Archive

Archive for the ‘Secular Religions’ Category

Interesting Links: July 25, 2016

July 25, 2016 7 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They contain a few articles about the general unraveling of society in USA (and other “developed” countries to a lesser extent) by Chris Arnade on Medium.

Link 1: Why Trump voters are not “complete idiots”

Trump voters may not vote the way I want them to, but after having spent the last five years working in (and having grown up in) parts of the US few visit, they are not dumb. They are doing whatever any other voter does: Trying to use their vote to better their particular situation (however they define that). Labeling them dumb is simply a way of not trying to understand their situation, or what they value. In choosing a candidate, a voter is buying into that candidate. It is, in an oversimplified way, like buying a stock. In that sense, it is helpful to use some basic analysis from finance, to look at how/why voters make the choices they do.

Link 2: Granted, however….

There is a growing move to blame Brexit, or Trump, on voters just not trusting experts. Or being too uneducated to understand experts. This is wrong for two big reasons beyond being contemptuous, beyond having the goal to demean those who you disagree. Reason 1: It creates an unnecessary laziness in political discourse. Rather than really working at explaining a position, you default to the much simpler, “Well the experts say.” So when I hear arguments like, “The voters didn’t understand the consequences of Brexit,” I am also hearing, “I didn’t explain my positions very well.” Reason 2: It ignores the huge mistakes experts have made. Like the Iraq war and the aftermath of the global financial crisis (TARP anyone!) At the risk of borrowing from David Brooks (!), let me get a bit pop-sociology/ psychology.

The “expert class” are very slow to admit they are wrong which is a direct result of our system that rewards the most educated, and the cleverest. Rising to the top now means being clever as fuck, knowing how to game rules, and most important, being able to always argue your case. It is almost like we now reward that kid on the playground who when tagged during recess, replies, “You didn’t ACTUALLY tag me. You only tagged my clothes. Which isn’t technically me…..” Or the person who when they lose a bet for 100 dollars, says, “I didn’t say dollars, I said, Doll Hairs.” or responds, “We never actually signed a contract.”

Link 3: Rationality, anxiety, and meaninglessness

In all of these places people are turning more and more to drugs to combat a growing sense of hopelessness, meaninglessness, and anxiety. Some are also turning to angry and disruptive politics. Why? Over the last fifty years we have pursued a political and cultural agenda shaped around rationality and efficiency. We worship free markets and have maximized the power of capital while rendering labor only a cost to be minimized. We now define success through simple numbers — rising GDP, rising income, and rising profits. Our economic policy, driven by this rationalism, has morphed into a national version of the Hunger Games, pitting every worker against each other. We sort by education and by wealth, giving the winners a larger share than they need or deserve. It has created anxiety, one especially acute in lower income neighborhoods.

Now the poor are seen as losers and failures, increasing their anxiety. They are told they have failed to pull themselves up, failed to educate themselves, failed at a system that rewards the advantaged and the aggressively clever. We have also completely changed our culture in other ways, devaluing what once gave people meaning: A sense of community. It is easy to ignore these changes because community is a hard to measure metric. What once defined many neighborhoods —a tight social structure focused on community — is giving way to the ordinariness of strip malls, franchises, and disposable jobs. It is a deadening banality of both style and purpose.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Thoughts about the Recent Shooting of Cops in Dallas: 2

July 10, 2016 10 comments

In the previous post of this series, I pointed out that Micah Xavier Johnson’s (MXJ) profile was remarkable for being unremarkable. In other words, there is nothing about him which would predict that he was going to shoot up a dozen cops on July 7. In my opinion, the plainness of his profile is by far the most problematic part of that shooting since it raises the possibility that many (potentially millions of) other people in USA are capable of doing similar things.

As many of you know, the difference between fringe rebellions and full-blown insurrections is that those who do the former are far more ideologically driven than the later- which is a fancy way of saying that insurrections are usually done by people who are average in every sense of that word. The profile of MXJ strongly suggests that what he did is better categorized as part of a wider decentralized insurrection than due to membership of fringe group or belief in a fringe ideology.

And this brings me to the use of a bomb disposal robot by the police to kill MXJ. In my opinion, it was a terribly stupid idea to kill him with an explosive carrying robot. My objections to that action by the police are based in long-term consequences of such an action- both intended and unintended.

It does not take a genius to figure out that use of such technology, primitive as it is, in the USA opens the door to its use in far more routine circumstances. What is going to stop local police departments, filled as they are with “people” who feel they are above the law, to start bombing people in far more mundane situations? What about bombing innocent people living in some house that was incorrectly identified as the hiding place of some “suspect”? What about due legal process? Well.. you get the picture. However, cops killing people in USA is by the far the least problematic aspect of using bomb carrying robots.

The far more problematic aspect of legitimizing and normalizing such behavior by cops is the potential for serious and unending blowback. Do you think that people who are being killed by bomb carrying robots will not use similar devices and methods against cops? I mean.. what is now going to stop some black or brown guy from using an improvised robot bomb, remote-controlled device or even the suicide vests you see in the middle-east against them or their families? Think that is too far-fetched? Look what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan after the USA unsuccessfully tried and failed to occupy them. Do you really think it cannot happen here? How much money would bet on there not being a similar blowback in the USA?

It is well-known that people in Iraq and Afghanistan had no worthwhile history of using IEDs and suicide bombs against “soft” targets (non-active combatants and supporting civilians) prior to the invasion and failed occupation of their countries by the USA. As many of you might also remember, all that changed very quickly after the invasions and explosive devices (IEDS and suicide bombs) eventually caused more casualties among american soldiers and their civilian supporters/ helpers than pretty much any other weapon system. Then, as now, the american response was to increase harassment and murder of potential terrorist sympathizers and try to find technological fixes. We all know how that worked out or not. In any case, both occupations ended in american defeat- despite massive technological and material superiority.

Will write about some other aspects of this incident (especially the tone-deaf response of politicians and cops) in future posts on this topic.

What do you think? Comments?

Some Thoughts about the Recent Shooting of Cops in Dallas: 1

July 9, 2016 10 comments

I am sure that all of you have seen, heard and read a lot about the July 7 shootings that killed a few cops in Dallas. It is also not exactly a secret that this shooting has a peculiar linkage to a couple of extensively documented extrajucidial killings of two black men (Alton Sterling, Philando Castile) in the previous two days. As some of you know, more than a few of my previous posts have been about how the hubris associated with unaccountable power (or perception thereof) ultimately creates the conditions for the rise of its nemesis.

It does not take a genius to see that, throughout human history, institutions and systems that seem invulnerable at their peak inevitably implode under the strain of their hubris- which principally manifests itself through unaccountability, overreach and inability to adjust to the changing reality. Even systems capable of incredible levels of repression and surveillance over decades fail- frequently because of doing exactly that. It is also no secret that the status quo in the USA (especially since 2008) has more in common with a slowly imploding system than one with any chance of a better future.

Having said that, I will now make some brief observations about the July 7 incident.

1] The shooter, Micah Xavier Johnson, was a black veteran. It is noteworthy that he had no worthwhile criminal record and grew up in a middle-class family. There is also no evidence to suggest that he was particularly shy, angry or had an otherwise unusual personality. In other words, there is nothing to suggest that he was destined to do what he did on July 7.

2] Ideologically, he did not seem to be especially partisan or religious. He certainly had an interest in black nationalist groups and was not exactly enamored by the behavior of white people (especially cops) towards blacks. Then again.. it is hard to blame him for having a fairly negative view of white cops in USA. However none of this rises to a level which would foreshadow what he did on July 7.

3] It is now obvious (based on his journal entries) that he was planning to go on a shooting spree for some time. However, it is not clear why he chose to do it on July 7. While he was fairly systematic in planning the shooing, the motive is unclear. I mean, we know he hated white cops.. but why now? What was the final event which pushed him into action?

4] Unlike most spree shooters who prefer venues where people are unarmed, he chose to shoot up an area with hundreds of cops. Also he was pretty accurate for a spree shooter as only two protesters were hit by stray bullets and neither died. In contrast, he was able to shoot 12 cops killing 5 of them. Perhaps most interestingly, all 5 dead cops were white men- which is pretty impressive when you consider that particular police department has many non-white cops.

5] One of peculiarities of the July 7 shooting was his choice of weapons. Why would he use a SKS carbine as his main weapon? As some of you know, the SKS is an older, but rugged, semi-auto carbine chambered for the same cartridge (7.62×39mm) as the AK-47. This is especially odd since a person who was in the US army would be more familiar with using an AR-15 derived semi-auto carbine.

6] He knew how to milk the fear of potential IEDs to cause maximal disruption and fear among his opponents. I mean.. think about it- one determined guy with a SKS, handgun and basic bullet-proof jacket was able to make hundreds of armed cops take shelter behind cars, garbage cans and pretty much anything they could find. Even if you do not agree with his actions- that is a pretty impressive result.

I will write about other aspects of this incident in future posts on this topic.

What do you think? comments?

Interesting Links: May 4, 2016

May 4, 2016 1 comment

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are about all those “professional pundits”, “political operatives” and “credentialed experts” failed to see the rise and ultimate success of Donald Trump’s campaign for the republican presidential nomination.

Link 1: Beyond Schadenfreude, the Spectacular Pundit Failure on Trump is Worth Remembering

Trying to predict the future can be fun, which is why – from office sports pools to stock market speculation – many do it. Generally, though, people make such predictions with at least some humility: with the knowledge that they do not actually know what the future holds. But not America’s beloved political pundits. When they pronounce what the future has in store for us, it comes in the form of definitive decrees, shaped with the tone of authoritative certainty. With a few exceptions, those who purported to see the future of the 2016 GOP nomination process spent many months categorically assuring everyone that, polls notwithstanding, Donald Trump simply could not, would not, become the GOP nominee; one could spend all day posting humiliating examples, so a representative sampling will have to suffice.

Let’s acknowledge all the valid caveats: there’s nothing inherently wrong with making predictions, and everyone who tries it is going to be wrong sometimes. Moreover, though there were some exceptions, very few pundits predicted Trump’s success (though there’s a huge difference between (a) refraining from predicting or doing so with a tone of uncertainty and (b) hubristically and condescendingly “explaining” The Truth to the world about what will happen). Many factors, such as Trump’s celebrity status, made these circumstances unusual. And everyone makes mistakes in every realm.

Nonetheless, it becomes a much different type of error when one invokes one’s own claimed authority and expertise when issuing such embarrassingly wrong pronouncements, and, worse still, when the tone used is one of certainty and hubris as though the decrees are being passed down from Mount Sinai. At the very least, when a profession that touts its expertise, collectively, is this wildly wrong about something so significant, more needs to be done than a cursory, superficial acknowledgment of error – or casting blame on others – before quickly moving on, in the hope that it’s all forgotten. Some collective, introspective soul-searching is in order.

Link 2: One of the most painful lessons ever learned in finance has finally come to politics

The statistician George Box once wrote, “Essentially, all models are wrong, but some are useful.” This is true. The failure to predict of Trump’s rise to the nomination, then, is not the fault of the work done by folks like Silver, but a manifestation of the hubris involved in trusting the party over what was happening on the ground. Trump dominated Republican polls for months, but his place in the race as a self-funded outsider who was clearly not the choice of The Party seemed entirely untenable. The incoming data was doubted all the way. The model broke. In a great tweetstorm Wednesday, former Wall Street trader Chris Arnade — who was among the slick, model-wielding upstarts to hit finance in the 1990s — broke down the problem with models, with beliefs, and why Trump’s imminent nomination is, really, a pie in the face for everybody. The success of Silver in 2008 and 2012 at the time appeared to be the triumph of math over feeling or inspiration. The classic political pundit could — still can! — anecdotally outline their case for or against a certain candidate. Silver instead brought the data to back up his view. And he was very right.

But where a Silver-style model eventually broke down this cycle was in doing what all models do: using the past to predict the future. And this is ultimately why Box’s quote endures. All models — even those that are useful and correct for long stretches — will eventually reach a point at which the current inputs no longer yield results that look anything like the past. The model’s guiding light goes dark. The model breaks. Arnade argued Wednesday that this affirms the need for on-the-ground reporting, meeting voters in real life, getting a feel for just how serious the Trump thing is by talking to people who take it seriously. Maybe this is the answer. Maybe not. But Arnade’s point is that using the model as a backstop to affirm your priors — that Trump can’t win because he’s not the party’s choice, that he’s too unserious, too racist, too inconsistent, too everything — is exactly the point at which the model begins to fail. Long-Term Capital Management thought all arbitrage opportunities would eventually revert to some efficient equilibria. Then they incurred a revision of belief, and then they were out of business.

Link 3: The Trump-ocalypse is upon us: America can’t afford to misunderstand what his nomination means

Being so wrong is a professional hazard of the dumb game of covering politics like a sports match. But it’s worth exploring more specifically why. The immense power of conventional wisdom can swamp all but the most powerful contrary evidence—evidence like, say, Trump becoming the presumptive nominee yesterday. There were lots of clear messages that the rules of the game weren’t holding, such as when, last July, Trump insulted John McCain for being captured in Vietnam and suffered zero concrete consequences. Pundits weren’t listening. Trump’s rise should not have been incomprehensible. Much available evidence has long suggested that today’s Republican Party is capable of anything. In recent years, government shutdowns became the norm, a huge fan of Ayn Rand was elevated to House Speaker, and somewhere near half of all Republicans said they believe that Barack Obama is a Muslim. Meanwhile, everything hinted that Jeb Bush’s candidacy might prove to be the very nonstarter that it was. But no matter.

Wonks typically make predictions from big data sets that are in reality drawn from presidential elections—something that, in numerical terms, have happened a very small number of times. If journalists are only good at describing what passes for normal over a few decades, journalism is not very useful at understanding reality when things get interesting. And as things have gotten more interesting, journalists have played catch up every time, from the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street to Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. It’s been clear since the financial crisis that American politics are fragmenting under the stress of enormous income inequality — toward the socialist left and, on the white right, a toxic quasi-fascist stew that conflates middle-class decline with growing racial diversity.

What do you think? Comments?

On the Antifragile Political Campaigns of Sanders and Trump: 1

April 24, 2016 7 comments

It would not be an exaggeration to say that the nomination process for the 2016 presidential election has been most unusual- for both the democratic and republican party. Based on how things look right now, it is very likely that Donald Trump will be the republican candidate for the presidency. On the other side- the officially anointed candidate (aka Hillary Clinton) will not be able to get the democratic nomination through elected delegates alone, IF it comes to that. Some of you might think that this situation is not that big a deal or things like this have happened before. Well.. things like this have not occurred before- at least not in living memory. Let me explain.

Ask yourself- when was the last time republicans selected a presidential nominee who had not previously been elected to any public office? Here is a hint.. he won the 1952 and 1956 general election. On the other side- when was the last time an independent socialist non-observant Jew was a serious and extremely popular candidate for the democratic party nomination? What about- never! My point is that the immense popularity of traditionally shunned outsider candidates in both parties at the same time tells us that something pretty fundamental about the american political system has recently undergone a major change. The successful candidacy campaigns of both these outsider candidates does however raise another important question.

Why has the establishment of both parties, including their coteries of supposedly “apolitical” gatekeepers and subservient presstitutes been so spectacularly unsuccessful at derailing the candidacy campaigns of Sanders and Trump?

Why do Trump and Sanders keep on winning primaries inspite of constantly negative coverage by supposedly “mainstream” and “respectable” media outfits? Why does every attempt by the establishment and media to concoct a narrative about how those campaigns get rebuffed by the results of the next set of primaries? Why has the cacophony of opinion pieces against both candidates by supposed “experts” and “professionals” made no worthwhile dent in their popularity, ability to raise money or the enthusiasm of their supporters? Why do mainstream media attack on these candidates result in an increase in their popularity, donations to their campaigns and ever bigger rallies?

Clearly, something about the established way of doing politics in the USA is no longer working. But what is not working and why now? Well.. as I wrote in my previous post, there are many mutually reinforcing reasons for this change. A significant part of this change has to do with the rapid and terminal decline in trust of the “establishment”, its “institutions” and their “experts” and “professionals” among the general public. Basically, today only older adults (above 50 yrs?) have a significant amount of residual trust in the old order. The rest, especially the younger ones, have seen and experienced too much to have worthwhile amounts of belief in the old order.

I will address the issue of people losing trust in the “establishment”, its “institutions”, “experts” and “professionals” as it applies to the current political environment in future posts. This one is, however, about a smaller issue peripherally related to that topic.

How can Bernie and Donald treat their respective party establishments with a mixture of open contempt and disdain? How can they get away with not playing by the “establishment” rules? How can they get away with basically telling their party establishments to go fuck themselves? Why are they not submitting to the rules and opinions of their party establishments- like every other potential presidential candidate in living memory? What makes them immune to the pressures of their respective party establishments?

Well.. it comes down to the fact they have no real reason to play by the rules. In the case of Bernie Sanders, who has been an independent since he entered politics, pissing of the democratic establishment carries no real consequences for him. He is in his mid-70s and a very popular senator from a state that likes politicians like him. Perhaps more importantly, he is not doing this to make tons of money and therefore has no vested interest in playing nice with the party establishment in case he does not succeed. His plan B is to continue being the Senator from Vermont.

Donald Trump, too, is also not doing it for the money. While he may not be worth over 10 billion, as he claims, he is still a multi-billionaire. His failure to win, therefore, has no worthwhile effect on his financial situation. He will still be filthy rich and famous. He also has no reason to play by “establishment” rules. Furthermore he knows the political establishment is full of greedy spineless critters who will come back begging him for campaign contributions in the future. In other words- he knows who is the driver’s seat and why.

Contrast the situation of Bernie and Donald to “establishment” politicians whose entire careers, fortunes and legacies are dependent on how well they play with whichever asshole or group of assholes is driving their party at any given moment. Do you think Hillary or Bill Clinton would be anything without the support of the “establishment” in the democratic party. What about Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, John Kasich, Jeb Bush or even George W Bush? Do you think they would be anything without unfailing loyalty to whichever asshole or group of assholes is dominating the republican party at any given moment?

My point is that the outsider candidates in both parties are just not in a situation where the “establishment” of those parties can exert any worthwhile influence on them. Consequently, Sanders is very likely to go all the way to the end of the primary nomination process for the democratic party. Trump is also going to go all the way to the republican convention and any attempt to deny him the nomination WILL fuck up the republican party for many years- if it can survive in its current form past the 2016 election.

What do you think? Comments?

How the Internet Killed the Efficacy and Careers of Political Strategists

April 21, 2016 3 comments

One of the more significant, but largely overlooked, change in the american political arena within the last decade concerns the obvious impotency and rapidly declining role of political strategists in wining party nominations and elections. It was not that long ago when names like Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and Roger Ailes evoked feared in those who ran against the politicians who employed them.

While a significant part of their fearsome reputations was based on myth and hearsay, it is also clear that their “dirty tricks” were somewhat effective in winning close elections. We all remember how George W Bush “won” the 2000 presidential election. But that was over a decade ago and the presidential elections of 2004 were the last major elections in USA where such political consultants were able to influence the final electoral results to any measurable degree.

Since then political consultants have been, by and large, unable to influence major elections at the national and increasingly the state and local level. Some of you might remember the very public humiliations and irrelevancy suffered by once feared political operatives like Karl Rove and Roger Ailes during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns. You might also be aware of how Donald Trump destroyed the presidential aspirations of his far better funded and establishment rivals in the still ongoing race for the republican nomination.

So what is going on? Why are all the old and new “machiavellian geniuses” unable to influence american elections like their predecessors? Why do they seem to spend more time as TV pundits, Authors and make most of their income from job descriptions that fit the definition of a Sinecure? Why is somebody like Donald Trump winning the republican primary? Why is Bernie Sanders still competitive in the democratic primary?

Well.. there are many reasons for this change ranging from the still ongoing impoverishment of the average american to the (also still ongoing) post-2008 loss of public trust in all credentialed professionals and institutions. However the most important, and central, reason for the terminal impotency of political strategists is linked to the rise of decentralized, fast and structurally uncontrollable spread of information over the internet. And it does not work the way most of you think…

The conventional narrative about the effects of information spreading over the internet is based on a pleasant-sounding fallacy. Most people believe political change over the internet is almost exclusively due to people using it the educate themselves about the “facts”. While that is sorta true for objective “facts” like the stuff found in textbooks on physics and chemistry- it is not the case for information about subjective issues such as politics.

The biggest, and most important, effect of the internet on politics is that it makes pretty much everyone extremely cynical of the whole political process. The sheer amount of opinions supporting or denouncing any given position on any issue almost guarantees that most people will stick to what they believed in the first place. It is this widespread cynicism which more than anything defeats attempts to sway opinions through sophistic rhetoric, “dirty tricks”, advertisements and appeals to morality.

This is why all attempts by MSM to attack Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump have had virtually no negative effects on those who support their campaigns. Indeed, the scorn of the MSM and its paid pundits has increased, rather than decreased, public support for both outsider candidates. This is why Bernie and Trump rallies can easily get tens of thousands of enthusiastic supporters while mainstream politicians like Hillary or Cruz struggle to get a tenth or twentieth of that number.

Another interesting effect of internet driven cynicism is that the physical appearance of politicians is far less important than it was even ten years ago. People have now come to associate a “professional” look and grooming with dishonesty. In other words, people are now far more likely to trust (or not distrust) somebody who looks like Bernie or Trump than somebody who looks like Hillary, Rubio, Cruz or Mitt Romney. I had predicted something along these lines in one of my older posts- How ‘Anodyne’ Communication Destroys Societal Trust.

What do you think? Comments?

Interesting Links: Apr 19, 2016

April 19, 2016 2 comments

Here are links to a few interesting articles I came across recently. They are all about how neoliberalism aka late-stage capitalism is busy killing its host.

Link 1: The Mental Disease of Late-Stage Capitalism

Seriously though, we should have seen this coming. Build an economic system based on wealth hoarding and presumed scarcity and you’ll get what was intended. The system is performing exactly as it was designed to. That is why wages have stagnated in the West for 30 years. It is why 62 people are able to have the same amount of wealth as 3.7 billion. It is why politicians are bought by the highest bidders and legislation systematically serves the already-rich at the expense of society. A great irony of this deeply corrupt system of wealth hoarding is that the “weapon of choice” is how we feel about ourselves as we interact with our friends. The elites don’t have to silence us. We do that ourselves by refusing to talk about what is happening to us. Fake it until you make it. That’s the advice we are given by the already successful who have pigeon-holed themselves into the tiny number of real opportunities society had to offer. Hold yourself accountable for the crushing political system that was designed to divide us against ourselves.

Link 2: The Secret Shame of Middle-Class Americans Important – ignore all popup messages from this site requesting you to whitelist it on Adblock Plus!

I know what it is like to have to juggle creditors to make it through a week. I know what it is like to have to swallow my pride and constantly dun people to pay me so that I can pay others. I know what it is like to have liens slapped on me and to have my bank account levied by creditors. I know what it is like to be down to my last $5—literally—while I wait for a paycheck to arrive, and I know what it is like to subsist for days on a diet of eggs. I know what it is like to dread going to the mailbox, because there will always be new bills to pay but seldom a check with which to pay them. I know what it is like to have to tell my daughter that I didn’t know if I would be able to pay for her wedding; it all depended on whether something good happened. And I know what it is like to have to borrow money from my adult daughters because my wife and I ran out of heating oil.

Financial impotence goes by other names: financial fragility, financial insecurity, financial distress. But whatever you call it, the evidence strongly indicates that either a sizable minority or a slim majority of Americans are on thin ice financially. How thin? A 2014 Bankrate survey, echoing the Fed’s data, found that only 38 percent of Americans would cover a $1,000 emergency-room visit or $500 car repair with money they’d saved. Two reports published last year by the Pew Charitable Trusts found, respectively, that 55 percent of households didn’t have enough liquid savings to replace a month’s worth of lost income, and that of the 56 percent of people who said they’d worried about their finances in the previous year, 71 percent were concerned about having enough money to cover everyday expenses. A similar study conducted by Annamaria Lusardi of George Washington University, Peter Tufano of Oxford, and Daniel Schneider, then of Princeton, asked individuals whether they could “come up with” $2,000 within 30 days for an unanticipated expense. They found that slightly more than one-quarter could not, and another 19 percent could do so only if they pawned possessions or took out payday loans.

Link 3: Why Are Voters Angry? It’s the 1099 Economy, Stupid.

Meanwhile, in my time as a freelancer I could never access health-care or pension-benefit plans. If production took a day off for a holiday, nobody got paid. If you set up a gig and the production schedule got pushed back a week, so did your opportunity to earn money. Sick days and personal days didn’t exist. I remember once being sick but still coming in for a late-night editing shift, taking medication to get me through the evening. I didn’t notice that the cold medicine I took was Tylenol PM until I fell asleep in my chair. I played loud music with the windows down on my more-treacherous-than-it-needed-to-be drive home late that night. But I got paid. These are sadly typical stories of those disempowered at work, with all the risks put on their shoulders. “Angry” voters may simply be angry workers tossed into the Darwinian world of the modern economy, operating without any fallback support from their employers or their government. This was bound to find its way into our politics, but though solutions for these workers exist, nobody is talking about them.

The way the 1099 economy is sold, with airy platitudes about freedom and being your own boss, doesn’t correspond to the very real anxiety of this type of arrangement. You’re cut off from any safety net that relies on employers. You have an unpaid, part-time job consisting of getting your next job and making sure you get paid for your last job. Your taxes are a nightmare to unravel. You have no advocates for you in the workplace, and little bargaining power to improve your lot. The fact that this shift toward the 1099 economy occurred mostly during a terrible labor market suggests it was never a matter of worker choice, but an exercise of employer power. And it’s become a frustration for millions, a confirmation of the rigged economy that places more of a burden on ordinary people. It certainly informs this anti-establishment, anti-business-as-usual political moment.

Link 4: The New Astrology

But despite the funding crunch, it’s a bull market for academic economists. According to a 2015 sociological study in the Journal of Economic Perspectives, the median salary of economics teachers in 2012 increased to $103,000 – nearly $30,000 more than sociologists. For the top 10 per cent of economists, that figure jumps to $160,000, higher than the next most lucrative academic discipline – engineering. These figures, stress the study’s authors, do not include other sources of income such as consulting fees for banks and hedge funds, which, as many learned from the documentary Inside Job (2010), are often substantial. Ben Bernanke, a former academic economist and ex-chairman of the Federal Reserve, earns $200,000-$400,000 for a single appearance. Unlike engineers and chemists, economists cannot point to concrete objects – cell phones, plastic – to justify the high valuation of their discipline. Nor, in the case of financial economics and macroeconomics, can they point to the predictive power of their theories. Hedge funds employ cutting-edge economists who command princely fees, but routinely underperform index funds.

What do you think? Comments?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 127 other followers