“The eurozone is economically moribund, persists with policies that have demonstrably failed, is indifferent to democracy, is run by and for a small, self-perpetuating elite, and is slowing dying.”

Larry Elliott:

The euro brought to fruition the idea of ever-closer union, a plan that dates back to the early 1950s. Lots of things considered good ideas back then are no longer considered quite so clever: system-built high-rise flats as the answer to slum housing; nuclear power to meet energy needs. Put ever-closer union in the same category as the Birmingham inner-city ring road: it seemed a good idea at the time.

A different Europe is needed, but it is stretching credibility to imagine that the Europe of Greece and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership can easily morph into America with the nice people in charge. The eurozone is economically moribund, persists with policies that have demonstrably failed, is indifferent to democracy, is run by and for a small, self-perpetuating elite, and is slowing dying. The wrong comparison is being made. This is not the US without the electric chair; it is the USSR without the gulag.

Brexit may be the best answer to a dying eurozone [Guardian]

May 24, 2016  |  

“The top 1 percent…”

Joseph E. Stiglitz:

The top 1 percent have the best houses, the best educations, the best doctors, and the best lifestyles, but there is one thing that money doesn’t seem to have bought: an understanding that their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live. Throughout history, this has been something that the top 1 percent eventually do learn. Often, however, they learn it too late.

The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers Our Future [Amazon]

October 16, 2015  |  

“Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.”

Alex Tabarrok:

Even relatively small increases in immigration flows can have enormous benefits. If the developed world were to take in enough immigrants to enlarge its labor force by a mere one percent, it is estimated that the additional economic value created would be worth more to the migrants than all of the world’s official foreign aid combined. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised.

No standard moral framework, be it utilitarian, libertarian, egalitarian, Rawlsian, Christian, or any other well-developed perspective, regards people from foreign lands as less entitled to exercise their rights—or as inherently possessing less moral worth—than people lucky to have been born in the right place at the right time. Nationalism, of course, discounts the rights, interests, and moral value of “the Other, but this disposition is inconsistent with our fundamental moral teachings and beliefs.

Freedom of movement is a basic human right. Thus the Universal Declaration of Human Rights belies its name when it proclaims this right only “within the borders of each state.” Human rights do not stop at the border. Today, we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let their people exit. I look forward to the day when we treat as pariahs those governments that refuse to let people enter.

The Case for Getting Rid of Borders—Completely [Atlantic, via MR]

October 14, 2015  |  

Beznalichnye

Fascinating stuff from David E. Hoffmann’s stellar book on the rise of Russian oligarchs:

The Soviet system also had another kind of funds, known as non-cash, or ‘beznalichnye’. This was not banknotes or coins, but a kind of virtual money that was widely distributed as government subsidies to factories. The beznalichnye, or noncash, existed only as an accounting unit. A factory would be transferred subsidies in beznalichnye, which it would record on its books and might use to pay another enterprise—but it was not something you could put in your wallet.

The key dilemma for a factory manager was that the system was rigid: mixing the two kinds of money was prohibited. The factory manager was not allowed to take the beznalichnye and turn it into real cash. Both kinds of money were controlled by Gosbank, the official state bank, and by the central planners.

However, factory managers almost always needed more cash than they could get out of the system. The supply of cash was tight, but the supply of beznalichnye was very plentiful — maybe because there was not much use for it. The result was an imbalance in the value of the two kinds of money. Cash was much more valuable and sought after. By some estimates, a cash ruble was worth ten times a noncash ruble.

This imbalance was an invitation to huge profits. Someone who figured out how to turn the beznalichnye into cash would make a fortune. The planners’ greatest nightmare was that someone would do this and pump the relatively worthless state subsidies into real cash rubles.

Guess who figured it out: Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

The Oligarchs: Wealth And Power In The New Russia [Amazon]

“The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger.”

David Graeber, Professor of Anthropology at the London School of Economics:

The ruling class has figured out that a happy and productive population with free time on their hands is a mortal danger (think of what started to happen when this even began to be approximated in the ’60s). And, on the other hand, the feeling that work is a moral value in itself, and that anyone not willing to submit themselves to some kind of intense work discipline for most of their waking hours deserves nothing, is extraordinarily convenient for them.

I would not presume to tell someone who is convinced they are making a meaningful contribution to the world that, really, they are not. But what about those people who are themselves convinced their jobs are meaningless? Not long ago I got back in touch with a school friend who I hadn’t seen since I was 12. I was amazed to discover that in the interim, he had become first a poet, then the front man in an indie rock band. I’d heard some of his songs on the radio having no idea the singer was someone I actually knew. He was obviously brilliant, innovative, and his work had unquestionably brightened and improved the lives of people all over the world. Yet, after a couple of unsuccessful albums, he’d lost his contract, and plagued with debts and a newborn daughter, ended up, as he put it, “taking the default choice of so many directionless folk: law school.” Now he’s a corporate lawyer working in a prominent New York firm. He was the first to admit that his job was utterly meaningless, contributed nothing to the world, and, in his own estimation, should not really exist.

On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs [Strike!]

August 21, 2013  |