Saturday, 29 October 2016

Steve Roth Plays the Good Cop.

Source: Table H-12

In the millennia-long[*] evolution of human societies and economic systems, many things have changed. One thing, however, hasn't: there are two kinds of people. There are those being screwed (call them slaves, serfs, workers if you wish), and those doing the screwing (i.e. slaveholders, feudal lords, capitalists, respectively). For short, let's call the former group the "screwees" and the latter,  the "screwers".

Given that, it does not seem odd at all that screwers would like nothing better than to keep at it: to be the top surely beats being the bottom. "It's all consensual. Besides, things ain't half bad for the screwees: they're having fun, too", screwers would add and try really hard to demonstrate it, often presenting total/average figures (like, yes, GDP per capita in the US).

Given half a chance to speak their minds, screwees -- perhaps understandably as well -- would beg to differ, except that their opinion isn't welcome, lest reality imitate art and the Harry and Sally fake orgasm scene ensues.

Conflicts are inevitable and, carried to extremes, could conceivably have unpleasant consequences for screwers. You know what they say, "live by the sword, die by the sword".

That's why -- in spite of the general disinterest -- when screwees actually moan too loudly to ignore, screwers spontaneously self-organise to play a "good cop/bad cop" routine.

For any screwer, the "bad cop" role is a natural choice: he (despite modernity, it's generally a white, wealthy he) just drops the niceties and full of outrage commands the screwee to shut up and bend over immediately or else. He despises the screwees and has the power backing him up, so he doesn't care what they think. No need for them to like him.

The "good cop" role is harder to play. It's difficult to tell how the "good cop" screwer (again, more often than not, a male) compares, contempt-wise, with the "bad cop", but the "good cop" -- although still a cop -- needs the screwee to see him as a friend: he must focus on the adjective (good), overlooking the noun (cop). It's a matter of image.

That requires a lot of acting and sometimes there are "wardrobe malfunctions", as it once infamously happened to entrepreneur and former (!?) MMTer Cullen Roche:
"Well, this is where we differ. You guys see no need for unemployment. I do. I think it serves an incredibly important psychological component to any healthy economy. I've feared for my job and been unemployed. Those moments shaped who I am and what I’ve become. They were invaluable in retrospect. If I’d been able to apply for a JG job I might not be half the man I am today. Maybe it's just personal entrepreneurial experience speaking here, but I know what it means to hunt and kill for ones [sic] dinner."
At any rate, the first thing for the "good cop" building his image is to show off his more apparent than real opposition to the "bad cop". The popular option is to adopt some trendy alternative theory, the kookier the better. For one, this affords an edgy ("rad" as kids say) posture, minimising learning costs: there isn't much to learn, anyway. It's meant to build their intellectual credibility, gravitas, before the hoi polloi. Add a pinch of calls for pragmatism and a dash of anti-Utopianism and centrist anti-ideological ideology, and he's ready to confidently lambast opponents, left and right.

An important added benefit is that recommendations don't need to match rhetoric: big theoretical changes are proposed so that nothing in practice really changes. Nobody in real positions of authority is challenged: less real opposition. Say, now the screwer will wear a condom and take a shower, to ensure the screwee's full enjoyment of "love-making". But the screwee still needs to bend over and relax.

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Here is Steve Roth ("a Seattle-based serial entrepreneur"), virtuoso of "good cop" play. Check the list:
  1. Does he oppose the "bad cop" and his wrong-headed economics? Check!
  2. Has he a kooky, undefined, "extreme" theory superior to all other theories ever? Evonomics! Check!
  3. Is he an anti-ideological, anti-Utopian pragmatist? Check!
  4. Much talk, little change? Check!
  5. Zero concrete political proposals? Check!
  6. Does contempt drip thick for those he claims to champion? Just look at the illustration opening his post, for Chist's sake [#]. Heck, check, check!

Steve believes, it seems, definitions are for wussies. He lambasts anti-capitalists for their "vaguely defined" notion of capitalism. He searched and searched, but it was to no avail: there's no there there, he says. Never mind; evidently, Steve needs no stinking definition. He knows better, having used the word "capitalism" 11 times ("capitalist" and its variants an 8 additional times).

Steve doesn't like definitions, full stop. He surely doesn't know it, but he is channeling Joan Robinson on that. Like Humpty Dumpty (or Robinson), for him a word means just what he chooses it to mean -- neither more nor less. Socialism and socialist institutions, for instance:
"[A]re ubiquitous in every prosperous country: government-provided retirement and health care/insurance systems, free public education, government spending on infrastructure and research, programs for economic security, and — in every case — huge redistribution programs".
Which is fair enough, but, aren't such institutions ubiquitous in poorer countries, as well? What about the former URSS and its satellites, didn't they have those ubiquitous institutions?

Steve cares as little for factual/historical accuracy as he cares for definitions: those institutions were not ubiquitous in 18th/19th century England, but were not unknown of, either. Englishmen of that time may have objected being called "socialists" because of their centuries-old poor laws. And why, oh why, does Steve insult poor Otto von Bismarck?

Democracy and capitalism aren't mutually exclusive, Steve says, and because he's an expert he doesn't need to argue it: like definitions, arguments are for wussies, too, it seems. Neither does he need to take into account what woolly-headed Marxists (!?) Martin Gilens (Princeton University) and Benjamin I. Page (Northwestern University) wrote as recently as 2014, being generally well-received by the cream of the econo-punditry (including arch-Marxist extraordinaire !? John Cassidy, writing for "Red Flag"):
"Multivariate analysis indicates that economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence. The results provide substantial support for theories of Economic-Elite Domination and for theories of Biased Pluralism, but not for theories of Majoritarian Electoral Democracy or Majoritarian Pluralism."
He may not care about that empirical study, but he does care, however, for his own empirics: he is a pragmatist. Numbers don't lie. His evidence in defense of "capitalism" is a partial GDP per capita table: how much output is produced per person. Frankly, I'm not sure what he means to prove with that (that's probably because I'm dumb, as all Marxists are), but what I take away from that is that under capitalism a lot is produced per head (more in developed capitalist countries than in underdeveloped capitalist countries).

One can argue against Steve's GDP per capita argument. A few years ago, in 2011, when the good and mighty of economics started to take notice of Thomas Piketty, Anthony Atkinson, and Emmanuel Saez and their research, Uwe Reinhardt (also from Princeton, that nest of Marxist hippies !?) precisely anticipated an answer to Steve's argument. He discussed that in connection with this chart:


I won't repeat his argument here: he does it better and it's a good read. I am happy with highlighting its similarity with my own chart.

Steve believes that GDP per capita shows "widespread or even universal thriving and prosperity, economic security, and economic well-being" in OECD countries. It's not unusual for a screwer playing the "good cop" to forget about distribution and inequality: he doesn't really care about that, except -- perhaps -- to use it as an argumentative cudgel against the "bad cops". But the point of inequality is precisely what the opening chart illustrates: per household mean real income (roughly real GDP per household) increased much faster than per household median real average income. The more unequal the distribution, the larger the positive difference between mean and median. For over 50% of US households, their incomes are insufficient to purchase their household share of GDP: by 1980, for instance, median household income was 84% of mean household income; by 2015, it dropped to 71%. Which makes woolly-headed Marxists, like yours truly, wonder who is getting the increasing difference? Isn't that a measure, however imperfect and flawed, of exploitation?

Steve will never understand that. His head is a lot more solid than Marxist's woolly heads.

And the icing on the cake:
"[W]ith those at least vaguely ridiculous notions, anti-capitalists aid and abet their very enemies — delivering live, loaded rhetorical ammunition unto the anti-socialists. Vague, wooly-headed anti-capitalism delivers a wonderfully easy, target-rich environment for hippy-punching."
I couldn't make this shit up. I mean, like, seriously?

Steve, this may come as a surprise to you, but, for all your mega-awesomeness, you are almost (?!) as much an enemy as "anti-socialists", with an aggravating circumstance: at least the "bad cop" is willing to drop the fig leaf.

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It's Saturday, this post is too long already, and I'm fucking bored. I'll leave things at that (in particular, I won't touch what could be the real reason for Steve's anti-Marxist tantrum, his Cullen Roche moment: "Are you allowed to make profits based on the sweat of those employees' brows?" Give me a break!). *<8oD

Instead, I'll put my cards on the table. I ain't no hippy, Steve. I am a crude, rude, grumpy old worker. Expert bullshit don't work on me (thanks, Julia Baird). Don't try the "good cop" cum "hippy punching" shit with me, either. Other Marxists may put up with that. I won't take that crap: I'll punch back.

Your profile says that you are "a student of economics and evolution". I suggest you do that: study. In the meantime, write about what you know and I won't ridicule you. Personally, I have nothing against you.

Deal?


Notes
[*] It may sound pedantic, but I'll stick to the word "millennia" as plural for "millennium". I don't like Steve Roth's "millennias" word.
[#] I know, just like in Noah Smith's case, that's entirely Steve's editor's fault. Right? Consider me fully bamboozled convinced.

1 comment:

  1. the furious b/w bird strikes again! i actually like stevo. his mucho macho straight-talking mojo makes me laugh. _most_ of the time in a good way, too.
    - the oo

    ReplyDelete