Pluralistic: Fighting junk fees is "woke" (04 August 2023)

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A mechanical credit card imprinter (AKA 'zipzap') emblazoned with a US flag Punisher logo. It is imprinting a blank credit-card slip with a red Visa card bearing the GOP logo. It sits on a weathered wooden plank table, stained a dark brown.

Fighting junk fees is "woke" (permalink)

"Populism" isn't intrinsically left or right. The distinction between the two is often obscured by jargon, but there's a simple litmus test (courtesy of Steven Brust): "ask what's more important: human rights, or property rights. If they say 'property rights are human rights,' they're on the right."

Which is to say, both the left and the right can be populist, but the populist left seeks to improve peoples' lives, no matter what that takes, while the populist right is only willing to make the world better when that doesn't interfere with the interests of property owners.

This is how you get the Libertarian Party of New Hampshire equating publicly produced, free insulin with forcing enslaved Black people to pick cotton in the fields:

For right populists, the property rights of pharma giants are human rights, so anything that interferes with those rights is equivalent to any other human rights violation.

This is not only wrong, but it's also a huge vulnerability in the right populist mindset. It's a button that, when pushed, produces a reliable and reflexive outrage.

This is essential for the creation, maintenance and expansion of plutocracy. In a plutocracy, a small minority owns most of the property (we live in a plutocracy). By definition, plutocracy isn't popular, since it's a system that benefits a small minority at everyone else's expense. In its natural state, plutocracy is only popular with its winners, and not the vast majority of losers it creates.

So plutocrats need to find ways to get turkeys to vote for Christmas. One important trick is to convince us all that the system is fair, guided by an invisible hand that performs mystic passes over our heads at birth and locates the very best of us and elevates us to the apex of the social pyramid.

But there's a problem with this: plutocracy is self-sustaining. The story that we're all just "temporarily embarrassed millionaires" who can rise to the top with hard work and smarts falls flat in the face of the reality that nearly everyone at the top was born there. If the system selects rulers based on merit, and if everyone the system selects was born rich, then the rich must have some genetic trait that makes them destined to rule.

This is why plutocracy always turns into aristocracy: the idea that some people are suited to rule because they have "good blood." Eugenics is, above all, a way to excuse inequality. Fitness to rule is determined primarily by whose orifice you emerge from, and only secondarily by any obvious competence or skill.

So right wing footsoldiers are mired in a terrible and shameful swamp of self-loathing. By definition, their lack of wealth and power is their own fault, and not merely their fault, but the fault of their genes. Being on the bottom is proof that you deserve to be there. Your failure to rise proves that you don't deserve to rise.

No wonder the right is so irony-poisoned. Remember 2020, when gun-nuts got "revenge" on gun safety scolds by photographing themselves pointing loaded guns at their own penises? The participants insisted that they were just trolling, and they were…by pointing loaded guns at their dicks:

Plutocrats understand that there are limits to irony, and that at a certain point, irony poisoning becomes so acute that your rank-and-file literally start blowing their balls off. To relieve the pressure, plutes scapegoat other people based on their gender, sexual orientation, race, or nationality.

This provides an important resolution to the cognitive dissonance of meritocracy. The reason you're doing so badly isn't that you lack merit, it's that affirmative action has elevated unworthy people to the positions that you deserve. You are a temporarily embarrassed millionaire – but the riches you deserve have been snaffled up by welfare queens and DEI consultants.

Cruelty isn't the point of culture war bullshit: the point is power. Cruelty is merely the tactic:

Culture war bullshit is a very reliable way to get turkeys to vote for Christmas. Take the campaign against junk fees, which have ticketmastered every part of your life with "fees" for things like "paying your rent by check" and "not paying your rent by check":

There is no broad constituency for junk fees. Scam artists (including scam artists in the C-suites of Fortune 100 companies) love them, sure, but junk fees make everyone else furious.

What's a plutocrat to do? Well, it turns out that culture war bullshit can make right wingers point (metaphorical) guns at their own junk – all plutocrats need to do is put the word out that getting rid of junk fees is "woke" and low-information right-wing thumbsuckers will demand the right to be charged junk fees.

Here's an example: one especially pernicious form of junk fee is the "swipe fees" that credit-card companies charge merchants. In an increasingly cashless age, these companies – dominated by the Visa/Mastercard duopoly – have figured out how to scrape 3-5% out of every single retail transaction in the entire fucking economy.

Every merchant you patronize has to charge more – or reduce quality, or both – in order to pay this Danegeld to two of the largest, most profitable companies in the world. Visa/Mastercard have hiked their fees by 40 percent since the pandemic's start. Forty. Fucking. Percent. Tell me again how greedflation isn't real?

A bipartisan legislative coalition, led by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) have proposed the Credit Card Competition Act (CCCA), which will force competition into credit-card routing, putting pressure on the Visa/Mastercard duopoly:

This should be a no-brainer, but plute spin-doctors have plenty of no-brains to fill up with culture war bullshit. Writing in The American Prospect, Luke Goldstein unpacks an astroturf campaign to save the endangered swipe fee from woke competition advocates:

Now, this campaign isn't particularly sophisticated. It goes like this: Target is a big business that runs a lot of transactions through Visa/Mastercard, so it stands to benefit from competition in payment routing. And Target did a mean woke by selling Pride merch, which makes them groomers. So by fighting swipe fees, Congress is giving woke groomers a government bailout!

It's literally that stupid. It's being pushed by a dark money group based in Kansas, which is targeting Senator Marshall's constituents with mailers that warns voters they'll "lose their credit card points" because he's thrown his lot in with "liberal politicians":

The flyers also warn that competition could result in "your financial data [being] processed by partners of the Chinese Communist Party" (the bill bans foreign companies from routing transactions, and bans China UnionPay by name).

The flyers are anonymous. The only ghoul shameless enough to put his name on the campaign is Grover Norquist, whose Americans for Tax Reform tells its Christmas-voting-turkeys to "side with consumers, not woke retailers."

The dark money org pushing this line have placed op-eds in newspapers across red states, comparing transaction routing competition to your kids' data being snaffled up by Tiktok:

This nonsense was peddled by League of Southeastern Credit Unions president Samantha Beeler, whose org has spent $20,000 fighting the CCCA, claiming that a "cheaper" system would be "less secure":

But that's small potatoes. Millions are being spent, right now, lobbying against CCCA – $5m from the American Bankers' Association, $2m from the Credit Union National Association, another $400k from Mastercard.

For these rentiers, corrupting our government with millions is a stellar bargain if it lets them continue to collect rent every time we spend money. And millions of people who'll end up paying that will demand the right to do so, provided they're told that they're fighting "woke capitalism" and China.

Hey look at this (permalink)

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This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago DMCA does not apply to US government, which can crack DRM with impunity

#10yrsago Attacking the popular Kwikset lock: open in 15 seconds with a screwdriver and a paper clip

#10yrsago Six blatant lies about spying from the NSA up to Obama

#10yrsago Prosecutor Stephen Heymann told MIT that Aaron Swartz was like a rapist who blames his victim

#5yrsago When Zephyr Teachout is elected New York Attorney General, she’s gonna emolumentize Trump right out of the White House

#5yrsago When should the press pay attention to trolls, lies and disinformation?

#5yrsago Wells Fargo: we stole houses and we’re being investigated for dirty low-income housing credits

#1yrago A TRAP for workers: Oops, we re-invented indenture

Colophon (permalink)

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