Category Archives: Social values

Satyajit Das: The Art of Destructive Capital

In truth, art and money have never been far apart. The wealthy have always collected art. Joseph Henry Duveen, the legendary dealer who in the early twentieth century masterminded the sale of Old Masters to wealthy Americans with little knowledge of art, observed that: “Europe has plenty of art while America has plenty of money and large empty mansions and I bring them together.” Richard Rush in his 1961 book Art as an Investment doubted that “collectors have ever been unmindful of the investment value of art”.

But the market rather than the art itself is now the centre of this universe.

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Something That Changed My Perspective: Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation

The first Christmas-New Years period for this site, in 2007, we featured a series “Something That Changed My Perspective,” which presented some things that affected how I viewed the world. The offerings included John Kay on obliquity and Michael Prowse on how income inequality was bad for the health even of the wealthy.

Karl Polanyi’s The Great Transformation (which I should have read long ago) is proving to be a particularly potent example of this general phenomenon.

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The Airing of the Grievances

For those who came in late, Festivus — I’m not big on the whole forced cheeriness of Xmas, as readers can probably, by this point, imagine — is normally celebrated on December 23. However, because Festivus really is for the rest of us, Festivus can also be celebrated at any time, so here we go! […]

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The Police Union’s Irresponsible Reaction To Shooting Of Two NYPD Officers

Yves here. I left NYC the day that Ismaaiyl Brinsley killed two New York City policemen after shooting his former girlfriend in Baltimore. On the plane, three students (two in grad school, one in college) who didn’t previously know each other and were going home to Birmingham were discussing the event. All were concerned that this would put a chill on the protests against police brutality. And in case you wondered, yes, all were white.

The police are using this tragedy for selfish and anti-democratic ends. And what is troubling is that Mayor De Blasio hasn’t put them in their place. Corey Robin explains what that really signifies:

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Why is No One Fighting the New Robber Barons?

Last week, Bill Moyers interviewed historian Steve Fraser on what he calls our Second Gilded Age. Despite the anodyne title of the segment, The New Robber Barons, it was really about why the American public has been so quiescent in the face of rapidly rising income inequality, while during the first Gilded Age, a wide range of groups rebelled against the wealth extraction operation. I encourage you to watch the segment in full or read the transcript.

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The War to Start All Wars: The 25th Anniversary of the Forgotten Invasion of Panama

Yves here. Why is war becoming a dominant line of business for a soi-disant democracy? In the 19th century, the consensus among the capitalist classes was that armed conflict was bad for business. Europe had a nearly 100 year of peace, with only short-lived conflicts as punctuation.

The rationale for America’s militaristic foreign policy was that spreading democracy would promote peace, since as conventional wisdom had it, democracies don’t go to war with other democracies. But the more accurate statement might be that many democracies (Russia and most countries in South America being noteworthy exceptions) have accepted the US security umbrella and are no longer capable of defending themselves (for instance, Mathew D. Rose noted that “much of the German military hardware is dysfunctional due to austerity and endemic corruption“). But the promise of a Pax Americana in the wake of the fall of the USSR has instead morphed into the US running ongoing wars and counterinsurgencies, even as our troops are strained to the breaking point. And it’s clear that these campaigns are more about looting than about making America and its allies safer. The classic Military Misfortunes: The Anatomy of Failure in War has an afterword which discusses the failed Iraq peace, pointing out that it was absurd to expect the Iraqi army to be able to stand up against foreign attack (this years before it collapsed when ISIS looked cross-eyed at it). Similarly, that a big part of the failure to reconstruct the country was due to the use of US contractors. Not only did they cost ridiculously more, but the failure to employ local firms and hire locals meant little of the spending went into the Iraq economy. Rebuilding would also have given young men meaningful and well-paid work. The absence of that made them good raw material for the opposition.

In other words, America has turned long-standing commercial logic on its head. Yet there has been perilous little in the way of complaint from the business community. Is it because one of America’s recent growth engined, the tech industry, gets far too much in the way of goodies from defense-related R&D to challenge this equation? Or that US multinationals believe, rightly or wrongly, that the safety of their extended supply chains depends on military might, and so they see their interests as aligned with US adventurism? Or is it simply that the US has gotten to be very good at propaganda (see Alex Carey, Taking the Risk out of Democracy, for a long-form treatment), with the result that many people operate from assumptions that would not stand up to scrutiny?

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Joe Firestone: The Lawless Society

Yves here. This post lays bare the depth of corruption in the US. We addressed the problem of what Joe Firestone calls “the lawless society” and presented some initial thoughts about the necessity of pressuring political parties rather than working within them in our Skunk Party Manifesto. A key section:

Corruption is the biggest single problem. Until we tackle that, frontally, it will be impossible to get any good solutions or even viable interim measures to the long and growing list of problems we face. Conduct that would have been seen as reprehensible 40 years ago, like foreclosing on people who were current on their mortgages, or selling drugs even when the company knows they increase heart heart attack and stroke risk enough to be fatal for a meaningful percentage of patients, barely stirs a raised eyebrow today.

As Frederick Douglass said:

Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.

It has become fashionable to talk of outrage fatigue, but political and economic abusers have used that to press for more advantage. And events of recent weeks suggest that even a downtrodden and disenfranchised public is capable of rousing itself and acting when they have finally been pushed too far. Escalating violence by police and the utter indifference of local authorities to it has produced not just a backlash, but sustained protests. Similarly, while the publication of the CIA torture reports is unlikely to lead to real reform of the CIA, it has embarrassed our foreign collaborators and has confirmed the worst of what US critics and skeptics overseas believe. Even if the report produces little change in the US, it has ended any pretense that the US has moral authority in the world at large.

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Peter Temin: Lessons From the Great Depression

In this video, Peter Temin, a highly respected expert on the Great Depression*, discusses some of the revealing parallels between that era and our current financial and economic plight with Marshall Auerback. Don’t be deceived by the leisurely pacing of this conversation and Temin’s soft-spoken manner. Temin in his measured way sets the stage for discussing how the trajectory we are on, which is undoing more and more social safety nets and job security, which are fundamental to trust, does not merely lead to lower productivity and hence hurts everyone, including the wealthy, but also puts us on a trajectory towards a dystopian future.

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SEC’s Mary Jo White Approves of Torture

It might seem bizarre to solicit the view of a financial regulator on torture. But not only did this happen but the regulator was queried about the real deal, and more than once. The reason in SEC chairman Mary Jo White’s case is that in her prior life, she prosecuted terrorism cases, such as a 1993 plot to bomb the UN. And the tacit assumption was that if Mary Jo White approved of torture, um, the firm handling of foreign fanatics, she’d be tough with crooks in in the moneyed classes too. From FAIR’s blog last April (hat tim Mark Ames):

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