Pluralistic: 04 Oct 2020

Today's links

Normal isn't enough (permalink)

Capitalism's most credible defender is Mariana Mazzucato, an economist whose histories of – and vision for – a strong state that shapes and manages markets is today's most plausible vision for a future under capitalism.

Mazzucato has been warning that we can't afford to squander this crisis the way we did with the 2008 collapse, talking about a future of "climate lockdowns" if we don't make a change:

In "Capitalism After the Pandemic" in Foreign Affairs, Mazzucato recounts how the current emergencies come from the ideological failures of neoliberalism, and lays out a program for "building back better."

She lays out a vision for a post-disaster capitalism that's something like the post-War boom of pluralistic, shared prosperity, and something like the state-sponsored tech boom of the moonshot, in service to building a world that's safer and fairer.

After all, the current system isn't working. Congress and the Treasury made trillions available to prop up the economy during the crisis, and rather than going into the productive economy, almost all that money has been captured by the finance sector.

Now, if the finance sector was then allocating capital to the real economy, maybe we'd have something. But mostly what the finance sector invests in is…the finance sector. In the UK, only 10% of commercial lending goes to nonfinancial firms.

In the world's advanced economies, more than 60% of lending is real-estate based. The finance sector pumps money into the finance sector, creates bubbles, the bubbles burst, and we bail them out. Then they do it again. And again.

In the real economy, large firms are gnawing off their own limbs, buying back more than $3T in their own stocks over a decade. Money gets spent goosing share prices, rather than R&D;, training, new capital or higher wages.

Thus do we lurch from crisis to crisis, and each time, the state intervenes to rescue the system, but not to change it. That's why, when the covid crisis struck, we had low-waged/gig workers who had no insurance and no sick leave.

The rhetoric of shrinking the state that has been with us since the Reagan years was never serious. Instead, the state has shifted to subsidizing large firms whose core message is that governments are incompetent, but who profiteer off government innovations.

Like Gilead, whose remdesivir drug came from $70.5m in federal R&D; subsidy, costs $10/dose to produce, and sells in the USA for $3,120.

But it's not just pharma that reaps enormous windfalls from public spending!

Google's search algorithm was funded by the NSF. The US Navy developed GPS. DARPA created the internet, touchscreens, voice recognition and more.

The companies that commercialized these technologies get 'em for free, dodge their taxes, and campaign against the very idea of government spending. They back a bizarre ideology that measures the economy with nonsensical measures like GDP.

Under GDP, public school teachers are a drain on the system, while the educated citizens they turn out are not accounted for at all.

And when Goldman Sachs got a $10b bailout, CEO Lloyd Blankfein was able to claim that his workers were "among the most productive in the world" because such a small number of people had generated $10b in income!

Handing money out to companies with no strings attached doesn't improve the economy, it just lines the pockets of the finance sector. Congress's PPP loans cost $500b and saved 2.3m jobs – that's a cost of $500k per job!

The $7T in stimulus has not resulted in any real, structural change that will avert the looming crises on our horizon. We need to stop doing corporate handouts and start structuring markets to deliver public benefit.

  • Develop a "people's vaccine" that is patent-free and can be made accessible to the whole planet

  • Reform wages, health benefits, sick-pay and worker control over workplaces

  • Give preference to payroll support over unemployment support, the latter having thrown 30m Americans out of work

  • When companies go bust, don't just bail them out – require an equity for the public

  • Ban companies that receive assistance from issuing exec bonuses, issuing dividends, doing share buybacks, debt-loading, using tax-havens, spending public money on lobbying or price-gouging

  • Publicly subsidized pharma should be "narrowly patented and easily licensable"

  • Issue a "people's dividend" where "the government takes a percentage of the wealth created with government investments, puts that money in a fund, and then shares the proceeds with the people"

Since the 2010s, a lot of us have been wishing for a "return to normal."

Normal isn't good enough. It was never good enough. Normal got us into this mess.

We need to build back better: to create a moonshot for climate adaptation that uses a muscular, capable state to invest people and technologies.

A moonshot that structures the economy to produce the clean energy, infrastructure creation and retrofitting, transit, universal health care (and other forms of care), universal network access – a future fit for the human race.

(Image: Molly Crabapple, The Years of Repair)

Why I love the Haunted Mansion (permalink)

It's no secret that I am obsessed with Disney's Haunted Mansion(s); my first novel, DOWN AND OUT IN THE MAGIC KINGDOM, involved a fannish war for control over the Mansion in a post-scarcity society of immortal ad-hocracies.

I've even done some official Mansion work, as a writer on the award-winning "Ghost Post" puzzles/merch boxes:

The Disneyland Mansion is closed right now, and the Walt Disney World Mansion should be closed right now, and a lot of us in the mansionophile world are heartily bummed out by this.

This week, Nelda Yaw had me on her Nelda Live show to discuss just what makes the Mansion so great, why it inspires such ardor among its fans, and what its future may hold.

We discuss:

  • What is special about the Mansion
  • How Walt impacted the Mansion, for good and ill

  • A detailed walk-through of the Mansion, both on-stage and off

  • Subtle details to look for

  • Walt's death and the Mansion

  • My favorite Mansions

  • My first time on the ride

  • The greatest Mansion souvenirs I never had

1000 Hours of Outrage (permalink)

The strategy of Blitzkreig was grounded in the idea of disrupting your enemy's decision-loop: that's the time it takes for someone to see what has happened, understand what it means, decide on a course of action, and then act.

Blitzkreig was effective because, by the time the decision had been made and the counteraction was beginning, you would have already begun a new foray, knocking your enemy off balance.

Much has been said about Trump's chaotic style of distracting us from scandals by having other scandals – like the fact that we stopped talking about his tax cheating so we could talk about his negligent, self-inflicted coronavirus infection.

I think that's best understood as a Blitzkreig strategy, a relentless shower of scandals that prevent us from ever catching our breath and responding to them.

Revisiting those scandals, putting together the pattern behind the chaos, is an important step towards orienting ourselves and mounting an effective resistance.

With just 1,000 hours left until the election, Creative Resistance has done just that.

The 1000 Hours of Outrage project is crowdsourcing 1,000 works of art commemorating 1,000 of Trump's scandals, and publishing one an hour right up to the election.

These defiant memorials for lost opportunities, cruelties petty and gross, mendacity and corruption render Trumpian chaos into a regimented indictment, one that spells out all that he has done to us in his four short, long years in office.

Each of them represents the artist's own trauma and rage, rendered as visual art, like:

A thousand crimes, one an hour, until we are given our chance to deal him a reckoning for his criminal misdeeds.

(Image: Selina Alko)

This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago XKCD’s Online Communities map, part 2 – the online world, visualized with loads of funny

#10yrsago KILL THE DEAD: Kadrey’s grisly, hard-boiled sequel to SANDMAN SLIM

#5yrsago UK top government official: human rights no longer a “top priority”

#5yrsago UK Chancellor: I must cut tax benefits for working poor to help them

#5yrsago Snowden broke a nondisclosure EULA in order to uphold his Constitutional oath

#1yrago Where would you put the word “fuck” in William Carlos Williams’s “This is Just to Say”?;=1286119606992296332

#1yrago Hong Kong bans makeup and masks so facial recognition cameras can identify protesters

#1yrago US prosecutors say the “bankrupt” Sacklers still have billions hidden away

#1yrago CBP officer refuses to allow American journalist into the country until he admits he writes “propaganda”

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (, Lawrence Lessig (

Currently writing: My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Friday's progress: 516 words (68593 total).

Currently reading: Harrow the Ninth, Tamsyn Muir

Latest podcast: Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town (part 16)

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When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla