Later On

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Archive for December 20th, 2019

From the Preface to Matt Stoller’s “Goliath:

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Matt Stoller’s book Goliath: The 100-Year War Between Monopoly Power and Democracy is a serious effort to discover and expose what caused America to move so strongly in a bad direction. From the Preface:

. . . For two hundred years, Americans had fought concentrated power, relying on leaders like Patman. But now there was no one left to carry on the tradition. The new generation had, unwittingly, committed patricide.

Almost immediately, the liberal-led Congress was confronted with a mess of incomprehensible economic problems. The American economic engine was supposed to produce an endless surfeit of goods, services, and jobs, automatically. But now it was sputtering, with inflation, oil shocks, corporation bankruptcies, deep recession.

Without guidance, the new generation panicked. Rudderless and afraid, they turned to a group of scholars who promised them efficiency, progress, and freedom. All they had to do was undo the chains on concentrated power that men like Patman had spent their lives securing.

And so they did. They released the beast of monopoly upon the land. The revolution was here.

***

During the most recent financial crisis, in 2009–2010, I was a congressional staffer working for a member of Congress on the Financial Services Committee, what I would learn was Patman’s old stomping grounds. I kept getting calls from constituents in foreclosure, in crisis, and nothing that my government and my party offered could help them, or was designed to help them. In aggregate, from 2008 to 2012, during the crisis, the American middle class lost roughly $6 trillion. The assets of the powerful recovered value quickly, those of the middle class did not. Meanwhile, political leaders rewarded the so-called Too Big to Fail banks with bailout money, and bank executives, far from being punished, would be rewarded with large bonuses.7 All over the world, the story was pretty much the same. Bonuses for bankers, little for the rest of us. It was in that period that I began to ask myself a question, a question that turned into this book. The question was as follows. Our leaders responded to a financial collapse caused by a concentration of wealth and power by pushing even more wealth and power into the hands of the same people that caused it. Why? Answering that question—why did our leaders help confiscate the basis of American stability—was surprisingly difficult. Was it purely protecting the rich? That seemed unlikely; there were ways to make sure the rich did well while not undermining everyone else. Was it corruption? I didn’t think so. There were some payoffs, but from what I saw, bribery really did not drive policy. Was it poor strategy or partisanship? I doubted it. There were political fights and recriminations, but both parties came to agree on the need to seize the wealth of the middle class and protect a concentrated financial apparatus. Was it personal immorality? No. Many of our political leaders felt they had a moral obligation to do what they did, that it might be sad, but it was necessary and inevitable. The concentration of wealth and power that I saw, with terrible consequences, occurred largely due to the actions of well-meaning technocrats who did not understand what they were doing.

The more I thought about the question, the more difficult it became to answer. The policy choices around the financial crisis were odd because they were destabilizing. Making sure people owned homes has been a core way to stabilize our society since the 1930s. The original modern housing finance system was designed with political goals in mind. In the words of William Levitt, the founder of the first postwar suburb, “No man who owns his own house and lot can be a Communist. He has too much to do.”8 This was a literal statement. People with a stake in society—a bit of property—do not rebel. People with no stake have nothing to lose. It seemed clear to many of us during the bailouts that the public would turn vehemently against the political establishment for taking their property, their stake in America, and so it has.

After years of research, I came to believe that the answer to the question is ideology, and in particular, turning our back decades ago on an old populist way of organizing our culture. But in 2009, I didn’t know this older tradition had existed. The first hint it was there was when an economist, Jane D’Arista, told me how and why the financial system was blowing up, almost in real time. At the time, no one else, not the bankers or lobbyists or government officials, had any idea what the system they had constructed was doing. But she did, and pointed me to old papers she had written on why the system would blow up.

Her ability to see clearly when everyone else was panicking seemed a bit like magic, so I asked her how she knew all about these problems before anyone else did. D’Arista told me that she learned how the system worked when she was a staffer for a congressman named Wright Patman in the 1970s, a congressman who had helped structure parts of the New Deal. I had never heard of Patman, but D’Arista told me about how he had tried to impeach Andrew Mellon in 1932 and had in turn been overthrown in 1975. A few years later, I read a book by a journalist named Barry Lynn, the founder of what was becoming a new antimonopoly movement. In that book, Lynn wrote about the Robinson-Patman Act, a law written by Patman designed to constrain chain stores in the 1930s. Somehow, one man had been involved in dealing with the giant threats of his day, banks and chain stores, that paralleled the threats of our day, banks and Walmart. And I had no idea who he was. Patman’s role in the twentieth century was the key to answering the question. To understand what was in the mind of policymakers from 2008 to 2010, I had to see how they learned to think about the world. There was an entirely different set of stories and traditions in the heads of policymakers before the 1970s than there was after the 1970s. And it was these differing approaches to power that explains why we took such dissimilar approaches during the New Deal and the Obama era.

Barack Obama and his generation had learned their politics from the Watergate Babies, a generation born in rebellion against Patman’s populism. Policymakers in 2009 didn’t understand this at the time; few of them had ever heard of Patman, and few were aware of the origins of their own intellectual traditions. They believed, proudly, that they were nonideological and pragmatic. But most of these officials had a visceral reaction toward populism. They wore the armor of Ivy League degrees, believing that being an economist or having some sort of widely respected credential offered them the divine right to rule. Voters might have formal mechanisms of democracy, but real decisions should be made by experts in opaque institutions like the Federal Reserve, the courts, the Congressional Budget Office, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, and so forth.

Toward the end of the Obama administration, a left-wing type of criticism emerged, an argument that the financial crisis and the response to it was all just an inevitable unspooling of capitalism with booms and busts and rampant inequality, a simple fact of life under a free market system. This critique, though appearing to present a radical challenge to the status quo, actually bore the same logic of the officials in charge during the financial crisis. It had an elitism of its own, a naïveté similar to that of the Watergate Baby generation, an unwillingness to think hard about commerce and markets. Inevitabilism, whether oriented around the sin of capitalism or the glory of it, reflects a refusal to entertain free will.

For much of this time, I felt alone, frustrated, angry. The financial crisis of 2008 was not a technocratic problem that happened in the banking system. It was a political crisis that happened everywhere. It was not a result of a few bad actors, it was a broad sweeping restructuring of our culture, the result of forty years of political choices, the same misfiring of institutions that led to the second war in Iraq, and an endless series of gruesome social consequences. The men in suits told us Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, just as they told us taxpayer-funded bank bonuses were essential to the economy.

Even political leaders I respected did not seem to understand how to make democracy work. But still, I believed that we could have done better. Our political leaders, and we ourselves, can and do make choices. I was not naive, but I looked around and saw tremendous hard-earned wisdom, inculcated in our science, our arts and songs, our bridges, our technology, our medicines, our societies. We didn’t always organize our world around the ideas of highly educated technocrats with bad judgment. We once could do greatness in our politics. So where was a tradition I could honor?

And then I found Wright Patman, and I saw through his eyes.

Going through hearings, archives, letters, he helped teach me about the vitality, the energy, the love, the beauty, the fear of what it means to live in a democracy. I saw the coldness of Andrew Mellon, the vibrancy and error of the Watergate Baby class, the intensity of Citibank leader Walter Wriston, the tragedy and racism of Woodrow Wilson, the narcissism and violence of Teddy Roosevelt, the elitist cunning of Aaron Director, the genius and spirituality of Louis Brandeis. This was the tradition I had missed, a battle that took place over how our banks and corporations would be run, a battle over America and the world. This is the tradition that finally made sense. This is the tradition that, if we had known about it in 2008, would have helped us restore our democracy, or at least given us a shot to do so.

Once I learned of this ideological battle, one that Americans before the 1970s understood, my time in politics began to make sense. Toward the end of the Obama administration, the musical Hamilton, based on a book written by journalist Ron Chernow, offered a capstone to the era of the Watergate Baby generation. The musical celebrated a telling of history in which Alexander Hamilton, the founding father Democrats had traditionally associated with the banker-friendly Republican Party and a self-proclaimed elitist who created Wall Street and distrusted democracy, had somehow become an icon of progressive thinking and national greatness. He had become a left-wing political hero, instead of the traditional enemy of democracy that historians—and members of the Democratic Party—understood him as for two hundred years.

The musical provided something of an answer to my question. In the 1930s, Franklin Delano Roosevelt publicly blamed Wall Street and monopolies for ruining the economy, and used the political power he acquired with that criticism to decentralize and democratize the corporate sector in what became known as the New Deal. But in the Obama era, political party elites from both sides and cultural tastemakers engaged in a moral celebration of Wall Street. Barack Obama said that enjoying Hamilton was the only thing he and Republican Dick Cheney—the former vice president—agreed on. The musical reflected an ideological takeover, not left or right, but a joint attack on populism by the left and the right by people who, for their own reasons, distrusted the messiness and vibrancy of democracy. Those who organized our response to the financial crisis loved Hamilton because it celebrated their moral approval of rule by elite technocrats. And in this love, I saw, in its totality, the grand vision that had led to the crisis, and to the response. The bailouts from 2008 to 2010 were not intended to stop a depression, they were intended to stop a New Deal. And so they did. . .

Get the book and read it.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2019 at 5:43 pm

Matt Stoller explores why our society is failing

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2019 at 4:42 pm

List of fully remote (telecommuting) companies

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The Wife works remotely and it works well these days — technology has caught up. This list is a good resource. The list begins:

Below is a list of companies with fully remote, 100% distributed software development teams.

We constantly update this list to make sure it’s the most current and comprehensive list of fully remote tech companies on the internet.

If you know of any fully remote companies that aren’t on this list yet, or you believe a company was listed here by mistake, please email us at contact@remotemasters.dev.

You can also browse a list of remote-first companies.

Reintech
fewer than 10 employees/United Kingdom
We make it easy to hire remote software developers. Get direct access to manually-vetted software developers looking for remote work. Browse profiles, interview candidates, and hire the best matches.

JBS Custom Software Solutions
50 to 200 employees/United States
Custom software solutions

HelpDocs
fewer than 10 employees/United Kingdom
HelpDocs creates knowledge base software your customers and team will adore. It’s fast, flexible, and super simple to use. Start with 14 days free.

ConvertKit
50 to 200 employees/United States/Jobs (2)
Get the email marketing tools and automation you need to grow your blog and business. Join 25,000+ creators and try ConvertKit today.

Anybox
10 to 50 employees/France
Develop and implement your products and your devops/cloud architecture. Infuse agility into your organization.

More companies listed at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2019 at 9:38 am

Interesting change in Republican position

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Lee Thé has another excellent post on Quora:

For months now the Republicans have been insisting that it’s not a fair trial without fact witnesses and all the procedures, physical evidence, right to cross examine and whatnot that go into a criminal trial. Only they were saying that about hearings, not a trial of any sort.

But now they’re saying they intend for the actual trial to be conducted without any witnesses or evidence, AND with the jury “foreman” (the Senate leadership) working hand in glove with the defense to give the defense the outcome the defense wants, violating the oath every Senator must swear to be impartial when he’s impaneled…with a big smile.

Sweet, huh? If you’re Don the Con and Moscow Mitch that is.

Fortunately for the 2/3 of Americans who aren’t Trumpistas, Speaker Pelosi is not required—legally or ethically—to sends the Articles of Impeachment over to the Senate for a fake trial where the fix is in—and the fact that the fix is in is openly stated beforehand.

Moscow Mitch is a tough, savvy partisan. Well, guess what? Speaker Pelosi is too.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2019 at 9:26 am

Otoko meets JF, with Ascension

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Otoko Organics is a very nice shaving “soap” indeed, and I love its light, refreshing fragrance. With a good lather, my Phoenix Artisan Ascension did a wonderful job — this really is an excellent razor, and I think in part its excellence is due to the extreme curvature the head puts on the blade — cf. the Dorco PL602 and the RazoRock Baby Smooth, both of which are also excellent and curve the blade to an extreme.

Three passes to perfect smoothness and then a splash of Floris JF. The day begins with a positive experience!

The underlying photo:

Written by LeisureGuy

20 December 2019 at 8:17 am

Posted in Shaving

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