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Weekend Longread

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.14.18

Nick S. writes: Two very good articles looking back at the financial crisis from the perspective of contemporary politics. First, John Lanchester in the London Review Of Books :

Some of the more pessimistic commentators at the time of the credit crunch, myself included, said that the aftermath of the crash would dominate our economic and political lives for at least ten years. What I wasn't expecting - what I don't think anyone was expecting - was that ten years would go by quite so fast. ...

...

By now we're eight years into that public anger. Remember that remark made by Robert Lucas, the macroeconomist, that the central problem of depression prevention had been solved? How's that been working out? How it's been working out here in the UK is the longest period of declining real incomes in recorded economic history. 'Recorded economic history' means as far back as current techniques can reach, which is back to the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Worse than the decades that followed the Napoleonic Wars, worse than the crises that followed them, worse than the financial crises that inspired Marx, worse than the Depression, worse than both world wars. That is a truly stupendous statistic and if you knew nothing about the economy, sociology or politics of a country, and were told that single fact about it - that real incomes had been falling for the longest period ever - you would expect serious convulsions in its national life.

Just as grim, life expectancy has stagnated too, which is all the more shocking because it is entirely unexpected. According to the Continuous Mortality Investigation, life expectancy for a 45-year-old man has declined from an anticipated 43 years of extra life to 42, for a 45-year-old woman from 45.1 more years to 44. There's a decline for pensioners too. We had gained ten years of extra life since 1960, and we've just given one year back. These data are new and are not fully understood yet, but it seems pretty clear that the decline is linked to austerity, perhaps not so much to the squeeze on NHS spending - though the longest spending squeeze, adjusted for inflation and demographics, since the foundation of the NHS has obviously had some effect - but to the impacts of austerity on social services, which in the case of such services as Meals on Wheels and house visits function as an early warning system for illness among the elderly. As a result, mortality rates are up, an increase that began in 2011 after decades in which they had fallen under both parties, and it's this that is causing the decline in life expectancy.

...

Sociology would have been a better social science than economics for understanding the last ten years. Three dominos fell. The initial event was economic. The meaning of it was experienced in ways best interpreted by sociology. The consequences were acted out through politics. From a sociological point of view, the crisis exacerbated faultlines running through contemporary societies, faultlines of city and country, old and young, cosmopolitan and nationalist, insider and outsider. As a direct result we have seen a sharp rise in populism across the developed world and a marked collapse in support for established parties, in particular those of the centre-left.


And DSquared in the Guardian about the LIBOR scandal.

It is not a pleasant thing to see your industry subjected to criticism that is at once overheated, ill-informed and entirely justified. In 2012, the financial sector finally got the kind of enemies it deserved. The popular version of events might have been oversimplified and wrong in lots of technical detail, but in the broad sweep, it was right. The nuanced and technical version of events which the specialists obsessed over might have been right on the detail, but it missed one utterly crucial point: a massive crime of dishonesty had taken place. There was a word for what had happened, and that word was fraud. For a period of months, it seemed to me as if the more you knew about the Libor scandal, the less you understood it.

That's how we got it so wrong. We were looking for incidental breaches of technical regulations, not systematic crime. And the thing is, that's normal. The nature of fraud is that it works outside your field of vision, subverting the normal checks and balances so that the world changes while the picture stays the same. People in financial markets have been missing the wood for the trees for as long as there have been markets.

...

Libor teaches us a valuable lesson about commercial fraud - that unlike other crimes, it has a problem of denial as well as one of detection. There are very few other criminal acts where the victim not only consents to the criminal act, but voluntarily transfers the money or valuable goods to the criminal. And the hierarchies, status distinctions and networks that make up a modern economy also create powerful psychological barriers against seeing fraud when it is happening. White-collar crime is partly defined by the kind of person who commits it: a person of high status in the community, the kind of person who is always given the benefit of the doubt.

They are an interesting pair. I think Lanchester is right to take the opportunity to look back over the last decade and observe that, collectively, we're still processing the fallout from the financial crisis, and DSquared is, unsurprisingly, quite good on why it's difficult to know who to punish or what to fix.


Finally, I'd throw in Kevin Drum's post in which he speculates that the explanation for the current degree of political crisis involves some big events and also just bad luck and bad timing, and that the systemic problems might not be as bad as the current outcomes suggest for a bit of a devil's advocate position.


 

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Friday Burn It All Down

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.13.18

Per request (which now I can't find), vent your WTFuckery here.

As a bit of levity, I offer up this example of the category "thought I hadn't critically reconsidered since childhood": I heard the Cutting Crew song "(I Just) Died In Your Arms Tonight" and it occurred to me for the first time today that he's not singing about slow-dancing at a dance. Why else would you be in someone else's arms?

(In 1986, I was eight years old. I definitely had the thing where I knew what sex was from a Unitarian Liberal Parent point of view, but until I was maybe 17 (or 40) hadn't realized that all lyrics and jokes were always about sex.)


 

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Educate me

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.12.18

Ok, it's clearly possible for stock markets to recover from a recession while the indicators that affect ordinary people slump along. It's also possible for these two domains to behave in sync: crash together, recover together.

What conditions would allow the indicators that benefit the labor force to thrive and yet have a crappy stock market? I remember during the Great Recession, there was a lot of criticism here that individual homeowners could have received much greater debt relief that went to banks instead, but that's not an example of the homeowners thriving exactly.

Can the labor force and stock markets be untethered in such a way that the labor force thrives and the stock markets get pummeled? Without wrecking ordinary people's retirement savings, or does that put it in the realm of fantasy?


 

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Protected Class

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.11.18

Jammies' former employer sent him an adorable letter. It explained that since he was 40, he was a member of a protected class, and so they wanted to give him all information to reassure him that he was not targeted due to his age.

To this end, they included a three page list of all employees in Jammies' division. For each one, it indicated their job title, their age, and whether they were employed or laid off. Out of maybe 300, there were about ten layoffs.

Out of the ten layoffs, eight were 40 or older, and the remaining two were 39. There you have it: conclusive proof that everything was kosher. We are enjoying our severance package.

Mostly it was amusing to be sent a (presumably legally mandated) letter that purported to be transparency about their lack of prejudice, but instead clearly document their misdeeds. This is not the most egregious workplace violation ever, but the takeaway seems to be that if you want to axe members of a protected class, you should bribe the individuals with a sufficient sum of money.

(We didn't bother to average the ages of the other 290 employees. It was not a digital spreadsheet.)


 

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Guest Post - a non-trump dystopian question

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.10.18

Nworb Werdna writes: According to the Economist, women in India are more likely to have been beaten by their husbands than they are to have a paid job. This statistic made me wonder whether it was capitalism or feminism which was responsible for the great change that makes this statistic seem so shocking to us. (Of course, the whole world must have been like that before WW1).

In particular, are Indian mothers, who don't work outside the home and have no choice in the matter, worse off than poor American mothers who must work outside the home and have just as little choice in the matter? Ie, would you rather live in the Wire's Baltimore, or in Uttar Pradesh?

I take for granted that the ideal end state is Scandiwegian, where women can both work outside the home and access first class child care, flexible working arrangements, and so forth. But I'm genuinely not sure which of the two present dystopias is worse. Is it better to be in prison or out on the street?

In favour of Baltimore: access to contraception, so you don't have to be a mother all the time. Access to electricity. Low risk of famine. Sewers, and public health generally, even if access to private health care in Alabama is out of reach for the poor. Family networks based around grandmothers generally less bloody than family networks based round the power of mothers-in-law.

In favour of rural India: job security - ie a secure, known, social position as part of a household. Very low risk of automation taking your job away (at least until the village is electrified) Better care in old age. Social approval (not a negligible factor in happiness). The hope of being promoted in time to become a mother in law yourself.

Averaged across the whole country, life is safer in the US than in India (homicide rate per 100,000 for women 1.0 in US; 1.4 in India). But I'm really trying to compare with the worst parts of the US and can't quickly find stats at state level for either.

Likelihood of debt servitude pretty high in both countries, even though it is informal in the US and MBNA are probably less vicious than an Indian rural moneylender. Still, both can take your home.

On balance, I think the US is probably still the better place to be poor. And the fact that people move from the countryside to the city and not the other way round is in favour of that conclusion. On the other hand, migration tends to follow from the breakup of traditional structures, and I am assuming their persistence. To be a woman refugee from a traditional society is probably the worst of all possible outcomes.

I haven't factored in the role of hope in happiness.

What do you all think?

Heebie's take: First, you troll. For starters, It's too uneven to compare. It can't be overstated how awful it is to live in fear of violence - state-sanctioned spousal abuse is awful. But of course, not all the husbands in Uttar Pradesh are abusive, and some of the boyfriends and husbands in Baltimore are.

The freedom of Baltimore is appealing, except that freedom doesn't feel like freedom when you've got a few kids that you need to provide for.

I'm trying to take the question seriously. Both countries have enough extreme misery to make the comparison of "who is worst off" meaningless. Rather, I'm going to interpret the question to mean: In each country, where is the make-or-break line between immiseration vs. "skating by"? In which country can someone in misery more easily move to "skating by"? (Still an inadequate question - many people are perpetually weaving back and forth between the two states.)

Ok, here's my answer: in either place, imo the make-or-break line is a strong social network. In the US, you absolutely must have people who can pick your kid up from school when they get sent home with a fever so that you don't get fired, and someone to bring their kids over and spend the evening with you shooting the shit and finding dark humor in the stress of the week. In India, I have no idea what the analogue would be. I don't even know how to think that through. If I had to invent something out of thin air, perhaps being able to have extended family who warmly welcomes you when you feel like violence is imminent, and a trusty mother-in-law who chews out her son and keeps his violence from escalating.

In the absence of a strong social network, it's probably easier to create one from scratch in the US - start with your nearest church and FB mom group. I frequently see posts like, "This is weird, but I just don't have any girlfriends. I need some Momma friends. Anyone else? Let's start a play group!" and they seem to get pretty robust responses. But that's the devil I know - I have no idea how hard it would be in India.


 

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Barry Freed Meetup

Posted by LizardBreath
on 07.10.18

Next Tuesday or Wednesday at Fresh Salt. Who's in, and which day is better?

Tonight! Fresh Salt, Barry will be there sometime after 5.


 

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Since 1987?

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.09.18

The vast body of evidence is staggering. Here's a bit I'd totally forgotten, although I now recall it:

In a Republican meeting a month before Trump clinched the 2016 nomination, the recording of which later leaked, House Speaker Paul Ryan mused about how Russia "hacked the DNC ... and, like, delivered it to who?" House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy replied, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." When others laughed, he added, "Swear to God."

All 2018 Republicans are treasonous.


 

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Gadsby

Posted by Heebie-Geebie
on 07.09.18

I watched the Hannah Gadsby special, "Nanette", over the weekend. Like everyone else, I'm blown away. She's so very funny, and then so deft at killing the humor when she wants a point to stand, unadulterated.

Here's an interview with her: "I'm in people's private spaces and homes and breaking the contract essentially of what stand-up comedy should be - light entertainment."

I don't fully understand the intersection of gender and comedy, but talented female comics are some of my most favorite things in the world.


 

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