Jobless youth and oldsters who can’t retire

July 26, 2016

Thomas Geoghegan, a labor lawyer in Chicago, wrote a good article for The Baffler about the connection between low wages, high youth unemployment and older people (such as himself) being unwilling to retire.

Thomas Geoghegan

Thomas Geoghegan

A reporter asked Pope Francis to name the single biggest evil in the world.  Secularism?  No.  Abortion?  Not even.  Here’s what he said: “Youth unemployment—and the abandonment of the elderly.”

OK, that’s two evils.  But aren’t they really one thing?  Unable to get a start, boomerang kids move back home—while their grandparents hang on to their jobs.

Why hang on?  They fear being abandoned.  They didn’t save.  The young have always had to wait for the old to retire in order to move up a notch, but in the twenty-first century, that wait is getting longer, increasing the competition for scarce jobs.

For the state to shrink, the old must work more.  It’s a neoliberal axiom.  Call it the New Old Deal.

As a labor lawyer, let me defend my clients.  The working-class people I represent are dying sooner, not mucking up the labor market by living too long.  Alcohol and heroin are partially to blame, and trending stories on epidemics afflicting the white working class make easy fodder for TV newsmagazines.

But let me tell you what I more often see happening to non-college whites: those who do hard physical labor for an hourly wage go lame.  By age fifty-five, or certainly sixty, many are just done.

And when they go lame, they have no options.  They have no union-bargained pensions anymore.   They certainly have no 401(k) retirement accounts.

Maybe the country should be grateful; to the extent that they die prematurely, they help shore up Social Security.  And hey, should the GOP make it harder for them to receive workers’ comp or disability, these high school grads may die even younger.

The whole article is worth reading.  Click on Exit Planning to read it.

Harriet Tubman, an American hero

July 24, 2016

quote-i-was-the-conductor-of-the-underground-railroad-for-eight-years-and-i-can-say-what-most-conductors-harriet-tubman-274133

The following is notes for a lay sermon at First Universalist Church of Rochester, NY, on July 24, 2016.

Before the present announcement that Harriet Tubman’s face will appear on the $20 bill, all I knew about her was that she was connected with the Underground Railroad.

I’ve since learned something about her, and come to realize that she is truly a great American – but with a different kind of greatness than that of historical figures such as George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Alexander Hamilton, U.S. Grant or Benjamin Franklin.

It is not just that those others were white, and she was black.  It is not just that they were all men, and she was a woman.  She was poor and illiterate, and earned her living through most of her life by physical labor.  Unlike her, they were commanders and lawgivers at the pinnacle of power.  She showed the power and position are not necessary for greatness.

What did her greatness consist of?  Her greatness consisted of the willingness to risk everything for freedom – first her own freedom, and then the freedom of others.

As a young girl, born into slavery, she resisted efforts to force her to accept submission, and eventually escaped.  Then, at great personal risk, she returned to the place she had been held in bondage, and rescued others.

During the Civil War, she volunteered as a scout for the Union Army and led other enslaved people into freedom.  During the final phase of her life, she supported equal rights for both African Americans and women.

She lived according to the ethic of Jesus in a way that few people today, including Unitarian Universalists, can understand.  She had a deep faith in God, and was guided by her visions of God.  She shared everything she had with those more in want that she was, and trusted in God to provide.

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Nothing new about a woman leading a nation

July 23, 2016
Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

The possibility of electing the first woman President of the United States is a big deal for many of us Americans.  But the rest of the world may well ask: What took you so long?

Even in the days when women were not eligible to enter the professions or earn university degrees, they still could be queens and empresses.

Rulers such as Queen Elizabeth I of England and Catherine the Great of Russia showed that women could play power politics with the best of them.

Since women in the 20th century received the right to vote and run for office, they’ve had the opportunity to become heads of government on their own merits and not as family dynasties.  Here are some examples.

1969 – Golda Meir (Israeli Labor Party) became Prime Minister of Israel.

1979 – Margaret Thatcher (Conservative) became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

1990 – Jenny Shipley (National Party) became Prime Minister of New Zealand.

1991 – Edith Cresson (Socialist) became Prime Minister of France.

1993 – Kim Campbell (Progressive Conservative) became Prime Minister of Canada.

1993 – Tansu Çiller (True Path Party) became Prime Minister of Turkey. [added later]  (Hat tip to S. Glover)

2005 – Angela Merkel (Christian Democratic Union) became Chancellor of Germany.

2010 – Julia Gillard (Australian Labor Party) became Prime Minister of Australia.

2011 – Dilma Rousseff (Brazilian Labor Party) became President of Brazil

Here are some examples of women who achieved power as members of family dynasties.

1966 – Indira Gandhi, daughter of Jawaharlal Nehru, became Prime Minister of India.

1974 – Isabel Peron, widow of Juan Peron, became President of Argentina.

1986 – Corazon Aquino, widow of Benigno Aquino Jr., became President of the Philippines.

1988 – Benazir Bhutto, daughter of Zulifikar Ali Bhutto, became Prime Minister of Pakistan.

2001 – Magawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Sukarno, became President of Indonesia.  [added later]

It is an interesting question as to whether Hillary Clinton, if elected, belongs on the first list or the second.  She is a successful and effective politician, but would she have been elected Senator from New York or been appointed Secretary of State if she had been Hillary Rodham rather than Hillary Rodham Clinton?

Currently Bangladesh, Brazil, Chile, Croatia, Germany, Liberia, Lithuania, Malta, the Marshall Islands, Mauritius, Namibia, Nepal, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom all have women as heads of state, heads of government or both.  Also Burma (sort of).

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Newton Knight, an American hero

July 22, 2016

My friend Hal Bauer urged all his friends to see the movie, Free State of Jones.  I saw it, and it is as good as Hal said it is.

The movie tells the story of Newton Knight, a white farmer in southern Mississippi, who led a rebellion against the Confederacy itself.

Newton Knight

Newton Knight

Knight was 6-foot-4 with black curly hair and a full beard—“big heavyset man, quick as a cat,” as one of his friends described him.  He was a nightmarish opponent in a backwoods wrestling match, and one of the great unsung guerrilla fighters in American history.  So many men tried so hard to kill him that perhaps his most remarkable achievement was to reach old age.

“He was a Primitive Baptist who didn’t drink, didn’t cuss, doted on children and could reload and fire a double-barreled, muzzle-loading shotgun faster than anyone else around,” said [local historian Wyatt] Moulds. 

“Even as an old man, if someone rubbed him the wrong way, he’d have a knife at their throat in a heartbeat.  A lot of people will tell you that Newt was just a renegade, out for himself, but there’s good evidence that he was a man of strong principles who was against secession, against slavery and pro-Union.”

Source: Richard Grant | Smithsonian

Knight hated the 20-slave rule, which gave slave-owning families one exemption from military service for every 20 slaves they owned.  He also hated Confederate confiscations of livestock, crops and food from small farmers.

For a time, his Knight Company drove the Confederate Army out of Jones County and surrounding areas of southern Mississippi.  Contrary to the impression given by the movie title, he didn’t intend to set up Jones County as an independent nation.  He was loyal to the Union.

He didn’t only fight for independent white farmers.  He fought against slavery himself.  He defended the rights of newly-freed slaves after the Civil War.  After the triumph of the Ku Klux Klan, he retreated to his homestead where he lived with his inter-racial family.

I had no idea Newton Knight existed until I saw the movie.

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A left-wing critique of political correctness

July 22, 2016
Paul Street

Paul Street

Paul Street, a smart, marginally-employed left-wing writer, wrote a good article for Counterpunch on why people like him oppose so-called “political correctness.”

He gave a number of examples, but I’ll just quote one of them.

… I have started to become at least mildly irritated by the ever-increasing number of Chinese university students in Iowa City at and around the University of Iowa.  Why?  Because of racism and nativism.  No. Not at all.  It has nothing to do with racism or nativism.  I’m anti-racist and anti-nativist.

It’s about class, politics, and the ever-skyrocketing cost of college tuition in the United States. The young Chinese showing up all over campus town America are very disproportionately from the upper slices of mainland Chinese society. Their parents have accumulated enough wealth and income to send their only children to college overseas and often in very high style.

This wealth is culled from the massive state-capitalist super-exploitation of a giant Chinese working class that has been forced into a vast industrial complex of global capitalist production.

That is the source of the money that is passed on to the privileged class progeny of Chinese “Communist” Party elites who can be seen driving around in BMWs and living in pricey condominium apartments in Iowa City, Iowa, Madison, Wisconsin, and countless other U.S. university communities today.

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Donald Trump’s excellent adventure

July 21, 2016

When Donald Trump phoned his pal Bill Clinton a little over a year ago, and asked his advice about running for President, I doubt that either of them thought that Trump would get as far as he did.

150930093139-bill-clinton-donald-trump-large-169I have no way of knowing Trump’s thinking, but I suspect that he figured that he had everything to gain and nothing to lose.

At worst, he would promote the Trump name and add value to the Trump brand.  At best, he would show up and pay back politicians and journalists who treated his political ambitions as a joke.  Coming in a strong second or third for the Republican nomination would have accomplished that.

But did he think he actually would be nominated?  I’m reminded of the Mel Brooks comedy, The Producers, in which two characters hatch a Trump-esque scheme to make money from a losing Broadway play.   They choose a script, “Springtime for Hitler,” which they think is sure to fail.  But, much to their consternation, it succeeds.

Unlike the Mel Brooks characters, I think Trump will take his own “Springtime for Hitler” production as far as it will go.  But if he loses, which at this point seems likely, I can imagine him sitting down a year or two from now with his friends, the Clintons, and having a good laugh about the whole adventure.

LINKS

Inside the Fraternity of Haters and Losers Who Drove Donald Trump to the GOP Nomination by McKay Coppins for Buzzfeed.  Coppins thinks his ridicule of the idea of a Trump Presidential candidacy may have goaded Trump into actually running.

36 Hours On the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump by McKay Coppins for Buzzfeed (2014).  This is the article that Coppins thinks may have set Trump off.

Donald Trump’s ghostwriter tells all by Jane Mayer for The New Yorker.  Donald Trump as seen through the eyes of the ghostwriter who wrote The Art of the Deal.

Obama, lame-duck GOP Congress may enact TPP

July 20, 2016

Republicans in Congress refused to vote President Obama’s Supreme Court nominations on the grounds that he is a lame duck.  But it’s highly likely they’ll join with him to enact the odious Trans Pacific Partnership agreement right after the November elections, when he and they really will be lame ducks.

Pac-Money-400x266When Congress voted to allow a “fast track” decision—an up or down vote with little time to discuss the agreement—it was Republican votes that provided the margin of victory.

“Fast track” means there’s no way to stop a lame-duck vote on TPP, even if anti-TPP candidates sweep Congress in the November elections.

All it would take is that President Obama, House Speaker Mitch McConnell and other TPP supporters are brazen enough.

Bernie Sanders opposed the TPP.  Donald Trump opposes it.  Hillary Clinton promoted it when she was Secretary of State, but she says she now has reservations about it.  Her supporters on the Democratic platform committee voted down a plank that would criticize the TPP so as not to embarrass President Obama.

The TPP—and the related Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership agreement and Trade in Services Agreement—are corporate wish lists written into international law.

These limit the power of governments to legislate and regulate to protect workers, consumers and the environment, grant drug and media companies new intellectual property rights, and create panels of arbitrators that can impose penalties on governments for depriving international corporations of “expected profits.”

So it’s fitting, in a way, that these anti-democratic trade agreements are likely to be enacted into law by a President and members of Congress who may not have run for re-election or been voted out of office.

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An argument for medical marijuana

July 20, 2016

imrs

On average, physicians in states where medical marijuana is legal prescribe fewer drugs, especially painkillers, than in other states.   The implication is people who smoke pot have less need for painkillers or other prescription drugs.

Addiction to optoid painkillers, such as OxyContin, is a serious problem.  Overuse of psychiatric drugs is another serious problem.  Marijuana can be abused, too, but it is by far less dangerous.

LINK

One striking chart shows why pharma companies are fighting legal marijuana by Christopher Ingraham for The Washington Post.  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist)

The bogus issue of plagiarism

July 20, 2016

plagiarismmelaniamichelleimrs.phpI think Donald Trump is disqualified to be President because of his cruel rhetoric, his manifest ignorance and his unethical business record.

I wish people who think as I do would focus on what’s true and what matters rather than seizing on every little thing that comes up.

The whole plagiarism uproar, for example.

Melania Trump, in her speech to the Republican National Convention, praised people who work hard and keep their word.  Michelle Obama did the same thing in similar words at the Democratic National Convention in 2008.   I doubt if she was the first person ever to express these commonplace truths.

I remember the late Robert F. Kennedy saying that some people see things as they are, and ask why, but he dreamed things that ever were, and asked, why not?  As I recall, nobody ever blamed him for failing to attribute these words to George Bernard Shaw.

And the late Nelson Rockefeller was fond of the phrase, the brotherhood of man and the fatherhood of God.  As I recall, nobody ever blamed him for not attributing this phrase to the great Unitarian preacher, Theodore Parker.  It’s one thing to plagiarize a whole article or speech; it’s another to use a phrase somebody else has used before.

The reason that it’s wrong to use anything and everything that comes to hand to attack your opponent is that you make it hard for members of the public to separate signal from noise.

Attacking Donald Trump unfairly is wrong in itself and also actually helps him, because it diverts attention from what he really is doing and saying wrong.

LINK

Red Star Over Trump by Peter Lee for China Matters.  Another bogus issue.

Hillary Clinton and the danger of nuclear war

July 14, 2016

The worst thing that an American President could do is to provoke a nuclear war with Russia.

I think that, based on her record and rhetoric, Hillary Clinton would put the USA at greater risk of nuclear war than her predecessors.

As adviser to her husband in the 1990s and as Secretary of State, she was a voice for war.  Her campaign web site is about her credentials as a war hawk.  It is no coincidence that so war hawks of the George W. Bush support her for President.

Victoria Nuland

Victoria Nuland

Her protege, Victoria Nuland, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, promotes economic warfare and covert warfare against Russia, while promoting regime change in Ukraine and attempting to draw Ukraine and Georgia into an anti-Russian alliance.  This is as dangerous as Khrushchev’s placing missiles in Cuba in 1962.

Pro-Russian news sources predict war if Hillary Clinton is elected.  I think Russian fears are significant because they could be a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you think somebody is poised to attack you, you’re going to be ready to strike at them before they do.

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Donald Trump’s sleazy business record

July 13, 2016

87aa7546_donald-80sCandidates for political office can be better understood by their records than by their rhetoric.

Donald Trump has never held public office, but his record as a business owner and promoter tells what to expect from him if he ever does.

His record is one of success through use of political influence, and at the expense of investors and customers who believe his claims.

I’ve compiled links to articles about Trump’s business record.   They should be a good warning to voters who think Trump’s business success qualifies him for high political office, or who think that Trump can be trusted to act in their interests.

Probably there are links to more articles than you, as a reasonable person, can click on.  I recommend that you skim the headlines to get a general idea, and click on whatever seems interesting to you.  I particularly recommend the articles by David Cay Johnson, who has been following Trump for many years.  Or, if you have time to read only one article, read the following:

Trumpology: A Master Class, a group interview of Trump biographers Wayne Barrett, Michael D’Antonio, Harry Hurt III, Gwenda Blair and Timothy L. O’Brien by Susan B. Glasser and Michael Kruse for POLITICO magazine.

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E.B. White on winding the clock

July 13, 2016

North Brooklin, Maine

30 March 1973

Dear Mr. Nadeau:

As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate.  Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time.  I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.

Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer.  I guess the same is true of our human society—things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly.  It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet.  But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right.  Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble.  We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.

Hang on to your hat.  Hang on to your hope.  And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.

Sincerely,

(Signed, ‘E. B. White’)

Source: Letters of Note.

Hat tip to Marginal REVOLUTION

Optoid abuse and the white American death rate

July 12, 2016

I wrote blog posts some time back about the Case-Deaton study of the rising death rate in the 21st century among middle-aged white people without college educations—a strange trend because the death rate continues to fall for all other demographic groups and also for Europeans.

OXYCONTINI also reviewed a book, Dreamland, about over-prescription of optoid drugs and how this has led to a heroin epidemic specifically among white people.  I didn’t make the obvious connection with the Case-Deaton study.

A blogger who calls himself Lambert Strether pointed out that the body count from optoid overdoses approaches the number deaths from AIDS.  If you think of optoid overdose as a disease, the vector of the spread is not a microbe and not unsafe sex, but the marketing strategies of certain drug companies—especially Purdue Pharma, manufacturer of OxyContin.

I accept that there are deeper reasons for the rise in drug abuse than the unethical marketing of one drug by one company.  Purdue Pharma would not have been so successful if there hadn’t been a big potential demand for its product.  I still think drug prohibition hasn’t worked, just as alcohol prohibition didn’t work and gun prohibition wouldn’t work.

This is another question for which I don’t have good answers.  What do you think?

LINKS

Genocide by Prescription: The ‘Natural History’ of the Declining White Working Class in America by James Petras and Robin Eastman Abaya [added 7/14/2016]

Credentialism and Corruption: The Optoid Epidemic and the Looting Professional Class by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.  Very much worth reading.

Poison Pill by Mike Mariani for Pacific Standard.

Drug abuse and suicide: Why death rates have spiked among middle-aged white Americans, an interview of Angus Deaton, one of the authors of the study, by Christina Cauterucci for Slate.

Optoid Addiction 2016 Facts & Figures by the American Society of Addiction Medicine.

Lessons from North Dakota

July 11, 2016

A century ago, the state of North Dakota underwent a peaceful political revolution—one more radical than what Bernie Sanders attempted this year.  The benefits to the people of the state endure to this day.

North Dakota farmers were subject to the domination of banks and flour mills in Minneapolis-St. Paul.  They set mortgage interest rates and the price of wheat.  Business interests dominated North Dakota government.

But progressive reformers opened up the political process through the initiative (voters could propose laws), the referendum (voters could vote directly on laws) and the recall (unsatisfactory state legislators could be voted out before their terms ended).  More importantly, the state legislated open primary elections.

This opened up the process for the Non-Partisan League, organized by a fiery socialist named Arthur C. Townley.  Starting in 1914, he recruited 40,000 dues-paying members, mainly farmers, in a state whose population was 600,000.  The NPL then endorsed and campaigned for candidates who adopted the NPL program.

In 1916, NPL candidates effectively took over the Republican Party in the state.   NPL candidates won all statewide offices and a majority in the state Assembly; in 1918, they took over the state Senate as well.

Among their reforms were a state grain grading service so that farmers were assured a fair price, regulation of railroad shipping rates, and authorization of state-owned enterprises, including the Bank of North Dakota, the crown jewel of the NPL program, which is still going strong.

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Lessons from northern Italy

July 11, 2016

My e-mail pen pal Bill Harvey sent me a link to an article in YES! magazine about the Emilia Romagna region in northern Italy, where two-thirds of its 4.5 million people participate in co-operative businesses.

emilia_romagnaThere are worker-owned cooperatives, consumer-owned co-operatives, and social service co-operatives, in which people band together to provide day care, care for senior citizens and other services that the Italian government can’t do satisfactorily.

Vera Zarnagni, professor of economic history at the University of Bologna, said co-operative enterprise is part of an economic tradition going back to the 1850s.  It’s an illustration of a contention by the American thinker Murray Bookchin, that there are other ways the world’s economy could have developed besides the way it did.

Even though a majority of the region’s people are co-op members, many of them also work for profit-seeking corporations.  Co-operative business activity accounts for about 30 percent of the economic output of the region.

Most of the co-ops in the region are small enterprises, linked together in a ecological network of relationships.  What I’ve read about Italy indicates that this is true of Italian business as well.  Italy has an unusually high proportion of small family-owned businesses, linked by personal relationships, and engaged in high-value work involving high standards of craftsmanship.

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Will Brexit be the scapegoat for UK’s problems?

July 11, 2016

I can’t judge all the consequences to Britain of the vote to exit the European Union, but there are a few things I am sure of.

  • The United Kingdom had many serious economic problems before Brexit—financialization, the hollowing out of manufacturing, the decline of the British pound, unnecessary government austerity.
  • Politicians and journalists will use Brexit as the scapegoat and explanation of these problems, and an excuse for not doing anything about them.
  • If the UK joins the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, the Trade In Services Agreement or other corporate-sponsored trade agreements, it will lose whatever national sovereignty it gained by exiting the European Union.

LINKS

Why They Left by Costos Lapavitsas for Jacobin magazine.

‘I want to stop something exploitative, divisive and dishonest’—conversation with a Leaver by Oliver Humpage for Medium.

Britain is not a rainy, fascist island — here’s my plan for ProgExit by Paul Mason for The Guardian.

Is it 1968 all over again?

July 9, 2016

I’m old enough to remember the late 1960s, when it seemed like almost every time I turned on the TV, there was a new report of rioting and burning by black people in an American city.

Almost every one was touched off by a real or imaginary report of police abuse of a black person.

The divisions in American society today are bad enough, but, believe me, they were nothing compared to the division back then.

Could we return to that era?  Eric Hoffer in The True Believer wrote that violent revolutions happen when downtrodden people are offered hope, and then that hope is taken away from them.  I think this feeling exists today among all kinds of people, not just racial minorities.

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For what it’s worth, the homicide rate is falling

July 9, 2016

homicide_51yr

For what it’s worth, the homicide rate in the United States has been falling for the past 25 years.  Specifically the number of killings of police officers has been falling, too.

Evidently there was an increase in the murder rate in certain American cities last year and early this year, but it’s too early to tell if this will reverse the long-range trend.

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The human body as the Ship of Theseus

July 9, 2016

Hat tip to kottke.org.

The Ship of Theseus was an ancient Greek paradox.  Over time, every plank and mast in the ship was replaced, yet it remained the same ship.  That is almost true of the human body.

Only one part of your body is as old as you are.  Watch the video to learn what it is.

10-year Treasury bond interest at a record low

July 8, 2016

I thought this chart was interesting.

Interest rates on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds fell to 1.34 percent on Tuesday, the lowest in 225 years.  They bounced back on Wednesday to only 1.37 percent.

Bond yields of other governments also are low, with the UK, Germany and Japan at record lows.  Ten-year rates in Japan, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland are negative—that is, you get back less than you paid for the bond!  France offers 0.13 of a percent on 10-year bonds, Britain 0.91 of a percent.

What this means is that investors are fearful of future, and prefer the safety of government bonds, even at low, non-existent or even negative interest rates, than the risk of investing in the stock market.  Not a good omen!

LINKS

Why the 10-Year Treasury Yield Is at Record Lows by Steve Schaefer for Forbes.

Another Fed Fiasco: U.S. Bonds Fall to Record Lows by Mike Whitney [added 7/14/2016]

Why Interest Rates Are Lower Than Ever, and Why That’s Scary by Paul J. Lim for Money magazine.

10-Year Treasury yield hits record low by Adam Shell for USA Today.

Strong demand for UK gilts at record low yield by Elaine Moore for Financial Times.

Murray Bookchin: two images of technology

July 8, 2016

This is part of a chapter-by-chapter review of THE ECOLOGY OF FREEDOM: The emergence and dissolution of hierarchy by Murray Bookchin (1982, 1991, 2005).

chapter nine – two images of technology.

In this chapter, Murray Bookchin examined the current disillusionment with the idea of technological progress.  This is something fairly new, he notes.  In the early 20th century, even radicals such as Woody Guthrie celebrated giant engineering feats such as Boulder Dam and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

There is a big difference, he wrote, between the ancient ideal of the good life and the modern ideal of the abundant life.

Ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle believed that the good life was an ethical and balanced life lived within limits and within community.  A skilled craftsman, according to Aristotle, had understood well not only how to do his work, but the reason and purpose for his work.

Modern industrial production is the opposite.  It defines efficiency in terms of quantity and cost.  Workers are not required to understand their work, only to follow instructions.  “Living well” is defined as consumption and material comfort apart from work.  Industrial workers, unlike laborers in preceding ages, do not sing work songs.

Bookchin said the modern industrial system is not a result of technology.  It is a result of peasants being uprooted from the land and their communities, and having no choice but to work for merchants and capitalists.  Originally this was done by piecework in the home, but “factors” insisted in assembling workers in common workplaces so that they could be better controlled.

Industrial technology developed to fit the already-existing factory system, Bookchin said.  Mindless labor is not a product of mechanization, he wrote; it is part of a process of subordination and control.

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The coming of the robots

July 8, 2016

This video from Boston Dynamics shows the capability of robots to do human labor—not that they would necessarily be in humanoid form as in the video.

In theory, the use of robots could enable human beings to live lives of voluntary, meaningful, higher-level activity.  In practice, the results probably would be more like Kurt Vonnegut’s dystopian novel, Player Piano, with an elite of engineers and a mass of unemployed or under-employed former workers.

If robots do everything, there will be no high-wage, full-employment economy.  There would be no mass consumer market.  Economic activity would be mainly devoted to serving the needs of the owners of the robots and the engineers and technicians who keep the robots running.

A guaranteed annual income would not be a solution.  Human beings degenerate if they have nothing useful to do.

Maybe a new economy would arise—a robot economy serving the elite and a parallel human economy serving the majority of humanity.

Or maybe—in some way I can’t foresee—robotic technology would come under democratic control, and there would be a public debate as to how robotics could be used to benefit everyone and not just a few.

LINKS

New Rossum’s Universal Robots: Toward a Most Minimal Wage by Fred Reed for Fred on Everything.  Lots of interesting links.

Toyota in talks to acquire Boston Dynamics from Google by Danielle Muoio for Tech Insider.

When the Robots Rise by Lee Drutman and Yascha  Mounk for The National Interest [added 7/11/2016]

The global elite strikes back

July 7, 2016

The common people in Europe, the USA and other countries are starting to revolt against international institutions—the European Union, the World Trade Organization, the International Monetary Fund—that represent the interests of an international financial elite.

free-tradeThe financial elite is striking back by promoting international trade agreements—the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement, the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA) and the lesser-known Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) involving Canada and the European Union.

All these agreements would enact pro-business policies into international law, and would create tribunals with the power to fine governments for unjustly depriving businesses of expected profits.

Nationalists oppose these agreements because they undermine national sovereignty.   Progressives and liberals oppose these agreements because they are un-democratic.  On this issue, progressives and nationalists are on the same side because, at these moment in history, national governments are the highest level in which democracy exists.

President Obama hopes to get the Republican majority in the lame duck Congress following the November election to enact the TTP Agreement.   The Conservative Party in Britain favors the TTIP, which would subject the UK to a new pr0-business international authority.   CETA would accomplish the same goal for the remaining EU members.

If any of these agreements passes, they can be used to block legislation to protect workers, consumers or public health, or to bring banks and financial institutions under control.

Followers of Bernie Sanders in the USA and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK, and progressives in other subject countries, would be stymied until they could figure out a way to roll back the agreements.

None of these agreements is needed in order to have international trade.   Rather their goal is to remove controls on the operations of international corporations.

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Another reason I’m glad I’m not a Millennial

July 5, 2016

median-rent-and-income

Sharp increases in rents along with stagnant incomes over the past five years have helped create a dire situation for many of the country’s renters.  A new report shows how those trends have actually been playing out for more than five decades.

Inflation-adjusted rents have risen by 64% since 1960, but real household incomes only increased by 18% during that same time period, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data released by Apartment List, a rental listing website.

Renters fared the worst during the decade between 2000 and 2010, when inflation-adjusted household incomes fell by 9%, while rents rose by 18%, according to Apartment List.  That is likely because there were two recessions during that time and a housing bust in 2008 that drove millions of homeowners into renting.

The takeaway: The United States has grown much less affordable for renters for half a century and, barring a major change, is likely to continue doing so.

Source: Wall Street Journal.

These figures are national averages.   I shudder to think what it would be like to try to rent in places like San Francisco.

The radicalism of the Declaration

July 4, 2016

Signing of the Declaration of Independence

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

–That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness

==In Congress: the unanimous Declaration of the 13 united States of America, July 4, 1776

These words are among the most radical statements ever written.   It denies that government is established by divine right or ancient custom, and that subjects have no choice but to obey.   It affirms that people have the right to form a government by free decision, and proceeds to do just that.

It is a philosophy that is hard for many people to accept—including, as I have found through experience, many supposedly well-educated 21st century Americans.

Our Declaration.inddI have believed in the basic ideas of the Declaration’s since I was old enough to understand them.  My interpretation of American history is that it consists of (1) a series of events leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence and the ratification of the Constitution and (2) a playing out of the consequences of those two actions.

Recently I read a book, OUR DECLARATION: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality by Danielle Allen which both reinforced and clarified my understanding of the Declaration.

What, Allen asked, does it mean to say “all men are created equal”?  Obviously people are not the same in virtue, or ability, or wealth and social standing.

As she pointed out, we are all equal in the desire to live, in the desire to live free of subjugation to someone else’s will and in the desire (this is more controversial) to define for ourselves what we need to make us happy.  If I demand these rights for myself, I have no standing to deny these rights to you.

The Declaration gives two possible sources of these rights – “the Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God.”  The first reflects the ideas of the 18th century Enlightenment; the second of radical Protestant Christianity.

All Christians believe that human beings are made in the image of God, and are in some sense descended from Adam and Eve and then from Noah.  Protestants believe that human beings can have a direct relationship to God without the need for a priesthood to serve as intermediary.  Radical Protestants such as the Congregationalists, Baptists and Quakers practiced democracy in their congregations, and in town meetings.

The rationalist thinkers of the Enlightenment thought in the same manner, except without the Biblical scaffolding.  They held that all human beings, regardless of their other differences, had a moral sense.   They thought people should think of government as a social contract—a mutual agreement based on mutual benefit.

The social contract was only a theory for John Locke and other 18th century philosophers.  But social contracts were made by the American colonists—first in the Mayflower Compact of the Pilgrims as they voyaged to Plymouth Rock, then of various frontier communities, and finally the Constitution of the United States.

The most radical of the Declaration’s affirmations is the right of revolution.  The United States of America is founded not on a principle of authority or national unity, but on principles of freedom and equality to which the government itself must submit or risk dissolution.

Read the rest of this entry »


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