Tag Archives: Government

Is America’s future capitalist or socialist?

By Ezra Klein – In American politics, and particularly in the Democratic Party, the primacy of capitalism is, for the first time in ages, an open question.

Sanders is expected to run again in 2020, and to run with the support of a grassroots movement that thrills to his break with capitalist convention. He’ll face, among others, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who says one key difference between her and Sanders is that she’s “a capitalist to my bones.”

But what are the actual differences between liberal reformers of capitalism, like Warren and Pearlstein, and democratic socialists, like Sanders? I invited Pearlstein to discuss his book, and the broader capitalism vs. socialism divide, with Bhaskar Sunkara, editor of the journal Jacobin, and author of the forthcoming book, The Socialist Manifesto. Their debate follows, lightly edited for style and length.

A CEO like Charles Wilson could say “what was good for the country was good for General Motors and vice versa,” but he was responding to the same exact market pressures as CEOs today. The only difference is that he was constrained by unions and a liberal political coalition.

Social democracy was always predicated on economic expansion. Expansion gave succor to both the working class and capital. When growth slowed and the demands of workers made deeper inroads into firm profits, business owners rebelled against the class compromise. And they were in the structural position to force their own solutions, even in countries like Sweden where there were experiments with wage-earner funds and other left-solutions to the crisis. more>

How Universal Basic Income Solves Widespread Insecurity and Radical Inequality

By Daniel Nettle – Today should be the best time ever to be alive. Thanks to many decades of increasing productive efficiency, the real resources available to enable us to do the things we value—the avocados, the bicycles, the musical instruments, the bricks and glass—are more abundant and of better quality than ever. Thus, at least in the industrialized world, we should be living in the Age of Aquarius, the age where the most urgent problem is self-actualization, not mere subsistence: not ‘How can we live?’, but ‘How shall we live?’.

Why then, does it not feel like the best time ever?

Contrary to the predictions of mid-twentieth-century economists, the age of universal wellbeing has not really materialized. Working hours are as high as they were for our parents, if not higher, and the quality of work is no better for most people. Many people work several jobs they do not enjoy, just to keep a roof over their heads, food on the table, and the lights on. In fact, many people are unable to satisfy these basic wants despite being in work.

Big problems require big ideas.

Our current generation of politicians don’t really have ideas big enough to deal with the problems of widespread insecurity and marked inequality. Big ideas come along every few decades. The last one was about forty years ago: neoliberalism, the idea that market competition between private-sector corporations would deliver the social outcomes we all wanted, as long as government got out of the way as far as possible.

Our current politicians propose to deal with symptoms piecemeal—a minimum-wage increase here, a price cap there, rent-control in the other place; tax credits for those people; financial aid to buy a house for those others. At best we are dealing with one symptom at a time. Each piecemeal intervention increases the complexity of the state; divides citizens down into finer and finer ad hoc groups each eligible for different transactions; requires more bureaucratic monitoring; and often has unintended and perverse knock-on effects.

A Universal Basic Income (UBI) is a regular financial payment made to all eligible adults, whether they work or not, regardless of their other means, and without any conditionality whatever. Receiving it is a fundamental entitlement that comes with being a member of society: people can know that it will always be there, now and in the future. more>

A New Political Narrative For Europe

By Massimiliano Santini – In August, Bono, lead singer of U2, wrote an editorial on Europe in which he pointed out that it may not be romantic or sexy but Europe is “much more than just a geography… [its values and aspirations] go to the core of who we are as human beings, and who we want to be. That idea of Europe deserves songs written about it, and big bright blue flags to be waved about.”

Today, many Europeans do not share that visionary idea of Europe. Instead, they feel more represented by a narrative that has portrayed the European project as a bureaucratic monolith, ruled by an élite of technocrats who are focused on their self-preservation rather than people’s real interests. People view Europe as the villain: an antagonistic force imposing harsh rules that must be respected for their own sake. But where does this narrative come from?

A new type of clear, succinct, and engaging political narrative ought to mix and match existing policy solutions and offer a vision of the world that helps people interpret the present and envision the future with hope, as opposed to nostalgia. more>

Averting The Death Of Social Democracy

By Neal Lawson – Reformist social democracy has just two problems that result in its crisis. The first is that it’s heading in the wrong direction. The second is that it’s heading in the wrong direction in the wrong way.

If this crisis is to be averted then we need to understand why the ends and means are wrong and establish a different set of goals and ways of achieving them – ones applicable to the tail end of the second decade of the 21st century.

To set out an alternative course and process to get there is not so difficult. Some ideas are offered below. Others are available. What is difficult, and could well be impossible, is the ability of social democrats to truly adapt or transform both their course and their culture. Instead of change, their stock response is to blame the media, poor communications or even the people, and go on doing the same thing and expecting a different outcome.

Even when some recognize the scale of the crisis, they shrug because meaningful change is more difficult to face than the prospect of electoral annihilation. If social democrats can’t or won’t transform themselves then it will be up to others to carry the torch for a society that is more equal, democratic and sustainable and to fight the lurch to the far right.

Let’s start by observing that the crisis is not tactical or cyclical but existential because it is cultural and structural. It can be witnessed most obviously and dramatically through the electoral decline of almost every social democratic party in Europe. The Dutch, French and Greek parties have or have almost been eradicated. The Germans, the Italians and even the Scandinavians and Nordics struggle for life. more>

How a World Order Ends

And What Comes in Its Wake
By Richard Haass -A stable world order is a rare thing. When one does arise, it tends to come after a great convulsion that creates both the conditions and the desire for something new. It requires a stable distribution of power and broad acceptance of the rules that govern the conduct of international relations. It also needs skillful statecraft, since an order is made, not born. And no matter how ripe the starting conditions or strong the initial desire, maintaining it demands creative diplomacy, functioning institutions, and effective action to adjust it when circumstances change and buttress it when challenges come.

Eventually, inevitably, even the best-managed order comes to an end. The balance of power underpinning it becomes imbalanced. The institutions supporting it fail to adapt to new conditions. Some countries fall, and others rise, the result of changing capacities, faltering wills, and growing ambitions. Those responsible for upholding the order make mistakes both in what they choose to do and in what they choose not to do.

But if the end of every order is inevitable, the timing and the manner of its ending are not. Nor is what comes in its wake. Orders tend to expire in a prolonged deterioration rather than a sudden collapse. And just as maintaining the order depends on effective statecraft and effective action, good policy and proactive diplomacy can help determine how that deterioration unfolds and what it brings. Yet for that to happen, something else must come first: recognition that the old order is never coming back and that efforts to resurrect it will be in vain.

As with any ending, acceptance must come before one can move on.

Although the Cold War itself ended long ago, the order it created came apart in a more piecemeal fashion—in part because Western efforts to integrate Russia into the liberal world order achieved little. One sign of the Cold War order’s deterioration was Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait, something Moscow likely would have prevented in previous years on the grounds that it was too risky. Although nuclear deterrence still holds, some of the arms control agreements buttressing it have been broken, and others are fraying.

The liberal order is exhibiting its own signs of deterioration. Authoritarianism is on the rise not just in the obvious places, such as China and Russia, but also in the Philippines, Turkey, and eastern Europe. Global trade has grown, but recent rounds of trade talks have ended without agreement, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) has proved unable to deal with today’s most pressing challenges, including nontariff barriers and the theft of intellectual property.

Resentment over the United States’ exploitation of the dollar to impose sanctions is growing, as is concern over the country’s accumulation of debt. more>

How the Incas governed, thrived and fell without alphabetic writing

By Christopher Given-Wilson – Between the 1430s and the arrival of the Spanish in 1532, the Inkas conquered and ruled an empire stretching for 4,000 kilometers along the spine of the Andes, from Quito in modern Ecuador to Santiago in Chile. Known to its conquerors as Tahuantinsuyu – ‘the land of four parts’ – it contained around 11 million people from some 80 different ethnic groups, each with its own dialect, deities and traditions. The Inkas themselves, the ruling elite, comprised no more than about one per cent.

Almost every aspect of life in Tahuantinsuyu – work, marriage, commodity exchange, dress – was regulated, and around 30 per cent of all the empire’s inhabitants were forcibly relocated, some to work on state economic projects, some to break up centers of resistance. Despite the challenges presented by such a vertical landscape, an impressive network of roads and bridges was also maintained, ensuring the regular collection of tribute in the capacious storehouses built at intervals along the main highways. These resources were then redistributed as military, religious or political needs dictated.

All this suggests that the Sapa Inka (emperor) governed Tahuantinsuyu both efficiently and profitably. What’s more, he did so without alphabetic writing, for the Inkas never invented this. Had they been left to work out their own destiny, this state of affairs might well have continued for decades or even centuries, but their misfortune was to find themselves confronted by both superior weaponry and, crucially, a culture that was imbued with literacy. As a result, not only was their empire destroyed, but their culture and religion were submerged. more>

Why Brexit Won’t Cure Britain’s Broken Economic Model

By Simon Deakin – The critical thing with Brexit is to think about trade and regulation as being two sides of the same coin. When we talk about international trade we are really asking, which regulatory regime do we want to sign up to?

Inside the single market there is high degree of harmonization and convergence of rules, or what is sometimes called alignment. Regulatory alignment is the condition of frictionless trade in the European single market. It is a uniquely deep international trading arrangement because of the high degree of regulatory compliance that goes with EU membership.

We can’t achieve regulatory autonomy post-Brexit without giving up frictionless trade. So UK policy makers have to think about the consequences of moving away from the single market.

The first impact will be felt in those industries which rely upon regulatory alignment in order to function. For the car industry, and large manufacturers like Airbus, European supply chains will be very negatively affected by regulatory divergence.

That is why it is not surprising to hear that the car companies are going to put their production on hold if there is a prospect of a hard Brexit. They have said that they will pause their production lines for a while to see how their new supply chain arrangements can work. That will have a very serious impact on jobs.

Restrictions on migration from the EU after the transition period ends will not result in more jobs for British workers. The British government is likely to extend bespoke arrangements to allow firms in sectors such as agriculture, hospitality and construction to employ foreign workers outside the scope of British labor laws.

In some sectors, employers faced with rising wage costs are likely to respond by investing in labor-saving technologies, but that while this will improve productivity, it will not lead to net job creation. more>

The Liberal Conception Of ‘Freedom’ Is Incapable Of Addressing The Problems Of Contemporary Capitalism

By Andrea Lorenzo Capussela – In a forthcoming book, Branko Milanović identifies four ‘troublesome features’ in ‘meritocratic liberal capitalism’.

In its simplest form, liberal theory – equal rights for all citizens, which guarantee their freedom, which is in turn conceived as absence of interference – has no obvious answer to those problems. For if freedom is non-interference, then it is compatible with both inequality and private domination, at least within certain bounds, as neither directly interferes with people’s individual choices.

Indeed, accepting precarious employment is a choice. And as liberals cannot say that Milanović’s four ‘troublesome features’ pose a fundamental challenge to their idea of a good society, their answer is a Ptolemaic one: sets of diverse, if potentially effective remedies such as redistribution, poverty relief, active labor market policies, civic education, and policing fake-news.

For the liberal conception of freedom is not the only conceivable one. Another notion, equally negative, is the republican or neo-roman one, which views freedom as non-domination. If I depend on someone else’s arbitrary will, or am subject to their enormous and unchecked power, I am not free, irrespective of how that power is exercised.

Hence the paradox of the ‘free slave’, frequent in republican literature: liberal theory implies that the slave who has a kind master is free, as she suffers no interference in her choices; republicans object that this depends entirely on the master’s benevolence, which can be revoked at will and may have to be cultivated: domination and unfreedom remain, therefore, and typically lead to self-censorship and a slavish mentality. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

No, America is not more divided than ever before
By Howard R. Gold – It may seem sometimes like the United States is coming apart. “While rural America watches Duck Dynasty and goes fishing and hunting, urban America watches Modern Family and does yoga in the park,” write Chicago Booth’s Marianne Bertrand and Emir Kamenica.

“The economically better-off travel the world and seek out ethnic restaurants in their neighborhoods, while the less well-off don’t own a passport and eat at McDonald’s.” Conservatives, they write, favor masculine names for boys while liberals prefer more-feminine names, and men play video games while women browse Pinterest.

These kinds of cultural splits can have economic, social, and political consequences in that they may ultimately reduce social cohesion within a country. But according to Bertrand and Kamenica, who measured cultural divisions over time, the cultural gap in the US is largely stable—not widening.

The data reveal that divisions definitely exist. Watching certain movies or television shows, reading certain magazines, or buying particular consumer products are predictable markers of traits such as how much money people make or how far they got in school. more>

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Is The Monetary System Facing The Risk Of Recession?

By Francesc Raventós – The International Monetary Fund, other economic institutions, politicians, experts, and a good number of indicators predict a new economic downturn. The causes will be diverse but the significant one is that debt worldwide has grown at an exaggerated rate.

According to the report of the International Finance Institute, IIF, global debt is $247-plus trillion, 318% of GDP.

In the 2000s or noughties an expansive fiscal and monetary policy with low interest rates generated significant public deficits, a strong increase in borrowing and created a stock market and real estate bubble that erupted in 2007, forcing central banks to push for a huge monetary expansion – Quantitative Easing – to get out of the crisis eventually.

With a lot of financial liquidity in the market at a cost close to zero, the economy has regained growth and, for now, inflation is under control. But the economic cycle cannot be considered closed until central banks’ debt and interest rates return to normal. Trust in the International Monetary System, and the main currencies remains, but if some day trust in one important currency is lost, the situation would be very delicate.

Now the economic recovery has been achieved, it is time to gradually restore debt and interest rates to reasonable levels (aka tapering). The US Federal Reserve (Fed) has already increased its interest rate and announced that it will continue to do so.

The consequences have been immediate, with the withdrawal of investments from emerging countries, such as Argentina, Brazil, South Africa, India or Turkey, to invest in American bonds. The European Central Bank (ECB) has also announced that by the end of 2018 it will stop buying debt and that interest rates will rise as the economy improves (but not before the summer of 2019).

What will be the consequences of tapering?

Will it destabilize the economy?

What are the risks of entering a new recession?

Will the current monetary system resist?

How will the governments that are highly indebted deal with recession? more>