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Our Converging Crises V: Weak Democrats and their Governing Boards Feed Austerity Budgets

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 9:51am in

That may be my worst title ever but it's an important point.  So here we go. 
Where are university budgets near the end of our bad policy summer?  In a bad place -- a worse place than seemed likely during the weeks of activist government from mid-March to mid-May. In this post, I'll discuss the national issue, describe a flawed university budget discourse that makes universities more vulnerable, and link this to the failure of today's mainstream Democrats to accept the economic role of government.
The federal CARES Act was signed on March 27th, and sent universities $14 billion of the $46.6 billion they'd requested (with half of that going directly to students). Having gotten 1/6th of their stated need, higher ed advocates placed their hopes in a follow-up HEROES Act passed the House on May 15th, which Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, sat on throughout the summer.  Thus the nation's schools and colleges planned for fall in a state of deep uncertainty and growing dread.
This past weekend, POTUS signed executive orders (mostly "memoranda") mandating supplemental unemployment benefits at $300 rather than CARES's $600 per week, with another $100 to come from the states. He extended student loan forbearance from September 30 to the end of the year.  Even if these orders go into effect, there are no provisions for supplemental funding for education at any level, including nothing for the K-12 systems that POTUS and his Department of Education secretary have been trying to bully into opening.  If the states are forced to pay part of the federal unemployment supplement, which some say they can't, that will mean even bigger state cuts to education.
The American Council on Education has a helpful summary of the current situation:

There are technically three bills under discussion in the COVID-19 emergency aid negotiations. The first bill is the HEROES Act written by House Democrats and approved by the full House two months ago. The second is the HEALS Act, which represents the ideas of Senate Republicans and the White House. Finally, the Coronavirus Childcare and Education Relief Act (CCCERA) is legislation introduced by Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Patty Murray (D-WA) that reflects Senate Democrats' ideas about education spending in response to the pandemic. . . . The bills all include emergency aid for students and institutions, but the levels of funding proposed differ greatly. ACE has estimated that institutions have a total of $46.6 billion in increased student financial need and lost revenues, and will spend at least $73.8 billion on new expenditures to reopen in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. While CCCERA provides a total of $132 billion to meet these needs, the $37 billion provided for higher education in HEROES and the $29 billion provided in HEALS fall far short. 

The federal bill that comes closest to meeting actual higher ed need--at $132 billion--has no chance of passing McConnell's Senate.

Republican control of key governing bodies has artificially induced massive state failure in suppressing SARS-CoV-2.  The U.S. has the worst Covid-19 suppression record in the wealthy world, and, by failing to build public health infrastructure (see Jeneen Interlandi's superb overview), will continue to inflict massive suffering, disparately along lines of race and class, in all of the areas where common life should offer equal treatment, including education.  The failure of public infrastructure is damaging the private economy that Republican-driven premature opening was trying to protect. Republican opposition to a new stimulus increases the odds of a new depression (see Hiltzik and Krugman for summaries). 

Operating on this familiar political landscape, it's hard for people to maintain transformative ambition.  I sketched one version at the end of April ("Our Converging Crises III"), which involved massive public spending for full Covid-19 suppression, full employment, and educational experimentation. The American self-conception is of a nation that leads the world into a better future. The reality, given our decrepit social infrastructure, is a vast majority focused entirely on getting by. 

The Real Covid Budget Crisis

The same is true in higher education. There's been no follow-up on the early burst of federal effort,  and higher ed is engaged in a new round of austerity, translated as operations cuts, layoffs, and program downsizing. The Cal State system threw in the towel early, announcing on May 12th that it would be all-online.  This was at a time when most administrations assumed Covid-19 would be well in hand by fall; Cal State's Chancellor Timothy White could see pretty clearly that they didn't have the extra billion they needed for testing, tracing, isolating, cleaning, tent classrooms, and the rest. Since then, reopening plans have gone into full reverse, including at wealthy private institutions like Princeton and Johns Hopkins whose core value is small-scale face-to-face learning.  

University of California campuses are quietly joining Cal State's closures on a case-by-case basis.  Berkeley announced all-online on July 21st.  The other semester campus, UC Merced, will open August 26th with an unspecified ratio of remote and in-person. Among quarter campuses, which start a month later, UCLA has dropped its in-person proportion from the 15-20% announced in June to 8%.  UCSB hasn't officially updated its mid-June description of fall quarter as "some face-to-face," but is heading toward basically closed. UC Irvine is keeping its students in the "most classes will start remotely" twilight zone.  All sorts of intensive planning is going on behind the scenes.  And so are planning for budget cuts when UC needs that same extra billion that Cal State needed to open safely.

Although dominated by liberal Democrats, the California state legislature put stable CSU and UC funding in the hands of Mitch McConnell at at time when he was already holding it hostage.  In the final state budget, UC will get a 5% increase over 2019-20 if and only if California gets $14 billion in federal stimulus.  If there's no stimulus, UC gets what UCOP calls an 8% cut from 2019-20.  

In addition, the permanent state budget is cut either way: the federal stimulus money will be treated as a one-time backfill on the state cut.  Even that was a bizarre combination of "augmentations totaling $212.9 million and reductions totaling $471.6 million." Rather than offering higher ed affirmation and stability during the pandemic, the legislature provided a changing combination of cuts and increases that, without an unlikely Senate backfill, gives UC and CSU a major cut.

How big a cut, actually?  The legislature reduced the state allocation for UC from $3.938 billion in 2019-20 to $3.466 billion in 2020-21.   This is a year-on-year reduction of 12.2%.  Its a Covid cut of a size that a red-state legislature could brag about.

It's worth remembering all the way back to November 2019, when The Regents requested an increase of $422.1M in overall state funding, which would have brought state general funding to $4.360B (see the slide here minus $25M for the Riverside School of Medicine).  Annual base cost increases at UC are a bit more than 5%, and since that's 5% on less than half the revenues of the core budget, which comes mostly from (long-frozen) tuition, 5% state increases put core funding further behind.  Campuses have tirelessly tried all sorts of revenue workarounds, mostly involving overenrollment coupled with non-resident student growth, but it hasn't worked. (For the resulting long-term austerity, see "Three Essential Charts"). On top of its rather brutalist history, the California legislature now proposes to cut UC by $903.5M from its November request--barring a McConnell conversion like Saul's on the road to Damascus. The is a cut of 20.7% from the Regents's November request.  

Remember too that even had that $903.5 million November increase been enacted, many campuses were projecting deficits in 2020-21 or the following year. That was not a luxury budget. To repeat: because of prior cuts by Govs. Schwarzenegger and Brown, years of tuition freezes, and sub-inflation state growth, the non-miracle state budget cut that now looks likely is a 20.7% cut from pre-Covid's home for UC semi-solvency.

This would be a disaster for UC (and CSU). And it's likely enough to be treated explicitly in plans for both budgeting and the University's political engagements.

Budget Idealism at the UC Regents

This brings is to the July 30th UC Regents meeting. The Regents have absolute authority over budgeting, revenue strategies like borrowing, as well as political advocacy. If alerted to a budgetary emergency, the Regents might be expected to instruct UCOP to mount a massive siege of Sacramento and Washington D.C., pulling in their contacts in the tech community as well as in national politics.  But UCOP's budget presentation (see the July 30 afternoon session at the bottom of this page), rather than rallying the Regents, kept the real dangers behind the curtain. And Regental behavior encouraged this concealment. 

UCOP presented the budget as in basically good shape.  Medical losses for March-June 2020 are $1.7 billon rather than the earlier projection of $2.8 billion.  UC Health VP Carrie Byington had already suggested that the med centers have learned so much about Covid treatment that they won't repeat spring's revenue losses during the current and future infection spikes. 

Undergrad enrollments are "looking very strong," in the words of associate budget VP David Alcocer (11'47"). He said the same was true of international enrollments, in spite of a very turbulent policy picture on top of Covid travel problems.  He basically claimed that enrollment targets would be hit no matter what. I'm also a bit of an optimist on enrollments because I'm a pessimist on the economy: even remote-college looks good compared to a nonexistent job market.  Polling data suggest we're both wrong, and that colleges should expect a growing enrollment melt.

The presentation noted that housing and dining revenues will be down, but UCOP did not quantify or tie these to different durations of Covid-related reductions. A bit later, UCLA chancellor Block offered some campus numbers, and in later questions a couple of Regents clarified that only single rooms will be offered in the fall, though without revenue numbers for system losses. New VP for Research and Innovation, Teresa Maldonado, gave a candid appraisal of major disruption to research, UC's distinguishing educational activity. She was particularly direct on the damage to women and early-career researchers. But this remained a matter of delayed research progress more than a fiscal crisis.

The presentation of the state budget was a delicate matter (starting around 7'40"; I'm not following UCOP slide order). Alcocer explained the numbers in the slide below (they are different from my calculations above). He noted that the final July budget has a better upside than the May Revise and a smaller potential downside. 

He then went on to explain his right-hand column. He noted that "there's a lot of uncertainty here" because the range of outcomes is nearly half a billion dollars, or 5% of the core budget (9'20").  I can attest that the uncertainty has created in campus planning a somewhat toxic mixture of paralysis, wishful thinking, gloom, and fatalism about cuts. Uncertainty is actually encouraging austerity by making the early stages seem very mild.  

But Alcocer's statement about uncertainty incurred an interruption from Chair John Pérez, who said, 

I just want to push back on the way we characterize this uncertainty. And here's why. The way this reads to me, in simple terms, is "uncertainty is bad, and smaller uncertainty is better than greater uncertainty." When in fact the final budget, in both the worst-case scenario and the best-case scenario, are better for the University, than the May Revise. . .  "Uncertainty" is inherently a bad term, so if we want to look at "range"--some other way to characterize it--because we don't want a negative connotation to the spread we see in the final budget, when in fact it serves us better than the May Revise does."

This intervention forced Alcocer to repeat what he had said two minutes before, which was that the upside was better in July than in May. It suggested to me that Pérez has no idea how uncertainty is weakening the campuses. It also suggested that he would not tolerate university officials criticizing the state legislature in even a polite and indirect way. Any campaign to get a reliably flat budget from the state (not conditioned on McConnell's conversion to St. Mitch), or an increased budget that could cover Covid costs, would never get off the drawing board under Pérez.

The misty aura of fiscal stability was punctured only by Berkeley chancellor Carol Christ, who projected a $340M deficit through fiscal 2021 (or more than ten percent of the campus's $3 billion or so in annual revenues).  She read a version of her administration's July 15th statement, and stressed the dependence of the campus on tuition and state revenues. She stated that the latter were $100M below their 2008 level even though the campus enrolls 8200 more students today.  

If the Regents had paused to take that in, they'd get a glimpse of the system's deep structural woes. Berkeley is historically wealthier per student than any campus except UCLA, so a responsible Board might wonder what its woes say about the rest of the system.  This was the only time in living memory that a Berkeley chancellor has said point blank that privatization doesn't work and thus we need good state support. Actually Christ didn't say that, but she came closer than ever before to noting that the problem isn't just Covid but a flawed business model in which the University has let state funding massively decline.

Later, as Alcocer was about to move to UCLA chancellor Block for a campus view of losses in auxiliaries, Board chair Pérez interrupted to complain about how long the budget presentations were taking.  "This was identified as a thirty minute discussion. . . . when an item is 30 minutes, the presentation is no more than half of that. We've now exceeded 35 minutes, before we've gotten a single Regent engaged in discussion." (32'30"). The obvious remedy would be to allocate more than a half-hour to analyzing what may be most important fiscal crisis in the University's history.  The time overrun was entirely due to letting three chancellors say a few words about their campus finances outside of the UCOP PowerPoint story.  Things got even more rushed after that--and even more superficial.  

In questions, terribly delayed to minute 38, Regent Makarichian performed his solo role of asking for budget numbers, and guessed at overall losses by adding some numbers in his head.  Pérez instructed CFO Brostrom to have those figures in the September meeting. I know Brostrom had versions he could have produced then, but who would dare try the Pérezian patience by pulling up another slide?  

In the meantime, UC is covering its losses with borrowing. It floated a bond for $2.8 billion in July, with $1.5 billion in "working capital" and the rest for capital projects. (UC debt has doubled in a decade from around $10 billion in 2009-10  to $24.6 billion in 2018-19). The budget discussion ended with a hopeful wait-and-see good-case scenario which, as I've said, is translated on the campuses as cuts.  

A Plausible Scenario for 2020-21

The Office of the President and the campuses are all doing projections, so I'm going to adjust some internal UC numbers to draft a plausible negative scenario.  This is not a good case, but it's not a worst-case: for example, I optimistically assume that students who can enroll do enroll, and that all are willing to pay full tuition for mostly remote instruction.  The nicer scenarios assume a return to mostly-normal after the fall term. Based on our country's failed-state approach to Covid suppression, I assume that full fall impacts last through the end of Spring 2021.  I use the governor's January budget as a base for state funding, which was $220M less than the Regents' November budget.

The assumptions:

  • Tuition: full undergraduate enrollment.  Though 75% of admitted international students do not enroll, many are replaced by domestic non-resident and resident students. Waitlists and "appeal" lists are liberally used, maintaining overall totals.
  • Housing is converted to singles, and dining does not return to normal, costing campuses 70% of normal revenues.
  • Grad student enrollment. This falls 15%, slowing research, but it has little impact on revenues as campuses simply eliminate sections as necessary in remote courses, while canceled grad seminars free up some faculty to teach more undergraduates.
  • Research continues to be affected by outbreaks made worse by shortages of tracing and isolation programs.
  • Philanthropy is reduced by renewed turbulence in the markets, as is UC investment income.
  • Medical center and clinical revenues recover from spring 2020 levels but don't get back to normal.
  • The Republicans block higher ed stimulus funding in the Senate. Although the Democrats win back the Senate in November, President Biden wishes to govern from the center, and decides not to antagonize the 48 remaining Republicans by giving too much help to education.  Like public universities everywhere,UC goes to its lower permanent state funding base.

Here's a rough estimate of what this would look like by standard budget category.

Scenario B

Budget Category

Decline $Millions

Negative % Change

2020-21 Base



Student Tuition and Fees



Auxiliary Enterprises



Research Contracts & Grants



Philanthropy & Investment Income



Medical Centers



Educational Activities (esp Clinical Rev)



State General Fund Appropriation



Total Losses



Projected 2020-21 UC Revenues



Scenario B is a decent guess at one possible program for 2020-21: 17% revenue declines for the UC system overall, and 12% or so for the educational core.  Cuts like these would cause major damage to teaching and research, and of course prevent meaningful Covid-19 suppression.  If two things happen, first, Covid illness persists for several years, as some medical officials predict, and second, U.S. politics allows economic decline, then UC, like other universities, will be permanently downgraded.

The Governance Problem

The Republicans are obviously the biggest problem, but so are Democrats and their governing boards.  The Republican donor base sees government as a potentially victorious competitor to business and finance in economic management (through equitable tax policy and regulation but also better social infrastructure and more productive investment).  Weak government has enabled today's "plutonomy." Republican politicians logically oppose programs that will make government useful, effective, and popular and thus empower their direct rival.

But Democrats are also a problem when they reject both strong and weak Keynesianism.  In the strong version, public agencies spend massively to reconstruct society on the principle of equal treatment. This would fund a Green New Deal in which, for example, some of our tens of millions of unemployed people would be paid by the government to insulate the country's housing stock, starting with those owned by low-income people. I pointed towards this kind of spending in an April post.  Let's call it democratic-socialist Keynesianism, Sanders and AOC-style.  

There's also weak Keynesianism, a very useful combination of FDR and LBJ, in which public agencies spend massive amounts to keep an unjust and unequal status quo economy from imploding.  That would include the common-sense goal of keeping the education sector from shedding employees into a non-functional economy by giving schools and colleges stable funding. It would include the UK policy--enacted by the Conservative government--of covering 80% of the salary of laid-off employees so they can be furloughed rather than fired.  

Mainstream Democrats don't exactly oppose this kind of thing. But they don't promote it as their bread and butter. They also don't clearly expose the urgent need for it, or encourage others to expose it. At times, liberal Democrats like John Pérez actively block the creation of a budgetary need for weak Keynesian spending by preventing the open declaration of a budgetary problem. 

The current UC Board of Regents is chaired by the former Democrat Speaker of the Assembly. It includes the Democrat Lt.Governor, the husband of California's senior U.S. senator, and several former or current members of two Democratic governors' immediate offices. It also boasts several wealthy and prominent Hollywood liberals.  There is really no reason for this group not to activate itself in centrist Keynesian fashion. They would then create an urgent obligation on the part of the state to sustain its educational workforce, infrastructure, and student population, whose lives are currently set to be permanently damaged by the Covid depression. 

I don't understand the complacency that demands the current UC budgetary vagueness in which nothing is true and everything is possible, until the only possibility becomes austerity. It feels like proleptic excuse making--"we didn't fail to act, because we didn't know." I don't understand the lack of ambition, even the bare ambition to keep the rising generation whole. We can obviously do that, but it will take much clearer budget work at the level of senior management and governing boards.  It will take boards willing to support unprecedented mobilizations of political will for higher education, or at least willing not to block them,

Monday evening thoughts

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 11/08/2020 - 7:12am in



From my twitter posts earlier today:


I was pleased to note some sympathy with the sentiments expressed.

America’s Obesity Epidemic Threatens Effectiveness of Any COVID Vaccine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 11:55pm in

Politicians and the public rest their hopes on emergence of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine. Will it work on the obese?

It’s the Tories, Not Channel Migrants, Who Are Killing People

Hey-ho, the Torie are back to their old tricks again, drumming up hatred against immigrants and asylum-seekers. This time its the various illegal immigrants trying to make their way across thee Channel in whatever flimsy boats will take them. Mike and Zelo Street have both published excellent pieces demolishing this faux outrage. The Street reported the figures for the number of people immigrating to the UK last year and the number of asylum claims according to the Beeb. These were 677,000 and 49,000 respectively. Compared to this number, the 4,000 or so illegals who have arrived here is a vanishingly trivial number. Nevertheless, this is being described in terms of an invasion. Hatey Katie Hopkins wants gunboats to intercept them. However, the Lords of the Admiralty can’t send the navy against children and pregnant women. The odious, smirking Priti Patel has therefore chosen instead to appoint Dan O’Mahoney of the National Crime Agency to the position of chief in charge of intercepting these boats. The Royal Navy said that there wasn’t much more they could do, and Colin Yeo, a barrister specialising in immigration, stated that the navy couldn’t enter French waters to return migrants either. Furthermore, the hard Brexit sought by the government has meant that the current returns agreement with the EU ends on 31st December 2021, and so far there’s no replacement agreement for it. Which means that the government has actually made it harder to return such migrants than it was under the EU.

See: https://zelo-street.blogspot.com/2020/08/migrants-brexit-and-taking-back-control.html

Mike has also pointed out that way back in 2014, Theresa May, then home secretary, cut the Border Force, which is why the Tories have had to appeal to the navy. Mike also guesses that many of the immigrants coming here are fleeing the wars in their homelands, we have helped to start. He also says that ‘The issue is why these people want to come to the UK at all. If we really wanted to stop them, we need to help end their reasons for leaving their own homelands.’ It’s a good point, but I think some of their reasons for leaving are beyond our control. The impoverishment of the Developing World is a major cause, and some of this is due neoliberalism and the various tariff restrictions on manufactured goods which prevent developing nations in Africa, for example, from diversifying their economies and developing manufacturing industries. But there are also major problems with corruption, ethnic and religious conflict, political oppression and maladministration, for which the various governments of the developing world are responsible and which, I believe, would be extremely difficult for western governments to do anything about. But this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try.

But Mike has also argued very strongly that the Tories are also whipping up this hatred as a cynical distraction from their own failings.  He cites this tweet from James O’Brien:

The calculation is that, with the support of most of the media, the British public can be made angrier about innocent foreigners than guilty politicians responsible for thousands of British deaths.
And all while claiming to care about ‘Christian’ values.
It will work too.

And this from Nick Abbott

God we’re easily distracted. They don’t even have to really try any more. The excess deaths, the hundreds of millions for kit that doesn’t work, ripping up regulations to suit donors, the kleptocracy and nepotism. But look…a dinghy!

The Tories crippled their own border controls. Don’t let them use their own stupidity to boost racism

He’s right. It isn’t migrants from across the Channel, who have squandered taxpayers’ money giving contracts to firms owned by their donors for PPE that doesn’t work. It isn’t poor souls in leaky dinghies that are pushing for schools to reopen, so that parents will be forced to return to work to make money for the Tories despite the real, present danger of Covid-19.

Illegal immigrants aren’t responsible for the massive poverty caused by decades of stagnant wages and pay cuts. They aren’t responsible for real starvation and malnutrition returning to Britain because the welfare state doesn’t work thanks to benefit sanctions and the fitness for work tests, both of which are based on fraudulent research and an inbuilt presumption against the claimant in order to stop people from claiming. Illegal immigrants never made the decision to make the whole process of signing on as degrading and humiliating as possible in order to deter people from doing so – that was Maggie Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair and so on. And it very definitely isn’t Black and Brown people coming off the beach from Dover, who have been selling off the NHS for the past forty years.

It hasn’t been powerless migrants, who have sacked thousands of low-paid workers during the lockdown while claiming the government bailout money to boost their chief executives’ pay and share dividends. And if there is competition between migrants and native Brits – by which I also mean Black and Asian Brits, who’ve been here for generations as well as Whites – for housing, jobs and other opportunities, it’s because the Tories have deliberately cut all those to make it difficult to get them.

There have been over a hundred thousands deaths due to austerity and cuts to benefits. Millions of people now have a choice between paying their rent and heating bills or feeding themselves or their children. Who are themselves going hungry to school. The number of people below the poverty line is now in millions.

And this is  very definitely the fault of the Tories, and Blair’s and Browns New Labour. It ain’t the fault of a vanishingly tiny number of illegals risking life and limb to get here.

Don’t be distracted. Don’t let them lie to you. Ignore the calls to hate them from the Tory press, Katie Hopkins and Nigel Farage. The people, who really are killing us and driving us into poverty are the Tories.

Book Review: The Politics of Intimacy: Rethinking the End-of-Life Controversy by Anna Durnová

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 9:01pm in

In The Politics of Intimacy: Rethinking the End-of-Life Controversy, Anna Durnová explores the recent negotiation of end-of-life policies in France and the Czech Republic, arguing for the need for academic analysis to include the emotional experience of the end of life in order to understand the political dynamics of these debates. Durnová’s invitation to explore and to centre the concept of intimacy within liberal institutions and policies – or to even acknowledge the role that emotional experience plays in these – is a necessary engagement in our present times, writes Danielle House.

The Politics of Intimacy: Rethinking the End-of-Life Controversy. Anna Durnová. University of Michigan Press. 2018.

The first half of 2020 has brought the issues of illness, healthcare and dying to the forefront of political debate globally. The COVID-19 pandemic has reshaped many of our lives and, for some, forced reflection on mourning, bereavement and the idea of a ‘good’ death. Aside from the huge wave of premature COVID-related deaths, actions to prevent the spread of the virus have meant many have died in hospitals and care homes without friends or family by their side, palliative care has been constrained and funerary rituals and traditions have been greatly limited.

Although this book is no longer a new release, examining its contributions at this moment seems pertinent to help explore the refocused attention on the end of life. Beyond COVID-19, fundamental questions about end-of-life experiences are being explored, such as where the right place for death is, and to what extent we can control aspects of our own deaths and those of our loved ones. In The Politics of Intimacy, Anna Durnová brings her experience and background in the study of public policy, particularly how we construct and understand expertise and knowledge, to shed light on the recent negotiation of end-of-life policies in France and the Czech Republic.

In this book, Durnová argues for the inclusion of the emotional experience of dying in academic analysis, without which we cannot understand the current political dynamics of end-of-life debates. By ‘end-of-life controversies’, Durnová refers to and explores debates around (and the distinction between) assisted death and euthanasia, as well as palliative care. The book demonstrates that in the context of liberal democracies, these controversies centre on the relation between individuals and institutions. Through tracing the development of end-of-life controversies in France (2003-2016) and the Czech Republic (2001-2016), Durnová establishes how the politics of intimacy comprises the way individual emotional experience of the end of life is acknowledged, or not, by institutions.

The first three chapters outline the theoretical and analytical structures of the book: namely, the liberal-democratic stage for end-of-life controversies; the role of emotions in policy, polity and politics; and Durnová’s framework for analysing the politics of intimacy. Placed within the poststructuralist notion of politics as a zone of negotiation, several arguments are built throughout these chapters. Durnová posits that the liberal democratic concept of the individual, specifically its autonomy and dignity, is at the root of contemporary end-of-life debates in the West. In this context, emotional experience has become the moral ground to support end-of-life choices and policies and is used by institutions to legitimise striving for a ‘good’ death, however defined. Underpinned by Western medical ethics, namely the Hippocratic Oath, liberal democracies have generally supported individualised requirements for the end of life and surrounding debates focus on how or where to place the boundary between the individual and political institutions. The politics of intimacy, then, reflects the ‘governing process that tries to accommodate, to acknowledge, the emotional experience with the end-of-life as a component of “good dying”, but that, by so doing, brings politics back to the conflicting boundary between the individual and the collective’ (42).

Chapters Four and Five explore in detail the comparative case studies of France and the Czech Republic, drawing on interviews with medical professionals, advocacy and campaign groups, civil servants, lawyers and mourners, as well as discourse analysis of debates, speeches, strategy papers and media coverage. Durnová explores where and how these debates emerged by outlining their specific contexts and their development across high-profile cases and laws. Through these two national contexts she demonstrates how the concepts of autonomy and dignity, and in turn intimacy, are deployed and understood in very different ways.

End-of-life controversies in France have been framed by a division between ignorant citizens and experts. The emotional experience of the end of life has largely been rejected by the establishment as dangerous and irrational but has won media and public sympathy. Both sides of the debate relate their position to the values of freedom and the sacredness of life, but the establishment institutions emphasise a collective notion of death and responsibility, whereas the media and advocacy groups emphasise the particular emotional experience of an individual.

The Czech Republic, Durnová argues, has more easily accommodated intimacy within institutions, but has nevertheless been unsuccessful in resolving its end-of-life controversies through law. She demonstrates that in the recent debates there has been an openness to changing the status quo around end-of-life policies and care, but that a general anti-paternalistic attitude towards state institutions has made it challenging to plan for and implement such policies. In practice this has resulted in a lack of consensus among policymakers and professionals on what form of palliative care patients need, how it should be organised and who should provide it.

These case studies are meticulously traced in policy and public discourse and the book’s narrative is structured around institutions, laws and the exceptional cases that have shaped or instigated the debates. However, the testimonies and experiences of the mourners are only really brought out in Chapter Five on the Czech Republic. Despite the book arguing for a focus on the emotional and intimate experience in the negotiation of the boundary between individuals and institutions at the end of life, the human contours of these debates remain absent.

The Politics of Intimacy sits alongside studies that take a specific experience or encounter and draw from that to connect to much wider debates and fields that discuss liberal democracy and critical politics. At its core, it is a study of the relations between, and the governance of, individuals and institutions. For that reason, the book is of interest to a much broader range of disciplines and subjects than might first appear when thinking about end-of-life controversies. While sitting within critical politics, it places one foot firmly in public policy, contributes to the growing interdisciplinary body of work on necropolitics and is situated within the emotional turn in the social sciences. Its main contribution is in offering a theoretical apparatus of ‘intimacy’ when thinking about institutions, emotions, individuals and collectives. Durnová’s invitation to explore and to centre the concept of intimacy within our liberal institutions and policies – or to even acknowledge the role that emotional experience plays in these – is a necessary engagement during these times.

For information on end-of-life care in the UK, visit Hospice UK and Dying Matters.

Note: This review gives the views of the author, and not the position of the LSE Review of Books blog, or of the London School of Economics.

Banner Image Credit: (marneejill CC BY SA 2.0).

In-Text Image Credit: Image by giselaatje from Pixabay.


The Rise of Hakeem Jeffries Is Being Disrupted From Below

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 9:00pm in



On the morning of April 29, Hakeem Jeffries logged on to celebrate. The congressman from Brooklyn had been locked in a public feud with the progressive insurgency that had, paradoxically, cleared the way for his rise to House Democratic caucus chair by ousting the previous occupant of the position, his friend and mentor Joe Crowley of Queens. 

That same insurgency had come after a new batch of incumbents in the 2020 cycle, and Jeffries was committed to defending his caucus, particularly members of the Congressional Black Caucus. As Rep. Lacy Clay and other CBC members suggested, racial animus lay behind the primary challenges. 

The most credible threat against a CBC member in the spring came from Morgan Harper, challenging Rep. Joyce Beatty in Columbus, Ohio. Beatty won in a landslide, 68-32, and Jeffries pounced. 

“Meltdown? Not us,” he posted to Twitter. “They started this fight. We will finish it.”

Jeffries’s reference to a “meltdown” appeared to be a misreading of an article in The Intercept published more than nine months earlier, headlined, “How Morgan Harper’s Ohio Primary Challenge Explains the House Democratic Meltdown.” The story reported that a spate of recent public accusations of racism made by CBC members against Justice Democrats were fueled by anger at Harper’s challenge to Beatty — which the progressive political action committee at the time was not actually supporting. The same day many of those charges were published, the official Twitter account of Jeffries launched an attack on Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff Saikat Chakrabarti, an assault that was joined by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, which culminated in Chakrabarti’s departure not long after. 

The post-Harper mop-up operation, Jeffries suggested, would move next to his neighboring district in Brooklyn, where Rep. Yvette Clarke faced two progressive challengers, and then to St. Louis, where Cori Bush was taking a second run at Rep. Lacy Clay.

Jeffries’s optimism proved misplaced.  

Beatty’s decisive win was more evidence for CBC members that the insurgency was driven by young, white hipsters and wasn’t resonating with working-class Black voters. That was a story CBC members had told themselves and repeated publicly, and after Beatty’s blowout win, many appeared to believe it was true. 

The primaries in New York, if viewed through a rosy glass, could be seen as more evidence. Clarke won convincingly. Yes, Rep. Eliot Engel fell to Justice Democrat Jamaal Bowman, but New York Democratic insiders dismissed the incumbent as out of touch. “It doesn’t show AOC’s power — it shows that New York voters want demographic changes in the House,” one anonymous Democrat assured the New York Post. “They don’t want old white guys who don’t do anything. Not only old white guys; but old white guys who only work when they’re up for reelection. People are punishing these kinds of lawmakers. If you’re old, white and lazy, you’re going to get kicked out.”

But peeling back a layer suggests that the comforting narrative might not offer so much comfort after all. Yes, Clarke survived, but she did so with her opposition split among three candidates.  

Elsewhere in Brooklyn, it was a bloodbath for Jeffries.  

Jeffries, admired among his colleagues for his communications skills and speechmaking from the House floor, is widely seen as an heir to Nancy Pelosi as party leader. She tapped him to play a leading role in the impeachment debate, and he didn’t disappoint. In presenting his case against Trump, he surprised his counterparts in the upper chamber by quoting rapper Biggie Smalls.

That shoutout might convey that Jeffries has his finger on the pulse of Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill and surrounding neighborhoods, where Biggie grew up and which Jeffries has represented as an elected official since 2006. But the results of two races in June show that many voters in Jeffries’s own backyard hold views significantly to his left, leaving Jeffries vulnerable to a potential challenge in 2022.

In both contests, candidates backed by the Democratic Socialists of America defeated Jeffries’s picks. (Jeffries had also thrown his support behind 16-term Bronx representative Engel.) The CBC had also comforted itself by observing that Ocasio-Cortez, in 2018, had done better against Crowley in neighborhoods that were gentrifying. In 2020, she did better everywhere.

In the race for New York Assembly District 57 that spans from Clinton Hill through Prospect Heights to Crown Heights, insurgent Phara Souffrant Forrest toppled four-term incumbent Walter Mosley. Although Mosley is Jeffries’s protégé who won the state office upon his mentor’s departure for Congress, Souffrant Forrest prevailed by nearly 3,000 votes.

New York’s State Senate districts consist of multiple Assembly districts. In the 25th Senatorial District, the DSA’s Jabari Brisport carried AD 57 with over 67 percent of the vote, defeating Bedford-Stuyvesant Assembly Member Tremaine Wright, who touted her support from Jeffries. En route to his landslide win, Brisport also bested Wright in her own Bed-Stuy district by over 450 votes. A small portion of Brisport’s district includes Sunset Park, where the DSA’s Marcela Mitaynes toppled 13-term Assembly Member Felix Ortiz, who was the assistant speaker. 

The northern end of Jeffries’s congressional district includes a section of Clinton Hill, where progressive challenger Emily Gallagher racked up a clear majority of votes in her successful effort to unseat 24-term Williamsburg incumbent Assembly Member Joe Lentol. There are also nearby portions along the borders of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, where DSA state Sen. Julia Salazar did well in her initial successful run two years ago and then cleaned up in her reelection this year. 

Buoyed by its recent successes, the NYC-DSA is now seeking to expand its presence. “We’re looking at all districts in all boroughs,” said co-chair Chi Anunwa. “Out-of-touch incumbents should be quaking in their boots.”

Anunwa said it is too early to forecast whether the DSA will mount a challenger against Jeffries. The group is currently focused on next year’s New York City elections.

Redistricting is also an issue that will not be resolved until the fall of 2021 at the earliest. Jeffries’s current district adjoins those of Clarke in Brooklyn and Gregory Meeks in Queens. All three districts must reach 50 percent Black in the 2020 Census in order to remain intact.

The current map of Jeffries’s district includes areas of Brooklyn where the DSA has yet to set up shop, including Canarsie, Mill Basin, and Coney Island. All three are working-class shoreline communities hit hard by Superstorm Sandy, meaning the Green New Deal (which Jeffries has yet to support) likely would appeal to younger residents there. Jeffries’s base is the older Democrats throughout the district. 

As they campaigned in Central Brooklyn during the first half of this year, both Souffrant Forrest and Brisport found that many residents were quite responsive to the DSA’s platform. “Voters want single-payer health care, a Green New Deal, and universal rent control, and they want representatives who will show up and fight for those issues,” said Souffrant Forrest. In Brisport’s view, such “bold, universal programs excite the Democratic base, not means-tested halfway measures.”

As the No. 5 ranking member of the House Democrats, Jeffries is viewed by DSA members and others as an integral member of the Pelosi team that doesn’t support single-payer or the Green New Deal. While Jeffries has expressed his support for Medicare for All, there is no mention of it on his 2020 campaign website.

Unlike Crowley or Engel, Jeffries is not vulnerable to the charge that he’s absent from his home turf. As his senior political adviser Cathy Toren said, “Rep. Jeffries is highly visible in the community and regularly meets with constituents on street corners throughout the district.”

Toren and others in Jeffries’s camp say that people in the district also have responded favorably to the congressman’s work amid the pandemic, during which Jeffries has helped Pelosi push through relief measures including eviction protections. Moreover, Jeffries’s team maintains that his high-profile efforts to unseat Trump have also played well in the overwhelmingly Democratic district.

That Jeffries is a strong supporter of Joe Biden is no surprise. In advance of the 2016 Democratic primary, the congressman led the attack by Hillary Clinton’s team against Bernie Sanders, whom Jeffries labeled “a gun-loving socialist with zero foreign-policy experience.” Along with Engel and Iraq War veteran Rep. Max Rose, Jeffries recently voted to approve the Pentagon’s $740 billion budget. The other nine members of New York City’s delegation all voted no.

Fundraising is another issue that certainly places Jeffries at odds with the NYC-DSA, which doesn’t support candidates that take real estate or corporate donations. According to OpenSecrets, a project of the Center for Responsive Politics, Jeffries is the leading congressional recipient of hedge-fund money, collecting nearly $150,000 through July 1. Rose is second, with almost $130,000.

Despite lacking any primary or known general election challenger, Jeffries has raised nearly $4 million in the 2019-2020 cycle. Just over $1.1 million of that has come from a combination of financial sector, real estate interests, and insurance industry largesse. Among his leading contributors are hedge-fund leaders Elliot Management and the Blackstone Group. Both companies have close ties to Trump.

Jeffries, in turn, has steered nearly $700,000 from his campaign coffers to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. Such prolific fundraising in no way hurts Jeffries’s current standing in the party, but if he can’t protect his own incumbents, the money is not worth the paper it’s printed on. 

Leading up to the St. Louis primary, Jeffries re-upped his support for Clay. 

The next day, he followed it up with some cryptic chest-thumping. 

On Tuesday night, his spokesperson circulated vote numbers showing Clay up convincingly in the early vote count. 

On Wednesday, Jeffries was silent on the race.

The post The Rise of Hakeem Jeffries Is Being Disrupted From Below appeared first on The Intercept.

Currency is the number one issue in Scottish independence debate

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 6:13pm in

John  S Warren, who comments here often, had this post on Bella Caledonia last week, and I thought I would share it here given its relevance to current debates:

“Scotland will be liberated by debt if it becomes independent” – Richard Murphy.

Scottish independence requires the problem of currency to be addressed and solved. This the most critical matter of all. The SNP in 2014 wanted to share the currency (£ sterling) with the UK but the British Government blocked this, for reasons I will discuss below. It was a mistake to propose sharing the currency in 2014, because it meant Scotland would not be independent. Control of currency is control of the purse strings, and that is a more decisive control over a country than everyday politics. The current SNP position is now to move to a separate currency, but not immediately. This is also unsatisfactory, and for those who wish to explore why this is so I recommend reading Common Weal, and also Dr Tim Rideout who is an SNP member; for their extensive coverage of the matter. I also recommend Richard Murphy, who has just produced a short ten minute video lecture that explains the position, here:

I wish here only to explain where we actually stand now in Scotland, and what this implies.

The British State has already acknowledged that it was taking full responsibility for all the commitments associated with currency in the event of Scottish independence in 2014. In January, 2014 the Treasury made a statement on currency, post-independence: “In the event of Scottish independence from the United Kingdom, the continuing UK government would in all circumstances honour the contractual terms of the debt issued by the UK government”.

This established the principle that rUK was the ‘continuing state’ in international law, and that rUK was responsible for both the currency assets and liabilities. In February George Osborne, the Chancellor formally ruled out a currency Union with Scotland. In September 2014, Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, confirmed that a currency union between an independent Scotland and rUK was “incompatible with sovereignty”. It had been made clear throughout that there was no qualification to the responsibility for debt that rUK was acquiring, related to the Scottish State taking a share of debt, and there is good reason for that. rUK did not wish to leave a scintilla of doubt in anyone’s mind anywhere that the obligation rUK was carrying was conditional in any way, on anything Scotland did. The currency of rUK was going to continue to be the currency of a wholly free currency issuer. This was fundamental – they did not wait to negotiate it: it was too important, and too urgent.

There are three important points following from this.

1) Scotland has no responsibility for UK debts.

2) It is forgotten that the Treaty of Union in 1707 created a completely new Parliament for Britain (both the Scottish and English Parliaments were dissolved, but only the Edinburgh parliament actually ceased); this deliberate formality created what is technically described as an incorporating Union.

This has a precise meaning.

Strictly, the only way to break an incorporating Union is to dissolve it, not do what we would actually be doing – allowing the secession of Scotland from a union that is not in fact, strictly a federal union; but this is in order to ensure that there is a continuing an rUK that is also the ‘continuing state’; dissolution would be a world disaster. Why was it set up as an incorporating union? Because England hoped that it could bind Scotland forever in the Union. If they believed that they would not have proposed secession in 2014 (in fact the Union almost broke in Parliament shortly after the Union, in 1712. The Scots nearly left, and the Union was rescued in Parliament only by proxy votes).

The lesson is: nothing is forever. In that sense the whole operation now is a fiction – but nobody, not rUK, not Scotland not anyone can afford to follow the strict niceties devised by 18th century commissioners’ rules. They are no longer viable in the modern world. We are doing the only thing that works. Scotland leaves, England takes the common assets and the liabilities that go with them. It also happens to follow the contemporary international precedents; the fairly standard boilerplate rules typically in use for seceding nations in international law. This is what works most efficiently and fairly in the modern world.

3) The important point about the 2014 British government statement is that rUK was also making a big, very revealing declaration about what was really important to it. Nobody asked Britain to make that statement.

It was not what Scotland proposed at the time. But rUK was not prepared even to negotiate with Scotland over the currency (£ sterling), in spite of the fact that Scotland is a joint owner of the currency. rUK just gratuitously asserted right of possession and full title.

In fact, Alex Salmond had proposed sharing the currency (a very bad judgement).

The assertion by rUK was not founded in right, but necessity. It was done because the currency was of vital importance to rUK, and it required and was utterly determined, to establish unvarnished sovereignty over the currency as its prime objective, and it understood that in taking title to itself without notice or negotiation, the price of taking the currency with no negotiation was that rUK would have to assert equal certain ownership of all the currency liabilities. The corollary of this is that Scotland becomes a currency user of its own currency, and therefore also requires to issue its own currency after independence, if it wishes to retain independence. rUK knows in this case they cannot have it every way; both have their cake and eat it; (of course everybody living in rUK thinks it is worthwhile to pile in and try to grab a free lunch as well by trying to pass off the liabilities to Scotland anyway as if this is a car boot sale), but we all know it won’t wash.

The solution proposed by rUK in 2014 was vital to rUK, and it suits Scotland well, because independence is de facto defined by being a currency issuer, not a currency user; currency issuance is the defining feature of modern independence.

Keynes was right: newly created government money is the only route to economic recovery

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 5:00pm in

I am grateful to Helen Schofield for drawing my attention to an open letter John Maynard Keynes wrote to President Roosevelt in 1933 on the way in which economic recovery might be achieved. He said (and the language is of the time):

The object of recovery is to increase the national output and put more men to work. In the economic system of the modern world, output is primarily produced for sale; and the volume of output depends on the amount of purchasing power, compared with the prime cost of production, which is expected to come on the market. Broadly speaking, therefore, an increase of output depends on the amount of purchasing power, compared with the prime cost of production, which is expected to come on the market. Broadly speaking, therefore, an increase of output cannot occur unless by the operation of one or other of three factors. Individuals must be induced to spend more out of their existing incomes; or the business world must be induced, either by increased confidence in the prospects or by a lower rate of interest, to create additional current incomes in the hands of their employees...; or public authority must be called in aid to create additional current incomes through the expenditure of borrowed or printed money. In bad times the first factor cannot be expected to work on a sufficient scale. The second factor will come in as the second wave of attack on the slump after the tide has been turned by the expenditures of public authority. It is, therefore, only from the third factor that we can expect the initial major impulse.

We might now want to refine this a little. Not all consumption is now seen as beneficial, after all. And we also know that investment has to be directed towards sustainability. But is anything both issues add focus to Keynes' conclusion, which was and remains the only one available. It is as true now that:

public authority must be called in aid to create additional current incomes through the expenditure of borrowed or printed money.

Keynes was, of course, literally talking about printing. Again, times have changed. We know we no longer need do that. Credit creation is what matters now. We also now know that additional borrowing very often requires the creation of additional credit money in the first instance. For both reasons the emphasis would now have to be in credit creation by the government i.e. new money injection by its spending into the economy.

And there is a caveat to that as well, because we have, of course, seen significant credit creation in the last decade by the government through the quantitative easing programme, but there is a problem with that. The QE programme was not aimed at boosting incomes or at job creation to achieve that aim. If it had an aim it was to change investment decision making. That supposedly should have increased direct funding of economic activity, but there is no evidence that it has. Funds have instead gone into speculation. Bank balance sheets might be in better shape as a result, but that is not what Keynes was prescribing. We need more income now. QE as we have known it is not the answer in that case.

Keynes was right in 1933. with minor contextual change his advice remains right now. We need more government-created money to assist recovery now. The greatest fear is that this is not what the government intends as its paranoia about balancing budgets and supposedly sound finance kick in as this year progresses. We may yet see that we're not all Keynesians now.

Hardship ahead

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 10/08/2020 - 5:00pm in

According to a Sky News report, Conservative policies have (either purposely or inadvertently) arranged for the country to be subject to hardship ahead. Rishi Sunak said: I don’t think it’s fair to extend (furlough) indefinitely. It’s not fair to the people on it. We shouldn’t pretend there is, in every case, a job to go... Read more