McLovin’ it

magazine’s Seth Ackerman picks up his favorite chew toy, Matthew Yglesias of Vox, doing the economics of the minimum wage. To be clear at the outset, I think it’s perfectly fine for Yggy to take on diverse topics in which he is non-expert. He’s smart, prolific, writes well, and provokes worthwhile discussion. His economic commentary is usually worth reading, though susceptible to the ‘never in doubt’ syndrome.

The basic target of the Vox piece is whether the U.S. minimum wage could go up to $20 an hour without causing mass job losses. Yglesias is reacting to a New York Times story about the blissful status of minimum wage workers in Denmark, another Nordic social-democracy where everything is better except maybe the food and music.

I think Brother Ackerman overthinks and overworks this question, as far as criticism of Vox goes. Yglesias’ basic argument is an exceedingly brief blog post; it’s not a monograph. Said argument, really not more than an assertion, is that Denmark manages to keep employment high not because of a high minimum wage but thanks to their system of “education, training, active labor market policy, and regulation.” The finger-wagging implication is that the high Danish minimum wage depresses their fast-food employment and could do so much more in the U.S., given our medieval social welfare system.

The Times article notes a number of differences between the U.S. and Denmark that purportedly cloud any comparison of minimum wage effects, but on closer reading, all of them are true differences but at best irrelevant to any such comparison. For instance, it is noted that the fast food industry is more profitable in the U.S., so that means we can’t manage a higher minimum wage? In fact it strengthens the argument for a higher U.S. wage.

The only relevant factoid in the Vox article, via the Times story, is that there are more McDonalds establishments in the U.S. than in Denmark. This means nothing. A minimally relevant comparison would be to the fast food industry as a whole in Denmark, or better, the low-wage sector as a whole. And who says we need a bigger low-wage sector, anyway? The proof in the Danish pudding is their good overall labor market conditions.

So Ackerman is using a sledgehammer to liquidate a flea. He shows there is no correlation between the number of McD franchises and the McWage, which proves more than is necessary.

How high should our minimum wage be? Without doubt it could be higher than the $10.10/hr level proposed by our socialist-Islamist president. I’d assign the wage-setting authority to a triumvirate consisting of John Schmitt, Dean Baker, and Larry Mishel. A special pen surrounded by barbed-wire fencing would be available to dissenting economists who wanted to lodge a protest, in keeping with the current state of civil liberties in the U.S.

Quid Pro Cuomo

Governor Cuomo, thinking about womens' equality with Christie Brinkley.

Governor Cuomo, thinking about women’s equality.

The torch has been passed from Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is now officially the worst Democrat in the Universe.

I had high hopes for his father, Mario. Pére Cuomo was poised to contest Bill Clinton for the Democratic nomination for president in 1992, but he lost his nerve at the eleventh hour. The son has the virtue of never having raised anyone’s hopes.

In the endless arguments between Democratic moderates and those to their left, the constant exhortation from the center is to confine dissent to primaries, then pull together in the general to beat this year’s satanic Republican. Those who have the effrontery to go third party are cast as history’s greatest monsters.

So what is the lesson learned from the leadership of Mr. Cuomo? In New York State and a few other places, there is the noble, labor-liberal organization known as the Working Families Party. (When I hear the expression ‘working families,’ I get visions of toddlers swinging hoes, toiling in the potato fields, but I digress.) Their strategy is to support Democrats in general elections on their own separate ballot line. The hope is that the promise of their support will encourage the mainline candidates to respect and even take up some of their political causes.

It should go without saying that no Democratic candidate in New York or most other places has a prayer of winning a general election without liberal support. One might think that this would lend the WFP some serious leverage, but one would be wrong. The leverage of the WFP depends on their ability to threaten to withhold support in a general election, but that is not how they roll. They are congenitally predisposed to pull behind the Democrat who wins the nomination.



Enter Zephyr Teachout, brilliant lady law professor with spotless liberal credentials (but not too liberal!) and the cool name, blessed with awesome campaign trail kung-fu. Zephyr had the bright idea to contest for the gubernatorial nomination as the champion of the WFP. The WFP held a nominating convention and said, we don’t need no champion, we’d rather remain the crazy aunt in the fifth-floor walk-up. The WFP, not without the strong urging of erstwhile anti-inequality champion Bill DeBlasio, nominated Cuomo at their convention. To garner the endorsement, the governor made a number of commitments pertaining to WFP issues. Unfortunately, nobody thought they needed to make the governor promise not to try to destroy the WFP.

Zephyr decided to run in the primary anyway and did well, thank you very much. She got over 30 percent of the vote. So fine, now it’s time for everybody to pull together, right? The WFP behaved themselves. They put Cuomo on their ballot line. How does the governor repay them?

The governor fabricates an utterly fake political party called the “Women’s Equality Party” with its own ballot line to leech off WFP votes. (WEP, not WFP — get it?) The WFP will need a certain minimum number of votes to retain its ballot status. So in return for their support, Mr. Cuomo has connived to drive them off future ballots.

Cuomo staged a rally for the mythical WEP featuring an appearance by Hillary Clinton. The WEP public relations effort includes rich female celebrities (Anna Wintour, Christie Brinkley, Lena Dunham, etc.) and an array of Democratic liberals who have forfeited any claims to progressive politics. Note, they could easily support Cuomo by supporting a vote for the WFP, who is included on their ballot line. Support for Cuomo’s ersatz party is really a decision to block any leftward evolution of politics in New York.

Cuomo, Clinton, and the other ex-liberal WEP endorsers thereby surrender the usual argument they trot out in response to liberal criticism — “We agree with your goals, we disagree on tactics argle bargle . . . ” They do not agree with liberal goals, even modest ones. If they did, they would not support Cuomo’s straight-out effort to sabotage the WFP. If they were good Democrats, they would criticize Cuomo for deliberately endorsing enough Republicans to tilt the State Senate to Republican control, thereby blocking Democratic pressure from the entire state legislature for more progressive policies. The grip of the 1% on the New York State Democratic Party goes deep.

howieThe choices at this stage are not easy. New York liberals could suck it up and vote WFP in defense of their ballot line. Or they could bail on the Democrats and vote for Howie Hawkins of the New York Green Party. It’s hard to pass up a chance to vote for a guy named ‘Howie.’ Hawkins cannot win the election, but he could put a dent in Cuomo’s victory. He could also put a dent in the WFP vote and help them lose their ballot line. The latter would not upset the Democratic establishment, since that’s exactly what they’re up to themselves.

The difficulty is that a Hawkins protest vote weakens the WFP. Is this a problem? It isn’t if you think the WFP isn’t worth strengthening, because the Democratic Party is not worth supporting. A commitment to the WFP is a commitment to stay in the Democratic Party and fight for its leadership. But the Democratic Party leadership, liberal as all get-out by some measures, is not willing to tolerate well-behaved dissent. So why stay with it?

The obvious answer is, don’t give New York away to the G.O.P. This is some reason to discount the dangers of this. We’re not talking United States Supreme Court/invading the Middle East here. New York has survived Republicans before. The state survived Pataki, the city survived the loathsome Giuliani and the moderate Bloomberg.

The simple solution is, don’t try to be tricky and outsmart yourself. Vote for what you’re really for. If you’re for the Green Party platform, vote for it. Don’t be a potted plant. As the old saying goes, if you vote for what you don’t  want, you’re sure to get it. The WFP might survive a good third party showing. It might even benefit from it. If it can’t, maybe it’s not the best vehicle to move New York politics to the left. The other reason to vote Green is to punish Cuomo. He deserves it. It could put some sand in the gears of any presidential campaign he might contemplate. That would be Good For America too.

There’s some funny stuff in The Nation to the effect that voting for Cuomo will “pressure Cuomo.” That’s a little too zen for me. Kudos to the magazine for allowing Executive Editor Richard Kim to dissent with a case for Hawkins.

Here’s hoping somebody changes his name to Andy Como and runs for governor. If he (or she) does, I can promise the support of the Afro-Jewish Peoples Party.


Build this

yoda-buildJust to prove I don’t plan to dog Hillary at every turn, I’ll stick up for her remark on the un-centrality of business firms in creating jobs. Republicans would like to turn it into another “you didn’t build that” moment, which worked so well for President Mitt Romney. With no customers — consumption spending by individuals or governments — business firms would have no . . . business. With nothing to buy, of course, we would all be hunters and gatherers, like in The Walking Dead. So this is unavoidably a two-sided proposition. Remember supply and demand?

The ulterior motive of the GOP’s exhortations is to reduce taxes on capital and the rich, ostensibly to increase employment. Ergo “supply-side economics.” What is nearly beyond dispute is that presently the volume of customers continues to be held back in the wake of the Great Recession and in the midst of the Sucktastic Recovery. The most relevant remedy is more Federal, state, and local government spending, financed by more Federal debt. Unfortunately this is politically out of bounds, but not just because of Republicans.

When Democrats crow about reduced deficits under Obama, they are really endorsing a policy of job-killing fiscal restraint. Talking about the need for more jobs and a cupful of public investment is not adequate inoculation against generalized deficit delirium (GDD). If you propitiate GDD you foreclose future fiscal activism, in the event that it ever becomes politically possible.

The Republicans have a sneakier, more politically effective approach. They oppose deficits in principle but enable them in practice, since tax cuts and defense spending don’t count as factors that increase deficits. The opposition garners approval from idiotic, uncritical journalists, and the enabling wins them the affection of their constituents.

Under this political dynamic, fiscal activism becomes available to the Republicans, but off-limits to Democrats. Democrats surrender the liberal economic agenda, and poor white folks get herded into the GOP. Ain’t life grand?

For the long version of this sermon, see Dean Baker and Jared Bernstein.


Shreddy for Hillary

Harpers1411HP302x410I have to start by saying I fully expect Hillary Clinton (HRC) to win the Democratic nomination for president in 2016, and when she runs, I fully expect to vote for her. In spite of this, I would bet cash money that somebody reacting to this post will say, “Bleagh, you must want Ted Cruz to be president.”

The subject of this post is the futile attempted take-down of my friend Doug Henwood’s Harpers article (subscription required) by Gene Lyons, in The National Memo. I don’t know Lyons. I recommend his saucy web site, for which some friends write.

First some remarks about Henwood. If you’ve followed this site you know my “Anybody but Hillary” theme. My point in a nutshell is I want to see some competition for the nomination that includes meaningful conversation about the purpose of the Democratic Party. So anybody willing to challenge HRC and interrupt the coronation is welcome. HRC is politics as usual, and politics as usual is killing us. If you are a serious progressive you have to want to open up this process, and I don’t mean to provide some kind of toothless sparring partner.

The value of the article for me is to elaborate how completely ordinary a political hack HRC has become. Like her college boyfriend, she had some potential to turn out differently, acknowledged in the article, but here we are. The article is certainly polemical. It doesn’t pretend to be otherwise. It’s not scholarship, it doesn’t pretend to be dispassionate. Politics ain’t beanbag, as the cliché goes. I see no obligation on Henwood’s part to be fair. Are politicians fair to their adversaries? Of course they aren’t. Accuracy is another matter. We do like accuracy here.

I concur with the article’s premise, which I take to be not that HRC is some secret right-winger, but that she is an empty suit. Her currency is the hackneyed rhetoric of modern national politics. She has no vision. Obama has a poetic command of this rhetoric. HRC is less adept. In both cases the substance is either lacking, or what substance there is cannot be defended.

Two reservations about the piece. Dick Morris is overused, even as Henwood is explicit about his lack of credibility. I would have preferred to see less of such a congenitally dishonest person as a source. The article does not depend on Morris for facts crucial to the argument. He’s there as a kind of amusing gremlin. Second, the ending comes kind of abruptly. I was expecting more, along the lines of what stopping HRC means to Henwood. How does it unfold. I’ve said what it means for me.

The Lyons (GL) article begins with four paragraphs that attempt to trap Henwood in a context absent any references to his article. The context he attempts to erect is the banal one that we tend to be too focused on elections as horse races, and isn’t this going to be boring. Of course, Henwood’s whole purpose is to disrupt the horse race.

Then GL offers an inane objection to use of the word ‘dynasty’ in reference to the Clintons, since they are merely a dynasty in embryo. Though at this point there is nothing nascent about their money.

This from GL is crucial in a couple of ways:

That this cavil (that the Clintons are prolifically self-seeking — MBS) would apply to virtually all American politicians seems not to have occurred to Henwood, whose loathing of the couple transcends such mundane considerations. To him, the whole case for Hillary Clinton’s candidacy “boils down to this: She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn. It’s hard to find any substantive political argument in her favor.” (To which GL replies, “Maybe so, maybe not.” Well! Which side are you on, Gene?)

That the Clintons are ordinary and self-seeking is precisely one of my take-aways from the article. GL’s dismissal bespeaks cynicism about politics, which is another way of stating the case for the HRC candidacy. The cynicism of liberals is her banner.

So far we’re still batting opinions back and forth. GL wants to get into facts. He notes his own background covering Whitewater, for Harpers in fact, noting that his work was fully vetted for accuracy. Then some more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger regrets about the collapse of standards at that very same magazine. In the quest for accuracy, GL says “Clearly, no such effort (fact-checking — MBS) went into Henwood’s essay.” This is kind of delicious, if you think about it. Does GL have some information about how Harpers dealt with Henwood’s article? If he does, he doesn’t let on.

So what specifics are in question? This should be GL’s strongest suit, since he covered Whitewater in detail, wrote a book about it with Joe Conason, but his debunking of Henwood in this particular realm is strikingly weak. And I don’t know crap about Whitewater. I can barely remember last month. Henwood doesn’t spend much time on the affair himself.

After more throat-clearing about recycled Republican talking points and allusions to Henwood’s lack of fealty to the truth, GL points to purported errors about Whitewater, asserting Henwood is wrong but not saying why. There are some quotes from the McDougal trial with unfathomable relevance to what Henwood wrote. He asserts the Clintons were victims more than perps, but that is the sense I get in the Harpers article as well. The vast bulk of facts put forward by Henwood go unchallenged by GL.

For instance, and I am not going to rehash the crappy things Bill did as governor, and I am not going to blame HRC for adapting to the Arkansas political environment:

HRC, while working for the Rose law firm, argued a case opposing a populist measure to reduce electricity rates.

HRC served on the board of Walmart.

HRC utterly mismanaged the Clinton health care initiative, out of overweening arrogance and political immaturity.

HRC supported and later defended the atrocity that was the 1996 welfare reform bill.

So HRC, not very liberal, not very honorable, not very competent.

But: She has experience, she’s a woman, and it’s her turn. It’s hard to find any substantive political argument in her favor.” In response to which, quoting Gene Lyons of The National Memo, “Maybe so . .  . “!!

Ricky Ray Rector, 1950-1992

Ricky Ray Rector, 1950-1992


“Two Cheers for Anarchism” reviewed

(By Shepard Fairey)

(By Shepard Fairey)

I finished James C. Scott’s Two Cheers for Anarchism (TCA). He wrote a very well-received book called Seeing Like A State that is on my to-read list. The latter book will take more of an investment of time and concentration. TCA is shorter. I read it via Kindle.

The title is likely to mislead people. The book is not about how to organize uprisings or smash the state. The word ‘anarchism’ for most people connotes intransigent politics and mindless violence. Any good history of anarchism will inform you of the common practice of police informers provoking and actually committing terrorist acts. Many times. Some anarchists made this easier through their enthusiastic participation. We can observe the same sort of thing today when the FBI recruits and organizes assorted rootless unfortunates and stoners to commit terrorist acts with fake explosives. Then the big arrest and burst of publicity. Bravo, FBI! Do you feel safer? (Thanks, Obama!)

We could agree on the impracticality of past anarchist adventures, but morally, why not? After all, the targets were the murderous autocracies of Europe. Czars, kings, barons, dukes and whatnot; there was no democracy. Don’t forget, in the 19th Century — in the birth-pangs of modern capitalism and its mixture of progress and social atrocity — it was not obvious that capitalism would prevail.

Ranting aside, the lead principle of anarchism 101 is mutual aid between freely consenting people, free of interference from oppressive hierarchies. Scott’s thesis is that an important dimension of social life and human well-being is lost when centralized, bureaucratic regimes suppress spontaneous, productive self-activity .

One of Scott’s interesting examples is the case of traffic lights in Germany. In one small town, someone got the bright idea of taking down one of the town’s traffic lights. The counter-intuitive consequence was many fewer accidents. The reason was that drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians were moved to be more attentive and cautious. They were no longer encouraged to test the limits of the rules, because they were no rules. Their innate sociability and considerateness took over. This practice has spread to other towns in Germany, whose citizens have taken to boasting about it.

Scott devotes a lot of jaundiced attention to one of my own pet peeves — performance measurement, including in elite academia. There is a very funny segment about the idiotic use of indices of journal article citations as a source for evaluating scholars. His related topic is standardized tests.

The measurement problem has been discussed in the literature on privatization and contracting out, most notably for me by people like Donald Kettl and John Donahue. I took my own stabs at it here and here and here. Basically the goals of a program are reduced to something that can be measured, while important dimensions are left out. Then numbers are brandished in pseudo-scientific display.

The other problem with such practices is that which is measured and used to determine how much somebody gets paid becomes the object of gaming. The widespread school testing scandals provide lurid examples.

The ideological delusion underlying such fiascos is that the imposition of a purported “market” arrangement will bring efficiency and creativity. Instead it’s a new playground for rapacious vendors engaging in what economists call “rent-seeking.” The sellers (contractors) end up rigging the market and bilking the taxpayer.

There are lots of stories about follies arising from central planning. One such is that a factory was incentivized based on the number of shoes it manufactured. It ended up producing a lot of shoes — but only for left feet. Contracting out with performance measurement in ultra-modern capitalism can generate similar results, not least, God help us, in the public education of children. When you attach high stakes to a narrow measurement, hijinks ensue.

For Scott, performance measurement and testing are futile efforts by a state to regiment what would otherwise be more productive, creative, unplanned work. Such practices are an over-extension of meritocracy. Meritocracy is an improvement over rewards according to the accidents of birth, much less to predatory behavior. But meritocracy can degrade itself, as society’s winners massage the rules to perpetuate their privileges for their less-deserving descendants. Such practices of course build on the inherent advantages derived from gender, race, and class that provide unequal advantages in the establishment of merit.

One of Scott’s more compelling passages is about how the ubiquity of regimentation in schooling and large organizations, both public and private, for the purported exercise of a benign meritocracy, actually generates an attitude of fear and supplication that is not conducive to democratic citizenship.

Again I’ll resort to one of my pet peeves. The corruption of the American institution of the “town meeting.” In folklore, if not in fact, the town meeting was a setting where citizens gathered as equals and engaged in democratic discussion and debate. In small towns, familiarity made it difficult for people to promote their own narrow interests above those of the community, because everybody knew everybody else’s business.

These days the town meetings one usually finds are commanded by a local elected official. He or she controls the microphone. Constituents — supplicants, really — are allowed brief questions. Ushers will escort troublesome people out, aided if necessary by the local police. The fun part of these affairs is when control breaks down and critics reach critical mass. Meeting adjourned!

Scott devotes some attention to the so-called petit-bourgeoisie, an object of contempt in the Marxist tradition, to say nothing of elite doctrines. Strictly speaking these folks are not Capital with a capital “c.” They would like to be, but they haven’t made it. What they do have is some measure of security that affords them the confidence, wherewithal, and prestige to participate in democratic debate. The worker may feel beholden to an employer and be politically neutered. From a marxian standpoint, unlike the wage laborer, the petit-bourgeoisie have control over their own working day. They can comprise a genuine town meeting. As free producers taking advantage of mutual aid, they have an honored place in anarchist doctrine.

One of Scott’s more interesting theses for those of us who are politically obsessed is that the petit-bourgeoisie are themselves better situated to fight the haute-bourgeoisie, the 1%. This fight can take reactionary form, as in today’s Tea Party, but in the past it has taken progressive, even revolutionary form. The Bolshevik slogan, after all, was “Bread, peace, and land.” The thirst for land, a piece of the rock, has motivated revolts the world over. The U.S. populist movement of the 19th Century, although worker-friendly, was led by farmers, in opposition to corrupt government and rapacious monopolies in railroads and banking.

The fundamental, unfulfilled promise of TCA for me goes back to where I started. How to organize uprisings? You can’t organize them. Nobody organizes them. They blossom from a myriad of individual roots. You can prepare to be helpful when they bust out. For instance, I predict St. Louis is going to blow up before the year is over. Are you ready to be helpful?

People do try to take revolts over, often to the detriment of the cause. An old insight from the late 60s from an SDS veteran went something like this: “We thought you could make a revolution. In fact a revolution is a rare event.”

Occupy is the big recent case in point. Like a butterfly’s wings starting a chain reaction leading to a monsoon, we could point to some isolated causes. There was the Ad-Busters role. I always thought when, on video, the NYC cops pepper-sprayed some girl they had penned in, for no remotely defensible reason, that had a big impact. Whatever the factors, it was all tinder. The firewood was the underlying growth of poverty and inequality. Then we were off and running.

The anarchists involved in the encampments had the wit to prevent the affair from being pigeon-holed into narrow categories, and to deny to the media leaders who could become targets for petty attacks. My own view is they went a bit too far in the refusal to put forward more specific demands. But they had a good run before the State came down on their heads. (Thanks, Obama!)

TCA provides no political road-maps. In the end this is why anarchism is fundamentally unsatisfying to me. It’s great when good stuff happens, and the limitations of ‘vanguardism’ should be obvious. But we are still left in a quandry. It is not clear what is to be done.

I talk to the trees

I’m just a suburban dweeb, so some of this will be old hat to some of you. I spent the weekend in the southern wilds of Virginia, between Covington and New Castle (corrected, see comments) in the Blue Ridge Mountains, Allegheny highlands section. I’m not trying to brag; it was pretty cheap. We were in a cabin with a nice, vigorous stream (Potts Creek) running past in the back yard. No Internet, no cable, no cell phone reception, no MSNBC. People come here this time of year to look at the trees. This is why:


Today our excursion was to the Craig County Fair, in New Castle. Arts and crafts. BBQ. Hippies with long hair and beards who hate the government. I could totally fit in. What’s not to like? Well . . .

caucsAs you could guess, these were not Obama voters. Nobody really wearing politics on their T-shirts (Exception: some dude, long blond hair in a pony tail, cut-off pants and bare feet, with a picture of a KKKer on his shirt, labeled “The original boys in the hood.”). Lots of Confederate flags in evidence; camo everywhere too. Apparently it’s “Confederate History Appreciation Month.” We saw maybe two black people the whole time. I had enough sense not wear my Caucasian T-shirt.

Ideological outposts at the fair occupying booths were limited to some churches, the NRA, and these folks:


The sign on the bottom right says “Craig County Citizens for the Constitution.” The store behind it — the “Emporium of Fine Books and Essential Goods” — was interesting. Books on cooking, home repair, firearms, and urban guerrilla warfare. A book on the latter topic by one Mao Tse-Tung. Army training manuals. Yup. Books on the Civil War, the Founders, children’s books, and Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman. Did they know he was gay? Actually, I bet the store owner did. He looked like a smart cookie. Different types of dehydrated and freeze-dried food in big coffee-can sized tins. Seeds. All the essential items. A grim-faced lady by the powdered food behind the knife counter was dressed like Betsy Ross, but I don’t think it was meant as a costume.

I would have liked to chat some of the fellows up, but discretion was the better part of valor. I kept a low profile. I did get this picture inside the store:virginny

There were booths for the American Farm Bureau and Virginia Tech, the VFW. I don’t think these folks hate government. They hate change — stuff the government does now that it didn’t used to do, representing people who used to lack representation. I’m not lawyering for them; I really don’t know them well.

One striking thing about this part of the country is the frequent juxtaposition of the houses of rich and poor. And there are a lot of poor folks here — people living in trailers and ancient, broken-down houses. There is also the juxtaposition of poor peoples’ residences and stunning scenery. Like this (vacation pix alert):

Potts Mountain

Potts Mountain

People are friendly; if you look one in the eye, you had better say hello. I happen to like their music:

I don’t care what the hell they’re singing about, as long as they can pick.

I once thought I’d like to live up on a mountain. I’ve looked at a few homes. Downside of living on a mountain: you have to drive up the mountain. The road might be a mess, and it takes a long time. And that’s in good weather. Another big drawback, Asian restaurants are thin on ground.

In the George Washington National Forest the roads are mostly well-paved. Perhaps the Feds get the credit. People can live in pretty remote but accessible places. I don’t think I could live here, but I’m sure I’ll be back to visit.

There are black bears in the woods, big ones, not far past our backyard, up on the ridge line. I’d like to see one.

Always low prices, for now

monopolyThe excellent Annie Lowrey in New York Magazine argues that Amazon is not a monopoly. I disagree. Or at least, I have to say the premise is not supported quantitatively. The problem is the denominator. Monopoly resides in market share. AL compares Amazon to all retail sales, but that is the wrong comparison. Amazon’s market is the market for intermediaries that shepherd you through the sale of Everything. It’s a consumption manager. The best comparison is the up-and-coming Walmart. Google doesn’t really count, since it just throws you at individual retailers.

The fact that Amazon sells low does not debunk the monopoly thesis. A monopoly grows through predatory pricing (as with recounted by AL) and investment in fixed capital that provides competitive advantage. The stage of reaping monopoly rents via price increases lies before us. That is what the market for AMZN is saying, in light of the astronomical price-earnings ratios. It could be wrong. The future monopoly rents might not be realized, in which case Amazon’s shares should crash, big time. It wouldn’t be the first time that happened to a dot-com company.

I’m not offering any moral guidance. I use Amazon all the time. It’s just too convenient, and life is short. It is not Amazon’s market power over its own suppliers that facilitates its treatment of its own workers. That could happen under other circumstances. In fact, the organization of work — huge shipping centers employing lots of people — lends itself to union organizing. It’s the overall labor market — workers chasing jobs, rather than the converse — plus the indulgence of employers over unions by the government that is the root of Amazon’s labor pains.


MaxSpeak vs. Lawyers, Guns, and Money

Taking Scott’s points in order:

To all the commenters who have gotten their backs up, remember I say at the outset I mostly agree with PK. OK? It ain’t North Korea, OK? It’s the hippie punching I most object to. I got fewer complaints when I attacked Republicans. Now people say what happened to poor MaxSpeak. Go figure.

Whether Obama campaigned as a progressive is somewhat in the eye of the beholder. You are either familiar with progressive dog-whistles or you aren’t. I wouldn’t say he campaigned as an ultra-liberal, but I would argue as more than a centrist. For instance, I’m so old I remember he said he would fix Social Security with a higher payroll tax. That isn’t exactly super-liberal, but it is left-er than fixing SS by reducing benefits with the so-called chained price index.

On ACA (which I see as an advance), yes some complained bitterly and unrealistically about the failure to do single-payer, which I agree was not politically feasible, at least in the short- or medium-term. I would say PK has at least some obligation to tackle the best critical arguments, not the fish-in-a-barrel. One better argument re: ACA was we could have seen a bit more rhetorical love for the public option.

As for the ACA being “neo-liberal,” that criticism clearly pertains to the exchanges, not to the Medicaid expansion. That doesn’t mean ACA wasn’t worth doing in the end. Those of us in the far-out left worry about bogus exaltation of markets. A neo-liberal reform isn’t necessarily not worth doing, if you can’t get anything better. But it is good to avoid getting into the habit of staking everything on the use of private, for-profit vendors to deliver social services. Everybody here knows why.

I don’t doubt the public option could not have passed. Nor do I think it would have been world-shaking if it had been enacted. But it could have been talked up more for the sake of public intellectual hygiene.

This leads to the bully-pulpit issue. I do not think Obama can rule by decree, nor do I blame him for the constraints he faced as far as domestic legislation is concerned. (Foreign policy and law enforcement are another thing entirely, but my post was not mostly about Obama, it was mostly about PK’s reductionism of progressive critiques of Obama.) That aside, Obama could be more educational for the sake of the longer term. For instance, he could have stressed all along that a public option and a bigger stimulus may not have been politically doable, but they would be worth doing. Instead the White House boasts of reducing the deficit when we still have too much unemployment. We need bigger deficits, not smaller ones. This is Macro-Econ 101. They’re making people stupid.

I did not write about Obama’s dubious negotiating practices. That is salient to Obama’s competence but not especially a matter of progressive critique.

Bottom line: why talk up stuff you can’t pass right away? If you don’t, it will never ever happen, that’s why. I think the crazy right understands that.