The Alt Left in the USA

Someone asked me to explain the so-called Alt Left in the USA, the far left, some of whom support Senator Bernie Sanders, though I am not sure if he shares many of their views. This was my reply, based on my personal experience of them, sample size around 50: the Alt Left do have an existence and they are characterized by

1) A visceral somewhat misogynistic hatred of Hilary Clinton, even amongst women Alt Left.
2) A hatred of the corporatism without a clue as to what they would replace it with
3) Nil empathy for the likely victims of Trump: women, minorities, immigrants who are just collateral damage for the “it has to get worse before it gets better, Trump will bring on the revolution” crap.
4) An inability to argue and a tendency to go ad hominem at the slightest push back
5) and yes I suspect they are the Yin to Bannon’s Yang a counterbalancing alternative universe, though as I tend to think of politics as a circle I see them quite close to Bannon round the extremist end of the circle.
6) They have in common the Paranoid Style in American Politics as per Hofstader: there is no systemic understanding but a scapegoating blamey style: it’s the liberals/it’s the DNC sort of thing.
7) and they lean purist/politics is not about building coalitions.
8) They have almost nil knowledge of history and plan to repeat it as farce (as per Marx 18th Brumaire of Louis Napoleon: “History repeats itself the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce”.) (PS and paradoxically they know nothing about Marx’s thinking)
9) They know even less about economics than they know about history
10) They know less about history and economics than I know about American Football….close to zero that is. 🙂

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American Football and Economics Knowledge Thereof

I tend to upset people on the Left, especially the Alt Left these days. But this is what keeps me up nights.

Conservatives have a delusion that capitalism as she is currently constructed is not close to collapse by say 2035 (my best guess timing) given environmental, economic instability, and inequality pressures. And they have no idea how to reform it, see no need to reform it, indeed want to make it worse, far worse, hence their climate change denial and overturning financial regulation and providing tax cuts for the rich. This is likely the reason civilizations collapse: Conservatism can’t see change or the need to adapt to it.

The Left on the other hand. Well they are like me and American Football. Apart from a few team names and the idea there is something called The Super Bowl, I know absolutely nothing about American Football. This is about how much the Left, especially the vocal Alt Left in the US and UK, know about the real economy.

Now if you are going to build a viable greatly reformed (my most probable to be successful approach), or even an alternative to Capitalism, you actually do need to know how capitalism currently works: how food is grown, things made, services provided and the system to make that happen: market economy capitalism and its bastard brother Wall Street etc.

If you don’t then yep the collapse will happen and likely someone like Lenin or Mao who knew about as much about economics as I know about American Football, will take over and millions or in our case hundreds of millions of people will die in the process because food won’t be grown, goods won’t be made and services not provided. Go look at Somalia if you want to see it in action. Or just read about the Great Leap Forward in China: 40 million dead from Mao economic illiteracy. Took China 30 years to recover…

So go figure and sorry to those I upset. I am in my Mark Baum in the Big Short mode at present…. 

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Another Side of Economics

I was recently challenged as to which writers threw light on our current economic situation and what ideas I had to change things. My reply:

James Tobin on a Tobin tax to curb the finance sector. In the US ending differential treatment of interest and other income so no advantage in playing share price games. Both would make capitalism less quarter by quarter. End paying CEOs in stock options. End CEOs sitting on each other’s compensation committees. Employee representatives on corporate boards and comp committees as in Germany. Lean Manufacturing a la Toyota which gives workers direct input to work processes. A variety of world examples of corporations like Mondragon, John Lewis and others wholly owned by employees.

And probably Marx to help understand automation impact. 🙂 J K Galbraith “The New Industrial State” is old but still the best guide to why the left fails at the structural level. I read it in 1970 and its why I went to work in understand what the left didn’t grasp.

And my favorite person writing about it all recently: Brett Scott “The Heretics Guide to Global Finance: Hacking the Future of Money”. He is an environmentalist who instead of rabbiting on about what he didn’t understand went to work for a Hedge Fund and wrote a book for activists to understand the beast. He has some fun ideas.

Ha Joon Chang is the best modern economist who teaches at Cambridge all the varieties of economics not just the current orthodoxy. “Economics a User’s Guide” is his best summary though “23 Things You Don’t Know about Capitalism” is fun too. I have corresponded with him. Richard Wilkinson “The Spirit Level” is the best guide to inequality’s effects and I have corresponded with him.

Thomas Piketty “Capital in the 20th century” is about wealth inequality and inspired the diagram below. He suggests we have from history four options: war, revolution, civilizational collapse or reform of the tax system. Walther Schneidel “The Great Leveller: Violence and the History of Inequality” more pessimistically suggests by looking at 10,000 years of human history that inequality inexorably increases until war destroys the unequal society. Bit dark for these dark times….

PS I haven’t met a single leftist in the US who has read a single work of Marx or any economics books, like the ones listed above btw. Here leftists have no theory, have no economics and have no knowledge of how stuff is made aka labour. At least my UK unions had some theory, some economics and really did know how stuff was made having experienced first hand building cars at 90 an hour: I tried it: it’s hard…

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Definitions of a Demagogue

From Kent Johnson:

“A demagogue must be neither an educated nor an honest man; he has to be an ignoramus and a rogue.”
— Demosthenes, 4th C BC

“The peculiar office of a demagogue is to advance his own interests, by affecting a deep devotion to the interests of the people.”
— James Fennimore Cooper, 1838

” The man who is constantly telling the people that they are unerring in judgment, and that they have all power, is a demagogue.”
— Cooper, 1838

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Across the Great Divide

What the elections in the US and UK and elsewhere are showing is a deep divide in modern advanced economies between 1) those with university education, including those areas where people cluster around those with university education and serve them in bars, and the values that go with that, and the innovation, patents and hi tech results that flow in urban conurbations and no where else; and 2) the places that used to have well paid jobs for high school graduates, and no longer do and whose values are regressive, misogynistic, and tribal, at least partly in response. The latter now get played by the reactionaries and the plutocrats and this is a great threat to democracy.

But no one seems to be looking for real solutions that provide sustainable value add jobs for the left-behind people or regions. And no one is seeing that with the automation tsunami, their fate will spread to many of even the more educated. Trump and Brexit are phony solutions.

But you can’t proof countries against fascism without an economic solution. I don’t have one off-the-shelf, but I think a lot of hard work needs to go into finding one. Far harder work than any pols, academics, activists, voters, community leaders, have so far been assed to do. Identity politics does not provide one, worthy though its causes are.

And the solution is likely not traditional ideological left or right but something genuinely creative and different that addresses how much people get value, satisfaction and yes identity from work, how value add that work is (doing bs non jobs is demeaning in my experience), and how the benefits of automation are distributed: hint not all into the plutocratic pockets.

Or am I mistaken?

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The Banality of Trump

Hannah Arendt observing the architect of the Holocaust Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem coined the phrase “the banality of evil”. Watching Trump, I think “the evil of banality”…

Memo: Definition of Banality: “the fact or condition of being banal, unoriginality. Synonyms: triteness, vapidity, staleness, imaginativeness, lack of originality, dullness



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Changing Your Mind

Some recent debates on Facebook made me think: if you can’t change your own mind when faced with new evidence or new arguments, what chance is there that you can change anyone else’s mind?

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