Diamond hands.

The real games rich people play with money are not, actually, about having money to spend per se. They’re about having money to use, preferably in the most tax-exempt ways possible . . .

2021-09-21T07:59:55+10:0024th September, 2021|Tags: , |

The project.

[N]eoliberals were less interested in markets per se (and even less in market competition) than in what could be achieved through them. Though neoliberals usually aim to eliminate any state intervention that interferes with the free decisions of private enterprise, they are not opposed to all forms of state intervention. Neoliberals are, of course, less concerned with forms of state intervention that redistribute to core business groups (through generous tax exemptions or massive bailouts during financial crises) than they are with the kind of intervention that mandates redistributive measures for the working class. Similarly, neoliberals vow to extend markets and market logics to all forms of social and political life but are less concerned if this ends up leading to unfair competition or outright monopoly.

Second, it is now well understood that neoliberals need strong states to impose — and enforce — their free markets, even if it takes the form of outright repressive state measures.

Neoliberalism, then, is much more than just a set of ideas about free markets. It’s a political project that aims not only to reduce the power of the state but, more concretely, to undermine the efforts of any collective actor — be it states, labor unions, political parties — to interfere with the decisions of private enterprises. This project to alter the balance of power is the key to its resilience.

On redistribution of wealth.

2021-09-21T07:49:57+10:0023rd September, 2021|Tags: , |

Catastrophic failures.

[Donald] Rumsfeld was the worst secretary of defense in American history. Being newly dead shouldn’t spare him this distinction. [ . . . ] Rumsfeld was the chief advocate of every disaster in the years after September 11. Wherever the United States government contemplated a wrong turn, Rumsfeld was there first with his hard smile—squinting, mocking the cautious, shoving his country deeper into a hole. His fatal judgment was equaled only by his absolute self-assurance. He lacked the courage to doubt himself. He lacked the wisdom to change his mind. [ . . . ]

Rumsfeld started being wrong within hours of the [9/11] attacks and never stopped. He argued that the attacks proved the need for the missile-defense shield that he’d long advocated. He thought that the American war in Afghanistan meant the end of the Taliban. He thought that the new Afghan government didn’t need the U.S. to stick around for security and support. He thought that the United States should stiff the United Nations, brush off allies, and go it alone. He insisted that al-Qaeda couldn’t operate without a strongman like Saddam. He thought that all the intelligence on Iraqi weapons of mass destruction was wrong, except the dire reports that he’d ordered up himself. He reserved his greatest confidence for intelligence obtained through torture. He thought that the State Department and the CIA were full of timorous, ignorant bureaucrats. He thought that America could win wars with computerized weaponry and awesome displays of force.

On ill of the dead.

It’s easy to heap scorn on dead “Great Men” while simultaneously ignoring all the dozens or hundreds or thousands of yes-men and enablers and hangers on they need to make their shtick work. It’s not like Rumsfeld was using Jedi mind tricks to brainwash everyone into buying into his obvious garbage; he was a symptom of the disease that is American foreign policy, not the cause of it.

Still. He was pretty fucking terrible, so . . .

2021-09-17T07:05:48+10:0019th September, 2021|Tags: |

Universal Basic Dystopia.

The market alone cannot be relied on to provide basic services for all people. That’s why we have fire departments, for example. Decent societies (that are wealthy enough) provide universal basic healthcare, because it is a basic human right, and because the market is not particularly good at valuing human life over profit. Australia ranks 7th in the world for life expectancy globally, for example, while the USA ranks 40th. Yet Australia spends far less in GDP terms (9%) than the States (17%) on health. The US relies more on the market, whereas Australia prefers a universal system (however flawed) geared to serve the public good.

I can see why libertarian types might see shrinking of government as a virtue: they believe it will empower the individual. But even from the libertarian perspective, this will not be the consequence of UBI. Into the vacuum of a retreating government we won’t see the individual, but Jeff Bezos, Zuckerberg, Larry Page, and all the rest. We’ll receive our services from Amazon, our news from Facebook, our scientific research via Google, and our moral compass via the fucking Disney corporation.

Tim Napper on universality.

Incidentally, my understanding of the US healthcare figure is that it’s a massive under-estimate of the total cost, because it’s only counting direct expenditure (more on which in a sec). The reasons it’s so high compared to other industrialized nations is a somewhat paradoxical combination of:

  1. people delaying early intervention treatments, which are significantly more cost-effective in the long-term, because they can’t afford to treat conditions until they become emergencies, and
  2. the private healthcare market having a vested interest in generating the most profit by selling the most services.

In other words, people who can’t afford healthcare are under-serviced, while people who can are over-serviced. Or, in other other words, the “market” is ridiculously inefficient at allocating the “right” amount of healthcare to the right people.

The other factor, which I believe is not (fully) captured in the GDP figure, is that an enormous quantity of US “health” expenditure actually goes to paying the middlemen and rentiers in the private insurance industry, which was worth a little over $8 trillion in 2018. Basically, paying all the salaries of all the bureaucrats — and, to be clear, just because they’re not government employees doesn’t mean they’re not bureaucrats — in every different insurer, and all the administrative staff in all the hospitals and doctors’ offices who have to deal with them (think about every nightmare story you’ve ever heard about itemized bills of “provider networks” or whatever other ridiculous red tape people in the US have to deal with the get basic healthcare).

Think about it this way: If you have one government provider, e.g. Medicare in Australia, you have one agency and one department doing most of the legwork. The Department of Health employs a little over 4,000 people, Services Australia a little over 30,000; both agencies do more than “just” administration of Medicare, so it’s hard to get the real number of staff from flicking through corporate reports, but you get the idea. Medicare serves as the main healthcare provider for about 25.6 million Australians, out of about 25.7 million total. So, like. Basically everyone.

Compare and contrast to the US, which has somewhere over nine hundred different health insurers. And, sure, the population is bigger and most of those insurers probably have less than 30,000 employees . . .1 but you’re telling me there’s no duplication of function in any of those companies? Multiple HR departments and IT departments and procurement and payments? C’mon.

The point here is that the argument for private healthcare fails on its own merits, when those merits are the ones spoken aloud (“efficiency in health services delivery”) rather the quiet parts (“making a small number of people extremely rich”).

And, yes, you may have also noticed that this argument — that a central single healthcare insurer — is more efficient is exactly the same argument right-wing types make for UBI (a single benefits scheme is more efficient than the current system of multiple types of claims).2 Almost like the whole thing is ideology-driven nonsense on the face of it . . .

  1. Excluding the health department numbers because, y’know. The US also has one. []
  2. Not to mention that “becoming a monopoly” is, like, the corporate strategic goal for basically every company on the planet. []
2021-09-14T07:41:56+10:0014th September, 2021|Tags: , |

Twitter famous.

Interesting profile on Yashar Ali, who’s one of those people you’ve surely come across if you’ve ever made the Poor Life Choice of spending a non-zero amount of time on left-wing Twitter, and yet who doesn’t really seem to exist outside of it . . .

2021-09-09T08:48:14+10:0011th September, 2021|Tags: , , |

Divided we stand.

An interesting take on the four Americas.

Note also that I say “interesting,” not “objectively correct”; this is, of course, an Atlantic article so if you’re thinking “lol I bet this is actually all just wishy washy pearl clutching about whhhhhyyyy can’t people just be ciiiiiivvvvvviiiiiiillll” then, spoiler alert, I see you have read an article in The Atlantic before! Still. I don’t think it’s entirely wrong. Just . . . definitely not as high-minded and “objective” as its author thinks it is.

2021-08-20T07:28:39+10:0024th August, 2021|Tags: |

Full circle.

In 2001, speaking in the House of Representatives, President Bush said that Al Qaeda hated “what they see right here in this chamber: a democratically elected government.” That is what we wanted to hear, because it meant that we were attacked because we were the good guys. That probably wasn’t really what Al Qaeda had in mind on 9/11, but it was what Americans had in mind on 1/6. They stormed the very chamber in which President Bush spoke, and they were there to halt the procedures of a democracy. They were attacking, precisely, “democratically elected government.”

I have the Cassandra feeling this spring because it is so obvious where all of this is heading. President Trump tells a big lie that elections are rigged. This authorizes him and others to seek power in extra-democratic ways. The lie is institutionalized by state legislation that suppresses voting, and that gives state legislatures themselves the right to decide how to allocate the electoral vote in presidential elections.

The scenario then goes like this. The Republicans win back the House and Senate in 2022, in part thanks to voter suppression. The Republican candidate in 2024 loses the popular vote by several million and the electoral vote by the margin of a few states. State legislatures, claiming fraud, alter the electoral count vote. The House and Senate accept that altered count. The losing candidate becomes the president.  We no longer have “democratically elected government.” And people are angry.

No one is seeking to hide that this is the plan. It is right there out in the open.

Timothy Snyder on parallels.

2021-08-18T17:46:32+10:0021st August, 2021|Tags: |

Inefficient “efficiency.”

Sometimes austerity involves sudden rupture: an immediate loss of services that we notice and protest against. More often it’s death by a thousand cuts: incremental destruction of the public realm, leaving us with outsourced, inaccessible, dysfunctional services. Successive Conservative governments have made these cuts in the name of efficiency. We experience this marvellous efficiency as The Four Seasons plays on an endless loop while we wait to talk to someone in a call centre with no power to act, subcontracted to someone else in a Kafkaesque nightmare of privatised, inscrutable bureaucracy, unable to resolve our problems or meet our needs. Nothing works any more.

George Monbiot on political choices.

Once upon a time, just after she retired, my Mum was brought back in as a consultant to do a review of a healthcare-related complaints helpline. Each state ran its own helpline and every single state was a dysfunctional shithow except for one. Mum’s job was to find out why.

The long and short of her findings were that every other state had implemented a “best practice” tiered helpdesk, specifically one that included a strict skill hierarchy between people on Tier 1 (who took calls) versus Tier 2 (in-office experts) and Tier 3 (who went to physically investigate incidents). The One Functional State did not; they still had different levels, after a fashion, but rotated staff between them. What it effectively meant is that, from the caller’s point of view, more often than not they’d call the helpline and get answered by someone currently on L1 rotation but who’d had the skills in T2 and T3 that meant they could immediately assist; no scripts or escalations required. The net result was that calls were resolved faster and people were generally happier with the service (and, recall, this was a healthcare-related helpline, so “happier with the service” had a direct positive health impact).

Ironically, as Mum was doing this, I’d just been “girl demoted” at work when our combined Level 2-3 IT support helpdesk got split. Myself and the one other girl on the team got somehow magically sent to Level 2.1 I only stayed in that role for a few months but, during that time, I was (successfully) resolving over a thousand tickets a month; the second most effective person was barely scraping double digits. The reason I could do this? Experience in T3, which meant I was basically doing every level of support, all at once. The reason I know all of this is because, despite the metrics, I ended up having a shittonne of downtime, which I used to, firstly, write SOPs for the (subcontracted) T1 people in vain hope of reducing escalation and secondly, when that was done, read books. Because of the latter, I got pulled up on performance management by my boss;2 this was where she made the mistake of showing me just how much I was propping up the entire system. So I did her the favor of performance managing myself out of the organization, into a promotion elsewhere.

Tl;dr, tiered helpdesks suck. But they make call center outsourcers rich so, hey.

  1. Notably, we weren’t the most junior people in the team . . . but the most junior people were men, so they got to stay. []
  2. Relatedly, in T3 I worked with a guy who’d use his flex time to take long lunches on Tuesdays to see a film at the cinema across the road. He got told by the bosses to stop doing this for “perception” reasons which, really, should’ve been my first clue. []
2021-07-26T07:46:27+10:0030th July, 2021|Tags: , |

Legacies.

Obama was a really important president at a pivotal moment in history, when a financial crisis gave him wide latitude to restructure our social obligations. And he screwed it up. Some 10 million foreclosures and no Wall Street felons. There are a lot of other ways he restructured society to make it less free and more unequal. For example, because of the way bailouts were structured, black-owned banks were a tenth as likely to get bailout money as other banks. Obama’s antitrust officials allowed mergers in telecoms, pharmaceuticals, airlines, and tech platforms, concentrating power in radical ways. Obama negotiated a bill to hand over Puerto Rico to hedge funds. And what did Obama do about opioids in rural America? A friend of mine in the administration told me that when the White House finally noticed the AIDS-level epidemic death toll, the suggestions proffered were . . . roundtables. She might have been exaggerating, but not by much.

The gist is that Obama reorganized our markets to push wealth and power upward, and to subvert our liberties. It is a painful story. It is not, however, a complex one. In 2008 we thought we were electing Franklin Delano Roosevelt, but really we elected Herbert Hoover. [. . .]

Even today you cannot get a single elected left-wing politician to say that Obama was a bad president. Think about that. We cannot have an honest discussion of what it meant to use power when Democrats were in charge, so the language of dissension is polluted with incoherent nonsense. All the grand philosophical musing and Democratic Socialists of America study groups do not matter when not a single elected official outside the Republican Party can make the simple, obvious point that Obama’s policies straight up made things worse.

Matt Stoller on Obama.

Stoller, for the record, worked as a Democratic staffer during the Obama administration and, by his own telling, objected to a lot of that era’s policies — particularly around financialization and monopoly — which makes this his favorite, and most personal, drum to bang.1 He’s also I guess what you’d describe as a legit center-leftist, in that he’s hostile to unregulated finance (“markets”) but not capitalism per se, and generally touts for a kind of government-stewarded version of the latter, a la a New New Deal.

Regardless, while I’m not 100% down with everything the dude says (ref. previous footnote), I do think he, uh. Kind of has a point. About Obama and the Democrats but also “leftist” politics and political parties more broadly. So, like. Yeah. About that . . .

  1. It’s worth pointing out that pretty much all the same criticisms can be made of the Clinton administration, and Stoller also does that, too. Almost like he’s constantly teetering on the edge of a more systemic realization about . . . something. And just . . . never . . . quite . . . gets there . . . []
2021-07-01T06:26:24+10:0019th July, 2021|Tags: |
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