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Joe Biden’s Vice Presidential Pick is…ZZZZZ

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 6:06am in

Why Democrats don't like Joe Lieberman - CNNPolitics

Added 6 pm Eastern 8/11/20: Well, that turned out to be true.

Most years, the Super Bowl is a dud. Yet the hype machine keeps pulling in new suckers.

            The quadrennial announcement of the Democratic nomination for vice president features an identical Lucy, Charlie Brown and the football dynamic: lots of hype followed by deadly disappointment. And there’s never been more hype than this year.

            Not that Joe Biden’s pick isn’t important. If he wins, he will be the oldest person to take the oath of office by a full eight years. (He’ll be 78. Trump, the second oldest, was 70 in 2017.) Even by the standards that the 70s are the new 60s, Joe Biden’s 70s look more like 80s or 90s. His choice has to satisfy several competing constituencies: women, Blacks, and the progressive voters he desperately needs to show up November 3rd instead of sitting on their hands as they did last time.

            But past performance almost always being a reliable indicator of near-future returns, Democrats should prepare for a Super Bowl-like fiesta of deep disappointment.

            Last cycle’s brutal primaries prompted speculation that Hillary Clinton might unify the party by giving Bernie Sanders the VP nod. She chose Tim Kaine. (Political pundits jammed phone and text messaging with: “who?”) She told Charlie Rose she loved that Kaine described himself as “too boring.”

Clinton thought Kaine’s dullness would provide balance. Voters considered it redundant. “‘Safe,’” observed Politico, “seems to be Kaine’s middle name.” In the year of Trump, safe was anything but.

            That’s often the case.

            I was traveling through Central Asia when a hotel employee informed me that Al Gore had announced that Connecticut senator Joe Lieberman would be his running mate to go up against Bush-Cheney in 2000. I assumed my Uzbek host was part of some weird post-Soviet gaslighting campaign. How could Gore do anything so stupid?

The mists of time and the Florida recount fiasco have blurred the fact that, like Clinton 16 years later, Gore needed a progressive to balance his record as a Third Way centrist. Inexplicably, both at the time and today, clueless Democratic pollsters somehow convinced themselves that what he really needed to do was distance himself from Bill Clinton—the president under whom he’d served for eight years and who was enjoying improving poll numbers. They also thought the conservative Lieberman’s “moral rectitude” in being the first Democrat to condemn Bill Clinton for the Monica Lewinsky scandal would appeal to left-leaning Ralph Nader voters.

            Lieberman opposed affirmative action and gay marriage. He supported every major military intervention, including, at first, Vietnam.

            Nader kept his progressive votes.

            The first rule of picking a veep is do no harm. The second is to remember the lesson of Bill Clinton/Al Gore 1992, when Democrats won with a pair of centrists of similar age and temperament from neighboring states: geographical ticket balancing as an art peaked out when JFK tapped LBJ.

            As tensions mount between voters dominated by the populist progressive left and party leaders who manipulate the Democrats’ primary process to favor corporate centrists like Obama, Clinton and Biden, however, the case for ideological balance seems stronger than ever. Surely Hillary Clinton must wake up in the middle of the night wondering if relegating Bernie Sanders to number 39 on her list of running mates was the best decision she ever made.

            By that standard Elizabeth Warren ought to be keeping her phone by the window in her house with the best reception. She would be an interesting choice: both more intelligent and intellectual than her boss, white (OK, white and Native American) in the year of Black Lives Matter, someone disgruntled progressives would have a hard time justifying as the target of a voter boycott.

            Of the women floating around on Biden’s supposed short list, Warren would surprise. She would exceed expectations. She might unify the party.

            I don’t think she stands much of a chance.

            Boring usually gets the nod.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

How is it August already!

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 12/08/2020 - 2:00am in



I just don’t know. I hope you have been keeping well!

I have been holding things together here at home with the family, working most waking hours on Professional Work, regretting the loss of our daycare, and falling into bed exhausted most nights.

Getting a toddler into bed is like putting a motorcycle away with the throttle stuck open. It can be done, but it sure exhausts your reserves of willpower.

Here are the haps lately

• Before the pandemic, I was invited up to Sideshow Collectibles to participate in their YouTube show “Strike a Pose.”

Our episode is out now, featuring me and my pals Dave Kellett and Shing Yin Khor:

• My dear sweet 18-year-old Feral Cat (not really feral) has been at the vet for the past few days.

If you’re into cute little puzzles, this would be a great time to pick up one of the last few Feral Cat double-sided puzzles for just $6 (or any of my other puzzles for $12)!


• I lost the Eisner Award. (As in, I didn’t win — not that I physically misplaced it.)

That’s okay! Phil LaMarr said my name, which was pretty cool.

• My new favorite shirt is the ink swatch sample shirt from the shirt printer. A lot of people seemed to think it was as weird and charming as I do:

So, sure — I’ll print one for you too, if you like!

(Note that instead of the words “Men’s” and “Women’s” for shirt sizing, I’ve started using “Straight fit” and “Curvy fit.” In case you aren’t familiar with those terms!)


Here’s some other things I’ve enjoyed recently, and I think you might, too!

• This short film:

• This article about how LEGO bricks can embody principles of interface design:

• This oral history of Weekly World News:

• This touching but very funny story about Carl Reiner:

Comics will be published irregularly for the time being! The best way to stay up-to-date is to make sure you’re subscribed to the email list or the Twitter feed. Talk to you soon!!

The normative, transformative, politics of capitalist development

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 8:00am in



When carrying out fieldwork in northern Mozambique, I had a series of conversations with a researcher for the local government’s cultural archives. Over a couple of months, I asked him about all sorts of aspects of Mozambique’s political economy. Often, once I had asked a question, he would leave a pause and then announce ‘nos somos pobre’—we are poor. At the time, early career and eager to generate material for a PhD and then book, I found this response a little frustrating. I wanted his different answers to my different questions. But, what he was telling me was that poverty was the meta-condition within which all manner of questions operated. Poverty was the difference that made a difference. It was not that discussions about democracy, justice, dependency on aid, or post-conflict reconstruction were not important; it was that they were profoundly conditioned by an underlying condition which was that Mozambique suffered mass poverty, slow growth, and very little economic transformation. The possibilities of progress in all of these areas was underdetermined by the lack of capitalist development. In this blog—based on my book Developmentalism: The Normative and Transformative within Capitalism—I aim to set out a characterisation of the kind of politics that capitalist development requires with particular attention to the normative questions this raises.

Want mass poverty reduction? Seek it in capitalism

If you seek mass poverty reduction, you will find it in the histories of sustained capitalist accumulation. In England from 1801 to 1901, income per capita increased fourfold over a century in which population trebled, and this increase was reflected in the incomes of the working classes. Government gradually came to regulate the intensity and extensity of work, broaden provision for pensions, education, clean water, and by the 1920s a national grid. This was a slow process in comparison with what followed between the 1830s and 1950s in other Western countries. In America, real wages rose by 25 per cent between 1922 and 1929. From 1900, life expectancy increased and the length of the working week decreased and income per capita had overtaken Britain’s. By the end of the 1920s, half of all Americans owned a car, 68 per cent of households had home lighting, 51 per cent indoor flush toilets, and 42 per cent central heating. Similar stylisations might be given for northern European countries. In Japan, from the late 1910s, economic growth and income per capita increased gradually before the destruction of the Second World War. From the mid 1950s to the 1970s, the Japanese economy grew by an average of 10 per cent per year. Life expectancy rose from 47 years in 1935 to 68 in 1961. By 1960, average wages were about 50 per cent above pre-war levels; and by 1970 they had risen again by about 80 per cent. More strikingly, the family income of an urban wage worker increased from an index of 11.7 in 1960 to 100 in 1980. Similar stylisations might be offered for South Korea and Taiwan roughly a decade later. In China, from 1979 to 1995, GDP grew at an annual average rate of 9.5 per cent, with productivity improvements accounting for 40 per cent of that growth. From 1980 to 2001, the proportion of Chinese villagers in poverty fell from 41 per cent to 5 per cent. The number of people living in absolute poverty (by the World Bank’s extremely austere definition) fell from 840 million to 84 million between 1981 and 2011. China’s growth and consequent poverty reduction has lifted one-tenth of the world’s population out of extreme poverty.

These cases are all extremely varied. But noting their historical, geographical, and economic differences should not distract from the key point: each of these has undergone a sustained process of capitalist accumulation that has transformed their political economies in ways that create the conditions of possibility for mass poverty reduction and a governance of mass social provision. In each case, more capital was invested, productivity and output increased, sectoral distributions shifted from agriculture to industry and services, wage labour expanded, and rates of economic growth increased.

There are a group of countries in which the world’s greatest efforts at poverty reduction and concentrations of wealth and wellbeing are housed. David Coates identifies twenty-five of these countries: Britain, America, New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Austria, Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, France, Canada, Portugal, Singapore, Greece, Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea. One can add to this list, but the categorisation surely stands up. All of these countries have successfully endured a capitalist transformation.

Capitalist transformation offers all countries the slender hope of development: that the processes and relations of capitalism contained within their borders might be disciplined, incentivised, determined, and fortunate enough to generate an extended period of growth, increased productivity, employment, and fiscal resources for the state. This is what capitalist development is: always different, always the same: capital’s offer to the majority of countries with weak economies and high proportions of extremely poor people is that there might be a plan, a technique, a chance that everything changes. Not improvements in discrete indices, but a systemic change in a political economy; a transformation.

Dirty development

This is not a liberal cheerleading for capital. It is simply an acknowledgement of one of its essential features: its desire to accumulate and the growth and productive effects that this drive manifests. This is, of course, one facet. We can accept that capitalist transitions are commonly extremely disruptive, rights-denying, exploitative, and impoverishing. We can also accept that capitalist transitions do not fulsomely address inequality or insecurity. And they certainly do not resolve social-structural inequalities that derive from race, ethnicity, gender, caste, and so on. But, as my Mozambican interlocutor was trying to teach me, issues of governance, development, policy, and justice look very different when ‘you are not poor’, and this is surely the core telos of the politics of development

If this argument seems unconvincing, we might consider the dominant approaches to development and poverty reduction. The most popular orientation at present broadly follows Amartya Sen’s capabilities approach and it sets its stall on the small-scale, enabling, and incremental support for livelihood improvements. Microcredit, training, and deliberative and participatory mobilisations offer more obviously normatively pleasing visions of development. But, individually or as a whole, they do not offer mass poverty reduction. They offer a means through which the poor might enjoy their condition in relative comfort through discrete localised interventions.

Liberal economic policy (which is not antagonistic towards the capabilities approach) assumes that restrained and adroit regulatory governance generates competitive market-based growth that lifts people out of poverty. This is a model that does not reflect the particulars of any of the countries we briefly reviewed above, and arguably has no concrete cases that substantiate its faith in laissez-faire.

So, if one is serious about mass poverty reduction, one requires a partial but necessary defence of capitalism: it is irrefutably the motor for the world’s most pervasive processes of sustained development, inclusive of growth, improved productivity, economic diversification, more wage labour, improved incomes, mobilities, and expanded social provision. The chances of success in pursuing this transition are slight; the experiences of capitalist transformation are awful; and the achievement of a successful transition does not solve a great many problems and injustices. It is between the teeth of this historical reality that the politics of development resides.

Situating capitalist development within this concrete history has repercussions for our understanding of the politics of development. In the first place, it requires us to recognise plainly that capitalist development is a political project. Capitalist development is not natural, organic, or a product of an exclusively economic logic. Secondly, capitalist development involves a kind of spatial fix in which the exercise of state power, the interests of capital, and the notion of commonwealth are substantially bounded within a sovereign territory. For all of the globalisation research, cosmopolitanism, and focus on transboundary activities, it is impossible to construct any notion of development outside the nation-state without indulging in ideology and idealism.

But the politics of development is not simply a defence of an interventionist state and a recognition that markets need regulation; these have been commonplaces of ‘developmental state’ research and its various Weberian, institutionalist, and ‘new structuralist’ spin-offs. The exacting politics of capitalist development requires a more full-blooded politics, what I have termed developmentalism. The ‘ism’ matters. I am not wanting to identify a set of policies, an institutional form, or an elite mindset. I am wanting to analyse an ideology that pervades all of these aspects and which has an exceptionally durable property fit for the turbulence of capitalist development. Capitalist development is not simply the careful management of economic growth. It is the ability to endure crisis, to enforce pervasive and deep social change, and to fight above one’s weight in a world of rival capitalisms.

Developmentalism and the slender hope of success

So, one might reasonably ask: how does developmentalism exist in such austere circumstances? The starting point of an answer is that developmentalism most likely emerges when the existence of the state and the foundations of the political become tightly intertwined with capitalist development. Although it might be desirable for a government to facilitate capitalist development, most do not. But they do not start to collapse as a result. In some cases, where the state’s existence and capitalist development become more intertwined,  the political conditions for capitalist transformation are more propitious.

For most governments in poor countries, development might be desirable but not necessary: some growth might happen over three or four years but its falling away does not lead governments to face major insecurities in terms of civic order, control of territory or external threat. Other political aims might be as important as promoting development and success in these areas might not require sustained growth and transformation. In these contexts, development is commonly aspired to in the absence of a fundamental political imperative. Herein the aspirational politics of seeking the right policies, smart development assistance, requisite political will, and appropriate institutional design… all with limited results, development-wise.

For some governments, the state and its ruling elite are united in the face of major-order political challenges which pose the real possibility that the ordinary politics of statehood and governance cannot be sustained. One might call this condition one of existential insecurity. In these circumstances, one means to address the primary political challenge of establishing the basic legitimacy of the state and national politics is to promote capitalist transformation. This may or may not work. If it does, it can consolidate the presence of the state in a territory, engineer national societies of citizens, generate improved material circumstances for large numbers, open up new livelihood possibilities or aspirations for many, and generate a larger stream of revenue for the state which it might deploy strategically to shore up its legitimacy and respond to various political and economic challenges.

Developmentalism contains two other features, both of which relate more closely to class. The social origins of elites matters. It is within these elites that the ideological ferment that generates an exceptional degree of political determination to promote sustained and expanding accumulation might emerge. It is also within these elites that broader projects and dispensations of property allocation are forged. The strategic allocation of suffering and benefit through property, patronage, and the putting to work of people requires a clenched fist of elite purpose and capitalist ambition. We can see this in all of the histories of success, albeit with varying degrees of authoritarianism and violence.

In America, capitalist development was, in all of its complexity and localism, a project of immigrant colonising elites. Until the ‘closure’ of the frontier, the American state surveyed, commoditised, invested, subsidised, and exercised massive amounts of violence to make a national capitalist economy, and it did so most profoundly in the name of nation-building against a diverse and resistant multitude of indigenous peoples. Japan’s early capitalist transformation under the Meiji ‘restoration’ was also propelled by an ‘immigrant’ elite that came to power through an occupation-coup. In Taiwan, an immigrant elite from the mainland took power after 1949 over an indigenous population and facing external threats of occupation. In China, a victorious party-military enters government after a civil war, facing a country it has partial control over and a continuing external threat.

In these countries—and also others such as Israel and Rwanda—elites immigrated into insecure states, found themselves facing indigenous populations that they did not know well and who did not treat their government as a legitimate presentative of their community. Constructing a growing economy and generating a motor of social transformation was not something that these elites did because it was desirable from some normative standpoint. They did this because without this project, there was a real and present possibility that the elite might be removed from power and, without close access to the state, these elites might be exiled or even destroyed.

Capitalist development became the existential necessity of statehood in these insecure ‘immigrant states’. It generated, and in some cases generates, an obsessive and tenacious ideology of developmentalism which shapes elites’ ideas of what is possible. It becomes thinkable to undertake major social engineering as an absolute necessity; it becomes an imperative to deploy the state to fuel politically-amenable processes of accumulation; it becomes possible to discipline accumulation in order to generate socially-beneficial outcomes from capitalist development. For these cases, ‘political will’ is nothing like up to the task of forging capitalist development. It requires a deeper ideological and sociological underpinning that touches of the foundations of how a state might operate.

Valuing capitalist development

None of this makes for pleasing argument. Developmentalism is a concept that is based in the premise that rights and development are not commensurate. One of the main strengths of the capabilities and liberal approaches to development is their normative congruence: they posit that development can happen in conjunction with the expansion of rights-affirming sociability. Seen in comparison, the politics of developmentalism looks either amoral, unpleasantly utilitarian, or perhaps apologetic of all manner of crimes of state.

But, a skirting of the nature of capitalist development via an idealised derivation of human rights does not an historically-contextualised argument make. Indeed, the conflation of research on human rights with research on development through liberal and capabilities approaches has generated an archive of research that does not address the nature of capitalist development. To assume that both poverty reduction and human rights are both absolute and categorical goods is to conflate two equally important but distinct value systems and to generate analytical confusion and conflation that reaches its apogee in Sen’s statement that one can have development and expanding freedoms because development is about expanding freedom.

I would see developmentalism not as an apology for authoritarianism but as an acknowledgment of the realities of capitalist development. This position will never lead to moral perfection or a realised ideal: there is no normative resolution here. But, in a sense, the liberal-capabilities framing is also and more clearly apologist. It constantly endeavours to portray capitalism—a nice, liberal, Whiggish, positive-sum imaginary of it—as a real prospect to lift hundreds of millions of poor people out of extreme poverty. Liberal and capabilities approaches implicitly but constantly give capitalism an historic makeover it does not deserve.

So, the argument here is not one that can resolve the rights-development antagonism. Rather, it is one that recognises that it is an intrinsic agony of capitalism itself. There is no escape. A realistic understanding of capitalist development—one that derives its insights from the study of historic case studies and non-idealised understandings of politics—is that capitalist development is incommensurate with rights.

But, this is far from the end of the matter. In fact, this position—ostensibly a very dour one—takes rights and freedom more seriously than liberal/capabilities approaches. There are three ways in which this is the case. Firstly, it behoves us to focus attention on concrete and situated political practices and to ask questions about specific practices’ effects on capitalist development. Rather than focusing on constitutional and legislative change or the presence of elections, it seeks out in more detail myriad particular interventions: land reform, social provision, rezoning and relocation, the regulation and disciplining of labour, the partial use of power and money to support capital and so on. It connects these to the varying and ongoing project of capitalist development and it makes provisional judgements in this context.

Secondly, a focus on capitalist development is more amenable to dynamic and collective political agencies. In other words, as capitalist development—with all of its oppressions and dispossessions—continues, new forms of political mobilisation emerge. If individuals receive basic education and healthcare and are otherwise generally left alone by the state then no rights violation has taken place. And, if multiparty elections take place in this context, then countries might be considered to have entered into a club of ‘well ordered’ and rights-respecting nations. This liberal vision shows a lack of ambition and a weak sense of historical change. Capitalist development generates new politics: new classes of labour in agriculture, industry, trade, services might construct new political parties, representative organisations, media outlets, and mobilisations. And, as economic growth continues, states have the wherewithal to generate better-resourced projects for the commonwealth. They also enter into conditions where they might escape the supine half-sovereign state of being reliant on aid and loans from development agencies.

The point here is that developmentalism’s non-idealism might upset those who wish to put human rights as an absolute priority but it does so for good reasons. If one wishes to cleave to an absolute and/or ideal valuing of human rights then one is a human rights scholar, not a development scholar. Taking development seriously means making human rights a second-order value. But its location thus is not abandonment. Rather, it requires us to consider the specific acts of state and capital in relation to capitalist development. This will not harmonise rights and development but it will contextualise the relationship and allow more nuanced judgement to be made. Furthermore, capitalist development itself opens up more fulsome possibilities for collective political agency within its own transformation.

Thirdly, developmentalism allows for a more inclusive notion of moral value. Mainstream discourses on development tend to assume that success is possible for all countries. What is needed is some combination of the right policy science, with the right elite dispositions. The sense of universal possibility is expressed in the bizarre codifications of the Millennium and Sustainable Development Goals. This is nothing less than a global ideological makeover of capitalism’s actual developmental potential: an authoritarian and deeply political project, unlikely to succeed, and motivated by major insecurities.

Within developmentalist projects, there is a great deal to play for. Developmentalism is not simply an economic transition; it is socio-political. The state seeks in capitalist transformation the basic legitimacy to govern. This is not only about the ‘performance legitimacy’ of growth. It also something embedded in thicker and more contextualised value systems. In this respect, we can recognise that rights value systems are not the only ones in politics. Other political values underpin legitimacy: nationalism, stability, and social justice. Capitalist development offers a very powerful means to articulate and realise these values, and in so doing, construct the legitimacy of the state and the conditions of possibility for mass improvements in people’s material well-being. There is a tendency to couple rights and justice as if they were near-synonyms. Other values exist, and in conditions of poverty, instability, weak state capacity, and intervention they might play a prominent role.

Two cheers for development

The historic promise of capital—and its ultimate claim to legitimacy—is that accumulation generates economic expansion that makes people’s lives better. Clearly, globally, this is more promise than claim. Developmentalism is the ideology of a politics that aims to move a society from this promise to its reality, and it recognizes that this move is one that requires the distribution of suffering as well as benefits.

The trajectory of capitalist development is in no sense a great historic resolution of poverty, overwork, or inequality. It is nothing more—or less—than a transformation of the realities upon which these material phenomena play out. To deny capitalism’s progressiveness is as mistaken as denying its limits and contradictions. Development achieved is hardly the end of history. Indeed, as Marx insisted, within and against the historical engine of capitalism, anything is possible.

The post The normative, transformative, politics of capitalist development appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

For a Full Economic Recovery, Debt Is No Object

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/08/2020 - 4:10am in



As COVID-19 continues to spread, and as Congress considers its next round of support, one fact is worth remembering: A higher level of debt would in no way be a hindrance to addressing this crisis. In a climate of low interest rates and deep economic suffering, deficit and debt shouldn’t be a factor. Here’s why:

Low Interest Rates Mean Low-Cost Borrowing    

As Figures 1 and 2 show, interest rates on 30-year government debt have declined to record lows since the beginning of this year and are now approaching zero—following a secular decline in rates since the 1980s.

Rates are, even more surprising, as low or even lower than during the initial panic in March of this year, even as deficits have increased. 

These low rates persist even as it’s clear the recession will not have a quick recovery, and that we will have large deficits for the foreseeable future. Any concerns about the current or future deficit have not manifested in interest rates. Moreover, inflation has collapsed. Early in this crisis, some worried about a “supply-side” recession, driven especially by issues relating to supply chains. While there have been problems producing much-needed medical equipment, the primary challenge facing the macroeconomy has been a deficiency in demand for goods and services.

Amid this lack of creeping inflation, the Federal Reserve has taken significant action to reduce interest rates for the country, including new rounds of quantitative easing and the extension of those programs to other forms of debt. This has done the important, immediate thing that the Federal Reserve can do: lower rates and collapse the premium the financial sector requires in a crisis. However these actions are insufficient without fiscal policy. The Fed’s commitment to keeping interest rates low for a long time locks in these rates, and the collapse in inflation shows that markets are not worried about these rates being too low for too long. Whatever worry there is about debt isn’t coming from the financial markets.

Spending Money Works

Though it had a difficult and rocky launch due to the anemic and underdeveloped nature of our social insurance system, as well as the vast amount of need the pandemic created, the CARES Act bolstered spending on a scale rarely seen in our country. Delivering around a trillion dollars in aid over three months, it pushed back successfully against the worst of this depression. Even in a depression with high unemployment, income rose in aggregate for individuals, and poverty either stayed the same or even declined.

This is the promise of social insurance and active Keynesian macroeconomic management. Even as market income falls in a recession, expenditure can be maintained in order to ensure that a recession doesn’t perpetuate itself. Providing income security to everyday people with stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits helped keep millions afloat and lessened macroeconomic harm; it can do so again—and better than the first time.

The Senate’s refusal to provide fiscal support to states and municipalities (as the House-passed HEROES Act sought to do) stands out as a failure, but such relief is still possible and necessary. 

We Still Need Stimulus and Public Investment

Mounting COVID-19 case counts have dashed formerly prevalent hopes of a “v-shaped” recovery . Even positive forecasts see unemployment likely to remain above 10 percent—worse than the worst of the Great Recession—well into next year. 

Spending to stabilize the economy will be necessary in the meantime. To transition our economy and employ workers in new fields, we must also make overdue investments—including in decarbonization and climate mitigation.The arguments for those investments being debt-financed were strong last year; they’ve only become stronger during this high-stakes moment.

The post For a Full Economic Recovery, Debt Is No Object appeared first on Roosevelt Institute.

Rethinking Global Labour: A Debate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 06/08/2020 - 8:00am in



I would like to thank Andreas Bieler for his interesting and engaged review of my recent book Rethinking Global Labour, optimistically titled After Neoliberalism and Adam David Morton for hosting it on his excellent cutting-edge site. After explaining what the book is about Bieler makes two critiques that I think are worth pursuing as I think they go to the heart of what a Marxist reading of contemporary labour struggles is about.

According to Bieler:

Polanyi  could only envisage a re-embedding of the capitalist economy within bourgeois social relations, a kind of capitalism with a human face. By drawing on Polanyi, Munck falls into the same trap and condemns his assessment of potential for change to reformist considerations….Second, Munck expresses an unwarranted optimism when assessing the potential role of his ‘emerging global working class’…. the problem here is Munck’s autonomist Marxist approach, which one-sidedly celebrates labour’s agency without acknowledging the structuring conditions of capitalism.

So, first to Polanyi and whether his counter-movement framing leads inevitably to a reformist politics. We might of course question whether reform vs revolution has not had its day as an adequate framing of left strategy. But on Karl Polanyi I think the debate is a bit more complex than this. Bieler mentions in support the work of Adam David Morton (2013, 2018) but I do not think acknowledging the gaps and contradictions in Polanyi’s thinking and politics warrants dropping him altogether. Along with others, I brought a Polanyi counter-movement frame into global labour studies back in the 1990s when the neo-liberal unregulated market paradigm was in its prime. It was not so much because of its ‘optimism’ – that social counter-movements will always contest the depredations of the free market – but because it allowed us to capture the breadth of resistance from traditional trade union struggles to new struggles against commodification and dispossession. This was a time when many followed Manuel Castells in seeing labour as a failed political actor. It was time to widen the net and break with economism.

Of course Polanyi has many weaknesses as I have always pointed out – we are never clear what social actors will animate his counter-movement, social class seems absent from his analysis – but there is good cause for the exponential growth of interest in his work in recent years. Especially his keen interest in the social relations of non- capitalist societies and how they can inform the prefigurative construction of post-capitalist societies today. Polanyi was not an advocate of ‘capitalism with a human face’ as Bieler puts it, he engaged in an original way in the analysis of the ‘new’ capitalism of his day from a broadly libertarian socialist perspective, committed to co-operative based society.

The second of Bieler’s points regarding autonomism’s equally ‘optimistic’ celebration of worker’s agency is a bit puzzling.  Bieler explains in a bit more detail how:

Munck puts the capital/labour relationship at the heart of his understanding of historical development. ‘Capitalisms have always responded to strong labour movements through technological innovation, or through the shift of production to other locations’ (p. 220). He thereby overlooks that capital does not only respond to labour militancy, but equally to inter-capitalist competition, itself the result of the way capitalist production is organised around the private ownership or control of the means of production and wage labour. As Marx pointed out, ‘under free competition, the immanent laws of capitalist production confront the individual capitalist as a coercive force external to him’ (Marx 1867/1990: 381). It is especially this inter-capitalist competition, which drives capitalism’s relentless outward expansion in search for higher profits (emphasis added).

Well I do not think Mario Tronti – whose 1966 Operai e Capitale is scandalously only now out in English – needs lessons in basic Marxism, nor does ‘Marx said it, so it must be right’ cut it these days. Of course, capital does not ‘only’ respond to workers struggles but they are crucial, if often hidden motivations, for capital’s strategies. Andy Herod (2001) showed how US multinationals in the 1990s were often responding to workers’ struggles when they relocated overseas and how they actively shaped the economic geography of capitalism. And what Tronti and the autonomist or workerist current teaches us is that it is workers’ struggles that drive the course of capitalist development. We need only think of recent struggles in the advanced industrial societies against the precaritisation of labour through the gig economy. A Marxism that does not place workers’ struggles at its core would simply be a form of economism.

I do not think anyone would contest that people make their own history but not in conditions of their own choosing. Thus, there can be a false debate being posed between an autonomist Marxism and a political economy Marxism to put it that way. What we probably need now, to move forward, is a much more grounded debate based on where the (not so) ‘new’ global labour studies are at, remembering they have a predecessor in the ‘new international labour studies’ of the 1980s (see Munck 2009 Beyond the ‘new’ international labour studies).

I also think we need to move beyond a 1980s ‘political economy’ approach as being what orthodox Marxism is about. The ‘new’ Marx as articulated by Marcello Musto and others, based on the recently emerging complete works of Marx, should alert us to the need to be more self-critical. As Musto puts it, with huge textual evidence, ‘Marx spurned any rigid linking of social changes to economic transformations alone. Instead, he highlights the multiple possibilities that the passing of time offered and the centrality of human intervention in the shaping of reality and the achievement of change’ (Musto 2020: 33).

We should also by now have digested the critique of capitalocentrism in the inspiring work of J.K. Gibson-Graham in their 1996 classic The End of Capitalism as we Knew it: A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. For them it is the socialist left that has constructed capitalism as all-powerful, systematic and self- reproducing, thus postponing anti- capitalist initiatives to an ultimate day that never comes. This is not ‘sober realism’ but simply defeatism.

So I would ask Bieler, who has contributed to the global labour studies debates in the past (see Bieler et al., 2008 ), to join the real debates now underway and not create false targets. A good starting point is a recent wide-ranging review of the new global labour studies by Brookes and McCallum in the always worth following Global Labour Journal. They argue amongst other points that:

The theoretical literature inspired by Marx and Polanyi connects labour’s transnational activities to broad themes: global inequality, societal backlash and the future of capitalism – the big questions of our time. The strategy-focused literature sheds light on labour transnationalism “on the ground” through empirical investigations of the actors, interests and interactions driving this phenomenon.

They ask for more middle range theory and bridging the big picture of Marx and Polanyi with what is happening on the ground. I can but concur and plead guilty to some lack of mediation myself.

We could also consider the emerging debate across the Global South on the different ways in which trade unions (but other forms too) can take on the urgent task of organising the majority of workers in the informal sector. Trade unions, even ones with strong corporatist traditions, now recognise that the working class reaches well beyond the factory and that their own future depends on engaging with these ‘non-traditional’ layers. Efforts to organise workers have increasingly brought together informal workers, street traders, the newly unemployed and, sometimes, migrant workers. When different kinds of workers are brought into the fold, trade unions may rediscover more militant approaches to collective organising and political impact (see Munck 2019

It is time to unify forces, cut across disciplinary boundaries, question our own ways of thinking and help develop a bold twenty-first century labour strategy in the spirit of Marx when he engaged with the early labour movement.


Bieler, Andreas, Ingemar Lindberg And Devan Pillay, Ed., 2008. Labour And The Challenges Of Globalisation: What Prospects For Transnational Solidarity? London: Pluto Press.

Brookes, Marissa and Mc Callum, Jamie, 2017 The New Global Labour Studies: A Critical Review, Global Labour Journal, 8(3).

Gibson-Graham, J K. 2006 (1996), The End of Capitalism (As we knew it): A Feminist Critique of Political Economy. Oxford: Blackwell.

Herod, Andrew 2001 Labor Geographies: Workers and the Landscapes of Capitalism. New York: Guildford Press.

Morton, Adam David, 2013, The Limits of Sociological Marxism?, Historical Materialism, 21 ,1.

Morton, Adam David, 2018, The great trasformismo, Globalizations, 15:7, 956-976,

Munck, Ronaldo, 2009, ‘Afterword: beyond the ‘new’ international labour studies’, Third World Quarterly, 30,3.

Munck, Ronaldo, 2019, ‘Organising precarious workers: a view from the South’, Open Democracy, 15th October

Musto, Marcello, 2020, The Last Years of Karl Marx. An Intellectual Biography. California: Stanford University Press.

Tronti, Mario, 2019 (1966), Workers and Capital. London: Verso.

The set image is Ettore Sottsass and the Social Factory.

The post Rethinking Global Labour: A Debate appeared first on Progress in Political Economy (PPE).

Contextualising the assault on universities

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 9:51pm in

At the turn of the millennium, the UK was an unambiguous ‘world-leader’ in two principle sectors, both of which had been closely associated with the promise of the ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘post-industrial society’, on which so many policy hopes had hung since the deindustrialisation of the 1970s and early 1980s. Both were dedicated to esoteric language processing and translation, overseen by the expert ‘symbolic analysts’ who scholars such as Robert Reich and Saskia Sassen declared would be the driving forces of the new economy. The Blair government celebrated these sectors with gusto, encouraging their expansion, and looking to them as contributors to macroeconomic growth.

Within a decade, one of these sectors had become dependent on the state to the tune of almost a trillion pounds (at peak), and triggered such a deep recession that the national debt doubled as a proportion of GDP, and wages experienced their longest period of stagnation since the industrial revolution. But within another decade, the government and much of the press were engaged in a sustained cultural assault on the other of these two sectors, painting it as divisive, a threat to liberty and offering ‘poor value’ to its customers. The sectors are, of course, banking and higher education, and it’s important to understand how these respective crises are entangled.

But first of all, take stock of how extraordinary the current cultural campaign against higher education is. It has become clear that The Times in particular will now grant the maximum profile possible to any opinion or news item that casts universities as censorious, ‘low value’, ‘biased’ and – the watch-word of this agenda – woke. The prominent coverage this week of a methodologically abysmal Policy Exchange report, claiming academics (and not just visiting speakers or student societies) are censored and dismissed for their political opinions, was only the latest in a long vendetta against a sector that is simultaneously awaiting a financial hurricane, caused by the pandemic.

The idea that universities are opposed to ‘free speech’ is now a common sense in the pages of the right-wing press and, latterly, the Johnson government. I explored the reasons for this line of attack in this Guardian essay, including the fear that younger people – half of whom have attended university – hold values and political preferences which are at odds with those of newspaper readers and the Conservative Party, including on issues such as Brexit.

The economic charge that certain degrees are ‘low value’ (in the sense that graduates do not earn enough to pay off their student debt, which now incurs a market rate of interest) developed in parallel to this cultural front, but has now joined up with it thanks to the exceptional circumstances of the pandemic. Gavin Williamson, the Education Secretary, recently announced that financial rescue packages would be on-hand for universities struggling with the fall in student numbers over the next year or so, but that it would come with conditions surrounding ‘free speech’ and the closure of certain degrees – to be decided not by one of the fiendishly complex, but nevertheless transparent, audit instruments (REF, TEF and OfS) created over recent decades, but by some mysterious new Higher Education Restructuring Regime Board, “composed of external experts”. Meanwhile, Michelle Donelan, the Universities Minister, has accused universities of “taking advantage of” students with “dumbed down” courses, and signaled that the government now wants to see fewer people go to university.

Another hint of the government’s plans emerged when Boris Johnson gave an interview to the Sunday Telegraph in July, in which he praised the recent Australian policy of raising the price of humanities degrees, as a way of deterring students from taking them. The notional justification for this is that these degrees are ‘low value’ in the sense that they don’t pay a graduate premium (though neither does nursing), and should be used to subsidise allegedly ‘high value’ degrees in STEM subjects. The policy therefore addresses the ‘low value’ of humanities degrees by making them even worse value, while papering over the inconvenient fact these degrees are already being used by universities to cross-subsidise STEM teaching.

As the economic justifications for policy reforms rapidly disintegrate, the government is left with little more than the cultural prejudices against certain scholarly and critical traditions – prejudices which are stoked on a daily basis with by newspapers attacks on ‘wokeness’, and deepened by the more concerning conspiracy theories regarding inter-sectionality (advanced by Douglas Murray) and critical theory (a longstanding, if ill-understood, scapegoat of the far-right). The current government’s inability to forge a coherent analysis of the place of universities in the economy and society is the fall-out of a decade of policy reforms, which repeatedly claim to be driving efficiency and student satisfaction, only to discover that they cost the tax-payer more money and lead to the ‘consumers’ of higher education being the victims of ‘market forces’.


Re-valuing and de-valuing knowledge

To understand this mess, we therefore need to return to the crisis triggered by that other ‘world-leading’ sector, with its disastrous aftermath that was deepened and prolonged by the dogma of George Osborne. So much of the current hysteria that surrounds higher education today centres on undergraduates and tuition (although Policy Exchange are clearly intent on opening up a new front in the domain of research and academic appointments), and it is no coincidence that it was these issues that provoked many of the most furious political clashes of the Coalition government of 2010-15, helping to forge the youth wing of Corbynism and trash the reputation of Liberal Democrats.

‘Top-up fees’ for university tuition were introduced by the Blair government in 1998, with the justification that many of the economic benefits of a degree return to its holder. They were tripled in 2006 to around £3,000 a year. The announcement that mobilised mass protests in 2010 was of a further tripling to £9,000 a year. The withdrawal of government support for tuition only saved the government just over £3bn a year, a tiny sum given the distress to students and the upheaval unleashed, but justified on the basis that the government deficit (which approached 10% of GDP at the time the policy was announced) had become unsustainable in the aftermath of the banking crisis, though this was later re-framed as the consequence of Labour spending prior to the banking crisis.

That period of 2009-12 was therefore the crucible for a new common sense, barely hinted at by the policy of ‘top-up’ fees, in which the value of university tuition is reflected in the graduate labour market. That saving of £3bn a year was the wedge with which to unleash a whole neoliberal orthodoxy, in which education is an investment in human capital,  whose returns are private and calculable. From here it was almost inevitable that a ‘market regulator’ (the Office for Students) would be created, new government audits of graduate employment would be established (the TEF) and economists (led by the IFS) would start to drill down into data on whether individual degrees were ‘worth’ their ‘price’. The Augar Review of May 2019 took as read something that a decade earlier would have been viewed as philistinism: that a university degree is only worth what its holders go on to earn.

Yet not only did the financial crisis facilitate a new common sense of the value of knowledge, it also created the material conditions in which knowledge was de-valued economically. As Keir Milburn and others have highlighted, the labour market impact of the ‘great recession’ that followed the banking crisis fell most heavily on those in early adulthood, at the same time as the cost of housing continued to rise, aided by the expansionary monetary policies that had been introduced to try and offset Osborne’s deflationary fiscal ones. Just at the historical moment when the ‘value’ of, say, a degree in English literature was being publicly re-framed in monetary terms, so the labour market value of that ‘asset’ was falling. The fact that policy-makers, politicians, economists and journalists now routinely use the term ‘low value degrees’ (an insult to teachers and students) is a simple offshoot of this pincer movement of Chicago School ideology and macroeconomic stagnation.


The invention of ‘woke’

Judged in both economic and educational terms, the reforms of the past decade look like a disaster, and policy-makers are now scrabbling around trying to deal with their consequences. As ever, market competition and consumer information (which combine in the form of league tables) are viewed as the tonic for everything, but universities and students are then blamed for their outcomes. See, for example, how lecturers and students are perennially incentivised to work harder and deliver better ‘outcomes’, but then accused of ‘grade inflation’ when this transpires. Without any apparent irony, one of the charges that the Education Secretary leveled against universities in July is that they spend too much time focusing on “administration”, though he made no mention of the fact that the last REF cost a quarter of a billion pounds to administer.

The more one looks inside the workings of universities, the more one sees evidence of perverse incentives and failed reforms that originate with central government. This is where the notion of ‘wokeness’ comes in: a catch-all pejorative term, that condemns an entire sector, while refusing all knowledge of what’s actually taking place. Central to this bogey-ethos is the place of some very marginal traditions of cultural studies, critical theory, post-colonial studies and literary theory, that (despite having zero or scant influence on the vast majority of disciplines) have now become a preoccupation for certain corners of the Right, especially in the pages of The Telegraph and The Spectator, and in online outlets such as Unherd and Spiked. Echoing the antisemitic theories regarding ‘cultural Marxism’, this conservative alliance is rapidly painting universities as ‘enemies within’ who sow ideological mischief, an agenda that suits Johnson’s new Brexit-based electoral strategy of collecting votes from over-50s and non-graduates.

As Asad Haider has helpfully laid out in the US context, the underlying reading of the history of ideas is absurd. But it is far from harmless. The charges being levelled against niche humanities subjects and social sciences (many of which were struggling in the context of the REF anyway) are being ratcheted up: not only ‘low value’ and exploitative of ‘consumers’, but carrying out a kind of brain-washing that is responsible for all the discord in an otherwise harmonious society. Just as Whitehall becomes referred to as ‘the blob’, an entire sector becomes obscured by a single piece of journalese. It’s a refusal to look at what’s actually taking place, which much of the time is a prosaic story of student stress, overwork, audit, managerial struggles and the normalisation of precarity of teaching contracts. With a further irony, the Johnson administration has taken to referring to various mediocre things as ‘world-leading’, while seeking to trash one sector that could claim this obnoxious status with some validity.

If the humanities and social sciences do have any particular privileged place in these political conflicts, beyond the paranoid fantasies of certain journalists and ideologues, it is that these are the disciplines that potentially see the current crisis most clearly for what it is: a crisis in valuation, which economics has so far been powerless to resolve, and politics will be unable to either, short of Orbanist efforts to stipulate what should and shouldn’t be taught. Academia has longstanding ways of valuing knowledge, which more or less work, albeit imperfectly. Peer review, marking, funding competitions and job talks can go horribly wrong, and are fraught with injustices, but they remain commonly understood ways of distinguishing merit. If you seek to trump those conventions with market mechanism, don’t be surprised if the outcome is a kind of chaos, in which nobody can agree on value any longer.

The critics of ‘wokeness’ will be interested to know that this was exactly what Jean-Francois Lyotard was warning against in his 1979 Postmodern Condition: “Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorised in a new production: in both cases, the goal is exchange.” Markets and economics can’t offer a resolution to an epistemological crisis that they themselves caused. Gavin Williamson’s Higher Education Restructuring Regime Board may believe it can, purely on the basis of some murky presuppositions about which degrees ‘deserve’ to exist and which one’s don’t, as may Policy Exchange’s proposed Director of Academic Freedom. But once the bounds of ‘acceptable’ teaching and research are being set by the state, it’s hard to see that any argument has been won or any freedom is being upheld.

If the problem that these critics have is that of ‘relativism’, then maybe they’re onto something. But it’s not the epistemic ‘relativism’ of Derrida or Foucault that they ought to be focusing on, or the moral ‘relativism’ of a historical mentality that highlights demonstrable facts regarding the violence of empire. If the rug has been pulled out from under our capacity for judgement, look to the financial sector – the same sector that discovered that the value of a derivative was merely a construct of collective beliefs and whichever letters are awarded by a credit-rating agency. Just imagine a world in which newspapers waged a permanent war against the abuses and exploitation enacted by Britain’s other ‘world-leading’ sector, in which Ministers complained that it had grown too big, and various new boards and directors were invented to ensure that it used its freedom correctly.

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Buy My Drafting Table

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 05/08/2020 - 8:30am in



I bought this drafting table in 1995, when I was just starting up my career and thought it would be a good idea to draw on something a little more respectable than the coffee table at a house where I was crashing. I’m selling it now. Before I go and post it on eBay, however, I thought I would give my readers first shot. If you’re interested, contact me through the website here and let me know how much you’re willing to pay for it. Big bonus points if you could pick it up from Long Island, New York. Otherwise you’re going to have to definitely pay for some serious shipping. It works perfectly great, no problem whatsoever, and thousands of cartoons were drawn on it. The awesome wooden chair is not included unless you make me an offer I can’t refuse.

Delay the Election? Presidents Often Do Things They Can’t Do

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 04/08/2020 - 6:56am in

Trump Won't Steal the Election, but Your Governor Might | The NationThe stock response to President Donald Trump’s suggestion that the general election might be delayed because voting during a pandemic would involve a record number of mail-in ballots, a format he argues is unreliable and susceptible to fraud, is that he doesn’t have that power.

NBC News is typical: “The president has no power to delay an election.” [Emphasis is mine.]

What the president understands, and most mainstream commentators fail to accept, is that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than to get permission. That goes double when the powers in question are limited by a document that lies in tatters, repeatedly ignored.

            Liberal politicians and news outlets point out that the Constitution assigns the scheduling of elections exclusively to Congress. Republicans tepidly (and troublingly) stopped short of denying Trump’s power to push back the big day, while insisting that the election ought to take place on time. “Never in the history of this country, through wars, depressions and the Civil War, have we ever not had a federally scheduled election on time. We will find a way to do that again this November 3rd,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said.

In an era of rampant cynicism it is sweetly naïve and the amusingly charming to see Americans put so much faith into the constitutional checks and balances they learn about in high school civics class. “‘Trump can’t delay the election,’ experts say,” reads a headline in The Washington Post.

            Since when has a 221-year-old piece of paper stopped presidents from doing anything?

I think first of war powers. Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution clearly states that the right “to declare war” resides exclusively with Congress. Such key founders as George Washington, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton—men whose right to define original intent can hardly be questioned—believed that presidents could not dispatch troops without legislative approval except in cases of immediate self-defense. Congress signed off on sending soldiers and sailors to the Quasi-War with France in 1798, naval conflicts with the Barbary States of Tripoli and Algiers, and clashes with Native American tribes in the West.

Congress has since abdicated its war-making powers to the executive branch. Congress hasn’t issued a formal declaration since World War II. Yet we have fought countless wars. Presidents have launched military attacks against Korea, Vietnam, Libya, Grenada, Lebanon, Panama, Serbia, Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan. Some of these wars of aggression were legalistically constructed as “police actions” or “peacekeeping missions” under the aegis of the UN. The fact remains, this is not what the drafters of the Constitution intended. And it has never been amended. Presidents do what they want; lawyers twist logic to justify their illegal slaughters.

President Abraham Lincoln earns democracy points for holding the 1864 election during the Civil War. Yet he suspended habeas corpus and ignored a ruling by the chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court saying that he didn’t have the power to do so. George W. Bush’s Military Commissions Act of 2006 also suspended habeas, for anyone the U.S. government arbitrarily defined as an “enemy combatant.” Until the Supreme Court ruled against him two years later, Congress was complicit with the MCA. Even after the court ruling, the internment facility at Guantánamo Bay remains open; 40 men remain there, not one of whom has ever been charged or tried under basic constitutional standards.

FDR almost certainly didn’t have the constitutional right to send 127,000 Japanese-Americans to internment camps during World War II. Yet he did.

From domestic surveillance by the NSA that violates the agency’s founding charter to asset forfeiture programs that allow the police to seize money and property from people who have never been charged, much less convicted of a crime, Americans live in a society oppressed by a political class that takes no notice of constitutional limits it deems inconvenient.

Does the president have the legal right to delay an election? No.

Does he have the power? Yes, unless We The People refuse to accept it.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of the biography “Political Suicide: The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)

How far will the platform economy extend?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/08/2020 - 11:49pm in


Blog, Amazon

All crises of capitalism have winners as well as losers. The crisis of the 1970s and early ‘80s was what set the scene for the surging financial sector that followed, while also shifting the balance of power towards more flexible, brand-focused firms. The great injustice of 2008 was that, thanks to the exceptional interventions of states, the crisis ultimately benefited the same sectors of the economy that had caused it: finance and real estate.

There are few certainties surrounding the current crisis that we are living through. The Bank of England estimates that it will be Britain’s worst recession in almost 300 years. But one thing we can say for sure is that digital platforms are among the principle beneficiaries. The only question is quite how far their logic will penetrate our lives.

The evidence for the platforms’ increased economic standing is startling. By late March, Amazon boss Jeff Bezos had seen his vast wealth rise by a further $24bn from where it was pre-crisis, whilst Zoom’s market capitalization had outstripped that of the entire US airline industry. By late April, as stock markets rebounded, one fifth of the S&P 500’s value was in just five giant tech firms: Apple, Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft, Alphabet (which owns Google). The last time this happened was in 2000 during the dotcom bubble. Meanwhile Netflix was worth more than ExxonMobil.

In the 1990s, the growth of firms such as Cisco, Dell and Microsoft, and then the emergence of the dotcoms, was heralded as evidence of a weightless ‘new economy’, a sign that capitalism now extracted value from knowledge and creativity. In the more excitable reaches of Californian ideology, this was presented as evidence that geography and fixed capital no longer mattered, and the economy was now operating in an entirely virtual and global space.

These illusions were shattered in the early 2000s, first by the bursting of the dotcom bubble, and then by the rise of what Soshanna Zuboff named “surveillance capital”, firms which extract value not from human ingenuity, but from tracking human behaviour. With the launch of the iPhone and other ‘smart’ interfaces, that behaviour didn’t even need to occur via a keyboard, but could include movements. ‘Offline’ and ‘online’ collapsed into one another.

Platforms are services which connect their users to one another, for a range of reasons, be they commercial (such as Uber), social (such as Facebook) or entertainment (such as YouTube). While commercial platforms can make money by charging a fee on transactions, a defining trait of the new platform giants is that they also accumulate vast quantities of behavioural data on their users, which they exploit for profit in various ways such as tailored advertising.

It doesn’t take an economist to see why the current health crisis offers a vast opportunity to platforms of this nature. We’ve become reliant on them for sustaining relationships, work and retail. Many small and mid-size businesses have established their own delivery options and apps since March, but this is a bid for survival rather than dominance. Amazon’s heft just keeps on rising. Where might this lead?

One of the biggest questions hanging over this crisis is how (or whether) many face-to-face services will be resurrected in the future. Hospitality and entertainment are foremost amongst these, with restaurants and theatres under terrible pressure. Higher education also faces deep uncertainty. A dystopian thought is that all of these could simply be replaced by online platforms: eating, viewing and learning could continue to take place in the home, via screens and deliveries.

But the appetite for conviviality and public space will not disappear, even if vendors are devastated in the meantime. The alternative, then, is that public culture and space becomes revitalised on the basis of a kind of platform logic, in which the administrative and financial side of businesses is run by monopoly data crunchers (such as Uber and Amazon), while the front end looks somewhat similar to how urban and campus life looked in the past.

Platforms such as Deliveroo and Ebay already operate in this way, inasmuch as they connect customers with small businesses. But the other precedent is how trendy new retail and mixed-use developments operate, in which artisanal small businesses are deliberately lured to set up, with the offer of rent breaks and other perks, so as to add an urban ‘vibe’ to what might otherwise feel too corporate. Slickly managed music festivals often feature dozens of different craft food and drinks sellers, but all operating on a single payment platform that also serves as a means of scraping data. The digitisation of everyday life has produced conflicting trends, generating vast monopolies at the ‘back end’, but a kind of hipster petite bourgeoise at the ‘front end’.

There is no evidence that Bezos or anyone else is currently plotting this kind of future for the post-Covid high-street or university. But it’s possible to imagine Amazon moving into some version of urban re-development, perhaps even dressed up as a form of philanthropy. Facebook, meanwhile, has already made one aborted attempt at establishing a new currency, and the idea is unlikely to disappear for good. The theatre, bar or campus of the future could feel much like those of the past – only where the payment system, accounts, finance, advertising and tracking of suppliers and customers are all delivered by a company in California. Governments seeking a new trade-off between biosecurity and liberal individualism would be eager clients in the market for the resulting data.

This science fiction may end up being wide of the mark. But to get a hint of the world to come, it is useful to understand who has most to gain from the devastation of the present, and how. What they do with that new power is, of course, up to them.


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Three Ways Congress Could Empower Workers Now

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 01/08/2020 - 4:08am in



From the start, the COVID-19 pandemic has been a worker power crisis. Unsafe conditions have endangered those on the frontlines, half-baked reopening plans have spurred outcry from workers afraid for their lives, and record unemployment has exacerbated long-standing financial insecurity and racial inequality.

Thus far, congressional action has largely targeted short-term fixes to help workers through unemployment during the pandemic (e.g., expanded unemployment insurance (UI) and pandemic paid leave).

Congress has done little, however, to prevent long-term losses and has failed to ensure that the post-pandemic economy will be fair for workers. When they find new work, people who have experienced unemployment can expect to earn up to 15 percent less than their continuously employed peers; such declines in earnings can linger throughout a lifetime and translate into years of lost earnings.  

At a moment when workers’ already-limited power in the labor market has cratered, Congress shouldn’t be pitching measures that increase employers’ already outsized power (through, for example, liability shields). It should be shielding workers from unsafe and unfair practices and giving them the voice and leverage necessary to not only act as a check on their employers but to also protect and support themselves and their loved ones. 

For an economic recovery that reaches all workers and puts our country on a path to more broadly shared prosperity, workers need more power now and in the future than they had pre-COVID. Congress can make it happen with these three policies:  

  1. Extend Pandemic Unemployment Compensation and change the definition of suitable employment. 

Since the CARES Act’s passage, the soon-expiring $600 Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (PUC) has increased income for millions; with a small tweak, it could also boost their leverage in the labor market and give them the power to reject unlivable wages. Congress must extend PUC, but it can also expand on its demonstrated benefits by changing the definition of “suitable employment.”

Currently, to maintain UI (and therefore PUC) eligibility, recipients cannot turn down offers of suitable employment—generally defined as an offer paying as much as their last position. 

Congress could change the definition of suitable employment to job offers that match either what a worker earned prior to unemployment or what they’re currently earning on UI—whichever is higher. 

Such a guarantee would both empower workers to be more selective in their job search and counter employers’ increasingly monopsonistic ability to depress wages. It would also provide a long-term income boost for workers, accelerate the nation’s economic recovery, and help address racial inequities in the labor market. Roosevelt Managing Director of Corporate Power Bharat Ramamurti and Great Democracy Initiative (GDI) Fellow Lindsay Owens include this proposal in their “fair wage guarantee.”

  1. Create sector-based, labor-management commissions.

Extending PUC should be Congress’s first priority, but it should also strive to increase worker power in the long term. Congress should establish sectoral commissions composed of worker and management representatives who are empowered to set industry standards and tackle the shared challenges of this moment: transmission prevention, testing protocols, and hazard pay, to name a few. 

Covered sectors—health care, transportation, etc.—would get their own commissions, and Congress could either task them with generating recommendations or authorize them to bargain on certain issues for binding agreements. As Sharon Block, Suzanne Kahn, Brishen Rogers, and Benjamin I. Sachs proposed in a Roosevelt issue brief (“How and Why to Empower Workers in the COVID-19 Response”), legislation could direct the Secretary of Labor to appoint commission members within 30 days. 

  1. Make workplaces more transparent and democratic.

A small and long-declining percentage of workers are represented by unions, leaving many people with little say in their companies’ COVID-19 response. Block, Kahn, Rogers, and Sachs have a near-term solution: “Congress should require businesses that receive federal assistance or that are in essential industries to establish mechanisms for worker participation in workplace health and safety measures.” 

In practice, that could mean worker committees that confer with management about health and safety (among other topics) and have the right to information that’s relevant in those discussions. Though well-short of a union, institutionalized processes that enable workers to shape their work environments and protect themselves from employer retaliation are key in rebalancing workplace power.

Ultimately, though COVID-19 has destabilized life and work in unpredictable ways, the imbalance of power in the workplace is within Congress’s control. Workers can’t wait any longer.

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