Dec 8, 2019

The price of globlasé

The blasé attitude of Western elites toward “globalization” in recent decades was lubricated by short-run payoffs: it brought handsome profit opportunities for (some) multinational corporations; foreign borrowing (above all, from China) provided a soft alternative to taxing the rich; and cheap trinkets trickled down to placate the masses. But today the long-run political costs of screwing the working class are coming home to roost. Here’s how it’s going down in Italy:

“We lived in a place where everything had been good for 40 years,” Mr. Nesi says. “Nobody was afraid of the future.”

In retrospect, they should have been. By the 1990s, the Germans were purchasing cheaper fabrics woven in Bulgaria and Romania. Then, they shifted their sights to China. The German customers felt pressure to find savings because enormous new retailers were carving into their businesses — brands like Zara and H&M, tapping low-wage factories in Asia….

What Ms. Travaglini knows is downward mobility. She buys groceries with cash from her parents. Her younger son is about to move to Dubai to look for work, seeing no future in Prato.

Her older son used to consider himself a Communist, worshiping Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. Now, he is active with the League.

Read – and think – about the lessons here.

Dec 7, 2019

A death rattle for supply-side economics?

The times they are a changin’:

Led by Elizabeth Warren, presidential candidates and liberal economists are pushing an unorthodox “pro-growth” argument for raising taxes on the rich.

Since the days of Reagan and Thatcher, supply-side orthodoxy has maintained that taxation is always bad for the economy – and this ideology has maintained a stranglehold on public policies. At last, change is in the air. Read more here.

Dec 2, 2019

Predation 101

“Vulture capital” asserts its priorities in Puerto Rico:

The hedge funds scoured the island’s budget. The Department of Sports and Recreation’s allotment of $39.2 million: Nonessential, the lawsuit said. Ditto the $12.6 million for the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture; $7.3 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting; $1.8 million for the Boys & Girls Club; and the $88,000 commitment to a nonprofit ballet company. One assertion in particular stood out. Puerto Rico’s budget had set aside $205 million in discretionary money for things like disaster relief. “While a ‘rainy-day fund’ is nice to have,” the hedge funds conceded in Paragraph 159, “it is impossible to see how this is an ‘essential service’ or how it can be justified,” in part because natural disasters were not “likely to occur” in the coming fiscal year. Three months later, Hurricane Maria made landfall.

Read more here.

Nov 15, 2019

How to become a billionaire

Robert Reich writes:

Billionaires are wailing that Elizabeth Warren’s and Bernie Sanders’s wealth tax proposals are attacks on free market capitalism.

Rubbish. There are basically only five ways to accumulate a billion dollars, and none of them has to do with being successful in free market capitalism.    

Read how, here.

Nov 5, 2019

Human costs of dirty air

Highland Park Optimist Club members wearing smog gas masks at a banquet, Los Angeles, circa 1954

From a terrific piece in the New York Review of Books:

Using the Huai River as a dividing line between colder and warmer parts of the country, from the 1950s to 1980 the Chinese government provided free coal for household heating north of the river and no subsidy to those living south of it. Researchers at the University of Chicago looked at mortality data in ninety Chinese cities and found a shocking result: those living in the north had their lives cut short by 5.5 years on average due to “cardiorespiratory mortality” from exposure to levels of particulate pollution that were 55 percent higher than in the air of the south. They estimated that the well-intentioned policy destroyed 2.5 billion life-years…. And, in the US, there’s a new problem: the guardians who craft and enforce air pollution policy are busy dismantling the protections created by decades of careful science and study.

Read more here.

Oct 9, 2019

Tax injustice

The rich really are different from you and me: they pay a lower tax rate. The cheerleaders on behalf of tax breaks for the rich claimed that benefits would trickle down throughout the economy. Guess what? The joke’s on us.

Read about it here. And here.

Sep 26, 2019

Say hello to ecofascism

An important piece in The Baffler exposes some strange bedfellows:

On March 15, a white supremacist in Christchurch, New Zealand, murdered fifty-one worshippers at a mosque. In a sprawling manifesto, the killer identified as an “ecofascist” and aimed to “show the invaders that our lands will never be their lands.” Less than six months later, another man who combined resentments about environmental degradation and immigrant populations in his manifesto walked into a Walmart in El Paso, Texas, with a rifle and killed twenty-two people, many of whom were Latinx. “Invaders” the killer wrote, “have close to the highest birthrate of all ethnicities in America.”

Climate denialism remains deeply entrenched on the American right, but the glaciers are beginning to recede; recent polls show increasing alarm about the climate crisis across the political spectrum, especially among the young. As the crisis worsens, denialism itself might very well go extinct, opening up the possibility of new political configurations in response to the question of what to do about it. This is already underway in many European countries, where younger activists within far-right parties—those who will have to live with the worsening effects of climate change—are agitating to cut into green parties’ monopoly of the issue by tying it to their anti-migrant appeals.

Read more here.

Sep 15, 2019

Scaling environmentalism

From a review of Tatiana Schlossberg’s Inconspicuous Consumption: The Environmental Impacts You Don’t Know You Have:

For 10 or 15 years beginning in the 1990s consumer-driven environmentalism was a constant refrain, leading to endless disputations about paper towels and disposable diapers versus sponges and cotton nappies. When I picked up this book, I feared it might go down the same cul-de-sacs, but it doesn’t, and for the obvious reason: That earlier campaign was essentially useless. Some fairly small percentage of people read those books, and an even smaller percentage took regular and clear action. Those people are morally consistent heroes whom we should all salute, but it turns out there are not enough of them to make a difference….

The changes we make in our transportation lives will matter mostly if we make them “as a collective.” That is to say, instead of trying to figure out every single aspect of our lives, a carbon tax would have the effect of informing every one of those decisions, automatically and invisibly. The fuel efficiency standards that the Obama administration put forward and Trump is now gutting would result in stunningly different outcomes. And so on….

We aren’t going to solve our problems one consumer at a time. We’re going to need to do it as societies and civilizations, or not at all.

Read more here.

Sep 12, 2019

Inequality’s human price

For many, inequality is a matter of life and death:

The expanding gap between rich and poor is not only widening the gulf in incomes and wealth in America. It is helping the rich lead longer lives, while cutting short the lives of those who are struggling, according to a study released this week by the Government Accountability Office.


Almost three-quarters of rich Americans who were in their 50s and 60s in 1992 were still alive in 2014. Just over half of poor Americans in their 50s and 60s in 1992 made it to 2014.

Read more here. See the GAO report here.

Sep 11, 2019

An alternative to “shareholder capitalism”

The U.K. Labour Party has a plan:

The Corbyn project dates to September 2018, when John McDonnell, Labour’s leading economic policymaker, proposed that British corporations be required to establish “Inclusive Ownership Funds” (IOFs). These would grant employees of large companies 10 percent of their employer’s shares, the right to a share of economic profits, and a voice in corporate governance. The plan would create employee trusts, where employees are granted equity shares collectively as a right of employment, which they do not have to pay for and cannot sell. The funds would give employees a collective voice in electing the board of directors and would ensure that employees participate in the wealth created as a corporation’s shares appreciate.

Read more about it here.

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