The Loss of Fair Play

This site regularly discusses the rise of neoliberalism and its consequences, such as rising inequality and lower labor bargaining rights. But it’s also important to understand that these changes were not organic but were the result of a well-financed campaign to change the values of judges and society at large to be more business-friendly. But the sacrifice of fair dealing as a bedrock business and social principle has had large costs.

We’ve pointed out how lower trust has increased contracting costs: things that use to be done on a handshake or a simple letter agreement are now elaborately papered up. The fact that job candidates will now engage in ghosting, simply stopping to communicate with a recruiter rather than giving a ritually minimalistic sign off, is a testament to how impersonal hiring is now perceived to be, as well as often-abused workers engaging in some power tit for tat when they can.

But on a higher level, the idea of fair play was about self-regulation of conduct. Most people want to see themselves as morally upright, even if some have to go through awfully complicated rationalizations to believe that. But when most individuals lived in fairly stable social and business communities, they had reason to be concerned that bad conduct might catch up with them. It even happens to a small degree now. Greg Lippmann, patient zero of toxic CDOs at Deutsche Bank, was unable to get his kids into fancy Manhattan private schools because his reputation preceded him. But the case examples for decades have gone overwhelmingly the other way. My belief is that a watershed event was the ability of Wall Street renegade, and later convicted felon Mike Milken, to rehabilitate himself spoke volumes as to the new normal of money trumping propriety.

Another aspect of the decline in the importance of fair dealing is the notion of the obligations of power, that individuals in a position of authority have a duty to those in their sway.

The abandonment of lofty-sounding principles like being fair has other costs. We’ve written about the concept of obliquity, how in complex systems, it’s not possible to chart a simple path though them because it’s impossible to understand it well enough to begin to do so. John Kay, who has made a study of the issue and eventually wrote a book about it, pointed out as an illustration that studies of similarly-sized companies in the same industry showed that ones that adopted nobler objectives did better in financial terms than ones that focused on maximizing shareholder value.

Our Brexit regulars wound up talking about these issues as part of a UK election post mortem. Hoisted from e-mail. First from David:

Around the time of the cold dawn of Friday 13 December, I began to ask myself why the whole grisly Brexit business had turned out so differently to what I, and many others, had expected. Now it’s true that politics is unpredictable, but in 2015, any satirist worthy of their name would surely not have dared to imagine a sequence of events so bizarre as that which actually happened. And of course we can all be wrong, but I was basing my judgements not only on a lifetime of watching politicians at play, but also on the well-understood general principles of how politics, and especially international politics, operates.

The conclusion I came to involves conceding that, yes, politics is unpredictable, yes we all make wrong calls from time to time, but there’s something more profound than that. Simply put, the traditional rules and procedures of British politics have stopped applying. It’s not now possible to count on the British system for planning, forethought, rationality, strategy, tactical sense, political sense, common sense or any other kind of sense.

Consider. Cameron’s referendum promise was an error of judgement, but it could have been handled very differently even so. I’d assumed that there would be some kind of threshold (55% perhaps), and some provision for a later stage of reflection and time-wasting.

I assumed that the government would be wary of the possible result, and try to de-dramatise the referendum campaign.

I assumed that Remain would do a reasonably competent job, underlining the positive benefits of EU membership.

I assumed that the result, if it was “leave” would be the beginning of a long process of reflection and discussion. A Royal Commission, or something, would be set up, with several years to work out what kind of future relationship there should be with the EU. Bits of the UK most affected (agriculture for example) would be consulted in depth. Discreet soundings would be made throughout Europe to see what our partners might accept. Only after all this was done would it be time to press the Art 50 button.

At that point, I assumed, the UK would be well prepared and, in the traditional manner, have working papers and draft treaty language to propose as soon as the negotiations started. All aspects (including NI) would have been at least thought of.

I assumed that the Cabinet would have agreed a fairly detailed set of objectives and negotiating guidelines to give to the UK delegation, fine-tuned in the light of first reactions from partners.

I assumed that the Cabinet would have agreed fallback positions and some idea of what the Tories, and Parliament, would accept.

Literally none of this was true.

Now we’re not talking rocket-science here. Yes, the UK system was once pretty Rolls-Royce, but the kind of list I’ve given above would have seemed obvious to any middle-level functionary of any medium-sized country. Actually achieving all of it is not necessarily easy, but at least you can make a serious attempt: there are important stakes involved.

So what does this imply for the future?

Well, things are getting worse, not better. The Cabinet hasn’t even begun to think yet about the future relationship. Some of them probably think Brexit is all over. I don’t think there’s any agreement even about the vaguest outlines of this future relationship, which means that it could be months before any political objectives emerge, if they ever do.

Which is to say that we are in for another year of Keystone Cops diplomacy, with the stakes if anything even greater.

From Clive:

Your thought-process sounds like my trains of thought. And when I think those sorts of thoughts, I think that I’m a remnant or a bygone era. Which I am.

What disappeared from that world was playing fair. Everyone played fair, or, at least, playing fair was a bedrock than you could drift away from, but, sooner or later, you fell back on it.

There will be a lot of casualties until our societies get to the stage where they can rediscover fairness. I bought a book from a second hand bookstore about the founding of the EEC, from 1978 I think the copyright said it was. When I read it, it’s like it was written by some long-since vanished ancient civilisation. There were honourable intentions, strategies to deliver them, honest evaluations of emerging problems and, above all, a shared shouldering of responsibility to resolve them equitably. There was a sense of pride which leaps off the pages not at what had been achieved, but at what the prevailing culture intended to achieve. The book went on about the European ideal — and didn’t think it was in any danger of naivety.

That world has vanished — and it’s not coming back any time soon.

Brexit was a reaction to that. We can’t fix it, think a majority of the U.K. population, and we’re not even going to try. This is why Leave has progressed the way it has. The last thing the Leave majority (or maybe the smidge over 50% who think Leave is the best option) want to do is try to return to the failed common-cause based solutions. Johnson has no intention whatsoever of anything other than the lightest of lightweight FTAs — or even no FTA. Anything more would be an anathema to the Thatcher-esque approach the Conservatives have on remaking UK society by severing all EU ties. This isn’t really Thatcherism — a common misconception. It’s the sort of response which Thatcher would have devised, had she been placed in the same position, so is easily confused.

So this isn’t some unplanned, accidental stumbling along to an unexpected surprise conclusion. It is, rather, a laser like focus on an intended destination.

Anyone expecting some great effort or thought-process to be applied by the U.K. to salvaging a relationship with the EU will be disappointed. In effect, they’d be asking for the U.K. to spend time and resources saving something that isn’t, in the U.K.’s prevailing worldview, worth saving. The EU has been nothing but a bother, so the thinking goes, what’s the point in trying to flog the dead horse that is the European ideal? What did it ever do for us, anyway..?

Brexit is just a here’s-one-we-made-earlier example of a long-term global trend. If humanism — or fairness as I reduced it to earlier — makes a comeback, it might all be fixable. In the meantime, prepare for an increasingly atomised, separatist world.

Vlade’s response:

I’d like to agree with you. Except I believe you’re idealising it. The world was never playing fair – but it did cooperate more, because the US needed the Europe more in the cold war than it does now (when it’s more of a rival, definitely in Trumps’ eyes). Hell, the Soviet Block cooperated – except it didn’t really, it did what the SU told it to. But it definitely didn’t play fair. It did follow the rules, because the cost of breaking them was seen as too high (US was terrified I believe of France and Italy doing a deal with the SU). At least to me, following the rules and playing fair are distinct.

It’s possible that the western society was more fair before 90s, I can’t know. But again, I suspect that a lot of it was almost a self-protection against the SU and “communism”, which disappeared in the 80s., but possibly started disappearing even in 70s (when you live with some danger for a while, you get oblivious to it).

I do think that the Brexit was a reaction to the word that was. But I disagree that it was really the EU specific reaction, as in “the EU is the source of all this”. It played the part, but the underlying reasons were IMO much more varied than the EU – where I have doubts many of the people there really understood in any way, except as an externality you can rail against.

You get the crawing for the world-that-was in the US, and it doesn’t have any EU. You get it in Russia, and it has the EU and the US, or, if you want, “the West” which puts conveniently both of them together.

The world as most people knew it is coming apart, and chances are it will get worse (and who knows it it ever gets better). In times like those, people want the world-that-was. Sometimes it can actually be a force for good, like after WW2 in “the west”. Except even there it wasn’t the world-that-was, but more of the world-we-want (on both sides of the iron curtain, there was a reason why the communist regimes were, at least initially, strongly supported by the populace). But wanting the world-that-was was also what brought Nazis and Fascist into the power.

And PlutoniumKun’s:

A key casualty of neoliberalism was corporatism in its more benign form. It used to be that policy was made in the early hours in those proverbial smoke filled rooms where different groups at least made some type of attempt at compromise. This is still a feature of many countries and sectors, but I think its significant that the rot is most advanced in the neolib early adopters. It’s not just the formal art of making compromises, it’s the simple force of human contact when people in the same room together. It’s unfortunate I think that the UK joined the EU just as it lost interest in being run by civil servants having endless meetings with sectoral interest groups. This is a core reason I think why the UK never really engaged with the EU, even if in the short term its engagement was quite effective (essentially bullying other countries into getting its way on issues like agriculture and competition policy).

But as we’ve discussed before, the long term destruction of the British civil service has in many ways been just as stupid, and just as damaging, as the long term destruction of Britain’s manufacturing base. In both cases, the reasons have been ideological, not pragmatic.

Outsiders I think see it more clearly. I was travelling in Asia for a while and I was really surprised at how casually people would discuss what they see as the once admired anglosphere fall apart. Most Asians in my experience viewed Britain with a mixture of distrust and some awe and admiration. Now the commonest response seems to be a shrug of the shoulder or just plain schadenfreude.

This bodes particularly badly for the UK’s trade negotiators when they start face to face meetings. They will be a little like late 19th Century Russia or Turkey -seen as a country who’s only right to be at the top table is due to history, not present circumstances. The gradual retreat of the US from the eastern Pacific is pretty much seen as a done deal, everyone is frantically scrambling to ensure they are not caught on the hop. I’m a great believer that the true indicator of what a country sees as its future can be seen in what it spends its military budget on. Every major Asian country is spending serious cash on domestically sourced air superiority, long distance strike capability, in addition to A2AD for its brown water coasts.

There are many parts of the world where the ‘old ways’ are still pretty much intact – much of Europe still likes the EU and the way it works and vaguely corporatist/social democratic ways of doing things. Its easy to get carried away with stories of austerity and decay, but when I travel in Europe much of it (including countries like Spain and Portugal) look pretty good and no more or less full of discontent than they ever were. Much of northern Europe and individual countries like Portugal are doing very well indeed, and France has been defying the naysayers for as long as I’ve been reading English language economics papers and magazines. Its not clear to me that the foment in those countries – even in France – is much worse than its been in any given post war decade. There are cycles within cycles for these things. Ireland is, all things considered, booming economically and culturally content, austerity a long forgotten problem for most people.

What we are seeing is the postponed breakdown of the traditional centre left and rights. The wipeout of traditional left wing parties has been much commented upon, but less obvious is the breakdown of the old Christian Democrat/centre right tradition in much of Europe and other parts of the world in favour of a more libertarian/populist/nationalist form. It’s just that the change has tended to be more within parties, while the left is always more fissiparous.

I think the left is slowly, very slowly, reformulating along lines closer to the older anarchy tradition, as seen by the rise of Green Parties – but it will take time before a more grassroots, collaborationist form of left wing politics really starts to make a difference. I think the libertarian/neolib wing of the right is being well and truly wiped out by the more ruthless nationalistic (I hate to use the F word) tradition. The transformation of the Tory party into an English nationalist party with a focus on serving its new working class/lower middle class base has been carried out with quite remarkable speed. The Tory business class will come to deeply regret its silence over the internal revolution that took place post the Brexit vote.

All this of course is within the context of slowing growth and a rapid climate deterioration. All bets are off in significant parts of the world as the fires rage. The only certainty about climate change is that there will be completely unforeseen negative impacts.

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155 comments

    1. Ignacio

      Sorry, I forgot to say that this was one of these think-provoking posts that I like so much.
      In a loosing fairness world, what is the proper personal conduct one must follow? Go with the trend, or try to keep the old-style way as much as you can?

      I would expect the whole spectrum of answers to this question. Fortunately, there will always be some people that put fairness forefront.

      Reply
      1. Eustache de Saint Pierre

        ” Fortunately, there will always be some people that put fairness forefront ”

        Yes Ignacio but I do hope youngsters don’t become embittered by a world that is certainly a lot harsher for them than it was for me 40 odd years ago.

        After a year of fighting to get money from those who have plenty of it, am now working on a transatlantic commission for a wealthy guy from Colorado, who has actually shocked me with his fairness – particularly as I was worried about the possible downsides of getting into such a far flung relationship.

        He has actually kept my head above water while am waiting for a large long overdue payment from a public institution that I almost wish privatisation on for their lack of effort in addressing the situation.

        I had a great Christmas trying to play Santa without the suit, with the best bit being the giant full facial smile received from one of those likely old beyond her years Roma women selling ” The Big Issue ” as she sat as if clinging to the wall in the pouring rain.

        Reply
    2. FKorning

      It’s always dangerous to speak of absolutes. I would say the last decades saw the UK (and the US) shift from Reasonably Fair to Unreasonably Unfair.

      Reply
  1. Winston Smith

    I hope everyone at NC is having a fine Holiday…can anyone post the link to some of the videos explaining neoliberalism posted at NC a short while ago? Can’t seem to find them. Thanks

    Reply
      1. Carla

        I’ve just tried, for the second time, to watch that video. For me, it is too quickly paced to be effective, or even informative — and mind you, like other NC regulars, I KNOW this stuff. IMO, Nancy MacLean’s “Democracy in Chains” does a much better job. Yes, it takes more than 26 minutes to read — but I think understanding what has happened to the world over the last 75 to 80 years SHOULD take more than 26 minutes.

        Reply
        1. flora

          Yes, it is quick paced. I had to do the pause-rewind-replay this or that bit, pause-rewind-replay steps several times to get what was being said. Too much condensed info for me to take in all at once.

          Reply
        2. Sancho Panza

          “In the end, Democracy in Chains is characterized by a fundamental lack of curiosity. The book is disconnected from not just economics or political theory, but from all social sciences. Its citations draw almost exclusively from recently published books about American social or labor history. As such, it bears witness to an alarming parochialism. The narrative of American history it presents is insular and highly politicized, laying out a drama of good versus evil with little attention paid to the larger worlds—global, economic, or intellectual—in which the story nests. Ultimately it is not a book of scholarship, but of partisanship, written to reinforce existing divides and confirm existing biases. As such it will not stand the test of time, but will stand rather as testimony to its time.” – from Stanford historian Jennifer Burns’ review of Democracy in Chains

          Reply
          1. flora

            Carla’s fine book review/recommendation of “Democracy in Chains” has convinced me it’s worth reading. I’m going to my local indie bookstore and get a copy.

            As a US American, books about US America and her history are of interest to me.

            Your quote from Prof. Jennifer Burns is also interesting. Who is Jennifer Burns? This is what I find on her Stanford bio page:

            She has been a Research Fellow and Fellow at the Hoover Institute.

            From her own vita:

            My first book, Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right (Oxford, 2009), was an intellectual biography of the libertarian novelist Ayn Rand. For more on this book, watch my interviews with Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert, or check out my website (www.jenniferburns.org). I am currently writing a book about the economist Milton Friedman.

            My writing on the history of conservatism, libertarianism, and liberalism has appeared in a number of academic and popular journals, including Reviews in American History, Modern Intellectual History, Journal of Cultural Economy, The New York Times, The New Republic, and Dissent.

            I haven’t read her cited works and so don’t know if they are critiques in the progressive vein, or paeans to neoliberalism, or simple just-the-facts works. She’s no doubt a skilled academic, as was Milton Friedman. But I wonder if her critique of “Democracy in Chains” is unbiased, or if it uses an academic ‘voice from authority’ to promote an anti-progressivism bias, or pro-neoliberalism bias. My 2 cents.

            Reply
  2. inode_buddha

    Thank you, Yves. This post is about exactly the sort of thing that keeps me up at night. Frankly I spend a lot of time mourning for what our society used to be, and the notion that nobody has the backbone to do the right thing regardless.

    I spend my share of time in conversation with many people in the upper/middle class, business leaders and Conservatives in particular. The entire thinking is, “Losers cry about being fair, winners go home and bang the Prom Queen”. [paraphrased]

    I always ask them if this is the kind of society they want to live in, and raise their kids in. It is lizard brain, writ large.

    Anyway, I just want to say “thank you” for all your efforts as a beacon in the darkness. It is comforting to know that someone else also can see.

    Reply
    1. DHG

      They dont have the backbone as we are deep into the “time of the end” where the love of the greater number will cool off, they will be lovers of money and themselves, and the list goes on. This system of things is all Satans and its on the verge of being extinguished forever.

      Reply
  3. Synoia

    What disappeared from that world was playing fair. Everyone played fair, or, at least, playing fair was a bedrock than you could drift away from, but, sooner or later, you fell back on it.

    Was it “fair” or was it Because the Soviet Block offered an alternative, purportedly Communism but what appears to me as totalitarianism. The alternative to the Communist block had to appear more appealing for the players to gain advantage in the great game.

    With the Communist block gone, do we now just see the reality, and whatever accommodation was made to have the Western/US based system more appealing has now changed. How is the US’ system viewed in Latin America? As “fair?”

    When the British Empire controlled much of the world, was it “fair”? I was a part of that, and I could not describe it as “fair”.

    In the British Empire’s demolition the US played a good part of being “fair,” but it was “fair” only if it advanced the US’ interests. An example of this is the forgiveness of War Loans. Germany, on the Soviet systems’ door step had war debts forgiven. The UK, which paid a huge penalty for fighting the wars received no such favor for its “special relationship” with the US, coupled with a not-so-polite demand to dismantle the British Empire (aka Self Determination).

    I perceive the world’s governing system not in terms of left and right, but as the surface of a sphere, with the the horizontal axis being changing from “free” to “totalitarian” which can be approached from the political left or the right, and the vertical axis varying from market based (neoliberal) to centrally controlled, and any country is always being affected by words or threats to slide from one point on the sphere along some rhumbh line to another point.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      I don’t mean to sound like a defender of the old USSR, but people were worse off after it had collapsed. Even if it was sterile, they had free housing and free medical care. The average standard of living fell and had not recovered 25 year later, more than an entire generation:

      Now, 25 years later, events should prompt a reconsideration of the end of the Soviet Union, especially because the possible disintegration of Ukraine is but one of many political and economic crises among the ex-Soviet republics. In a previous article in oDR I showed that per capita income in Ukraine today remains 20 percent below what it was in 1990 when the country was a republic of the Soviet Union – not a signal of success.

      Four other ex-republics share this unenviable characteristic: Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova and Tajikistan. The five account for a quarter of the current population of the ex-Soviet republics, and almost half of the population if we exclude Russia itself. The percentage of households with incomes below the level of 1990 is considerably larger because of the increases in inequality in all 15 countries, with the increase most extreme in Russia.

      But this only hints at the fall in living standards. In most of these countries the public health system, with universal coverage of a high standard previously available in Soviet times, has collapsed. Ten years ago I contracted a chest infection while working in Moldova, and discovered the full meaning of a ‘two-tiered health system.’ At 5:30 in the evening I was taken to a nominally public hospital, and hurried past approximately fifty people lining a hall waiting to see the only doctor on duty.

      After seeing the doctor and getting an X-ray I was presented with a bill for US$ 5, trivial to me but far more than the waiting Moldovans could afford. To ensure that the guilt of that doctor’s visit would never leave my memory, I learned that I had been the doctor’s last patient that day. Those waiting, some of whom had come considerable distances, would have to come back the next day.

      There’s a lot more here:

      https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/odr/collapse-of-ussr-and-illusion-of-progress/

      The reason Putin is so popular despite being an authoritarian is he reversed the decline in living standards in Russia….more than a decade in, and over the opposition of the US to his “crack down on the worst oligarchs” policies.

      Reply
      1. Synoia

        I cannot disagree, as I have no direct experience of the USSR or Russia.One of my points was that with the USSR gone, the US was free to harden its position on Government social programs vs For Profit social programs.

        Reply
      2. Sancho Panza

        When a political system collapses, it is not surprising that there is deep regression. And Putin’s relative success at slowing the decline is not an indictment of our own system (it’s irrelevant) and it’s also not a validation of the former Soviet way of going about things. I am reading Gulag Archipelago right now and so was moved to comment.

        Reply
        1. ambrit

          Putin took on the Russian spawn of the Chicago School economics ‘wreckers’ who oversaw the looting of the old Soviet Union’s assets. Much of the ‘regression’ you decry was directly a result of the American Internationalist inspired deregulation and despoilation of the Russian economy. As such, he has asserted a fairly unique Russian way of doing things. To that end, he has opposed globalism in several ways, not the least of which is his promotion of the Assad government in Syria. Horrible as the Gulag was, America exceeds the old Russian metrics concerning incarceration. The recent moves towards privatization of prisons and prison labour will inevetably descend into some sort of American Gulag. Indeed, some cite the Guantanamo Bay ‘holding facility’ as an American Gulag. Let us not get into rendition. then, all bets are off.

          Reply
    2. TimmyB

      I don’t understand the argument. Trade treaties and organization that destroy a country’s industrial base by having cheap labor in a different country do the manufacturing aren’t “fair.” Destroying Greece in order to save German and French banks isn’t “fair.” Attacking a country’s general health and welfare laws as trade restrictions before an arbitration panel isn’t fair.

      We have installed patently unfair trade and tax systems that were designed by wealthy interests to further enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else. That’s what’s “unfair.” Not leaving the EU.

      Reply
      1. Synoia

        Yes, and if you are a Tory, blaming the EU for those travails, first puts you in power and second allows you to extract more profit, until the next change in Power.

        Reply
  4. Katniss Everdeen

    The idea of “fairness” is one of those things that used to be a lot more clear in the past than it seems to be today. In general, the rules were the rules, and anyone who decided to play accepted them. A level and “fair” playing field, with the same rules for everyone, was what determined the “winner,” and made “winning” legitimate.

    But lately society has apparently decided to determine the “winners” first, and change the rules to match the desired outcome. That approach has wreaked havoc with the concept of “fairness.”

    Everybody gets a trophy for “participation.” Eliminate the electoral college because hillary didn’t win it. Pretend that biological males are actually women because that’s how they “self-identify,” and let them “compete” against biological women instead of those with the same chromosomes.

    You can’t have “fairness” without rules, and playing fast and loose with the rules means you can never tell who the cheaters are.

    Reply
        1. ambrit

          Kipling no less! I fall back on de Tocqueville when the American public mystifies me. Barnum was a good observer of the public’s foibles. Although generally universally applicable to the human race, America seems to have nurtured and demonstrated an extreme variety of the Capitalist Consumer.
          I’d like to be proven wrong.

          Reply
  5. flora

    Thanks for this post. It seems like many of the economic and democratic govt and even social rules once reliably enforced by laws and custom have become mere suggestions. The idea of rules or fair play that existed from, say, the 1930’s – 1980’s, in the US now seem entirely overtaken by a sort of modern, re-invigorated, social Darwinism, a once rightly discredited moral theory. imo.

    Reply
    1. shinola

      Ah, yes – the self-licking ice cream cone of social Darwinism. Something to the effect of:

      “I won the roll of the die because I deserve to. The fact that I used a loaded die & you didn’t just proves that you are a born loser.”

      Reply
      1. flora

        Everything old is new again, unfortunately. Neoliberalism is like the old social Darwinism dressed up in newer, erudite, clothes. Substitute today’s words ‘the market’ for yesterday’s words ‘the strongest and fittest’ and you have a pretty close 1:1 match. Misapplying Darwin’s studies in biology to sociology.

        The following text was written for school kids’ history class. It’s a quick read.

        http://www.american-historama.org/1881-1913-maturation-era/social-darwinism.htm

        Reply
    2. Davenport

      And way before Darwinianism, at the dawn of capitalism, we had the Puritans.

      According to their doctrine, if you were wealthy it was because you were favoured by God. If you weren’t wealthy, God didn’t intend you to be. In every era, the selfish and the greedy have a justification.

      Nothing to do with the fact that you stitched up your fellow countrymen by enclosing common land and kicking those that had used it for generations off their means of self subsistence.

      Reply
  6. Frank Little

    Your comment about the courts role in eroding a sense of fairness and, by extension, trust in the system called to mind the courts’ role in maintaining the vast US prison system. The Supreme Court was recently considering a case filed from a pro se prisoner and Justice Sotomayor referenced a secret policy within the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals of denying all petitions filed by pro se prisoners for thirteen years without even so much as glancing at the briefs. The policy only came to light when an employee of the court referenced it in their note before committing suicide, apparently out of guilt.

    The Fifth Circuit happens to include Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate of any state. Eventually the policy was reversed, but in practice I’m sure most filings from pro se petitioners in prison are met with a similar lack of interest and consideration. Perhaps there are good reasons to dismiss some filings quickly given the large backlogs and legal rumors and nonsense that makes it way through prisons.

    However, the courts remain the last best hope for prisoners in trying to overturn wrongful convictions or address abuse at the hands of prison officials, at least for now. If the courts are happy to deny these people fair consideration for efficiency’s sake unless they can secure outside counsel you can bet this abuse and neglect will continue. Maybe that sounds like a fine trade-off to those in power now, but the long-term effect is the erosion of trust and confidence in the system beyond just those directly affected.

    Reply
    1. JBird4049

      Efficiency’s sake?

      So Louisiana, which has the highest incarceration rate of the United States, which itself has the highest incarceration rate of any country on Earth (Hey, America is still number one at something!) and is very possibly the most judicially, not to mentioned generally, corrupt state in the Union had its circuit court blow off appeals from the most desperate, vulnerable, and very possibly innocent, or at least unjustly treated, people under its responsibility to serve.

      I am shocked, just appalled that something like this could happen! Next, you will be telling me that Santa Claus is not real.

      Reply
  7. Steve Ruis

    Another consequence of the loss of fair play is a termination of the phenomenon that many workers, especially white collar workers, wanted to believe that their employer was trustworthy and, as a consequence, they trusted their employer at a higher level that is or was warranted. This trust was mis-placed to some extent but served as a bulwark when relationships between employee and employer became strained.

    I wonder now, whether this is still the case. It seems not to be. Granted employers have earned their employees distrust or, at a bare minimum, lack of trust that formerly was granted (due to wishful thinking).

    Reply
    1. Pelham

      I know exactly what you’re talking about. Before I was laid off, I watched as many colleagues were shown the door. Oddly from a trust perspective, most of these people were vastly more talented and experienced than the employees who continued to keep their jobs. (Though, of course, from a strictly shareholder perspective, their high pay levels justified their dismissal.)

      So from the canned employees’ point of view, after years of awards, high praise and affirmation from management, the fact that they were being hustled out the door (sometimes literally) amounted to a profound betrayal of trust. And you could see it in the look of shock on many of their faces.

      When my time came, I had absorbed the lesson and had completely detached my ego from my work, no longer taking any pride in what I did for a living. And I never will again as long as I’m working for someone else, even an employer who in the moment is kind and appreciative. They can turn on you in a heartbeat, and for the flimsiest of reasons.

      Reply
      1. The Rev Kev

        I read of one guy that warned a friend that was about to join a company to be ready. He told him that that the boss there had a date next to every employee for when he was to be fired. And that was every employee. The friend did not believe him but after a few months at the company came to the guy and said that he was right.

        Reply
  8. Carolinian

    Just to add in impeachment (prexit?), it once was considered a big deal that Nixon lied (“the coverup is worse than the crime”). And lying was at the center of the Clinton impeachment. But that’s less true with the current dispute and perhaps that’s because the impeachers themselves are shamelessly lying. The truth no longer seems to matter to anyone as long as a fairy tale “narrative” can be found to substitute. Perhaps it’s not so much that the world has become more evil or selfish but that modern society has a serious reality problem. People still understand fairness but simply pretend they are being fair as long as nobody is challenging their narrative (see Amazon post today). And that may be because we are saturated with media that are all too willing to tell us what we want to hear.

    Thank goodness for NC where some of us come–and for a long time–to find out the truth. Perhaps it’s not just a coincidence that many of those who hang out here seem to be older–old enough to remember a time when truth mattered.

    Reply
    1. Off The Street

      A little more patience, but not too much, is needed in awaiting the inevitable and continuing sunlight disinfectant applied to so many top level employees of the FBI, DOJ, their institutions and other malefactors in other branches. When, not if, that day arrives, when perp walks, trials, sentencing, mea culpas and much feckless deflection and gnashing of teeth occur, then will there be some perception of a symbolic return to the fairness that was once felt by much of the country. The preponderance of evidence, not punditry or spin, points to likely criminal convictions, ruined careers and discredited institutions. Repairing those institutions, and regaining public trust will be difficult given the inertia and FUD residues that have built up, but we do have a country at stake for all of us.

      There are many other aspects of the justice system that need review and reform, as noted by other commenters. Without some highly publicized changes to those institutions to restore some initial and fundamental element of trust, then people both in the US and abroad will have doubts about the Rule of Law. Most people do not want to have a country where that statue of a blindfolded justice has to peek to see who is trying to tip the scales.

      Reply
    2. Marcel Gibson

      No. There’s plenty of youth here. We’re the bodies eating it. We never woke to a sane world, and we know it. We’re trying to make a living which is why we’re afraid to make a mess of it. I’m not. Now, a joke….

      Reply
  9. The Rev Kev

    The main word used here is fairness but what we are really talking about is justice. It does not matter what country or culture that we are talking about, we all know when we are being treated fairly, or justly, and when we are suffering an injustice. An example? Two people have a meal together when one reaches over and helps themselves to the food on the other person’s plate. That sort of unfairness can get you killed in some places. But likely that feeling of unfairness or injustice is universal.

    And here is the crux of neoliberalism. It picks sinners and losers – deliberately – and abandons those they deem to be losers. But it does not do so on the basis of worth but on what it perceives to be worth which is why a college sports coach or administrator can earn millions while a professor earns peanuts. If anything, there is a strong streak of Social Darwinism to this as a justification to who these “winners” are. But most of us can think of people in business, sports, politics, etc. who in reality aren’t worth two bits based on their performance.

    The result for the UK? Those designated the losers who were abandoned, policed and watched by the winners saw their chance to strike back at them by picking Leave in the Brexit campaign. Life was not good for them and it was not going to get any better and so they decided to make a choice to deny the winners something that they valued – Remain. There is not a doubt in my mind that if these people had not been abandoned but had been able to share in the success of the country, then they too would have chosen Remain. You saw the same with the Trump vote in 2016 in the US. And this is only the first installment.

    Reply
    1. Rory

      I think the insight in your last paragraph, more than any other single factor, explains Donald Trump’s electoral success in 2016 and identifies who his “base” really are.

      Reply
    2. Brian Davey

      A friend described seeing some children arguing because one of them would not share some sweets. In the end a child who was not getting a share grabbed all the sweets, flung them on the ground and jumped up and down on them making them inedible for everyone. That’s Brexit for you – rather as the Rev Kev suggests. 

      To my UK perception “Fair play” is a self satisfied  British national PR myth and, if it derived from anything, it was from the Labour movement in government after 1945 creating the welfare state – but, and it is a big but,  British fair play was not much in evidence in its colonies nor during decolonisation. which were brutal, racist and unjust in the extreme – for example in Kenya. There was not much fair play in the actions of Thatcher who, for example, ordered the sinking of the Admiral Belgrano sailing away from the exclusion zone. Theresa May’s “hostility to migrants” is a reversion to a long tradition of foul play that is thoroughly British. I am not sure there ever was much of an era of fair play that we are now retreating from.

      Reply
    3. Philip

      “if these people had not been abandoned but had been able to share in the success of the country”, but that could not happen under Neoliberalism. A main feature of neoliberalism is the financialisation of the economy, a zero sum game, where rent extraction (that is debt) is inserted into every transaction possible. The “success” of the UK economy from the 1979 to 2008 was significantly built on deliberately impoverishing the chosen losers to the benefit of the winners. As one of the abandoned you don’t have to guess which way I voted on Brexit. The economic system as is has been beating the losers for forty years, did the EU save us in that time? Would it save us? Experience says no. We need change, if we don’t get it we will break the political system. If the centrists want a centrist political system then they have to abandon the extreme right wing neoliberal economics they have embraced for forty years.

      Reply
      1. proximity1

        Exactly. The comment to which you reply is one of the trite talking-point views of the privileged, conceited and cocooned who favor “Remain” and we find it repeated here uncritically and as though by rote.

        Since the “Brexit” referendum’s passage, via such talking-points, the supporters of “Remain” have tried everything in the book to reverse or ignore it, to simply make the vote, which was promised to be binding in its effect—a fact Remainers never mention—especially depicting those who favored leaving the E.U. as what, in the U.S. is called “Trailer Trash”, also commonly claimed to typify Trump’s “base”: ignorant, naive, socially-inept and embarrassing, people who know nothing of refined society’s “right form” and are supposedly politically and economically unaware.

        These derorgatory terms, however, better fit the group who have cynically backed “Remain.”

        From his comment, I have to doubt that the Rev Kev lives in, has lived in or even has much second-hand knowledge and experience of life in Britain.

        I challenge such people to come have a good, close and extended look from my perspective. E.U. membership has devastated Britain socially, economically, politically, and, not least, morally.

        I live now on the street, among the very worst (and exceedingly rare examples of the best) of humanity. What strikes me most is the fact that huge numbers of the most undesirable people, those from, especially, former Soviet-bloc countries, have poured into Britain and are now by far the largest component of the poor who draw on soup-kitchens, food-banks and, outside rural areas, all of the other charity and social services for the poor and unemployed. These are people who were just as despicable in their home countries and they were just as despised by their fellow citizens—who were relieved to be rid of them.

        They’re alcoholics or addicted to other drugs which they sometimes sell; they’re thieves, traffickers in stolen property and they have neither interest in nor intention of finding and taking regular honest employment—assuming they could find any.

        They have been Britain’s problem since their arrival and shall remain that for as long as Britain remains in the E.U.

        The great majority of “Remain” voters, though they sometimes have to “see” these immigrants in passing, largely live insulated from all but the most superficial contact with them—in passing.

        I have to deal personally with them whenever it comes to seeking any assistance from charitable organizations. And I am thoroughly sick of the sight of them. They’re full of undisguised contempt for people and culture of Britain, into which they have no intention of assimilating.

        “Remainers,” spend a year living in close proximity to the people just described and witness first-hand what their presence has meant for Britain. Then let us discuss your views of the blind-spots of Britons, many themselves immigrants from third-world nations, who want no more of E.U. Membership.

        Reply
  10. upstater

    The court system is perhaps the best example of how Fair Play has been degraded in the US.

    For 20+ years we ran a small mom-and-pop consulting business for large companies, all Fortune-500. We did highly technical work with such efficiency and economies of scale providing industry standings and granular decision support, the companies themselves or McKinsey-types could never come close to doing a similar product. At least until an industry association, facilitated by a customer decided to steal misappropriate our intellectual property and produce a knock-off product. This happened even though we offered to collaborate with the industry association and had a “good” contract prohibiting stealing misappropriation.

    Let it suffice to say that a mom-and-pop consulting business is at serious disadvantage as soon as you get a lawyer and file a lawsuit in federal court. The defense attorneys were given a blank check by their members and spent high 7 figure sums trying to pulverize us. By the time the thing was winding down, we were paying our attorneys our of our retirement account. I understand that in the UK and EU things are even more stacked against plaintiffs.

    While 98% of federal civil cases and tossed out or settled, we ended up with a 3 week trial. The defendants team had 3 partners, an IT person and paralegal from a national firm in court at all times, plus 3 people working locally at rented office space. We had a mid-size regional firm represent us — it was not cheap.

    What strikes us most is the defendants seemed to be on home turf from the get-go with the court. There were YEARS of delays and all sorts of spurious filings and even a counterclaim based on fiction. This is standard procedure. Further, it was a highly technical case and we performed thousands of hours of work to refine the details for the lawyers and jury to understand. The defendants had unlimited resources to obfuscate and confuse, which they did masterfully. The majority of evidentiary ruling were in favor of the defendants. It was a huge upward struggle.

    What is even worse is there is zero incentive for defendants not to lie mis-remember facts. Our lead attorney told us in 25 years of litigation practice he had never seen or heard of a sanction, much less prosecution, for perjury. In fact some of these liars were promoted and rewarded for their courtroom performance.

    This whole process took 5 years. We “won”; the jury didn’t buy the industry’s arguments. But our business was destroyed, we’ve been blacklisted and any residual value a business with 20+ years of stable income was destroyed. The industry group pays their staff handsomely (its just added to your monthly bill) and while a few people were pushed aside, the main perps remain and are well compensated. They plod along with a garbage imitation, but the associations membership executives don’t care — there is no third party assessment of their performance — they grade their own performance now.

    Needless to say, we are tired, disgusted and cynical. But glad we won and that it is over. I would not do it again…

    Reply
    1. Anonymous 2

      Very sorry to hear your story. That sucks.

      It reminds me a bit of the Phone Hacking trial in the UK. Peter Jukes has a good book on it – Beyond Contempt. The mismatch between the resources available to the News International people and those available to the British Government was risible. As a result News International was effectively in control of the proceedings almost from start to finish, though the Crown was able to get Coulson as there was incriminating evidence against him in writing.

      Yes there may well have been perjury as well and the police seemed as I recall to have been very slow to get to a farm where there were reports that major bundles of paper were going on to a bonfire. Hugh Grant, when he taped a journalist, was told that 20% of Metropolitan Police officers had been bribed by the press. Wonder if that had anything to do with it?

      And yet many Britons still think that the UK is a pretty straight place……..so much more honest than those foreign countries.

      Reply
      1. Carolinian

        Maybe they should just keep out Murdoch.

        Have recently watched series The Loudest Voice about Fox News. They make Murdoch look like an avuncular figure in order to heighten the villainy of Ailes but of course you don’t let the organ grinder off the hook so as to blame the monkey. No Rupert no Fox News and perhaps no current version of the NYT that acts like Fox News.

        Reply
    2. Adam Eran

      Thanks for the summary of the courts’ action as a millstone around the neck of honest commerce, and my sympathy for your loss.

      It’s worth remembering this kind of thing has consequences too. Fred Koch patented the basic refining processes to turn crude oil into useful products, then the Rockefellers’ refineries essentially stole those processes (used them without paying patent royalties) in their refineries. Koch sued….and *lost*! A few years later it came out that the Rockefellers bribed the judge…and Koch re-sued and won…but at what cost? And ever after Koch and his offspring came after the government whose courts were so corrupt.

      The lament about declining standards is as old as the Pharaohs–read Howard Zinn’s People’s History of the U.S. which exposes the New World’s history of venality–but recent events seem to be sounding the depths of the most profound dishonesty. It’s gotten bad enough that political economist Mark Blythe talks about the positive impact a disaster like the Climate catastrophe would have in breaking up this cabal of evil.

      Reply
    3. Fíréan

      Your story reminds me of Florida inventor Steve Morton’s case against copyright theft being closed down and covered up by then-FBI Director Mueller and then-Attorney General Eric Holder. Definitely a good example of unfairness at the top of the system.

      For further information on Morton’s case and story a good search engine for “Steve Morton” , ” Fincantieri “, ” Mueller”, ” Holder” , “Comey” , ought bring up an outlet covering said situation.

      Otherwise, for starters, i offer you a link : https://truepundit.com/mueller-holder-shut-down-fbi-investigation-of-stolen-u-s-stealth-defense-technology-implicating-lockheed-martin-while-comey-was-lockheeds-top-lawyer/

      Pleased to read that You “won” Your case.

      Reply
    4. Resolute

      Re your observation about “home turf”— that is what I also observed in the court assisted hijacking of my business. The judge and the lawyers for the big firm all knew each other. The outrageous behavior of their lawyers went unchecked, and ours (from a small firm) were bullied. My observation after the fact is that many of these judges “retire“ and go to work at the big corporate law firms. Payment for earlier support?

      My other comment is on your dismay at the lying. Having never been in a court trial other than on a jury, I too was amazed at how many lies were told in court, written perjuries were solicited from witnesses, and (before the trial) laws and regulations were brazenly broken by the other side. My conclusion was that the attorneys who enable corporate crooks make it their business to understand the tolerance of the existing laws… They know which can be broken with impunity and almost zero risk of consequences from a judge; that gives them a huge advantage over the law abiding legal naïf who (stupidly, no doubt in their view) follows the rules, the law, and maintains a sense of fair play.

      Reply
      1. Off The Street

        I had to fire a national law firm after a partner excused his tepid performance on having to deal with the guys on the other side of the table on future matters. His definition of advocacy extended only as far as his self-interest.

        Other attorneys told me that couldn’t possibly have happened as they all followed the law and observed strict client ethics.

        Reply
        1. JTMcPhee

          I’ve got more than a few examples from my seven years with a Big National Law Firm, since then swallowed by a Bigger International Law Firm. One bit I loved was the partner who got caught billing three different clients for a total of 24 “billable hours” in a single day. His excuse was that he was so smart he could contemplate three clients’ issues and problems at the same time.

          Reply
  11. Robert Gray

    from PK:

    > The gradual retreat of the US from the eastern Pacific is pretty much seen as a done deal,
    > everyone is frantically scrambling to ensure they are not caught on the hop.

    Not sure I understand this. Eastern Pacific? What retreat?

    Reply
      1. Mo's Bike Shop

        First I got romantic and thought it was a subliminal compromise of ‘Eastern Ocean’. Then I went all sophomoric and thought he just got off the plane in Australia. On more sober consideration I figure that he’s passed through a Charged Vacuum Emboitment and has not yet replaced his N-Space image translator circuit.

        Thanks for the post, I keep feeling that the old aphorism about “Those who can’t do teach, etc.” has reached a fractal self-similarity in its geometric growth.

        Reply
        1. Robert Gray

          > I figure that he’s passed through a Charged Vacuum Emboitment and has
          > not yet replaced his N-Space image translator circuit.

          Of course! (head slap!) How could I have missed something so obvious?!?

          Reply
  12. Wukchumni

    Wall*Street is often described as a casino, but in reality most every house of chance has a security exchange commission of it’s own, making sure that there is no cheating, and fair play on both sides of the green felt jungle, and should a dealer in it’s employ be caught in an act of larceny, they’ll be arrested toot suite.

    When Wall*Street was paid off on losing wagers a dozen years ago, fair play lost it’s luster and has only become more meaningless in it’s absence.

    Reply
  13. Summer

    Neoliberalism is insidious.
    So now, that austerity from the EZ and the like minded hasn’t been all that bad?
    Absolutely insidious!

    Reply
  14. Palinurus

    “I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.”
    —U.S. President Abraham Lincoln, Nov. 21, 1864
    (letter to Col. William F. Elkins)

    “These capitalists generally act harmoniously and in concert to fleece the people, and now that they have got into a quarrel with themselves, we are called upon to appropriate the people’s money to settle the quarrel.”
    speech to Illinois legislature, Jan. 1837.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      I find your Lincoln quotes curious. I thought Lincoln that after splitting wood for rail supports Lincoln made his name and money as a lawyer arguing cases for the large rail road corporations. If so, the quote you provided seems much like Eisenhower’s speech on the Military Industrial Complex.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        “Lincoln made his name and money as a lawyer…”
        How better to learn about the ‘real’ machinations of the ruling elites? What Lincoln did with that ‘education’ was what made him famous, not the education itself.

        Reply
  15. Vegetius

    Societal trust is impossible under conditions of imposed Multiculturalism. The sooner progressives figure this out, the better off we will all be.

    Reply
    1. flora

      The word ‘multiculturalism’ has a range of meanings, both sociological and political. You need clearly define your meaning of the word. As it is, your assertion is vague, imo.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        I imagine that the operative word in his or her comment is “imposed.” That implies an ‘authority’ that can dictate to everyone else. Such a state of affairs would be the opposite of what I grew up imagining “progressivism” was.

        Reply
    2. Summer

      What are the conditions imposed?
      Because as much of a problem as people have with the idea of “cancel culture” there still is the flip side that people aren’t going to continue to let themselves be treated like garbage.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        The ultimate ‘problem’ in all this is the perennial one of who controls the resources, or, as Marx and Engels put it, the means of production.
        People will be “treated like garbage” for as long as ‘garbage’ is all that is available to them. In an extremely unequal society, as the modern Wast has evolved into, once some threshold of resource ‘ownership’ is crossed, the only feasible method of redressing the balance seems to be outright revolt and warfare. Except for the example of Cincinnatus in the Roman Republic period, (See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucius_Quinctius_Cincinnatus) who knows of a time when concentrated power ever voluntarily gave up any significant portion of their powers?
        Inequality is inherently unfair.

        Reply
  16. ambrit

    With the site admin’s forbearance.
    We encountered the ‘ground level’ fruits of the loss of the ethos of fairness yesterday.
    Phyl was told to see the “Pain Management Practice,” an independent section of the local medical apparat in order to ‘manage’ her use of the pain meds she was prescribed for her amputation. So far, so good. The appointment is for two o’clock. Show up at one thirty o’clock to fill out paperwork. Due to a tight schedule and other impediments, we show up at the office at a quarter to two o’clock. The receptionist nurses, who sit at a desk behind an armoured glass partition, tell us that we are late and must reschedule the appointment for two weeks later. At which time, Phyllis begins to argue. This is normal behaviour with her when confronted with ‘unfair’ conditions. One of the receptionists relents somewhat and goes back into the back room and consults with someone.
    She returns and declares; “No exceptions are allowed. You are late and that is that.”
    Phyl replies: “You can see my problem. Are you going to be rigid?”
    Receptionist; “The best I can do for you is two weeks off.”
    Phyl; “Is there anything sooner?”
    Receptionist; “Do you want the appointment or not? We have work to do here!”
    Me, sotto voice to Phyl; “We will get nowhere with this bunch. Take the next appointment and we’ll see what we can do later.”
    Phyl; “All right.”
    As we left the waiting room, one of the two patients sitting there was visibly trying not to laugh. The other patient got up and helped open the large glass door so I could maneuver the wheelchair out into the hallway.
    The point of all this, (besides an apologetically admitted venting on my part,) is that this medical establishment has opted for a rigid and formalized rules based imposition of authority in place of any sort of fairness or flexibility in dealing with their clients. (I use the word client in it’s original [?] Roman sense.) Speaking with several of our neighbors yesterday I have discovered that this sort of rigidity in scheduling is becoming more common around here.
    One of the main features of fairness, at the least in medical situations is the belief that the patients deserve some leeway in their treatment at the hands of ‘officials.’ This new experience of ours highlights the emerging ethos that the system is paramount now. The patients are now there for the convenience of the providers, and their stockholders. Fairness has now officially been banned.
    I was going to make a remark about this system change being an example of late stage capitalism, but just realized that formalism and inflexibility are hallmarks of late stage anything.
    ‘Fairness,’ however one defines it is a function of flexibility. ‘Fairness’ shows the desire and ability to think out complex situations and move to balanced outcomes. All ‘actors’ in the social situation are considered and dealt with in some semblance of a socially supportive ethos. Communitarian at root, this has been, as is mentioned several times above, replaced by an atomistic and minimalist pseudo philosophy. The foregoing because a strategy of adherence to a rigid and simplistic set of rules in social situations is a rejection of thought and reflection. “I was just following orders.” Does that sound familiar?
    Alas, I fear that “things” are going to get much worse in the times ahead, for everyone.
    Thanks for your indulgence.

    Reply
    1. Elizabeth

      Ambrit, I am so sorry you and Phyl have to deal with humans utterly lacking in compassion and human decency. If think if this happened to me, I would argued forcefully – screamed- which would have probably had me removed from the office or banished from the practice. This kind of treatment from people who are dealing with patients who need help just makes my blood boil. Unfortunately, I think this kind of treatment towards others is a side effect of living in an unfair/unjust society. Many people’s hearts become bitter and hardened ( like I’m suffering and I don’t care if you suffer too). The dark world we live in now is cold hearted and full of tears. My heart goes out to you and Phyl and all others who are suffering because of this.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        Thanks Elizabeth. The Home Health nurse this morning didn’t want to believe our tale. She finally suggested that we complain directly to the top level of the Medical Organization that this practice is a part of. I’m going to try that Monday. As a side note, the Physical Therapist this afternoon mentioned that the nurses are stymied because absolutely no pain med scrips are written on Fridays. (I found it hard to credit, but reflection seemed to prove her correct.) This is evidently not just a function of the doctors wanting Fridays off, but a conscious policy on the part of the local medical establishment. [Your only recourse would be to admit yourself in to the Emergency Room I was told. Hmmm…. what’s the most expensive part of a Hospital practice? You guessed it!]
        My favourite aspect of the “visit” to the Pain Management Office was the presence of the armoured glass partition between the Lobby and the receptionist’s desk. This assumes that someone in the physical office planning stage anticipated a high potential for violence in that office. {I wonder why?}
        I was tempted to let Phyl scream her head off, but remembered the presence of a uniformed ‘Security Person’ in the building lobby. The two behind the glass partition looked like, and acted like the sort who would love to smack an unruly ‘client’ down. /Bored and smug would be how I summed up how the two women appeared.\
        Luckily, Phyl is already tapering off her drugs usage, so, there is a small cushion with which to maneuver around this unholy edifice of Mammon.

        Reply
        1. JTMcPhee

          I’d offer that those front-office people are probably hag-ridden by algos and metrics and unrelenting time constraints. Plus, as you probably know, the whole bidness of “pain management” has become nothing but a pain. As a nurse, I dealt with the Puritanical bull crap that has flowed out of the opiod crisis — we had patients who were well established on constant doses of meds, then all of a sudden they could only get a 7 day supply at time, and got turned down by pharmacists where they had been going for years.

          My wife and I have had a few bad experiences with all the various doctors‘ offices we now have to deal with. We were hoping to get all our old-folks care from a large one-stop facility. The practice was privately owned and has pretty much every geriatric specialty you could want. The owner sold out to Florida Blue, and immediately the cuts and other aspects of the Great American Business Model started appearing — anything that did not meet some algo-derived profitability got the axe. My wife worked there and had to quit finally because the bosses Kept demanding more and more work for less and less money, which ended up pushing her blood pressure to 280/140 and her on the floor crying. You could kind of graph the impact of the algorithm over time on the fewer and fewer people at “reception” and at the desks of the fewer and fewer remaining practice areas. The doctors were under massive pressure also, to shorten time with patients and meet all the EMR demands and the billing demands and the rest of the non-care time demands that just pile up and pile up.

          So sorry you are on the wrong side of the armored glass, suffering the inevitable effects of the Iron Law of Institutions. Maybe the two people you encountered were the kinds of petty authoritarians that sometimes end up in such positions. But I’d ask a prayer for their souls too — very likely they are miserable in their work, and just a conduit for the sh%t that flows downstream. One long drawn out manifestation of the Milgram Experiment…

          Prayers for better health for you and all your family this coming year.

          Reply
          1. ambrit

            Thank you good sir.
            I keep thinking back to the first line of the Hippocratic Oath: “First, do no harm.” That admonition is based on the primacy of the patient in the ‘transaction’ ongoing. The present iteration of the ‘Healing Relationship’ has been financialized. As you note, the effects are all detrimental to the health, physical and mental, of both patients and ‘care givers.’
            The reference to the ‘Iron Law of Institutions’ is a good catch.

            Reply
            1. Lambert Strether

              “First, do no harm” doesn’t create a self-licking ice cream.

              “First, make a profit,” however, does (even or perhaps especially if the harm creates profit-making opportunities).

              And here we are!

              Reply
              1. ambrit

                Blast! And I like ice cream cones!!!
                What will ‘they’ financialize next, human primary and secondary sexual characteristics? Is there no shame? (Rhetorical question, of course. Silly me.)

                Reply
    2. katiebird

      I wonder if Phyllis’s doctor could refer her to another clinic, one a little more compassionate to people in pain? (Couldn’t they let you finish the paperwork while you wait in that little room for the always late doctor?)

      This story has me enraged for Phyllis and also you. I am so sorry. Two weeks. The audacity. Making her wait even a day! (I am almost crying in frustration. So very sorry)

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        I’m sorry to cause pain in others. Even my cynical side rejects that idea.
        The problem with the doctor sending Phyl to another Pain Clinic is that this entire congeries of banal evils are parts of a Medical Complex. The doctor has his practice as part of a group of surgeons who work for The Clinic. The Clinic is incestuously entwined with The Hospital. The operation occurs within The Hospital. The Rehab Floor is a semi-independent unit of The Hospital. The Pain Management clinic is another semi-independent unit of The Clinic. Even the Home Health organization is somehow ‘involved’ with The Clinic.
        As the above suggests, this entire edifice rests on a neo-liberal foundation. Each part feeds ‘product’ into each other part of the machine. The patient becomes a cypher, and is so treated. Bigness imposes it’s own logic on the process. Remember the old ‘motivational’ saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff?” Now, the patients are the “small stuff.”
        I’m going to raise Hell Monday. We’ll see how far I get.
        Thank you for showing us what a normal, balanced human being sounds like.

        Reply
        1. Merf56

          I empathize having assisted my sister dying of terminal cancer in early 2019 and in doctor visits or pain management to get pain meds without jumping through the hoops of the damned . Some days I just could not get her into the car and then out to get there at the perfect time. If we left too early she hated it because there was no room in the office for her wheelchair and we had to sit out in the frigidly cold hallway or the car which was extremely uncomfortable for her. So we were sometimes a few minutes past the ‘get their 20 minutes ahead of your appointment’ crap…. We literally had to sob uncontrollably several times for them to allow us to keep the appointments. And often the office was running an hour late anyway so why did it matter we weren’t there 20 minutes ahead?
          . After telling this all an acquaintance who used to work at a practice herself she told us that forcing their office staff to do that type of thing was why she left…. she couldn’t take it emotionally. She said it was the office manager in her case, not the doctors, who enforced this Nazi Style shit. So she went to see the docs after leaving, ostensibly for a medical reason and instead told them exactly what was going on in the front. The docs fired the office manager immediately. Her job was offered back but she just couldn’t do it anymore…
          My sympathies to your family health struggles. It’s not like illness and injury aren’t hard enough without having this hateful nonsense to deal with… it takes so much energy when that energy is sorely needed elsewhere..

          Reply
          1. ambrit

            Thank you for the ‘validation’ that our experience is not some outlying aberration.
            I’m sorry to hear about you and your sister’s struggles with not only her cancer, (which was the initiating factor for Phyl’s amputation,) but also a literally non-sane medical system.
            In the last day of going back and forth on this thread, I have come to the conclusion that this “Medical Industrial System” needs much and forceful push back. Several people have offered excellent advice and wisdom concerning this. The System, whatever it be, must be bought back under the control of the people enmeshed with and within it.
            I hope your sister went well. She had you to care and help. That’s always good.

            Reply
    3. smoker

      Through way too much first hand experience with loved ones, especially in the last year, I’ll agree that the ethos of fairness within so called Health Systems is many times horrifyingly lacking, instead sociopathy reigns, due to those at the top. The patient and their loved one[s] are punched down on – with no apologies or acknowledgment of the brutality whatsoever – because they’re the only ones who can’t punch anyone as the corruption and amorality of the CEOs and Government Health VIPS quickly oozes right down to the patient and their loved one(s).

      And yeah the security people many times seem hired for being real aholes, who love to prove it, one usually never saw in many hospitals over a decade ago. On a visit to a loved one in ER a few months ago was told to put up my hands over my head because of a 1 ½ inch Swiss Army knife attachment on my keychain (teeny scissors and tweezers, which is the main reason I kept it; blunt nail file; and teeny blunt blade) as I was going under the scanner.

      Also yeah, the hoops one must endure for meds that patients actually need. One doesn’t realize the nightmare in this country until they witness it firsthand, like must go to ER to get the med if the scrip was screwed up by a negligent Doctor and its a Schedule 4 med, which users are now tracked automatically as if drug abusers when most of the time they’d far prefer not being on it.

      And then the heads of the Hospital System patient issues and complaints departments seem chosen for their amoral duplicity and Business/Management™ Degrees, doing nothing whatsoever but protecting upper management at the expense of the patient. One can tell how horrid they are by how long they’ve ‘thrived’ there without quitting in shame and disgust

      Anyway, so very sorry about what you and your wife are enduring. ambrit, I hope she’s at least able to take NSAIDs like Ibuprofen or aspirin for pain.

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        She can do the NSAID route, but an amputation seems to be in a class of it’s own. The tumours on the removed lower leg were impervious to NSAIDs. Thus the original resort to Schedule 4 narcs.
        The pain manifests in her missing extremity. True mind matter boundary territory.
        What worries me is, given the authoritarian presentation of this “clinic,” that the ‘doctor’ will offer pseudo-effective medications for the pain. This pain, we are told, will persist for the duration of the healing period for her ‘stump.’
        It is all new territory for us both.

        Reply
        1. smoker

          Oh my, and on top of possible Authoritarian pseudo effective healing (very familiar with arrogant, chilling, authoritarian doctors currently), it’s no fricking help whatsoever that the top level of the FDA and the Pharma industry is so corrupted to the point where one has concern about the ‘promises’ of any med prescribed, or whether the generics manufacturer is taking ‘shortcuts.’

          So sorry, I pray something helps, a huge embrace to both of you.

          Reply
          1. ambrit

            We are very ‘hip’ with your ’embrace.’ Thank you and keep fighting.
            One thing I am re-learning with this experience is that Phyl’s abrasive and insistent style does quite well with institutional functionaries. This ‘defeat’ was an example of people using ‘rules’ to absolve themselves of any responsibility to compromise with aberrant patients. It all actually reminds me of stories about the institutional inertia of the old Soviet regime. As our patient hostess mentions, the old Soviet system at least tried to ‘serve the People.’
            Today’s Neo-liberal medical system is mercenary. As such, it’s guiding philosophy is one of ultra competition and looting behaviour. The Hippocratic Oath has been pushed aside and remains mainly as contentless virtue signalling. It is now a camouflage for venality and careerism.

            Reply
            1. TheHoarseWhisperer

              Hi ambrit-

              Not sure what state you are in but you may want to try calling the attorney General’s office. You can log a consumerccomplaint with them. You have good grounds in claiming unfair treatment by the office – not least because your appointment Was for 2 pm. There are many ways in which the pain management office would be a regulated business under the authority of the state. So they have every incentive to play nice with the AG. I live in a small state and this has worked for me in the past.

              Reply
              1. ambrit

                Thank you for this suggestion. I had not considered that option. I have had one interaction with the Mississippi state Attorney General’s office about ten years ago concerning a business fraud. They were very helpful. Thanks again for reminding us of that useful institution.

                Reply
              2. smoker

                Have you done this with a Medical Facility Complaint?

                In many States (most/all?) the medical facility complaints are made with the State’s Department of Public Health and/or State Medical Board (know this from prior ugly experiences). In California, both departments are scandal ridden and worthless, though one may fare way better in a State where the resident to State Representative™ ratio is far, far higher than California’s is. All the enormously paid State Representative™ VIPs out here tend to have their staff subtly, or openly, act like intimidating cops at the end, or beginning, of the day, angry that you’re reminding them of their malfeasance, versus the public servants they’re supposed to be.

                (gotta run, will check back.)

                Reply
                1. ambrit

                  Hi back. I have just been on safari through the vast jungles of State Medical Licensure.
                  The rules pertaining to “controlled substances” are byzantine. Opioids are in a class by themselves. No more than two ten day prescriptions outside of a medical facility before mandatory referral to a Pain Management Practice. Paperwork galore! State and Federal level intrusions into the patient doctor relationship. A mandating of the resort to both “minimal levels of pain medicine ‘needed'” and the “use of non opioid medications.” One citation specifically mentions substituting a lidocaine patch for “potentially addictive pain medications.” Mandatory drugs testing three times a year for long term patients.
                  The two classes of patients exempted from the Gordian Knot of regulations are, firstly, for serious pain killers, cancer and terminal patients and, similarly, persons under 16 years of age prescribed amphetamines or other similar drugs for ADHD. (Gotta keep those pesky school kids under control!)
                  After wading through this morass, I feel like I need some serious pain, mental, meds myself!
                  Oh, in reply, sort of, to ‘katiebird’s’ suggestion that we try to shift Phyl over to another Pain Management Practice, well, there are vague rules in force concerning “doctor shopping” by patients. The idea of limiting one’s latitude of action once one is enmeshed in a particular institutional entity sounds very close to monopolistic practice. (As in, everyone in the ‘bizz’ agrees to support each others closed ecosystems.)
                  From what I have gathered from my cursory researches, the “War on Drugs” has become a “War on Patients.”

                  Reply
                  1. smoker

                    Yes that appears to be exactly what the War on Drugs is, the War on Patients. I’ve been in a permanent state of nausea, yet not being able to puke, for most of the year now dealing with the a loved ones healthcare and prescription issues, including a Schedule 4 med, along with an even more restricted med. That med was recently repeatedly pawned off on my loved one to disastrous effect – despite the parties involved being informed it would not work out (due in part, to the severe restrictions on the med), and they repeatedly had to go through withdrawal, for one, because the scrip was not properly written when my loved one returned from the hospital.

                    As to the Schedule 4 Med, A horrid skilled nursing home, discharged my loved one, who lives an hour away from the facility, without supplying the required remainder of a Schedule 4 med which they desperately needed and had been billed for. I was in a panic for days and not one Health Care Doctor or other authority who was in a position to do so did anything about it against the facility, not even a call. Who knows what the Skilled Nursing Facility did with the med.

                    Worse, I have reason to suspect the skilled nursing facility may have slandered my reputation with a vicious lie at a horrid social score site (who’s now wealthy founder is, of course, a California denizen who should be locked up for maliciously destroying lives) after I repeatedly complained about their actions during my loved ones stay.

                    There was also the horrid discovery, during that stay, that Medicare Part A appeals have a 98% failure rate. Would write more about this, and the horrid contracted companies which handle the appeals, but I both: don’t have the time, and revisiting the experience gives me a visceral reaction. I would provide a link regarding that failure rate, but of course the good link I found just months ago, I can no longer find in a search. If Medicare for all passes, which I hope it does, many foxes need to be banned from the chicken coop.

                    As you noted, I feel like I need therapy now after near a year now of venal abuse by parties who are supposed to help people. This countries powers that be have utterly lost any semblance of a moral compass.

                    Reply
                    1. ambrit

                      Sorry to hear that tale of negligence and woe.
                      Ts it just our cohorts, or are all the demographics now suffering through a decline in living standards?
                      As someone elsewhere here mentioned, the “Iron Law of Institutions” is now the paramount arbiter of our fates.
                      I agree that M4A needs an overhaul, not tweaking. If the Sanders proposed version makes it to signing, I’ll rest somewhat easier, but I have come to the conclusion that a full National Health system will have to be put in place here in America. Otherwise, ‘The Jackpot’ will ensue.
                      Ye Iron Law: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_institutions

                    2. smoker

                      Thank you, ambrit.

                      I think decent caring people across all age spectrums are being brutalized, but older people, and the disabled, are far easier to brutalize, for a variety of reasons. One glaring reason is that if someone is on disability and not earning significant income (versus benefits), or retired, generally no attorney (assuming the victim can even afford one), unless a friend, will take on anyone in the healthcare field. Yet another thing that needs a major overhaul, access and affordability regarding legal services justice, millions have no such access to skilled justice assistance.

                      Take care, hope both of you get some of the relief from malfeasance, and the assistance you deserve.

                2. smoker

                  Bummer, just realized I made a crucial error in that comment, I meant:

                  where the resident to State Representative™ ratio is far, far lower than California’s is.

                  not higher.

                  Reply
            2. JTMcPhee

              ambrit, I know you don’t need a flood of advice, but the doctors I used to work for were very good at managing and ameliorating phantom mild pain. They work in “physiatry,” which is more commonly “physical medicine and rehabilitation.” It might be worth seeing if there is a physiatry practice near you, though all doc choices these days require vetting through the comments and complaints about them on the net.

              Reply
              1. ambrit

                Ah! The NC commenteriat is the BEST commenteriat!
                Thanks for this bit of information. As I mentioned somewhere above, all this is new territory for both of us.

                Reply
            3. Yves Smith Post author

              The excuse for the rule was that you needed to fill out paperwork by 2PM. They didn’t even let you try. I’ve filled out paperwork a zillion times and it’s never taken me more than 10 mins. And they already have Phy’s address and billing data by virtue of the internal referral.

              Reply
              1. ambrit

                Thanks. I’ll remember this argument for tomorrow when I try to raise a little H— over at The Clinic.
                The ‘patient’ ‘chain of custody’ is already convoluted enough. The opioid prescription began as a scrip from a Family Practice Resident (in The Clinic,) to bridge the time between dropping off of the Hospice care, (which is another tale of institutional dysfunction altogether,) and entering the Surgeon’s care. (Said surgeon’s practice is part of The Clinic.) The surgery happened in The Hospital. After two days of recovery in The Hospital after the surgery, she was transferred to the Rehab Floor, (a semi-independent entity within The Hospital.) At that time, responsibility for her pain medications was transferred to the Rehab Doctor. (All pain medications administered within The Hospital and the Rehab Floor are exempt from limitation.) After release from the Rehab Floor, she was again subject to the two ten day prescriptions for narcotics rule. After that, she is mandated to enter a Pain Management Clinic program.
                I already have downloaded the form, yes, a form is needed, to complain to the State entity that oversees medical practice behaviour.
                Kafka would have approved.

                Reply
                1. ambrit

                  The convolutions of the aforementioned “Patient Chain of Custody” has been even weirder than I suspected. More on it later. Suffice to say, Phyl has her meds through to the appointment with the “Pain (Mis) Management Clinic.”
                  A discussion of Types of Pain is also in order.

                  Reply
        2. Lambert Strether

          Insisting on timely appointment- or rather pre-appointment-keeping for amputees…

          Somebody, at some level of the institutional hierarchy, finds that deeply amusing. The sort of person who laughs alone at night….

          Reply
          1. ambrit

            The more I read here in this commenteriat about the “insolence of office” that plagues neo-modern America, the more I am convinced that the old Soviet Union actually “won” the Cold War. Today’s America resembles the horror stories about the old Soviet Union to an increasing degree over time. (Actual ex-denizens of the old Soviet Union please correct me if I stray too far from the objective truth on this matter. [I really am interested in how close this analogy of mine conforms to the reality.])

            Reply
            1. inode_buddha

              As an American, I’ve suspected this since Bill Clinton was in office.

              I began to notice the same horror stories happening here, yet you can’t get anyone on the Right to acknowledge it. If they do acknowledge it, they argue that it is the natural order of things due to meritocracy, or they argue that big bad government screwed everything up.

              What they will never admit is that it may be the result of their favorite ideas.

              Reply
            2. smoker

              Thank you ambrit! On the very same, outraged I might add, page here, I commented on it earlier this month:

              One of the things so enraging to me about Pelosi (and all the other Dems), regarding that obsession with Russia, as the US witnesses an explosion of Suicides, Despair, and Homelessness – none of it caused by Russia – is the childhood school memory of being told how Russian citizens repeatedly went without, in line for countless hours waiting for access to basic services and necessities.

              Meanwhile Nancy’s Adopted State, California, and The Federal Government have turned California and the US at large into an insidious, far, far worse version than Russia’s long physical lines of needy citizens. Now, instead of hours, many either wait for days for necessities or basic services, sometimes weeks or months, or go without. Many on MediCal [CA’s Medicaid], can’t find a doctor for the life of them when needed, many with insurance can’t afford to be treated, and millions are still uninsured. These invisible ‘lines’ of desperately waiting humans alone and hidden out of sight with the aid of a Fascist Technocracy the Government supported (with the Internet Sales Tax Moratorium of the late nineties for one example) and subsidized with our money. That Fascist Technocracy hides that misery from public view of long physical lines of humans via forcing everything online (despite the fact that millions still have no reliable internet access), shutting down Brick and Mortar a Libraries, State Employment Offices and Federal Offices, such as Social Security and US Post Offices, and allowing Horrid Amazon to disembowel age old brick and mortar businesses.

              Reply
              1. ambrit

                The really sad part about your example is that, in general, California is the national trend setter and leader in ‘innovation’ and ‘progress.’ The view of today’s California is disheartening.
                I’m going ‘long’ guillotines.

                Reply
                1. smoker

                  Having witnessed it up close and personal for way too long, it’s all way too disturbing – guillotines indeed.

                  People need to vet (and Stop LYING) way, way more than they have been doing for decades about how great California is, especially to its own millions of impoverished residents. Approximately a third of them on Medi-Cal [Medicaid], and approximately seven percent (over two million) , are totally uninsured, most can’t afford it due to housing costs, yet amazingly don’t qualify for any healthcare.

                  Hope you and Phyl’s evening is the best it can be, particularly regarding her pain.

                  Reply
                  1. ambrit

                    Thanks. Tonight is Scrabble night. She usually beats me. She also does her drawing as a form of distraction from the pain. “When I’m concentrating on a sketch, the pain sort of fades into the background.”
                    One cannot do the same for homelessness.
                    (If the Sanders campaign could get even a quarter of those on Medi-Cal to the polls, California might be ‘in play’ this election cycle.)

                    Reply
                    1. smoker

                      I used to love playing scrabble with my family, still have the wooden version and a pocket version, glad Phyl is eased by the drawing and the scrabble!

                      As to Bernie and California voters, I’m very disappointed that his campaign has not addressed Age Discrimination at all (see: https://berniesanders.com/issues/workplace-democracy/). It is now even hitting those in their thirties, and possibly a reason Silicon Valley teens despair has skyrocketed. And, not highlighted near enough – it isn’t limited to those without degrees or professions. I suspect many of the skyrocketed Middle Age (particularly the huge increase among females) Deaths of Despair and Suicides have much to do with this. It’s psychologically abusive to be asked, while facing sure homelessness, to vote for a candidate older, or younger, than oneself who has not addressed this issue.

                      Additionally that workplace democracy page does not address the historic and continuing wage discrimination against the Disabled, and Females.

                      I would also suggest, in terms of California Housing, that he not omit Google and Facebook, etcetera; nor California Politicians, from the cause. I was totally bewildered by their omission when he called out Apple for tax evasion while helping create the unaffordable housing crisis, in this November piece, Bernie Sanders accuses Apple of starting California housing crisis – But the senator fails to call out cities not doing their part. This, particularly since the Facebook Campus is located square in the middle of the historically largest (as in not allowed to buy housing elsewhere ) Black population in Silicon Valley; and Google is now devastating affordable housing with its new San Jose Campus, as San Jose has the largest historic Hispanic population in Silicon Valley.

                    2. smoker

                      Much shorter version of an earlier response, ambrit:

                      I used to love playing scrabble with my family, still have the wooden version and a pocket version, glad Phyl is eased by the drawing and the scrabble!

                      My earlier comment in moderation also discusses California (and National) voters, regarding Bernie’s Campaign.

                    3. smoker

                      Thanks so much for releasing my earlier comment above, while trying to at least enjoy some holiday season; as I believe the as yet unrepresented California and National voter perspective I addressed is very Time Sensitive and Crucial.

    4. KiWeTO

      “Most bureaucracies before mine sought out and promoted people who avoided decisions”
      -Leto II
      Frank Herbert, God Emperor of Dune, 1981.

      Sorry to hear of the negative outcome, but people hide behind rules to avoid being responsible for an outcome. And that appears to be the go-to rule today.

      “Easier to postpone the decision for I may not be here tomorrow. Especially when the consequences of the decision do not accrue to me.”

      Reply
      1. ambrit

        Yep. No one wants to be the nail head that stands up above the rest. The “system” tends to ‘hammer’ such ‘outstanding’ individuals.
        “Risk averse” is a lifestyle choice? Wow!

        Reply
  17. Anarcissie

    While I definitely agree that ruling classes have deteriorated remarkably over the last few decades, I don’t think the old days were very fair either. Fairness is of interest — in fact, it’s crucially important — in a society composed of people who are more or less equal and autonomous. It’s a way to get along without a lot of conflict and risk. In an highly unequal society, like those of the US and the UK, it’s much less valuable than access to the levers of power. You don’t have to get along with those you can crush or brush aside. As the scene here in the US continues to deteriorate, I expect concepts like fairness and justice to seem more and more quaint to the movers and shakers and fixers, until finally the general system breaks down completely. It’s anybody’s guess what will succeed that.

    Reply
  18. JimTan

    I think this loss of fair play is partly because many have realized that fortunes can be made simply by gaining exceptions to established rules and laws. There have always been exceptions, here and there, but our situation now is there are exceptions to established rules everywhere. Companies can now simply lobby for some exclusive benefit or to ignore some law that everyone else must follow, and then collect a risk free guaranteed profit for essentially doing nothing.

    Many large firms use these exceptions in the form of legal protections not available to their competitors to both attain and maintain their competitive advantage. These protections include ignoring existing laws, profiting from illegal businesses where profits exceed fines, and profiting from exclusive U.S. government subsidies not available to competitors. The banking and drug industry are notorious for routinely engaging in illegal practices that generate profits which far exceed the fines that regulators impose when these firms are caught. Preferential government subsidies that benefit a single company in an industry are now also acceptable business strategy as companies like Amazon can obtain confidential agreements with the U.S. Post office to ship packages for at least half of what UPS and FedEx would charge for the same deliveries. A subsidy like this contributes to the many reasons that its competitors are driven into bankruptcy, and probably explains why Amazon’s retail business loses money everywhere except in the U.S.

    Many small firms, especially tech unicorns in their early days, use these exceptions in the same way. Amazon started as a small company that would sell mail-order books in a way that allowed it to avoid sales tax. Early Uber investors were probably attracted by a belief that government will look the other way while it made cab rides cheaper by ignoring local taxi regulation, then transferring all its business costs to its drivers, and then collecting a substantial fee for each of taxi fare. AirBnB started as a small company whose rent would also ignore local hotel regulations, zoning laws, health laws to prevent public health hazards, and fire safety codes. Small drug companies like Turing Pharmaceuticals can simply acquire patents for drugs with no substitute and then raise prices by 5,456%.

    The problem is that too many of these risk free ‘rent seeking’ opportunities can overwhelm an economy filled with corporations who are all chasing the highest risk adjusted rate of return. When there are too many of these rent seeking opportunities in an economy then its companies will select only these risk-less rent seeking strategies, while abandoning all riskier but socially productive profit strategies like the pursuit of new breakthroughs, product innovations, design quality, superior service, and product reliability. A related negative outcome which you hint at with ‘fair play’ is most of these rents offer particular exclusions from laws designed to protect society like those prohibiting consumer or investor fraud, prohibiting worker exploitation, ensuring consumer safety, and maintaining financial market stability.

    So an economy with systemic rent seeking often incentivizes its corporations to abandon their socially productive profit strategies, and then replace them with risk-less ‘rent’ strategies where profit comes from ignoring laws that protect our society from fraud, exploitation, and economic disruption.

    Reply
    1. Jeremy Grimm

      The point of this post — as I understand it — is that not that long ago even a character like Bezos would have felt qualms about his activities or at very least felt some sting of moral outrage and ostracism by his class. But quite the contrary to this — Bezos, is exalted as a modern demigod, a son of Mammon/Moloch. Fortunes could always be made by “by gaining exceptions to established rules and laws” or by simply ignoring “established rules and laws”. But there used to be a price to pay. Now — instead of shunning — a character like Bezos is courted and worshiped because of the money he wrests from all. I agree with what you assert in your comment regarding how money is made “by gaining exceptions to established rules and laws”. However, in the recent past, there might be at least some effort to establish a distance between a person of wealth and the ‘coarse’ ways that wealth were accrued.

      Reply
    2. Resolute

      This is the best summary I’ve seen of what happened in, for instance, the charter school world. Originally designed as a hack to get around the hopeless bureaucracy of large school districts— to enable educators to innovate and model new approaches, it was taken over by this mentality and the experienced, the effective, the ethical were driven out. There are now so many different forms of fraud that you need a taxonomy chart to track them.

      Reply
  19. smoker

    Thanks for this.

    Jeff Bezos was the first thing that popped into my mind. The Technocracy –with no room for humanity, where the masses serve as hosts for 24/7 parasites – the second.

    In this neck of the woods,Silicon Valley, the infestation of unfairness reflects itself everywhere, particularly in the homelessness. Cars, the way they’re driven, and how they are judged, are also a perfect example. You can see it in very pricey new model cars with dangerously blinding LED lights as the norm (which an insane National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has yet to address after over a decade of complaints); so called demon light headlight adaptations which make the car appear like a predatory night stalker in one’s rearview mirror; and disturbing personalized license plates, saw one the other day that said MALWARE. And then there’s the judgment by vehicle. After having lived where I am for over a decade, was asked by a new neighbor, in a brand new vehicle, if I needed directions, as if I was lost, when I stopped to speak with another neighbor in my not clunker looking, almost 20 year old car. It cut me to the bone, as words can.

    Small businesses are increasingly losing their shirts and being shut down due to amoral commercial property owners; Amazon; Google, Facebook and Apple Campuses™; and corrupt mayors and city council members’ neighborhood planning™.

    The Silicon Valley CalTrain commuter line just had its 16th pedestrian fatality of the year in early December (a thirty two year old female youth therapist), and a hospitalized, attempted 17th fatality, 9 days later; despite ever increasing rail vigilance. Meanwhile the Local News™ keeps alluding to track improvements versus addressing the now tangible despair. It’s all gut rending and no surprise that Santa Clara County led California in negative migration between 2018 – 2019. Unfortunately many were left with no means to even leave, and/or couldn’t leave their loved ones who needed them..

    The age old term walking in another person’s shoes – implying looking beyond oneself, treating others fairly, and not taking ones luck in life as an indicator that they’re worthier people – seems utterly lost on many who are doing well and wish the millions of ‘losers’ would disappear from their sight.

    Reply
  20. Off The Street

    Who will be the new Wright Patman?
    Who will be the new Sal Pecora?
    Prior generations provided guidance on how to identify and call out unfairness, and get meaningful results, for the benefit of the citizenry.

    Reply
  21. Louis Fyne

    With absolutely 100% respect to the original posters and their points, I’d side w/Vlade and argue that there are some serious rose-tinted glasses being worn.

    Yes, (in my opinion) there was an era of “fair play”….but this was a flash-in-the-pan consequence of WWII. As rightfully the bottom 95% earned their just desserts after years of sacrifice for their country and rescuing the elites from the literal existential threat of authoritarianism.

    Now we’re merely reverting to the time immemorial-style of ‘every person for themselves’ social ruthlessness. sadly.

    Reply
    1. JTMcPhee

      As I recall, the elites were in no danger from authoritarianism in the 1900s. Au contraire, they profited at every turn from the acts of authoritarianism. Prescott Bush and other business leaders (sic) did business with the Nazis and Fascists, and even with the Japanese imperium. These days, platforms and algorithms setvup by the Elites of this time loot and pollute and accelerate the many races to the bottom.

      Good thing for that “life force” that when the last Elite human (possibly the last human of any sort) dies, there will be other species already carving out niches of precedence and preference… It hurts, a little, to know we won’t be missed…

      Reply
  22. Susan the Other

    This post is a tad deceptive. It sounds like a review of neoliberalism and all that has happened since c. 1980 when in fact it is now The Question. What is fair play/ What is/was fair play and how do we create it going forward. Now that there can be no growth, very little manufacturing and no labor unions as we once knew them. Automation and an elite class of oligarchs and their functionaries are taking over. States/Nations still have their constitutions but they are creating internal conflict as the old ways disappear back into what Varoufakis calls a new feudalism. Like upstart above, however, I have only experienced fair play in the courts, never in economic situations. But then I’m old, b. 1946, and female. So I’m keeping an open mind as best I can, like the above clips from David, Clive, Vlade and PK. One thing to add from the FR24 Debate on good regulation – it was pointed out by one panelist that regulations are stricter in the EU for going into business, but on a “horizontal” basis. Whereas it is easy to go into Bz in the US, all you need are vertical connections. I took this to describe the fact that many corporations are monopolies. But connections are few and far between. And lurking in the wings, as we all know, is climate change. The new discussion about societal collapse has started. Now would be an excellent time to interject the concept of fair play. I am optimistic because there is a basic, rock solid strength in fair play that might serve to make it a survivor.

    Reply
  23. Oregoncharles

    I’ve mentioned before that my father, an investment manager who retired around the time Yves started, made a similar point prospectively. Background: he ran a smallish private firm in Indiana, but it gave him rather wide exposure, including in a large industrial firm, plus direct investments, besides the stock market.. Plus, my mother inherited a (then) good-sized farm that was operated by a tenant.

    His comment was that a culture of honesty saved a lot of money, otherwise spent on guarding your interests, watching the watchers, hiring lawyers, etc. His firm shied away from investing in anything with a hint of shadiness.

    This is merely confirmatory of Yves’ point, but from a different point of view and from before the cultural changes (aka crapification) her post goes over.

    And come to think, a younger relative who is a corporate lawyer told us, from her contemporary experience, that handshake agreements are NOT a good idea. They tend to lead to her getting involved, and she ain’t cheap, nor are the consequences predictable.

    I would add that I think human institutions, like human beings, have a life cycle, so to a great extent the vagaries of, say, Brexit are a result of predictable senescence. Not that you want to experience the down side, as we seem to be doing.

    Reply
    1. Off The Street

      Your word is your bond.
      Another old-fashioned saying that might yet make a comeback, starting with some undergrad research paper on forgotten sayings of, say, the mid-20th century.

      Reply
  24. Chris

    On the opening mention of recruiters and employees ghosting… I’d like to add a few thoughts of how different things are in that regard.

    We’re now all supposed to be part of some social network or another because we need to get our names out there and grow our networks. Those services then turn around and pelt you with emails and phone calls non-stop if you’re whatever flavor of the moment they deem desirable. They also don’t give you the time of day if they decide you’re not. And those services have tried to evolve new tools to prevent you turning them away or ignoring them. Emails with “decision required” and polls and notices that seem to imply if you don’t respond they’ll kick you off. That’s problem since any boss can fire you for any reason at any time. And they definitely mention that you’re not being polite or fair by not responding to an email conversation you didn’t initiate for a job position you didn’t inquire about on a service you didn’t ask them to use.

    I have a job I like so I was really annoyed that one recruiter on Indeed couldn’t take no for an answer and demanded I tell them why I wasn’t going to permit them to sell my resume to a potential job opening. I don’t understand why we’re supposed to be at everyone else’s beck and call and they don’t have to respond to even polite overtures from us.

    So it’s more than just fair play seems to be missing in our society right now. It’s that whatever echoes of fairness exist are used to abuse the people who believe in them. They steal your time, your attention, your professional connections, anything they can. Then they complain about you not responding. That’s another facet of this that I really don’t like.

    Reply
  25. Mikerw0

    There is so much one can say on this topic. Unfortunately, I am increasingly pessimistic and of the view that nothing will really change until we suffer a true calamity as was the case in the past.

    An oversimplifying example. My father was a combat veteran from the Korean War, having been just a little young to serve in WWII. There was a clear sense of inter-relationship in this generation. They experienced the depths of the depression and the massive loss of life and destruction of WWII. My dad eventually became the COO of one of the most powerful financial services firms in the US. His generation of leaders would never have considered the (1) levels of compensation relative employees as appropriate, (2) becoming predators on their customers, they prized their customer relationships, (3) using the firms balance sheet to gamble at the casino in a heads they win, tails you lose game. It simply wasn’t in their DNA. They had suffered too much to jeopardize shared prosperity and general welfare.

    When my father took early retirement he had a unique resume and was offered very serious positions of prestige and power, with high levels of compensation. He turned them all down, as did his piers, as they violated an inherent code of ethics and fairness that they didn’t need to articulate it was just their from their shared sacrifices earlier in life.

    In my experiences on Wall Street, both as a banker and as a CFO of firms, this would be anathema.

    My only source of hope is that our daughter’s generation, she is 27, sees this for what it is. They fully understand that our society is failing and eschew the loss of fairness on multiple levels. They consciously avoid politics and participation, not out of laziness, but because they see our leaders (both political and business) as fundamentally corrupt. She and her friends have no interest in voting for a neo-liberal (e.g., Biden, Buttagieg, etc.) who is just better behaved than Trump. They are well educated, have gone to excellent schools, and want something more from life than a high paying Wall Street job.

    We see so much goodness in them, yet worry that it will take a global war or financial collapse leading to depression to reset our society.

    Reply
    1. Off The Street

      Reagan pocketed a huge, at the time, $2,000,000 speaking fee. That provided the imprimatur that cashing in was okey-dokey. Later grifters looked on with amusement pondering the blood, sweat, toil and tears of others that led to their own book and speaking shakedown deals with multiples of that fee in laundered money.

      Reply
  26. Jeremy Grimm

    Two assertions in this post caught my eye:
    Firms “that adopted nobler objectives did better in financial terms than ones that focused on maximizing shareholder value.”

    I believe firms that adopted nobler objectives — may — have done better over the long-term than firms that focused on maximizing shareholder value … but next … I wonder about how well the managers did in the short-term [perhaps even the long-term after correcting for the differences in the qualities and abilities of the management] in each type of firm. I suppose mediocre managers did very much better when “focused on maximizing shareholder value”. Before engaging the relatively long read of the linked post discussing details of the study which the main post refers to — I also wonder how the referenced study deals with immoral acts which are not quite clearly immoral — like outsourcing. Over the long-run outsourcing is bad for a country, bad for the resilience of a firm, and bad for the firm over the long-run … before we are dead. However, I believe many of the firms that “adopted nobler objectives” — and remained steadfast to them — were driven out of business by price competition.

    The second assertion:
    “Another aspect of the decline in the importance of fair dealing is the notion of the obligations of power, [w]hat individuals in a position of authority have a duty to.”

    In regard to this assertion, I immediately recalled Machiavelli’s “the Prince”. Many of the ideas of noblesse oblige were anchored in the power and authority of the Catholic [Universal] Church. Though in conflict with a God Chosen Monarch — noblesse oblige operated to attach similar moral authority to the Aristocratic Classes. In my Youth I thought of Machiavelli as completely unmoral. Later when I learned more about his life and actions I realized his “Prince” unveiled the unmoral reality behind the operations of monarchical and aristocratic actions. Neoliberalism has succeeded in stripping all moral coverings from power and through the efforts of an extremely well-funded Thought-Collective and propaganda machine it has divorced thinking about morality from power — except as a thin fig-leaf. Most significantly it has exalted Power and its co-worker Wealth to positions of ‘moral goodness’. Fair dealing in the Neoliberal moral universe is a slogan without content to fool those unaware and/or unwilling to ‘see’.

    I also feel much of the nostalgia for noblesse oblige and critique of the Neoliberal Age may originate from the residual conflicts and cross-envies between ‘Old’-money and ‘New’-money. Old-money has already forgotten the immoral origins of its wealth.

    Much of this post is related to Brexit — something I avoided study of or comment upon and still little understand. I excuse myself as someone squeamish about traffic accidents and train wrecks though powerful feelings of sadness overwhelm me.

    The heart of this post resides in the ancient question of the tie between morality and its enforcement — the question for how you would act given a “cloak of invisibility” which is a prop for posing concrete questions about how you might act without the constraints of dealing with any of the moral consequences or implications of your acts. I may be a fool — but I believe most all of Humankind believes in Justice [and acts Justly] — the Justice which I believe The Rev Kev equates to ‘fairness’ — which is a much weaker word. But I also believe there are a certain number of individuals who do not care about Justice and the Neoliberal Thought Collective has somehow transformed this indifference [‘disregard’ — ‘disdain for’] Justice into a moral imperative and belittled Justice as a throw-back to benighted times past.

    We live in DarkTimes when the very worst among us claim the most and worse still brand themselves as praise-worthy while using their colossally disproportionate Power and Wealth to squelch criticism and amplify their accolades often self-accolades through their wholly owned Media.

    Reply
    1. Yves Smith Post author

      The first is not an assertion. It’s the result of pair studies as you could easily have seen if you bothered clicking on the link.

      And the resulting better stock performance would result in higher executive comp since so much is stock price related.

      Reply
      1. Jeremy Grimm

        “Obliquity gives rise to the profit-seeking paradox: the most profitable companies are not the most profit-oriented.”
        I agree with that statement. However, I am not so sure about: “better stock performance would result in higher executive comp”. Individual executives may be excellent at knowing their industry and working with the big picture. Other executives may be lousy at knowing their industry and working with the big picture — but excellent at financial calculations. I doubt this second category of executives would fare as well helping a company prosper over the long run. I think a company seeking long term profits would keep their finance guys in the finance department deciding how to finance investments selected by the executives excellent at knowing their industry and working with the big picture. In a firm where executive compensation is based on stock performance — I believe the firm managed by executives excellent at knowing their industry and working with the big picture would see higher compensation. I am not so sure about the executives in the finance department — don’t they get a smaller cut of the take in these stock performance schemes? I believe their individual interests do not align with the best interests of the firm.

        “Comparisons of the same companies over time are mirrored in contrasts between different companies in the same industries.”
        I very much agree with the statement by George Merck: “We try never to forget that medicine is for the people. It is not for the profits. The profits follow, and if we have remembered that, they have never failed to appear. The better we have remembered it, the larger they have been.” The problem with the statement “Comparisons of the same companies …” lies in the phrase “over time”. The policies that result in the greatest growth and profits over time are also the riskiest and most expensive policies in how they impact next quarter’s profit statements and stock price.

        My comment above in this thread was made to suggest that things are even more broken than the loss of fair play. I was attempting to add a contrast between long term and short interests and a contrast between the interests of individuals and the interests of the firm within the context of the higher executive comp tied to stock price. I would go so far as to suggest that executives excellent at knowing their industry and working with the big picture are not so concerned with their compensation as they are with their accomplishment and what they have built. The few entrepreneurs I have been honored to meet and talk with — all loved what they did and what they built. They were not adverse to making money … but it was not the pay that most mattered to them. They were makers and builders.

        One final comment — a little elliptical — I believe compensation and the value added by various forms of labor are completely disconnected. Compensation is a matter of custom, economic power, and political power in the large and in the locale. If compensation were tied to value added I would pay nurses and teachers a lot more, and custodians and garbage collectors, and a vast number of the people counted as overhead items on the Corporate spreadsheets.

        Reply
        1. inode_buddha

          Loving what you do doesn’t pay the rent. Instead it gets you taken advantage of. My experience anyway.

          “…all loved what they did and what they built. They were not adverse to making money … but it was not the pay that most mattered to them. They were makers and builders.”

          Reply
          1. smoker

            Yep.

            The last time I worked, I was literally and honestly told that I did too good of a job and would consequently find myself without one; and I quickly did – as did that honest soul – the uninsured cancer followed, along with other cqncer preceding, subsequent, and increasingly frequent knee-capping blows.

            Reply
          2. ambrit

            True! The ‘stockholders’ in the companies I worked for often told me to “hurry it up.” Several micro-managers actually told me to; “Not worry about how it looks. If it works for the length of the warranty period, we’re happy.”

            Reply
  27. flora

    Many on the political right are also fed up with the out-of-control corporatism of both parties.
    From The American Conservative, a review of Matt Stoller’s “Goliath” :

    How often do those of us on the right get decried as anti-market fascists if we voice even the slightest concern about corporate control in our lives? We’ve been beaten over the heads for so long that we feel tinges of guilt for questioning whether it is alright to live in a country where a state government must lay itself prostrate at the feet of a company for daring to pass legislation that represents the will of its people.

    https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/corporatism-is-an-american-bipartisan-scourge/

    Reply
  28. VietnamVet

    The reborn 21st century aristocracy has two defining characteristics; haughtiness and lawlessness. Think of Prince Andrew.

    Newt Gingrich’s political polarization and George W Bush’s proxy forever wars continue to escalate. Global war makes powerful people richer plus “divide and conquer” works. Except, sooner or later, the hybrid ethnic wars against Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and Yemen (plus Russia and Iran) will blowback against Western Europe and North America.

    The Elite are blind to the chaos they are creating. Nancy Pelosi will drag Impeachment through Limbo ‘till she is no longer Speaker. In her world, above all, the Emperor must be a respectful Barrack Obama not a reality TV star.

    The only national defense that works is unity, equality, democracy and the rule of law. Today’s wealthy are betting they will be the first Imperialists in history to keep their wealth during the Empire’s decline. The Oligarchs could share a portion of their money to rebuild the nation to secure the border. But that will never happen. Greed always overwhelms common sense.

    Reply
    1. inode_buddha

      “Today’s wealthy are betting they will be the first Imperialists in history to keep their wealth during the Empire’s decline. The Oligarchs could share a portion of their money to rebuild the nation to secure the border. But that will never happen. Greed always overwhelms common sense.”

      I’ve never seen a Coke machine that will accept Roman coins.
      And I’m sure they thought the same way as our elites.

      Reply
  29. David in Santa Cruz

    I believe that the common character of the universe is not harmony — but hostility, chaos, and murder. — Werner Herzog, Grizzly Man

    Thank you for this post and all of the comments above.

    Reply
  30. Synoia

    I’m reminded of a comment in by a Lieutenant Colonel, a future Major General in the British army:

    “Oh, you are one of those people who believe honesty is the best policy.”

    Reply
  31. meeps

    For several years I’ve wondered, how close are we–the general public, to no longer having what “we” understand to be a government? Sure, there are functionaries in employ, checks are cut, bombs are dropped, and bills are passed by politicians whom the people feel they’ve had no meaningful role in selecting (here in the US, at least). To whatever extent a sense of duty, obligation or propriety owed to the citizenry by its governing apparatus may ever have existed, that ethos has been erased by Libertarian dogma, and the institutions of government have been subsumed by supra-national private interests.

    While arguable, the proposition explains why said functionaries have no apparent ability to address public demand and—at best—are only able to extinguish fires at random.

    It’s potentially dangerous that there’s such a strong desire to return to the comfort of the familiar because it empowers those among us who wrought all this destruction. It’s also potentially beneficial that there are some among the thinkers and functionaries who know there can be no going back, frustrating as it is in the interim not to have the effective organizational capacity to restore basic functionality to a bewildered populace. Those formerly known as public servants are probably best positioned to initiate change if they have the courage to pick up the pieces and assemble them differently.

    As admitted in the preface, there is obliquity and it’s likely contributing to the paralysis we’re witnessing. Risk is real, but so is feedback. Honestly minding it and changing course when needed is the essence of good faith. It’s the opposite of “mistakes were made” so let’s double down on them. Escaping the morass introduces the risk of looking foolish. Staying put guarantees it.

    Reply
  32. proximity1

    “But as we’ve discussed before, the long term destruction of the British civil service has in many ways been just as stupid, and just as damaging, as the long term destruction of Britain’s manufacturing base. In both cases, the reasons have been ideological, not pragmatic.

    “Outsiders I think see it more clearly. I was travelling in Asia for a while and I was really surprised at how casually people would discuss what they see as the once admired anglosphere fall apart. Most Asians in my experience viewed Britain with a mixture of distrust and some awe and admiration. Now the commonest response seems to be a shrug of the shoulder or just plain schadenfreude.”

    __________________________

    It does boggle my mind that anyone with even a modicum of good sense could find this “surprising.”

    The West–and in particular Britain and the U.S.–have made a certain spectacle of themseives before the rest of the world or, as is said, “on the world stage.” And this is what we present ourselves:

    a drunk, barely able to stand, hugging a lonely lamp-post at four o’clock in the morning, singing off-key incoherently in a slobbering drunken slur of obnoxiou noise.

    The “neighbors” see it–they can’t help but see it–and they’re annoyed, disgusted, embarrassed to have to watch it and some of them must be thinking about how easy it would be walk over and fleece this drunken moron and leave him lying on the ground in his idiotic stupor.

    Now, some of those observers are our “friends” (partners), some used to be our “friends” and others aren’t our friends at all and have intention of being that anytime soon.

    Reply

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