If you buy groceries, you know that prices are high. And if you read the paper, you’ve probably heard that prices are high because of, well, “inflation,” and “shocks to the supply chain,” and other language you understand, but don’t quite understand. One article told me that economists see pandemic-related spending meant to stabilize the economy as a factor, along with war-impacted supply chains and steps taken by the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates —all of which may be true, but still doesn’t really help me see why four sticks of butter now cost $8. Not to mention that the same piece talks matter of factly about “upward pressure on wages,” which sounds like people who need to buy butter are getting paid more, but I’m pretty sure the language is telling me I’m supposed to be against it.
This is a sequel to a Jan. 15 article titled “Casino Capitalism and the Derivatives Market: Time for Another ‘Lehman Moment’?”, discussing the threat of a 2024 “black swan” event that could pop the derivatives bubble. That bubble is now over ten times the GDP of the world and is so interconnected and fragile that an unanticipated crisis could trigger the collapse not just of the bubble but of the economy. To avoid that result, in the event of the bankruptcy of a major financial institution, derivative claimants are put first in line to grab the assets — not just the deposits of customers but their stocks and bonds. This is made possible by the Uniform Commercial Code, under which all assets held by brokers, banks and “central clearing parties” have been “dematerialized” into fungible pools and are held in “street name.”
Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci has been quoted quite a lot in recent years amid our various political catastrophes from Trump to Covid-19 to climate collapse and the political center’s seeming inability to resist any of the above. The most famous line from his Prison Notebooks, written between 1929 and 1935 while a political prisoner of the Mussolini regime, is probably: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.” This is sometimes more loosely translated as “The old world is dying and the new cannot be born; now is the time of monsters.”
A couple of weeks ago, a good friend found herself in the emergency room at one of our world-class hospitals, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. After emergency surgery, the medical team decided to admit her for at least another day to monitor her recovery. What she encountered next was something out of a makeshift battlefield hospital, as rendered by Hieronymus Bosch. There were no beds available in the patient rooms, so “admitted” patients were being stashed in beds laid end to end in the emergency area. A bit of delay getting a bed is not unusual. But in this case, there were seriously ill admitted patients in 73 beds crammed into the emergency area.
As French President Emmanuel Macron’s government, under new Prime Minister Gabriel Attal, moves ever further to the right, a radical mass movement is again shaking the country. Last year, the biggest workers’ movement for decades mobilised millions across the country in an attempt to defend retirement pensions. This year it is the turn of the farmers to revolt. Six thousand tractors were present at 120 blockades, and at least 16 motorways were brought to a standstill on January 30. Regional government headquarters have been covered with manure, and hypermarket distribution centres — as well as Toulouse airport — paralysed.
“Civil War” has been trending on Twitter, and while the term is hyperbolic, it comes from a very real crisis of legitimacy for the federal government. Texas’ far-right governor, Greg Abbott, has openly declared he will defy a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court, and 25 other governors have declared their support for Abbott. This is an escalation in an ongoing dispute between the federal government and Texas over razor wire that the Texas National Guard constructed in Eagle Pass along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of Abbott’s anti-migrant Operation Lone Star. For weeks, Texas National Guard soldiers had been blocking federal agents from accessing Eagle Pass to take down the wire.
Labor Power and Strategy, the new book edited by Peter Olney and Glenn Perušek, officially aims to provide “rational, radical, experience-based perspectives that help target and run smart, strategic, effective campaigns in the working class.” But by the end of it, it is difficult to avoid the sneaking suspicion that Olney and Perušek have a different goal: to make clear just how far organized labor is from having a strategic conversation about its present impasse. The book is organized around an interview with economist and historian John Womack about the twin needs for an analysis of the weak points (or “choke points”) in contemporary industrial technologies and for the labor movement to exploit that analysis to cause disruption and gain leverage.
The president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, made a statement at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, that he would like to see “the power of international law” restored, and the global financial system changed. During his speech this Wednesday, January 17, at the “Addressing the North-South Schism” panel, the Colombian president referred to the need to reestablish “the power of international law,” which he noted “has practically fallen to pieces.” On Tuesday, President Petro referred to his proposal to change public debt for environmental protection, especially in the Amazon, a region that he reiterated requires urgent climate action.
AI is a labor issue. Maybe we’ll get lucky and it will prove to be a marginal labor issue. Or maybe it will prove to be an existential, epochal labor issue on par with industrialization or globalization, each of which revolutionized their own eras of work. Before we get completely immersed in the battle over how AI will affect workers, though, it is important to frame the playing field correctly. This is not a fight between a backwards-looking labor movement on one side, and technological progress on the other. Rather, this is a question of where the wealth and efficiency gains created by AI will flow. Want to change the world? Share.
The world’s richest 1% own 43% of global financial assets, and the wealth of the top five billionaires has doubled since 2020, while 60% of humanity – nearly 5 billion people – collectively got poorer, according to a report by Oxfam, a leading international humanitarian organization. Oxfam published the study, “Inequality Inc.”, to coincide with the World Economic Forum meeting of corporate oligarchs and Western government officials in Davos, Switzerland this January. The five richest people on Earth in 2023 were Elon Musk, Bernard Arnault, Jeff Bezos, Larry Ellison, and Warren Buffett. Their combined wealth skyrocketed from $340 billion in 2020 to $869 billion just three years later.
Reading the tea leaves for the 2024 economy is challenging. On January 5th, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said we have achieved a “soft landing,” with wages rising faster than prices in 2023. But critics are questioning the official figures, and prices are still high. Surveys show that consumers remain apprehensive. There are other concerns. On Dec. 24, 2023, Catherine Herridge, a senior investigative correspondent for CBS News covering national security and intelligence, said on “Face the Nation,” “I just feel a lot of concern that 2024 may be the year of a black swan event. This is a national security event with high impact that’s very hard to predict.”
Established systems don't welcome fundamentally new ideas – even when they desperately need them, even if people are clamoring for them. Entrenched systems see new ideas and logics as disruptive. They see them as threatening and even incomprehensible. And yet, as Albert Einstein famously said, "Problems cannot be solved with the same mindset that created them." We're at an impasse today because contemporary institutions keep bringing the same mindset to solving problems that need some fresh and strikingly different approaches. The many problems afflicting agriculture and the food system today are fundamentally similar to those afflicting the rest of society. They are just another theater for rentier capitalism, which relies on market/state collusion, extractivism of nature, and systemic precarity for many ordinary people.
Our current wealth-building system is based on individualism and therefore elitism. We’re totally focused on this idea of competition, on “beating” the opponents and gaining leverage against others to “win”. Those who outrun their competitors “lead” the race and therefore become the “leaders”. Society envies those who “made it”, who, through gaining competitive advantage, made a fortune and can now enjoy status, power, and independence points that seem almost unreachable for the ordinary person who feels stuck in the daily rat race. “The dominant narrative around leadership in many areas of the world centers individualism over solidarity.
The Great Barrington Declaration (GBD) is standard issue libertarian free market ideology sanded down to fit the confines of public health – this document (coauthored by three highly credentialed academics: Sunetra Gupta of Oxford, Martin Kulldorff of Harvard, and Jay Bhattacharya of Stanford) recommended that governments do nothing to combat a once in a century pandemic destined globally to obliterate as many as 27 million lives. The fever dream enshrined in every libertarian narrative holds that “self regulating forces” exhibit a mystical benevolence only realized when governments retreat, and defer to the “natural order.”
Of the many climate struggles going on today, the great one, played out in hundreds of arenas around the world, is the struggle to rein in and then halt the buildup of greenhouse gases. Gaining ever-more attention is the struggle to adapt to the climate impacts already upon us. But there is a new struggle that needs to be joined now: the struggle to learn from our mistakes — the Big Mistake of climate catastrophe. What is it about our society, our economy, our politics, and our culture that has let this giant failing happen? What is it that has led us to this tragedy? There are a set of readily available answers to this question, the conventional wisdom of the matter.