Friday, April 16, 2021

Centrist Escapism

One good reason for being pleased you're not at the center of the universe, according to, would be that means you're not "he filth and mire of the world, the worst, lowest, most lifeless part of the universe, the bottom story of the house". Illustration by Rauner Special Collections Library.

Dr. Krugman savages Andrew Yang, mayoral candidate ("Andrew Yang Hasn't Done the Math"), over his claim in the 2020 presidential campaign that America's big problem is job loss due to rapid automation, for which the only cure is giving everybody a "universal" "basic" "income" of $1000 a month:

But that’s not what we’re seeing. In fact, the lead article in the current issue of the Monthly Labor Review, published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is an attempt to understand the productivity slowdown — the historically low growth in productivity since 2005. This slowdown has been especially pronounced in manufacturing, which has seen hardly any productivity rise over the past decade.

I made similar points back in 2019, eliciting a furious response from Yang, who decried “incomplete statistics” and declared that “I’ve done the math.” But if he had done the math, he didn’t share it with the rest of us; all he offered were anecdotes. Yes, at any given time there are always some workers being displaced by technology. The question is whether this is happening faster now than in the past. The numbers say that it isn’t.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

For the Record: Biden's Corporate Tax

Cartoon by Clifford Berryman, June 1933, via Wikipedia. More material on the issues being faced then here, but (spoiler) it wasn't Roosevelt's idea to replace income tax with a sales tax..


Bos sent me this thread from Stephanie Kelton offering suggestions for forgetting about a hike on corporate taxes (or living with Manchin haggling the hike down, I'm not sure which). Also some corroboration for my hypothesis that she lacks clear concepts of how the budgeting process works and what Biden and Yellen are planning for the tax system. Both her ideas are pretty good, too, I hafta say, but don't offer good reasons for giving up on the tax hike:

Afghanistan note

Via Amnesty International.

I don't know exactly what to think about the Biden plan for Afghanistan, except to say no, Ross, it's not Trumpism—it's President Obama, who set dates for complete withdrawal by April 2010 during the 2008 campaign; by 2014 in June 2011 and by 2016 in May 2014; and in 2015, Obama fixed a last date for withdrawing all the troops, in 2017, but the guy who was president in 2017 reversed that, almost doubling the number of troops to 14,000 instead. Obama's policy, wanting to withdraw them bet never quite managing to do more than draw them very far down, from 100,000 at peak in 2010 to 8,400 when he left office, has so far been the same as Biden's, who campaigned to bring them back by this May and has now pushed it back to September. Whereas Trump's policy, as ever, was to follow the advice of the last person he spoke to before posting the tweet, with varying results, because he spoke to different people.

It's become clear that nothing NATO troops do in Afghanistan is going to make the situation there any better, after 20 years. It's not clear that pulling troops out will make it any worse, especially, than it is, either: US military seems certain that the likelihood of another redoubt of anti-US terrorists living in the mountain caves under Taliban protection the way the Qa'eda did 20 years ago is extremely low, and they think they could handle it from outside the country if it did. Is it likely the Taliban will sweep through the country, destroying the social progress the capital has seen over the past 20 years, the way they did in 1996-98 with the social progress they had made during the time of Soviet dominance, pictured at top? That's the implicit threat that the corrupt and feckless Kabul government seems to be holding out—"Protect us, or they'll come and stick all the women back in purdah!"

Even some of the women in government are getting fatigued with the argument, per The Times, though:

“It is too early to comment on the subject. We need to know much more,” said Fatima Gailani, an Afghan government negotiator who is involved in the continuing peace talks with the Taliban. “One thing is certain: It is about time that we learn how to rely on ourselves. Women of Afghanistan are totally different now. They are a force in our country; no one can deny them their rights or status.”

and there are signs that the simmering "civil war", which continues to kill people all the time in spite of the presence of NATO, isn't a new struggle between two sides but the old multilateral warlordism that never went away:

As American troops prepare to leave and fractures form in the Afghan government, militias controlled by powerful local warlords are once more rising to prominence and attacking government forces.

I'd ask people to remember this: Afghanistan has never been a country, but a very big frontier, between the Persians of Iran in the west, the Turkic populations of former Soviet Central Asia and China to the north and east, and the Indic people, mainly Pashtun, of Pakistan and India to the south; the Taliban are Pashtun, not "Afghan" to the extent there is such a thing at all, and the charisma that enabled them to seize so much territory back in 1998 is gone; they're just another warlord group now, corrupt and creepy (Russia may still be helping them out financially, but stopped that bounty program over a year ago, and is now actively engaged with the US, alongside China and Pakistan, in brokering peace talks).

Maybe instead of worrying, as we tend to do, about whether NATO is "abandoning" the crappy old regime set up by the Bush administration, we should think of withdrawal as offering the best chance to people like Fatima Gailani to assert themselves. That—as opposed to propping up President Ghani—is the only prospect for an actually good outcome, inside Kabul at least. We'll keep sending money, and political advisers as long as it's safe. Why not try treating it as something that could be good for Afghanistan?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

What Do We Owe to Trumpism?


Fender factory, Fullerton, CA, 1950s, via

Oh, please, Ross (Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, "What Bidenism Owes to Trumpism"):

Here’s a somewhat different, more provoking way of thinking: We should regard Bidenism, in its current outline, as an attempt to build on Donald Trump’s half-formed, never-finished policy agenda, in the way that elements of Jimmy Carter’s program found their fullest expression in Ronald Reagan’s presidency.

I’m borrowing this idea from the Bloomberg opinion columnist Karl W. Smith, who recently called Biden’s economic proposals “the coherent manifestation of MAGAism in the same way that Reaganism was a coherent manifestation of Carter-era deregulation.” But the analogy rests on more than just regulatory policy: Much of what we remember as the Reagan agenda was anticipated in Carter-era policies and debates.
For instance, the Reagan military buildup really began under Carter, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan: It was Carter’s C.I.A. that armed the mujahedeen, and Carter who fatefully involved the United States in the Persian Gulf...

That's President Jimmy Carter, that furious militarist who never thought of anything but building up forces for confrontation with the Soviets and unleashing the American plutocracy to poison us all, but Ted Kennedy wouldn't let him. Remember?

Monday, April 12, 2021

New York note


The second Campaign for Fiscal Equity March on Albany, in October 2016, via Schott Foundation—that's Jackson in the T-shirt in front, characteristically making sure somebody else gets time at stage center. Via Schott Foundation.

Something I didn't know about my state senator, Robert Jackson, who I've been cheerfully voting for two or three seasons and who finally won in 2018—actually a few things, thanks to Wikipedia, none of which played much of a role in his campaigns, that although he is Black, his father was a Chinese immigrant called Eddie Chu, and that he's a Muslim, and during his time on the City Council from 2002 to 2013, which is when I first heard of him, he was the only Muslim there. 

But before that, back in 1993, when I was living in Brooklyn, he was president of a local Manhattan community school board frustrated by the unfairness of the way New York City schools in the state budgeting process, and joined together with the board's lawyer, Michael Rebell, to found an organization known as the Campaign for Fiscal Equity, which sues the state on the grounds that it was violating its own constitution, which guarantees that

The legislature shall provide for the maintenance and support of a system of free common schools, wherein all the children of this state may be educated.

They won the principle in the Court of Appeals in 1995, with a ruling that the constitution does indeed require the state to provide every child with a "sound basic education",  during which Rebell became moderately famous and Jackson did not. And another in 2001 (by which time we were living in Manhattan, with two kids in the school system) that the school funding system was itself unconstitutional, affirmed on then-governor Pataki's appeal in 2003, but even after a 150-mile march to Albany (which I certainly remember hearing about, but I don't remember hearing Jackson's name in connection with the march, which he in fact led), but still the state did nothing. in 2005 Judge Leland DeGrasse tried to make it clearer: the state owed the city $5.6 billion in annual operating aid and an additional $9.2 billion over five years in capital spending for building, renovating, and leasing facilities; the state did nothing. In 2006 the legislature finally did pass the capital spending, but failed to pass the annual operating aid even when the Court of Appeals reduced the demand to a  suggestion, for $2 billion a year, and the effort to comply through a succession of Democratic governors, Spitzer, Patterson, and Cuomo, faltered after the 2008 financial crisis and seemed to have permanently died.

Until now, you see, when the state senate has finally achieved a veto-proof Democratic majority, and Cuomo can no longer play the houses against each other, and with the help of federal funding under the Biden American Rescue the plan is finally fully funded, with Senator Jackson's vote, of course, and he's finally accepting some congratulations:

I just think this is so cool, as an example of what's happening right now. That arc was getting so long!

Asian Is Not a Virus, Covid Is

Demonstrators in San Francisco making my point in February. Photo by Jim Wilson/The New York Times.

This is nuts, from NYPD, reported in our terrific online newspaper Gothamist:

“F–king Chinese coronavirus,” a teenager shouted at a 59-year-old man before allegedly kicking him in the back on Madison Avenue in March 2020.

“Where the f--k is your mask?! You f---ing Chinese!” raged a man accused of attacking a 47-year-old Asian man in front of his 10-year-old son that month.

Despite the racial invective, the NYPD didn’t treat either incident as an anti-Asian hate crime — instead, it classified them under a new “anti-COVID” category, which tracks attackers who allegedly believed their victims had COVID-19 at the time of the underlying crime. The NYPD says that with this category of offense the motive is really about the victim’s disability status, not race.

The effect of this policy, apparently it was a kind of policy, was to reduce the number of anti-Asian hate crimes in the department's statistics. The attackers weren't acting out of any bias against Asians, they were acting out of hatred of imaginary Covid that Asians suffer from, not that they suffer from it, the only symptom is looking like an Asian, which is usually a symptom of being Asian, not of being infected with Covid, but the attackers weren't aware of that, so it's clearly not a matter of race. Really?

In 2020, the police logged just four anti-Asian crimes in New York, versus 25 anti-Covid crimes, 24 of which involved Asian victims. 

It looks as if they have stopped doing this now, since the establishment of the Asian Hate Crimes Task Force in August—this year the department has registered 31 anti-Asian hate crimes and just three "anti-Covid crimes"—so maybe it's mean-spirited to complain, but it's taken them time to get there: just three weeks ago they were telling the Daily News there'd been no anti-Asian crimes at all in the first three months of 2020, and it seems to be only a challenge from the paper that got them to correct the falsehood, though not before a clueless commissioner had gotten himself caught bullshitting:

Asked moments later by a Gothamist/WNYC reporter whether Corey’s number of zero was accurate, NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea blamed victims for not reporting crimes.

“I don’t think there’s any way that that’s an accurate number,” Shea said, apparently unaware of the irony. “It’s an underreporting of crimes.”

But you have to ask yourself how it happened, or who thought it was a good idea to claim that Covid-19 is a "disability" that a person could think they could punish by kicking another person in the back without any evidence that the person they were kicking even had it, or what they thought could be the benefit to the city or the police force from denying that hate crime existed. And you have to ask yourself how much NYPD's famous data-collecting process is corrupted by this kind of idiocy.

Sunday, April 11, 2021


Book Cover Courtesy: brooklinebooksmoth

Reference to the famous 1909 short story by E.M. Forster is a good way to start this post.  The story describes a world in which humanity lives underground serviced by a single, all-knowing machine that limits human contact to Zoom-like screens, and takes care of all other human needs in its own way – that is until "the machine stops."  

You will recall in my introductory post that I referred to statements by the incoming Department of Homeland Security, (DHS) Alejandro Mayorka, that: 

To put it succinctly, the prior administration dismantled our nation’s immigration system in its entirety.

For someone who has dealt professionally with the immigration system since 2002, I thought this statement was rhetorical to some degree, bitter as I was about Trump and the illegally appointed apparatchiks he put in place to sabotage the system.  I refer, among others, to Ken (the Cooch) Cucinelli, the former "Acting Director" of USCIS

Back to Piketty


Green Lantern Corps Quarterly 2/47.

One last word (I hope) on my economic views, and where they come from, and why I'm so dogged on the point, and then I'll try to stop.

I grew up in the belief that capitalism—the arrangement that divides society into two (slightly overlapping) groups, the very small group of the owners of capital, who control the economy for the purpose of profit, that is of increasing their capital stock, and the very large group of the rest of us, who are controlled by it, and must surrender to the demands of capital to survive—is a problem: unleashing astonishingly creative and transformative forces, as Marx and Engels put it in the 1848 Manifesto,

The bourgeoisie, during its rule of scarce one hundred years, has created more massive and more colossal productive forces than have all preceding generations together. Subjection of Nature’s forces to man, machinery, application of chemistry to industry and agriculture, steam-navigation, railways, electric telegraphs, clearing of whole continents for cultivation, canalization of rivers, whole populations conjured out of the ground – what earlier century had even a presentiment that such productive forces slumbered in the lap of social labor? 

but doling out the rewards of this extraordinary progress in unequal fashion, keeping most of the "surplus product" for the owners, and giving everybody else just enough to keep them more or less quiet and docile, and creating disparities between them that have and them that have not that could only grow, and grow, and grow inexorably worse. 

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Brooks Whigging Out Again


John F. Kennedy campaigning door to door in West Virginia, 1960, Life cover, via Reddit.

Shorter David Brooks, "The Heart and Soul of the Biden Project", New York Times, 9 April 2021:

So Biden is a Whig. Fight me.

That is, not, thank heavens, a Democrat:

Some people say this is like the New Deal. I’d say this is an updated, monster-size version of “the American System,” the 19th-century education and infrastructure investments inspired by Alexander Hamilton, championed by Henry Clay and then advanced by the early Republicans, like Abraham Lincoln. That was an unabashedly nationalist project, made by a youthful country, using an energetic government to secure two great goals: economic dynamism and national unity.

Because nobody could say the New Deal had anything to do with economic dynamism or national unity. The New Deal didn't build any infrastructure, other than the rural electrifcation, the Bay Bridge and the Triborough Bridge, the Chickamauga Dam and the Grand Coulee Dam and the Pensacola Dam and the Hoover Dam, the Overseas Highway from Key West to the Florida mainland, the Lincoln Tunnel and the Bankhead Tunnel (in Mobile) and the Detroit Sewage Disposal and dozens of airport projects, or education programs other than the numerous schools, teachers, and classes provided by the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Works Progress Administration, the National Youth Administration, including many programs devoted to the training of the African American community.

Thursday, April 8, 2021

It's the Debt, Stupid. I Mean the GOOD Debt.

Sichuan man with 13,500 copper cash, same as the Qin dynasty more than 2,000 years earlier, 1917, photo by Sydney D. Gamble via Wikipedia.

My mind is still stuck on money here, and all the wonderful things I've learned about it in the last couple of weeks, of which a lot is scattered around the comments and not necessarily quite coherent, starting with the point about where money comes from. Willie Sutton was right! It comes from the bank! 

Seriously—this was not always the case, and it was never the case as much as it is now, but banks make money, by which I don't mean physical currency, the bills and coins in your wallet that represent your money, which are of course manufactured by the Mint and the Bureau of Engraving and given to the bank to distribute to the public as a convenient way for us to move our money around, as in buying things, turning them over to the shopkeeper as a token of our exchange that she can send back to the bank to inform them that the money is now hers and have them adjust her account accordingly. 

That money, actual money, is not a thing at all, but a relationship, or potential relationship, between a person who has something and a person who wants something, the relationship of indebtedness: when I give the person my dollar bill, she is obligated to give me a cup of coffee, she owes it to me—or if I don't, and take the coffee anyway, I am obligated to her, and must bring her the dollar bill later on (these tiny credit operations hardly happen anywhere any more, I think, but they used to be a normal part of life, where they'd keep you a tab at the grocer and the barber and the bar and so forth).