Tag Archives: economics

Too Schematic, Nevertheless, Livingry

RBF-Livingry

You don’t think Buckminster Fuller’s idea that the problem is just one of mismanagement and lack of distribution and lack of intelligent use of the available energy makes sense?

GB:I don’t really believe that, no. Because I don’t think the problem is primarily an energy problem. I think it is much more a minor constituents problem. All the other things you need in your food besides calories, practically every element in the table: vitamins, phosphorus, mineral components, so on. These are much more awkward than energy.
And that has to do with complexity.
GB:Has very much to do with complexity, has to do with things being in a scattered state in the world. What we do is to comb the surface and concentrate them. Then having concentrated them, we put them in places where we will never be able to get them back again.
In that light, can you relate Buckminster Fuller to the notion of purpose?
GB:I can relate Buckminster Fuller very easily to the notion of purpose. Have you ever worked on geodesic domes?
Yes, they leak.
GB:They leak, that’s right. Why do they leak? Because they are much too purposive. Because they’ve got no tolerance. The only purpose of a dome is to be a dome.
The people who build them think their purpose is good residence.
GB:I know all that, but Bucky doesn’t have any idea what living in something is like.
After all, he lives in airplanes, he says.
GB:That’s probably right. But those bloody domes are a very good paradigm for the whole of engineering adaptation.
You might be interested to know that one of the fellows who developed the dome idea at first and who published a number of books, gave it up completely, and went through a long drawn-out ethnological survey of living quarters all over the world, and has decided that the whole approach was much too schematic.
GB:Much too schematic. Straw is much better material to make houses with. Straw and mud make quite good houses.

(A Conversation with Gregory Bateson. Loka: A Journal of Naropa Institute (1975) Garden City, NY: Anchor Press/Doubleday)

The Sun

bonus: Evonomics: The Next Evolution of Economics

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Anti-Hayek

No man is an Iland, intire of itselfe; every man is a peece of the continent, a part of the maine; if a Clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the lesse, as well as if a Promontorie were, as well as if a Mannor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Devotions upon Emergent Occasions John Donne (1624), No. XVII

h/t Jerry Swatez

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Dim Propositions

Wealth-Gap

My jaw figuratively drops at the varieties of ‘Maker & Moocher’ arguments. Unemployment bumps up by 50% and suddenly there are 50% more takers too lazy to find a job. Ridiculous.

Moocher-Taker

In the mid-terms we will hear the 47% argument (of Mittens,) refined into a battle cry about the class war between the Takers and the Patriots. This preposterous argument goes like this: if the government distributes enough goodies then the new army of takers will overwhelm the main street patriots and forge a tyranny of the majority. In turn, this will lead to the destruction of free market capitalism and freedom and personal responsibility.

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Object Lesson in Public Lunacy

One of the interesting features of our contemporary media culture is that groups of (what may be called) very serious people are convened to publicize their willful and shameless individual effort to pretend absolutely no one in the audience can figure out when something amazingly ignorant; or misinformed; archly absurd; or divorced from reality, wanders from his or her brain to all the way out of their mouths.

Paul Krugman is clearly the academic and social scientist and person with a good connection to reality in this unintentionally ridiculous and horrifying confab from Sunday. Here is his post today:

We’re Doomed

Update: So you see what I mean. We have a terrible failure of demand — and Carly Fiorina thinks the key problem is excessive taxes on corporations (our effective rate is actually fairly low). Hey, if only we had low rates like Ireland, we could have 14.7 percent unemployment … oh well, never mind.

As it often happens, practiced ideologues re-version the ‘little boy with the hammer’ by suggesting their favorite clever trick would have just the right positive effect. Such august people do this with a straight face. I am not smarter than Carly Fiorina, yet, I would be smarter than she was on Sunday in my refusal to spout my most ludicrous hunches on a coast-to-coast television show.

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

Something anyone may do if they choose to do so, would be to investigate a subject matter of our current events. If you possess a modest set of researcher’s chops, it is possible to investigate a subject without either encumbering or over-determining findings by dumbly using an ideological lens, or, otherwise employing the means for doing solely ideologically-flavored investigation.

I did this when I realized it was necessary to do so if I wanted to understand how the real estate and derivatives crisis came about. My investigation required me to sort through numerous ideologically inflected accounts and to offset these eventually with actual academic research; the kind that eventually followed on the heals of the crisis. My understanding ended up being both superficial and weakened by my lack of mastery of technical subjects, yet, it also ends being more secured to the facts of the events than 99% of the pseudo-analysis the public was subject to at the surface of the media’s informational onslaught.

To do this act of investigation is to intelligently inform yourself about a subject matter. The payoff is you might find that you end knowing more about this subject of research than all but the actual experts and the small number of people who have taken the same trouble.

One could do the same were one to want to know more about why we’re subjected to so much public, pseudo-intellectual blather and idiocy, and, let’s face it, also subjected to very very smart and upper echelon elite successful people saying incredibly stupid things.

One of the research vectors could be: why does this happen when, in the equivalent of the emperor having no clothes, there would be any number of persons in the audience who see right through the ‘presentations.’

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Rich Risks

Occupy the Entitled Rich

In 1997, the last year for which there was solid research done on the subject, 42 percent of the Forbes 400 richest Americans made the list through probate.

Entitled

This lies at the heart of our plutonomy thesis: that the rich are the dominant source of income, wealth and demand in plutonomy countries such as the UK, US, Canada and Australia, countries that have an economically liberal approach to wealth creation. We believe that the actions of the rich and the proportion of rich people in an economy helps explain many of the nasty conundrums and fears that have vexed our equity clients recently, such as global imbalances or why high oil prices haven’t destroyed consumer demand. Plutonomy, we think explains these problems away, and tells us not to worry about them. If we shouldn’t worry, the risk premia on equity markets may be too high.

Secondly, we believe that the rich are going to keep getting richer in coming years, as capitalists (the rich) get an even bigger share of GDP as a result, principally, of globalization. We expect the global pool of labor in developing economies to keep wage inflation in check, and profit margins rising – good for the wealth of capitalists, relatively bad for developed market unskilled/outsource-able labor. This bodes well for companies selling to or servicing the rich. We expect our Plutonomy basket of stocks – which has performed well relative to the S&P 500 index over the last 20 years – to continue performing well in future. From this basket, we would highlight in particular, at the moment, LVMH and Richemont.

RISKS – WHAT COULD GO WRONG
Our whole plutonomy thesis is based on the idea that the rich will keep getting richer. This thesis is not without its risks. For example, a policy error leading to asset deflation, would likely damage plutonomy. Furthermore, the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash. Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfranchisement remains as was – one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation (on the rich or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous laborers, in a push-back on globalization – either anti-immigration, or protectionism. We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments. (Equity Strategy Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer; Citigroup, Kapur et al, 2006)

libertarian_freedom


(mouse over for controls) Taryn Hart, The Plutocracy Files interview William K. Black.

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The Individual Problem

Carl Gustav JungFriedrich Hayek
Carl Gustav Jung and Friedrich Hayek.

I had occasion to contribute to the Jung-Circle discussion group the following cut from The Symbolic Life, and, with it, this comment: “It would be a worthwhile study to investigate the definite, and considerable, overlap between Jung’s suppositions and those of the Austrian school of economics, (Hayek and Von Mises.)”

Together with these illusions goes another helpful procedure, the hollowing out of money, which in the near future will make all savings illusory and, along with cultural continuity, guaranteed by individual responsibility. The State takes over responsibility and enslaves every individual for its own ridicu­lous schemes. All this is done by what one calls inflation, devalua­tion, and, most recently, “dilution,” which you should not mix up with the unpopular term “inflation.” Dilution is now the right word and only idiots can’t see the striking difference between this concept and inflation. Money value is fast becoming a fiction guaranteed by the State. Money becomes paper and everybody convinces every­body else that the little scraps are worth something because the State says so. (C.G. Jung; Psychology and National Problems (1936) The Symbolic Life

My comment was unrefined. Actually, given the essential psychologizing move at the first order of Austrian Economics, and, the explicit radically empirical posit of classical Analytic Psychology, their conceptualization of human behavior depart from each other right at their beginning. They are similar in their anti-scientism, in their view of the inherent limits to quantification, and, in their broad thrust favoring individuality in response to their dissimilar foundational conception of the dichotomy, individual/collective.

Allegiance to Praxeology, (the deduced axioms of human action in Austrian Economics,) is behaviorally subject to archetypal analysis. The psychology of the person who is in the grips of their belief in this particular axiom-driven system is interesting. Jung would likely have found attachment to the praxeological system, for which, as Hayek asserted, empiricism and facts are of no import to be particularly laden with unconscious features.

Ironically, and pun intended, the Praxeology could be said to be about inflation.

Criticism of the basic, and partly shared, dichotomy at the center of each system, were of no interest to Hayek, von Mises, or Dr. Jung. Although, to the latter’s credit, the evolutionary, intrapsychic, core structural supposition, the collective unconscious, is a ‘social’ conception. The two frameworks are opposite one anther at this level of genetic supposition.

(coda) C.G. Jung:


Can there be an optimism of austerity?

Instead of “optimism,” I would have said an “optimum” of austerity. But if “optimism” is really meant, very much more would be required, for “austerity” is anything but enjoyable. It means real suffering, especially if it assumes acute form. You can be “opti­mistic” in the face of martyrdom only if you are sure of the bliss to come. But a certain minimal degree of austerity I regard as benefi­cial. At any rate, it is healthier than affluence, which only a very few people can enjoy without ill effects, whether physical or psychic. Of course one does not wish anything unpleasant for anybody, least of all oneself, but, in comparison with other countries, Switzerland has so much affluence to spare (however honourably earned) that we are in an excellent position to give some of it away. There is an “optimum” of austerity which it is dangerous to exceed, for stands a devll, and behind every poor man two.

Since “optimism” seems to have been meant, and hence an optimistic attitude towards something unpleasant, I would add that in my view it would be equally instructive to speak of a “pessimism” of austerity. Human temperaments being extremely varied, indeed contradictory, we should never forget that what is good for one man is harmful for another. One man, because of his inner weak­ness, needs encouragement; another, because of his inner assurance, needs the restraint of austerity. Austerity enforces simplicity, which is true happiness. But to live simply, without regret and bitterness, is a moral task which many people will find very hard. (Return to the Simple Life; 1941; The Symbolic Life)

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The Rich Return

Obamas-Original-Sin

What haunts the Obama administration is what still haunts the country: the stunning lack of accountability for the greed and misdeeds that brought America to its gravest financial crisis since the Great Depression. There has been no legal, moral, or financial reckoning for the most powerful wrongdoers. Nor have there been meaningful reforms that might prevent a repeat catastrophe. Time may heal most wounds, but not these. Chronic unemployment remains a constant, painful reminder of the havoc inflicted on the bust’s innocent victims. As the ghost of Hamlet’s father might have it, America will be stalked by its foul and unresolved crimes until they “are burnt and purged away.”

After the 1929 crash, and thanks in part to the legendary Ferdinand Pecora’s fierce thirties Senate hearings, America gained a Securities and Exchange Commission, the Public Utility Holding Company Act, and the Glass-Steagall Act to forestall a rerun. After the savings-and-loan debacle of the eighties, some 800 miscreants went to jail. But those who ran the central financial institutions of our fiasco escaped culpability (as did most of the institutions). As the indefatigable Matt Taibbi has tabulated, law enforcement on Obama’s watch rounded up 393,000 illegal immigrants last year and zero bankers. The Justice Department’s bally­hooed Operation Broken Trust has broken still more trust by chasing mainly low-echelon, one-off Madoff wannabes. You almost have to feel sorry for the era’s designated Goldman scapegoat, 32-year-old flunky “Fabulous Fab” Fabrice Tourre, who may yet take the fall for everyone else. It’s as if the Watergate investigation were halted after the cops nabbed the nudniks who did the break-in.

Obama’s Original Sin by Frank Rich – New York magazine, July 3, 2011

The Republican thrust to shrink the public sector rapidly enough to sink the recovery, to get to the drowning part as-it-were, offers the political payoff that President Obama can easily be pinned with the result of Republican policy through an act of deflection, something like, ‘too little, too late were the budget cuts.’ I think there’s a good chance this will be a successful strategy simply because Obama has not shown any awareness of what the only principle at stake is about. This principle is about Republicans wishing to destroy the Obama moment. This has been the one true principle since the 2008 election.

I don’t buy the GOP/Tea Party combination of Christian and patriotic piety with personal responsibility (writ to the level of the government living within its means,) at all. It’s hokem. I’m sure, once back in power, the GOP won’t move quickly to implement the Randian utopia. After all, trickle down economics hasn’t ever been thoroughly tried for obvious economic reasons.

But, President Obama has been so much more interested in rubbing the left tilting plutocrats the right way that he’s made no time to do the one thing that might turn the tables: get extremely exercised in public at those who have been hoping for his political demise for almost three years.

Rich again:

Obama had taken office at a true populist moment that demanded more than this. People were gagging over their looted 401(k)s and underwater homes, the AIG bonuses, and the bailouts. Howard Dean rage has never been Obama’s style—hope-and-change was an elegant oratorical substitute—and had he given full voice to the public mood, he would have been pilloried as an “angry black man.” But Obama didn’t have to play Huey Long. He could have pursued a sober but determined execution of justice and an explicit, major jobs initiative—of which there have been exactly none, the too-small stimulus included, to the present day.

I’ve given up hoping for Obama to unleash his inner FDR. Alas, Obama has turned out to be a beautiful coward in an environment where those who fiercely oppose him offer a cruel, un-doable fantasy. Still, Obama is already doing a slow-motion roll-over prior to the July roll out of a bi-partisan thrashing of the working class, working poor, and poor.

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A Few More Dots

Manly Politics

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Moral Hazard and the Laughing Gangsters

Goldman & God

Making sense of the financial meltdown. There is positive explanatory viewpoint and various idealized viewpoints. About this latter froth of blame-casting, I term such viewpoints normative-mythic.  The first viewpoint would be concerned with the actual mechanics of the meltdown. Opposite this first field of study is the prolific body of various normative “explanations.” So, for example, in this latter realm, one could learn that Fannie and Freddie played the major role, or, that lower class first-time home owners played the major role, or, that deregulation was the crucial factor, etc. Explanations that elevate single or a handful of factors to a consequential majority in the catalog of explanatory factors invariably make ideological turns. I have not encountered an explanation of this type able to remain connected only to the actual, positive facts, events, and obvious forensic estimations.

Back in the late summer of 2008 I figured TARP was necessary to avoid a wreck of every single train rather than many that were wrecked. However, back then, I didn’t have any grasp of the actual mechanics. I did comprehend the ethical consequences would be to bail out the financial gangsters in the unfortunately time-honored procedure of socialization of loss and privatization of gain. (Stating this, I invoke my own normative-mythic sensemaking.)

Scroll ahead almost three years, and the idealized “talk” on offer from ideological perspectives remains unhooked from the actual events, especially as these are now much better understood. So, for example, it is now an aspect of ideological orthodoxy to admit that what should of happened is that all the trains should have been wrecked on purpose, for the sake of moral clarity, and, a salutary system-wide creative destruction. Similarly, and in the same breath, it is conservative orthodoxy nowadays that the financial industry should be de-regulated, that the giant banks should always be allowed to fail, and, that business and capital gains taxes need to be eliminated.

As for the cheap retrospective moralist cant about creative destruction, such  cannot really be a testament to morality or purifying destruction, at least for the reason that had this alternate track been fulfilled, right wing “creative destroyers” would not have proudly have marched into the mid-terms testifying–amidst an economic depression– shouting “this is all great and maybe we should have more of it!” At the same time, millions upon millions of people were victimized by the implosion through no fault of their own, and so it would be basically not possible for a certain kind of ideologue  to run on the platform attesting to how good such destructive medicine really is ‘for you all.’

Socialize losses. No domos of finance stepped off of window ledges either.
Golman Sachs Tea Party

The current Randian Ryanian thrust is in the context of the surging, draining aftermath. It is at least obvious to me that is not credible to want it both ways: to advocate that the creative destruction should have been implemented, and, that the financial domos should nowadays escape accountability, regulation, and personal responsibility. Incredibly, this is exactly what is being promoted.

Megan McArdle possesses a BA in English literature and an MBA from Chicago Booth at University of Chicago. But how is it she has a cushy job as economic editor at the Atlantic when she says: “A short position is inherent in any sale of an asset?” Implied by this is that an investment offer, where the investor says “Buy this,” is implicitly, every time, attached to the qualification, “It’s going in the toilet in some way.”

Last week we learned that Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi (above, on left) had, in recent years, invested billions of dollars in oil revenues in several Western institutions, including Goldman Sachs. Today we’re finding out exactly what Goldman bankers did with all that money. They lost it.

In early 2008, according to interviews and an internal document review conducted by The Wall Street Journal, Libya’s sovereign wealth fund invested $1.3 billion in stock and currency options with Goldman, only to watch as the investments shrunk to a measly $25.1 million–that’s two percent of the initial value, for those keeping score–as the credit crisis hit. A Libyan official was so furious with the bank during one meeting in Tripoli that Goldman officials hired a security guard to protect them before they left Libya, consulted Goldman chief Lloyd Blankfein (above, on right) about how to mend the relationship, and offered Libya the opportunity to become one of Goldman’s biggest shareholders by investing $3.7 billion in preferred shares or corporate debt. The negotiations eventually collapsed, the Journal adds, but the episode is emblematic of a period of several years when Goldman and other Western banks rushed to do business with Libya after the U.S. decided to lift its sanctions against the country in 2004. That period, of course, is now history. How Goldman Sachs Made Libya’s $1 Billion Investment Disappear

Lloyd Blankfein

Blankfein strikes me as a poster boy for the post-meritocracy. He surely guffaws all the way to the bank even if he had a hand in destroying billions of dollars of wealth while his firm borrowed almost $800 billion in tax payer money for the sake of avoiding the view of the abyss. Yes, he really did say he was doing “God’s work.”

 

Okay, Dan, you didn’t tell your customers it was shitty.

April 2010. From Dan’s opening statement:

Knowing whether we were long or short was often difficult, as our positions were complex and the market moved erratically. There were times when our analytical risk measures told us one thing, and my experience and knowledge of our positions told me something else. Some days, we took actions to reduce risk only to see the firm’s Value at Risk or “VaR” increase. During this time, there were differing views within the Mortgage Department, and around the firm, as to the direction of the residential mortgage markets. But the one constant theme from senior management was to reduce risk.

Well, what are sucker customers for?

Blankfein echoes McArdle in his April 2010 testimony. “By definition when we sell something we take the opposite position.”

To recap: Goldman, to get $1.2 billion in crap off its books, dumps a huge lot of deadly mortgages on its clients, lies about where that crap came from and claims it believes in the product even as it’s betting $2 billion against it. When its victims try to run out of the burning house, Goldman stands in the doorway, blasts them all with gasoline before they can escape, and then has the balls to send a bill overcharging its victims for the pleasure of getting fried. (The People vs. Goldman Sachs. Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, May 11, 2011)

You didn’t realize an investment bank holds onto its profitable paper and pawns off it losers on its “customers?”

Before the hearing, even some of Levin’s allies worried privately about his taking on Goldman and other powerful interests. The job, they said, was best left to professional prosecutors, people with experience building cases. “A senator’s office is not an enormous repository of expertise,” one former regulator told me. But in the case of this particular senator, that concern turned out to be misplaced. A Harvard-educated lawyer, Levin has a long record of using his subcommittee to spend a year or more carefully building cases that lead to criminal prosecutions. His 2003 investigation into abusive tax shelters led to 19 indictments of individuals at KPMG, while a 2006 probe fueled insider-trading charges against the notorious Wyly brothers, a pair of billionaire Texans who manipulated offshore investment trusts. The investigation of Goldman was an attempt to find out what went wrong in the years leading up to the financial crash, and the questioning of the bank’s executives was not one of those for-the-cameras-only events where congressmen wing ad-libbed questions in search of sound bites. In the weeks leading up to the hearing, Levin’s team carefully rehearsed the moment with committee members. They knew the possible answers that Goldman might give, and they were ready with specific counterquestions. What ensued looked more like a good old-fashioned courtroom grilling than a photo-op for grinning congressmen.

Sparks, who stepped down as Goldman’s mortgage chief in 2008, cut a striking figure in his testimony. With his severe crew cut, deep-set eyes and jockish intransigence, he looked like a cross between H.R. Haldeman and John Rocker. He repeatedly dodged questions from Levin about whether or not the bank had a responsibility to tell its clients that it was betting against the same stuff it was selling them. When asked directly if he had that responsibility, Sparks answered, “The clients who did not want to participate in that deal did not.” When Levin pressed him again, asking if he had a duty to disclose that Goldman had an “adverse interest” to the deals being sold to clients, Sparks fidgeted and pretended not to comprehend the question. “Mr. Chairman,” he said, “I’m just trying to understand.”

OK, fine — non-answer answers. “My guess is they were all pretty well coached up,” says Kaufman, the law professor. But then Sparks had a revealing exchange with Sen. Jon Tester of Montana. Tester calls the Goldman deals “a wreck waiting to happen,” noting that the CDOs “were all downgraded to junk in very short order.”

At which point, Sparks replies, “Well, senator, at the time we did those deals, we expected those deals to perform.”

Tester then cannily asks if by “perform,” Sparks means go to shit — which would have been an honest answer. “Perform in what way?” Tester asks. “Perform to go to junk so that the shorts made out?”

Unable to resist the taunt, Sparks makes a fateful decision to defend his honor. “To not be downgraded to junk in that short a time frame,” he says. Then he pauses and decides to dispense with the hedging phrase “in that short a time frame.”

“In fact,” Sparks says, “to not be downgraded to junk.”

So Sparks goes before Congress and, under oath, tells a U.S. senator that at the time he was selling Timberwolf, he expected it to “perform.” But an internal document he approved in May 2007 predicted exactly the opposite, warning that Goldman’s mortgage desk expected such deals to “underperform.” Here are some other terms that Sparks used in e-mails about the subprime market affecting deals like Timberwolf around that same time: “bad and getting worse,” “get out of everything,” “game over,” “bad news everywhere” and “the business is totally dead.” (The People vs. Goldman Sachs. Matt Taibbi, Rolling Stone, May 11, 2011)

Why isn’t Blankfein in the pokey?

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Fairy Dust

Cash Reserve

The story the “cut-now-and-grow” lobby wants to tell depends not on arithmetic, but on what Krugman calls the confidence fairy (she’s good) and the crowding-out troll (he’s bad). In a tight budget environment like today’s, politicians love the fairy because she provides free stimulus. And since she’s a fantasy, you can attribute anything you want to her: “confidence in the markets depends on [your favorite budget cut here]!!”

Then there’s the notion that high public spending levels are crowding out private borrowing. Again, not a plausible story with excess capacity, the Fed funds rate at zero, and companies sitting on cash that they could invest with if they saw good reasons to do so.

Steve Benen

Similar to this are the promotions advocating that the stimulus failed, when, quite very possibly, the stimulus was too small. Sometime soon a hedge fund manager or Wall Street domo will point out in public that the recovery can be wrecked by contracting the public sector.

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Socks on the Psyche

I went to the other day to the local bog box shoe store to see if they had a good price on socks. (This was after I dropped my worn out inventory off at the EPA.) As it turned out the sale the store had was fantastic, ‘buy one package and get the second one at half price. But, I had a choice to make, the Nike, for which twelve pairs in two packages would cost $25, or, the store brand, for which twelve pairs in two packages would cost $19.

I observed my brain. Nike is a well known brand. Their socks are made in Mexico. The store brand is made in China. Both have about the same so-to-speak chemistry, with the Nike’s cotton percentage at 80% and the store brand at 82%. But, I really don’t know if there is a hidden difference. I’ll ask the gal.

She tells me,

“Well, if you want to pay for Nike advertising, I suppose that’s why that package is more expensive.”

I chuckled to myself and bought the store brand. I suppose my decision corresponded to a tacit win/win, and the gal led me to the most profitable sale for us both. There’s a lot of psychology implicit in this interaction. No doubt another shopper would insist on the greater credibility of Nike; I presume as much.

Last week I read a news piece about the recent trend where food companies re-size quantities down and keep the price the same. Shortly after reading this I went to the grocery store and noticed as much.

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What’s the Matter With Wisconsin

Anti-Union-1
Amti-Union-2

Anti-Union-3

I feel better now.

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Fossils of Fuel

Ghosts in the Hollow from Jim Lo Scalzo on Vimeo.

Now my friends, I am opposed to the system of society in which we live today, not because I lack the natural equipment to do for myself but because I am not satisfied to make myself comfortable knowing that there are thousands of my fellow men who suffer for the barest necessities of life. We were taught under the old ethic that man’s business on this earth was to look out for himself. That was the ethic of the jungle; the ethic of the wild beast. Take care of yourself, no matter what may become of your fellow man. Thousands of years ago the question was asked; “Am I my brother’s keeper?” That question has never yet been answered in a way that is satisfactory to civilized society.

Yes, I am my brother’s keeper. I am under a moral obligation to him that is inspired, not by any maudlin sentimentality but by the higher duty I owe myself. What would you think me if I were capable of seating myself at a table and gorging myself with food and saw about me the children of my fellow beings starving to death.

Eugene V. Debs | src

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When Patriots Knew What They Were Talking About


I believe in the equality of man; and I believe that religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.
(Thomas Paine. The Age of Reason 1794)

restored scene from the musical 1776.

via Crooks and Liars, hat tip to Susie Madrak: ‘1776’ Revisited: The Conservatives Are Still ‘Cool, Cool Considerate Men’

This clip is aces, but you’ll have to click over to the original posting for the background.

On the cusp of July 4th, I’m reminded of how much entertainment value is available through observing what’s going on on the right side of the battle lines drawn by the Tea Party patriot movement. The way I look at it, or, rather, one way I look at it, is there is an array of half baked sentiments purporting to represent a true vision of what America is, and this vision is claimed against all others and all other comers, by an overwhelmingly white, baby boomer movement. In turn this movement has its long-ago roots in the silent majority given by Nixon’s Vice President Spiro Agnew during the campaign of 1972. Note, however, that the silent majority then was comprised of the parents of the silent majority of today.

All those ‘others’ are characterized in ways which are veritably time honored by Conservatives of all stripes: socialists, progressives, minorities, the professoriat, liberals, secularists, educated elitists, those with empathy, humanists, evolutionists, relativists, Marxists, cosmopolitans, utilitarians, collectivists, Ivy Leaguers. As a lumpen classification, all of the above are those who don’t get what America is about–so it is claimed.

It would be fair enough for the Tea Partyistas to stop there, because it’s the appropriation of historical facts, and their subsequent revision and mangling, that casts the entire movement over the edge. For laughs I sometimes listen to Glenn Beck during my fifteen minute commute. He can’t astonish me with his claim of well-read expertise when he seems to think Thomas Paine was the revolutionary era’s version of Newt Gingrich. On the other hand, that someone so blatently ignorant is a multi-millionaire and has the ears of millions does support the notion America is a great country for the entrepreneurial gas bagger, and self-avowed Libertarian friend of liberty.

It’s also delicious and ironic to watch the Club For Growth types and corporate ‘country club’ Republicans grapple with how to co-opt, for example, tenth Amendment tea baggers.
Say what you will about the ideological aesthetics of privatizing profits and socializing risks, those goals can’t be served by watering the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots; reverting to states’ rights; or elimination Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid. If you remember, back during the wave of Tea Party protests, there were signs reading, “Government Hands Off My Medicare!” Well, this is concerning of course! People other than my own getting benefits!

Still, a central tenet of Tea Partyism is that the socialization of persons’ risks, risks other than your own–see itemization above–is downright evil. As Nevada candidate Sharon Angle says, in an echo of Reagan era rhetoric Cadillac-driving welfare queens, ‘unemployment is a disincentive to work.’ President Obama, while campaigning, was pithy, “Yeah, the ownership society means you’re on your own.” There is an individualist, utopian, construct at work here in the idea that everybody is better off working on their own to realize their individual aspirations. But, this is a radically anti-conservative construct. Given a coherent, traditionalist cast, Conservatism is dead set against self-creation on individualized, ‘Libertarian’ terms. Duh!

This is why it is fascinating to observe the proponents of collectivist corporatism and corporate welfarism, (upon which the socialization of risk depends,) jockeying to reel in the inchoate and angry, sentimental, utopian collectives of the Tea Party movement. I believe it’s safe to say neither group would enjoy pursuing happiness in whatever utopia could be fashioned between their contradictory ideologies. Still…

Because the Tea Partyista, evidently, is unable to make sense of the differences rendered between Paine, Hamilton, Jefferson, Adams, Madison, et al, I’d recommend each take a gander at:

Equity Strategy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances. Citigroup Research; Kapur, MacLeod, Singh; October 5, 2005 DL). This document was brought to my attention by Michael Moore in his film, Capitalism: A Love Story. Written by analysts working for Citigroup, it specifies context and advice for sustaining holdings and wealth creation if one is a plutonomist; is super-rich citizen in a plutonomy–an economy configured for, and dominated by, the super-rich.
.

What’s it about? It’s about how the super wealthy can protect themselves and their assets from the rabble of all the have-nots; have-nots defined here as everybody but themselves. It identifies an obstacle:

Could the plutonomies die because the dream is dead, because enough of society does not believe they can participate? The answer is of course yes. But we suspect this is a threat more clearly felt during recessions, and periods of falling wealth, than when average citizens feel that they are better off. There are signs around the world that society is unhappy with plutonomy – judging by how tight electoral races are. But as yet, there seems little political fight being born out on this battleground.

A related threat comes from the backlash to “Robber-baron” economies. The population at large might still endorse the concept of plutonomy but feel they have lost out to unfair rules. In a sense, this backlash has been epitomized by the media coverage and actual prosecution of high-profile ex-CEOs who presided over financial misappropriation. This “backlash” seems to be something that comes with bull markets and their subsequent collapse. To this end, the cleaning up of business practice, by high profile champions of fair play, might actually prolong plutonomy.

Our overall conclusion is that a backlash against plutonomy is probable at some point. However, that point is not now. So long as economies continue to grow, and enough of the electorates feel that they are benefiting and getting rich in absolute terms, even if they are less well off in relative terms, there is little threat to Plutonomy in the U.S., UK, etc.

But the balance of power between right (generally pro-plutonomy) and left (generally pro-equality) is on a knife-edge in many countries. Just witness how close the U.S. election was last year, [2004] or how close the results of the German election were. A collapse in wealth in the plutonomies, felt by the masses, and/or prolonged recession could easily raise the prospects of anti-plutonomy policy.



Wealth, Income, and Power
by G. William Domhoff

These two lines go bumpety-bump, back and forth, over many decades. I’m not sure what the Tea Party’s economic wishes for themselves are, but I reckon they’re not concerned with those chomping to become their bedfellows so as to depress the bottom line a bit more.

This speaks for itself. I’d like to add it a curve reflecting increase and decrease of the number of Union members. I continue to be amazed when I hear ditto heads decry Unions as socialist–this in the context of cartelism, corporate welfare and subsidies, and, corporate and financial collectives. The problem as I see it isn’t super wealthy people, it’s what happens when super wealth is to be preserved, but at the cost of 80% of the household’s economic hopes become mostly flattened, and some percent becoming doomed.

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Just Sayin’

In 2001, a PowerBook G4 would have set you back $3500. Suppose instead that you had purchased $3500 in Apple stock instead of the computer…that stock would now be worth about $110,000. Even an original iPod’s worth in AAPL ($399) would be worth almost $12,000 today.

[source] Hat tip to Jason, the force behind the invaluable Kottke.org.

I don’t have the nerve to investigate what, say, $500 of Apple stock would have grown into had I purchased it the year I started using Macs, 1985.

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Seeing Red

 

x
WND FREEDOM INDEX POLL

1 in 4 Americans censoring thoughts under Obama

Confidence in constitutional liberties plunges further still
Posted: March 27, 2010
11:50 pm Eastern
By Bob Unruh
© 2010 WorldNetDaily 
Editor’s note: This is another in a series of monthly “Freedom Index” polls conducted exclusively for WND by the public opinion research and media consulting company Wenzel Strategies. 
Nearly one American in four routinely censors his or her own thoughts “much” or “always” under President Obama’s administration, and those who believe their personal liberties have plunged since inauguration day have grown significantly from 49 percent to more than 55 percent in just one month. 

This month, of course, was when Democrats rammed through a bill that essentially nationalizes health care, creating new requirements for consumers to purchase a government-chosen plan or face penalties. 
 
The WND Freedom Index poll from Wenzel Strategies shows even one in 10 Democrats – whose party controls both the White House and Congress – believes there’s been a big decrease in freedoms. 

“Largely on the negative reaction by men to the actions of Obama and Democrats in Washington, the Freedom Index has dipped again to its near all-time low, sitting at 46.7 on a 100-point scale,” said Fritz Wenzel in his analysis of the results. 
 
“Simply put, Americans are growing by the month more pessimistic about their freedoms and their fear that government is trying to take them away.” 
 
He continued, “In the 10 months since the inauguration of the WorldNetDaily.com Freedom Index, it has dropped nearly 11 points on the 100-point scale, and has dropped from a decidedly positive position last spring to a decidedly negative position today.” 

The WND/Wenzel Poll was conducted by telephone from March 22-24 using an automated telephone technology calling a random sampling of listed telephone numbers nationwide. The survey included 30 questions and carries a 95 percent confidence interval. It included 792 likely voters. It carries a margin of error of 3.46 percentage points.

Man, talk about priming a poll result!

This raises lots of questions aside from those about polling methodology.

Do you suppose some people would report feeling really free and thoroughly liberated irrespective of anything the U.S. government has done, say in the last 37 years since such a person first voted at 18?

How would one account for this, account for a person impervious to the tug of that which denies one their freedoms?

How would the internalized sense of one’s being free to some degree be indexed? I’m reminded there was no cogent psychology Locke could utilize. (Romantic!) notions about property and happiness, be they of Hayek or Nozick, cross over into what reasonable domain of psychology? You couldn’t go there with those fellows if you wanted to!

For example, Libertarian thought leader David Boaz:

Libertarians believe that there is a natural harmony of interests among peaceful, productive people in a just society. One person’s individual plans — which may involve getting a job, starting a business, buying a house, and so on — may conflict with the plans of others, so the market makes many of us change our plans. But we all prosper from the operation of the free market, and there are no necessary conflicts between farmers and merchants, manufacturers and importers. Only when government begins to hand out rewards on the basis of political pressure do we find ourselves involved in group conflict, pushed to organize and contend with other groups for a piece of political power. (Libertarianism: A Primer)

The leap from ‘no necessary’ to ‘only when’ hammers home the naivete. The absence of socio-psychological understanding is, obviously, implicit.

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Sheep In Sheep’s Clothing

Thinking modern day Fabians are dangerous plotters is akin to believing we’d be doomed should the YWCA and WMCA join forces.

(from the video) Communitarianism centers around the belief that individualism is to be relinquished for the “greater good” of the state. Such a system would be fascistic at its core and administered through a form of scientific socialism.

This can be seen especially with the United Nation’s Agenda 21 program, that would set international requirements for how people must live, learn, eat, travel, and communicate. This has nothing to do with the environment and everything to do with control.

The terrifying duo of “must” and “control” evoke–for some–the Fabians! Wow.

“And hereby thou wilt honour thy Father and thy Mother : Thy Father, which is the spirit of community, that made all and that dwells in all. Thy Mother, which is the Earth, that brought us all forth: That as a true Mother, loves all her children. Therefore do not hinder the Mother Earth from giving all her children suck, by thy Inclosing into particular hands, and holding up that cursed Bondage of Inclosure by thy Power.” Gerrard WInstanley

(If you ask me what my political persuasion is, I might tell you: “I’m a digger and a Fabian.” This is sort of a kiss-off answer in that I would be surprised were the questioner to then respond in a knowing manner. I would also be delighted.)

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The Loop

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Lisa Miller. (My elderly mom didn’t laugh when I joked Ms. Miller ‘looks like she could have graduated from Bryn Mawr,’ my mom’s alma mater.)

In this clip, Ms. Miller argues for a return to charity, responsibility and rights. when I saw this, I was reminded of Sarah Palin speaking of solving the country’s problems by leaving it to the genius and innovative spirit of the regular Americans. Michelle Bachman has many times spoken of the country’s need to restore the values of self-reliance and personal responsibility.

This got me to thinking about the personal responsibility meme as a proposition of the Tea Party Patriots, (and their ilk.)

I went out and did some research and learned a lot. There are a variety of propositions, but these do not vary much from each other. The basic structure is unremarkable:

(1) To practice personal responsibility, one must be self-reliant,
(2) To be self-reliant one must live within their means.
(3) To live within these means, one must plan ahead to withstand what life throws at you
(4) To plan ahead, means one must sock away the funds necessary to being self-reliant,

It’s a loop. Charity figures into this ethic. When it comes about that self-reliance is stretched beyond the breaking point, this same ethic supposes the individual may appeal for help from “one’s own,’ from one’s community, from one’s church. This superficially commonsensical ethic is not without a context, for its proponents advocate its sources are (variably) found in Christianity, the ethics of the Founding Fathers, and the thought leaders of libertarianism. In noting this, I didn’t discover any writing seeking to anchor this notion of self-reliance in any actually coherent ‘thought-leading’ philosophy; (as might be found in Hayek, for example.)

Arrayed against this notional ethic is the “Other,” and this Other is characterized as anybody and everybody who has their hand out to any entity not comprised of family, one’s own, church, community. …for any reason whatsoever. Advocates of this version of the ethic of self-reliance excoriate, then, all instances of social welfare spending, whether it pays out to householder or company.

At times, this ethic’s social critique roars against other stuff too; against: the Federal Reserve and fractional reserve banking, credit cards, big government, socialists cum fascists, immigrants, the poor, the irreligious, humanism, social justice, and, modernity. Etc.

The truism, “you know how to spend your money better than the government does” underwrites their criticism of government and the popular Tea Party motto ‘Don’t Tread On Me.’ Then it gets plugged into notional ideas about the nature of liberty and freedom.

We are dedicated to the principles of constitutionally limited, transparent and accountable government, self-reliance and self-determination and free-market capitalism. (Outer Banks Tea Party)

How far can this notion be extended? You don’t have to read deeply into the copious literature of Tea Party Patriotism to discover this notion underpins conceptions for literally ending the political valency of any contravening ideas. This come to the fore as if the enforcement of self-reliance could both amplify liberty, and, at the same time dash all gainsaying. This is to suggest this brand of aspiration-for-freedom seems to carry with it, also, a demand for compliance at the end of the day on which the socialists have been defeated.

Obviously, this objective reflects a singular contradiction in terms. It seems a brutal ethic; especially when you consider how it has–on rare occasion–played out throughout history. Of course, to consider the devilish details implicit in given degrees of self-reliance–some people obtaining more margins for survival than others–is to consider how the most self-reliant can come to dominate, subject, and colonize the lesser, but no less (in these notional terms,) self-reliant.

The idealization of self-reliance does require some Other with their hands out. Evidently, for the Tea Party brethren, this is a very frightening requirement. It is the lens through which their paranoia is focused.

Tea Party Lights Fuse for Rebellion on Right (February 15, 2010: NYT)

Mr. Beck frequently echoes Patriot rhetoric, discussing the possible arrival of a “New World Order” and arguing that Mr. Obama is using a strategy of manufactured crisis to destroy the economy and pave the way for dictatorship.

In New Mexico, Mary Johnson, recording secretary of the Las Cruces Tea Party steering committee, described why she fears the government. She pointed out how much easier it is since Sept. 11 for the government to tap telephones and scour e-mail, bank accounts and library records. “Twenty years ago that would have been a paranoid statement,” Ms. Johnson said. “It’s not anymore.”

Mr. Paul led Mrs. Southwell to Patriot ideology, which holds that governments and economies are controlled by networks of elites who wield power through exclusive entities like the Bilderberg Group, the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.

One local group represented at Liberty Lake was Arm in Arm, which aims to organize neighborhoods for possible civil strife by stockpiling food and survival gear, and forming armed neighborhood groups.

Still, it is a big mistake to generalize about the ‘affectual’ terrain the tea party patriots travel.


(It interests me whenever there can be a thought problem such as this one: persons A and B, are in identical situations, yet A is afraid of stuff, while B is not; a subject for a future post.)

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Catastrophic Image

The Shadow that the Future Throws
Text based on a conversation between Nathan Gardels and Ivan Illich in 1989

Now, nearly two decades [after 1969] later, a woeful sense of imbalance has dawned on the common sense.

The destruction of the ozone layer, the heating up of the earth’s atmosphere, the non-reversible and progressive depletion of genetic variety, the ability to discuss what shall be a human being through genetic intervention – all these things bring to consciousness, even to a non-philosophically inclined intelligent official of the World Bank, that we now face the banquet of consequences of our Promethean transgression.

There is a generalized sense now that the future we expected does not work and that we are in front of what Michel Foucault called an “epistemic break”: a sudden image-shift in consciousness in which the once unthinkable becomes thinkable. For example, it was simply not thinkable that a king could be beheaded up until the French Revolution. Then, suddenly, there was a new way of seeing, a new form of language that could speak about such things.

For most of the Cold War, atomic bombs were commonly considered as weapons. People like myself were little understood in our arguments that such bombs were literally unspeakable; that, epistemically, they are not within the realm of speech because they are not weapons, but acts of self- annihilation.

It is no longer tolerable to the common sense to think of nuclear bombs as weapons, or of pollution as the price of development. The disintegrating ozone layer and warming atmosphere are making it intolerable to think of more development and industrial growth as progress, but rather as aggression against the human condition. It is now imaginable to the common mind that, as Samuel Beckett once said, “this earth could be uninhabited.”

So, what is different than when I first wrote about Nemesis is that the common sense is also searching for a language to speak about the shadow which the future throws. What is new is not the magnitude, nor even the quality, but the very essence of the coming shift in consciousness. It is not a break in the line of progress to a new stage; it is not even the passage from one dimension to another. Mathematically, we can only describe it as a catastrophic break with industrial man’s image of himself.

Now, nearly four decades later…

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Wonderland

Just in case, you were wondering…

Tea Party Mission:

Fiscal Responsibility: Fiscal Responsibility by government honors and respects the freedom of the individual to spend the money that is the fruit of their own labor. A constitutionally limited government, designed to protect the blessings of liberty, must be fiscally responsible or it must subject its citizenry to high levels of taxation that unjustly restrict the liberty our Constitution was designed to protect. Such runaway deficit spending as we now see in Washington D.C. compels us to take action as the increasing national debt is a grave threat to our national sovereignty and the personal and economic liberty of future generations.

Constitutionally Limited Government: We, the members of The Tea Party Patriots, are inspired by our founding documents and regard the Constitution of the United States to be the supreme law of the land. We believe that it is possible to know the original intent of the government our founders set forth, and stand in support of that intent. Like the founders, we support states’ rights for those powers not expressly stated in the Constitution. As the government is of the people, by the people and for the people in all other matters we support the personal liberty of the individual, within the rule of law.

Free Markets: A free market is the economic consequence of personal liberty. The founders believed that personal and economic freedom were indivisible, as do we. Our current government’s interference distorts the free market and inhibits the pursuit of individual and economic liberty. Therefore, we support a return to the free market principles on which this nation was founded and oppose government intervention into the operations of private business.

One good thing is: taking personal liberty as far as the principle so stated above does put the kibosh on the social conservative agenda. As for eliminating government intervention, I suppose this would be an interesting experiment, inasmuch as the elimination of all intervention would include elimination of every last cent of corporate welfare.

My argument is simply the US Constitution is the supreme law of the land and a law has to say what it means and mean what it says. This does not allow for ‘changing interpretations based on the times and societal needs’. Source: New Patriot Journal. What We Want Part II.

Take the time and gather up the argument here. It’s enough to hint that one can’t hang a logical argument on the skeleton of a particular–and singular–normative meaning, when this itself is subject to interpretation. (Alternately, the founders didn’t provide the necessary strict guidance–they never ratified the equivalent of “this bible is only to mean what it literally means.” )

Peyton Colorado’s whacky interpretation hits its lowest point when he caps an argument against direct election of Senators with:

So, if we are truly asking for the restoration of constitutional rule in these United State then repeal of the XVIIth amendment must happen.

You mean, Peyton, the XVIIth amendment isn’t a superb example of constitutional rule?

I’m going to relish watching the principles of conservatism clash with anti-elitist populism. After all, the whole edifice of conservatism is built upon the olden foundation of strict elitism. I don’t see how of conservatism’s philosophical thought leaders–such as Aristotle, Burke, Kirk, Buckley, Strauss–can be re-interpreted to be advocates of anti-elitism and of the wisdom of mobs.

Finally Michelle Bachman echoes what Sarah Palin told Sean Hannity, when Bachman wrote the following in an otherwise mendacious fund-raising piece.

Americans will be prevented by Big Government from relying on our own wits, ingenuity, and hard work to take care of ourselves.

As Obama said during the campaign, ‘the ownership society – you’re on your own.’ Yet, this idea of Bachman’s is the entire crux of the Tea Party’s eruption.

Bachman’s piece is below the fold.
(more…)

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