On Hagel’s dismissal

From Vox:

To some extent, though, you can’t totally blame Hagel: Obama has insisted on setting foreign policy within the White House, which means excluding agencies like the Pentagon and the State Department. That policy has largely failed (look at the struggling efforts with ISIS and Russia’s Ukraine invasion), and now Obama appears to be pinning the failure on Hagel — which is not going to fix the problem, given that Obama had already neutered Hagel’s ability to set and shape foreign policy.

What’s telling about all of this is that there’s been speculation for a couple of months that, after the midterm elections, the Obama administration would fire some lead foreign policy people to try to fix the problems. But everyone thought he would fire someone who works in the White House, such as National Security Advisor Susan Rice, because Obama has forced all foreign policy-making to happen within the White House. Instead he’s fired someone outside of the White House, which suggests that Obama is going to keep the White House foreign policy team that is actually leading things, and that is more culpable for the failures.

John Thaw’s irony

Having recently gotten hooked on the British television series Inspector Morse, I witnessed the last couple of episodes with a heavy heart. John Thaw, who played Morse for its multi-season run, ultimately dies from a heart attack. It is the penultimate episode to which irony attaches.

The decided curmudgeon and avatar of all things sublime and urbane ultimately succumbs to a lifetime of consuming too much beer. He also declaimed on more than one occasion that he detested physical exercise. In the next-to-last episode, he collapses then is rushed to hospital, as the Brits say. He has high blood pressure and a peptic ulcer. Take it easy, the doctors admonish, and refrain from alcohol, a challenge that Morse cannot meet.

In hospital for a series of tests he is administered an endoscopy, which reveals the ulcer. Here is the ironic part. John Thaw would die two years after the series’ finale of esophageal cancer, a disease that would have been detected via a real endoscopy.

Freedom from

Do you believe that we have the right to be free from things we think are harmful or repugnant? Or, does the freedom to brandish a gun at the local McDonald’s restaurant trump the presumed right of patrons to be in a gun-safe zone? Should high school students be free to hawk their religious beliefs on campus, superseding the rights of those who prefer to be left alone?

While each of us would answer these questions in our own way, freedoms are almost always expressed in terms of the preposition to, and rarely, if ever, accompanied by from. I, for one, would like to see the latter gain more traction.


And speaking of Marx…

You might want to read this linked article from Monthly Review magazine on Piketty’s Capital. Here are a couple of excerpts:

To understand the nature of this crisis of received economics it is necessary to look at the two principal bulwarks of neoclassical theory, which were originally erected in response to socialist critics. The first is the notion that a freely competitive capitalist economy left to itself generates full employment, indicating that unemployment is the product of various frictions, imperfections, or government interference. The second is the related proposition that income and wealth inequality are determined by the “marginal productivity” (or relative contributions to output) of the various factors of production, chiefly capital and labor—a logic that is extended to the contributions of individuals themselves.

Writing for the Wall Street Journal, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, declared that “Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition, all profits get competed away. Only one thing can allow a business to transcend the daily brute struggle for survival: monopoly profits. Monopoly is the condition for every successful business.” Indeed, this might even stand as the credo of today’s generalized monopoly capital.


Bubbles or nothing [u]

Even mainstream, orthodox economists are beginning to describe “secular stagnation” as the new normal. The relative halcyon days mentioned in these posts, the roughly three decades following the end of WWII, are now viewed as an anomaly, perhaps never to be repeated.

real gdp and 1992 to 2007 trend

As the above chart illustrates, the economy suffered a sharp, significant decline in 2008. Moreover, it has yet to recover. That gap represents millions of people losing work, working less, and certainly bringing home smaller paychecks.

real per capita income from 2000

How to reverse the trend and fill the gap? Regrettably, those same economists believe that it would take another speculative bubble. Forget about sustained economic growth lifting the Rest of Us along with the plutocrats. It’s bubbles or nothing. The good news, if you wish, is that the economic system inevitably produces bubbles; it’s the nature of the beast.

Should you spend time reading Marx and his devotees, the solution will be simply to replace capitalism. This has always struck me as fanciful in the extreme. Yet, even if we could imagine capitalism’s own demise, as Marx himself concluded was both inherent in the system and inevitable, what then? Workers’ councils? Public ownership of the means of production?

If there is one obvious facet of the modern, technological world, it is that we’re busy with our own lives, whether they be filled with struggle or surfeit. As Oscar Wilde suggested, socialism involves too many evening meetings.

We are mostly content, by nature or default, to leave the business of governance to others, whether corporate overlords or elected representatives. While we reserve the right to rail against each, we rarely act to alter the status quo.

I can hardly fault this attitude. The enormity of the project easily overwhelms our ability and enthusiasm.

I have found that one must pick an infinitesimally small slice of the world, engage it wholly, and hope that the tiny enterprise does more good than harm.

Hardly the stuff of revolution, to be sure. It’s mostly about personal sanity.


UPDATE (November 23, 2015):

The first chart should have read billions of dollars rather than millions.


Counterproductive ranting

Many of us would admit to denigrating “the enemy,” the people who hold views and exhibit behaviors antithetical to our own. For liberals, that would be conservatives—and vice versa. For the sane, that would be the insane. And so on. In my case, I rail against right wingers who, research tells us, possess scant command of facts and figures, choosing instead to fashion their own convenient narratives, oblivious to logic and truth.

But guess what? Despite the constant self-exposure of idiocy, their ilk is in ascendance. They get themselves elected by their own kind.

Perhaps drawing attention to the lunacy, which is ubiquitous and obvious, only encourages more of the same. Piling on may be counterproductive.

Why not instead act in ignorance of the crazies? Put forth a coherent worldview supported by data and analysis premised on the attitudes expressed in the Constitution’s Preamble, for example, or, if you prefer, the Sermon on the Mount.

We’ll see if I’m up to the task.