Friday, 30 April 2021

The Biden Jobs and Infrastructure 'FDR plus' Plan: not-so-Obama-Lite now...

The president began selling his proposal on Wednesday, saying it would fix 20,000 miles of roads and 10,000 bridges, while also addressing climate change and racial inequities and raising corporate taxes.

WASHINGTON — President Biden introduced a $2 trillion plan on Wednesday to overhaul and upgrade the nation’s infrastructure, calling it a transformational effort that could create the “most resilient, innovative economy in the world.”

“It is not a plan that tinkers around the edges,” Mr. Biden said in a speech outside Pittsburgh. “It is a once-in-a-generation investment in America.”

White House officials said the proposal’s combination of spending and tax credits would translate into 20,000 miles of rebuilt roads, repairs to the 10 most economically important bridges in the country, the elimination of lead pipes from the nation’s water supplies and a long list of other projects intended to create millions of jobs in the short run and strengthen American competitiveness in the long run.

They said the plan would also accelerate the fight against climate change by hastening the shift to new, cleaner energy sources, and would help promote racial equality in the economy.

The provisions would improve wages, internet service, drinking water and commute times, Mr. Biden said.

The costs would be offset by increased corporate tax revenues raised over 15 years, particularly from multinationals that earn and book profits overseas. The president cast those increases as a means to prod companies into investing and producing more in the United States.

With Republicans already signaling skepticism or outright opposition, Mr. Biden appealed for support from both parties in Congress, saying the program would be “unlike anything we have seen or done since we built the interstate highway system and the space race decades ago” and calling it “the largest American jobs investment since World War II.”

The spending in the plan would take place over eight years, the president said, and the tax increases would more than offset that spending in 15 years, leading to an eventual reduction of the budget deficit. Unlike the economic stimulus passed under President Barack Obama in 2009, when Mr. Biden was vice president, officials will not in every case prioritize so-called shovel-ready projects that could quickly bolster growth.

But even spread over years, the scale of the proposal underscores how fully Mr. Biden has embraced the opportunity to use federal spending to address longstanding social and economic challenges in a way not seen in a half-century.

Officials said that, if approved, the spending in the plan would end decades of stagnation in federal investment in research and infrastructure — and would return government investment in those areas, as a share of the economy, to its highest levels since the 1960s.

The proposal is the first half of what will be a two-step release of the president’s ambitious agenda to overhaul the economy and remake American capitalism, which could carry a total cost of as much as $4 trillion over a decade. Mr. Biden’s administration has named it the “American Jobs Plan,” echoing the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill that Mr. Biden signed into law this month, the “American Rescue Plan.”

On Wednesday, Mr. Biden said the next phase, which he will seek to pay for in part through tax increases on wealthy individuals, would come in a matter of weeks and be known as the “American Family Plan.”

While spending on roads, bridges and other physical improvements to the nation’s economic foundations has always had bipartisan appeal, the plan Mr. Biden rolled out on Wednesday drew quick opposition from the right for its size and its reliance on corporate tax increases.

Republicans and business groups criticized those tax proposals, calling them nonstarters for bipartisan negotiations. Mr. Biden acknowledged the criticism, even as he defended asking companies to pay more in taxes. And he said he would continue to work on winning Republican support for his proposal.

He said he had already spoken with Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, about the bill and planned to invite other Republicans to the White House as Congress turns to translating his proposal into detailed legislation.

Source: NYT.

Tuesday, 27 April 2021

Is the US a Paper Tiger?

As the antagonism between China and the US gets worse by the day, the international community is watching to see if the two countries will slide into a new Cold War. I continue to hold the view that both sides will not enter a “hot war” or start a new Cold War. Instead, they will remain in a “non-war”, that is, where there is no outright war but a state of discord and hostile relations persist. Nonetheless, for some time to come, the possibility of relations getting worse and the accidental sparking of a conflict remain quite real. In view of various factors such as the presidential election campaign, populist sentiments, and the tendency to shift blame to divert attention from internal conflicts, we can only expect that the US will take tougher containment measures against China, regardless of whether a Democrat or a Republican candidate eventually becomes the next president.

US set to contain China further

Already, the US is ramping up its efforts to contain China. From US military planes gathering intelligence near the Chinese coastline to the US health and human services secretary’s visit to Taiwan — there is just no lack of high-risk manoeuvres that raise worries of sparking off a major China-US showdown. During former President Barack Obama’s time, America tried to take advantage of China’s precarious geographical situation by getting the Philippines, Vietnam and India to help contain the Asian colossus in its stead. When these countries did not fall for the trick, the US took up arms itself and sent military vessels directly to China’s doorstep. Today, the US has progressed to showing a total disregard for decorum, and discarding any guise of democracy, freedom and rule of law: it put a barefaced blockade on Huawei, plundered China-backed enterprises like TikTok, and openly articulated its China policy in Cold War language. We can say that Uncle Sam is getting increasingly desperate, its intent to strike down its rival more and more blatantly evident.

China’s former leader Mao Zedong once asserted that “imperialism and all reactionaries are paper tigers”. He maintained that one should “despise the enemy strategically and take full account of him tactically”. Perhaps that is why commentators in China’s academic circles and among the public have largely dismissed these actions, saying that despite the viciousness of these moves and America’s enormous strength, there is nothing to be afraid of.

Chinese taking US offensive calmly

A look at different factors tells us why. Politically, the US is currently embroiled in a heated bipartisan struggle and a chaotic situation, whereas China is showing a growing stability. No wonder when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo sought in his speech to spur the Chinese people to turn their backs on the Chinese Communist Party, his efforts at instigation were scorned as ignorant by scholars.

Diplomatically, the American attempt to get other countries to join in a global coalition against China still sees limited success. Not only has it failed to drive a wedge between China and Russia, even European allies like Germany and France are reluctant to follow America’s call blindly. Economically, China’s economic aggregate now amounts to more than half of America’s. The two countries are even neck and neck in terms of purchasing power parity. Furthermore, in the midst of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, China has taken the lead in resuming work and production. Being ahead on the road to recovery puts China in a better position than the US.

As for public opinion, the Trump administration’s unilateralism is much criticised internationally, and the US has already lost the moral authority to rally the world, thanks to what it has done in the recent years. Militarily, the US holds the absolute advantage, but since it has to deploy forces everywhere to maintain its global hegemony, its strength is as divided as its armaments are abundant. And let’s not forget: China is a nuclear power too. Although nowhere near the size of America’s, its nuclear arsenal still suffices to snuff out any thought on the Western superpower’s part of taking risks with an incursion.

In view of the foregoing, even if America’s containment measures continue to escalate, going from straightforward trade friction to all-out suppression, China will still be able to remain calm and deal with every single attack thrown at it. The more America lunges forward aggressively and rushes to the frontlines of containing China, the more it will show itself to be unpopular, running out of ideas, and indeed, a “paper tiger” in Mao Zedong’s book. Even in America, there is public criticism of the government’s China policy. The critics understand that, by abandoning the policy of engagement with China and opting for all-out containment instead, the US is only exhausting itself in fruitless labour, and possibly even dragging both countries into the trap of mutual antagonism. They can see that this does not serve America’s fundamental interests.

Malicious intent behind containment measures will still prove lethal

Well, then, does this mean that America’s China containment policy will really all be ineffectual and totally not dangerous?

The truth is, the danger of such a policy lies not only in the superficial aggressiveness and hostility or in the specific moves made, but in the malicious intent hidden within. It is clear that from the political to the military realms, concrete steps taken by the US towards containment and picking a fight may all be successfully neutralised by China. Even when some of them cannot be neutralised for the time being, the harm done to a major power like China would be very limited. The recent series of punitive actions taken by the US against Hong Kong, for example, is seen to have very limited effect.

Having said that, the true danger that America’s moves present is really much more complicated. The US’s containment measures are set to create a strong atmosphere of enmity towards China, which would profoundly affect the Chinese social psyche. The idea is to cause the Chinese society to constantly raise its level of wariness, possibly leading to the emergence of what is known as “involution”. The term originated from American anthropologist Clifford Geertz’s book Agricultural Involution: The Processes of Ecological Change in Indonesia. It refers to the phenomenon whereby a social or cultural pattern, having taken on an established form at a certain stage of development, stagnates or fails to transform into a new, advanced pattern.Such a roundabout psychological assault is what constitutes the deadliest aspect of America’s China containment policy.

In his book Culture, Power and the State: Rural Society in North China, 1900-1942, Prasenjit Duara, a professor emeritus at the University of Chicago, put forth the idea of “state involution”. State involution happens when the machinery of the state relies not on elevating the effectiveness of existing (or newly added) agencies, but on replicating or expanding an inherited pattern of state-society relations to expand its administrative functions. In a nutshell, it means there is no increase of effectiveness in any true sense but just a regression into conservatism and self-isolation.

China has to guard against ‘state involution’

Historically, at the end of the US-Soviet struggle for hegemony, the USSR was arguably brought to its end by involution to a certain extent. Along the clearly drawn lines of the Cold War, the Soviet Union and its followers heightened their wariness of the West without limit, erecting “Berlin Walls” of all sorts, tangible and intangible, to block off incoming flows from the other side. The result was self-isolation, a state of stagnant adherence to the old ways. Through lapsing into involution, many of the problems arising from internal governance failed to be solved for a long time and got worse over the years.

By the time Gorbachev sought to break the impasse, there could only be a blind grasping at straws, which only sped up the fall of the colossal Union. Gorbachev himself was a product of the Soviet regime’s involution. When we look further back in time, we see that China’s Qing dynasty had also succumbed to involution. Out of its fear of the West, the Qing chose to close itself off from foreign access, hoping to sustain the rule of the “celestial empire” this way. And the end result, as we know, was progressive ossification, falling behind the rest of the world and getting beaten.

Presently, as the US increases its containment measures against China and strives to recreate an external environment similar to what the USSR had to deal with, China needs to prevent itself from making the same mistake as the Union. It must not allow the trend of involution to emerge in the social psyche. The trend may manifest in the following two ways: firstly, due to a deteriorating external environment and rising nationalistic sentiments within the country, the Chinese people gradually lose their enthusiasm and optimism towards the world outside. They may become overly wary and blind to various aspects of the US and other Western countries that are still ahead of their country, and cease to keep an open mind and learn from them with humility.

Secondly, out of the need to counter America’s suppression and instigation, the Chinese people may become more inclined to acknowledge the superiority of their own country’s social governance, and to be more tolerant to the many imperfections and problematic conflicts that still exist therein, or even turn a blind eye to such negative aspects. In doing so, they would weaken their own courage and passion for reform. In other words, the zest and initiative of the general populace towards reform and opening up would be bruised. And that, I fear, would be the greatest achievement of America’s China containment policy.

China must not be swayed from its path of reform and opening up

We have to understand this: just as China is good at handling issues on the strategic and tactical level, America’s China containment policy may also be driven by malicious intent on the same two levels, one strategic and the other tactical. Specific measures on the political, economic, diplomatic and military fronts actually function only on the tactical level, meant to cause short-term, superficial interference. Creating an atmosphere of all-round China-containment, causing the Chinese to become suspicious of and hostile towards the world outside and thereby move towards involution — perhaps it is this that is the deep strategy behind America’s China containment policy.

After all, reform and opening up constituted the critical choice that enabled contemporary China to come into its own so quickly. We may say this is the necessary path for China to revive itself and fulfil its dream of becoming a powerful nation. For this reason, should America’s containment policy manage to entice or compel the Chinese to lose their faith in and passion for reform and opening up, it would be tantamount to fundamentally blocking off China’s pathway of peaceful development. In other words, the Asian powerhouse’s way to sustenance and vitality would be cut off. It is this that spells the deadliest strike being delivered to China!

Therefore, in the face of America’s all-out containment policy, China must not only counter every specific attack thrown at it, but also maintain a strong strategic forbearance across its entire society – that is to say, stick firmly to the course of reform and opening up without wavering. The more the US imposes blockades, the more China needs to speed up the expansion of its opening-up to break through. The more the US hems it in, the more China needs to quicken the deepening of its reform to strengthen itself.

Fundamentally speaking, China’s path of reform and opening up is good for everyone. They not only help to enhance and protect the interests of the Chinese people’s livelihoods, but also facilitate the achievement of mutual benefits and win-win outcomes with other countries around the world. They represent a course of action that truly draws much support for being in the right and in step with the times. As long as China keeps at its reform and opening up efforts, the US can never start a new Cold War. In the long run, as the game between the two great powers continues, time and advantage are certainly on China’s side.

Source: Is the US just a ‘paper tiger’ or is she able to derail China’s progress?

Thursday, 15 April 2021

How to sell a massacre: NRA’s playbook revealed

Three-year undercover sting reveals how US’ National Rifle Association handles public opinion after deadly gun attacks.

Sydney, Australia – How should you respond to a deadly mass shooting if you are a gun rights advocate?

First, “Say nothing.” If media queries persist, go on the “offence, offence, offence”. Smear gun-control groups. “Shame them” with statements such as – “How dare you stand on the graves of those children to put forward your political agenda?”

This was the advice the US’s most powerful gun lobby gave Australia’s One Nation party, according to an Al Jazeera investigation, when representatives of the Australian far-right group sought guidance from the National Rifle Association (NRA) on loosening the Pacific country’s strict gun laws.

The NRA’s playbook on mass shootings came to light during the course of a three-year undercover sting by Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit. Rodger Muller, an Australian undercover reporter who infiltrated the gun lobbies in the US and Australia, used a hidden camera to record a series of meetings between representatives of the NRA and One Nation in Washington, DC in September last year.

The secretly filmed footage provides a rare inside view of how the NRA deliberates over mass shootings and seeks to manipulate media coverage to push its pro-gun agenda.

Australia’s One Nation party, led by Senator Pauline Hanson, has long sought to relax the country’s gun laws, which ban almost all automatic and semi-automatic rifles and shotguns.

The rules, some of the toughest in the world, were introduced in 1996 after a gunman with a semiautomatic rifle killed 35 people in the town of Port Arthur.

Since then, Australia has had no mass shootings where the attackers did not know their victims. However, the NRA has denounced Australia’s laws as “not the definition of common sense”.

‘The graves of those children’

Muller, Al Jazeera’s undercover reporter who posed as a gun-rights campaigner, introduced One Nation’s Chief of Staff, James Ashby, and the leader of its Queensland branch, Steve Dickson, to the NRA, and travelled with the pair to Washington, DC last year.

Ashby and Dickson were hoping to secure up to $20m in political donations from supporters of the US gun lobby.

In meetings at the NRA’s Virginia headquarters, officials provided Ashby and Dickson tips to galvanise public support to change Australia’s gun laws and coached the pair on how to respond to a mass shooting.

The best method to handle media inquiries in the wake of a massacre was to “say nothing”, according to Catherine Mortensen, an NRA media liaison officer. But if inquiries persisted, she recommended an offensive communications strategy.

That included deflecting public concern by smearing supporters of gun control.

“Just shame them to the whole idea,” said Lars Dalseide, another member of the NRA’s public relations team. “If your policy, isn’t good enough to stand on itself, how dare you use their deaths to push that forward. How dare you stand on the graves of those children to put forward your political agenda?”

Dickson responded: “I love that, thank you”.

Then, explaining how the NRA manipulated media coverage, Dalseide told One Nation to enlist the services of friendly reporters.

“You have somebody who leans to your side that worked at a newspaper, maybe he was covering city hall or was a crime reporter,” Dalseide said.

“We want to print up stories about people who were robbed, had their home invaded, were beaten or whatever it might be and that could have been helped had they had a gun. And that’s going to be the angle on your stories. That’s what he’s got to write. He’s got to put out two to five of those a week.”

Rodger Muller, centre, accompanied One Nation’s Steve Dickson, left, and James Ashby, right, as they travelled to Washington, DC to meet the NRA [Al Jazeera]

‘Outrage of the week’

Another NRA tip was to ghost-write columns for pro-gun law enforcement officials.

“We pitch guest columns in the local papers,” said Mortensen.

“A lot of the times, we’ll write them for like a local sheriff in Wisconsin or whatever. And he’ll draft it or she will help us draft it. We’ll do a lot of the legwork because these people are busy. And this is our job. So, we’ll help them and they’ll submit it with their name on it so that it looks organic. You know, that it’s coming from that community. But we will have a role behind the scenes.”

As for social media, the NRA recommended producing short videos that highlight how useful a gun is for self-defence.

“These are hugely popular and they’re short little snippets. You know, ‘Joe Blow’, cashier at the local convenience store, had his firearm with him and protected himself,” said Mortensen.

“Those are good because they’re short and they kind of get you outraged. We call it like ‘the outrage of the week’.”

During the same meeting, Dickson told the NRA that “African gangs imported to Australia” were committing rape and burglary in the country, including “coming into the house with baseball bats to steal your car”.

To that, Dalseide advised the following: “Every time there’s a story there about the African gangs coming in with baseball bats, a little thing you can put out there, maybe at the top of a tweet or Facebook post or whatever, like with ‘not allowed to defend their home’, ‘not allowed to defend their home’. Boom.”

The NRA officials named in this report, One Nation, Dickson and Ashby did not respond to Al Jazeera’s requests for comment.

Source: Jeera.

Your 'avin a w*nk, arent'cha?

BBC iPlayer is currently streaming a 'doc' titled: When Nudes Are Stolen: Inside the online 'nude trade':

When former glamour model Jess Davies started modelling at 18 she had no idea her images would be used to con money out of men all over the world.
Over the years Jess, now 27, has received hundreds, if not thousands, of messages from people telling her they've been speaking to someone using her pictures and until now she's never understood why.
In a new BBC Three documentary When Nudes Are Stolen Jess traces where and how her pictures are being used - and explains the effect it's had on her life.

Of course the theft of these images constitutes copyright infringement/piracy and that should be illegal.

But the premise that these women are entirely blameless in all this and that they and they alone have been abused is of course absurd. You post pictures that are carefully calibrated to the 'male gaze', or in plain English, sell smut to drooling (and more) males FOR MONIES and you expect no unintended consequenses of your actions?

Here's Jessica Davies plying her trade:

And here's her colleague Joey 'Big Jugs' Fisher:

At the very least what these smutqueens do is 'Prostitution Lite'...

Tuesday, 6 April 2021

Barking Dogmas...


Who’ll Stop the Rana?

You’d think that our recent bruising encounters with the devastating fallout from the deregulators’ handiwork in the housing market of the early aughts should, by rights, render Friedman’s complaints about the public sector’s assaults on market virtue the deadest of dead letters. But, if anything, the ritual defense of the market’s sovereign prerogative has dug in that much more intractably as its basic coordinates have been discredited. As critics such as Dean Baker routinely point out, the stalled recovery out of the Great Recession is almost exclusively a function of the failure of our neoliberal economic establishment to speak honestly about a collapsed housing bubble that created a yawning shortfall in demand—a shortfall that, amid the paralysis of credit markets in the same recession, could be jumpstarted only by government stimulus.

All sorts of absurdities have flowed from this magisterial breakdown in comprehension. Since the neoliberal catechism holds that stimulative government spending can never be justified in the long run, much of our debate over the recovery’s prospective course has been given over to speculative nonsense. Chief among these talismanic invocations of free-market faith is the great question of how to placate the jittery job creators. At virtually every turn in the course of debate over how steeply to cut government spending in this recession, our sachems of neoliberal orthodoxy have insisted that any revenue-enhancing move the government so much as contemplated would spook business leaders into mothballing plans to expand operations and add jobs. It became the all-purpose worst-case scenario of first resort. If health care reform passed, if federal deficits expanded, or if marginal tax rates were permitted to rise for the vapors-prone investor class, why, then the whole prospect of a broad-based economic recovery was as good as shot.[*]

And since neoliberalism is most notably a global—or properly speaking, the globalizing—ideology, such pat distortions of economic reality are no longer confined to the Anglo-American political economy. Nor are they confined to strictly cognitive errors in policymaking. The collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory in Bangladesh has yielded commentary from neoliberals that might well merit entry into the psychiatric profession’s DSM-5 as textbook illustrations of moral aphasia. Here, after all, was a tragedy that would appall even the darkest Victorian imaginings of a Charles Dickens or a Karl Marx: factory workers earning a monthly wage of $38 crowded into a structurally unsound multistory facility built on a foundation of sand above a drained pond. Three stories of the factory had been hastily erected on top of an already unsound existing structure just to house the fresh battalions of underpaid workers demanded by bottom-feeding international textile contractors.

Government inspectors repeatedly demanded that the facility be shuttered on safety grounds, but the plant’s proprietors ignored their citations, reckoning that the short-term gains of maintaining peak production outweighed the negligible threat of a fine or safety citation. Nor was there likely to be any pressure from Western bastions of enlightenment and human rights. The ceremonial stream of Astroturf labor-and-safety-inspecting delegations from Western nations made zero note of the cracked and teetering foundations of the Rana Plaza structure. Lorenz Berzau, the managing director of one such industry consortium (the Business Social Compliance Initiative), primly told the Wall Street Journal that the group isn’t an engineering concern—and what’s more, “it’s very important not to expect too much from the social audit” that his group and other Western overseers conduct on production facilities. And, as Dave Jamieson and Emran Hossain reported in the Huffington Post, labor organizers have long since learned that the auditing groups serve largely as pro forma conduits of impression management for consumer markets in the West. The auditing of manufacturing facilities in the developing world “ends up catering more to the brands involved than the workers toiling on the line,” Jamieson and Hossain write.

Yes, factory owners and managers well understand the permissible bounds of discourse in such Potemkin-style inquiries—and instruct their workforce accordingly. “What to say to the auditors always comes from the owners,” a Bangladeshi line worker named Suruj Miah told the two reporters. “The owners in most cases would warn workers not to say negative things about the factories. Workers are left without a choice.” Sumi Abedin, one of the survivors of an earlier disaster—a factory fire in the nearby Tazreen plant that claimed the lives of 112 workers in November 2012—told the Huffington Post that on the day of an international audit team’s visit, management compelled workers to wear T-shirts designating them as members of a nonexistent fire safety committee, and had them brandishing prop fire-extinguishing equipment that plant managers had procured only for the duration of the audit.

What this disaster ought to have driven through the neoliberal consensus’s collective solar plexus is something close to the polar opposite of its cherished, evidence-proof theory of the captive regulator: a largely cosmetic global watchdog effort funded overwhelmingly by private-sector concerns, far from delivering oversight and accountability, has incentivized fraud and negligence. And conveniently enough, it’s the race-to-the-bottom competitive forces unleashed by the global workplace that ritually sanctify all of this routine dishonesty. In their malignant neglect of worker safety measures, local factory managers are able to cite the same market pressures to maximize production and profit that have prevented the ornamental Western groups conducting audits of workplace safety practices from releasing their findings to the workers at risk of being killed by the neoliberal regime of global manufacturing.

Barking Dogmas

Still, the dogmas of neoliberal market prerogative are far sturdier than a collapsing factory or a raging fire on the production line. If the dogmatists have thrown overboard Hayek-era intellectual values like experimentation and skepticism, at least they can stave off their inevitable extinction by shoring up Friedman-era platitudes and, from the mantles of the nation’s most prestigious universities and op-ed shops, try to pass them off as the nation’s highest common sense. So former University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, who helped found the influential law and economics movement that essentially transposed the shibboleths of public choice theory into legal doctrine, has patiently explained that the just and measured response to the collapse of Rana Plaza is to seek enforcement of preexisting building codes across the Bangladeshi private sector. Writing on the heels of the disaster, in the Hoover Institution’s web journal, Defining Ideas, Epstein takes pains to rule out the passage of any “new laws” to improve worker-safety standards or international monitoring efforts.

But lest even this minimal recourse to regulation sound like too heady a plunge into statist remedies, Professor Epstein also cautions that the aggrieved and grieving workers in the Bangladeshi garment trade must not veer recklessly into unionism or other non-market-approved modes of worker self-determination. After all, he reasons, “in order to stave a shutdown off by improving factory safety, the savvy firm will have to raise its asking price from foreign purchasers . . . and may have to lower wages to remain competitive.” (This is another classic myth of the neoliberal faith—the rational “trade-off” between personal safety and wages that the independent broker makes when he or she contracts with an employer to freely exchange time and skills for wages. Only, of course, the notion of such rational choice has been reduced to a bitter farce in workplaces such as Rana Plaza, where the basic human rights of workers are only acknowledged theatrically, for the purposes of Potemkin auditing tours.) A more activist approach to the crisis in global worker safety would create intolerable distress to Epstein’s utopian vision of the carefully calibrated relations of global market production. Sure, the EU might ban exports of clothes bearing the taint of labor exploitation—but such a measure would just perversely create “undeserved economic protection” for EU economies that are net clothing exporters (and by implication, would deprive consumers of the sacred right to the cheapest possible attire that bullied and undercompensated labor can provide).

And do not get Epstein started on the mischief wrought by unions, which are all but certain to multiply calamities like the Rana Plaza disaster:

It is not as though the only thing that a union does once it gains its dominant position is to advocate for the safety of its workers, even if that item is at the top of its agenda. Unions also bargain over wages, work rules, seniority, pensions, benefits, and other conditions of employment. In dealing with these issues, they exert a monopoly clout that can easily raise wages and reduce productivity. In a market with many firms, they can exert that force only if they are prepared to take retaliatory action against the firms that refuse to bow to their conditions. And they can only do so if they induce the government to take measures to restrict the entry of non-union firms that could underbid them.

In other words: Bangladeshi workers can either be more safe or starve more rapidly. But according to Epstein, they assuredly aren’t entitled to earn a living wage without the threat of being crushed or burned to death at any given moment. The pertinent market trade-offs simply won’t permit it. Indeed, if you want to know the truth, Epstein claims, “labor agitation was . . . one of the contributing causes to the collapse at Rana Plaza.” Even the threat of union-related disruptions to established work discipline can be Kryptonite to the beleaguered clothes barons of Bangladesh. We find ourselves confronted yet again by the torments of the heroic job creator. Prospective labor agitation, Epstein contends, “places enormous strains on the firms that have to deliver goods to foreign purchasers in order to remain in business. The threat of a repeat protest has led many firm bosses to step up the pace of work in the factories, which in turn means longer shifts, more workers, more extensive use of heavy equipment in order to make up for lost production, and stockpiling goods. That maneuver turned into a fatal insurance policy against future labor disruptions.”

You see? One minute you’re protesting for a wage increase or a work regime less likely to injure you, and before you know it, you’ve frightened your employer into stockpiling inventory at such a frenetic pace that he kills you. Could the tonic discipline of market preferences really be any clearer? One can only hope that future no-goodnik labor agitators will heed this tragic lesson and recognize “foreign purchasers” as the remote, punitive, and awesome deities that the market meant them to be.

Trapped in the Moneybox

It is not all that surprising, in light of the trajectory of neoliberal ascendancy, to see rigidly orthodox market apologists like Professor Epstein driven to such extremities to tease out a neoliberal moral from the bloody, smoldering squalor of the Rana Plaza disaster. But the neoliberal consensus has long since transcended conventional divisions of party and ideology; the axiomatic assertion of market dominance is a conditioned reflex among nearly all established pundits.

In a now-infamous April 24 write-up of the Bangladeshi catastrophe, Slate’s Moneybox columnist Matt Yglesias—an eager Democratic partisan brandishing pious Washington credentials from The American Prospect and the Center for American Progress—tried his own hand at an Epstein-style vindication of the market’s undeviating wisdom. In a post bearing the reassuring free-to-be-you-and-me headline “Different Places Have Different Safety Rules and That’s OK,” Yglesias framed his defense of the status quo regime of erratic standards for worker safety in the hoary rhetoric of the public choice “trade-off.” “While having a safe job is good,” Yglesias chirped, “money is also good.”

OK, then! But note again the pinched moral universe in which employees are permitted only to have a safe job or a (barely) sustenance income, and never both at the same time. It seems a modest social goal to demand that the exchange of labor value for a paycheck in non-mortal conditions be accepted as an incontrovertible human right. If a rapidly globalizing market order is unable to secure that baseline personal and financial security, its support for wildly varying models of job safety should be regarded precisely as the problem—and not as the taken-for-granted standard for phony assertions about what individual workers (let alone “the Bangladeshis,” tout court) are purported to be choosing.

But Matt Yglesias, like many of Washington’s market-besotted, faux-contrarian pundits on the notional left side of the partisan aisle, will not be rushed into stating the morally obvious. Yes, he concedes, there could well be an abstract case here for collective action aimed at upgrading the safety conditions of Bangladeshi workplaces—but like Epstein, he frets that the collective-action models of richer, Western workplaces create prohibitive costs of doing business and therefore may not fall within the ambit of choices that workers in Bangladesh should reasonably be permitted to make. “Bangladesh is a lot poorer than the United States, and there are very good reasons for Bangladeshi people to make different choices in this regard than Americans,” Yglesias writes. “Safety rules that are appropriate for the United States would be unnecessarily immiserating in much poorer Bangladesh.”

So, not to worry, Mr. Moneybox confidently asserts. The trade-offs have yielded optimal gains in each diverse market setting, in this, the best of all possible neoliberal worlds: “American jobs have gotten much safer over the past 20 years, and Bangladesh has gotten a lot richer.” As an authority for this sweeping claim—which, by the way, is untrue in what Yglesias sees as the argument-clinching “safer” U.S. end of the spectrum; Bureau of Labor Statistics data on workplace fatalities show steady increases over the past five years, with right-to-work states such as Texas leading the grisly toll—Yglesias cites the work of Robert Frank, a public-choice enthusiast who, in his recent book The Darwin Economy, seeks to lay the groundwork for a terrifying entity he calls the “libertarian welfare state.”

Social media scourges wasted little time in calling out Yglesias’s smug, fatuous, and opportunistic effort to advertise his market contrarianism on the ruins of the Rana Plaza collapse. Eventually the scribe was hounded into publishing a passive-aggressive follow-up post averring that he’d been misread and unfairly castigated by his critics. The stalwart wonk remained unbowed, however; Yglesias wrote that he still “absolutely” stood by the conclusion that, in matters of workplace safety, it’s “appropriate for rich countries to have more stringent standards than poor ones.”

Now, Matt Yglesias is not a doctrinaire neoliberal thinker—certainly not in the sense that a disciplined propagandist like Milton Friedman was (even though he longs, absurdly, for a revival of “Friedman-style pragmatism” to bring the economic right to its senses).[**] But that’s precisely the point. Neoliberal orthodoxy has leached so deeply into the intellectual groundwater of the nation’s political class that it’s no longer a meaningful descriptor of ideological difference. That’s why Yglesias’s erstwhile American Prospect colleague Ezra Klein, over at his prestigious post atop the Washington Post’s economic blog shop, can marvel at the tough-minded budget “seriousness” of serial Randian liar Paul Ryan—or why the Obama White House can confidently slot offshore billionaire Penny Pritzker as its second-term commerce secretary while it continues to mouth empty platitudes about saving the nation’s middle class.

All Friedmans Now

It was Milton Friedman himself who famously announced, during his tour as an informal adviser to Richard Nixon, that “we’re all Keynesians now”—but that oft-quoted maxim has been badly truncated from its full context. What Friedman actually said, in a 1968 interview with Time magazine, was “in one sense, we are all Keynesians now; in another, no one is a Keynesian any longer.” He went on to spell out the paradox more fully: “We all use the Keynesian language and apparatus; none of us any longer accepts the initial Keynesian conclusions.”

Now, more than four decades on, Friedman’s savvy rhetorical dodge is the watchword of all mainstream macroeconomic thought. Even putative liberals who pay lip service to the efficacy of government intervention dig in behind their own pet postulates about the market’s transcendent wisdom and beneficence—about the need to temper the alleged excesses of the social-democratic usages of social wealth with sterner, more austere pieties about the real-world trade-offs mandated by the lords of neoliberal market liberation.

It is an undeniable species of gibberish, one that would have likely appalled even as firm a market stoic as Hayek, who, whatever his other intellectual handicaps, well understood the mischief wrought by a glib and self-seeking centrism. During the Mont Pelerin group’s tenth anniversary gathering in 1957, Hayek delivered a controversial speech called “Why I Am Not a Conservative.” It was designed, among other things, to distance the group from the steady accretion of self-insulated and untested right-wing bromides that would later be the hallmark of Friedman’s successor reign. Today, however, Hayek’s oration sounds a much more sobering note of prophecy for our political culture at large. “Advocates of the Middle Way with no goal of their own, conservatives have been guided by the belief that the truth must lie somewhere between the extremes—with the result that they have shifted position every time a more extreme movement appeared on either wing,” Hayek announced.

The one true road to intellectual serfdom, in other words, was the one that Hayek correctly saw lurking within the heart of the neoliberal revolution.

Source: The Baffler.