This month, I have been mostly eating and drinking too much, but also reading:
- How the Federal Reserve Protects the Top One Percent — Gerald Epstein and Aaron Medlin in the American Prospect:
This focus on inflation, by promoting high unemployment, contradicts the dual mandate given to the Fed by Congress. Specifically, the Federal Reserve Act mandates that the central bank conduct monetary policy “so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.” Yet the Fed has been laser-focused on keeping inflation extremely low no matter the harm it may cause to the labor market or the economy.Why does the Federal Reserve treat its high-employment mandate so cavalierly when inflation is above 2 percent? The answer stems from the fact that since its founding, Fed officials have seen the world through “finance colored” glasses. Financiers do not like high inflation. Like all creditors who lend money today to be paid back in the future, financiers hate getting paid back in dollars that are worth less than the dollars they lent out in the first place. In other words: Creditors hate unexpected inflation that was not factored into the rates they charged borrowers. And when the creditors talk, the Fed tends to listen. However, banks and financiers are not the only powerful actors influencing the Fed. Nonfinancial business leaders might not be as inflation-phobic as financiers. Still, they have other reasons for wanting the Fed to downplay the “maximum employment” part of its mandate. As the economist Michal Kalecki noted in the 1940s, capitalists are wary of sustained high employment because it tends to empower workers by reducing their fear of the bosses’ biggest weapon: exile to the reserve army of the unemployed. So big corporate CEOs from most industries, like others who make up the top one percent (or higher) of wealth owners, are aligned in prioritizing inflation-fighting over maintaining high levels of employment.
- Living closer together — Max Holleran in Aeon:
Paying lip service to New Urbanism has been de rigueur for a quarter-century among planners, architects, city government officials and the employees of major development firms. But little has been done to move in this direction. Despite the work of some US architects and urban planners, such as Peter Calthorpe and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, little progress has been made on creating mixed-use neighbourhoods in the US that combine shops with homes. Despite calls for more walkability in the early 1990s, most new suburbs are still comprised of detached homes for single families with few transit options beyond driving. This is about more than consumer preferences alone. City zoning laws are a major factor in these decisions. As of 2019, Arlington, Texas was zoned 89 per cent for detached single-family homes, and Chicago (a more compact city) was not much denser at 79 per cent, showing that this housing form is not just de facto in US cities but legally mandated. Other countries fare better, but some, for example in Eastern Europe, have embraced the US urban model as a sign of prosperity and newly gained property rights. Density and apartments have become much more popular in gentrifying urban areas, but this has not forced a systematic shift in the way that new buildings are designed. Instead, it has put more pressure on existing prewar neighbourhoods with their attractive street life and access to public transport. For those who appreciate the appeal of urban life, the past 25 years have been a profound disappointment for residents of cities around the world. Many people have embraced walkability, smaller homes and vibrant streets, but governments, in particular in the US, have done almost nothing to incentivise this form of growth. Premium neighbourhoods grow more and more expensive. The affordable option? Retreat to far-flung and monotonous suburbs. Those who would like to live the New Urbanist dream are assaulted by the reality of housing costs. But more than dreams are at stake. Reclaiming density means building cities that have a smaller carbon footprint through driving less, that also maintain more cultural amenities in a single neighbourhood, and that can foster more social interactions and support through an increased sense of neighbourliness. Of course, apartments will not solve all our problems, but they will help correct a sense of atomisation and isolation that is both environmentally wasteful and socially unhealthy.
- We Are Not the First Civilization to Collapse, but We Will Probably Be the Last — Chris Hedges, ScheerPost:
Pre-industrial civilizations were dependent on the limits of solar energy and constrained by roads and waterways, impediments that were obliterated when fossil fuel became an energy source. As industrial empires became global, their increase in size meant an increase in complexity. Ironically, this complexity makes us more vulnerable to catastrophic collapse, not less. Soaring temperatures (Iraq is enduring 120 degree heat that has fried the country’s electrical grid), the depletion of natural resources, flooding, droughts, (the worst drought in 500 years is devastating Western, Central and Southern Europe and is expected to see a decline in crop yields of 8 or 9 percent), power outages, wars, pandemics, a rise in zoonotic diseases and breakdowns in supply chains combine to shake the foundations of industrial society. The Arctic has been heating up four times faster than the global average, resulting in an accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet and freakish weather patterns. The Barents Sea north of Norway and Russia are warming up to seven times faster. Climate scientists did not expect this extreme weather until 2050. “Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up,” the anthropologist Ronald Wright warns, calling industrial society “a suicide machine.”
- Peep Show Is Now a Utopian Fantasy — James Greig in Tribune:
The point of Peep Show (2003-2015) is that both its protagonists, Mark Corrigan (David Mitchell) and Jeremy Usbourne (Robert Webb), are abject and despicable losers. Yet watching it recently for the first time in years, I felt a trace of envy. Jeremy is an unemployed slacker, and yet his life, while bleak, holds an unintentional allure. I too would like to have recourse to a ‘nest egg’ or free accommodation, but none of my friends are rich enough for me to mooch off . My parents, while middle-class, are too Presbyterian to fund my efforts to make it as a DJ. There is something in this loser’s life that I can’t really aspire to. The allure of Jeremy’s life owes partly to the nature of narrative fiction: Hitchcock once said that ‘Drama is life without the boring parts,’ and the same is true of sitcoms. We never see Jeremy spending hours watching daytime television or filling out forms at the jobcentre. Instead, he takes drugs, goes to the pub, has escapades, and pursues a series of disastrous love affairs—all of which seem preferable to working. […] As I was watching, it occurred to me that the life that Jeremy leads is no longer possible. I understand that Peep Show is a sitcom, rather than a Ken Loach film, and the situations it portrays may have been unrealistic at the time it was written. But as a work of social satire, it was surely responding to
. Jeremy must have been a recognisable archetype. I’m not sure that he is today, or at least not in the same way.
- Jubilee for me, but not for thee — Tom Tomorrow:
- Kansas City’s Zero Fare Transit Program Shows Major Success – And What Still Needs to Be Done — Sandy Smith at NextCity:
Kansas City, Missouri, made national headlines in the fall of 2019 when its city council voted unanimously to become America’s first large city to make public transportation free citywide. Now, two and a half years later, anyone living anywhere in the city can ride buses without paying a fare. […] A study conducted as part of the Urban League of Greater Kansas City’s annual “State of Black Kansas City” report last year asked 1,686 riders for their feedback on what Zero Fare has enabled them to do. […] Almost 90% of the riders surveyed said they rode the buses more as a result of Zero Fare. About 92% said it allowed them to shop for food more often; 88% said they could see their healthcare providers more easily or more often; 82% said it allowed them to get or keep a job; and 86% said it made them feel like city leadership is concerned about their needs — a sore subject for mostly-Black East Side residents, who often complain that the city pays more attention to its whiter and more affluent west side. […] Besides the increased mobility and financial benefits, nearly 80% of the residents surveyed also said Zero Fare increased their sense of safety on the bus. That points to one of the more counterintuitive benefits of eliminating fares: The buses became safer to ride. “Some operators would beg to differ with us, and some operators feel like it doesn’t seem right that people are riding longer than they would if they actually had a destination,” says Cindy Baker, interim vice president for marketing and communications at the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA). “But statistics show that actual incidents where supervisors have to be called [to quell a disturbance on a bus] have actually gone down.”
- If Everyone Is King Then No One Is — Caitlin Johnstone:
The ruling class continually extracts wealth from the public not so that they can become wealthier than they already are, but to keep the public from having that wealth. They’re not worried that they’ll be unable to support their needs in the future if they don’t extract another billion dollars, they just understand that the wealthier everyone else gets, the less their own wealth matters. They’re not wealth-hoarding, they’re wealth-
. […] Imagine if ordinary people started having as much influence over the direction human civilization will take as war profiteers, oil tycoons, globalized wage slavers and Silicon Valley plutocrats. Imagine if the working class had enough disposable income to begin funding grassroots political campaigns, building their own media networks, or even funding think tanks and NGOs to advance their own interests like plutocrats do today. Imagine if everyone could afford to work less and relax more, and finally start learning about what’s really going on in the world. Wealth is meaningless if everyone is wealthy. Power is meaningless if everyone has power. The kings of our day have a vested interest in keeping everyone poor and powerless, because if everyone is king, then no one is king.
- The end of walking — Antonia Malchik:
In 2011, Raquel Nelson was convicted of vehicular homicide following the death of her four-year-old son. Nelson, it’s crucial to note, was not driving. She didn’t even own a car. She and her three children were crossing a busy four-lane road from a bus stop to their apartment building in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. She’d stopped on the median halfway across when her son let go of her hand and stepped into the second half of the road. Nelson tried to catch him but wasn’t fast enough; she and her two-year-old daughter were also injured. The driver admitted to having alcohol and painkillers in his system (and to being legally blind in one eye) and pleaded guilty to the charge of hit-and-run. He served six months in prison. For the crime of walking three tired, hungry children home in the most efficient way possible, Nelson faced more jail time than the man who had killed her son. I am writing from a position of privilege. Not white or middle-class privilege – although I am both of those things and those facts play a role in my privilege – but rather, the privilege Americans don’t realise they’ve lost in a nearly Orwellian fashion: I can open the door of my home, take my kids by their hands, and meet almost any need by lifting my feet and moving forward. Food, schools, social centres, books, playgrounds, even doctors and dentists and ice cream – nearly everything our family uses daily is within about a mile’s walk of home and well-served by wide, uncrowded sidewalks.
- Why deadlines are pointless and what to do instead — Lucas F. Costa:
Deadlines are the bane of every software engineer’s existence. We’ve all been there: the project is “due” in two weeks, and we’re nowhere near done. So we pull all-nighters, do poor testing, and cut corners just to get it done. And what happens? The project is buggy, the customers are unhappy, and we’re all exhausted. Sometimes, the software will be too buggy even for a software engineer’s standard. When that happens, managers set a new deadline, revealing the first one shouldn’t have existed in the first place. Now, guess what happens if you miss the second deadline? Exactly right, you get a new one. Don’t you love deadlines? It’s about time we start calling deadlines by their real name: pressure. Deadlines don’t make engineers code faster. They just cause them to work longer hours. In less dysfunctional teams, deadlines act as a forcing function to cut scope and ship whatever you have, revealing you could’ve shipped earlier and acted on feedback sooner. In this post, I’ll explain why deadlines are not a necessary evil and how they harm productivity, morale, and software quality.
- Muddle — Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal by Zack Weinersmith: