its rapid occurrence in large economic crises. Wikipedia will fill in the sketch. After that, it was absorbed into the Mellon Doctrine etc. to justify gov’t austerity after capitalist financial crises, in order to protect the bourgeoisie.

Schumpeter provided the name “creative destruction”. And finally, he did not think that the added idea about destructive austerity was necessary, as his even-handed (and astonishing) History of Economic Analysis (1954) shows.

Your statement, “More humans get an emotional reward from destroying than get an emotional reward from creating,” is in tune with your other misreading, about Schumpeter’s emotional rewards. I understand that these are the sorts of passionate and often hysterical assertion which are very common to Crooked Timber threads, so I won’t ask your bored self to produce a proof of either.


js. 03.20.16 at 6:43 pm

Am I the only person who thinks “Right to Rise” sounds like a god-awful single from a third-generation LA punk band?


Layman 03.20.16 at 6:46 pm

“Prior to NAFTA and whatever else home computers were within reach.”

Indeed. And while free trade brings real prices down, it does that by bringing real wages down. Higher wages, higher prices. And vice versa.


William Burns 03.20.16 at 6:47 pm

Sure, it’s tempting to divide everything into short cons and long cons, but then someone comes up with a medium-length con.


Doctor Memory 03.20.16 at 7:06 pm

js. it’s not just you. I have repeatedly mistaken “Right to Rise” with “Rise Above”.

And at the risk of derailing, the price of a home computer is probably not a slam dunk example for either the pro- or anti-“free” trade: in 1972, the home computer simply did not exist.

The first massively popular and nominally affordable home computer was the Commodore 64, which debuted in 1982, retailed for roughly $1500 in inflation-adjusted dollars ($595 in 1982), but was sold absent a monitor, external storage (tape or disk) or printer — a full system probably cost closer to $2500 in 2016 dollars. These were very very very definitely toys for the upper middle class and above: my family couldn’t afford one, for damn sure.

Presently, you can buy a brand-name (HP, Dell, etc) all-in-one Windows PC for $500 or less, which is about $200 or so in 1982 dollars — an order of magnitude decrease! If you want to seriously economize, there are “netbooks” which can be had for $200 or less: $80 by 1982 standards.

So, slam dunk for free trade and chinese manufacturing, right? Well, maybe. It’s certainly a slam dunk for a competitive marketplace and open technical standards, but mostly what it’s a reflection other than that of is increased manufacturing capacity: neither the US nor China nor any other part of the world in 1972 could have supplied even a fraction of the computing market of 2016. We needed to build the factories somewhere; as it happens we built them in Shenzen. This has worked out pretty well for the workers of China; whether the decreased cost of computing makes up for the lost wages of the US worker is…maybe a little less obvious.


Matt 03.20.16 at 8:01 pm

The Commodore 64 that cost $595 in 1982 could be had for $300 in 1990 (about $544 today). That was well before NAFTA and the rest.

Advanced microelectronics manufacturing is still overwhelmingly located in high-development, high-wage countries. From that list, for example, Intel operates 9 fabs in the USA, 3 in Ireland, 2 in Israel, 1 in China.

Intel’s first 80386 chip, its first 32 bit microprocessor, was manufactured in the USA and introduced in 1985 for $299 ($659 today). The entry level “Pentium” branded version of Intel’s latest Skylake microarchitecture is manufactured in the USA and Ireland and debuted in 2015 for $64. I think that crediting free trade with low-wage nations for the plummeting price of microelectronics is very dubious.


Plume 03.20.16 at 8:15 pm

Layman @15,

“Indeed. And while free trade brings real prices down, it does that by bringing real wages down. Higher wages, higher prices. And vice versa.”

We finally agree on sumptin. You’re spot on with this comment.


This also creates a kind of death spiral, with less and less worker leverage, and more and more traps. Lower wages mean workers have to buy cheap foreign goods, which pushes wages down still further and kills leverage. This also puts Ma and Pa shops out of business, and accelerates the downward spiral.

It’s actually a modified form of “primitive accumulation,” which goes back to the beginnings of capitalism. Capitalist laws of competitive motion drove out the local, direct producer, forcing millions to stop being their own bosses, forcing them to go to work in the mass production factories instead. They could no longer compete on price, though they typically could best their mass competitors on quality and durability. But as goods and services became more and more available to the masses, quality goods, made in limited quantities, remained largely the preserve of the wealthy. The wealthy kept that niche going. The masses, however, kept mass production in business, trapping workers in that loop.


Ross Smith 03.20.16 at 10:08 pm

js@14: On another forum I just saw a discussion of whether it was a Viagra commercial or a zombie flick.


Ross Smith 03.20.16 at 10:10 pm

Oops, my apologies to the OP – I had my forums mixed up there. Please feel free to delete these two comments.


Eli Rabett 03.20.16 at 10:42 pm

Cost of clothing and the amount of clothing that people have.


Chris G 03.21.16 at 12:11 am

Frank @10 wrote: “I’m guessing you’re old enough to remember the relative prices of things fifty years ago. You want that back?”

I’m old enough to remember them forty years ago. Some gripes could be made, surely, but overall no complaints. If someone offered me a straight-up trade of middle-class stability for 1970’s relative prices I’d take it in an instant. I lived through the ’70s. They were fine.

PS Four material things I care about that have significantly improved in quality over the past forty years: beer, bread, coffee and high-end medical care (e.g., cancer treatments).


Eli Rabett 03.21.16 at 12:25 am

You kidding about the 70s? or merely amnesiac? The oil crisis, wage and price controls, and, of course the inflation at the end with the Fed squeezing everybunny.


Chris G 03.21.16 at 1:07 am

Eli @24: Maybe a little amnesiac – I was a kid – but I never had a sense that the world was closing in on me. The things you mention felt like hassles we’d work through not like things that might ruin us. Perhaps it is because I’m (much) older and more aware of the world around me but the possibility of ruin seems far greater now. (For what it’s worth, that seems to be sense of the >60-year-olds I talk with too. Not a huge sample to be sure, but still.)


Sanjiv 03.21.16 at 2:44 am

Just want to add Matt Labash is a brilliant writer. I don’t care what his politics are but he is really good at this. His profile of the late Marion Barry, ex-mayor of DC, was also fascinating.


Alison P 03.21.16 at 7:58 am

I was a teenager in the seventies. Poor. Living in the North. It was an easy time to live through. There were libraries, almost-free public transport, free contraception, plenty of jobs. Public spaces were clean, with fresh flowers and so on as the norm for civic areas. There was literally one homeless person in my town.

There were problems: various types of prejudice and sexual predation, which you had to negotiate, and I am glad that has changed for the young nowadays. But the life of a working class person was much better than today.

And then Thatcher. And funnily enough the biggest change I noticed in (for example) the council estate where my grandparents lived, was that under Thatcher there was suddenly widespread addiction. It happened very fast. The jobs went. Public amenity was closed down. People became addicted.


maidhc 03.21.16 at 8:07 am

I spent most of the 1970s as a student with not much money. I don’t think my annual income ever topped $5000. But most things were pretty cheap. Food was cheap, rent was cheap. I bought brand-new hardcover textbooks for all my courses because they were cheap. Records were cheap, stereos were cheap. Electric guitars and amps were cheap if you shopped around.

What was problematic were cars. Buying a car was not cheap, and most of the cars at that time were shit. They’d fall apart after a few years, so saving up for a used car was a giant gamble. Gas was cheap though, so if you managed to score a car you could do monumental road trips for practically nothing.

Cameras, film and developing were expensive. You calculated the cost of every exposure.

I managed to save enough money after years of graduate student penury to finance a month travelling around Europe before I joined the working world. Even though the exchange rate was not favorable at that time, it was still possible to travel on the cheap. One characteristic of that era was that if you looked like the right kind of person (e.g., left-wing dope-smoking artist), people you ran into on the street would offer you a place to crash. The economy in many European countries was not that great at that time, so people didn’t sneer at you for being poor.

The price of personal computers has come down over the years, but I bought an Atari 1040ST in the late 1980s for $800. Didn’t run Photoshop, but it did many useful things.


david 03.21.16 at 8:36 am

does the improvement of Chinese worker material welfare matter in this calculation, or…?


Soru 03.21.16 at 8:42 am

“In the xx’s, when I was a teenager, it was easy to live; now in the xx+40s I see little future’ is one of those sentiments that is true for all xx. It can be probably found in Pompeian graffiti, Babylonian cuneiforms, and Neolithic cave paintings .


Peter T 03.21.16 at 9:55 am


Maybe so. Does this imply that nothing ever changes? There have been many times and places were the statement was empirically true, so your comment adds no information at all.


ZM 03.21.16 at 10:20 am

“Am I the only person who thinks “Right to Rise” sounds like a god-awful single from a third-generation LA punk band?”

What is an example of a third generation LA punk band? A singer from on my favourite teenage girl bands from all ages shows here, Brodie Dalle from Sourpuss, went on to be in an L A Punk band, the Distillers, is that third generation L A punk? technically she’s still Australian though.


engels 03.21.16 at 12:27 pm

“Do you have any idea how much you are concretely benefitting, today, from the amazingly low cost of transoceanic shipping? You wouldn’t be typing on a computer, for the first thing: you couldn’t afford it.”

For what we are about to receive, may the Free Market make is truly thankful


TM 03.21.16 at 2:03 pm

1. Real wages for a substantial proption of working people have stagnated (i.e. literally not increased at all) for the past 40 years.
2. 40-50 years ago, most families could get along fairly well with a single earner. Today that is almost impossible. I’m not nostalgic for the male breadwinner model but what about two part time earners per couple? That model is almost non-existent in the US. 3. It is really technological progress that has made computers so affordable.


LFC 03.21.16 at 2:09 pm

From a historical perspective, the 70s marked the definitive end of capitalism’s postwar ‘golden age’, end of the ‘Keynesian accommodation’, end of fixed exchange rates, advent or intensification of ‘neoliberal globalization’, laid the groundwork for Thatcherism/Reaganism. The trend continued of course into the early ’80s, with Mitterand’s ‘U-turn’ prompted by capital flight, and then beyond. In that perspective, not a good period, even if someone happened to have good personal experiences during it or some of it. (I will resist the temptation for the moment to say anything from a personal perspective, b/c everyone’s personal experiences are somewhat different.)


TM 03.21.16 at 2:19 pm

“In that perspective, not a good period”

Compared to what? Just curious.


LFC 03.21.16 at 2:28 pm

Compared to what? Just curious.

Compared to capitalism’s ‘golden age’, the so-called ‘trente glorieuses’, circa (very roughly) 1945-75 (though in most of Europe the start pt would be a bit later, in the ’50s). In the US, for a member of the white male working class (which was not the whole pop. of course but an important segment), capitalism’s golden age was a real thing. That pretty much ended in the ’70s w ‘stagflation’ (combination of high unemployment and inflation) etc., certainly by the middle of the decade. And has not much improved, except perhaps for a pd in the ’90s, since.


Trader Joe 03.21.16 at 2:29 pm

Further to LFC’s point – the 1970s was the last decade of the industrial revolution in most developed western countries, the 1980’s was the first decade of the financial revolution.

From that point forward, everything could be financed or turned into a finance derivative. Good ‘middle class’ jobs moved from factory floor to the call center/service center. This required a skills change from people who understood ‘how things worked’ to ‘how to make people happy.’ A clear dumbing down of culture ensued….and now we have Trump who neatly brings together financialization of everything and dumbed down culture….its either the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end.

(I pick – the end).


LFC 03.21.16 at 2:32 pm

p.s. There are of course details that complicate the picture: e.g. oil prices, high in the ’70s, came down in the ’80s. I’m painting w a broad brush, obviously. But the ‘golden age’ appears to have been a distinct period that ended and will not, in that form at least, return.


TM 03.21.16 at 3:50 pm

By your counting, the 70s were at the tail end (but still part) of what you call the golden age of capitalism. That’s why I asked.


LFC 03.21.16 at 4:27 pm

Well, I think the periodization is, as usual, debatable, but ‘golden age’ is not my orig. designation: there’s a vol. of essays w/ that title, ed. Marglin & Schor, and Hobsbawm, following them, uses it in The Age of Extremes.


bruce wilder 03.21.16 at 5:06 pm

david @ 29: does the improvement of Chinese worker material welfare matter in this calculation, or…?

Do the horrific conditions of Bangladeshi sweatshops? The miseries of Guatemalan banana plantations?

How closely do we calculate the material welfare of iPhone assemblers, who would prefer to commit suicide?

When we think about “free trade” we are being encouraged to think about a system of markets that doesn’t exist. In that imaginary system of markets, every one makes a free bargain to improve their lot and the facts of technology, preferences and relative scarcity are just below the surface, driving everything in an emergent natural, self-regulating and magically optimal system which cannot be managed, modified or resisted — it is almost a force of nature.

It is a subtle delusion and a Big Lie.

In our actual world, administrative hierarchies and financial calculation drive all. A banker or a broker or a buyer in London does deals that make her millions sourcing high fashion sweaters in Asia and selling them for $35 in shops across Europe or the urban archipelago of international city centers across the globe. The technical efficiency of that system of distribution may be a wonder to behold — really, it may be. Wal-Mart’s logistics are pretty amazing; ditto for Amazon.

But, the system also runs on financial manipulation and escaping taxes, on steep hierarchies of contracting and subcontracting that aid “primitive accumulation” in developing countries and subvert and corrupt governments, labor unions and popular politics.


engels 03.21.16 at 6:07 pm

and Hobsbawm, following them, uses it in The Age of Extremes

Iirc Hobsbawm placed the turning point ib 1977


bruce wilder 03.21.16 at 7:06 pm

I’ve never quite been able to grasp whether the “intellectual” Right as represented by the Weekly Standard is drowning in their own irony or proofed against all irony by their own stupid contempt for all humanity and reason. It makes it hard for an earnest idealist like myself to read reporting such as Labash’s profile of Murphy.

Not just because it reads like David Mamet rewriting P.J. O’Rourke, adapting Melville’s The Confidence-Man. Although I sort of appreciate the local color. (Note to Democrats and other visitors, Canter’s on Fairfax is a better retro L.A. deli than Greenblatt’s on Sunset.) But, because I am unsure of the narrative values and orientation: is the protagonist, hero or anti-hero? The narrator’s hero, but my anti-hero? Or, is the narrator making my anti-hero into a hero, because different tribes?

We get to this part:

. . . the problem with our current antiestablishment climate isn’t that people aren’t correctly identifying problems. It’s that the problem-solvers they’re turning to are bigger snake-oil hustlers than the ones they’re turning away from. Whether it’s the middle class being hollowed out or fiscal irresponsibility, “The pain is legit. But Trump is a stupid vote. Because Trump won’t solve any of those things, he’ll make them all worse. You’re voting against your pain. You’re voting to create more. You’re going for a kind of witch doctor of politics who is promising things based on magic.”

Let’s think through Trump, Murphy says. “He doesn’t understand the presidency. You don’t call up the head of Mexico and say, ‘Hey, I’m going to build a fabulous wall with first-class gold toilets and you’re gonna pay for it.’ You don’t call up the head of the Ford Motor Company and say, ‘You can only manufacture things in the U.S. or I’m going to unilaterally impose tariffs.’ He has no understanding of presidential powers. He has no understanding of Congress. It’s like putting a chimp in the driver’s seat of a tractor. He’s not going to plow the field. He’s going to drive the tractor into the lake. So the stakes are high. And having problems is not a license to vote stupid. People need the tractor to plow the damn field, now.”

Murphy suspects that if Trump wins the Republican nomination, the country is “idiot-proof” enough that Hillary (who he adds “I’m not a fan of”) would beat Trump. The head-to-head numbers have consistently suggested such, which is why he’s long called Trump a “zombie frontrunner.” But when asked what unintended consequences he sees if Trump is elected president, he says that political consultants who handle overseas elections in sketchy places with corrupt politicians, as he himself has done on occasion, have a joke. “We like to say law, order, freedom — pick one, amigo.”

Are we surprised that Murphy is “not a fan of” Hillary? Do we need to know why he’s not a fan? “Trump is a stupid vote.” Well, duh. But, isn’t the premise of this whole man’s career that they are all stupid vote[r]s? He’s just gotten thru telling us that he’s proud of using Nancy Sinatra’s song, “These Boots” to devastate Marco Rubio’s candidacy, exploiting Rubio’s questionable taste in footwear to make a point about . . . what? character? policy?

Murphy says the end result of this political devolution is the U.S. becomes Paraguay. But, hasn’t the aim of Republican politics for a generation been to transform the U.S. into a third world country? It is not sloganeering in bad taste that does that job, it is policy. And, yet, Murphy ten minutes ago was pushing the candidacy of a scion of a family that sold the country out to a reactionary, medieval kingdom that promotes terrorism and flogs bloggers. Murphy’s candidate thought his brother kept the country safe, while presiding over the terror attack on the World Trade Center, the destruction of the country’s financial system with aggressive deregulation, the drowning of New Orleans and the destruction of cities like Detroit, Akron and Flint.

Or, is the problem that we just do not have any credibility left to squander? Is the long con so long, so old, that we have circled back to short cons with a wink for comic relief? Beneath the manipulation, there’s just more manipulation. Beneath the fraud, more fraud. And, no one actually knows how to do anything, to manage anything.

Trump shows absolutely no indication of understanding how to steer the ship of state. But, did that guy named Bush or his brother? Does Hillary? I’m not trying to make a partisan point. Just asking, what is the background assumption that we are supposed to take away? That “seriousness” in politics is . . . what? The system looks broken; what would expertise in running a system that can not be run, look like?

I think about California’s experience with another Murphy candidate, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who, as Governor drove the political system into gridlock and the state near to bankruptcy. Not that many pay much attention, but California reached back to the late 1970s to find a Governor, who knew the job. Viva la difference. But, it is really hard to see what electing the Terminator to political office does to qualify someone to complain about Trump. What are we ultimately to make of the cynicism of a political operative who jokes, “We like to say law, order, freedom — pick one, amigo.” Or an narrator who reaches out dirty trickster, Roger Stone, for enlightenment on the character of its subject?

I think this article hurts my head.


LFC 03.21.16 at 7:49 pm

Iirc Hobsbawm placed the turning point ib 1977

I don’t recall exactly but sounds right. Though he notes iirc that problems began to show up even in the late ’60s. I think settling on a particular hinge pt or turning pt is difficult.


Rich Puchalsky 03.21.16 at 8:54 pm

BW: “The system looks broken; what would expertise in running a system that can not be run, look like?”

Heh… anarchy now, Bruce.


engels 03.21.16 at 9:12 pm

Sorry! 1973 I think (must stop posting on my phone)


js. 03.21.16 at 9:57 pm

What is an example of a third generation LA punk band?

ZM — I’m not actually sure what would count as such. I was thinking of Black Flag’s “Rise Above” and then imagining some second-rate band trying to do something similar—but to much worse effect—a decade on.


LFC 03.21.16 at 10:32 pm

1973 I think

That would be the more standard choice, for ‘symbolic’ reasons if no others (the OPEC oil embargo makes it a convenient date to remember).

Btw and pt of poss. general interest, WaPo says Trump has unveiled his foreign-policy advisory team. (Can’t read article b/c I don’t have a subscription and have used up free articles for the month.) Chair of the team is that well-known for. pol. expert Jeff Sessions.

Meanwhile the candidates are parading before AIPAC, a/k/a the annual pandering competition.


LFC 03.21.16 at 10:33 pm

correction: quadrennial pandering competition. whatever.


kidneystones 03.21.16 at 10:53 pm

Trump’s odds increase – Bill Clinton takes a gigantic dump on O. Kristol and company have broken out the popcorn whilst some suggest Bill got advance notice that ‘the change agent’ could be indicted. Either way, there’s never been a better moment to back Sanders.

I’m wondering, I’m wondering – will O decide that protecting his legacy is more important than keeping Donald out of the WH? We’re sure to find out soon. My bet is that O will be happy enough to let the Clintons and the Dem political class fend for themselves. Bill Ayers probably has his first-term memoirs written already.


bruce wilder 03.21.16 at 11:03 pm

LFC @ 49

Curious if you have a POV on the epistemic status of turning points or prioritization.

The OPEC oil embargo would seem to me to be of more than mnemonic significance — reflecting structure in important ways. Not interested inarguing, just curious about where you are coming from.


bruce wilder 03.21.16 at 11:05 pm


Are spell checkers getting worse. Beware skynet!


LFC 03.22.16 at 12:53 am

@ b. wilder

Curious if you have a POV on the epistemic status of turning points or [periodization]. The OPEC oil embargo would seem to me to be of more than mnemonic significance — reflecting structure in important ways. Not interested in arguing, just curious about where you are coming from.

I agree the oil embargo is of more than mnemonic significance; my comment could have been phrased better. I’m just wary of picking a single date or event and calling it ‘the turning point’ for a major change like the end of ‘the golden age’ (or however one wants to label that). The broader question of how to think about change v. continuity, turning points, trend lines, etc. seems to me difficult, both conceptually and in execution (so to speak), and nothing I’ve read on it has really bowled me over as being ‘the answer’.

Not a historian [and add other usual disclaimers], but I’ll just mention a few things that I think have some helpful aspects: Braudel’s essay on the longue durée (don’t have exact cite handy); the intro to the first vol of Wallerstein’s Modern World-System; P. Pierson, Politics in Time; J. Gaddis, The Landscape of History (actually lukewarm about much of it); in a somewhat different vein, P. Geyl, Debates with Historians.

There’s a post about ‘turning points’ and ‘critical junctures’ on my blog, but it’s too short to do more than scratch the surface:


Barry 03.22.16 at 1:35 am

“does the improvement of Chinese worker material welfare matter in this calculation, or…?”

The basic moral fraud of the 1% – ‘think of the global poor!’. If we taxed the rich, it would, by all rules of economics, improve the global welfare. I don’t see people who say what you are saying ever mention that.


Alison P 03.22.16 at 7:41 am

Soru:L ““In the xx’s, when I was a teenager, it was easy to live; now in the xx+40s I see little future’ is one of those sentiments that is true for all xx”

In that case why is it the conventional narrative that ‘decade xx was a socialist hell?’ We are supposed to take any kind of kicking from the elite, because the alternative is flared-trousered misery?

It is important that people who were alive in those years bear witness that the conventional narrative is a fake. It’s like reading a newspaper report of an event that you were present at. You notice how false the narrative is. You say so.

Furthermore my problem with the present decade is not for myself – I don’t have any problems apart from grey hair – it’s for my children, and the students I teach. I see their struggles, which are harder than mine ever were.


James Wimberley 03.22.16 at 8:00 am

Manufacturing is doing fine in the USA, Kevin Drum has the chart. Also manufacturing exports. Manufacturing jobs, not so much. They would gave gone anyway. The same will happen in China. Look for a video of a Chinese solar panel plant: it’s highly automated.


Peter T 03.22.16 at 10:56 am


When plants go, so does the town. And while assembly may be automated, programming, maintenance, machining, cleaning and so on are not. If automation was the driver, why move to China?

Further, manufacturing of some sorts is doing fine. But it’s the distribution of the profits from manufacturing that’s the issue and, in the system the US has, the choice is between wages and begging. Understandably, most people prefer wages.


reason 03.22.16 at 11:43 am

Alison P.
In case you are sick of the know alls who say everybody thinks the past was better,
1. I bet if you actually did actually did data on it – it is not true. My parents grew up in the 1930s and WWII.
2. Relative prices have changed massively in the direction of favouring individuals and punishing families. My father was definitely middle class professional (probably slightly above median income), and my mother mostly didn’t work. But 5 kids went to university and we went on holiday every year. And my mother in retirement is an asset millionaire (AUD).

So I agree with you, things were in many respects better. That doesn’t mean I don’t think the internet is great, largely because as an introverted intellectual, I can converse regularly with like minded individuals, which previously would have been only possible in a University environment.


reason 03.22.16 at 11:44 am

Oh and P.S. The internet happened in spite of corporate capitalism, not because of it. That should be clear to everybody who really thinks about it.


reason 03.22.16 at 11:47 am

Corporate Capitalism is all in favour innovation as long as they can capture a large share of the benefits, and maintain control. The internet (is hopefully still) not like that.


queconoteimporta 03.22.16 at 12:43 pm

“I was thinking of Black Flag’s “Rise Above” and then imagining some second-rate band trying to do something similar—but to much worse effect—a decade on.”

No need to think! You can hear it!


Matt 03.24.16 at 1:59 am

When plants go, so does the town. And while assembly may be automated, programming, maintenance, machining, cleaning and so on are not. If automation was the driver, why move to China?

Automation is a strong driver for declining employment in manufacturing and commodities production for those manufacturing and commodity production operations that still operate in the USA. Automation was not the driver for offshoring, but it is the guarantor that re-shoring manufacturing jobs will not bring back as many jobs as were originally lost when Sometown, USA’s big factory closed back in 19xx.

It’s a mistake to think of Chinese industry as primitive. Their factories are (generally) somewhat more labor intensive than those in the West, but they’re using automation too. China has been the world’s largest market for industrial robots the past two years, and I expect that will repeat in 2016.

The example I like to use for why “competitively” cutting wages will not save human jobs comes from David Noble’s Forces of Production: A Social History of Industrial Automation. Closed-loop computer control started to be introduced in American petroleum refineries in the 1950s. From 1957 to 1967 employment in refineries fell by over 70,000 and productivity per worker increased by 250%. Today, one of the oil majors building a new refinery anywhere in the world will build in closed loop computer control, even if the prevailing local wage is lower than it was in 1950s America. Computers are more tireless and precise than production workers looking at gages and adjusting knobs ever were. Even if humans were willing to work for a penny a year in a non-automated refinery, the refinery owner would lose more money from sloppy process control (corresponding to less product, more wasted crude oil, more damage to equipment) than could be gained from eliminating the expense of automatic control. Adding more human labor in place of automation actually produces negative value. Technological improvements are more like a ratchet resisting a return to higher labor intensity than like a bobbing cork that goes up and down freely depending on the price of human labor.

The demonstrated success of technology in reducing the need for workers in some sectors also leads to bluffing from business leaders who can’t replace workers yet but want to threaten it anyhow to keep employees scared and compliant. Foxconn’s boast in 2011 that it would replace human workers with one million robots by 2014 was that sort of bluff. I called it at the time. Predictably, in 2016, Foxconn has a larger workforce than ever and nowhere near a million robots. The only way Foxconn got to be a giant in the first place was by providing a bunch of nimble human hands to do jobs that robots still struggle with. Once robots can do e.g. iPhone assembly, big customers like Apple would most likely drop Foxconn and operate robotic factories themselves.


mclaren 03.24.16 at 6:54 am

Shorter Frank Wilhoit @10:

“Cheap electronic toys makes up for lack of affordable college education, lack of affordable rent, lack of affordable houses, lack of affordable gasoline, lack of affordable cars, lack of jobs that pay a living wage, the rise of a part-time independent gig economy like Uber where people get paid below minimum wage and get no benefits or health care, as well as the exponentional proliferation of sadistic companies like that are giant psychology experiments in seeing how badly they can brutalize white collar workers without instigating mass shootings among workers.”

<blockquote cite="Merge Gupta-Sunderji, writing in The Globe and Mail, argues :“On one hand, compelling anecdotal evidence suggests that Amazon is running the First World equivalent of a Third World sweatshop… somewhere along the way, as the company grew in size, managers in the organization became so focused on results that they lost sight of how they were obtained and the people who made these results happe… a toxic work environment is created. Empathy is discouraged while hostility and sabotage become accepted.”

Amazon’s approach has also been coined the “rank and yank” system, dramatized in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross, when a senior executive played by Alec Baldwin visits a sales team to “motivate” them by offering them first prize a Cadillac; second prize a set of steak knives; and without apology or second thought, third prize is “you’re fired”.

Rank and yank has been widely used before by companies such as General Electric but most of the available evidence by management experts such as Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton point out that the approach can drive destructive internal competition. More recently research has shown when you introduce a forced ranking system into a workplace, people are more likely to start sabotaging each other in the hope of climbing up the ladder by stepping on the heads of others.”>

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