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Posts Tagged ‘Capitalism

A second answer to Why?

Why? was the title of a post by Nick K, my co-blogger here at NM, as he grappled with the “reasoning” behind the vaccine and mask mandates here in NZ and similar approaches taken in most corners of the globe.

I came across one possible answer to that question covered in the post, One answer to Why?, which looked at the control of popular thinking via language control in the modern context of Tech companies in the Webosphere.

Here’s some background to those companies and their leaders in this article from City-Journal in 2017, The Disrupters, which is all about the new Lords of Silicon Valley:

In just ten years, Facebook built a global empire that surpassed General Electric in market value—and did it with just 4 percent of the Old Economy giant’s workforce: 12,000, compared with 300,000. Whatsapp, a recent Facebook acquisition, managed an even more impressive wealth-to-labor ratio, with a $19 billion value and just 55 employees. Combined, both companies reach roughly one-sixth of humanity. Facebook’s entertainment colleague just to the south, Netflix, crushed Blockbuster’s mammoth national network of 9,000 stores and 60,000 employees with its more nimble workforce of just 3,700 employees.

Capitalism in action. Many firms have been so destroyed in the past by new competitors. The article goes on to explore what might happen next with AI, robotics and so forth, providing examples along the way involving brilliant young people, like Michael Sayman. In doing so the writer interviewed a number of the leading lights of this IT revolution and even got an opinion poll done of them to assess where they thought it was all going.

That’s where it gets sad – and scary. For a start these founders (147 were polled) don’t like talking about inequality, probably because of this:

As far as the future of innovation and its impact on ordinary people, the most common answer I received in Silicon Valley was this: over the (very) long run, an increasingly greater share of economic wealth will be generated by a smaller slice of very talented or original people. Everyone else will increasingly subsist on some combination of part-time entrepreneurial “gig work” and government aid.

Now I’ve done pretty well out of capitalism, but to me that future sounds like it sucks ass, even with a theoretical Universal Beneficiary Income (UBI). Fully Automated Luxury Communism it is not. It’s actually Marx’s “disguised form of alms”. It’s quite clear that these “thought leaders” are very leary of what may happen when they’ve built robots that can do most things better than a human.

And what of the political and philosophical attitudes that go with all this? Well it’s not actually as obvious as you might think. First with the political:

Contrary to popular opinion, most of Silicon Valley is not a libertarian ATM. The tech industry is overwhelmingly Democratic. In 2008, 83 percent of donations from the top Internet firms went to Obama, not John McCain. Many of the Valley’s household names, including Google’s then-chairman Eric Schmidt, personally helped Obama in both presidential campaigns. Republicans rarely get much money or talent from the Valley.

Yet they’re against unions and regulations (of their industry) and big on free trade of course, which is why Bernie Sanders gets no love from these people, nor would any Democrat of the pre-1990’s. Nor Donald Trump. Bill Clinton sniffed the winds well.

Then there’s the philosophical ideas that drive their politics:

What I discovered through my survey was that Silicon Valley represents an entirely new political category: not quite liberal and not quite libertarian. They make a fascinating mix of collectivists and avid capitalists…But Silicon Valley philosophically diverges with libertarians and conservatives in a key way: they aren’t individualists. 

He gives a great example of the latter:

When the libertarian icon Rand Paul began his early run for president in 2015, in San Francisco, he expected to be greeted like a hero. During the rally that I attended, Paul got rousing applause for railing against mass government spying. But when Paul asked, “Who is a part of the leave-me-alone coalition?” expecting to hear cheers, the room went silent. “Not that many, huh?” he nervously asked.

He’s not the only one who is nervous on hearing that, and it leads straight into this:

In my survey, founders displayed a strong orientation toward collectivism. Fifty-nine percent believed in a health-care mandate, compared with just 21 percent of self-identified libertarians. They also believed that the government should coerce people into making wise personal decisions, such as whether to eat healthier foods. Sixty-two percent said that individual decisions had an impact on many other people, justifying government intervention.

That is, tech founders reject the core premise of individualism – that citizens can do whatever they want, so long as they don’t harm others.

And consider that several of these fantastically wealthy men control companies that very much can aid (or oppose) a government via their extraordinary reach into influencing the lives of hundreds of millions, probably billions, of people. This is the world of “Nudge Theory”, and it’s very applicable to the last two years of the C-19 pandemic – a period that has seen their fortunes skyrocket beyond what was even thought possible in 2017, in several cases almost doubling to $150 billion or $200 billion plus.

Hold that thought.

What has all this done to the US state that is home to almost all of this wealth and genius, California?Well, as this National Review article describes, it’s not good, The Crumbling California Model. Again it’s lengthy with a lot of links to prove its points, but basically it comes down to this:

Yet it’s time now to see what California’s “success” is all about. It reflects a new kind of economy — dominated by a few large companies, with an elite workforce, a large service class, and a population increasingly dependent on wealth redistribution. This emerging oligarchic regime, however progressive it likes to label itself, is more feudal than egalitarian, more hierarchical than competitive, financed largely by the same tech giants who help fund Newsom’s successful defeat of the recall.

Exactly what was described by that 2017 poll of those Californian tech leaders. That state was once a remarkably diverse, job-rich economy, with vibrant aerospace, oil, trade, manufacturing, business services, and agriculture sectors, as well as software and media. But aside from the IT industry those sectors have fallen away, taking with them the well-paid jobs for people who can’t program a computer. If living on wealth redistribution sounds great to you, consider this:

For most, the reality on the ground is increasingly challenging. The state is now the second-most unaffordable state for home-buyers, a particular challenge for Millennials, and it suffers the highest rate of “doubling up” — only our friend Hawaii does worse. California has the largest gap between middle and upper wage quartiles in the nation, and it has a level of inequality greater than that of Mexico and closer to that of Central American countries such as Guatemala and Honduras than to such “progressive” developed counties as Canada and Norway.

The paradox is that California Democrats, the voters as well as the politicians, adore those welfare states and wish to be more like them without recognising that there is more to “welfare” than government money.

Back to that article I linked to the other day, looking at the control of language and ideas in our modern world. It finishes with this:

During the last three decades and possibly more, Western governments working hand in glove with large corporate interests have spent enormous energy and resources on perception management techniques designed to effectively undermine citizens’ ability to oppose the policies that these same elites, in their incandescent wisdom, have decided are best for the people. 

The attacks of September 11th gave these corporate and government leaders both the additional funds and the political latitude they needed to greatly accelerate work on these culture-planning processes. The Covid crisis has put the whole game on steroids. 

We have many ways of ignoring these frightening developments, most common and intellectually lazy of these being to dismiss them without examination under the rubric of “conspiracy theories.”

Bureaucracy vs. Robber Barrons

“When propaganda is the goal, accuracy is the victim.”

I recently came across two articles from past years that I’ve had bookmarked and which I’ve enjoyed reading again over this summer.

First up is some humour that author J K Rowling may be treating more seriously in her ongoing fight with the Trans community, especially after getting her name removed from the Harry Potter movie franchise by Warner Brothers as they launch a 20th anniversary celebration of the first HP movie.

The humour comes from an essay written in 2006 for the Michigan Law Review, which analyses what Rowling is effectively saying in her HP books about bureaucracy, government and the media, Harry Potter and the Half-Crazed Bureaucracy:

The critique is even more devastating because the governmental actors and actions in the book look and feel so authentic and familiar. Cornelius Fudge, the original Minister of Magic, perfectly fits our notion of a bumbling politician just trying to hang onto his job. Delores Umbridge is the classic small-minded bureaucrat who only cares about rules, discipline, and her own power… The Ministry itself is made up of various sub-ministries with goofy names (e.g., The Goblin Liaison Office or the Ludicrous Patents Office) enforcing silly sounding regulations (e.g., The Decree for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans or The Decree for the Reasonable Restriction of Underage Sorcery).

Rowling even eliminates the free press as a check on government power. The wizarding newspaper, The Daily Prophet, is depicted as a puppet to the whims of Ministry of Magic.

Sounds appropriate for our times. I don’t know how many of you have read the series, likely to your kids or even grandkids, or perhaps a guilty pleasure for yourself, but you may recognise some of this from the abstract.

I did not have to re-read the books to see all this, as it had jumped out at me when I read them originally, even if it went over the heads of my kids. I was hardly the only parent who speculated on what Rowling’s experience with government and bureaucrats had been in real life as she wrote her novels in poverty. Having said that it seems that Gen Z kids themselves continue to re-read the books now as they age into their twenties and thirties, where they likely also draw similar parallels:

it seems likely that we will see a continuing uptick in distrust of government and libertarianism as the Harry Potter generation reaches adulthood.

One can only hope. Which brings me to the next article, about a world almost completely at odds with the first, the Gilded Age of America, otherwise known as the time of The Robber Barrons.

More accurately The Myth of the ‘Robber Barons’. It turns out that it was created less at the time (despite cartoons such as the one above) than in the 1930’s, just when it was needed by the US Left, as described by historian Burton W. Folsom in his book about the subject.

It will surprise nobody to find that Far Lefters were behind it and that they were very ignorant about economics – and many other things. The main culprit was one Matthew Josephson, who quite literally wrote the best-selling book, The Robber Barons, after being inspired by Charles Beard, America’s foremost progressive historian, first at varsity and then years later during the Great Depression:

Josephson, the son of a Jewish banker, grew up in New York and graduated from Columbia University, where he was inspired in the classroom by Charles Beard, America’s foremost progressive historian—and a man sympathetic to socialism…“Oh! those respectable ones,” Beard said of America’s capitalists, “oh! their temples of respectability—how I detest them, how I would love to pull them all down!” Happily for Beard, Josephson was handy to do the job for him. Josephson dedicated The Robber Barons to Beard, the historian most responsible for the book’s contents.

Writing in the inspiring times of 1932 Josephson reached back fifty years in time to explain it all, but the following comments provide a clear idea of the quality of “analysis” he brought to the subject:

In a written interview for Pravda, the Soviet newspaper, Josephson said he enjoyed watching “the breakdown of our cult of business success and optimism.” He added, “The freedom of the U.S.S.R. from our cycles of insanity is the strongest argument in the world for the reconstruction of our society in a new form that is as highly centralized as Russia’s. . . .”

One is tempted to snigger but today we live with Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Occasional-Cortex, who believe the same shite about socialism and its Siamese Twin, giant centralised government.

He did little research and mainly used secondary sources that supported his Marxist viewpoint. As he had written in the New Republic, “Far from shunning propaganda, we must use it more nobly, more skillfully than our predecessors, and speak through it in the local language and slogans.” Thus he wrote The Robber Barons with dramatic stories, anecdotes, and innuendos that demeaned corporate America and made the case for massive government intervention.

Ah yes. As with today’s “journalists” the Narrative is everything and is best supported by dramatic stories. As Folsom points out in the article, that means there are lots of mistakes: “On page 14 alone, Josephson makes at least a dozen errors in his account of Vanderbilt and the steamships.” As Folsom says, “When propaganda is the goal, accuracy is the victim.”

But the main error – actually showing up on that page – is that Josephson never differentiated between market entrepreneurs like Vanderbilt, Hill, and Rockefeller and political entrepreneurs (i.e. government subsidy harvesters) like Collins, Villard, and Gould, even as he was honest enough to praise aspects of the former and lash the latter:

He quotes “one authority” on the railroads as saying, “The Federal government seems . . . to have assumed the major portion of the risk and the Associates seem to have derived the profits”—but Josephson never pursues the implication of that passage.

While the book hit the best-seller lists for six months Josephson was running around Russia praising bloody Stalin and his system. He missed the gulags, the farm collectivisations and all their horrors, especially in the Ukraine, and saw only the factories and other “glamorous” things:

He attended official dinners and even talked with select Russian writers and artists. He was ecstatic. The Soviet Union, Josephson said, “seemed like the hope of the world—the only large nation run by men of reason.” … Josephson also never realized that the Soviet factories he saw were often directly copied from Western capitalist factories—and were funded by Stalin’s confiscatory taxation. Instead, Josephson thought he had stumbled into a workers’ paradise, the logical result of central planning and superior leaders.

This book would go on to be more than just a best-seller: it had huge influence in the worlds of high schools, academia and journalism for decades:

Historian Thomas Brewer, who in 1970 edited The Robber Barons: Saints or Sinners? observed that the majority of writers “still adhere to the ‘robber baron’ interpretation.” Historian David Shi agrees: “For well over a generation, The Robber Barons remained the standard work in its field.” For many textbook writers, it still is. In the main study guide for the Advanced Placement U.S. history exam for 2015, the writers say:

America [1877-1900] looked to have entered a period of prosperity with a handful of families having amassed unprecedented wealth, but the affluence of the few was built on the poverty of many.

2015 FFS? It’s a wonder that Silicon Valley exists at all with this sort of high school education, though perhaps it wasn’t as bad when the likes of Zuckerburg, Gates, Bezos and Steve Jobs were passing through it, and of course Musk was educated in South Africa.

Folsom explains that this success, despite all the sloppy errors in the book, comes down to two reasons.

First, it was tailor-made for the Progressives of the 1930’s eager to blame the new generation of robber barons for the Great Depression. I always laugh at those Lefties who claim that Righties pined for President Herbert Hoover: it’s even in the opening song for All In The Family because of course it is. See how this cultural shit works? In fact:

Those harmful federal policies include the Federal Reserve’s untimely raising of interest rates, making it harder to borrow money; President Hoover’s blundering Farm Board; his signing of the Smoot-Hawley Tariff, the highest in U.S. history; and his disastrous Reconstruction Finance Corporation, which dispensed massive corporate bailouts to political entrepreneurs. Finally, Hoover muzzled investment by repealing the Mellon tax cuts and promoting a huge tax hike.

Including income tax rates that went up to 70%, which FDR criticised, but which he cunningly kept after getting elected. Oh yeah, we Righties love that Herbert Hoover. Actually the admiration is for “Silent Cal” Coolidge, his predecessor, who could have run for office again in 1928 and would have handled all of the above very differently (of Hoover he said, “That man has offered me unsolicited advice for six years, all of it bad.”)

The second reason is that a bunch of Marxist historians who influenced a lot of the post-WWII historical profession, loved the book and made sure it was embedded in the curriculums of their students, starting with Richard Hofstadter:

“My fundamental reason for joining [the Communist Party],” Hofstadter said, “is that I don’t like capitalism and want to get rid of it.”

He still desired that after quitting the Party. He’s also the guy who wrote the nasty little polemic about the US Right-Wing, The Paranoid Style in American Politics. Great guys communists, whatever profession they are they’re still communists, with all the toxic nastiness and fanaticism involved.

Folsum’s book, The Myth of The Robber Barrons
Also, The Forgotten Man

Written by Tom Hunter

January 4, 2022 at 6:00 am

The Bernie Sanders struggle session

It’s been a standard part of Left-wing belief for decades now that Big Pharma is just another horrible aspect of capitalism, especially American capitalism, where huge corporations suck vast sums of money out of the pockets of The People in order to line their own, and do so with the connivance of the government, both via corrupted politicians and its bureaucrats.

Bernie Sanders, probably America’s No. 1 such thinker, was at it again the other day, Bernie Sanders Opposes Nomination Of Biden’s FDA Pick:

“We need leadership at the FDA that is finally willing to stand up to the greed and power of the pharmaceutical industry. In this critical moment, Dr. Califf is not the leader Americans need at the agency and I will oppose his nomination,” Sanders said in the tweet.

You can see his point when you look at this.

The thing is that without all that power, greed and influence with the FDA it’s unlikely that any of these C-19 vaccines would have been developed in the record-breaking time they were, especially compared with the history of such things:

This history should not be a surprise when you consider the development process for a vaccine:

Bernie’s actually been rather shocked that places like Cuba and France, indeed all of the places he lauds as having better economic and healthcare systems than the USA, failed to develop their own vaccines. If he thought about this he might consider whether the lack of Big Pharm’s “obscene” profits might have something to do with that, along with the regulatory aspects that he also rails against.

And of course it sets up a conflict with Bernie’s other long-held belief in this area; that vaccinations should be mandated across the board, although he’s flip-flopped on that issue.

Written by Tom Hunter

December 19, 2021 at 10:05 am

Taxation Fairness

I’ve often seen data from the USA showing the proportions of income and tax but rarely in such a clean, simple format as this graph.

Mind you, if the wealthy continue to flex their privilege they’ll find increasingly little support from the GOP for tax cuts for them, on top of the GOP’s four decade efforts that have created an ever more progressive tax system that, as the graph shows, very much taxes the rich.

See also Why do Millionaires hate Billionaires? and Every Billionaire is a Policy Failure. Those people are not part of the graph since they don’t rely on “income” and are therefore untouched by income tax.

I wonder what the corresponding data for New Zealand is?

Written by Tom Hunter

November 15, 2021 at 12:18 pm

Big Metal

One of the most basic things you learn in economics is the classic supply-and-demand graph, showing how the two things interact to produce the delicate balance that establishes the price of something, be it strawberries or cell phones.

What they don’t tell you is how useless that graph is in the practice of predicting what the price will be when demand or supply (or both) change. Behind that calculation sit super-computers and richly detailed software models, but the best they produce is a range, sometimes so broad as to be practically useless..

All one can say for certain is that supply exceeds demand the price will drop, and the greater it exceeds demand the greater the price drop will be. The supply does not even have to be in the marketplace to have an impact. For example, below is a graph of US prices for LNG (Liquified Natural Gas) over the last twenty years.

There are price spikes all the time, driven by all sorts of factors. But you’ll notice that there was a steady rise up 2005, followed by a steady drop to the present day. That’s the impact of the practice of fracking and horizontal drilling in gas fields, a technology that had been developing for decades but which only took off in the mid-2000’s. Fracking showed that the USA had vastly greater reserves of gas than had been predicted only a few years earlier. In fact, previous forecasts were that the nation would have to start importing LNG, which resulted in several giant terminals being built around the coast to unload the stuff from ships. Within a few short years that had been turned around, literally. The reserves “discovered” were so vast they amounted to hundreds of years of use and the terminals were re-configured to export the stuff.

Meanwhile the impact on the price was not just to greatly reduce it but to do so as far out into the future as could be seen, and another impact was that electrical generation companies switched large numbers of coal-fired power plants to being gas-fired. That, in turn, resulted in the USA reducing its CO2 emissions on such a scale that by 2020 it was beating the reduction targets of the 1997 Kyoto Treaty, (which its Senate had rejected), and the 2009 Waxham-Markey bill (which never passed).

So if you like reducing GHG’s (Greenhouse Gases), hug a fracker and thank them.

It’s not so easy to pull the same stunt with other commodities. Metals in particular, since it’s hard to see any revolution in mining them – although there will be steady, incremental improvements, and the planet has been well searched over the centuries for sources.

But there is one potential source that could change things in the 21st century:

Astronomers have now identified two metal-rich asteroids in orbit near the Earth, with one having a precious metal content that likely exceeds the Earth’s entire reserves.

Asteroid 1986 DA is estimated to be about 1.7 miles across, based on radar data obtained during a close Earth fly-by in 2019. The second asteroid, 2016 ED85, appears to have a similar content from spectroscopy, but no radar data has as yet been obtained of it, so much less is known.

figure 13 from the paper, illustrates the amount of precious metals available in asteroid 1986 DA, compared to the world’s entire reserves (FE=iron, Ni=nickel, Co=cobalt, Cu=copper, PGM=platinum group metals, Au=gold). From this single metal asteroid a mining operation could literally double the metal that had been previously mined on Earth.

Sure, but the technology to mine those metals and transport them to Earth does not yet exist, although there have been plenty of ideas over the decades, and the basics are understood.

But even when it’s developed there’s going to be a question of cost versus revenue, which brings us right back to that supply-and-demand graph. What would happen to the price of all these metals if such a source could be mined and added to the world’s reserves? The paradox is that the price might fall so low as to make the whole effort uneconomic.

The authors of that paper actually do try to account for this price drop, but the simple fact is that it’s as much of a guess as predicting the price of strawberries when that market is flooded. You know it’ll go down but to precisely what value?

We estimated that the amounts of Fe, Ni, Co, and the PGM present in 1986 DA could exceed the reserves worldwide. Moreover, if 1986 DA is mined and the metals marketed over 50 yr, the annual value of precious metals for this object would be ∼$233 billion.

In any case, it may well be that the metals never get to Earth because heavy industry slowly moves off the planet and there will be human colonies established in space that will need the metals right there. Getting them from asteroids certainly makes more economic sense than digging them out of the Moon or another planet. That seems to be what Jeff Bezos is thinking as he pushes forward with his Blue Origin rocket company (To rouse the spirit of the Earth, and move the rolling stars):

In Bezos’ view, dramatically reducing the cost of access to space is a key step toward those goals.

“Then we get to see Gerard O’Neill’s ideas start to come to life…

“I predict that in the next few hundred years, all heavy industry will move off planet. It will be just way more convenient to do it in space, where you have better access to resources, better access to 24/7 solar power,” 

Written by Tom Hunter

November 1, 2021 at 6:53 am

The privilege of wealth

Some time ago a longtime, regular Leftist blog commentator, “Sanctuary“, dismissed a Chris Trotter blog post by saying that he now understood why so many on the Left regarded Trotter as a man whose time had passed.

I don’t think that’s the case but Trotter certainly suffers increasingly from incoherence.

In one post he’ll blast the Identity Politics and Woke-fest obsessions of the modern Left, lamenting about how the Working Classes are being ignored and the Class War is being lost, see Why We (Don’t) Fight.

Then in another post he’ll gloat about the same thing, Go Woke – Or Go Politically Broke:

By alienating corporate capitalism and making bitter enemies of the mainstream media and universities, the Trumpists are, if they only knew it, corralling their followers into a socio-economic and cultural dead-end.

By shutting themselves out of liberal capitalism’s Emerald City, Trump’s poorly educated munchkins are slamming the door on their own and their children’s best chance for a happy and prosperous future.

In that post he also demonstrated that he should never write about the USA, where a simple-minded repeating of Democrat Party talking points is not sufficient to debate.

You would think that somebody buried in the Old Left would be able to see the obvious, and sometimes Chris does, but not here. For that we have to turn to historian Victor Davis Hanson, writing from deep inside the supposed future of the USA (and the world?), California, who nails the points that Leftists should automatically understand, Wealthy and Woke:

The most privileged CEOs of corporate America—those who sell us everything from soft drinks and sneakers, to professional sports and social media—now jabber to America about its racism, sexism, and assorted sins. The rules of cynical CEO censure are transparent. 

First, the corporation never harangues unless it feels it has more to lose—whether by boycotts, protests, or bad publicity—than it stands to gain in staying neutral and silent. 

Second, class concerns are never mentioned. Bastian is paid about $65,000 for each working day of the year. In a sane world, he might seem a ridiculous voice of the oppressed. 

Third, CEOs never fear offending the conservative silent majority, who are assumed not to boycott or protest.

But it goes further than simple fear and #MeTooism at the corporate executive and Board level. This trait of being lectured about your sins by very privileged people runs across the USA now:

The woke revolution is not a grassroots movement. It is powered by a well-connected and guilt-ridden elite. Yet the religion of Wokeness assumes these high priests deserve exemptions. Their wealth, credentials, contacts, and power ensure none are ever subject to the consequences of their own sermons.

Self-righteous elites rant about carbon footprints, needless border security, defunding the police, gun control, and charter schools. But they rarely forgo their own private jets, third and fourth homes, estate walls, armed security guards, and prep schools. Apparently to rant about “privilege” means the less you need to worry about your own. 

He lists them specifically, demonstrating that “across the USA” is no figure of speech:

Multimillion-dollar NBA stars blast America’s “systemic racism.” They utter not a word about Chinese communist reeducation camps, the destruction of Tibetan culture, or the strangulation of Hong Kong’s democracy. 

Tenured administrators and university presidents pulling down seven-figure salaries are far more likely to virtue signal their universities’ “racism” than are untenured, poorly paid, and part-time lecturers.

The woke media? Its clergy are elite network newsreaders, not so much reporters on the beat. 

The richest in America—the families who own and operate Amazon, Apple, Bloomberg, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft—are the most likely to voice their derision for its unwoke lower- and middle-classes. 

Ditto the multimillionaires of politics—an Al Gore, Dianne Feinstein, John Kerry, or Nancy Pelosi.

The richest celebrity billionaires such as Jay-Z, George Lucas, Paul McCartney, or Oprah Winfrey weigh in a lot about the oppression of a supposedly rigged system they mastered, rarely about the plight of the less-well paid in their own professions.

Even the military are not immune…

The retired and current military who lecture us on the evils of Trump or promise to ferret out “insurrectionists” among the ranks are mostly generals and admirals—and some retired top-brass multimillionaires.

We don’t hear privates, corporals, sergeants, and majors pushing through subsidies for transgendered surgeries or petitions to garrison a quiet Washington with barbed wire and national guardsmen.

Well, there is a reason why the latter created the phrase, “Perfumed Princes” during the Vietnam War.

Wokeness is an insurance policy. The louder the damnation of American culture, the more likely a career will be saved or enhanced.

Wokeness is classist and elitist. Those who made or inherited a fortune, got the right degree at the right place, made CEO or four-star rank, live in the right ZIP code, or know the good people, believe they have earned the right to decide what is moral for their inferiors. 

It is all these things, but I think Hanson comes closest with the following comment:

So wokeness is medieval. Sin is not given up as much as atoned for—and excused—through loud confessionals.

[It] is not really about fairness for minorities, the oppressed, and the poor, past or present. It is mostly a self-confessional cult of anointed bullies, and hypocrites of all races and genders, who seek to flex, and increase, their own privilege and power.

Wealth has always been the ultimate privilege, more so than ever nowadays in social circles created by none other than the modern Left. Ultimately this is what the likes of Trotter struggle with, but at least he still struggles. Most Western Left-wing parties caved in to this reality some time ago.


Written by Tom Hunter

April 10, 2021 at 1:12 pm

172

Hours that is. One hundred and seventy two hours is what shows up in my last fortnightly pay slip for the agricultural contractor I work for.

I finally have a Sunday off. A beautiful, lovely, empty Sunday after twenty consecutive days of 5am wake ups and 11pm bedtimes.

Others have more hours and I’m informed by those who’ve worked here for several years that two hundred plus hours per fortnight is a more normal harvesting season. We assume that it’s because we’ve had a long stretch of fine weather and started a little earlier than usual, so the load has been more spread out than in the past. The boys – and most of them are boys – are not happy about this since such incredible hours are a bonus on top of their other income earned on random jobs during the rest of the year. Without such work, times would be tough.

I’d probably be working longer hours were I on the chopper crews (maize chopping) that use tractors and trailers. Suitable only for short road runs from chop site to stack site, those drivers work deep into the night to get the job done.

By contrast my crews are all trucks because we’re serving customers located fifty kms or more away from the chop sites. The hours are limited by truck driving regulations: a thirty minute break after five-and-a-half hours driving; a ten hour break after thirteen hour driving; a twenty four hour rest break after seventy hours. The thirteen hour daily limit means that they have to be off the road by 7 or 8pm, having started at 6 or 7am – and “off the road” counts even when they’re being driven home by someone else.

Of course my specific work, and those of other members of the crews, like the chopper and stack tractor drivers, means that I’m still left with a one-two hour pack up and commute routine, but at least I’m getting home before midnight.

An alternative title for this post would be: “Rabid capitalist discovers the joy of government regulations” ! I doubt we’ll ever see a union though.

The technology may have changed but harvest has always been intense. I recommend a relatively unknown New Zealand book called Nearly Out Of Heart and Hope”, by the New Zealand historian Miles Fairburn.

It’s based on the 800,000 word diary crafted by one James Cox, an itinerant labourer who came to New Zealand in 1880 and died in 1925. The title of the book is one of the phrases he occasionally used when things were dark. Here’s a short sample of the dairy itself, which he wrote every night for thirty seven years, crafted by candlelight with pencil on little strips of paper (not being able to buy sheets) which he then folded up into tiny booklets:

“my shoes are got very bad… I have only one shirt I can wear, nearly worn out so I am in an evil case and cannot get either money or goods from the firm. Most of the fellows… are getting doubtful if they will get their wages at all. The firm appears to be nearly bankrupt.” 

After an even lower period of poverty in 1892/93, during which he took to the roads as a “swagger”, he found new work:

Things improved a little in 1894 when he found work with a Carterton agricultural contractor. He worked on traction engines harvesting grain until 1902. This was a harsh and unreliable form of work which was anything but romantic.

That sentence barely covers the raw detail provided by Cox himself and the more concise descriptions of such work by Fairburn: unrelenting days of tough physical effort in the heat and dust of Wairarapa summers with no showers at the end and just a shared tent with the other unwashed men. I get to return to a solid home and a hot shower and food, such are the wonders of the modern world. By comparison to that man I’m just slumming it.

James Cox

The book quotes only those portions of the diary that Fairburn can use to make his points, like any good historian. He struggles most of all with why this well-educated, sober and hard-working man never advanced his life beyond such toil. He was probably more suited to clerical work but he could have been in charge of the crews, indeed he was offered such work by his employer, yet for some unknown reason he did it only reluctantly and occasionally. He didn’t like it.

I think the reason Fairburn struggles is that he is trying to imposing rationality on yet another irrational human being (rational humans are the basis of economics and much other social science). When he turns to examining the ideology of the times and how it may have worked in the mind of Cox he fares little better. Niether does the sympathetic reviewer:

His account of the way in which the potent and pervasive Victorian ideology of self-help shut off opportunity for Cox is the best piece so far written in New Zealand on the way in which ideas influenced individual behaviour. Cox never realized that hard work and self-discipline were insufficient means of climbing out of the poverty trap.

Once he recognized that failure was probably a permanent state from about 1893, he maintained the code as a way of ordering his life and reinforcing his sense of superiority over ‘rough’ workmen. It seems that ideology not only justified the success of winners in the social laboratory: it also shaped the actions of losers.

I agree that hard work and self-discipline are not enough on their own. But the unspoken assumption of that reviewer is that they’re not really necessary either if those implied other factors exist: presumably things like unionised wage rates, unemployment benefits, free healthcare and other social welfare assistance (housing!).

In fact without self-discipline and the ability to work hard all those other things will also be found to be “insufficient” for lifting up the James Cox’s of the world. I think we’re seeing that around us every day.

No, in Cox’s case, despite all his admirable qualities, there was a strange seed in his mind that prevented him from rising and doing better in the world. Nothing that any government could have done would have changed that.

… labour reforms which also helped earn New Zealand the title of a ‘social laboratory’ apparently did not reach much beyond city limits and brought little help to Cox. Fairburn wonders if Cox was unusual but the reader is left with the feeling that many New Zealanders on low wages have long struggled to do little more than survive, and ended their days without savings or assets.

The sad and terrible truth I see every day is that this is still the case almost a century after James Cox departed this world.

This is his grave in the Greytown Cemetery and it was unmarked until 2013 when a Wairarapa historian, Adele Pentony-Graham, paid to have his headstone installed, “I felt it was the least I could do for him,” she said.

So say we all.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 28, 2021 at 9:30 pm

Why do Millionaires hate Billionaires?

I was pondering this question the other day while observing a hilarious interchange between two such people, Robert Reich and Elon Musk.

Reich is in many ways a creature of the distant past. An old-style American Boomer “liberal” economist who strongly pushes old-fashioned ideas like boosting the minimum wage, empowering unions, and so forth. I only know of him because he was Secretary of Labour in Bill Clinton’s first Presidential term (1993-1997). He was disappointed to find that Clinton’s famous “triangulation” strategy for winning re-election in 1996 meant that Reich’s economic ideas around labour were never implemented to the extent he wanted.

Since then he has maintained a steady patter of pushing these ideas through books and articles. He’s also on Twitter and as an example of how the world has changed, he may have been surprised to find that modern Robber Barons of our age are not the hidden figures of the 19th century but are also on Twitter, which is how the following exchange came about after Reich unloaded one of his usual scathing takes on the modern US economy.

🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣

Further humiliation followed as people began to point out one of Mr Reich’s long-standing and well-known sources of income.

According to data from 2014 Reich makes $40,000 for a 1-hour speaking engagement plus hotel, flight and food. Sweet! And it’s probably increased since then.

Down with capitalism. Up with my speaking fees.

See also, Every Billionaire is a Policy Failure.

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Written by Tom Hunter

September 12, 2020 at 7:26 am

The Seeds of 21st Century Socialism?

I’ll finish off this series on where Socialism might be going in the future by putting out an example of how thinking on capitalism may be changing with the generations.

Coming of age in the 1980’s meant passing through the world of Thatcher, Reagan and, here in New Zealand, Roger Douglas. A world of privatisation of government-owned businesses, deregulation and the general encouragement to get out there and make big bucks.

All of this was more than just a political moment. It was cultural as well. There were TV characters like Alex Keaton of Family Ties, who appalled his Baby Boomer, hippie-values parents with his Right-Wing, pro-business attitudes, as well as keeping a framed photo of Nixon beside his bed. The series was pitched to studio as “Hip parents, square kids“: some things never change. Then there were movies like Risky Business and The Secret of My SuccessWorking GirlTrading Places, among many others.

But the one that probably had the biggest impact was Wall Street in 1987, Oliver Stone’s acidic take on the 1980’s financial world. 

And of all the scenes in the movie it’s the following one that has stuck in people’s minds, as actor Michael Douglas chews up the scenery on his way to winning the Oscar for Best Actor as Gordon Gekko, giving the famous “Greed is Good” speech explaining to the stockholders of Teldar Paper exactly how the company’s management has screwed them over while creaming it themselves.

It certainly is a speech for the ages, and to the horror of Stone and Douglas, has resulted in countless people telling them over the years that it’s the reason they got into financial trading.

America has become a second-rate power. Its trade deficit and its fiscal deficit are at nightmare proportions. 

2020: Hold my beer!

Now, in the days of the free market, when our country was a top industrial power,..

Sound familiar with any recent political rhetoric? Paens to an American past:
 
The Carnegies, the Mellons, the men that built this great industrial empire, made sure of it because it was their money at stake. Today, management has no stake in the company!
And in a strange way, perhaps because of Stone’s beliefs, he puts words into the mouth of a corporate raider that might have come from any enraged Socialist raging against the Rich: 
… you are all being royally screwed over by these,…. these bureaucrats, with their steak lunches, their hunting and fishing trips, their corporate jets and golden parachutes.

… our paper company lost 110 million dollars last year, and I’ll bet that half of that was spent in all the paperwork going back and forth between all these vice presidents. 

A few years later in 1991, came a movie that I regard as superior to Wall StreetOther People’s Money. It never made as big an impact, perhaps because the moment had passed, it originally being a play written in 1987.
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As in the former movie one of the key points occurs during a stockholders meeting as an old company, New England Wire & Cable, tries to fight off another corporate raider, this time Larry “The Liquidator“Garfield, played with deliciously brazen evil by Danny DeVito. 

 
There are two scenes here, the first where the Chairman of the Board, Andrew Jorgenson, played by the great Gregory Peck, pleads – in fact almost begs – the stockholders not to sell. Like Gordon Gecko he too appeals to a past America, but the nature of the appeal is different and I’ve always thought that Peck, in what would be his last prominent role, could have written the words himself, as one of the Old Guard Left in Hollywood who believed in FDR’s New Deal, most other Left-Wing causes and who was publicly appalled by the Age of Reagan.
 
 

There is the instrument of our destruction. I want you to look at him in all of his glory, Larry “The Liquidator,” the entrepreneur of post-industrial America, playing God with other people’s money. 

The Robber Barons of old at least left something tangible in their wake — a coal mine, a railroad, banks. 

So it’s not just corporate raiders making that appeal. But Jorgenson, calls out to something that Gekko does not.

God save us if we vote to take his paltry few dollars and run. God save this country if that is truly the wave of the future. We will then have become a nation that makes nothing but hamburgers, creates nothing but lawyers, and sells nothing but tax shelters. 

And if we are at that point in this country, where we kill something because at the moment it’s worth more dead than alive — well, take a look around. Look at your neighbor. Look at your neighbor. You won’t kill him, will you? No. It’s called murder and it’s illegal. Well, this too is murder — on a mass scale. Only on Wall Street, they call it “maximizing share-holder value” and they call it “legal.” And they substitute dollar bills where a conscience should be. 

Dammit! A business is worth more than the price of its stock. It’s the place where we earn our living, where we meet our friends, dream our dreams. It is, in every sense, the very fabric that binds our society together.

I was lucky enough to see the original play in a Chicago run and during this speech the guy playing Larry The Liquidator – who was built more like Pavarotti than DeVito – would stroll up and down the aisles of the audience and burst into songs from the musical Oklahoma and other classics. It was an excellent way of showing the contempt he held for Jorgenson.

Larry gets his turn to respond and unwinds one of the greatest pro-capitalism speeches ever. There’s a better quality clip at this site.

 

You just heard The Prayer for the Dead, my fellow stockholders, and you didn’t say, “Amen.”  

This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers.

You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies makin’ buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company?
 

You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future.

I’ve actually sat in one or two meetings where the buggy whip analogy was used, though luckily about systems rather than entire companies. 

“Ah, but we can’t,” goes the prayer. “We can’t because we have responsibility, a responsibility to our employees, to our community. What will happen to them?” I got two words for that: 

Who cares? 

Care about them? Why? They didn’t care about you. 

They sucked you dry. You have no responsibility to them. For the last ten years this company bled your money. Did this community ever say, “We know times are tough. We’ll lower taxes, reduce water and sewer.” Check it out: You’re paying twice what you did ten years ago. And our devoted employees, who have taken no increases for the past three years, are still making twice what they made ten years ago; and our stock — one-sixth what it was ten years ago.

==================

 

The reason I’ve put these clips up, plus the 1980’s background, is that a couple of weeks ago my kids had some of their friends around for a post-lockdown catchup and they watched a couple of movies. They’re all into Media Studies and History and Mathematics and Science and so forth, but not Economics. They’re interesting to talk to, so I showed them these three clips – none of them had ever seen either movie – and asked them what they thought of the ideas and arguments expressed in each.

  • The Wall Street clip elicited anger at the useless, fat-cat managers of Teldar while knowing that Gekko was obviously just using those sentiments to screw people and make money for himself. They didn’t admire him one bit.
  • The first OPM clip caused rolled eyes. Yes, Jorgenson seemed like a decent man but all this mythologising of the past and the idea of a company being the centre of a community just seemed unlikely. But (shrugged shoulders) if it worked for people then why not try to save it?
  • But the second OPM clip with DeVito’s speech brought forth anger: real hatred of the character and what he was about to do. Why could the company not be saved? Why could investments not be made to grab those new opportunities in fibre optics and the like? Why did it have to be destroyed? What would happen to the town that depended upon it?
I was fascinated by these reactions, which were mostly the exact opposite of me and my peers when we watched these movies thirty and more years ago.

 

I also informed them that, as with most Hollywood fantasies, the dream is saved at the end of Other People’s Money: investment is found to make hi-tech metal fibres for airbags.

By contrast the play had no such happy ending, only grim reality. Larry takes over and the company shuts down. The jobs, and likely the town, go with it. He even gets the girl at the end.

So there you are. A new generation that thinks somewhat differently than I do about capitalism, free enterprise, free trade and local communities, including nations. Perhaps the socialism of the 21st century will have new soil in which to grow and new seeds from which to raise warriors for the working day.

===============
See Also:
 
Fully Automated Luxury Communism

Written by Tom Hunter

July 1, 2020 at 6:00 pm

Selling the rope to your hangman

There are a number of variations on this theme, all attributed to either Lenin, Stalin or Khruschev – and it’s almost certainly apocryphal. Still, they all expressed ideas along these lines, and I’d bet that Khruschev in particular, with his puckish sense of humour, may have wished he’d said something like it:

When the time comes to hang the capitalists they will sell us the rope we use.

I thought of this quote the other day as I read an article about where Bernie has been getting his money from. He has famously boasted that he is not supported by corporations but by individuals – and not much via Superpac’s either:
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Super PACs, officially known as “independent expenditure-only political action committees,” may engage in unlimited political spending (on, for example, ads) independently of the campaigns, but are not allowed to either coordinate or make contributions to candidate campaigns or party coffers. Unlike traditional PACs, Super PACs can raise funds from individuals, corporations, unions, and other groups without any legal limit on donation size.

And he appears to be telling the truth, judging by the data from the US Federal Election Commission website on the fundraising and expenditure of the various campaigns. You can download the data if you wish to go totally geek.
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He raised $25 million in January alone and has spent more than $50 million to date on his campaign, beating Biden in both categories.
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That will almost certainly decline now as it becomes more obvious that the bulk of the Democrat Party is not going to allow him to win the primaries and get the nomination.
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Still, what got me was the sort of “ordinary” people this data tells us are supporting Bernie:
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Geographically, Bernie’s top dollar zip code is 94110 in San Francisco. The average household income in this part of the Mission District, specifically the Inner Mission, the Bernal Heights area, is $166,302. The median home value is around $1.5 million and the median rent is almost $5,000 a month.

That should not be a surprise given that it’s the employees of Google, Amazon, and Microsoft who make up three out of the top 4 Bernie donors-by-employer, with Apple employees in fifth place. A typical senior engineer at Google makes $US 250,000 per year – before stock options.
But it’s the same story on the other coast where the talk has been of the support Bernie gets from his old Brooklyn neighbourhood; working class and all that. Nope:
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[Zip code] 11215 or Park Slope is the second biggest top dollar zip code of Bernie donors.The neighborhood, formerly urban, known as the home of Mayor Bill de Blasio, and the Park Slope Food Co-Op…. [is] filled with renovated brownstones filled with wealthy hipsters. It’s a place where a three-bedroom apartment can go for $2.9 million.

And so on down the list. It’s quite a joke considering the Class Warfare that Bernie constantly preaches. This is not the top 1%, they’re the top 0.001%! Why are these wealthy young people supporting a guy who condemns people like them?
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A bottle of your best micro-brew! And be quick about it.
Perhaps it’s guilt? While the tech engineers of Silicon Valley work brutal hours for their high incomes that’s not true of the urban hipsters of Park Slope or Chicago’s Logan Square (#8 on Bernie’s list).
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Such places have gentrified rapidly in the last twenty years, with renovated houses and apartments and filled with all the usual stuff of micro-brew pubs, delis and “farmers markets”. The jokes about Trust Fund babies made by other inhabitants of those cities have a sting to them.
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Perhaps like the old elites of the European Middle Ages with the Catholic Church they’re simply buying indulgences, paying off their sins both past and future, as we see with Warmists flying private jets.
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But I think it’s more that they just don’t think any of the Socialist stuff will hurt them. Their wealth, particularly for those who have inherited it, has made them unthinking about how it is created, how it can be so easily destroyed, and how the free enterprise system can be so screwed up that nobody can ever become wealthy. And when you look at the stupidities of supposedly educated people when it comes to money in the realm of millions and billions (“I was told there would be no Math“) you can see how the problem compounds.
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They believe in Free Stuff because they’ve been the beneficiaries of free stuff all their useless lives. They think that’s how society can work.
There’s Class Warfare all right – and it’s being waged on the working classes and the poor by Bernie’s people. It starts with wealthy young white people in major urban areas who have made places like Logan Square, Prospect Heights and Echo Park so expensive that working and middle-class people have been forced out. But it ends when the same people support the wholesale destruction of industries – like fracking – that enable working class people to have good, even large wages that allow them to buy houses and cars and have families.

In all this they’re perfect matches for the likes of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao, Che, Castro, Pol Pot and a host of other communist leaders and activists who in no way came from The Toiling Masses but from wealthy or at least comfortable backgrounds of inherited wealth and good education.

Carlos Mazza
And here’s the latest example, Carlos Mazza.
Isn’t he just such a perfect match for the generic hipster whose photo I included earlier?
Mr Mazza is a fearsome Far Lefter, judging by his Twitter account description:

“Marxist pig. Liberal fascist. Queer scum. He/Him. YouTube profits off of hate speech. IG: gaywonk.”

Wow! Impressive. He apparently has a couple of hundred thousand followers on Twitter so naturally I’d never heard of him before yesterday.
His particular speciality was ripping other Lefties who claimed to speak for the common folk while being as rich as shit themselves. Starting with a recent Bernie Foe, former Bill Clinton advisor and solid Democrat James Carville:

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Now given the thrust of this OP I’m somewhat on board with this message. There’s just one problem and it was uncovered by a reporter from – yes – the New York Post. It turns out that this is where Mr Mazza lives:

Carlos’s bachelor pad

Public records show Vivian, Scott, Carlos and sister Isabel all registered to vote at a five-bedroom, eight-bathroom waterfront palace in Boca Raton, Florida. The property sold in 2018 for $10.8 million

Well it’s one of the places where he lives. Turns out that they also own a $7 million condominium on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. They also own a yacht by luxury maker boat-maker Donzi.

All of this due to his Mummy and StepDaddy having created a software firm in Florida that now employs about 5000 people. They are worth hundreds of millions of dollars at a minimum and apparently support their sons “lifestyle”. If this prick ever does do a hard week’s work – especially physical work – in his pathetic life, he’ll probably drop dead of exhaustion on the Friday.

Incidently, the reporter who dug all this up, Jonathan Levine, was punished by being locked out of his Twitter account. Exposing socialist hypocrisy is contrary to Twitter’s guidelines which, given its membership, is not surprising.

It also turns out that Mr Mazza solicits donations of $2 per month to $10 per month from “comrades”, using sites like Patreon.

I’d suggest he sell them rope instead. The “comrades” will know what to do with it.

Written by Tom Hunter

March 9, 2020 at 6:36 pm