Monday, April 20, 2020

The End Of 20th Century Democratic Capitalism

The COVID-19 epidemic, by revealing the incompetence of most western Democratic governments, has marked the end of 20th century democratic capitalism. Broadly, the post-World War II deal between capitalists and socialists was “you stay loyal, allow the wealthy to be wealthy, and the wealthy will treat you right.” It was a pretty good deal, better than the brutal failures of revolutionary socialism. But the western system won and the capitalists, having decided they did not need the loyalty of a broad public anymore, started undermining it. It took a generation, but the wealth of the broad middle class of the 1960s was looted.

And now the virus. It has become clear that the democratic west is incompetent at picking and leaders and cannot not feed its people, shelter its people, or protect them from an epidemic.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Character, Capitalism, and Business Failure

(This little post has been sitting in my files for about half a year. It does not, I think, make any new points, but it still strikes me as worth publishing, if only as a matter of adding my small contribution to an ongoing movement)

Maureen Tkacik at The New Republic offers “Crash Course ,” an extensive article on the managerial failures at Boeing that led to two crashes and 346 deaths. Shameful, of course. Horrible, of course. There’s an economic lesson here. In capitalist economics it is assumed, usually without question, that businessmen will act at least in the interest of their business, of preserving their capital. But that is exactly what the Boeing executives and managers did not do. I don’t know how this will work out. It is possible that Boeing will simply go bankrupt, which would be a shame – all that knowledge, all that history, all those skills and so many jobs lost.

The Economic Lesson

Conservative economists consistently argue that businessmen (and it is almost always businessmen) will do the “rational” thing, conserving capital and making their business grow. But this is exactly what the Boeing executives did not do. For them, managing Boeing became an exercise in applying abstract theories of wealth creation rather than the concrete practices of engineering and making of aircraft, leading to the abysmal failure of the Boeing 737 Max. A second claim is made that not only are businessmen rational in this narrow sense, but also that most businessmen are brilliant, and will seek out or create the best business ideas. And, finally, conservative economists claim that rational businessmen will produce optimal (in some sense) businesses.

Conservative economists went on to imagine the economy as a network of these optimal business organizations, which would lead, though market processes, to an optimal economy. Keynes delivered the death blow to that idea that an economy would invariably converge to an optimum state, pointing out that the observed economy around him (his major macroeconomic work, The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money , was written during the depression of the 1930s) did not match the theoretical predictions of conservative economics. The kind of arrogance we saw from Boeing executives and managers, the belief that they knew better than people who had been doing the job for their entire careers, the arrogance that led Boeing to produce an unsafe aircraft itself destroys the idea that businessmen are in any sense the superior men (why is it always men?) of conservative fantasy. There is nothing that requires capitalists to act in the interests of, even, preserving their own capital and often they do not.

What are the policy implications?

Which leaves us where? If the lawless capitalism that conservative macroeconomists have been advocating since before their position was even called conservative, let alone libertarian, is not to govern our economy, what is? On the other side of the argument, there is a whole line of socialist thinking which argues for minutely detailed control of the economy. This, equally, has failed. I will mention some of the problems here as well.

Critique of Lawless Capitalism

  1. Governance is not an economic activity and attempts to make it so are inherently corrupting.
  2. Regulation is our friend. It prevents some of the worst outcomes possible in an unregulated economy. Without it, finance turns instantly corrupt.
  3. Sometimes government intervention is the only way to proceed. Some activities like providing health care cannot be done equitably and efficiently without either intense regulation of private enterprise or government provision of service.
  4. Monopoly and oligopoly are corrupting. The holders of such large “private” fortunes must be kept from buying the government they want.
  5. Letting a wealthy minority govern invariably leaves the vast majority impoverished.

Critique of the Planned Socialist Economy

  1. It is corrupt. This is not only so in Communist countries, but also within large businesses and the military. There is always, in planned economies, an underground economy of scroungers and their customers.
  2. It is totalitarian: it makes every interaction which might even possibly be economic subject to the intervention of the state.
  3. It is inefficient, requiring the creation of a vast bureaucracy which promptly proceeds to work to maintain and expand itself.
  4. It is unnecessarily conservative, leaving one dealing with the bureaucracy to get permission to do anything new. This is the experience of anyone dealing with a complex grant application or one of the old European government telecommunication monopolies, which kept European telecommunications back for many years.
  5. All attempts to produce minutely planned civilian economies have failed.


The separation of governance and day-to-day economic activity is a valuable check on both economic and government overreach.

Implementing Policy

I return, finally, to something that political conservatives often advocate when they are not shilling for vast wealth and entrenched privilege: attention to the character of people in positions of both governmental and economic power. An economy where most of the actors are grifters will produce little of value. A government where most officials are corrupt will extort the wealth of the vast majority and produce tyranny.

The bulk of this essay was written before the COVID-19 pandemic, which underscores the above. Somehow we must begin to pick officials of good character, or all our theorizing will be in vain.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Death Camps: COVID-19 In Prisons and Immigration Detention Centers

I have here an article from Marcia Brown on “COVID-19 in Our Jails, Prisons, and ICE Detention Centers.” What the article says is distressing but not at all surprising:
Even in a state like Ohio, which has taken proactive measures to stop the spread of coronavirus, the disease is quickly sweeping through congregant environments such as jails and prisons. Ohio Governor Mike DeWine has only announced tentative steps to reduce jail and prison populations. Advocates say it’s not enough. Likewise, in correctional facilities across the country, such as Rikers Island, Cook County jails in Chicago, and the Washington, D.C. jail, the virus is wreaking havoc. NPR’s Ryan Lucas reported that 30 facilities in the Bureau of Prisons system have confirmed cases. But for some states, this spread isn’t truly tracked because they still don’t have enough tests.
Meanwhile, ICE detention is a worsening nightmare. That was the headline on a story I did two weeks ago and it continues to be true. ICE detainees are civil detainees, so ICE has full discretion to release them. But immigrant rights groups have been forced to sue to secure these releases. County jails often hold ICE detainees, and my reporting shows that they are often ill-prepared. ICE’s unchanged protocols, the ACLU’s Eunice Cho told me, are actually making the spread worse. Not to mention that ICE is still deporting people and adopting a ‘business as usual’ attitude. Meanwhile, the fight to close immigration courts rages on—spearheaded in part by the National Immigration Judges Association, the judges’ union and immigration activists. Some courts have closed after a staff member tests positive, only to reopen a few days later.
The prisons and the immigrant detention centers have become centers of COVID-19 infection, just like ships.  The only reasonable things to do is release as many non-dangerous prisoners as possible and space out the remaining ones, as many asylum-seekers as quickly as possible, and stop detaining undocumented aliens. This will reduce the spread of COVID-19, not only in the prisons and detention centers, but throughout their staffs and the general population.

And, of course, crickets. The Trump administration justifies its policies in part by claiming a threat from immigrants; it can scarcely reverse itself now.

So. The prisons and immigration detention centers have now turned into death camps. It is happening here.

(Added) And this was foreseen.
The Covid-19 outbreaks now surging through many of the nation’s prisons and jails weren’t just predictable, they were predicted. And not just by the prisoners themselves and their family members in increasingly desperate tones over the past month but also by some sheriffs and jailers and corrections officials and their union representatives. And not just by those behind bars but by lawyers and doctors and criminal justice advocates and professors, hundreds of them, in every nook and cranny of the country, all of whom understood how dangerous and deadly the pandemic would be once it found its way into cramped, dirty, overcrowded cells.

Nazi nazi nazi

Saturday, April 11, 2020

Hitler Hitler Trump

It was the day the administration was adding Ireland and the United Kingdom to its travel restrictions, and Trump wanted to understand why talk of “herd immunity” — allowing the coronavirus to sweep a nation largely unchecked, with the belief that those who survived would then be immune — was such a bad idea.

“Why don’t we let this wash over the country?” Trump asked, according to two people familiar with his comments, a question other administration officials say he has raised repeatedly in the Oval Office.

Fauci initially seemed confused by the term “wash over” but became alarmed once he understood what Trump was asking.

“Mr. President, many people would die,” Fauci said.

The president said he understood but since then has repeatedly made clear he wants to reopen things soon — although significant roadblocks remain. – Washington Post, April 11, 2020, “Trump administration has many task forces — but still no plan for beating covid-19.”
Are Nazi comparisons OK now?

Thursday, April 9, 2020

To A Socialist, On Supporting Biden

(Written in response to a socialist who does not want to vote for Biden. Removed from its original forum as inappropriate for that location.)

Your back is against the wall when it is literally against the wall, when they start killing you to silence you. Before then, you have choices.

In 1932, the German left could have unified against the Nazis and outvoted them. But the Communists (KPD) 1932 thought they could outwait Hitler and the Social Democrats (SPD) didn't want to form a coalition with the KPD. The very first antifa, Antifaschistische Aktion, was founded as a unified response to the Nazis. It did not gain enough support to be effective.

Sanders, like any old socialist, is aware of this history. This is why he advocates staking out the strongest possible left position and “Then together, standing united, we will go forward to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous President in modern American history and we will fight to elect strong progressives at every level of government from Congress to the school board.”

No, I do not love Joe Biden. No, I do not like his record. Yes, he is still 1,000 times better than Trump. Joe Biden wouldn't have dismantled Obama's epidemic response infrastructure response. Nor would have have kidnapped children on the southern border. Nor defended Nazis as "very fine people."

I don't understand the thinking here. There is a clear lesser, much lesser, evil than the one that is endangering your lives. Why not choose it?

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Sanders Concedes

“I will stay on the ballot in all the main states and will continue to gather ballots while Vice President Biden will be the nominee. We must continue working to assemble as many delegates as possible at the Democratic convention, where we will be able to exert significant influence over the party's platform and other functions. Then together, standing united, we will go forward to defeat Donald Trump, the most dangerous President in modern American history and we will fight to elect strong progressives at every level of government from Congress to the school board.” – Sen. Bernard Sanders, video.

To Sanders supporters who are tempted to sit this one out: it is time for a strategic retreat, not a suicidal last charge. Besides, do you really want to find out who Trump will pick to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg?

If you still cannot bring yourself to vote for Biden, pick a Senate campaign you can support, or just a local politician. As Sanders reminds us, there are plenty of places to fight for progressive values.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

I wish people would stop expecting Trump to straighten up and fly right and work on stopping his depredations

In the latest outrage of the Trump administration, “President Trump has removed the chairman of the federal panel Congress created to oversee his administration's management of the $2 trillion stimulus package.” The removed inspector was Glenn Fine, who has been an inspector general since 1999. He has been replaced with Trump appointee Sean O’Donnell.

I wish people would stop expecting Trump to straighten up and fly right and work on stopping his depredations.

Taney Court II: In Wisconsin, Yet Again the Law is the Loser

The US Supreme Court handed down a decision which blocks the extension of the absentee ballot deadline in today's Wisconsin election. In conjunction with the decision of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which refused to allow the rescheduling of the election, the result is that voters must turn out physically and expose themselves to COVID-19 or accept that the right-wing crank judge Daniel Kelly remain on the state's Supreme Court.

As @NeinQuarterly observes: “Give me liberty. Or give me death. Or, heck, just come to Wisconsin. Where on election day you can have both.”

Saturday, April 4, 2020

They Intend To Wreck The US Health Care System And Then Ration Health Care

We now have multiple reports that US Customs is confiscating shipments of medical personal protective equipment and sequestering them. Reportedly masks en route to other countries have been confiscated, prompting protests. There is a huge amount of profiteering going and, and still states have to beg for supplies. To get around this, Massachusetts more-or-less smuggled a shipment of masks into the state. People of color are dying at higher rates than white people due to poorer deliver of medical care. Meanwhile, the Administration continues to press its meritless lawsuit against the Affordable Care Act. If it succeeds tens of millions will lose access to health care

Without protective equipment health care systems will be hit, as doctors, nurses, and support personnel fall ill and die. This will create further chaos in the system. In the Republican-dominated states, where medical personnel will likely be given access to protective equipment by our political leaders, it will be like a droplet in the sea. Those states took precautions too late, and the system will be overwhelmed by the numbers of the sick.

Someone, several someones, somewhere, has a vision of a purified America without black or brown people, without weakness or illness and so they intend to wreck the US health care system and then ration health care. This is the culmination of a 75-year program of rationing health care in the USA. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act was a modest limited reversal of this program and look how much opposition has been raised to it!

Friday, April 3, 2020

CORRUPTION! and COVID-19: My Snark of the Day

George Takei: “Jared Kushner isn’t qualified to run a lemonade stand, let alone tell governors how to manage critical supply chains.”

Me: “Competent to hold the bag, though, while Mnuchin fills it.” - Tweet

And I don't know if it's actually those two, though it is likely enough. But that's what's happening; profiteering from withholding life-preserving medical equipment from COVID-19 patients. See, for instance, Josh Marshall to this point.

Elizabeth Warren, where are you when we need you?