Matt Stoller: Naked Capitalism – Your Weapon Against Strongmen and Strawmen

By Matt Stoller, a Fellow at the Open Markets Institute, who is writing a book on monopoly power in the 20th century for Simon and Schuster

A few months ago, Yves Smith wrote a blog post talking about how her laptop broke. I sent her $500, and I wish I could have sent her ten times as much. The reason is simple. Yves looks at problems before they are obvious, and warns us about them. She is a free thinker, “feral,” as she puts it, and she detests the bullies in power because she can see the nihilism they are bringing forth upon our world.

Yves, and all of us, are part of a long tradition in America that goes back hundreds of years. In 1835, Alexis de Tocqueville noted the diversity of newspapers and magazines in America, saying “There is scarcely a hamlet which has not its own newspaper.” Because of this diversity, enabled by government policies like the Post Office subsidizing circulation, and advertising, De Tocqueville believed America was safe from strongmen, unlike centralized European aristocracies. This diversity prevented men of wealth from using concentrated information channels to “excite the passions of the multitude to their own advantage.”

In writing Naked Capitalism, in reading it, in being part of this discussion, we are part of the immune system against autocracy. Since I study monopoly, I’ll note that her job has been getting a lot harder, and your contributions a lot more important. Naked Capitalism has two basic revenue streams. The first is your contributions. The second is online advertising.

Over the last few years, it turns out, and this won’t surprise you, that Google and Facebook have monopolized the targeted ad market, taking roughly 63% of its revenues. This hits every newspaper and content creator that makes money from online advertising. Pittsburgh, for instance, is the first major city to go without a daily newspaper. It is, however, for a variety of reasons, much worse for smaller sites like this one. Yves has been starved of revenue by a legal system that is concentrating power and wealth in the hands of plutocrats in Palo Alto.

Every dollar you give will help to make up for this. Please go now to the Tip Jar, which tells you how to contribute by credit or debit card, check, or Paypal.

I’ve been reading Naked Capitalism since 2006, when the financial crisis was gathering steam, and when no one seemed to know anything about the mess of complex structured financial instruments ripping through our culture. And I include the people who built them as part of this large circus of ignorant fools. Yves actually took the time to study the problem, and write about it publicly, using this forum with many of you to collectively understand what was happening.

She did this with the foreclosure crisis, the Eurozone crisis, and now this year the absolute shitshow that is Brexit. She’s doing it with CalPERS, a key source of power which is ignored by virtually everyone in politics. It’s hard sometimes to see the value in something like this. What is the point of standing up to bullies in a world dominated by them? Why should someone stand on a public square and shout, often into the void, the truth, when no one in power wants to hear it?

And the answer is, because some of us want to fix things. Democrats are in all likelihood going to get another shot at power. The center left, all over the world, will eventually reconstitute itself, internalize lessons, and try to govern again. We fucked it up last time. But this time we have a new advantage. This blog. People like Yves. And you. We can remember what to do and what not to do.

We also have more allies this time. The corporate world is beginning to swing away from libertarianism, as they see the threat imposed by super-monopolists over just the regular ‘ole monopolists. Historians are writing the history of the financial crisis, and using Naked Capitalism as a source. China’s authoritarianism can no longer be ignored, the global utopian insanity of neoliberalism is over.

It’s hard to believe this, but this community is projecting power. There’s heat on CalPERS. No one accepted the bullshit Geithner and Paulson put out a few weeks ago. Uber has been defanged, and will continue to deteriorate, because of something as simple as the truth. Jerri-Lynn’s work on ‘right to repair’ can bring together techies and farmers angry at control over their lives by both John Deere and Apple. Lambert works on health care to bring together medical practitioners and patients enraged at their treatment by health insurance and hospital monopolies, while simultaneously skewering Silicon Valley monopolists and wannabes under the aegis of “The Bezzle.” Lambert’s broad-spectrum coverage of the political scene not only inoculates the readership against bullshit, but also builds a record that will hold Democrats in power accountable in future.

As crises like Brexit, or climate change imposes reality on all of us, we are going to need solutions. It won’t be a question of the status quo preventing change, it will be a question of which path to take. Those who have thought about it, those who remember, will determine the shape of our culture.

That is why I give. That is why you should give. Because we need to remember. We need to face the truth. We need to have the courage to give up on our illusions and face our moral duties.

That is what Yves, and all of you, do for me, and each other. That is who we are. We hate bullies. Invest in informational ammo by supporting this community; the Tip Jar tells you how.

Give what you can. If you have more, give more. If you can only send a note of appreciation, do that. It matters. I can tell you, it’s a hard moment. But a critical one.

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  1. LexingtonLad

    Yves, you’re the best! It’s hard to believe I’ve been reading NC since 2008, when the economy crashed right when I graduated from college.

  2. Darius

    Just donated $20. Usually donate more but wife is unemployed. Can’t do without Naked Capitalism. I’m so much better informed than I used to be and than those around me. Sometimes it’s almost a burden. People tell me I’m cynical. I can’t stand being lied to though.

    1. WheresOurTeddy

      The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. – George Bernard Shaw

  3. Carla

    I appreciate all that Yves, Lambert, Jerri-Lynn, and others — including Matt Stoller! — do to keep us informed, and so I support Naked Capitalism by paying for a “subscription” of $25 a month.

    Somehow that doesn’t count for the fundraiser, but it still seems the right thing to do.

  4. David in Santa Cruz

    There’s a reason that the framers of the U.S. Bill of Rights made freedom of speech and of the press part of the First Amendment. However, I accept the contrarian view expressed by our Supreme Court that money is speech. Without money, there were no printing presses, and today there can be no websites. Speech is only free if it may be widely disseminated. The simple truth is that takes money.

    In addition, quality reporting also takes money. Reporters don’t just need decent computers and software, or access to the Internet and subscriptions to publications and research. Good reporting requires travel, it requires paper filings, it requires postage, it sometimes requires good legal representation. Reporters are also human: they need to be housed, they need to eat, they need to rest every now and then.

    Individuals acting collectively might well out-spend the monopolies and oligarchs who have taken-over our capitalistic media outlets. This is why the Koch Brothers and their ilk are attacking unions. I regularly donate to Naked Capitalism because I believe that our collective voices are being heard through the dogged and outspoken journalism practiced here.

    1. Carla

      If money is speech, then those who have the most money have the most speech. Just what does that do to one person, one vote?

      Money is, or should be, a public utility. But it is not speech.

      1. David in Santa Cruz

        “One Person, One Vote” is a fairy-tale. Only when exercised through collective action via a political party, a labor union, a social movement, or even a corporation, does a vote matter.

        In order to educate ourselves and to debate our ideas, we must purchase access to the means of communication. The speech of one person alone is akin to shouting into a hurricane, but when we speak collectively our voices can be heard over the maelstrom.

        Just like “speech,” “money” is an idea, not a thing. It represents the value of property and the value of labor equally. When we act collectively, we have the most money. When we act collectively we have the most votes.

  5. artiste-de-decrottage

    Detesting the bullies in power because of the nihilism they are bringing forth upon our world – how perfectly said! Thank you, Matt Stoller, always, for your lucid thinking.

    A deeply felt thank you to Yves, Lambert, and the rest of NC and the readers and commenters. I donated today, whatever I could afford, much less than I wanted to. I feel I am a much better equipped to understand our world and defend myself and help others out in the last few years since I started reading NC. And your contribution is a lot larger than helping an individual – you are helping keep the health of this society and indeed the world.

    Money is not speech. But helping NC stay healthy and strong requires money among other things, and we all understand that.

    One more thing: I want to single out Lambert for his humanizing touch on top of his edifying analytic powers.

  6. precariat

    “In writing Naked Capitalism, in reading it, in being part of this discussion, we are part of the immune system against autocracy. ”

    Reader since 2009 here. Mostly because of Matt Stoller and Yves. Both are invaluable to public economic and political discourse in America today. I marvel at how Matt Stoler stays a democratic optimist while showing a clear grasp of the oligarchic and totalitarian predations that are degrading America. Matt Stoller’s work unfailingly demonstrates what others have cynically foresaken: a belief that this country belongs to the people and the people are good. To borrow from Yeats, Matt and Yves are some of the best, and they do not lack conviction.

  7. skippy

    The feral bit is what myself finds most intellectually appealing wrt Yves, contra to the mens club Stepford wife’s preference. I mean how insecure does one have to be when they have so much money and yet still need to dominate social interaction by surrounding themselves with yes people, especially as a couple.

    Imagine being in a relationship with someone that you have to have your shit together when deciding a course of action and back it up…. yet at the same time love each other faultlessly.

    Sadly the market says that is irrational…

  8. David

    I ‘d like to take a moment to express my appreciation for two aspects of NC that don’t get enough attention, and which make it not only my preferred source of news by far, but also one of the few websites that I am prepared to contribute money to. I must be one of the oldest and most regular readers (end of 2007 if I remember rightly).
    The first is the international coverage. On many sites this just means Americans writing about countries they don’t understand, or, more often, what the US government should or should not do about countries they don’t understand. This is of limited interest to us non-USians, and a reason why I often skip quickly over the international coverage on most other sites with similar political orientations. Of course, there is a US bias to NC, which is inevitable given its origins and the breakdown of its readership, but it’s rarely obtrusive, and reflects, after all, the fact that what goes on in the US is of importance for other countries. But the coverage of other countries, where I am competent to judge, is generally of a high level, and the coverage of economic issues, such as MMT, is outstanding and refreshingly free of bs.
    The other reason why I will be getting my credit card out is the nature and the value of the comments. The NC commentariat is rightly famous, but it’s actually the rules and the atmosphere enforced by Yves and co which make it so valuable. One of the great disappointments of the internet, at least for the naive, has been the race to the bottom in comment standards even in reputable newspapers. Take the Guardian which I actually used to buy every day for decades. Its comment columns, when they are actually opened on controversial issues, rapidly degenerate into mud-throwing and name-calling, and people showing others how clever they think they are. And that’s one of the better ones. (In case you are wondering, France is no better. The comments in Le Monde are often just as unreadable and, these days, they frequently contain spelling and grammatical errors; it’s that serious).
    The point is that this gives the readership of NC a rare, and almost unique, confidence that they can contribute to a debate without being spat on and called names by people who disagree with them. It’s now the only site to which I contribute comments. I no longer contribute to sites where I get responses like “I haven’t read the article but judging from the first sentence of your comment you’re a cretin.” I no longer contribute to (or even read much) sites like Crooked Timber which was good a decade ago, but turned into a succession of whining essays by identity warriors, and a one-man crusade by (Prof) Chris Bertram to abolish all immigration rules and establish a universal right to settlement everywhere. Anyone who pointed out that this might have certain practical consequences risked ostracism as a nazi and an apologist for the current extreme right. When they formally introduced censorship of comments after the election of Trump, I gave up.
    So all the clichés about NC being an ocean of sanity in a sea of insane crap are quite true. I don’t comment that much (though Yves was kind enough to feature a comment of mine yesterday) but when I do it’s because I have some knowledge of the subject, and because I know that others commenting will have some relevant expertise as well, and won’t just be competing to see who can make the snarkiest comment. So just reflect, Yves and co, and all who are thinking of sending some money, on just how unusual that situation is today.
    Now, where’s my credit card ….

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