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Two Giants

[ 9 ] February 22, 2017 |
5/2/1968 Kenneth J. Arrow, professor of economics, in his office. Credit: Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service

5/2/1968
Kenneth J. Arrow, professor of economics, in his office.
Credit: Chuck Painter / Stanford News Service

Two of the most important social scientists of the 20th century, whose work remains highly illuminating in the 21st, died this week. First, the Nobel-prize winning economist Ken Arrow, who was enormously and justly influential. Most relevant to contemporary American politics is his still-definitive explanation for why markets in health care don’t work.

Also dying this week was Ted Lowi, one of the true greats of political science. R.I.P.

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Undemocratic Elections Have Very Bad Consequences

[ 151 ] February 21, 2017 |

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None of this is surprising, but it’s still terrible:

The Trump Administration released new rules Tuesday that will hugely increase the number of undocumented people who are targeted for deportation. The new directives from the Department of Homeland Security call more people to be deported more quickly, even for non-violent crimes like abuse of public benefits. It also directs the agency to hire 10,000 new immigration and customs officials, and build new detention facilities to hold everyone who is suddenly considered an imminent threat to the nation.

As The Hill notes, the new rules, implemented under Secretary of Homeland Security John Kelly, repeal all the directives issued to immigration officials by the Obama administration. Instead of focusing on the deportation of people convicted of violent crimes, the new rules expand the definition of what a “criminal alien” is.

[…]

The new rules also confirm something ProPublica reported: that the United States now intends to deport people to Mexico who are not, in fact, from Mexico.

Well, that SEARING SELF-EXAMINATION after which the RNC determined the party should become more inclusive certainly seems to have been very effective.

Preventing Panic?

[ 130 ] February 21, 2017 |

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As the Trump administration seeks to implement precisely what he said he would do and deport every undocumented immigrant in the country (although somehow I think the Irish undocumented immigrants won’t quite be treated the same as those from El Salvador and I wonder why that is….), it tries to claim that it wants to prevent panic while destroying lives and families. OK. Because what it is really doing is Making America White Again.

The new policies represent a sharp break from the final years of the Obama administration and could reverse a reduction in the number of deportations in President Barack Obama’s last years in office.

After deportations reached a record high of 434,000 in 2013, pressure from immigration advocates prompted the Obama administration to implement new guidelines that focused enforcement on hardened criminals. The number of people deported in 2015 was just over 333,000, the lowest number since 2007.

Kelly’s new DHS policies considerably broaden the pool of those who are prioritized for deportations, including undocumented immigrants who have been charged with crimes but not convicted, those who commit acts that constitute a “chargeable criminal offense,” and those who an immigration officer concludes pose “a risk to public safety or national security.”

The Trump administration “is using the specter of crime to create fear . . . in the American community about immigrants in order to create an opening to advance the indiscriminate persecution of immigrants,” said Clarissa Martínez-de-Castro, deputy vice president at the National Council of La Raza. “This administration is saying, ‘Now, everybody is going to be a priority,’ and the devil may care.”

DHS officials emphasized that the guidelines in Kelly’s memos are focused on carrying out Trump’s vision and that they hew closely to the language of the executive orders. And they said the secretary has written the memos to abide by federal immigration laws established by Congress.

It is my feeling that ICE agents should be seen as people committing crimes against humanity. If you choose to deport people for a living, you are a major cog in an unjust machine. These are the active enemies of everything that you should hold dear about this nation. And they deserve to be treated with utter contempt by everyone who knows them. There are plenty of other law enforcement or public safety jobs they could hold. This is the most despicable possible job. Shun them as racist thugs.

Ellison or Perez?

[ 287 ] February 21, 2017 |

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Above: Idiotic bullshit

I have stated several times that the DNC race is an overheated attempt to relitigate the primary at great damage to the party. It barely matters who the head of the DNC is. The idea that Debbie Wasserman-Schultz was the greatest enemy to democracy since Benito Mussolini was so ridiculously out of proportion to what was actually going on that it should have led everyone involved to rethink their lives. However, in the end, as much as I absolutely think Tom Perez is a wonderful leader and the greatest Secretary of Labor since Frances Perkins, I have to support Keith Ellison for this role. That’s for two reasons. First, I’m uncomfortable with the people who have gotten behind Perez, in particular remnant conservative elements who seem to think that a Muslim as DNC chair would turn off voters. No. That’s a failure of leadership and Islamophobic. Second, the energy is behind Ellison. He represents a more leftist future for that party that I feel will energize voters. But again, maybe it doesn’t matter because both candidates are great and both are avoiding following New York Times stories about white men voting Republican as policy preferences. Steve Phillips:

If progressive whites are defecting because they are uninspired by Democrats, moving further to the right will only deepen their disillusionment. But if the next D.N.C. chairman can win them back, the country’s demographic trends will tilt the field in Democrats’ favor. As Mrs. Clinton’s popular vote margin showed, there is still a new American majority made up of a meaningful minority of whites and an overwhelming majority of minorities. Not only is there little evidence that Democrats can do significantly better with those white working-class voters who are susceptible to messages laced with racism and sexism, but that sector of the electorate will continue to shrink in the coming years. Nearly half of all Democratic votes (46 percent) were not white in 2016, and over the next four years, 10 million more people of color will be added to the population, as compared with just 1.5 million whites.

Keith Ellison, a D.N.C. chairman candidate, has a proven record of engaging core Democratic voters rather than chasing the elusive conservative whites, and the party would be in good hands under his stewardship. (Thomas E. Perez, the former labor secretary, has less electoral history, but his reliance on political superstars such as the strategist Emmy Ruiz, who delivered victories for Democrats in Nevada and Colorado, is encouraging.)

Whoever prevails as chairman must resist the pressure to follow an uninformed and ill-fated quest for winning over conservative white working-class voters in the Midwest. The solution for Democrats is not to chase Trump defectors. The path to victory involves reinspiring those whites who drifted to third-party candidates and then focusing on the ample opportunities in the Southwest and the South.

Mrs. Clinton came closer to winning Texas than she did Iowa. She fared better in Arizona, Georgia and Florida than she did in the traditional battleground state of Ohio. The electoral action for Democrats may have once been in the Rust Belt, but it’s now moving west and south.

Either candidate will pursue these voters as the base of the future. So in the end, I’m good either way. And you should be too.

Acosta

[ 17 ] February 21, 2017 |

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The consensus is that Alexander Acosta is a less horrible choice for Secretary of Labor than Andy Puzder. But that doesn’t mean he is good:

Even though Acosta is a more mainline conservative than Puzder, labor groups have a lot of policy concerns. Obama’s Labor Department pushed through a number of policies, including executive orders that used the federal government’s contracting power to elevate wages and increase labor protections for federal contract workers, rules that doubled the salary threshold that qualifies workers for overtime pay, and required retirement advisers to act in their clients’ best interests.

The department also sought to address employee misclassification, increase corporate responsibility for franchisees and independent contractors, and aggressively pursue labor law violations in sectors with vulnerable low-wage workers. Republicans and their allies in the business community have been gunning to wipe away that work from the get-go. With Puzder’s nomination, Obama labor alums were concerned that a GOP Labor Department would succeed in doing so. Republicans are hoping that Acosta will be equally dedicated to rolling back Obama’s labor legacy. As Bloomberg BNA reports, conservatives further hope that a Republican DOL will go on offense to scrutinize the legality of labor union affiliates like the Fight for $15 and the Restaurant Opportunities Center United, both of which actively lobbied against Puzder’s nomination.

As more information emerges on Acosta, don’t count on unions and other progressive groups to take his confirmation lying down. They still see the labor secretary confirmation as an important opportunity to hold Trump to his campaign promise to be a president for working Americans. “Together, workers will stay in the streets to demand a labor secretary who is a champion for working people and fights to represent their interests in our economy,” Service Employees International Union President Mary Kay Henry said in a statement.

With Republicans wanting a national right-to-leech law very, very badly, Acosta being less egregiously awful than Puzder may not matter too much in the end, although this certainly would not pass a Senate filibuster if it still exists. In any case, it’s going to be a long, bad 4 years for American workers.

A Pro-Trump Anarchobro Says What?

[ 170 ] February 21, 2017 |

I award this take 10 Baylesses and 20 Horowitzes:

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If you’re an American liberal, as opposed to a professional ratfucker of elections on behalf of the alt-right, you may be unaware that “people are not merely entitled by right to six-figure book contracts and speaking gigs an the fora of their choice, but entitled to these things without speaker or gatekeeper being criticized in any way” was a principle of “liberalism.” But, trust me, it is. I would pay particular attention to Article XII of On Liberty.

Automation and Working Class Displacement

[ 339 ] February 21, 2017 |

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This piece on automation in the Permian Basin oil fields is telling for both why companies want to automate all their jobs and why this is disastrous for working-class Americans. A few bits:

In the land where oil jobs were once a guaranteed road to security for blue-collar workers, Eustasio Velazquez’s career has been upended by technology.

For 10 years, he laid cables for service companies doing seismic testing in the search for the next big gusher. Then, powerful computer hardware and software replaced cables with wireless data collection, and he lost his job. He found new work connecting pipes on rigs, but lost that job, too, when plunging oil prices in 2015 forced the driller he worked for to replace rig hands with cheaper, more reliable automated tools.

“I don’t see a future,” Mr. Velazquez, 44, said on a recent afternoon as he stooped over his shopping cart at a local grocery store. “Pretty soon every rig will have one worker and a robot.”

Oil and gas workers have traditionally had some of the highest-paying blue-collar jobs — just the type that President Trump has vowed to preserve and bring back. But the West Texas oil fields, where activity is gearing back up as prices rebound, illustrate how difficult it will be to meet that goal. As in other industries, automation is creating a new demand for high-tech workers — sometimes hundreds of miles away in a control center — but their numbers don’t offset the ranks of field hands no longer required to sling chains and lift iron.

And despite all the lost workers, United States oil production is galloping upward, to nine million barrels a day from 8.6 million in September. Nationwide, with a bit more than one-third as many rigs operating as in 2014, production is not even down 10 percent from record levels.

Some of the best wells here in the Permian Basin that three years ago required an oil price of over $60 a barrel for an operator to break even now need about $35, well below the current price of about $53.

Much of the technology has been developed by the aviation and automotive industries, along with deepwater oil exploration, over more than a decade. But companies drilling on land were slow to adapt until oil prices crashed and companies needed to get efficient quickly or go out of business.

All the big companies, and many smaller ones, have organized teams of technicians that collect well and tank data to develop complex algorithms enabling them to duplicate the design for the most productive wells over and over, and to repair valves and other parts before they break down.

The result is improved production and safety, but also a far smaller work force, and one that is increasingly morphing from muscle to brain power.

Pioneer Natural Resources, one of the most productive West Texas producers, has slashed the number of days to drill and complete wells so drastically that it has been able to cut costs by 25 percent in wells completed since early 2015. The typical rig that drilled eight to 12 wells a year just a few years ago now drills up to 16. Last year, the company added nearly 240 wells to its Permian Basin inventory without adding new employees.

The problem with automation is not its existence per se. After all, the search for greater efficiency has existed since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. The problem with automation today is that as opposed to previous eras where automation might cause short-term displacement but would absorb those unemployed workers in other jobs in a booming industrial economy, today’s era of automation leaves no hope for equally good work in an economy where work itself is being phased out. There might be space for a few workers who can adapt to tech-oriented jobs, but many of these workers cannot. This will likely cause massive social problems. There simply are millions of Americans who will never go to college. They do not have that ability or desire. There has to be good jobs that pay well for them. If we get rid of all of these jobs, as it seems that we are, then what is the future for them?

This is why I think the Trump election may be seen in the future as the first of the Automation Era. The lack of economic opportunity creates desperation, hatred, and appeals to radicalism. It leads to a greater embrace of racism, ethnic nationalism, and violence. Of course Trump has no real answer for these workers in terms of reversing automation or creating a welfare state where the loss of work doesn’t matter. But he very much had an appealing message for white working class voters who long for the better days of the past mythologized or not (and it’s a little of both) in ways that include, but is not exclusive to, stable jobs that paid well and allowed the movement of workers into the middle-class. Yes, that’s racialized too. But it also doesn’t mean that they are wrong about their own position in the economy. The endless amount of data that demonstrate growing income inequality, working-class stagnation, debt, and the fact that nearly all the economic gains of the last 20 years have gone to the 1 percent are very real things. Unemployment may be low right now, but that doesn’t mean that the economy is doing well for working people of any race. It’s not. It means they can get a low-paying job. Or probably 2 or 3 of those low-paying jobs. Working on an oil rig is not a fun job. The Permian Basin in shockingly hot and awful (I would argue it is the single worst place in the United States). This is dangerous labor. There might be good reason to automate it. But it also pays well. And when you are trying to feed your family, you will sacrifice a lot to make that happen. If you don’t feel like you can feed your family, you will do anything to lash out at those who you think are causing your life’s problems. While we might want them to do that lashing at their employers, that has proven fleeting in American history. It’s going to be others they lash out against.

These are very hard questions. I don’t have all the answers. But I do know we have to find a future for working-class Americans of all races where they are paid well for dignified labor, whatever that might be. I have no problem with Universal Basic Income except that everything in American history says that people will largely reject it as a welfare program that is unrelated to work and therefore creates dependence. UBI strikes at core American mythology. So I don’t think it is feasible or even if it is, it isn’t good enough. We need a real jobs plan to put people to work. That might mean some industrial protectionism, even while we do not reject globalism in much of our society. It almost certainly means a massive green infrastructure program that ensures that our wind energy future is built from union-made, American-produced steel. That’s just a start. But we have to support and articulate that future. Because a world without decently-paid working-class jobs is a disastrous, awful, horrible world of massive instability. You don’t want to live in that version of the United States. And you are just beginning to find out why.

In a related point, you may also find this interesting, but I found it kind of wanky.

Scenes from the new gilded age, law school edition

[ 25 ] February 21, 2017 |

Five years ago this month I gave a talk to about 100 Stanford Law School students, with a professor or three in the audience as well.  Among other things I talked about how super-elite law schools like Stanford were having an invidious effect on the economics of legal education by continually jacking up their revenues and operating costs at a dizzying rate. In an era of idiotic college ranking systems, the super-elites were playing a key role in driving a destructive fiscal arms race, which was doing great damage to the vast majority of law students, who attend schools where most students don’t get elite legal jobs, or in many cases legal jobs at all.

Why not cut your tuition in half I suggested? (Also, what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding etc?).  The students all thought this was a grand idea, and several talked to me subsequently about how they might organize to petition the administration.

30 years ago I remember reading in Bill James’s annual abstract that there were days in his professional life when he felt like he was making no progress.  That observation was triggered by the selection of Andre Dawson as the National League’s most valuable player in 1987.  (According to today’s analytic methods, Dawson wasn’t even one of the top 20 players in the league that year, but even in those simpler sabermetric times the selection was obviously absurd.  The pick of George Bell over Alan Trammell over in the junior circuit was nearly as bad.)

Anyway back to our regularly scheduled programming:

Stanford Law School Revenues

 

Stanford’s revenues have gone up 29% in real terms in the last five years alone, at a time when yuuge numbers of law schools are drowning in red ink, after decades of trying to keep up with the Kardashians.  And the thing is, I just know the powers that be in Palo Alto (not only at the law school of course) are positively proud of themselves at how modestly they’ve raised tuition, given how much more they’re spending:

Stanford law school tuition

I may break this stuff down in more detail in a future post, if the world hasn’t blown up by then, and/or I haven’t drunk myself insensible.

McMaster

[ 70 ] February 21, 2017 |

Folks seem generally pleased with the choice of H.R. McMaster as NSA, and it’s hard for me to disagree; McMaster is almost universally well-respected in the national security community, both among soldiers and civilians. He brings a fine analytical mind, a wealth of experience, and a scholarly understanding of national security problems to the NSA position. Here’s his account of the Battle of 73 Easting; here’s a summary of one of his talks on the Revolution in Military Affairs.

The biggest questions going forward will be:

  1. How much control does he have over his own staff?
  2. How much authority will he have relative to more political actors such as Steve Bannon?
  3. Will Trump actually listen to him?

The main job of the NSA is to coordinate all of the departments and agencies that manage US national security. McMaster’s reputation as a strong thinker should help, at least initially. On the other hand, some have suggested that his reluctance to suffer fools gladly has, at times, slowed his professional progress. I’m sure that problem will never come up in the Trump White House.  Others have suggested that McMaster’s active duty status will make it more difficult for him to say “No” to the President.  Fortunately, he literally wrote the book on the responsibilities of the uniformed military for giving good advice to civilians.

And on a personal note; H.R. McMaster was kind enough to speak by Skype with my counter-insurgency class back in the spring of 2011.  Longtime readers will recall that I was denounced as a Communist for teaching this class, way back when Donalde was the only Donald in town.  Good times.

Simon and Schuster Makes Another Decision Not About “Free Speech”

[ 80 ] February 21, 2017 |

Republican vice presidential candidate Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin winks as she speaks during her vice presidential debate against Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Joe Biden, D-Del., at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2008. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Roxane Gay, as you would expect, hits a moon shot:

In canceling Milo’s book contract, Simon & Schuster made a business decision the same way they made a business decision when they decided to publish that man in the first place. When his comments about pedophilia/pederasty came to light, Simon & Schuster realized it would cost them more money to do business with Milo than he could earn for them. They did not finally “do the right thing” and now we know where their threshold, pun intended, lies. They were fine with his racist and xenophobic and sexist ideologies. They were fine with his transphobia, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. They were fine with how he encourages his followers to harass women and people of color and transgender people online. Let me assure you, as someone who endured a bit of that harassment, it is breathtaking in its scope, intensity, and cruelty but hey, we must protect the freedom of speech. Certainly, Simon & Schuster was not alone in what they were willing to tolerate. A great many people were perfectly comfortable with the targets of Milo’s hateful attention until that attention hit too close to home.

Since people were actually willing to argue with a straight face that it somehow threatened “free speech” to criticize a publisher for giving a six-figure deal to a hate-spewing racist and sexist bullshit artist, I guess a couple of points that should be obvious should be reiterated:

  • No principle of free speech requires anybody to be given access to a particular forum where access is inherently restricted. Simon and Schuster can publish only a tiny fraction of books it might consider publishing in a given year, and even a smaller fraction of that will get an advance several times the median salary. There is no way such choices can be made without “viewpoint discrimination.”
  • Sarah Palin notwithstanding, there is no free speech right –constitutional or otherwise — not to be criticized, and no right not to have a choice made to provide a speaker with a particular forum criticized. The sacred inalienable right to, say, deliver platitudes to a captive audience of college graduates in exchange for a healthy payday without anyone criticizing the choice of speaker is not a thing. Neither the First Amendment nor broader principles of free speech insulate any publisher for choosing to publish a particular book, or a conference for giving a platform to a particular speaker. The fact that S&S and CPAC have decided to withdraw their fora now that they believe Milo will no longer be profitable for the bottom line and/or American conservatism should underscore this point.

Roy has much more.

Enough with “the deep state”

[ 123 ] February 20, 2017 |

I’ve been mildly confused and dismayed by the speed with which dark musings about “the deep state” have found their way into mainstream political conversation. I’ve been relieved of the need to write something about this by this excellent column by Rafael Khachaturian at Jacobin, which I heartily endorse. A few choice cuts, but read the whole thing, etc:

The deep state concept is harmful in two key ways.

First, invoking the deep state implies a misleading view of the state as a monolithic, unitary actor. While the deep state is usually said to be a network of individuals and agencies, it is assumed that these component parts are held together by a common will or mission (in this case, something like defending the “national interest” against Trumpism). This leads to a reification of the state as an autonomous and internally coherent force.

Yet modern capitalist states are more fragmented than they appear. First, they are composed of class fractions and coalitions that have frequently clashing interests and are motivated by short-term considerations. Often, these internal differences arise from the pressure exerted by various economic interests (such as the competition between the financial, manufacturing, and small business sectors).

In addition, these class forces are intersected by other factors, including the different social bases of support behind the major political parties (including voter cleavages based on urban versus rural interests, racial and gender attitudes, and “populist” appeal), the mass media’s role in shaping certain ideological narratives, and competing visions of foreign policy and geopolitical strategy.

….

The state–civil society binary is one of the fundamental bases of liberal political theory. But this distinction is largely a byproduct of the way that political power has represented itself, rather than a social fact.

Where the state ends and civil society begins has always been permeable and contested — in other words, subject to politics and political struggle. The state is not an entity standing over and above society, but instead one premised upon the social forces that bring it into being.

Loose talk of the “deep state” misses this crucial point, advancing instead a facile vision of institutionalized power that constitutes its own foundation, and is therefore opaque, mysterious, and beyond the reach of citizens.

This being Jacobin, the sociology of the state on offer here is a bit more singularly focused on class than I might have described it, but that doesn’t change the general picture here. Great piece, I wish I’d written it. More like this, please, Jacobin.

THIS JUST IN: Flamboyantly Evil Dumpster Fire of a Person Loses Book Deal

[ 280 ] February 20, 2017 |

 

Milo has lost his book deal and been disinvited to CPAC. Apparently if you’re down for harassment campaigns and doxing and are rabidly misogynistic and transphobic you can still go quite far in this world, but advocating for pedophilia is a bridge too far. And, hey listen, I’m glad folks decided to draw the line somewhere. But this line shoulda been drawn as soon as this Bedazzled young Frankenstein-looking-motherfucker burst onto the scene.

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