Wednesday, July 30, 2014

By Now It Should Be Obvious: It Is Not An Invisible Hand But The Big Laughing Dick Of Wall Street That Runs Things

They say that a stiff prick has no conscience, but a stiff prick that laughs too is phenomenal*, especially when it laughs all the way to the bank after fucking you up the ass without any lube.

And that ladies and gentlemen is what has transpired in both the UK and the USA during the last ten years.  The wolves of Wall Street and the City have had their way and a bewildered population wonders what the fuck happened.

In the USA, for example, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom ninety percent became poorer.

Without question, the financially engineered Great Recession brought on the largest redistribution of wealth in a century.

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As Peter Van Buren notes in his wonderful piece, "Why Don’t the Unemployed Get Off Their Couches?", last year eight Americans — the four Waltons of Walmart fame, the two Koch brothers, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett — made more money than 3.6 million American minimum-wage workers combined.

Moreover, the median pay for CEOs at America’s large corporations rose to $10 million per year, while a typical chief executive now makes about 257 times the average worker’s salary, up sharply from 181 times in 2009.

At the same time, the inflation-adjusted net worth for the typical household was $87,992 in 2003.  Ten years later, it was only $56,335, or a 36 percent decline.

Overall, 1% of Americans own more than a third of the country’s wealth.

According to Van Buren, none of this is accidental, some sort of invisible hand at work.

Importantly, by owning more of everything, rich people have a mechanism for getting ever richer than the rest of us, because the rate of return on investment is higher than the rate of economic growth.

In other words, money made from investments grows faster than money made from wages.

According to Thomas Piketty in his highly acclaimed book, Capital in the Twenty-first Century, the wealth of the wealthiest Americans is rising at 6%-7% a year, more than three times as fast as the economy the rest of us live in.

Let's face it, the economy is for chumps. 

Guided by an invisible hand?  Give me a fucking break.  The latest figures on GDP, unemployment rates, and balance of trade are nothing more than statistical sleights of hand that distract the clueless while their collective pockets are being picked.

Forget trying to manipulate the levers of the economy in order to rev it up towards full employment.  The very idea makes the laughing dick chuckle.  Instead, focus on raising the minimum wage ,taxing capital gains, getting corporations to pay their taxes, and implementing a real wealth tax.

That would make even a laughing dick suddenly go limp.

*The stiff laughing prick image is from Henry Miller's Tropic of Capricorn.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Taking Back Sovereignty

Now, thanks to Thomas Picketty's highly influential study, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, we have historical confirmation that wealth begets wealth.  In other words, the rich are different from you and I.  Chances are that they were born into wealth and then used their resources not only to hang onto it, but to get a better rate of return than you and I could ever get on our meager savings.

The key to this process, of course, is to make sure that the masses keep their hands off of their stash.  To do this, it is absolutely essential that the redistribution of wealth be considered a mortal sin, and that it is more likely for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for an individual who thinks that wealth distribution is a good idea to get elected to a national assembly.

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Try as they may, progressives simply cannot garner enough votes to make a difference, especially when less and less people even bother to show up and vote.

Let's not be delusionally optimistic about this state of affairs in North America changing anytime soon. 

The playing field is not level.  The deck is overwhelmingly stacked to protect the status quo as a result of the electoral process.  If you want to get elected, you need money, and people who have money to give don't give their money to support candidates who propose to restrict their capacity to make it.

So, for those who know about such things as the common good and the social gradient with regard to health outcomes, it's time to get out of the electoral process altogether.

The Athenians figured this out about 2500 years ago when they set up the world's first democracy.  In order to prevent private interests from taking over, Athenians did not elect representatives.  They represented themselves in the citizens assembly and the officers of the assembly were rotated on an annual basis on the basis of a lottery.

Centuries later, the French political philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau, argued in his brilliant work, The Social Contract, that it is crucial that all the people exercise their sovereignty by attending legislated assemblies, for whenever people stop doing so, or elect representatives to do so in their place, their sovereignty is lost.

If sovereignty is lost by electing representatives, how can it be regained?

Do like the Athenians.  Refuse to elect representatives.  In the Age of the Internet, we no longer need them.

We already have the technology.  We can create a permanent assembly of citizens who meet and exchange their ideas and opinions and can vote for themselves on the issues that concern them directly in a virtual agora, free from the tyranny of private interests who more or less choose who will be the intermediaries that will distort the general will of the people in order to align it with their private gain.

A political party is nothing more than a corporation designed to transfer the sovereignty of the people to its executive body.  Once this is done, it is relatively easy for a privileged elite to influence their decision making.  This would not be the case if sovereignty remained in the hands of the people.

Put another way, a government of, by, and for the people only comes about when the people retain their sovereign right to vote directly on the matters that concern them.  Once sovereignty is transferred away, government becomes of, by, and for the wealthy, at the expense of the people.

As a result, if social outcomes are to change for the better, people need to stop shopping for the best political party they can find and get down to work on building a permanent citizens assembly in their electoral district.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Congratulations Ontario For Having Successfully Outsourced the Governance Function

Way to go Ontario!  When it comes to thwarting democratic rule in Canada, you continue to lead the way.

Not only did Ontarians peviously vote in a province-wide referendum against the notion of changing the anarchistic voting system (first-past-the-post) that allows a political party to form a majority government with less than 50% of the popular vote, they were able to elect a new government with the participation of about half the eligible voters in last week's general election.

Talk about efficiency!

In Ontario, depending on how the vote is distributed, a political party can go on to rule the province as if it had the support of the majority of the citizens with as little as the support of 20% of the electorate.

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For example, the Liberals garnered 38.65% of the votes cast by the 52.1% of the eligible voters that bothered to show up and vote on election day.  That works out to be the support of 20.14% of all of the eligible supporters.

Fuck democratic legitimacy.  Democracy is way too complicated and requires sustained effort in order to participate meaningfully.

Ontarians, as their recent history clearly demonstrates, would rather outsource the responsibility of governing the province to a single political party for four years and then decide whether or not to renew the contract at the end of its legislative mandate, unless, of course, the political party decides to force the issue earlier by calling another general election.

That way everyone can go on with their pursuit of the cheaper version of the American dream and leave the important decisions to be made by someone else.

After all, why devote any energy to a collective project where the benefits will be distributed widely to the entire population, when you can concentrate your efforts to endeavours where you as the individual will be the principle beneficiary.

Just make sure the trains run on time.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Unlanded Gentry Have Captured North America's Political Economy

During the first few decades of the industrial revolution in Britain, it was the landed gentry that ruled.  They did not have the good fortune of being born into a noble family, but they did have the good fortune to own considerable tracts of land.  As a result, they were able to get elected by other landowners to the House of Commons, the seat of real political power in Britain.  They wrote the laws, under the close scrutiny of the nobility, that ensured the mutual protection and further accumulation of wealth for the upper classes.

However, as the industrial revolution progressed and the creation of wealth shifted away from an agricultural economy towards a manufacturing economy, political power also began to shift.  A new merchant class needed to be accommodated.  As a result, the House of Commons broadened its electoral laws to grant the right to vote to more of the rising number of citizens with increasing means and appetites for more wealth.  Property requirements were kept throughout the 19th century and it wouldn't be until the beginning of the 20th century before universal suffrage would come into being.

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Essentially, two world wars and the Great Depression laid waste to the capacity of the landed gentry to control the political economy within the circumscribed territory of their respective nations.  The concerns of the working classes could no longer be ignored, especially with the spectre of communism looming on the horizon.  Much to their chagrin, increasing levels of prosperity brought about by technological advances wedded to the conspicuous consumption of the lower classes resulted in a much more egalitarian distribution of the nation's wealth up until the end of the nineteen seventies.

During the post war years of exponential economic growth, a new elite was born and began to take control of the richest political economy in the world in the United States of America.  These were the corporate men, the men who financed and ran America's mighty corporations.

No longer bounded by territorial limits, America's richest corporations expanded their operations across the globe and began to leave behind their national compatriots in their pursuit of profits.

Inevitably, this corporate elite would come to realize that their participation in a political economy that actually considered the well-being of the population at large placed limits of their ability to accumulate wealth.

This would have to change and change it did.

With the arrival of Reagan and Thatcher at the end of the seventies, the corporate elite began to claw back the portions of the economic pie they had lost to the lower classes.  Over the next thirty years, they were successful in re-establishing levels in income inequality that hadn't been seen since the gilded age.

In short, they leveraged their attachments to corporate entities that over time gained more and more of the rights normally reserved for humans so that they could maintain lower tax rates, gain favorable interventions into the political economy from Congress, and, most recently, monetize the electoral process to such an extent that have the members of the US Congress are millionaires.

America is now ruled by its corporations, legal fictions that have attained the state of person hood, marauding groups of individuals aided by limited liability to enhance their capacity to extract wealth from the ordinary Joes who slog away in the sometimes less than the cost of living wage economy.

Residing in their corporate principalities, the financiers and chief executive officers are seldom held accountable by the laws of the land.  Nevertheless, they are able to control how the laws are to be written and to maintain the world's largest military machine, ironically funded by a land-locked public, that serves to protect and uphold a socio-economic order that is wholly favorable to their desires.

In days of old, it paid to have passed on to you the property rights that were handed down from one generation to the next.

Today, it pays to inherit an investment portfolio and to gain access to America's elite universities, where the social networks that are forged more often than not open the doors for membership in the corporate social sphere, far from the maddening crowds who have lost all hope for a better future.


Tuesday, June 3, 2014

In America Being Fat Is Like Being Poor: It's Your Fricken Fault

At some point in time, probably not in the immediate future, the Anglo-American world is going to wake up to the fact that no man, nor no woman, is an island. The environment, beginning in the womb, has profound effects on the people we turn out to be.

Seems pretty straight forward, but if Anglo-Americans actually accepted this into their worldview they would have a fuck of a time trying to justify their rapacious greed.

On the economic front we all know the neo-conservative cant dating back to the English Calvinists landing on American shores that the poor are poor because they are lazy bastards and the rich are rich because God has decided that they should be.

And if you are fat, it's because you spend too much time watching TV scarfing down Twinkies and swilling back litres of Coke.

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But wait a minute, what if it isn't that simple?

Consider the following from a recent NY Times article:

The popular emphasis on calorie balance reinforces the belief that we have conscious control over our weight, and that obesity represents a personal failure because of ignorance or inadequate willpower.

In addition, the food industry — which makes enormous profits from highly processed products derived from corn, wheat and rice — invokes calorie balance as its first line of defense. If all calories are the same, then there are no bad foods, and sugary beverages, junk foods and the like are fine in moderation. It’s simply a question of portion control. The fact that this rarely works is taken as evidence that obese people lack willpower, not that the idea itself might be wrong.

Hey, there's a reason why, "I bet you can't eat just one".  The food industry works diligently to find out what are the bliss points for the unnaturally delicious and unnaturally fattening foods that they market.

In short, the food industry uses science to get us to eat their shit, but when we take them to task for the unhealthy consequences that widespread consumption of their products wreak upon the population, they fall back on a seventeenth century conception of human psychology so to dodge any social responsibility.

Sounds a bit dodgy I must say.

But ain't that America, the land of the free, the home of the brave, and the greatest number of fat asses on the planet.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Falling Into the Fat Trap

This week we saw some startling figures concerning obesity rates around the world.

Researchers found more than 2 billion people worldwide are now overweight or obese. The highest rates were in the Middle East and North Africa, where nearly 60 per cent of men and 65 per cent of women are heavy. The U.S. has about 13 per cent of the world's fat population, a greater percentage than any other country. China and India combined have about 15 per cent.

So, in other words, if you are feeling like a fatso, you are not alone; you are a member of the 2billion person club.

Given the incredible advances in science, how come we aren't able to help people maintain a healthy weight?

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In a nutshell, for most of the last century, our understanding of the cause of obesity has been based on immutable physical law. Specifically, it’s the first law of thermodynamics, which dictates that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.

When it comes to body weight, this means that calorie intake minus calorie expenditure equals calories stored. Surrounded by tempting foods, we overeat, consuming more calories than we can burn off, and the excess is deposited as fat. The simple solution is to exert willpower and eat less.
The problem is that this advice doesn’t work, at least not for most people over the long term.
According to Dr. Mark Hyman, the average person gains five pounds for every diet that they go on. Even worse, when the lose weight, they lose muscle and fat. When they regain the weight, they gain back all fat. And since muscle burns seven times as many calories as fat, their metabolism is slower than when they started the diet. The cruel fact is that they need even less calories to maintain their weight.
But what, as was pointed out in a recent NY Times article, we’ve confused cause and effect? What if it’s not overeating that causes us to get fat, but the process of getting fatter that causes us to overeat?
This is what I call the fat trap, a percentage of body fat that alters significantly a person's metabolism, rendering the person metabolically inefficient, a downward spiral in which the person gets fatter and fatter.
According to this alternative view, factors in the environment have triggered fat cells in our bodies to take in and store excessive amounts of glucose and other calorie-rich compounds.
Since fewer calories are available to fuel metabolism, the brain tells the body to increase calorie intake (we feel hungry) and save energy (our metabolism slows down).
Eating more solves this problem temporarily but also accelerates weight gain. Cutting calories reverses the weight gain for a short while, making us think we have control over our body weight, but predictably increases hunger and slows metabolism even more.
In other words, once you have fallen into the fat trap, it is extremely difficult to get out. Quick fix solutions like diets only make things worse. It's as if once your fat cells reach a critical mass, they take over, forcing you to feed them so they can multiply over and over again until you can no longer see your nether regions.
Alas, all hope is not lost, but if you are going to climb out of the fat trap, it is going to take a major transformation of your lifestyle. Counting calories is not going to work.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

In the End, Quebecers Are Not All That Different From the Vast Majority of Canadians: They Prefer To Be Governed Than To Govern

Mercifully, this sorry spectacle of a general election in Quebec is over.  I can't remember a campaign so empty of any real debate as it came down to a choice between an extremely lame Charter of Values that would have banned the overly overt display of religious affiliation in the public service and the dubious notion that the new government will somehow better THE economy.

More importantly, this collective decision was made in the context of a pause in the deliberations of the Charbonneau Commission, which will now turn its focus on how the alleged criminal behaviour surrounding the awarding of public works contracts and the illegal financing of Quebec's two major political parties, the Liberal Party of Quebec and the Parti Quebecois.

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Only 18 months ago, the electorate ousted the ruling Liberals, just weeks before the Commission began its work.  Last night, the same electorate re-elected the disgraced Liberals to a new four year term.

What's up with that?

At first glance, it may appear that Quebecers have rather short memories, but it goes deeper than that.

Essentially, Quebecers would rather offload the responsibility of running their own affairs to a small group of politicians that they can always get rid of later rather than being engaged in the messy business of democratic self rule.

That's why when Radio Canada declares a Liberal majority government with only 41% of the popular vote that, other than the two deputies from the leftist Quebec Solidaire who unabashedly contested the legitimacy of a majority government elected with less than 50% of the popular vote, everyone else goes along for the ride.

Whew, glad that's over.  Now we can get on with the important business of piling up more personal and public debt as we pursue a quality of life that we can no longer afford.

No matter.  We'll just pass on the mountain of debt to subsequent generations.

So, deep down Quebecers are not all that different from the rest of the vast majority of Canadians.  We'll gladly defer to authority as long as we can periodically change who exercises that authority over us.

Democratic self rule?

Nah, leave that to the Scandinavians.  I wonder what is the Swedish word for democracy.