Joseph E. Stiglitz is An Economist Who Believes Only Government Can Save Capitalism

Daniel W. Drezner in the New York Times:

A diverting Beltway pastime during the heyday of the Washington Consensus was to gently mock Joseph E. Stiglitz. It was remarkably easy for pundits to wave away his prestigious awards (Nobel Prize in Economics) and positions (World Bank chief economist, chairman of Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers) and dismiss his warnings about “market fundamentalism” as overripe hyperbole. In 2004 the financial columnist Sebastian Mallaby described Stiglitz as “like a boy who discovers a hole in the floor of an exquisite house and keeps shouting and pointing at it.” Fifteen years later, the house that capitalism built looks rather shabby. Maybe, just maybe, more people should have taken Stiglitz seriously.

This is certainly what Stiglitz, now a professor of economics at Columbia, is hoping for with his latest book, “People, Power, and Profits.” He argues that the American system of capitalism has fallen down and needs government help to get back up again. “People, Power, and Profits” builds on Stiglitz’s earlier work and adds some pretty big ambitions. In the preface, he writes: “This is a time for major changes. Incrementalism — minor tweaks to our political and economic system — are inadequate to the tasks at hand.”

More here.

Guy Gunaratne: ‘In London, you learn to code-switch … I’ve always thought of that as a superpower’

Claire Armitstead in The Guardian:

When Guy Gunaratne was a teenager he would catch the bus home from school in north-west London, listening out for the chat of his fellow passengers. “Like this one kid who said to his friend, ‘Come on, you’re moving like molasses.’ That rattled in my head for so long. It’s so inside,” he says. “London can be an unkind place to live and grow up in, but I just love the way we spoke, and to make something out of where you’re from, loving the kind of things people usually forget or dismiss, is a thrilling experience.”

Gunaratne’s debut novel, In Our Mad and Furious City, was longlisted for last year’s Man Booker prize and shortlisted for a string of others before winning the Jhalak prize and the International Dylan Thomas award for writers under 40 last month. The Dylan Thomas jury described it as astounding, provocative and enticing, but not an easy read. “People bring their own baggage to my baggage and that’s good,” responds the author, who packed his novel with things people would prefer to dismiss or forget, not least the murder of off-duty soldier Lee Rigby, who was hacked to death in broad daylight in a south London street in 2013.

More here.

US military is a bigger polluter than as many as 140 countries – shrinking this war machine is a must

Benjamin Neimark, Oliver Belcher, and Patrick Bigger in The Conversation:

The US military’s carbon bootprint is enormous. Like corporate supply chains, it relies upon an extensive global network of container ships, trucks and cargo planes to supply its operations with everything from bombs to humanitarian aid and hydrocarbon fuels. Our new study calculated the contribution of this vast infrastructure to climate change.

Greenhouse gas emission accounting usually focuses on how much energy and fuel civilians use. But recent work, including our own, shows that the US military is one of the largest polluters in history, consuming more liquid fuels and emitting more climate-changing gases than most medium-sized countries. If the US military were a country, its fuel usage alone would make it the 47th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, sitting between Peru and Portugal.

More here.

When Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez met Greta Thunberg: ‘Hope is contagious’

Emma Brockes in The Guardian:

There is something very moving about the conversation between these young women, a sense of generational rise that, as we know from every precedent from the Renaissance onwards, has the power to ignite movements and change history.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez It’s such an honour to meet you!

Greta Thunberg You, too!

AOC Thank you. I’m so excited to be having this conversation. I remember first hearing your speech a few months ago – I was hanging out with a friend in Harlem, who said, “Have you listened to this young woman?” And I heard your speech and was thrilled, because here in the United States, even when I was running, people were saying there’s no need to convey this kind of urgency [about the climate], and it’s radical, and it’s unnecessary. To hear you articulate the belief that I’ve had as well is so exciting and validating. So I wanted to thank you for your work and your advocacy.

GT Thank you so much for standing up and offering hope to so many people, even here in Sweden.

More here.

Playing Video Games Makes Us Fully Human

Brian Gallagher in Nautilus:

The popularity of video games is staggering. Last year, the top 25 public game companies—China’s Tencent, Sony, and Microsoft ranking highest—had annual earnings of more than $100 billion for the first time.1 The United States video game industry earned more than global box office movie ticket sales, U.S. video streaming subscriptions, and the U.S. music industry.2 By 2021, according to Statista, a market research firm, 2.7 billion people will be playing video games, up from 1.8 billion five years ago. A Pew survey reveals the age group that plays most often is 18 to 29.3In the 30 to 49 age group, nearly 50 percent of men and 40 percent of women play. A study in Europe shows people 45 and up are more likely to play video games than children aged 6 to 14.

…Pete Etchells, a professor of psychology and communications in England, and author of a new book, Lost in a Good Game, thinks video games tap into the reaches of emotional and moral faculties that traditional arts and entertainment can’t reach. The player can drive action, exert agency, and explore imagined worlds freely. Video games, Etchells says, “embody the principles of existentialism.” A story can be cathartic but only a game can make you feel guilty for what you’ve done or were compelled to do. A 2010 paper in Review of General Psychology states, “Compared with other media such as books, films, and radio, electronic games appear to have an unusually expansive appeal and serve a surprising number of emotional, social, and intellectual needs.”4 For Etchells, an avid gamer, video games are a “creative medium” that can “offer us unparalleled opportunities for exploring what it means to be human.”

More here.

Novel, letter, essay, memoir? Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights

Eimear McBride in The Guardian:

Within the first few pages of Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights the narrator writes of her fondly remembered, now long-deceased mother: “I never knew a person so indifferent to the past. It was as if she did not know who she was.” It’s an unsentimental, matter-of-fact kind of assessment of a life that, having failed to be the occasion of much self-examination in its possessor, is now dwindling unhindered into a soon-to-be-forgotten past. Hardwick’s narrator – and fellow Elizabeth – doesn’t fault her mother for this dimly lit sense of self or lack of strongly asserted identity. Rather, in much the same way that she and her many siblings respond to their mother’s prodigious childbearing by offering up a singularly low birth rate of their own, she simply adopts a fundamentally different approach.

Sleepless Nights – first published in 1979 when its author was 63, renowned and respected as one of the pre-eminent writers in her field – stands in polar opposition to this maternal model of the deserted self and, most particularly, of the deserted female self. There is no confusion of selfhood or incoherence of purpose. This is a narrator who knows who she is and, pretty much, how she got to be that way. The resultant restive narrative is a deep delve into the processes of her thinking as she sleeplessly rolls back and forth across ideas, memories and conclusions. For the reader it is this encounter with a formidable mind working hard, mapping the journey from its root consciousness through myriad perceptions and recollections out into the physical world – where it may, or may not, allow itself to be changed by what it finds – which forms the spine of pleasure that holds the fragmented narrative together.

More here. (Note: One of my all-time favorite books!)

Sunday Poem

Discover my Resemblance to Myself

inconstant flower.
………………………. I am the wood you crackle in,
the human stone inside its kidney,
the sedentary clutching at the seed,
your bridge traversed.

Discover me.
………….…….. I am the one who turns to cast a shadow,
what strikes itself and splinters; smoke
that billows from the train of your pursuers;
a flock before the empty vase
right in the middle of the dazzled dining room.

by Hernán Bravo Varela
from: La documentación de los procesos
publisher: Pre-Textos, Valencia, Spain, 2019
translation: Robin Myers

Encéntrame Parecido A Mí

flor de inconstancia.
……………………….….. Yo soy la madera en que crepitas,
la piedra humana en su riñón,
el sedentario que empuña la semilla,
tu puente atravesado.

……………….….. Soy quien voltea para hacer sombra,
el que se astilla y se golpea; humo
del tren de los que te persiguen;
parvada ante el florero vacío,
al centro de un deslumbrado comedor.


Swanson on Swanson

Rachel Syme at Bookforum:

One evening in early 1950, the film mogul Louis B. Mayer hosted a small dinner party for the actress Gloria Swanson. She was fifty-one years old, which was not considered an ancient, crone-like age, even in an industry that values youth above all else. Still, she was in need of a professional boost. Mayer’s small soiree was something of a ceremonial gesture. Here was one of the last tycoons of classic Hollywood extending his hand and his hospitality to an actress who was tottering, on marabou-covered heels, back into the business after a decade-long fermata.

Swanson was one of the highest-paid—and most dazzlingly famous—stars of the silent-film era, after signing with Cecil B. DeMille when she was only nineteen. If Mary Pickford was America’s Sweetheart, and Theda Bara its Goth Vamp Id, then Gloria Swanson was the Fashionable Cool Girl, gallivanting around Hollywood in peacock plumage and beaded tassels.

more here.

A History of the Bible

Colin Burrow at The Guardian:

The gospels (which show knowledge of the fall of the Jerusalem Temple in AD70) were written at least two decades after Paul’s epistles. And the Gospel of John was possibly written as late as the second century. It presents a Jesus who talks a great deal about his own status as God’s son. This more likely reflects the beliefs of a later era than that of Jesus himself, and John’s gospel may indeed be a biography of Christ written to suit the interests and beliefs of John’s own particular branch of Christianity. The episode of the woman taken in adultery – “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her” – which appears only in this gospel, is not found in the earliest manuscripts, and is likely to be an even later addition.

Does this mean that Barton’s history of the Bible provides an armoury of arguments for religious sceptics? Well, the sceptical will certainly find material here to deploy. But Barton – who is an Anglican with Lutheran leanings – believes that it’s perfectly possible to see the Bible as a book with its own history and also to regard it as a repository of religious truths.

more here.

Before Hobbits, There Were Snergs

Michael Dirda at The Washington Post:

Suppose you were to mash up three of the greatest of all children’s fantasies: J.M. Barrie’s “Peter Pan,” J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit” and T.H. White’s “The Sword in the Stone.” This may be hard to imagine, especially for an adult, but something like E.A. Wyke-Smith’s “The Marvellous Land of Snergs” would be the result. Deliciously irreverent in its narration, silly and spooky throughout, and charmingly illustrated by Punch artist George Morrow, this neglected masterpiece remains as winning today as when it was first published in 1927.

Wyke-Smith opens with a description of Watkyns Bay, where scores of children can be glimpsed playing on the sand and in the water. Actually, they can’t be glimpsed because not a single ship, with one exception, has ever entered the bay.

more here.

Digital Socialism

Evgeny Morozov in The New Left Review:

More than a decade after the onset of the financial crisis, capitalist ideologues are eager for good publicity. Once-alluring promises of meritocracy and social mobility ring increasingly hollow. They pine for a slicker, PowerPoint-friendly legitimation narrative—hard to concoct against a background of rising inequality, pervasive tax evasion and troubling omens about the true state of the post-crash global economy, were central bankers to withdraw their overextended support. What real-world developments could underpin such a narrative? What theme could make the idea of capitalism more morally acceptable to the latest batch of Ivy League graduates, who may risk getting drawn to notions like eco-socialism? Despite the growing ‘tech-lash’ against the faangs, capitalist thinkers still look to Silicon Valley and its culture with a glimmer of hope. For all its problems, the Valley remains a powerful laboratory of new—perhaps, better—market solutions. No other sector occupies such a prominent role on the horizon of the Western capitalist imaginary or offers such a promising field for regenerative mythologies.

A new strand of thinking has begun to address how the global economy might be re-engineered around the latest digital innovations to introduce a modicum of fairness. The ‘New Deal on Data’—the term surfaced in a 2009 paper presented at Davos—is the tech world’s neoliberal equivalent of the Green New Deal, but requires no government spending. It envisages formalizing property rights around intangibles, so that individuals can ‘own’ the data they produce. One advantage for its proponents is that this market-friendly ‘new deal’ could help to forestall alternative attempts at imagining users as anything other than passive consumers of digital technology; they could enjoy their new status as hustling data entrepreneurs, but should aspire to little else.

More here.

Toward a Sexual Ethics of Kindness

Andy West interview with Victoria Brooks in 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM Magazine: You’ve written this incredibly powerful book that you’ve described as an orgasmic attack on western philosophy. In particular, there’s a character in the book called “Her Philosopher”, who you describe as someone you were in an abusive relationship with. In many ways the problems you found you had in that relationship represent a lot of the problems you have with philosophy. There’s a question you pose to try and test the philosophy of sexuality and to test the sexuality of philosophy: do philosophers fuck differently? Your answer seems to be yes—on the pillow afterwards they can talk incessantly.

Victoria Brooks: There’s a bit in the book where I’m having a heated conversation on the phone with the man called Her Philosopher. I throw the phone across the room in frustration. When I pick it up, he was still talking, without noticing any interruption. That endless talking can be the norm with philosophers. There’s no way in. And that’s what happens from the point of view of female sexuality. When I teach philosophy I find myself apologising to the women in the room—and the men too— that all of what we are studying is written by men. Philosophy is often long and boring and it speaks from up on high.

3:AM: So philosophy is like the ultimate mansplain.

VB: Exactly—it’s the ultimate mansplain.

More here.

New Rules, New Politics

Felicia Wong in the Boston Review:

A reasonable Democrat from just a few years ago—way back in 2015, say—would be forgiven for not recognizing the basic ideas at the center of the party’s political debate today. It is a bold new agenda: doubling the top tax rate to 70 percent; achieving 100 percent renewable energy in the foreseeable future; eschewing balanced budget norms and embracing federal deficits; and breaking up the tech giants. Such proposals, which are designed to change how key societal institutions are structured, usually die of their own fantastic ambitions well before they reach the halls of power. But 2019 represents a sharp break from business as usual. Indeed, these are the official platforms of U.S. senators and governors running to become president of the United States.

What, exactly, is going on? The most straightforward answer is that a new economics is being born—one that is being argued everywhere from academic journals to the 2020 campaign trail and is moving with surprising alacrity to mainstream consciousness. Interestingly, no single figure on the left—no John Maynard Keynes, no Milton Friedman—has fully sketched out this new paradigm. Conversely, and perhaps most importantly, Donald Trump is not the driving force behind it. The president may be the most dominant figure in U.S. politics, but he is a side show in the Democratic party’s embrace of a new and more progressive economics.

More here.

Living in a critical condition: Jürgen Habermas at 90

Thomas Meaney in The New Statesman:

In a country where anniversaries are drawn-out affairs, the 90th birthday of the leading German philosopher, Jürgen Habermas was not going to pass unmarked. The newspaper Die Zeit dedicated a supplement to accolades; cultural ministers brushed up on his backlist. His lecture at Goethe University Frankfurt in June was delivered in front of as many as 3,000 people. It brought back memories for the older audience members: the philosopher made his name there as Theodor Adorno’s assistant, sculpting his arguments in front of students who had been shorn of any utopian commitments by the Second World War – or, later, against students who took their utopian visions beyond what he thought was called for.

Still agile at the lectern, his black sneakers crossing back and forth, switching between two pairs of spectacles, Habermas did not disappoint his audience. Did his audience disappoint him? Perhaps. Instead of the torrents of applause, you sensed he would have preferred a bright undergraduate to have stood up and asked a question. The most apposite birthday gift may have been delivered by Habermas’s publishing house, Suhrkamp Verlag, which published a richly detailed study of his early thought by a young historian born in the GDR.

More here.

Primo Levi At 100

Noa Gutow-Ellis in mjhnyc:

It happened, therefore it can happen again: this is the core of what we have to say. It can happen, and it can happen everywhere. (Primo Levi, 1986)

These words anchor the exhibition Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. The quote above is the first line visitors read when they enter the gallery. Levi establishes a moral framework, an emotional gravity that drives the visitor experience. In my own time within the exhibition, it felt as though this line from Levi echoed throughout the entirety of my visit. Born in 1919—one hundred years ago—in Turin, Italy, Levi worked as a chemist before his arrest and deportation to Auschwitz in 1943. He survived Auschwitz and, in 1947, published an account of his experiences. Translated into nearly 40 languages, If This Is a Man (also known as Survival in Auschwitz) endures today.

In mid-June, Centro Primo Levi in New York along with the Italian Cultural Instituteand the New York Public Library hosted an eight-hour, full-length recitation of Levi’s If This Is A Man in twenty-five languages. Sitting and taking in the English words on a screen while listening to impassioned, compelling readers recite Levi’s lines in languages from Albanian to French, from Russian to Korean, the resonance of Levi’s words, messages, and his breathtaking account of life in Auschwitz was clear to me – even as I did not understand most of the languages I was listening to. As Alvin H. Rosenfeld, renowned scholar of Jewish literature and Holocaust studies, so aptly wrote, “Levi was able to evoke [Auschwitz’s] madness, cruelty, and near-incomprehensibility with compelling clarity.” It is Levi’s ability to make sense of the senseless, to translate the unthinkable that serves as an anchor for me – and anyone, really – in seeking to understand Auschwitz. Levi did all of this in 1947 when his volume was published; the event’s readers brought this to life again in 2019; and the thousands upon thousands of visitors to Auschwitz. Not long ago. Not far away. are anchored by his words each time one of them steps foot into the exhibition.

More here.

Women’s minds matter

Brigid Hains in aeon:

We are shackled to the pangs and shocks of life, wrote Virginia Woolf in The Waves (1931), ‘as bodies to wild horses’. Or are we? Serge Faguet, a Russian-born tech entrepreneur and self-declared ‘extreme biohacker’, believes otherwise. He wants to tame the bucking steed of his own biochemistry via an elixir of drugs, implants, medical monitoring and behavioural ‘hacks’ that optimise his own biochemistry. In his personal quest to become one of the ‘immortal posthuman gods that cast off the limits of our biology, and spread across the Universe’, Faguet claims to have spent upwards of $250,000 so far – including hiring ‘fashion models to have sex with in order to save time on dating and focus on other priorities’.

It’s easy to roll our eyes at such outré displays of entitlement, seemingly endemic in the Silicon Valley set. Beyond Faguet, ‘transhumanist’ true believers awaiting their version of the rapture include the entrepreneur Elon Musk, the Googler Ray Kurzweil and the philosopher Nick Bostrom. Their transhumanist ideal resembles a late-capitalist rendering of Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian man: an individual super-human, armed with a wealth of cognitive and physical enhancements, elevated to a state of unassailable strength and power, devoid of all dependency, and, often enough, endowed with the ability to reproduce without the inconvenience of women. As they describe it, ‘immortality’ sounds like nothing so much as manspreading into the future.

What’s most instructive about transhumanism, though, isn’t what it exposes about the hubris of rich white men. It’s the fact that it represents a paradigm case of what happens when a particular cast of mind, made from the sediment of centuries of philosophy, gets taken to its logical extreme. Since Plato, generations of philosophers have been gripped by a fear of the body and the desire to transcend it – a wish that works hand-in-hand with a fear of women, and a desire to control them. In the dialogue Timaeus, Plato likens the force of his ideal, immaterial forms to a disciplinarian father, imposing order on all this unwieldy material stuff that was nonetheless ‘the mother and receptacle of all created and visible and in any way sensible things’. Here Plato deploys a well-worn technique for suppressing corporeal angst: carving off the mind (rational, detached, inviolable, symbolically male) from the body (emotional, entangled, weak, symbolically female).

More here.

Saturday Poem

The Immortality Ode

Bill Evans is quiet, fingers still above the keys,
But ready to begin again and again and again
The first twelve bars before the drums come in,
Just as I am ready for inspiration this evening,
Fingers rehearsing an entrance above the keyboard
Of the Olivetti Lettera 32 I pounded years ago
On Charles Street, nights I wore my father’s
Black cashmere overcoat whenever the steam
Failed to make it up five flights, and back then
Evans waited, too, for his entrance, rain on glass
Waiting to accompany him, and on the B side?
Everlastingness is still there, and all Camus
Said it was, the boulder, the hill, the boulder again
That we come to over and over, pushing—
Quaquaquaqua with white beard quaquaquaqua
As Lucky said and which my annotated Beckett
Traces to the Latin (qua) for in the capacity of.
As in I qua Sisyphus, I quaquaquaqua greybeard
Old father shuffling along in black cashmere:
The Child is father of the Man, a looped immortality,
While happiness, per Camus, if patently absurd,
Nonetheless may rise with the struggle to old heights
And just might be enough to fill a man’s heart,
Even as Evans once more lifts his fingers for
“You and the Night and the Music,” his solo fresh
As when he first sat down, and the night is young.

by Brian Culhane
Plume Poetry
Issue #94 June 2019