Is a non-BS economy even possible?

May 26, 2018

What would the U.S. unemployment rate be if all useless or harmful jobs were eliminated?

It would probably be equivalent to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Barack Obama, in an interview in 2006, stated the problem:

“I don’t think in ideological terms. I never have. … Everybody who supports single-payer healthcare says, ‘Look at all this money we would be saving from insurance and paperwork.’  That represents 1 million, 2 million, 3 million jobs of people who are working at Blue Cross Blue Shield or Kaiser or other places.  What are we doing with them?  Where are we employing them?”

Source: The Nation

David Graeber, in his new book, Bullshit Jobs: a Theory, quoted public opinion polls that found 37 percent of UK employees and 40 percent in the Netherlands thought their jobs made no meaningful contribution to the world.

Now maybe that is exaggerated.  Maybe some of them think they make a contribution, but that it’s not “meaningful.”

Offsetting this, the inherent bias of people is to think we are accomplishing more than other people think we do or the objective facts indicate.

For example, public relations, advertising, lobbying, consulting and even speculation on financial and commodities markets have their uses.  It is just that they play more of a role in the economy than they should.

I myself think the U.S. military and intelligence services are much greater than necessary to protect the homeland from attack.  Of course, if the mission is to make the United States the world’s only superpower, no number could be great enough.

The question is: What would happen if all these people were thrown on the job market, all at once?

It would be a catastrophe, unless there were some sort of basic income guarantee (which Graeber advocates) or basic job guarantee.

Read the rest of this entry »

BS jobs, sh*t jobs and moral envy

May 25, 2018
  • Huge swaths of people spend their days performing tasks they secretly believe do not really need to be performed.
  • It’s as if someone were out there making up pointless jobs for the sake of keeping us all working.
  • The moral and spiritual damage that comes from this situation is profound.  It is a scar across our collective soul.  Yet noone talks about it.
  • How can one even begin to speak of dignity in labor when one secretly feels one’s job should not exist? 
  • David Graeber: On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs (2013)

David Graeber, in his new book, Bullshit Jobs: a Theory, describes the frustrations of people doing jobs that they know are useless or even harmful, because the meaningful jobs are either unavailable or low-paid.

He said that forcing people to engage on tedious activities that serve no useful purpose, or, worse still, pretending to work when they actually aren’t, constitutes a kind of spiritual violence.

Not all useless or harmful jobs are BS jobs. Graeber defines a BS job as one you know is useless, but you have to pretend is necessary.

I think many of the people who invent BS jobs, or invent useless tasks for the useful workers, are under the impression they are making a positive contribution.  Graeber said his strongest critics are business owners who deny the possibility that they could be paying anybody to do anything useless.

A certain number of people think the world is divided into predators and prey, and pride themselves on being successful predators.  An example would be the bankers and financiers who, prior to the 2008 financial crash, made subprime mortgage loans to suckers who could never pay them off, then collateralized the mortgages and sold them to other suckers.

What all these jobs—hedge fund managers, telemarketers, diversity consultants, receptionists who never get phone calls, consultants whose advice is never heeded, supervisors with nothing to supervise—is that, if they went on strike, nobody would notice.

What Graeber calls the sh•t jobs are just the opposite.  Food service workers, health care workers, trash collectors, janitors and cleaners—all these workers labor under worse conditions and for lower pay than in BS jobs, and, contrary to reason and justice, they get less respect.

Coincidentally or not, the sh•t jobs are disproportionately done by black people, Hispanics and immigrants.

∞∞∞

Graeber said many of us have come to accept the idea that work consists of following somebody’s order to do something we dislike.  It follows, then, that if you want good pay, job security and benefits, you are lacking in moral character.  He calls this rights scolding.

It takes two forms.  Among right-wingers, if you think you are entitled to anything that working people in the time of Charles Dickens didn’t have, you are a fragile snowflake.  Among left-wingers, if you think you are entitled to anything that the most oppressed person alive today has, you are told to check your privilege.

It also follows that people whose jobs are fulfilling, such as school teachers, are not really working.  The idea is: You get to do work that is pleasurable, useful and respected.  How dare you want good pay and job security in addition?  Graeber calls this moral envy.

Read the rest of this entry »

Managerial feudalism and BS jobs

May 23, 2018

BULLSHIT JOB: A form of paid employment that is so completely pointless, unnecessary or pernicious that even the employee cannot justify its existence even though, as part of the condition of employment, the employee fells obliged to pretend that this is not the issue.  [David Graeber]

∞∞∞

Huge numbers of people work in jobs that they themselves think are completely unnecessary.  Many of them would prefer to do something useful, but useful jobs on average pay less.  Sometimes they quit and take a lower-paying useful job anyway.

Some five years ago, David Graeber, an American who teaches anthropology at the London School of Economics, wrote an essay for an obscure left-wing magazine called Strike!, about the phenomenon of bullshit jobs.

The article struck a nerve.  It got more than a million hits on the Internet, crashed the Strike! web site several times and was translated into more than 10 languages.

A YouGov poll soon after found that 37 percent of full-time employees in the United Kingdom thought their work made no meaningful contribution to the world.  A survey in the Netherlands put the number as high as 40 percent.  I imagine a survey in the United States would be much different.

Graeber himself communicated with hundreds of unhappy, useless employees via e-mail.

The result is his new book, Bullshit Jobs: a Theory.

He learned about a museum guard whose job was to report if a certain empty room ever caught on fire; a military sub-contractor who drove more than a hundred miles in order to give a German soldier permission to move a piece of equipment from one room to another; a receptionist who, to fill her time, was tasked with jobs such as sorting paperclips by color.

But most of his reports are about people who worked in offices—making studies that were never read, making proposals that were never acted on or not doing anything at all, but doing their best to look busy.

How can there be so many admittedly useless jobs?  We live in a time of austerity and layoffs.  Full-time jobs are being replaced by temporary jobs.  That is true of government as well as the private sector.

One thing that free-enterprise advocates and Marxists agree on is that competitive capitalism produces economic efficiency.  Free-marketers think everybody benefits and Marxists think that only the capitalists benefit, but they agree on the drive of business to maximize profit.

Maybe this is wrong.  Maybe competitive capitalism is a myth.  Maybe we live under what Graeber calls managerial feudalism.

Back in the days before the French Revolution, the peasants, who were the main producers of wealth, paid so much in taxes and rent they could barely live.  They supported an aristocracy, who, in turn, supported an economic class of coachmen, door keepers, lace makers, dancing masters, gardeners and the like, who were generally better paid than the peasants.

Just like the aristocrats of old, the prestige of managers in organizations is based on the number of people they have working for them.  Prestige is not based on whether they are useful or not.  In fact, employees whose work is essential are a threat.  They have the power to quit or go on strike or to unexpectedly reveal they know more than the boss.

So the incentive is to diminish the role and power of those who do necessary work while inventing new jobs whose existence depends on the discretion of the job creators.

A large number of new jobs are administrative staff.  They are different from administrators who make actual decisions.  Their job is collect quantitative information about the work of the useful employees on the principle that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Teenage cellist plays at royal wedding

May 22, 2018

 

Nineteen-year-old Sheku Kenneh-Mason played the cello for guests at the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.   He is one of seven remarkable brothers and sisters who play a wide range of musical instruments..  Theirs is quite a story.

Read the rest of this entry »

Optical illusions up against the wall

May 19, 2018


Manuel de Rita, an Italian artist known as peeta, likes to draw optical illusions on wall murals.  I took these images off a Colossal web page.

I am sure the artist had a good time painting these.  I enjoyed looking at them.  If I spent all my time thinking about government and politics, I’d be depressed.

Read the rest of this entry »

What price U.S. world power?

May 18, 2018

Many commentators think U.S. power is declining, largely due to long-term trends, but speeded up by Donald Trump.

I think that’s true.  How much should we the American people worry about this?

Paul Street wrote a savage but accurate article for Truthdig about reasons why the world in general would welcome the downfall of U.S. power.   The enumeration of the death and destruction caused by U.S. military interventions, acts of war, covert action and economic sanctions makes is painful reading for an American.

And what benefit have we, the American people, gotten from it?  Little or nothing, that I can see.  In fact, the welfare of Americans has been sacrificed to maintaining American military power.  We can’t afford to maintain decent public services, but cost is no consideration when it comes to the military.

That doesn’t mean that loss of American global power would be painless.  We would have to find new ways to employ the millions of people employed by the U.S. military, the covert action agencies and their many contractors and suppliers.

Having a large number of unemployed, some highly qualified in the use of lethal force and others in covert political action, would be no small problem.  Neither would being a pariah among nations, as the Germans were for a time after their defeat in World War Two.

The British and French people were better off in the long run after they lost their overseas empires.  The German and Japanese people were better off in the long run after their defeats in World War Two.  We Americans will be better off in the long run if we give up the quest for world domination.

LINK

The World Will Not Mourn the Decline of U.S. Hegemony by Paul Street for Truthdig.

Who’s afraid of Julian Assange?

May 16, 2018

The Guardian reported that Ecuador has spent more than $5 million on closed-circuit TV cameras, 24-hour monitoring and other surveillance of Julian Assange, who took refuge in their London embassy in 2012.

Every communication by Assange with the outside world was monitored and recorded.  Guardian reporters were given access to this information.  I imagine British and U.S. intelligence services also have access to it.

The thrust of the articles is what a nuisance Assange has become to the Ecuadorian government and how understandable it is that they want to get rid of their unwelcome guest.  I am sure this is true.  If I were president of a small, vulnerable country such as Ecuador, I would not wish to antagonize the United States and other great powers.

What the articles also show is Assange’s uncompromising loyalty to his self-appointed mission.  The government of Ecuador expected him to refrain from “interfering” with other countries’ politics.  Assange’s publication of confidential e-mails embarrassing to Hillary Clinton was regarded as a violation of that, as was his protest against the arrest of a Catalan independen

Then Assange went on to destroy any hope of a pardon from the Trump administration by publishing more confidential CIA information.  He published new information about Russian intelligence surveillance.  Like him or not, you can’t reasonably say Wikileaks is a tool of any government or political faction.

All of this shows that the campaign against Assange is political.  It is not about criminal justice.  No routine bail bond case would ever result in the huge and expensive effort mounted by the British and Ecuadorian governments to bring Assange under control.  Only the naive would think that his only risk is punishment for bail bond violations.

He is a lone individual, standing up to the world’s most powerful governments and calling them to account.  He is hated and feared for telling inconvenient truths.  How can anyone who cares about political freedom not defend him?  It is Assange’s enemies, not him, who have to justify themselves.

LINKS

How Julian Assange became an unwelcome guest in Ecuador’s embassy by Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

Ecuador spent millions on spy operation for Julian Assange by Dan Collyns, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Luke Harding for The Guardian.

Why does Ecuador want Assange out of its London embassy? by Dan Collyns for The Guardian.

The Guardian Rejoices in the Silencing of Assange by Craig Murray.  [Added 5/17/2018]

Ecuador Under Lenin Moreno: an Interview With Andrez Arauz by Joe Emersberger for Counterpunch.

Ecuador’s Ex-President Rafael Correa Denounces Treatment of Julian Assange as “Torture” by Glenn Greenwald for The Intercept.  [Added 5/17/2018]

JULIAN ASSANGE’S DEFENSE STATEMENT.  Statement to the Swedish prosecutor after questioning at the Ecuadorian embassy in November 14-15, 2017.

Understanding Julian Assange and US Media by Mike Swanson.  Good background on Wikileaks and older Wikileaks controversies up to early 2016.

The abandonment of Julian Assange

May 15, 2018

These may be the last days of Julian Assange.   He is under virtual solitary confinement in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, cut off from contact with the outside world, while the Ecuadorian government is reportedly discussing handing him over to the British government.

He faces arrest jumping bail in a case in which no criminal charges were ever brought, but his real offense has been to publish information embarrassing to U.S. military and intelligence services.

You would think that liberals, progressives and war protestors would rally to the support of Assange, but, for the most part, they don’t.

I know people who in their youth protested the Vietnam War and supported the release of the Pentagon Papers, but can’t forgive Assange for publishing inconvenient truths about Hillary Clinton—as if Clinton were an advocate of peace!

It is not as if the Trump administration considers Assange a friend.  Attorney-General Jeff Sessions said arresting Assange is “a priority.”   Mike Pompeo, former CIA director and now Secretary of State, called Wikileaks a “hostile intelligence service”, as if it were equivalent to a foreign government.

Assange is not a perfect person.  Who is?  He is a lone wolf who is not aligned with any of the established political parties or movements.  He sometimes expresses himself in offensive ways.  He hangs out with doubtful people.  A relentless propaganda campaign has uncovered everything he has even done that might seem to be wrong.

Grant for the sake of argument that everything said against him is true (which I don’t believe).  Weigh that against the hundreds of thousands of innocent lives taken in the wars of the Bush and Obama administrations, and in the wars we can expect to be waged in the Trump administration.

In Wikileaks, he has created a technology by which whistle-blowers can expose crimes and abuses without being hunted down and jailed.  This technology will live on when Assange the individual has vanished from the scene.

Assange’s possible fate is to be turned over to U.S. authorities, followed by execution or life imprisonment.  But that hasn’t happened yet.  If you care about peace, or if you care about freedom of the press, demand freedom for Julian Assange.

LINKS

Being Julian Assange by Suzie Dawson.  This is a review and rebuttal of most or all the accusations that have been made against Assange.

On the Silencing of Julian Assange, interviews with John Pilger and Christine Assange (Julian’s mother) for Consortium News.

Ecuador hints it may hand over Julian Assange to Britain and the US by James Cogan for the World Socialist Web Site.

People Lie to Themselves About Julian Assange to Justify His Persecution by Caitlin Johnstone on her web page.

Trump’s broken promises to working Americans

May 14, 2018

Donald Trump and supporters. Source: Quartz

When Donald Trump ran for President, it was on an economic populist platform that, in many ways, put him well to the left of Hillary Clinton and of any Republican since Richard Nixon.

Most of what he promised would have been politically popular, economically feasible and beneficial to American working people—although not necessarily politically feasible.  But none of it was done or even seriously attempted.

Jonathan Chait last week wrote about Trump’s broken promises for New York magazine.  Here’s a short list of Trump promises:

  • Create a health insurance program that covers more people than Obamacare.
  • Negotiate lower drug prices through Medicare.
  • Pull out of NAFTA and negotiate a better trade deal.
  • Raise taxes on the rich, including himself.
  • Enact a $1 trillion infrastructure program (later $1.5 trillion).
  • Enact a six-point plan to curb lobbying, including no lobbying by former government officials or members of Congress until five years after leaving office and curbs on foreign companies making campaign contributions.

Trump has done nothing to replace or reform Obamacare, only made minor changes that make it worse.  Nothing was done to lower drug prices.

Simply canceling NAFTA would have been wrong.  Nations, even superpower nations, can’t just break agreements and not suffer consequences.  But there certainly is a need to renegotiate NAFTA and similar agreements.

The infrastructure plan is now $200 million, and even that has been postponed until next year.

As for putting limits on lobbying—that is a joke!

But I suspect that most Americans aren’t aware of this.  Most of the reporting on Trump has to  do with the Russiagate investigation, or Trump’s scandalous personal behavior, or the latest outrageous thing that Trump has said on social media.

These things matter, of course.  But they have nothing to do with public policy.

Read the rest of this entry »

What’s behind the spread of useless work?

May 13, 2018

The old labor hymn, Solidarity Forever, written slightly over a century ago, celebrates the achievements and potential power of the working class.

The world depends on the labor of workers, the song goes.  “Without our brain and muscle, not a single wheel would turn.”  That is a “power greater than their hoarded gold.”  If workers unite and fight, they can free themselves from the parasitic owning class.

David Graeber

These stirring words quaint today, because all the driving forces in the economy are liberating the wealthy elite from dependence on workers.  The driving force in technology is to eliminate jobs.  The driving force in management is to make workers replaceable.

And there is another strange thing going on, which is the creation of what anthropologist David Graeber calls bullshit jobs.  The definition of a BS job is that it is regarded as unnecessary even by those who do it.

For a number of years now, I have been conducting research on forms of employment seen as utterly pointless by those who perform them. The proportion of these jobs is startlingly high. Surveys in Britain and Holland reveal that 37 to 40 percent of all workers there are convinced that their jobs make no meaningful contribution to the world.

And there seems every reason to believe that numbers in other wealthy countries are much the same. There would appear to be whole industries — telemarketing, corporate law, financial or management consulting, lobbying — in which almost everyone involved finds the enterprise a waste of time, and believes that if their jobs disappeared it would either make no difference or make the world a better place.

Generally speaking, we should trust people’s instincts in such matters. … If one includes the work of those who unwittingly perform real labor in support of all this — for instance, the cleaners, guards, and mechanics who maintain the office buildings where people perform bullshit jobs — it’s clear that 50 percent of all work could be eliminated with no downside. …

Even this estimate probably understates the extent of the problem, because it doesn’t address the creeping bullshitization of real jobs. According to a 2016 survey, American office workers reported that they spent four out of eight hours doing their actual jobs; the rest of the time was spent in email, useless meetings, and pointless administrative tasks.

The trend has much less effect on obviously useful occupations, like those of tailors, steamfitters, and chefs, or obviously beneficial ones, like designers and musicians, so one might argue that most of the jobs affected are largely pointless anyway; but the phenomenon has clearly damaged a number of indisputably useful fields of endeavor.

Nurses nowadays often have to spend at least half of their time on paperwork, and primary- and secondary-school teachers complain of galloping bureaucratization.

Source: The Chronicle of Higher Education

Read the rest of this entry »

The beauty of Isfahan’s ‘Pink Mosque’

May 12, 2018

Click on Huffington Post for still photos and background information.

Can the US bring about ‘regime change’ in Iran?

May 11, 2018

President Trump’s administration appears set to wage economic war against Iran in order to bring about “regime change.”

The pattern would be the economic war the U.S. government has waged against Venezuela, which has crashed that country’s economy and created desperate poverty.

Top members of the Trump administration have long been committed to overthrowing the Iranian government.  But they’re not going to get the American public and Congress to support war with Iran.

What’s left is covert warfare, subsidizing dissidents and rebels in Iran, and economic warfare, using U.S. financial power to punish businesses that do business with Iran.

Because most international trade is done in U.S. dollars, and because most transactions in dollars go through U.S. banks, the U.S. government is in a position to do great damage to businesses and business owners that displease it.

This comes at a price, though.  Each time the U.S. government forces foreign governments and businesses to sacrifice their own interest to do its bidding, it brings the day closer when foreigners unite to set up an alternative international financial system that doesn’t use the U.S. dollar or U.S. banks.   That is the ultimate goal of China, aided by Russia. Read the rest of this entry »

Trump: the art of the deal-breaker

May 9, 2018

As a business tycoon, Donald Trump was noted for breaking contracts and not paying bills.  He relied on his wealth and his lawyers to deter less-wealthy contractors and creditors from collecting what they were owed.

In renouncing the nuclear arms deal with Iran, he is trying to treat a small nation the way he once treated small businesses.   He evidently thinks he can do this without any bad consequences to the United States.  If so, he is wrong.

President Trump

The reason the Iranian government was willing to negotiate limitations to its nuclear program was that Iran faced economic sanctions by the United Nationals Security Council, which represents all the great powers, not just the United States, which has been waging economic warfare against Iran since the present regime came to power in 1979.

The nuclear agreement was negotiated with six countries, including Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China, not the United States alone.   Renunciation by the U.S. government isn’t binding on any of the others.

It’s highly unlikely that Britain, France and Germany would agree to resume economic warfare against Iran, especially since President Trump did not consult them in advance.

It is certain that Russia and China will not, since the U.S. government, unlike when the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against Iran in 2006, now treats these two countries as adversaries.   So what Trump has done is to force Iran into alliance with Russia and China.

No objective observer doubts that Iran has kept its side of the agreement.  The problem from the standpoint of the United States is that the agreement has not affected Iran’s struggle with Saudi Arabia and Israel for  geopolitical power in the Middle East.

But what has made Iran so powerful?   U.S. military interventions are what has empowered Iran.

In 2001, Iran, which is ruled by Shiite Muslim clerics, was hemmed in by two hostile powers—the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east and Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to the west.

The U.S. overthrew the Taliban, who were Sunni Muslims, with the aid of Shiite Muslims friendly to Iran.  The U.S. overthrew Saddam Hussein, another Sunni Muslim, and empowered the Shiite majority in Iraq.

Then the U.S. government-funded Sunni Muslim rebels against the Assad regime in Syria.   Bashir al-Assad, a member of the minority Alawite sect, called on Iran for help and got it.   Presumably he wouldn’t have wanted Iranian fighters in his country if his government hadn’t been in danger..

Another consequence of Trump’s decision is that North Korea will keep its nuclear weapons for at least a generation.   Why would Kim Jong Un negotiate over nuclear weapons with a government that has demonstrated it does not keep agreements?

But maybe the North and South Korean governments, out of fear of Trump’s recklessness, will negotiate a peace agreement between themselves.

Read the rest of this entry »

2016 and the fight against the money power

May 7, 2018

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson has spent his career tracing the influence of money on U.S. national politics.   In this interview from last week, he said the big story of the 2016 election is that it is politically possible to defeat big money.

Bernie Sanders raised 60 percent of his funds from small donors, who gave $200 each or less, Ferguson said.  This is unprecedented.  He said Sanders could well have won the Democratic nomination and the general election if he had started earlier and done things differently.

But even in defeat, he said, Sanders showed it is possible to fund a national political campaign without going to the wealthy and corporate donors that the leaders of both political parties depend upon.

Ferguson is noted for his “investment theory of political parties”—that wealthy interests invest in political parties and candidates, and that the only political issues that elections decide are issues on which the big donors disagree or that they don’t care about.

He says there are basically two elections.  There is the informal money election, conducted by big donors, which winnows the field   Then there is the actual vote, which chooses among the candidates pre-selected by the money election.

What Sanders—and also Trump, to an extent—showed is that large numbers of small political “investors” can offset the few big donors.   Sanders was the equivalent of an entrepreneur who funded a start-up with a GoFundMe fundraiser.

Trump himself raised 40 percent of his campaign funds from small donors, which is unprecedented for a Republican, Ferguson said.   But most of that was before he won the Republican nomination.

Starting in August, big money started to roll in—especially from Rustbelt manufacturing interests, who liked Trump’s promise to raise tariffs against foreign imports, and also from such far-right figures as Sheldon Adelson, Peter Thiel and Robert and Rebekah Mercer.

Hillary Clinton received most of the donations that came from Wall Street and the defense and aerospace industries.

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Cute harvest mice among the tulips

May 5, 2018

These cute pictures were taken by a British animal photographer named Miles Herbert.  Looking at them made me smile.  He does business as Captivelight. His other specialties are frogs, reptiles and birds of prey.

 I found this set of photos on the Bored Panda web site, which posted a gallery of 20 of Herbert’s mouse-and-tulip photos in all.

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What matters more than Stormy Daniels

May 4, 2018

Jack Perry wrote in the Ghion Journal about why he doesn’t care about the Mueller investigation in general or the Stormy Daniels affair in particular.

This Mueller shindig is not going to do any of the following:

  1. Reverse the executive order from Trump taking food stamps away from the poor and disabled who can’t find a job.
  2. Remove the ability to use military force from Trump before it’s too late.
  3. Reverse the Trump tax cuts that have just forced the U.S. government to take out a massive loan to pay for them.

The Democrats have beaten this “It’s Mueller Time!” meme into the mud and, excuse me, but Mueller and the FBI do not run the United States. 

Where is this much-vaunted rule of law?!  The FBI is not one of the three branches of government!  No, they’re not the judicial branch, people!  That’s what the Supreme Court is!

And the chuckle merchants in the Congress have abdicated their own Congressional responsibility to stop this man and handed it over to the police!

Source: Ghion Journal.

Are we whites afraid of not being white enough?

May 2, 2018

The Rev. Dr. Thandeka is a Unitarian-Universalist minister, theologian and consultant who previously had a successful career as a journalist and TV producer.  “Thandeka” is an African name, meaning “one who is loved by God,” and was given to her by Bishop Desmond Tutu.

In LEARNING TO BE WHITE: Money, Race and God in America (1999], Thandeka told a story about how a white friend asked her what it was like to be black.

Thandeka told the friend to perform the following experiment, which she called the Race Game.

Every time the white friend referred to another white person, she was to say: “my white friend, Bill,” or “my white minister, Rev. Smith”, and report back on her experience within a week.

The white friend couldn’t do it.  Only one person, out of all the white people she asked to try the experiment, could do it.  Why is that?

I imagined myself playing the Race Game.  I would feel uncomfortable doing it.

It is not because the white people who stress white identity the most are racist neo-Nazis and neo-Confederates.  It is rather that, by expressing myself that way, I would be separating myself from white people as a group.

But I don’t believe in white superiority or supremacy.  Why should that make me feel uncomfortable?

Thandeka wrote in 1999 that white racism makes most American white people feel, from a young age, that they would not be loved by their parents or anyone else if they were not white.   Many learned this lesson as children when their parents told them not to play with black children.

White racism is a system of social control that not only holds down black people, but many white people, Thandeka stated; historically, white people were at risk of losing their white status if they married black people, were friends with black people or joining forces politically with black people.

Two particular groups of white people were especially at risk of being considered not quite white enough.

One is the so-called “white trash,” poor rural Southern white people descended from slaves and indentured laborers brought from the British Isles to the American colonies, often in chains and treated no better than livestock.

When the white planter elite decided to replace the white slaves and indentured servants with black slaves from Africa, the poor whites still were poor and politically powerless.

The so-called “wages of whiteness”—the self-esteem that comes from superiority to black people—were paid in counterfeit money.   They were little better off economically than black people and were just as far below the rich white planters and the educated white professionals as they always were.

Much has been made of how millions of black people were excluded from Social Security because it did not cover farm laborers and household servants.  But these same rules excluded millions of poor rural Southern white workers.  The same measures that held down poor blacks held down poor whites.

Read the rest of this entry »

Nobody could have beaten Trump (or Clinton)

April 30, 2018

Double click to enlarge.

Source: United States of Apathy by Philip Kearny Cartography.

Hat tip to Lambert Strether on naked capitalism.

Hillary Clinton received 28.4 percent of the votes of eligible voters, Donald Trump received 27.2 percent and 44.4 voted for nobody.   I wouldn’t assume that the 44.4 percent were apathetic.   I’m sure many of them (some of whom had voted in 2008 and 2012) had their reasons for rejecting both candidates.

Nobody got a majority of votes cast.  Hillary Clinton won 48 percent, Donald Trump 45.9 percent and the rest went to small-party candidates.

Fed keeps financial markets on life support

April 27, 2018

Ever since the 2008 crash, the Federal Reserve Board has had the U.S. financial markets on life support.

The Fed has used its influence on the banking system and bond market to drive interest rates down to near zero.  Taking inflation into account, many interest rates are less than zero.

This drives investors who want a return on their investment into the stock market, and the fact that we’re in the market helps keep prices up.   But the rise in stock prices is not based on profitability of underlying businesses.

The idea is that low interest rates and a rising stock market will encourage new investment and a growth in the real economy.  But when the Fed hints that it may allow interest rates to return to normal levels, investors panic and the market falls.

Another way the Fed has tried to stimulate the economy is by “qualitative easing”—buying up banks’ so-called toxic investments.   This is supposed to empower the bankers to find better investments, which would enable the economy to grow.   But this was never a requirement.

Right now wages are rising and unemployment is falling.   It would be great if this continued for a long period of time.

Artificially low interest rates cannot go on forever and, as Stein’s Law says, if something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

LINKS

Donald Trump and the Next Crash: Making the Fed an Instrument for Disaster by Nomi Prins for TomDispatch.

The mini crash and class warfare by Larry Beinart for Al Jazeera.

How excess debt stifles economies

April 26, 2018

Economist Michael Hudson had a good explanation of how excess private debt leads to economic stagnation.

If private debt grows faster than GDP, the debt/GDP ratio will rise.  This stifles markets, and hence employment.  Wages fall as a share of GDP.

This is precisely what is happening. But mainstream models ignore the overgrowth of debt, as if the economy operates on a barter basis. 

[Australian economist Steve] Keen calls this “the barter illusion,” and reviews his wonderful exchange with Paul Krugman (who plays the role of an intellectual Bambi to Keen’s Godzilla).

Krugman insists that banks do not create credit but merely recycle savings – as if they are savings banks, not commercial banks.

It is the old logic that debt doesn’t matter because “we” owe the debt to “ourselves.”  The “we” are the 99%, the “ourselves” are the 1%.

Krugman calls them “patient” savers vs “impatient” borrowers, blaming the malstructured economy on personal psychology of indebted victims having to work for a living and spend their working lives paying off the debt needed to obtain debt-leveraged homes of their own, debt-leveraged education and other basic living costs.

Hudson has written extensively about debt, and how unpayable debt leads to financial crises.   As he is fond of saying, debts that can’t be paid won’t be paid.

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Another financial crash is on the way

April 26, 2018

Another financial crash is coming and it will be as bad or worse than the 2008 recession.

The reason is that all the conditions that existed before the 2008 crash exist now:

  • Growing concentration of wealth, which depresses the mass consumer market.
  • Growing debt, which can’t be repaid.
  • Reckless financial speculation, encouraged by lack of regulation and the expectation of another bailout.
  • A negative balance of trade, and a continuing overall weakness of the U.S. economy.
  • Lack of sufficient firewalls and safety nets to prevent cascading bankruptcies and financial failures.

Rich people on average spend less of their incomes than middle-class or poor people.   Once you get above a certain level, spending more money on yourself doesn’t make you happier.  You instead reinvest it so as to become even richer.

Middle-class people spend most of what they earn in order to maintain a middle-class material standard of living.  They are the ones who sustain the mass consumer market, which is the engine of American prosperity.

Poor people need to spend all they have just to survive.

When incomes don’t rise, middle-class people maintain their material standard of living through borrowing.  But this has limits.

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Goldman Sachs says water may be wet

April 25, 2018

A Goldman Sachs report says that the way for biotech companies is through medical treatments, not medical cures.

Selling medical treatments provides a stream of income that continues indefinitely.   Selling medical cures provides one-time sources of income, and even these may dry up if the disease disappears.

The moral feelings of any normal person will be outraged by this, but the logic is watertight, obvious and, according to the report, supported by experience.

You can’t stop for-profit companies in a free enterprise economy from pursuing the course that is most profitable, and you can’t stop analysts for investment companies from noticing the most profitable course.

Since cures are better than treatments (although treatments are useful), how can resources be shifted to cures?

A free market fundamentalist would say that the solution is to raise prices of cures to equal the lifetime cost of a treatment, plus a premium.

A neoliberal would propose subsidizing biotech companies’ work on cures.  A left-wing liberal would propose requiring biotech companies to devote a certain percentage of their research budgets to working on cures.

A radical would say that for profit-companies operating in a free market cannot be counted on to produce cures, and we should look instead to government or philanthropic institutions if we want a cure for cancer, AIDS or other life-threatening diseases.

Historically few if any medical breakthroughs have come from for-profit companies.   Dr. Jonas Salk developed the Salk vaccine for polio as head of a research laboratory at the University of Pittsburgh.

Dr. Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin, was a professor of bacteriology at St. Mary’s Hospital in London.   Penicillin and other antibiotics came into widespread use through efforts of the U.S. military during World War Two.

Probably the most profitable and widespread drug developed by a private company was aspirin—a great example of a drug that generates a continuing revenue stream.  Aspirin of course is of great benefit.   It’s just not the same thing as the Salk vaccine or penicillin.

So here again, the supposedly radical policy is to adopt time-tested policies that have worked in the past, while the supposedly un-radical policies are justified by theory and not by experience.

LINKS

Goldman Sachs report asks: ‘Is curing patients a sustainable business model?’ by Tae Kim for CNBC.

When What’s Good for the World Is Bad for Business by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs.

Jordan Peterson takes antidepressants

April 24, 2018

Canadian psychologist Jordan Peterson, author of the best-selling 12 Rules for Life, said a 2012 interview (above) that he takes antidepressants and expects to take them for the rest of his life.

I don’t have any current information, but my guess is that this is still true.

His daughter Mikhaila, who was 20 back then, also said she takes antidepressants.  Peterson believes he is subject to a genetic flaw that his grandfather and father also had.

This runs counter to the argument of British journalist Johann Hari, whose new book, Lost Connections, was reviewed by me in my previous post.  Hari said people are depressed not because things are wrong in their brains, but because things are wrong in their lives, which is often due to things that are wrong with society in general.

All three generations of Peterson appeared to have everything that makes life living—meaningful work, friends, loving marriages, children and the respect of their communities.

Yet Jordan Peterson’s grandfather and father went to pieces in middle age, and Peterson himself thinks that he might have suffered the same fate if antidepressants hadn’t been available.

Mikhaila, the daughter, did go through a lot of suffering.  She suffered from rheumatoid arthritis from a young age and had to have hip and ankle replacements.  But she didn’t suffer alone.  She had the support of parents and friends.

So none of the Petersons fit the profile of typical depressed people as reported in Lost Connections.

Hari reported on clinical studies comparing patients who’ve been given antidepressants with patients who’ve been given placebos and patients who’ve been given nothing.

They indicate that 50 percent of the apparent benefit of antidepressants comes from the placebo effect and 25 percent from people simply getting better on their own.

That, of course, leaves a remaining 25 percent who actually were helped.  Hari said nobody understands how this works, because the effects of the various antidepressants are widely different.  Some increase serotonin, some decrease it, some increase or decrease dopamine and other biochemicals.  Also, many of them have bad side effects.

Peterson said that antidepressants work best for people who outwardly have great lives and are depressed for no apparent reason.   If you are depressed because you are unemployed, divorced or lonely, antidepressants won’t fix you, he said; you need to look for a job, a new mate and new friends.

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Antidepressants not a cure for lost connections

April 23, 2018

Journalist Johann Hari said in his new book that people who are depressed are not victims of bad brain chemistry.  They are depressed because they are disconnected from things that make life worth living.

They are disconnected from meaningful work, meaningful values and meaningful relationships with other people, from status and respect, the natural world and a secure or hopeful future.

In LOST CONNECTIONS: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression—And the Unexpected Solutions (2018), Hari walks the reader through the scientific research that shows how people suffer when they are disconnected from the things they need, and how they can heal when they recover those connections.

Depression and anxiety are big problems.  Hari said psychiatric drugs are being taken by one in five American adults, one in three French adults and an even higher proportion in the UK.

The death rate in the United States is actually increasing, driven by “deaths of despair”—suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-caused liver disease.   The World Health Organization reported in 2010 that depression is the world’s second leading cause of disability.

Hari said therapists can help, and gave examples.  He said there are ways people can help themselves, and gave examples.  Medication has its place, although often ineffective.  Hari deeply regrets the 13 years of his own life that he spent taking antidepressants.

But feelings of depression and anxiety are not the problem, according to Hari.   Pain, whether mental or physical, is a message that lets you know something is seriously wrong.   The rising rate of depression is a message telling us that something is wrong with our society.

∞∞∞

In organizations, you might think that the managers and decision makers would be under the most stress, while those with less responsibility would be the least stressed.  A study of the British civil service, among others, showed that the opposite is true.  The lower your rank, the higher the stress.

What causes stress is lack of control, Hari reported.   Employees are stressed when they have to produce results without being able to use their best judgment as to how to produce these results.

They are stressed when they don’t know the meaning or purpose of their work.  They are stressed when nobody notices whether they are doing a good job or not.  They are stressed when they’re on call even after the work day ends.   They are stressed when they don’t know whether they are going to have a job next week or next year.  Lost Connections gives examples of workers dealing with all these things.

Stressful working conditions are on the increase.  We the people were told that technological advances would result in all the routine work being done by machines, and more fulfilling, higher-level tasks being done by humans.  I believe such a path is possible, but it has not been the path chosen.

Instead we got Frederick W. Taylor’s scientific management, factory automation and computer numerically-controlled machines.  The purpose of these innovations was not to make workers more skilled.  It was to make them more replaceable.

High tech executives continue to push to eliminate the human factor from work, even when there is no need or demand for it, such as self-driving cars, and even when the public hates it, such as elimination of human interaction from customer service.

Workers do not suffer from a chemical imbalance, Hari wrote; they suffer from a power imbalance.

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Dems sue Russia, Wikileaks, Trump campaign

April 21, 2018

The Democratic National Committee is suing Wikileaks, along with the government of Russia, the Trump campaign and various Russians and Trump supporters, over the leaks of DNC e-mails during the 2016 election campaign.

They charge that, among other things, the leaks of the DNC e-mails violate laws protecting copyright and trade secrets.  If this was upheld, it would basically make a great deal of investigative reporting illegal—including much of the reporting on the Russiagate investigations.

The real crime of Wikileaks, now as in the past, has been to reveal inconvenient truths.

The Democratic party suing WikiLeaks for costing them the election is like an armed robbery convict suing a security camera company for getting him arrested.  The emails it published are 100 percent authentic and entirely undisputed, and they consist of nothing other than Democratic party big wigs talking to one another.

The documents published by WikiLeaks in 2016 showed an unquestionable violation of the DNC’s Impartiality Clause in the “us vs them” tone of the conversations in the more egregious DNC leaks, the Podesta emails showing that the DNC and the Clinton camp were colluding as early as 2014 to schedule debates and primaries in a way that favored her, and then-DNC Vice Chairwoman Donna Brazile acting as a mole against the Sanders campaign and passing Clinton questions in advance to prep her for debates with Sanders.

It also revealed more broadly incriminating facts about the Democratic party in general, including the Clintons taking bribes from Qatar and Morocco and knowingly accepting funds from political bodies that arm ISIS, an email showing how a CitiGroup executive was responsible for selecting Obama’s acceptable cabinet picks, and Clinton’s infamous “public position and a private position” statement.

Source: Caitlin Johnstone

Trying to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election is futile.  Democratic leaders would do better to concentrate on winning this year’s state and congressional elections, while meanwhile trying to curb President Trump’s unconstitutional use of executive power.

LINKS

Democratic Party sues Russia, WikiLeaks and Trump over election disruption by Sabrina Siddiqui for The Guardian.

Dems Sue WikiLeaks for Telling the Truth by Caitlin Johnstone.

The DNC’s Lawsuit Against Wikileaks Poses a Serious Threat to Press Freedom by Glenn Greenwald and Trevor Timm for The Intercept.  [Added Later]

Democratic National Committee’s Lawsuit Against Russia, WikiLeaks and Various Trump Associates Full of Legally Nutty Arguments by Mike Masnick for Techdirt.

Cure Worse Than Disease: Bill to Restrict Trump’s War Powers Actually “Endorse a Worldwide War on Terror” by Jon Schwarz for The Intercept.  [Added Later]

Senators Offer Up Unprecedented War Powers to President by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos for The American Conservative.

Four More Years: the Trump reelection nightmare and how we can stop it by Thomas Frank for Harper’s Magazine.