Gimme Brains for Breakfast Baby

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Holy shit, Senator Elizabeth Warren apparently murdered a bankster in the Senate today:

I’m honest to goodness physically aroused.



Brexit: “I Want My Country Back”

I owe some commentor a hat tip for this rather-too-close-to-home rant. Laurie Penny, in the New Statesman:

So, here’s the thing. This was never a referendum on the EU. It was a referendum on the modern world, and yesterday the frightened, parochial lizard-brain of Britain voted out, out, out, and today we’ve all woken up still strapped onto this ghost-train as it hurtles off the tracks. Leave voters are finding they care less about immigration now that their pension pots are under threat. Maybe one of the gurning pundits promising them pride and sovereignty should have mentioned that, but they were too busy lying about the NHS. The curtain has been torn away and now we all have to look at the men behind it. They are not good men.

Anyone feel like they’ve got their country back yet? No? That, after all, was the rallying cry of the Leave campaign – the transatlantic echo of “Make America Great Again”. There’s a precedent for what happens when svengalis with aggressively terrible haircuts are allowed to appeal to parochialism and fear in the teeth of a global recession, and it isn’t pretty…

There are huge areas of post-industrial decline and neglect where people are more furious than Cameron and his ilk could possibly understand, areas where any kind of antiestablishment rabble-rousing sounds like a clarion call. In depressed mountain villages and knackered seaside towns and burned-out former factory heartlands across the country, ordinary people were promised that for once, their vote would matter, that they could give the powers that be a poke in the eye. Westminster may have underestimated how very much it is hated by those to whom mainstream politics have not spoken in generations…

In the meantime, the cackling clown-car drivers rolling this catastrophe over the wreckage of civil society are already cheerfully admitting that they lied about their key campaign statements. No, there won’t be £350m more to spend on the NHS, whatever Farage wrote on his battle bus. It turns out that the reason you can’t get a GP appointment isn’t because of immigration, but because the Conservatives have spent six years systematically defunding the health service and cutting public spending to the bone. Brexit will mean more of that, not less…
Read more



Overnight/Early Morning Open Thread

England Prevails! Or not. The Invisible Hand is weighing in now.

 



Open Thread: John Oliver Is AWESOME

As explained at Slate:

On Sunday night John Oliver staged what he described as “the largest one-time giveaway in television show history,” giving $14,922,261.76 to nearly 9,000 lucky Texans. Or maybe not-so-lucky Texans, at least until Sunday: The money came in the form of forgiveness for out-of-statute medical debts, debts so old they could no longer be recovered in court. It was part of a lengthy investigation into the shady ethics and questionable practices of debt buyers, companies that buy up debts for pennies on the dollar and go to great, sometimes illegal lengths to collect them…

The broader case Oliver is making is that the entire debt buying industry is corrupt and underregulated, not just the most laughably incompetent collectors. It’s difficult to argue after seeing his footage of the Debt Buyers Association’s annual conference, in which trade group members scoff at the idea of their debtor’s legal rights. But the strongest argument Oliver makes that the industry needs work is that they let him become a part of it. Without too much hassle, he was able to set up his own debt collection company and purchased a portfolio of nearly $15 million in Texas medical debts. (Total cost: less than $60,000.) Then, with the press of a giant red button, he forgave all $15 million. As best as the staff of Last Week Tonight could figure, this gives Oliver the record for largest giveaway (previously held by Oprah Winfrey for giving her audience cars). Given the misery debt buyers and collection agencies cause, it’s hard to imagine any late-night host doing more concrete good for such a small cash outlay—but here’s hoping they make a competition of it.

Oliver’s deft at turning jokes about what’s actually a horrific situation: America’s self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe have birthed an entire industry based on screwing every last penny out of the victims of medical catastrophes. I cannot believe this is the best and highest purpose for the richest, most advanced society on the planet.



Smarter to be Lucky Than Lucky to Be Smart*

Years ago, a NYC cabbie gave me this sage piece of advice: “The only way to get crosstown during rush hour is to be born there.”

Apparently this is truer than it seemed at the time. Economist Robert Frank has a piece in The Times detailing the strong link between luck and success:

One’s date of birth can matter enormously, for example. According to a 2008 study, most children born in the summer tend to be among the youngest members of their class at school, which appears to explain why they are significantly less likely to hold leadership positions during high school and thus, another study indicates, less likely to land premium jobs later in life. Similarly, according to research published in the journal Economics Letters in 2012, the number of American chief executives who were born in June and July is almost one-third lower than would be expected on the basis of chance alone.

Even the first letter of a person’s last name can explain significant achievement gaps. Assistant professors in the 10 top-ranked American economics departments, for instance, were more likely to be promoted to tenure the earlier the first letter of their last names fell in the alphabet, a 2006 study found. Researchers attributed this to the custom in economics of listing co-authors’ names alphabetically on papers, noting that no similar effect existed for professors in psychology, whose names are not listed alphabetically.

Particularly interesting that bit about econ departments, given that many economists no doubt consider themselves exemplary Rational Actors.

Much of this will be familiar to those who have read Malcom Gladwell’s Outliers. But it can never be said enough–especially as the people who most need to hear it are the ones most resistant to hearing it. Sadly, the problem isn’t just whiny billionaires; the article’s comments section is filled with a lot of, “Yes, but I work harder than all those other guys.”

*The bloody-but-wise Charlemagne, from the original cast album of Pippin.



The Company He Keeps

Look who Ted Cruz has recruited as his economic advisor:

If it’s true that a man can be judged by the company he keeps, what are we to make of the appointment of former Sen. Phil Gramm as economic advisor to the Presidential campaign of Ted Cruz?

Cruz made the appointment Friday, when he collected Gramm’s endorsement of his quest for the Presidency.

As Micheal Hiltzik points out in his coverage of this — what’s the word?– curious appointment, Gramm is exactly whom you’d choose if one global financial meltdown just wasn’t delicious enough:

Gramm left a long record as a dedicated financial deregulator on Capitol Hill, with much of his effort aimed at freeing up trading in derivatives. That’s why he’s often identified as one of the godfathers of the 2008 financial crisis, which was spurred in part by banks’ imprudent trading and investing in these extremely complex financial instruments.

JMWTurner_Sunrise_with_Sea_Monsters

Gramm himself is undeterred by his own disastrous record, and clearly Cruz is equally unbothered.  That would be why both men are ignoring Gramm’s last appearance as a campaign surrogate:

Gramm’s previous stint as a Presidential campaign advisor ended inauspiciously. That was in 2008, when he served as co-chairman of John McCain’s Presidential run.

Gramm’s most notable moment in that position came on July 10, 2008, when he dismissed the developing economic crisis as “a mental recession” in an interview–and video–released by the conservative Washington Times. “We’ve never been more dominant,” he said. “We’ve never had more natural advantages than we have today. We’ve sort of become a nation of whiners.” McCain immediately disavowed the remarks, and a few days later Gramm stepped down as his campaign co-chairman.

I’m assuming that Ted Cruz does actually hope to become president, and thus makes his choices in the belief that they will advance him to that end.  So I can only see two possible interpretations for this exhuming of one of the most egregious poster children for GOP economic failure.

One is that this is what epistemic closure looks like when it’s at home.  It takes a hermetic seal between you and reality to think the “nation of whiners” trope is a winner this year (or ever, really, but especially now).

The other is that this is just trolling, or rather yet one more instance of believing an action is simply good in itself, transcendently so, if it pisses liberals off.  Which lands Cruz — and the GOP — in exactly the same place as option one: doubling down on the crazy for reasons extremely clear only to those with the correct implants in their upper left second molar.

All of which is to say that I remain firm in my belief that the entity identifying itself as Senator Cruz is in fact one of these guys.

“Where are we going?”

“Galt’s Gulch”

“When?”

“Real soon!”

Image:  J. W. M. Turner, Sunrise With Sea Monsters, 1845



Today’s Smart Read…

…comes from Thomas Edsall at The New York Times

He answers his question “Why Trump Now?” by looking at the material reasons for working-class white disaffection, not just with the post-civil-rights Democratic Party, but with the cabal to whom that group turned in increasing numbers from 1968 forward.  He writes:

The share of the gross national product going to labor as opposed to the share going to capital fell from 68.8 percent in 1970 to 60.7 percent by 2013, according to Loukas Karabarbounis, an economics professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

Even more devastating, the number of manufacturing jobs dropped by 36 percent, from 19.3 million in 1979 to 12.3 million in 2015, while the population increased by 43 percent, from 225 million to 321 million.

The postwar boom, when measured by the purchasing power of the average paycheck, continued into the early 1970s and then abruptly stopped (see the accompanying chart).

In other words, the economic basis for voter anger has been building over forty years. Starting in 2000, two related developments added to worsening conditions for the middle and working classes…

Distribution_of_Loaves_to_the_Poor_David_Vinckbooms

Read the whole thing.

If you’re too busy the TL:DR of those two developments are the interrelated facts that from the year 2ooo, upward mobility reversed itself, with more people falling into the middle class and poverty and fewer making it up the ladder — and the impact of China and its increasing integration into a world-wide free-trade regimen.  Edsall’s reporting on the China development — with its accompanying misreading by free-trade elites — is particularly sharp.

Add to that, as Edsall does, the TARP bailout after the elite-engineered collapse of 2007-8 and the Citizens United decision and you have specific and plausible reasons for Republican working class voters (and everyone else, of course) to see their chosen political leaders as shills and swindlers:

By opening the door to the creation of SuperPACs and giving Wall Street and other major financial sectors new ways to buy political outcomes, the courts gave the impression, to say the least, that they favored establishment interests over those of the less well off.

Edsall’s conclusion?

The tragedy of the 2016 campaign is that Trump has mobilized a constituency with legitimate grievances on a fool’s errand.

The crux for this year is exactly that:  Lots of Americans have been screwed — systematically, with comprehensive effect — for decades.  The material losses they – we — have suffered are real.  The responses Trump offers, such as they are, may be hopelessly at odds with any actual redress of those wrongs.  But any campaign (are you listening, Hillary?) that ignores the fact that two generations of Americans now have seen the basic expectations of life reversed is going to have hard time winning, just by pointing out that Trump’s bloviating won’t help either.

Image: David Vinckbooms, Distribution of Loaves to the Poor, first half of the 17th century.