The Enigma of Clarence Thomas: On sale today!

by Corey Robin on September 24, 2019

I’ve been on an extended hiatus from Crooked Timber. Trying to finish a book, teaching new classes, and generally trying to stay off the internet to get some new writing and thinking done. But I’m really happy to come back to announce that The Enigma of Clarence Thomas, a book I’ve been working on for six years and periodically blogging about here, goes on sale today.

With the help of a rave review in this morning’s New York Times. In the Times, Jennifer Szalai writes:

It’s a provocative thesis, but one of the marvels of Robin’s razor-sharp book is how carefully he marshals his evidence. He doesn’t have to resort to elaborate speculation or armchair psychologizing, relying instead on Thomas’s speeches, interviews and Supreme Court opinions. Just as jurists make ample use of the written record, Robin does the same.

The result is rigorous yet readable, frequently startling yet eminently persuasive.

It isn’t every day that reading about ideas can be both so gratifying and unsettling, and Robin’s incisive and superbly argued book has made me think again.

If you’d like to read a little more about the book, there was a long excerpt of it two weeks ago in The New Yorker. It also has been widely reviewed—among other places, in Bookforum, The Atlantic, Harper’s, and National Review, which, despite the criticisms, called the book “thoroughly researched and engagingly written…a valuable and overdue engagement.” I was also interviewed about the book in Vanity Fair.

You can buy the book at Amazon, or if you prefer other vendors, there’s a list here.

I hope you will get the book. I worked long and hard on it, and not only do I think it does something new, but I think that you’ll learn something new. A lot of people have an understandable block against Thomas, not really wanting to hear much about him at all. This book won’t convince you he’s any less dangerous or toxic than you already think he is. Nor is it designed to do that. Instead, it will convince you that he’s far more interesting, and speaks to many more constituencies, than you might have thought. And is, therefore, perhaps, even more dangerous and unsettling. And thus worth learning about.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts!

Meanwhile, what the grown-ups are doing

by Maria on September 24, 2019

As the UK’s Prime Minister has followed up his multiple parliamentary defeats with a devastating judgement by the Supreme Court on his honesty and competence today, an email from the Irish government popped into my in-box. Now, the Irish government is far, far from perfect, but this email is an example of the basic competence we expect from minimally adequate governments; it has informations about available resources and activities for businesses affected by Brexit.

Enterprise Ireland is encouraging businesses to step into new markets and ensure that their exports are sufficiently diversified. Find steps to support Irish companies here
The Construction Industry Stakeholder Forum took place last week, where discussion was held around no deal Brexit. Businesses manufacturing or using CE-marked construction products could be affected, learn more here
Free seminars on “Practical steps to keep agri-food trade moving” continue over the next week. Invaluable advice and information will be available at events in Wexford and Cork, further details below.
Panel discussions and engagements around Brexit were held in the Government of Ireland Village at the National Ploughing Championships, where thousands of the Getting your Business Brexit Ready – Practical Steps booklets were distributed.

It goes on in this vein with links to events, advice clinics and financial resources. I’ve been getting these emails for two years, now, and just wanted to post it here as a reminder of what governments are meant to do. Not lie and hide information about whether we’ll still have life-saving drugs, fresh food, access to markets or freedom of assembly.

Don’t get me wrong. Brexit is still all manner of cluster-f*ck for Ireland, and we won’t be offering more than the basic, self-serving cooperation to the UK any time, soon. But this is mitigation, folks. This is information. This is the minimum we should expect from an adequately functioning, medium-capacity late-capitalist state in the face of wholly man-made disaster.

Cum/ex

by John Quiggin on September 24, 2019

Looking for a different story in the business pages of The Guardian, I happened across a headline stating The men who plundered Europe’: bankers on trial for defrauding €447m. That attracted my attention, but the standfirst, in smaller print, was even more startling

Martin Shields and Nick Diable are accused of tax fraud in ‘cum-ex’ scandal worth €60bn that exposes City’s pursuit of profit

I think of myself as someone who pays attention to the news, but I had missed this entirely. Google reveals essentially no coverage in the main English language media. There’s a short but helpful Wikipedia article and that’s about it. The scandal has been described as the ‘crime of the century’, but it’s just one of many multi-billion dollar/euro heists, with the GFC towering above them all.

It remains to be seen how the trial will turn out, but it’s already clear that, as usual, the banks have got away with it. The bank most closely involved in the scam, HypoVereinsBank in German has set aside €200 million euros to cover its potential liability. That’s less than 1 per cent of the tax avoided or evaded (the lawyers will be fighting out which, for some time, but the effect on ordinary citizens is the same).

The crucial point here isn’t the failure of the law to punish wrongdoing.

What matters is that crooked deals of this scale suffice for a complete explanation of the growth of the global financial sector since the 1970s. The point of the financial sector is not to allocate capital more efficiently, but to undermine the regulatory and tax systems that are supposed to make the economy work properly. Unsurprisingly the huge financial boom has been accompanied by miserable productivity growth, repeated business collapses and massive growth in inequality.

The only way to fix the problem is to shrink the financial sector to a tiny fraction of its current size, and tightly regulate what remains. The rational route to achieve this would start with the kinds of reforms being proposed by Elizabeth Warren. But we may be stuck with a messier path, in which courts tire of giving slaps on the wrist to recidivist banks and start shutting them down.

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