In Defense Of Bernie Sanders (No, Really)

This is a follow up to Anne Laurie’s post below, and continuing proof that the front pagers are not all different accounts from the same troll factory in Grovers Mill, New Jersey.

Disclaimer, or reclaimer, or full disclosure or something.  Bernie isn’t my first choice, or second, or third. I think he’s a disingenuous ego-driven politician who did a lot of damage in 2016, has a record of actual progressive accomplishment that is, to be charitable, thin, who does not walk the walk in crucial ways, and who, IMHO, would be the leading candidate most likely to lose to Donald Trump in 2020 of all the leading potential Democratic Party nominees.  Of the top five, my personal ranking right now is Warren, Harris as a close second, Buttigieg as a more distant third, another gap to get to Biden, and then a yet bigger gap to Sanders.

All that said, the arguments about his spending plans and their purported reliance on the monetary theory to which his lead economic advisor subscribes seem to me to have some bad numbers behind them, and to overstate the case against the heterodox ideas of Modern Monetary Theory.

This all caught my eye in part because my current project (Money for Nothing, Random House, due out in June 2020) spends some time with John Law, the Scottish duelist, gambler, adventurer, architect of one of the first great financial and stock market bubbles, and early monetary theorist.  Law was a genuinely astonishing character: born to a Scottish banker, he inherited young, headed to London and lived a basically worthless, wastrel’s life — drinking, womanizing, gambling (ineptly, at this stage). (Here’s a contemporary memoir that has the fun details.)  In 1694, when he was in his early 20s and running out of his father’s money, he got into a duel — for reasons that are still somewhat obscure, but may well have been scandalous.  He killed his man, was charged with murder, and escaped to the Continent, where he began to develop into the man we now remember.

When Law was finally able to put his ideas into action in France between 1716 and 1720, some of them worked and have evolved into ordinary financial tools, and others, quite spectacularly, did not — and it’s that story that informs some of my thinking about MMT (for all that I know the past is a different country, and radically alien context in which Law worked limits the direct lessons one may draw from his day into ours).

All that digression is both a sop to my current obsession and a long-winded way of saying I’m not an economist; I’m not remotely an expert on MMT or any macro-economic theory; I’m just a guy with a habit of reading odd stuff. I did have the advantage this a.m. of having a tame heterodox economist in the house (my sister in law), and we did talk about this post, but everything that follows is my folly.  Discount accordingly.

All the windup leads to two simple objections to the Bernie disdain in some of the tweets Anne Laurie quoted, and some of the comments that flowed from it.

The first, simpler point is that thinking in this tweet is just wrong:

Here are the problems, in order from top to bottom.  The US and most countries don’t tax wealth, they tax income, which can be approximated as GDP.  So the US takes in close to $2.5 trillion in income and payroll taxes per year on about, estimated for 2019, about or a little above $21 trillion in GDP (see table 7). Read more

Spiraling Decompensation Open Thread

Just a Quick Note On the Patrick Byrne Stuff

Late last night/early this morning, Ann Laurie briefly referenced former Overstock CEO Patrick Byrne’s bizarre appearances on cable news last night. Here’s the two clips from his Fox News appearance:

And here’s his appearance on CNN. Chris Cuomo does about 2 and 1/2 minutes of set up, then does an interview with Anthony Scaramucci, and then interviews Byrne beginning at the 10:28 second mark of the video – this way you can skip the Mooch.

I’ve watched the clips of the appearances, I’ve read the write ups on various outlets and seen the Twitter reactions. My professional opinion is that there is no way, shape, and/or form that Byrne was being used in any formal manner in a counterintelligence investigation. His long history of conspiracism, bizarre pronouncements, and erratic behavior make him completely unsuitable because he’s completely unpredictable. To be perfectly honest, unless he can actually produce evidence he had an affair, whether one night stand or longer duration, with Maria Butina, I’m not really sure we should accept his stating he had an affair with Maria Butina as a factual truth claim. A number of people who have made names for themselves on social media or other platforms trying to explain the Mueller investigation and the connections between the Russians and the 2016 elections, the President’s campaign, his businesses, those in his orbit, etc immediately went into overdrive because of the statements Byrne made on Fox and CNN last night. By this morning, there were assertions of major breaking developments pertaining to what the President did, what Don Jr. did, what the NRA did, what Butina and Torshin did, what the NRA did, and what others did in 2016 that are all going to radically change both our understanding of what happened in 2016 and what is going to be done to hold people to account.

I think all of those assertions, as well as Byrne’s own statements last night, need to be taken with an Adam sized grain of salt. I don’t work for or with the FBI or the DOJ, though I did provide some support to the DOJ officer assigned to US European Command back in 2014 on an Interagency project we were both involved in. I have worked with Army counterintelligence professionals over the years, it was largely in regard to conducting network analysis in order to disaggregate targets for kinetic action from people, groups, and organization we wanted to engage with non-kinetically (basically we wanted to meet with them, talk with them, see if we could work with them rather than capture or kill them). And I’ve taught how to do network analysis to uniformed personnel, civilians, and contractors for both lethal and non-lethal operations. But these collaborations weren’t to map, assess, analyze, and understand the intelligence organizations and operations of other nation-states, which is the real focus of counterintelligence work. Rather it was to assist with work done by uniformed counterintelligence professionals assigned to apply their expertise to the groups we were dealing with in Iraq, Afghanistan, and similar places. That said, I am not a counterintelligence officerNor do I claim to be one. But I do have some insight into what they do and I find it very, very, very hard to believe that Byrne was being used in any official capacity. I think it is likely he contacted someone at the FBI or DOJ. Being a CEO of a major company would make it easy for him to get to supervisory special agents in charge or even senior leadership, but I think it is more than likely that he was used, at best, as an informal dangle (bait). He told them contact had been made and asked what to do and they replied with something along the lines of “keep doing what you’re doing, and let us know if anything changes”. Until some actual supporting, confirmable evidence of Byrne’s claims are made, his statements have to be viewed very skeptically. His affect and behavior on both Fox and CNN last night were even more manic and unhinged than when a clearly emotional distressed and possibly intoxicated Sam Nunberg appeared on both Ari Melber’s MSNBC and Erin Burnett’s CNN shows, where Maya Wylie patiently and empathetically tried to calm him down and convince him not to do anything stupid and Erin Burnett asked if he was drunk. Based on what I saw last night and read about today, the only thing I know of for sure is that Patrick Byrne is in dire need of professional help.

For those interested in a nice primer on counterintelligence, I highly recommend John Ehrman’s “Towards a Theory of CI” in Studies in Intelligence Studies, which those friendly folks at the CIA have posted in their online library. They’re so user friendly and customer oriented at Langley!

Open thread!


You guys, Trump broke up with China!

A short while ago, Trump lost his shit on Twitter in a way that is tanking the DJA:

Our Country has lost, stupidly, Trillions of Dollars with China over many years. They have stolen our Intellectual Property at a rate of Hundreds of Billions of Dollars a year, & they want to continue. I won’t let that happen! We don’t need China and, frankly, would be far….

….better off without them. The vast amounts of money made and stolen by China from the United States, year after year, for decades, will and must STOP. Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing..

…your companies HOME and making your products in the USA. I will be responding to China’s Tariffs this afternoon. This is a GREAT opportunity for the United States. Also, I am ordering all carriers, including Fed Ex, Amazon, UPS and the Post Office, to SEARCH FOR & REFUSE,….

….all deliveries of Fentanyl from China (or anywhere else!). Fentanyl kills 100,000 Americans a year. President Xi said this would stop – it didn’t. Our Economy, because of our gains in the last 2 1/2 years, is MUCH larger than that of China. We will keep it that way!

I’m sure everything will be fine.

Friday Morning Open Thread: There’s Still Time!…

Nobody tell Cole about this, he’s got enough on his plate ottoman already. But if you’re curious, ActionNews suggests checking the shelter’s Facebook page.

Elsewhere… The Repubs have already decided that Trump is gonna lose in 2020, because we all know deficits only matter when there’s a Democrat in the Oval Office:

Further proof:

So — while we must still do our best to Dump Trump — here’s to the success of Amy McGrath!