I'm no medical expert, although I do have an advanced diploma in homeopathy from the time I went for a swim with somebody who had that qualification and accidentally swallowed some water. I honestly can't see why it's not possible to put St. Peter on the boom gates to only let in people with nice ailments. I don't like to be judgmental, but it's lowlife scum who ruin sickness for the rest of us. Ambulances are a waste of taxpayers' money and an outrageous rort by the suddenly-gravely-ill lobby. Personally, I schedule my extreme medical distress in installments across the calendar year, then take my treatment out at tax time as a lump sum. If you can't be bothered to plan ahead, I don't see why the rest of us should foot the bill.
It's hard to pinpoint when a revolutionary idea comes to you. I think I had the first inkling while on the way from my business networking breakfast to my business networking brunch. Later, at business networking lunch, I started to look at the people around me, sensing something… Something tantalising, yet frustratingly intangible, like the distant promise of an unexploited tax exemption. By business networking afternoon coffee, the idea was still yet not fully formed. The dynamic, entrepreneurial buzz washed over me as my gaze settled on the centre of the table. Raw, white, and artificial. These sweetener sachets crammed together in a whisky tumbler—each satisfying different needs, yet also the same need—were calling to me.
As the afternoon wore on, it became a drumbeat: raw, white, and artificial; raw, white, and artificial…
Over dinner, as the rhythm of "raw, white, and artificial…" rose to an intolerable crescendo in my mind, the flash of blinding insight finally hit me. I stood bolt upright and, as if possessed by the spirit of an old testament prophet, I proclaimed to the assembled business networking group: "Hear me! Something is missing from Coffs Harbour! Something disruptive, something game-changing, something that will engage our key stakeholders and enrich our brand! I have a vision of a great coming-together at signature events of well-mannered middle-class people of very marginal talent and even less intelligence, with very mediocre food, and very, very minor celebrities. I say unto you, raise an army of multimedia account managers! Let them go forth and multiply brand awareness! Let them vanquish the unbelievers in bloody and brutal information sessions! Only then—only then, my people—shall we have a new… business… networking… group!"
I fell exhausted to my seat, to rapturous applause. I sank my spork into a dry, tasteless slab of chocolate cake. One thing was clear: Coffs Harbour would never be the same again.
This week, I have been mostly reading:
- Sanders, Corbyn and the financial crisis — Simon Wren-Lewis refuses to follow his neoclassical colleague Krugman into Very Serious Person-hood:
The right has succeeded in morphing the financial crisis into an imagined crisis in financing government debt (or, in the Eurozone with the ECB’s help, into an actual crisis) which required a reduction in the size of the state that neoliberals dream about. The financial crisis, far from exposing neoliberal flaws, has led to its triumph. Confronted with this extraordinary turn of events, many of those on the centre left want to concede defeat and accept austerity! That is all scandalous, and if the left’s established leaders will not recognise this, it is not surprising that party members and supporters will look elsewhere to those who do.
- The Problem With Hillary Clinton Isn’t Just Her Corporate Cash. It’s Her Corporate Worldview. — Naomi Klein in The Nation:
The real issue, in other words, isn’t Clinton’s corporate cash, it’s her deeply pro-corporate ideology: one that makes taking money from lobbyists and accepting exorbitant speech fees from banks seem so natural that the candidate is openly struggling to see why any of this has blown up at all.
- How a Cashless Society Could Embolden Big Brother — Sarah Jeong at The Atlantic:
Transactions route through several tangled layers of vendors, processors, and banks. At various points in the chain, all transactions squeeze through bottlenecks created by big players like Visa, Mastercard, and Paypal: These are the choke points for which Operation Choke Point is named. The choke points are private corporations that are not only subject to government regulation on the books, but have shown a disturbing willingness to bend to extralegal requests—whether it is enforcing financial blockades against the controversial whistleblowing organization WikiLeaks or the website Backpage, which hosts classified ads by sex workers, and allegedly ads from sex traffickers as well. A little bit of pressure, and the whole financial system closes off to the government’s latest pariah.
- Paul Krugman Unironically Anoints Himself Arbiter of “Seriousness”: Only Clinton Supporters Eligible — Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept:
To any of you Sanders supporters who previously believed that you possessed serious policy expertise, such as Dean Baker; or former Clinton Labor Secretary and Professor of Economic Policy Robert Reich (who yesterday wrote that “Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have”); or the 170 policy experts who signed a letter endorsing Sanders’ financial reform plan over Clinton’s: sorry, but you must now know that you are not Serious at all. The Very Serious Columnist has spoken. He has a Seriousness Club, and you’re not in it. If you want to be eligible, you need to support the presidential candidate of the Serious establishment, led by Paul Krugman.[Krugman seems determined to follow the sad example of Christopher Hitchens: If you're determined to pose as a contrarian, it's far more comfortable to be a contrarian for the establishment.]
"Expansionary fiscal policy is taboo, because it threatens to increase national debt further. But much depends on how governments present their accounts. In 2014, the Bank of England held 24% of UK government debt. If we discount this, the UK’s debt/GDP ratio was 63%, not 92%.
"So it makes more sense to focus on debt net of government borrowing from the central bank. Governments should be ready to say that they have no intention of repaying the debt they owe their own bank. Monetary financing of government spending is one of those taboo ideas that is sure to gain support, if, as is likely, economic recovery grinds to a halt."
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Professor Lord Skidelsky! I disagree with much of the preamble (including the implication that Shakespeare intended Polonius' stream of adages to be taken seriously; I fancy Shakespeare's audiences would find being neither a borrower nor a lender—particularly the former—as ludicrously impractical as would today's precariat), but I love the conclusion.
Private mortgage debt is bad. Private credit card or loan shark debt (the categories are not exclusive) is very, very bad. Money the government owes itself is at worst a misleading artifact of an accounting convention, at best an indirect metric of public economic stimulus. It harms nobody but those loan sharks and assorted greater and lesser parasites who currently benefit from the neoliberal debtfare system; that's the only reason it's a taboo.
Tough luck Arrawarra. It's the dream of every community on the mid-north coast to host a motorway exit with clear blue skies above, chewing-gum-speckled asphalt below, and a corporate-branded awning in between. Do not give up on that dream! Through earnest devotion to Roads and Maritime Services, and their partners in the multinational oil and fast food cartels, you will one day, like Nambucca Heads, attract a steady stream of low-paying employment and sawn-off shotguns.
This isn't quite a case of "Everybody has won, and all must have prizes!" but it's jolly close. There are (if I've counted right), 22 institutions in Australia awarded university status since 1966, and 19 made it onto this list, including—with a score of 36.7 out of 100—Southern Cross University. If a remedial high school, rubber-stamping worthless qualifications for the next generation of hotel managers, bartenders and baristas, counts among the world's 150 least worst, how bad could the other three possibly be?
Superb bait and switch there from Gowings, again showing their level of selfless commitment to Coffs, as so frequently lauded in these pages. "We've decided now that this is what we want. Or we could leave you with a big hole in the ground smack in the middle of the CBD. Your choice, suckers."
[UPDATE: A perceptive commentor spotted an estate agent in the comments ("Whilst I do not want to see Coffs Harbour become Surfers Paradise with skyscrapers I do want it to develop to its appropriate potential with tasteful investment such as this.") I decided to save him some work:]
Oh, well spotted! I can see the copy already: "Whether it's sun-drenched beaches just minutes away, or urine-drenched multi-story carparks at your back door, Potted Plant Promontory is truly the investment jewel-in-the-crown for the discerning tax evader and/or money launderer. While in town to sign the paperwork, why don't you or the legal representative of your Panamanian shell company kick back at the club with a lazy afternoon in the company of The Australian Monkees Experience, and the region's most versatile roster of Vegas-era Elvis impersonators - deep-fried marshmallow peanut-butter cheeseburger anyone? Then hit the town before the town hits you, and find out why we're the state's number one Saturday night random cranial injury hotspot."
This week, I have been mostly researching for an essay, but when feeling naughty I've been reading:
- Why Some Students Are Ditching America for Medical School in Cuba — Sarah Zhang in WIRED:
Consider Cuba’s medical system, which punches far above its weight. The country’s GDP per is just one-tenth of the US’s, and it lacks access to drugs and equipment thanks to the US trade embargo. But life expectancy in Cuba is actually just above that of its northern neighbor. How? By focusing on preventive medicine for everyone under a national healthcare system.
- How Gates' Billions Silences Criticism of His Development Agenda — Nick Dearden, Common Dreams:
Initiatives that Gates funds push intensive farming methods involving plenty of chemicals and privatisation of seed distribution. Time and again, these ‘solutions’ have proved disastrous for small farmers, allowing big players to effectively control the whole food system. They also ramp up global carbon emissions and fuel global warming. But they are exactly what big business wants. In fact, Gates aid sometimes looks designed to help agribusiness develop new markets – like a project with agro-giant Cargill which helped it develop soya ‘value chains’ in Africa. It’s not a conspiracy, it’s simply how Gates, like so many of his fellow plutocrats, believe the world works. Big business invents useful stuff and drive growth. Let’s help them and everyone will be better off.
- The Mythology of Selfishness — Mary Midgley in The Philosophers Magazine:
Our own thoughts and feelings – the constant flow of inner activity by which we respond to the life around us – also affect the world as well as our outward actions. This thought is so frightening that scholars will often go to any lengths to avoid it, which is why that ludicrous doctrine epiphenomenalism still has supporters, and why people spend so much more of their time on sociological statistics, neurological details and speculation about evolutionary function than on studying motive.
- The Death of Capitalism — Ian Welsh:
If you were 30 in 1980, you are 66 today. If you were 40, you are 76. If you were in the decision making class, overwhelmingly allocated to those who were 50+ in 1980, you are 86 today. People who were in their prime and during their decision-making days, when we needed to act on climate change, were making a DEATH BET. They bet they would be dead before the worst results of climate change happened. They will win this bet. This was a RATIONAL thing for them to do. I want to repeat that, because too many people think “rational=good.” It does not. It was rational for them to discount a future they would not see.Also, What Is Capitalism?:
The responses to my article The Death of Capitalism made something clear: Most people don’t know what Capitalism is.[The argument is a thoughtful one, but I have a simpler definition: Capitalism is a doctrine which frames all human activity in terms of investment and return.]
- The Volcanic Core Fueling the 2016 Election — Robert Reich:
I’ve known Hillary Clinton since she was 19 years old, and have nothing but respect for her. In my view, she’s the most qualified candidate for president of the political system we now have. But Bernie Sanders is the most qualified candidate to create the political system we should have, because he’s leading a political movement for change.
- Consumer credit and mortgage finance in the 1920s — Matias Vernengo at Naked Keynesianism:
The Great Depression put an end to the roaring 20s. The unsustainable expansion of consumer credit and mortgages seems to have played, as much as in the last crisis, a significant role.
- How Long Will Your Class Remain Yours? Academic Freedom and Control of the Classroom — Jonathan Rees in Hybrid Pedagogy:
An LMS not only mediates and records all interactions between teachers and students in both the online classes and face-to-face classes that utilize it, but it also represents a teaching worldview all by itself. As Jim Groom and Brian Lamb explain, “[B]efore we even begin to encounter the software itself, we privilege a mindset that views learning not as a life-affirming adventure but instead as a technological problem, one that requires a ‘system’ to ‘manage’ it. This mindset and its resulting values result in online architectures that prioritize user management, rigidly defined and restricted user roles, automated assessments, and hierarchical, topdown administration.” Trying to control your own virtual classroom in this environment is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. You know you’re going to lose before the fighting starts, so why bother?And from the linkage therein:
- Critical Pedagogy in the Age of Learning Management (#moocmooc) — by Sean Michael Morris, who ordinarily would have lost me at the word "critical":
The advent of online learning has introduced a new level of data and measurement (also, fucking absurdity) into education. With the learning management system (LMS) comes the ability to track all kinds of information about student performance, participation, and more. At the LMS company where I worked until recently, educational research often focused on the activity of learners on pages, watching videos, taking and passing quizzes, participating in or starting discussions in the forum, and other minutiae. It’s possible to track time on page, time in the course, and the “bounce rate” for learners in their courses. In effect, the research being done isn’t about learning, it’s about surveillance, about observing the learner in the way we might a rat in a maze.
This week, I have been mostly reading:
- Why should Bill Gates get to set the agenda for international development? — Polly Jones, Global Justice Now:
Our new report Gated Development demonstrates that the trend to involve business in addressing poverty and inequality is central to the priorities and funding of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This is far from a neutral charitable strategy, but instead an ideological commitment to promote neoliberal economic policies and corporate globalisation. Big business is directly benefitting, in particular in the fields of agriculture and health, as a result of the foundation’s activities, despite evidence to show that business solutions are not the most effective.[A philanthropist gives to charity. A philanthrocapitalist becomes a charity.]
- The Seven Stages of Establishment Backlash: Corbyn/Sanders Edition — Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept:
[T]he nature of “establishments” is that they cling desperately to power, and will attack anyone who defies or challenges that power with unrestrained fervor. That’s what we saw in the U.K. with the emergence of Corbyn, and what we’re seeing now with the threat posed by Sanders. It’s not surprising that the attacks in both cases are similar — the dynamic of establishment prerogative is the same — but it’s nonetheless striking how identical is the script used in both cases.
- Who Pays Writers? — Maggie Doherty in Dissent Magazine:
Artistic experimentation depends on the material security that the welfare state provides. It’s easier to be avant-garde when you’re not wondering about the source of your next paycheck or worrying about prospective book sales. In the words of one grant recipient, responding anonymously to an NEA survey from the 1970s, federal grants offer writers “temporary freedom from a stultifying and paralyzing form of economic bondage.” For writers, economic freedom is tantamount to artistic freedom. The NEA redistributed such freedoms by funding writers who weren’t lucky enough to call financial security a birthright.
- Good news everyone! We've moved on from retrospectively blaming Greece for the GFC to retrospectively blaming China! Don’t blame China for these global economic jitters — Ha-Joon Chang in The Guardian:
[T]he main causes of the current economic turmoil lie firmly in the rich nations – especially in the finance-driven US and UK. Having refused to fundamentally restructure their economies after 2008, the only way they could generate any sort of recovery was with another set of asset bubbles. Their governments and financial sectors talked up anaemic recovery as an impressive comeback, propagating the myth that huge bubbles are a measure of economic health.
- Who are the spongers now? — Stefan Collini, London Review of Books:
It is the application of [the neoliberal] model to universities that produces the curious spectacle of a right-wing government championing students. Traditionally, of course, students have been understood by such governments, at least from the 1960s onwards, as part of the problem. They ‘sponged off’ society when they weren’t ‘disrupting’ it. But now, students have come to be regarded as a disruptive force in a different sense, the shock-troops of market forces, storming those bastions of pre-commercial values, the universities. If students will set aside vague, old-fashioned notions of getting an education, and focus instead on finding the least expensive course that will get them the highest-paying job, then the government wants them to know that it will go to bat for them.
This week, I have been mostly going to pieces, so only reading this much:
- The Optimism Error — Robert Skidelsky proposes a British Investment Bank to fend off hysteresis:
So we now have a situation in which the main tools available to government to bring about a robust recovery are out of action. In addition, sole reliance on monetary policy for stimulus creates a highly unbalanced recovery. The money the government pours into the economy either sits idle or simply pumps up house prices, threatening to re-create the asset bubble that produced the crisis in the first place. We already have the highest rate of post-crash increase in house prices of all OECD countries. This suggests that the next crash may not be far off.[Though I disagree vehemently with the view that "printing money to pay for public spending should only be a remedy of the last resort". Money creation through central-bank-funded fiscal deficits should be the norm for any government that does not want to hand responsibility for money supply to commercial banks, who are responsible for channeling money into the very bubbles Skidelsky is worried about.]
- Australian copyright reform stuck in an infinite loop — Kathy Bowrey in The Conversation:
For example, section 113M allows libraries and archives to make “preservation copies” of original material that is of historical or cultural significance to Australia, but they are not allowed to make these copies available to patrons except through a terminal on site. As a researcher I am not allowed to make an electronic copy of the material so I can use it in writing up my research. As is common practice in libraries I would probably be allowed to transcribe a document by hand. However transcribing by hand is, as a matter by law, no different to a digital reproduction. Why does this law require me to spend public research money to physically attend the institution, perhaps also requiring an airfare and accommodation expenses, so I can take out my quill?
- Paul Krugman, Bernie Sanders, and Medicare for All — Dean Baker, CEPR via Econospeak:
Ordinarily economists treat it as an absolute article of faith that we want all goods and services to sell at their marginal cost without interference from the government, like a trade tariff or quota. However in the case of prescription drugs, economists seem content to ignore the patent monopolies granted to the industry, which allow it to charge prices that are often ten or even a hundred times the free market price. (The hepatitis C drug Sovaldi has a list price in the United States of $84,000. High quality generic versions are available in India for a few hundred dollars per treatment.) In this case, we are effectively looking at a tariff that is not the 10-20 percent that we might see in trade policy, but rather 1,000 percent or even 10,000 percent.
- SWEET HOLY F---!!!! — exclaims Brad DeLong:
- Neoliberalism, public and private goods and the digital revolution: Part one — Nicholas Gruen at Club Troppo:
[…] if knowledge and digital artefacts are always and everywhere a potential public good, you’d expect that expressing the collective interest in that fact would lead to a role for collective institutions (not necessarily government) representing the public interest as a countervailing force against private interests. As Robert Kuttner argues, an identifying idea of progressives since the turn of the 20th century if not before that capital needs a counterweight – in the state and other collective institutions. An obvious agenda is IP, which is becoming progressively more unbalanced towards the interests of private IP holders (Will Mickey ever go free?). Likewise arrangements for the creation of knowledge about drugs is a big mess, incredibly poorly suited to the interests of lower income countries but also to economic efficiency more broadly.
- The Citadel Is Breached: Congress Taps the Fed for Infrastructure Funding — Ellen Brown:
Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Oregon), ranking member on the House Transportation Committee, retorted [to Ben Bernanke], “For the Federal Reserve to be saying [deficit spending] impinges upon their integrity, etc., etc. — you know, it’s absurd. This is a body that creates money out of nothing. [I]f the Fed can bail out the banks and give them preferred interest rates, they can do something for the greater economy and for average Americans.”
- The Remarkable Bernie Sanders Journey That Will Overcome the Crowning of Clinton — RoseAnn DeMoro of National Nurses United at Common Dreams:
Enthusiasm for the Sanders campaign, the transformative program that he presents, which is really the program NNU and grassroots activists have long championed, is off the charts, and continuing to grow.