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T.I.N.A.

This was the economists’ gospel in a nutshell: Free trade is good; unemployment and inflation are low. That was the mantra from their eighties onward through today. And, even though some of the confusion is based on misunderstanding, this “reality” described by economists was 180 degrees opposite from what most Americans have experienced in their own lives from the 1980’s onward.

So, given all of the above, is it any wonder Americans stopped trusting the experts?

Think about that. Let me just say that again: the experts told them that what they saw happening all around them was not actually happening. So that’s what I mean when I say that economists are a major reason why people have lost trust in both credentialed experts and the mainstream corporate media.

On trust.

For the record, while I don’t think this analysis is wrong exactly, I do think it simplifies and glosses over some factors, particularly when it moves more into the “so why Trump?” angle. And it’s a single-axis systemic analysis so it’ll glaringly piss off anyone more used to thinking along either a different axis (the factors described also affect black and brown communities in the US, who notably haven’t resorted to xenophobic fascism in response), or along neoliberal identity politics-style lines (“why don’t you just choose not to be racist?”).

But for a critique of economics in general and “mainstream” economists in particular? Yeah. Pretty much.

Also, somewhat relatedly, as the child of refugees—who literally came with nothing to a completely foreign country they didn’t even really intentionally choose—I will never not boggle at rural white-Anglo entitlement over some supposed “right” to keep dying lifestyles. Given that a lot of first- and second-gen immigrant kids do, in fact, tend to be “coastal elites”—and are often in the professional managerial classes to boot, since our parents tend to be aggressive believers in social mobility through higher education—I do think this aspect of the “suck it up, buttercup” vibe is under-explored in all these hand-wringing “oh but won’t someone think of the rural whites” thinkpieces. Like, my grandparents were literal survivors of not one but two of the most infamous mass genocides in modern history and my dad was born in a refugee camp and didn’t even have fixed home until he was school aged and lived in a country he didn’t yet speak the language for… but I’m sure your pain of having to, like. Move one state over in your birth country to find a job sucks as well.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t problems that need to be addressed here; there are, and that’s (ideally) what government social welfare programs are for. But rightly or wrongly the globalization ship has already sailed, and whatever the future solution to rural poverty looks like, I can guarantee it’s not going to be “turning the clock back to 1963”. So, like… yeah. You’ll have to excuse my lack of sympathy for anyone who’re trying to force it, regardless of how explicable their motives for doing so may be.

2020-11-18T07:54:07+11:0028th November, 2020|Tags: economics, politics|

Rentier.

To understand rentier capitalism, one first needs to understand rent. Rent is income generated by virtue of exclusive ownership or control of a scarce asset of some kind. A rentier is the recipient of this income: the individual or, more commonly, corporation that controls the asset. Rentier capitalism is an economic order organised around income-generating assets, in which overall incomes are dominated by rents and economic life is dominated by rentiers. Fundamentally orientated to “having” rather than “doing”, it is based on a proprietorial rather than entrepreneurial ethos.

[…]

The main problems with rentier capitalism are twofold. First, rentiers are inclined to sit on and sweat their income-generating assets, rather than innovate; it is a recipe for economic stagnation. And second, because incomes accrue disproportionately to the asset-owning elite, it is an engine for growing inequalities of both income and wealth.

A quick primer on capitalist disease.

Rentier capitalism is both the counter-point to the notion that capitalism “promotes innovation” and, arguably, the ultimate end-goal of capitalism in general; the only reason entrepreneurial capitalism exists in our current economic order is to either transform into rentier capitalism over the long-term (ref. e.g. Amazon, Uber), or to be bought out and added to the asset holdings of someone else (ref. e.g. the FAANG-buyout-oriented business plan of every single tech “startup” nowadays). In other words, the innovation in-and-of-itself is not the goal; obtaining assets you can then charge rent on is.

And the broader point here is that this is not a “natural” state of affairs; it exists because of intentional policy choices by governments.1 Things like antitrust law specifically exist to as instruments developed the last time rentier capitalism threatened to swallow the world, in an attempt to prevent it happening again. But these laws only work when they’re enforced, and in the last few decades, they haven’t been. At least not where it counts.

And so… this.

  1. Often referred to as “crony capitalism”, incidentally. []
2020-11-16T10:43:29+11:0026th November, 2020|Tags: economics|

The feed.

For any of you that may have ever perused a pornography website, you may have noticed the scenarios getting increasingly preposterous over the years. Multiple partners and medically improbable appendages are the base case. I am cognizant that the situations presented are not representative of ‘real life’. They are not representative of typical sexual relations. I’m sure the scenarios presented on porn sites really do happen sometimes, but they’re highly exaggerated outliers.

I’ve been a tech platform cassandra for my non media+tech friends for a few years now, but trying to explain how ad-based business models and algorithms combine to create a completely distorted understanding of reality has been difficult. The one thing that almost instantly breaks through is to equate the reality presented in a social feed to porn. Yes, the things you are presented with are real and do exist, but they are not representative of the mundane nature of everyday life. Again, highly exaggerated outliers.

In the same way none of us are going to pornhub and searching “suburban pudgy 40something couple missionary” (maybe you are and kudos to you) the algorithm does not promote the uninteresting and the unstimulating. If there is any censorship on these platforms, it’s of the tedious and routine elements of life.

To look at your Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter feed as representative of reality is to look at Pornhub and think “this is how most people have sex”.

Ranjan Roy on outliers.

Kind of an aside, but as someone who’s porn consumption is pretty much limited to fanfic, I would point out that “pudgy 40something couple missionary” is indeed very popular, and the only reason I’m removing the “suburban” part is that it’s difficult to apply when you’re dealing with, like. People on spaceships or imaginary military bases or fantasy medieval castles or whatever. There’s even an entire fic term for this genre; “established relationship”, particularly when coupled with other tags like “domestic fluff”. Possibly unsurprisingly, it seems—at least in the fandoms I’ve been reading—to’ve gotten a huge boot in popularity in 2020, along with all the other related “soft (◕ω◕✿)” tropes.

(Incidentally, this doesn’t even detract from Roy’s point, because one of the reasons I… don’t particularly gel with a lot of fic in this genre is even it tends to present weirdly unrealistic versions of its otherwise allegedly mundane scenarios. Ref. for e.g. the hugely popular “The Avengers cuddle and watch Disney movie marathons in Avengers Tower” genre which I just… I get the appeal of intellectually but as someone to whom this scenario is pretty much the antithesis of my id, I just cannot get over the fact that, like. Half these people are, like. Middle aged men, man. They just… are not. Doing that. Highly exaggerated outliers, indeed.)

2020-11-16T10:24:46+11:0025th November, 2020|Tags: culture, social media, tech|

Liesmith, chapter 19.

Nineteen

Even knowing they were going to hit, the impact was still shocking.

“Hold on!” Wayne yelled. She floored the accelerator, pointing the Beetle straight at the thing standing outside Sigmund’s house. She didn’t know what it was, but it hadn’t noticed them and she wasn’t about to take the risk that it might.

“Wayne what are—?” was all Em managed before they hit the monster. Wayne got a flash of milky green eyes, wide in shock, set in a face that almost looked familiar. Then, in the next instant, the car shuddered and the windshield shattered as the thing’s huge, charcoal dark body rolled up the hood.

Wayne lost control of the car for one heart-stopping moment after that. Careening across the street in a squeal of tires, before managing to pull to a halt about three houses down. They’d spun completely around in the chaos, and in the fluttering glow from the headlights, Wayne could just make out the shape of the thing they’d hit. It was lying on the ground, unmoving.

“What the fucking fuck was that!”

Read more »

2020-11-23T16:42:50+11:0023rd November, 2020|Tags: books, LIESMITH, wyrdverse|

Sole supplier.

People know that something is terribly wrong. They might not be able to articulate it using technocratic antitrust jargon, like no one mentioned the Herfindahl–Hirschman Index in terms of market share, but they understand the system is rigged. When I talked to a woman who is renting a home and she got an alert for her own home being put on the market without her knowledge because the house is owned by a private equity giant, well, she knows that something is terribly wrong. She’s a big Trump supporter, but now hates the private equity firm Blackstone, which she also knows is full of Trump donors.

Another woman I interviewed, she lives in Tennessee and classifies herself as a libertarian, she knows something is wrong. Her husband has diabetes, and she’s tracking his blood sugar on this wearable device. If she gets an alert on her phone, when he has low blood sugar, she goes and gives him a little piece of chocolate. Turns out there was a gap in her wifi conductivity, because she lives out in this rural area and they are literally forbidden from getting broadband by a law that the telecom industry got passed. She tells me she saw a 15-minute gap in her tracking, and found her husband slumped over his chair because that’s the moment in which he crashed. She calls herself a libertarian, but she knows something is terribly wrong with the governing structures of the economy and the power of these corporations that have insinuated themselves to American life.

People might not be able to call it monopoly power, but they know something isn’t working.

Dave Dayen on the zeitgeist.

From a longer interview about Warren Buffett, one of America most successful monopolists (and the one with arguably the best PR, to boot).

2020-11-16T08:54:16+11:0023rd November, 2020|Tags: economics, politics|

The Quick Guide to Cultural Marxism.

Not sure how to tell your postmodernisms from your cultural Marxisms? Confused by 20th century critiques of power? Well here you go: a handy quick reference to the history behind the right’s current favourite bogeymen.

2020-11-16T08:18:57+11:0022nd November, 2020|Tags: culture|
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