SocraticGadfly: 1/22/23 - 1/29/23

January 28, 2023

It really is about "easy money" — Edward Chancellor

I'm not sure why a few Goodreads reviewers think they know better, but they don't.

The Price of Time: Interest, Capitalism and the Curse of Easy Money

The Price of Time: Interest, Capitalism and the Curse of Easy Money by Edward Chancellor
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

 This is an extended and edited version of my Goodreads review of a book that says, yes, it really is about "easy money" from the Federal Reserve, first with the "Greenspan put," then the "Bernanke bubbles," then Yellen and Powell being afraid to pull away the proverbial punchbowl.

A very good book overall, whose theme for today is “easy money is a drug,” while backing that up with a 4,000 year look at the history of interest rates, tied to discussions of what is a “normal” rate of interest, if there is such a thing, and other factors. The title comes from people as far back as Adam Smith or further nothing that interest was the price people paid on time discounting returns, especially if said time involves risk or anxiety.

Chancellor first goes back to antiquity and the first use of interest, predating Hammurabi’s Code by centuries. He notes, like Michael Hudson, that debt jubilees far preceded their biblical establishment, BUT he gives some details that Hudson doesn’t.

One big thing is that they weren’t on a 50-year or whatever cycle. Instead, a new king implemented them to cut social unrest, etc. Like new Caesars paying off the Praetorians. That's one thing we should remember today. A la "predictably irrationality," having a jubilee on a fixed cycle probably would lead to moral hazard issues, as well as hesitancy to loan near the end of such a cycle, something Hudson doesn't really address. Second, there were two types of debt — barley-based, which were generally “consumer” loans in today’s terms, and silver-based, which were “commercial” loans. Only the barley loans were forgiven. In line with Biden's push to cancel at least part of student loan debt and wingnuts pushing back, that would surely fall under "consumer" debt.  Third, a new king wasn’t guaranteed to do this. 

(Sidebar: If Hudson does want to go hunting for a background to this issue that stands on better ground? Per comments by David Graeber in "Debt," it's the old hunter-gatherer world he needs to look at, and, like the Inuit, preferably looking at a hunter-gatherer world with limited interaction with the agriculturalist world.)

From there, he looks at debt, interest and definitions of usury around the ancient eastern Mediterranean, with some excursion into China. (India doesn’t make his radar screen for whatever reasons.) The basic idea is not that money wasn't allowed to "work," but that it wasn't allowed to become too greedy in how and how much it worked.

Then, he starts early modern history where knowledgeable people would expect: John Law and the Mississippi Bubble, with details on just how bubbly it was. From there, it’s off to Walter Bagehot, his Bank of England as “lender of last” resort and just how much that’s abused in modern times. That includes even abuse in Switzerland, regarded throughout the Western world as a model of probity. Along the way, he loops in discussions on economists in the 1600s, notes on how “easy money” led to Fugger wealth and more.

NOTE: Chinese tankies will HATE this book because of the chapter “Financial Repression with Chinese characteristics.”

For more on this, see my full review and click the "spoiler" link to toggle it open. The TL/DR? Beijing has willingly been inflating bubbles at least as big as in the U.S. There's plenty of evidence for it, and most of it, albeit perhaps not always with his level of detail, I've seen before here.

Refuting people who challenge Chancellor's ideas on easy money? Chancellor’s short and sweet discursus on Iceland eating its shit, taking its haircut, and doing well today.

Finally, in his postscript, Chancellor speculates if central banks will offer their own digital currencies to drive out private crypto. It's speculative, but worth pondering. Before that, Chancellor notes just how bubbly crypto is, and how it's essentially deliberately designed to be that way.

I don’t think I’d ever even read a newspaper piece by him before. But, per Chancellor’s Wiki page, he is indeed insightful. His political positions would seem to be, in US terms, mainstream liberal to the left side of that, and minus most neoliberalism. And, per his previous two books also ultimately being about bubbles, the global economy is either going to be facing a Long Unwinding, if the Fed holds the course, or else more Fake Growth. That said, while he got the last three global bubbles right, his defense of voting Leave, and calling out economists who warned about its problems, appear to have been more miss than hit on the prognostication side. 

In essence, to riff on something from 15 years ago? We may be facing some sort of "Great Unwinding" to fully deal with 20 years of Fed problems. That said, the inflation rate has started dropping again, so it remains to be seen how long the Fed will stay the course and what its landing spot is.

View all my reviews

January 27, 2023

Coronavirus Week 133: No nuance from the People's CDC or their fellow travelers

I blogged three-plus weeks ago about this organization and some of its over-the-top claims. I now want to expand on updates I posted at the bottom of that piece.

The "no nuance" comes from STAT taling about lessons from COVID so far. One is how public health measures have both been imposed, and to some degree, opposed, without nuance either way. Something else the People's  CDC could take to heart — but probably won't. It also notes the rapid dropoff of mRNA effectiveness, something which, as noted above, the People's CDC and fellow travelers don't discuss, at least not from what I could tell browsing their website.

In that piece, re the one big issue above, Nancy Messionier notes there's still no accepted definition of Long COVID. That's one of many science-tentative issues around COVID, she says.


“I’ve been sort of repeatedly surprised by how often I see statements in the press attributable to scientists that have an unwarranted level of confidence associated with them,” [Paul Bieniasz, a virologist at Rockefeller University] said, suggesting this has contributed to a decline in trust in science and in public health experts over the course of the pandemic. 
Bieniasz thinks scientists should have started most statements with “I don’t know, but my best guess is …”

Is big. But, again, the People's CDC half of twosiderism won't be listening. Nor will many of the science experts who may not be twosiderists but are unwittingly fueling the problem.

And with that, let's move to People's CDC fellow traveler (yes, deliberate) Gregg Gonsalves. A few days after the New Yorker piece by Emma Green that "triggered" (yes) the People's CDC, he fired back. with a piece that's as much a hit piece if not more than Green's original. He has no substantive engagement with Green on Long COVID and other issues.

The piece has other strawmanning. No, we don't have a memorial to COVID dead, unlike 9/11. And? As I wrote in a newspaper column 20 years ago, we also don't have a memorial to dead diabetics and other things. It's sad that he considers that to be serious argument. (And, re COVID minimalists and deniers, public health remains sad on things like diabetes and doing yet more to encourage — and assist — better dietary habits.)

And, there's the question of how much the People's CDC and fellow travelers like Gonsalves have a "zero COVID" mindset. Gonsalves links to a Nature piece from November that recommends governments around the world continue to look beyond just vaccines, suggesting things like mask mandates. It includes this statement:

(N)one of us is safe until everyone is safe.

Sounds close to "zero COVID" for me.

Finally, Gregg? Show your homework. Worldometers doesn't show 4,000 US dead in the past week. Even a full week of 500-death days (which we don't have) would be 3,500.

Speaking of Worldometers, before I get to just the US numbers? Italy's fatality rate (much of it from the early days) is 90 percent that of the US. So is the UK. Much of central and eastern Europe is higher to much higher. (Orban's Hungary is 50 percent higher.) None of this is to excuse any deliberate bad decisions in some of these other countries any more than in the US.

As for Gonsalves bemoaning that death counts are the same as since last summer? The flip side of that is there's been no new surges. We're back to where we were before Omicron.

And, those numbers?

In the US? Worldometers shows we're back down to under 2,000 deaths in the last week. About like a bad flu year. Tis true that the flu is more seasonal, and without a summertime peak. 

Back up to the pull quote from the Nature piece? We don't have mask mandates for the flu.

That said? A Dutch immunologist says there's a bunch of clear evidence COVID is moving in the direction of seasonal waves.

And, back to those 2,000 deaths a week.

Leana Wen, a professor of public health like Gonsalves, and one of the experts mentioned in Green's story, wonders if we're not overcounting COVID deaths and talks about deaths "from" vs deaths "with." And, she actually interviews two people, which is two more than Gonsalves. Both the people she interviewed are infectious disease physicians. Both have themselves been attacked as COVID minimalists, as has Wen. (Actual COVID minimalists and deniers have tried to co-opt her.)

Wen has the advantage of having been, pre-COVID, on the ground lines of public health as the city of Baltimore's health commissioner, too.

She may be right 100 percent. She may be wrong 100 percent. She may be more wrong than right, or more right than wrong. I'm pretty sure she's not 100 percent wrong, and pretty sure she has the professional chops to know how she's framing the conversation.

I get the feeling that the People's CDC and fellow travelers are afraid to go down her road for fear of being sucked into twosiderism, in part. It's a fear somewhat akin to an AA member thinking that trying other outlets for sobriety support will doom them. I said this in my post three weeks ago. I said it in the past when calling out Walker Bragman and others for not talking about why we don't have non-mRNA boosters.

Related issue? Zeynep Tufekci tells you what Walker Bragman and the People's CDC won't — RSV and flu cases have both sharply dropped again after their initial surge. I suspect two years of masking and isolation lessened natural immunity, which is a thing, even if misinterpreted by the denialists and minimalists. (And, she's been attacked on Twitter herself.) 

So, Gregg Gonsalves, Emma Green has a degree of rightness on that issue. (I'm not a big enough Twitter fish to get attacked myself.)

In addition to her? Former Pro Publica editorial top cheese Dick Tofel also suggests it's time to move from pandemic to endemic, in terms of journalism coverage, and how we should get beyond twosiderism:

The answer seems not to be to pretend that COVID has disappeared, but rather to integrate what we have learned these last three years into public life, urging (and making it feasible) for those who are ill to stay home, taking special precautions around those at highest risk, varying our own behavior at times and in places where illnesses are more prevalent, acknowledging that those who choose to avoid or delay available vaccines are assuming risks for which they must bear at least some of the consequences.

Sounds pretty sensical.

January 26, 2023

Indicting Alec Baldwin

Jill Filipovic had a good piece at CNN last week that shows that it's not outlandish that Baldwin was indicted for involuntary manslaughter.

First, contra the #BlueAnon wingnuts on Twitter, this ain't because he's an outspoken Democrat. It was the First Judicial District of New Mexico, ie, the DA for Fanta Se, or Santa Fe County, the bluest (and occasionally Greeny in the past) bastion of the state of New Mexico. (The district also covers Rio Arriba and Los Alamos counties.)

Second, she reminds us of the more important salient facts:

Baldwin was one of the producers of "Rust" as well as starring actor;

The set was described as disorganized, and a "good Democrat" and other producers had camera crew walk off the set before this because their pay was late;

The set had two previous gun incidents; 

The assistant director had complaints of lax safety on other sets.

And, it IS "involuntary manslaughter" on the charge. Filipovic cites the NM statute then explains why she thinks Baldwin was tagged:

In New Mexico, “Involuntary manslaughter consists of manslaughter committed in the commission of an unlawful act not amounting to felony, or in the commission of a lawful act which might produce death in an unlawful manner or without due caution and circumspection.” 
t’s that second clause that prosecutors seem to be applying to Baldwin. And so the question is: Did Baldwin act without due caution and circumspect?

There you go. This isn't a slam dunk, either way. But, I can see the case. We'll see where it goes.

January 25, 2023

Texas Progressives talk Texas legends

At the Monthly, Chris Hooks takes a look at legends past and present surrounding the iconic "Come and Take It" flag. (In Sulphur Springs, there's a "Come and Taste It" stew cook-off.) The legends start early; the actual battle of  Gonzales, as I long have known, was little more than a nothingburger. From there, Hooks goes on to gunz. Frontier Texas, like Dodge City of Wyatt Earp days, had most cowtowns ban guns in town. It's all part of the Monthly's 50th anniversary year, talking about Texas "icons." Since I'm not native, and didn't get here as fast as I could, I'm not linking to the whole schmeer.

New wingnuts on the Board of Ed? The Observer takes a look, while noting that redistricting is partially to blame. Antivaxxers, critical race theory haters (including an African-American), and a Jan. 6 insurrectionist highlight the newcomers' "credentials."

A look at last year's drought by the numbers even as the state starts drying out again this winter.

Wingnut Colleyville Mayor Bobby Lindamood, who presides over a city of wingnuts, is out $200K after losing a defamation lawsuit related to his first mayoral election.

SocraticGadfly looked at Nancy Pelosi getting an exorcism and other things from her Maureen Dowd interview.

Off the Kuff analyzes 2022 Democratic performance inside and outside the City of Houston.

Matt Angle searches in vain for a Greg Abbott "signature achievement".  

In the Pink Texas marvels at the fight between two of the worst members of Congress. 

The Texas Signal looks at the campuses now banning TikTok from their WiFi networks.  

Equality Texas provides its legislative bill tracker.

Every Texan explains why we need a fully staffed state government.

January 24, 2023

Even Nature magazine rejects Russiagate!

A team of researchers has a piece there that looked in minute detail at the Internet Research Agency's activities on Twitter in the 2016 election campaign and says it was next to a nothingburger. (It's a long read, because it's detailed social science and social media research. But, #BlueAnon claims to be the "reality based party.")

The only limitation on the research is that it's only about Twitter, not the broader-reaching Facebook.

But, here's the bottom line:

We demonstrate, first, that exposure to Russian disinformation accounts was heavily concentrated: only 1% of users accounted for 70% of exposures. Second, exposure was concentrated among users who strongly identified as Republicans. Third, exposure to the Russian influence campaign was eclipsed by content from domestic news media and politicians. Finally, we find no evidence of a meaningful relationship between exposure to the Russian foreign influence campaign and changes in attitudes, polarization, or voting behavior.

But wait, that's not all.

One of the researchers, speaking of Twitter, has a Twitter thread that goes into yet more detail.

I know this will do nothing to deter #BlueMAGA, whether the likes of Mueller She Wrote on Twitter, Emptyhead I mean Emptywheel on her blog (along with other ex-Kossacks, or the exorcised Nancy Pelosi, from spouting bullshit, but, it's actual facts.

The callout above goes to the mainstream media, too, like the New York Slimes that tried to revive Russiagate just before midterms. As for them? I saw this piece linked and mentioned at Nieman Lab, in a Joshua Benton piece about how the power of both misinformation and information is overrated.

As for collusion claims? 

I've said it before and will say it again: Vladimir Putin is way too smart to have entangled himself with a flighty weathervane like Donald Trump. And, if it WERE true? Trump didn't stay bought. Proof? He sold arms to Ukraine that Obama wouldn't, something that the BlueMAGA Twitter rank and file appear clueless about but that the leadership class knows full well. The non-elected leadership class, like the bloggers and Twitterati I've called out above, know there's plenty of good grifting happening here.

As for other collusion? Well, Flynn may have done that — with Turkey. The ultimate end object of that, though, was Israel, proving that both duopoly parties think Tel Aviv is located in the United States. Related? Has Joe Biden moved our embassy back out of Jerusalem? And, that's yet another reason I'm not a Democrat.

January 23, 2023

Texas lock-em-up and youth lock-em-up news

Kudos to the teen activists trying to shut down the state's last youth prisons. Kudos to their determination not to let up. Hope they've got a Plan B in mind, not just for full closure but something even close. It's unlikely that, with Texas the prison state re-open for biz after COVID that they'll get much action from the Lege this year.

Related? Another youth foster shelter has shut down amidst another sex abuse scandal, even as the Department of Family Protective Services continues to semi-suck overall. Expect another Band-Aid pretend fix, if anything, from the Lege.

That's all playing out while Kenny Boy Paxton and his wingnut Lege minions want to continue persecuting parents of transgender and transsexual (I distinguish!) kids, now attacking TASB. The TASB guidelines for school districts to deal with such students in light of federal Title IX is not controversial. Will Border-Wall-Monger Joe Biden's administration weigh in? Odds are less than 50-50.

A number of Texas prison inmates remained on hunger strikes protesting against solitary confinement conditions.