Category Archives: Social values

University of Southern Maine Becomes “Administration of Southern Maine” as Students Protest Faculty Firings

Earlier this year, it looked as if the University of Southern Maine might become one of the rare places where students and faculty would be able to hold the line against the yet more looting by the bureaucratic classes. The woes besetting the USM are a microcosm of how higher education expenses are escalating as a result of administration feather-bedding and vanity projects. When those prove to be too costly, it’s the faculty and students that bear the brunt of the expense-shedding. As Lambert wrote in March:

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Satyajit Das: Animal Crackers – Watching Bankers Watching etc.

Anthropologists study humans. Ethnographers, a related social science, study people and cultures, trying to understand specific human societies through observation and recording. Once, it entailed well-meaning, idealistic, ambitious, shy, lonely or misanthropic [cross out as required] men and women travelling to distant and exotic locations to study less well known tribes and peoples. Like a great deal of social science, the work reveals more about the structure of knowledge, methodology and the researchers than in does about the subject of study. Writing in the 21 July 1988 edition of The Guardian, Nancy Banks-Smith provided an astute assessment of anthropology: “the science which tells us that people are the same the whole world over—except when they are different”.

In recent times, with the increasing scarcity of newly discovered, loin clothed natives, researchers have turned their attention to professional ‘tribes’ within developed societies, including financiers.

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Young and Under Pressure – Europe’s Lost Generation

Yves here. Even though this post hews to the convention of a describing the labor market conditions in Europe in clinical terms, the data reveals deeply troubling conditions, such as a high and in some countries rising level of families with no wage earner, which sets the stage for the continuation of poverty, as well as putting them in danger of becoming homeless. “Lost generation” is too kind a term to depict the conditions facing the young. Instead of being able to make choices and at least to a degree, shape their future, they are desperately trying to find a foothold of any kind.

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Hedges and Wolin on How New-Style Propagandizing Promotes Inverted Totalitarianism

Yves here. The Real News Network continues with its discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin of what Wolin calls “inverted totalitarianism.” One of the focuses here is how skillful fragmentation of the public, and keeping various groups separate from, and better yet, suspicious of each other, has helped greatly reduced the cost of keeping this system in place.

Younger readers may not recognize how radical the transformation of public discourse has been over the last 40 years. While there were always intellectuals who were largely above consuming much mass media, as well as political groups on the far right and left that also largely rejected it, in the 1960s and well into the 1980s, mass media shaped political discourse. There were only three major broadcast networks: ABC, NBC, CBS. They hewed to generally the same outlook. Similarly, there were only two major news magazines: Time and Newsweek, again with not much distance between in their political outlook. The Wall Street Journal was a stock market newspaper with little general news coverage. The New York Times didn’t aspire to be a national newspaper until the 1990s. Local newspapers were much more influential in their markets then than now, but they seldom deviated much from the national middle of the road, pro-middle class sentiment. The sort of fragmentation that this interview mentions is in part a result of the Karl Rove strategy of focusing on hot-button interests of narrowly-sliced interest groups, along with media fragmentation which has made it easier to target, as in isolate, them.

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Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on Inverted Totalitarianism as a Threat to Democracy

Yves here. We’ve been featuring what we consider to be standout segments in an important Real News Network series, an extended discussion between Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin on capitalism and democracy. This offering focuses on what Wolin calls “inverted totalirianism,” or how corporations and government are working together to keep the general public in thrall. Wolin discusses how propaganda and the suppression of critical thinking serve to a promote pro-growth, pro-business ideology which sees democracy as dispensable, and potentially an obstacle to what they consider to be progress. They also discuss how America is governed by two pro-corproate parties and how nay “popular” as in populist, candidate gets stomped on.

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Bob Goodwin: ‘Drug’ is a Teetering Social Concept

Yves here. Bob Goodwin discusses how the idea of legal versus illegal drugs has become a more obviously porous barrier than it was in his youth, even given the differences in how those differences are enforced across income/racial groups.

One thing that Bob may have deemed to be so obvious as to not be worth discussing is the casualness of prescribing what amount to performance-enhancing drugs to children, such as Ritalin and Adderall, along with troublingly frequent dispensing of antidepressants. Studies on safety are all short term; the idea of messing with the chemistry of developing brains, save in circumstances when the child is in acute distress, is heinous. Yet in parallel, kids have wised up and use various prescription stimulants, most notably Adderall, as study and test aids. I recall reading a New Yorker article on it at least a decade and maybe even more than a dozen years ago, on how utterly routine it was for kids in elite private schools to get these drugs prescribed, or filch their parents’ supplies, and trade them among their peers. My understanding is that the use of these drugs during exams, and for some students, on an ongoing basis, is routine.

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The Unattainable Illusion of Meritocracy

I’m a big fan of Richard Bookstaber, the author of the important book A Demon of Our Own Design. And while I’m glad to see a rare new post from him, on how to deal with the matter of inequality (as in whether to deal with the problem ex ante, by creating more equal opportunities, or ex post, by trying to reduce disparities of outcomes), I found one of the core parts of his discussion, on merit and meritocracy, to be maddening. In fairness, this isn’t Bookstaber’s fault; he’s working within an established framework of thinking on this topic.

Repeat after me: in complex societies and organizations, merit is a complete illusion.

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Can Capitalism and Democracy Co-Exist?

Yves here. Real News Network is running an eight-part series on capitalism and democracy, with Chris Hedges and Sheldon Wolin as interlocutors. I thought the second segment in the series, which is historically focused, to be particularly strong. It seeks to trace the evolution of what they call corporate capitalism, or what we’ve sometimes called Mussolini-style corporatism.

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Class Traitors: How Ideological Brainwashing Gets Rich and Ordinary Americans to Undermine Their Economic Interest

Linda Beale, of ataxingmatter, has written forcefully and persuasively about some of the propagandizing-accepted-as-gospel that the well-heeled use to advocate policies that advance their economic interests. For instance, as most Naked Capitalism readers appreciate, but a remarkably large swathe of the US population does not, tax cuts for big corporations are simply a transfer to the rich. From a post last year:

I’ve argued frequently in the past that there is no there there–i.e., that lowering corporate tax rates will do nothing to create jobs. Instead, I’ve said, it will simply deliver an even higher profit margin to be skimmed off by the highest paid executives and, possibly, shareholders. The higher profit margins are unlikely even to be used to increase workers’ shares of the corporate revenues through higher wages, a place where they could most help the economy other than new jobs created. Thus, the drive for “revenue neutral” corporate tax reform (cut corporate taxes, cut expenditures elsewhere to make up for the decreased corporate tax revenues) is just another example of corporatism as an engine of the modern form of US class warfare

Beale takes up a different theme today: how the rich and poor act against their economic interest. For many in middle and lower income strata in red states, hostility to the government is an article of faith even though those states (and many of those same govement-hating citizens) are significant beneficiaries of Federal programs.

But less well recognized are the ways that the wealthy are undermining themselves. They’ve taken the “increase our distance from everyone else” experiment well beyond its point of maximum advantage, not just to the society around them but also in terms of the costs to the class warriors.

As we’ve pointed out, highly unequal societies have lower lifespans, even among the rich; the shallower social networks of stratified societies and the high cost of losing one’s perch, in terms of loss of friends and status, creates an ongoing level of stress that has a longevity cost. Beale points out something we’ve mentioned occasionally in the past, that creating an underclass with inadequate access to medical services is a great breeding ground for public health problems. The fact that many low income Americans can’t afford to take sick days and health plans generally have high deductibles, which discourage individuals from getting treated until they are sure they are really sick, isn’t a great program design if you want to reduce the spread of infectious diseases.

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Uber Economics: There is No Such Thing as Bad Publicity

Yves here. This post on Uber raises a sobering point about activism and human cognition. How do you opposed a cause you regard as dubious without unwittingly legitimating it? For instance, remember when one of the many justifications offered for the Iraq War was that Saddam Hussein was in cahoots with Osama bin Laden? Even though that idea was patently false, efforts to debunk it actually reinforced the connection between Hussein and Bin Laden simply by featuring their names in close proximity.

If readers, particularly activists, have ideas for how to steer clear of effectively promoting ideas and causes you are challenging, please let us know in comments.

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The Financialization of Life

Yves here. One of the efforts the Naked Capitalism community has been engaged in is trying to understand and map our emerging political and economic order. Over the last four decades, massive changes have taken place in social values, in job security, in the importance of communities relative to other networks, like professional associations, and in the role of the state. Economists, social scientists, and laypeople have used various frameworks for describing this period. Understanding the driving process is important not merely for the purposes of description, but also for analysis, since a major question remains open: is this a last gasp of large-scale industrial capitalism, or is this the starting phase of a new economic order? We’ve tended to see this period as a self-limiting finance-led counter-revolution against the New Deal, but that may prove to be too optimistic a reading.

This Real News Network interview with Costas Lapavitsas, a professor in economics at the University of London School of Oriental and African Studies, takes a different perspective. Lapavitsas contends that financialization itself constitutes a new form of capitalism, which is supported by neoliberal ideology.

Independent of whether you fully agree with Lapavitsas’ framing, this talk gives a good overview of the major economic and political changes since 1970. His summary would be useful for those who could use a historical perspective on these shifts, or want a high-level understanding of the restructuring of modern economies without having to get too deep into the weeds. But even though this interview is designed to go down easily, it offers a lot of grist for thought.

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