Poverty Makes People Stupid Not Vice Versa

Rutger BregmanRutger Bregman is the Dutch writer who recently went to Davos and created a stir by telling the rich assholes, “Just stop talking about philanthropy and start talking about taxes.” This matters because as of what Anand Giridharadas has been talking about: the rich see themselves as problem solvers. It is just that they can’t imagine proposing solutions that might cost them any money.[1]

This got even more attention when Tucker Carlson interviewed Bregman for his show, only to freak out when Bregman noted (among other things that Carson’s concern for the poor was only quite new and that he had “jumped the bandwagon.” He said, “You’re like, ‘Oh, I’m against the globalist elite, blah blah blah.’ It’s not very convincing, to be honest.”

The Poor Don’t Deserve to Be Poor

But Rutger Bregman has been around for a while. A year and a half ago, he gave a great talk at TED, Poverty Isn’t a Lack of Character; It’s a Lack of Cash. I’ll provide an overview below, but it’s worth watching:

What Bregman talks about is research that demonstrates that people aren’t poor because they are stupid; they are stupid because they are poor. One of the studies is shocking. Researchers look at farmers who get paid once a year at harvest. As a result, they are relatively rich for half the year and relatively poor the other half. So they were given IQ tests before and after harvest. And there was an average 14 point increase during the rich time over the poor time. Fourteen points!

The Marshmallow Test

“For a child accustomed to stolen possessions and broken promises, the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed.”

The elite of this nation love Walter Mischel’s marshmallow studies because it supposedly proves what they want to believe. It supposedly tests how long children can forgo a pleasure (one marshmallow) for a better pleasure (two marshmallows). Children that can wait for the second marshmallow did better in school. QED, am I right?!

The problem is, this trivializes Mischel’s work. For one thing, Mischel found that ten years later, there was no difference between the children in terms of their self-restraint. But it turns out, Mischel wasn’t even testing self-restraint (“grit”) but the ability of children to find their own self-distraction strategies.

The most fascinating follow-up test primed the children by disappointing half of them with a similar test. “Sorry kid, but I can’t give you want I promised.” When the children were then given the marshmallow test. The half who weren’t previously disappointed waited (on average) 12 minutes; the disappointed kids waited 3 minutes.

The implication to poverty is obvious, as the study’s authors pointed out, “For a child accustomed to stolen possessions and broken promises, the only guaranteed treats are the ones you have already swallowed.”

Double Punishing the Poor

What’s especially awful about the elite’s position on this is that in addition to letting the poor suffer, we blame them for that suffering. (At the same time, in addition to letting the rich live in ridiculous luxury, we tell them it is because they are so great.) And that’s wrong.

After his speech, the TED audience gave Rutger Bregman a standing ovation. But I have no doubt that after a month, all those elites had totally forgotten about it and returned to normal: assuming the poor are poor because they just aren’t good enough.

But even if not, the Davos crowd showed what’s really going on. It’s one thing to say that the poor shouldn’t be poor. It’s quite another thing to say that the rich need to foot the bill. The first claim is airy and might mean that the middle class needs to pay for the solution. The second claim leaves no doubt.

And Bregman didn’t even give them an out. He said that philanthropy was not nearly good enough. They needed to do something that wouldn’t give them glowing articles in The New York Times. They need to accept that they don’t deserve their riches. Above all, they need to accept that they need to pay much more in taxes — not because they are good people but because it is the law.

Afterword

Bregman is in favor of a Universal Basic Income (UBI). I have a bit of a problem with it. It’s fine the way that he thinks of it. The problem is that tons of conservatives have been attracted to the UBI. Why? Because they see it as a way to get rid of the safety net. So they are fine with giving everyone $10,000 per year but at the cost of education, healthcare, and everything else.

So be careful when you talk to people about the UBI. A lot of them are not proposing it in good faith. It’s a great idea. But when Rutger Bregman and Martin Friedman agree on a policy, it is certainly because they are talking about different things.

[1] I disagree with Giridharadas in that he seems to think they are good people who just don’t see their own blind-spots. That’s clearly not true; their blind-spots allow them to think of themselves as good. And they clearly aren’t. You work out if their convenient blind-spots are natural or manufactured.

Western Media Propaganda on Venezuela

Nicolas MaduroThe situation in Venezuela is really bad. It’s hard to know what’s going on. But the western media has always been extremely biased against it since Chávez took over. So I find it hard to believe all the anti-government news articles. And the truth is, the coverage just doesn’t pass the smell test. Is the Maduro government so bad that there is nothing good to say about it? Is Guaidó so great that there is nothing bad to report about him? I don’t think so.

Get beyond the mainstream western media, and you will find that there is quite a lot bad about Juan Guaidó. I’ve been hearing that he is really a leftist. Yet he is very keen to open the Venezuelan oil reserves to American companies. So I think we know what happens if the west gets its way and Maduro is deposed. It’s the same thing that happens whenever a left-wing government is squeezed to death by the US. Suddenly it is foreign money for the rich and death squads for the poor.

Western media are a propaganda mill for US policy in Venezuela. This is especially evident in the way that violence is reported. It doesn’t matter if you watch Fox News or MSNBC. Based on it, you would think that the Maduro government is out killing peaceful protestors who are all aligned against the government. In fact, people still largely support the government. And most of the violence is being committed by the opposition. (Admittedly, the people are slowly turning on the government because things are very bad — mostly because of US sanctions.)

Why Won’t Maduro Let Aid Through?!

The coverage of the USAID trucks coming through Colombia has been particularly appalling. Everyone knows this is just a stunt designed to make the Maduro government look bad. If the US cared at all about the Venezuelan people, it wouldn’t have just increased sanctions.

The only explanation for this is that the US thinks that getting rid of Maduro is so important to the Venezuelan people that short-term suffering is justified. But if that’s the case, you can say the same thing about the Venezuela government more easily. After all, it is not Maduro who is intentionally harming his people. It is the Trump administration and the Obama administration before it.

The Aid Fire

Now, western media is reporting — without evidence — that the USAID was burned by the Venezuela national guard firing teargas. Additionally, anti-Venezuela politicians are using it to call for Maduro to step down. This includes my own disappointing senator Dianne Feinstein.

Max Blumenthal has been reporting from Venezuela. According to him, this is nonsense. He noted that no one had seen the national guard set this fire. Instead, it all comes from an anti-Venezuela media group known for making stuff up. He presented proof that the fire was set by violent opposition youth. There is even video of an opposition supporter throwing what looks like an incendiary device.

More on Venezula

Check out Max Blumenthal’s twitter feed. It is filled with great information. Also, the CEPR’s Americas Blog is must-reading. Go over to their home page, because there is often stuff there.

Finally, check out this great video for an overview of what’s going on in Venezuela:

Update

I’ve noticed that Vox has finally stopped calling Maduro a “dictator” and is now calling him President. That’s good, but my opinion of Vox really went down as a result of this. One can make the argument that Maduro is illegitimate. But you have to make that argument and it is still open to debate. Regardless, he is no dictator. But this is a good example of just how bad media coverage of Venezuela is in the west.

Germany’s “Morality” Is Hurting It

Germany's Morality Is Hurting ItGermany has been one of the most annoying countries over the past decade. It dominates the EU. And when countries like Greece and Spain got into economic trouble after the 2008 crash, you could count on German leaders to hector them. If they had just been more like Germany then everything would be fine! Well, right now, Germany’s economy has stagnated and is looking to go into recession.

By being “more like Germany” it was meant that these countries should run budget and trade surpluses. There were a few problems with this.

Balanced Budgets

Everyone wants economics to be a morality play. Everybody wants it to be a tale of sin and excess and then the punishment for sin –Paul Krugman

First, Germany was pushing Greece and other struggling economies to balance their budgets at the worst possible time. When a country already has an under-performing economy, cutting back on government spending will only cause the economy to shrink. Germany (and many other Very Serious types) called for expansionary austerity. This is the idea that by cutting back on government spending, the economy would grow. This idea may work in extremely rare cases, but it never worked during this crisis.

This is just a minor change on supply-side economics. The idea is that if businesses see the government “getting its house in order” they will have confidence and start spending. Anyone who has ever run a business knows this is nonsense. Business people look at what the demand is in the economy. It’s very simple: will people buy their products and services?

Now business people can be twisted by propaganda like anyone else. So we get a constant diet of business people claiming that they are most concerned about government debt. But polls from that time showed again and again that what they really worried about was the lack of demand.

Trade Surpluses

In the wake of the 2008 crisis, Germany saw its exports go up: from 1995 to today, Germany’s economy went from exports of 15 percent to almost 50 percent. This was a time when, as the best economy in the EU, Germany should have been importing more. But no. Germany had to show everyone how it was done!

Of course, it is ridiculous to ask other economies to export more. Every country can’t run a trade surplus. And the way things normally work is that weaker economies import from stronger economies. During the crisis, the strongest economy was hurting the weaker economies and claiming that doing so was moral.

(It’s also interesting that the whole world made out that Greece was horrible from having borrowed too much money. Yet very rarely did anyone note that it was German bankers were at least as much to blame for loaning money to a bad credit risk. But somehow it’s easier to criticize the poor and weak than the rich and powerful.)

Economics Is Not a Morality Play

As Paul Krugman said back in 2013, “Everyone wants economics to be a morality play. Everybody wants it to be a tale of sin and excess and then the punishment for sin.”

Thinking of the economy in these terms has been the single most important impediment to getting the world economy back on track. No less than President Obama said that the government had to “live within its means.” Even if that is sometimes true, it certainly wasn’t in 2011.

And now Germany, so proud of its economic morality play, is experiencing a bad economy despite being so “good.” Its good economy was because Germany had the best economy going into the crisis and so were able to prey upon the weaker economies of the EU.

Sadly, I doubt that the German elites will learn anything from this. Like elites everywhere, they will find a rationalization for why they were right all along. But the facts are clear.

Colin Kaepernick and Real Freedom

Colin Kaepernick and Real FreedomLast week, Colin Kaepernick and the NFL agreed to a deal over Kaepernick’s lawsuit about the league’s conspiracy to not hire him. For those who do not know, he is the former San Francisco 49er quarterback who nealed during the national anthem to protest racist policing policy toward blacks in the United States. Regardless of what happened, this was a great example of what a myth “freedom” is to those on the right.

Before I get to that, I want to note a few things. While I’m happy for Kaepernick, I am sad about the situation. I would have rather seen the NFL be dragged through the mud on this. But had that happened, the result would almost certainly have been that the NFL won the case. This is because the standard for proving conspiracy is ridiculously high. And even with all the bad publicity, the NFL would surely have used the court win to clean up any damage that had been done to their reputation.

Oppression

According to libertarian dogma, only the government can oppress you. Only the government can put you in a cage, they say. Yet this is a delusional belief if you look at how society actually functions. People do not have a choice to not work. And since employers enjoy a monopsony, people don’t get to choose who they work for. And they certainly don’t have the right they did 10,000 years ago to go out and hunt and gather.

So the idea that Colin Kaepernick didn’t have his rights infringed upon is just nonsense. But don’t get me wrong: I understand that the NFL owners saw this as simply an economic issue. They were afraid that there would be fewer fans watching games if such a divisive person played. But that doesn’t mean they were right. As Les Carpenter noted, the NFL continues to rake in money.

Don’t Let Markets Dictate Morality

Colin Kaepernick was not free. And he was not free because of the “free market.”

The question is: should it matter? In this country, we just assume that if the market pushes in a certain direction, that is the direction we should go. But the truth is: there is quite a good demand for whites-only restaurants. Forget the ridiculous libertarian apologetics that “racism is bad for business.” There are plenty of people who are proud of their racism. Just look who’s president!

Should it matter that a good economic decision means making a bad moral decision? I think it should. It means that we are taxing morality. We are saying, “Standing up for what you believe in will cost you your livelihood.” Rather than be guided by what the market dictates (as though it were our god) we should fix the economy where it encourages immortality.

Colin Kaepernick was not free. And he was not free because of the “free market.” He isn’t alone. Most of us have to work jobs we aren’t keen on. We’d rather have actual freedom to do what we want. And I’m certain if that happened, we’d have a society that is just as rich and far less exploitative as the one we now have.

You don’t have to agree with me, of course. But the least we can do is stop pretending that the capitalist system provides us with real freedom. It just provides us with an unaccountable system of control. And I do not accept theoretical “freedom” as a replacement for actual freedom.

Colin Kaepernick Is a Hero

There are some who claim that Colin Kaepernick is not a hero because he doesn’t vote. Let me just say that democracy is not the same as voting. Plenty of countries have voting without democracy. Kaepernick did far more for the cause of democracy than I will with my lifetime of voting. Police mistreatment of blacks, voter disenfranchisement, and Donald Trump are all part of the same thing. I have faith that things will get better and Colin Kaepernick is a big part of that process. Thank you Colin Kaepernick!

Unhappy Valentine’s Day

Unhappy Valentine's DayValentine’s Day is an old holiday but that doesn’t make its modern incarnation any more profound. It is now just a coercive exercise in gift giving. And the business community has really stepped up. Everything is more expensive and every place is more crowded. Valentine’s Day is, above all, a pain for all of us who are not interested in celebrating it.

But I understand the argument in favor of it. “While Valentine’s Day may have the philosophical depth of the greeting cards people buy in its honor, it’s great for the economy!” I used to go along with this reasoning for all holidays. But in the modern world, I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

Dictated gift-giving usually represents the purchasing of garbage. Most people know the experience of getting useless gifts on Christmas. That’s even more true of Valentine’s Day except that the expectations are more rigid. But that only means that people know they will get things they don’t want ahead of time.

Among the people who involve themselves in Valentine’s Day, there just isn’t much need. By and large, people have what they want — at least that’s true of the people who find themselves going to expensive restaurants today. Valentine’s Day is the second busiest day of the year at restaurants — only Mother’s Day is busier.

Capitalism and Forced Consumption

This is a problem with capitalism. It doesn’t matter how much people consume, the nature of capitalism is to always push people to consume more. There is no end. People are never sated because consuming does not fulfill any need.

And we are well past the point where we should know that our consuming habits are hurting us. Whether it is global warming or global trash, capitalism does us no favor in pushing us to consume in the name of profits for people who don’t need them.

Gift Giving

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not against gift giving and restaurant going. Indeed, there are few things as wonderful as coming upon some little item and thinking, “My friend would love that!” I had that experience once with the complete New Yorker on disc for a friend of mine who loved the magazine. Delighting the people you love is great.

But these opportunities are rare and never come about in the brief period of time you are looking to fulfill some obligation for Valentine’s Day or Christmas. And so people get boring or awful gifts.

What people really want is some acknowledgment of their importance in our lives. And a quick trip to the store doesn’t really indicate that.

I remember a scene in The Four Seasons (1981) where Carol Burnett complains that Alan Alda doesn’t bring her flowers when she’s feeling down. He responds that he does bring her flowers. But she says he only does it when it makes him feel better — it is never done for her.

What We Get for Valentine’s Day

I suppose that some people take events like Valentine’s Day as a reminder to show their love. But in the vast majority of cases, people participate to avoid pain. They know that they are supposed to celebrate it, so they do. Even if their romantic partners don’t care about it, they look bad to others.

Romantic love is a myth anyway. It’s just infatuation and it dies quickly. So Valentine’s Day perpetuates a childish myth.

And what do we get in return? Overcrowded restaurants with harried servers and subpar food. Unwanted candy, flowers, and jewelry for her; unwanted candy, wallets, and aftershave for him. Environmental degradation. And disappointment all around.

Unhappy Valentine’s Day!

Trump’s Rallies Make Him Seem More Popular Than He Is

President Donald TrumpAccording to Katy Tur at NBC, Trump’s El Paso rally wasn’t very local. “The majority of people that she’s seen walking in … were not from El Paso. They were driving from hours away.” I think that’s interesting because it seems that this has always been the case.

There were two rallies in El Paso last night. One was Trump’s rally in the El Paso County Coliseum. Beto O’Rourke, Veronica Escobar, and others held a counter-event outside near the Bowie High School. Always classy, Trump had to boast about his supposedly bigger crowd, “We have say 35,000 people tonight, and he has, say, 200 people, 300 people.”

As usual with almost every sentence Trump utters, it is completely wrong. First, he said “10,000 people” earlier during his speech. But even worse, the El Paso County Coliseum only holds 6,500. Trump told his crowd that he got special permission from the fire department to squeeze 10,000 people in the stadium. The fire public information officer, Enrique D Aguilar, said that wasn’t true. “It might be 10,000 with the people outside,” he said.

Meanwhile, the anti-Trump event drew 10,000 to 15,000 people according to the El Paso police. But it hardly matters because Trump only ever preaches to the choir. And they will always believe whatever he says. And even without him, they’d be online right now claiming that there were a quarter million at the rally. (Trust me: I know!)

Trump’s Bloated Rallies

Beto O'RourkeBut I’m struck with the fact that people came to see Trump from many miles away. Of course, it isn’t surprising. As much as the media has made out that Trump supporters are people struggling in this economy, that’s just not true.

My experience is that the typical Trump supporter is a guy with one of the last remaining good union jobs who is pissed off because people don’t think it’s okay to pinch waitresses. But the data bears me out. According to FiveThirtyEight, the median income of Trump supporters is $72,000. And Psychology Today presents a profile of angry authoritarian bigots who think they are being screwed even though they aren’t in any absolute sense.

Given that these people have lots of money, they have the ability to drive a hundred miles to see their prophet. And they always have!

This means that Trump’s events have always presented him as more popular than he really is. Note, in this case, I’m not talking about Trump paying people to support him as he did for his campaign announcement. These are actual supporters.

Trump’s Intense Support

And even if there are not a lot of Trump fans who follow him from event to event, the people at his events seem to indicate the depth of his support, not its breadth. And we already know that. Trump isn’t like a normal politician; he’s like a cult leader. And he has exactly the kind of supporters you would think.

Ultimately, this is bad for Trump unless he can get non-supporters to not vote. As I said, Trump is only interested in pleasing his base. And in doing that, he slowly loses more and more of his non-hard core supporters.

But don’t let the intensity of Trump’s support blind you do the fact that it is a mile deep but not very wide. His events are like magic tricks for the media. And Trump doesn’t even care because these events are only to make him feel good. It’s indicative of our dysfunctional media environment that these events are even covered.

Thousands of sycophants drive up to hundreds of miles to see Trump? Now that’s a dog bites man story!

BadMouseProductions and Patronage

BadMouseProductions

I’ve been watching political YouTube videos recently. As Stewart Lee says, “Where the people film themselves talking.” Mostly, I watch assorted leftists — people like Peter Coffin, Three Arrows, and (so unpretentious it is pretentious) Shaun.

I like all these people very much. But I do think we should call them YouTube Ranters. They are part of an online ecosystem. Much bigger are really vile right-wing loons like Paul Joseph Watson and Stefan Molyneux. And a fair amount of left-wing YouTube is spent debunking all the nonsense that comes from the right-wing echo-chamber.

BadMouseProductions

The most interesting person I’ve found online is BadMouseProductions. I don’t know his name. He says he isn’t a “furry.” I also don’t know what that is — maybe a person who dresses up like My Little Pony? It doesn’t matter.

He used to be an anarcho-capitalist but announced one day that he could no longer support capitalism and became a communist.

It’s an interesting thing because the truth is that people who are earnestly looking for a better society can make a quick switch from what society thinks of as far right to far left.

In the case of BadMouse, it really wasn’t much of a change. He had always been looking for a system that would allow people more freedom. So he wasn’t an idiot libertarian who was just looking to replace government oppression with corporate oppression.

Patreon

BadMouseProductions is the only YouTube channel that I support. And for ten bucks a month, I get mentioned at the end of some videos. I got a whole screen because I’m new. In the future, I’ll just be part of a list. That’s good; I wasn’t sure I wanted my name in there at all. Regardless, I’m too disorganized to have stopped it.

But this involves using Patreon, which I hate. I don’t know how much money they skim but it strikes me as unethical in the way that the entire internet now is. One of the reasons I support this particular channel is that there isn’t much money pledged to it — especially considered just how great the videos are.

Economic Freedom Maps

I think the first video I saw was Debunking the Economic Freedom Map. I’ve been seeing these things for over a decade. And recently, I had to remove them from an article I edited about the best places to start a business. (I’d link to it, but it’s typical nonsense for would-be entrepreneurs — even if I thought I did some of my best work on it.)

These economic freedom maps are all reverse engineered: they start with the countries they want to rank high and then come up with the model. But even if this weren’t the case, the conservative idea of freedom is really messed up. It isn’t the freedom to do what you want but rather the freedom to try. Yes, you have the freedom to be a millionaire by buying a lottery ticket while Donald Trump has the freedom to have the money given to him while still a child.

This video does an excellent job of destroying these maps by looking at it from a Marxist perspective with lots of international insights — including some of Ha-Joon Chang. So it isn’t surprising that I would be struck by this work.

Answer Videos

BadMouse is also really good at answer videos. This one is great: Questions Liberals Can’t Answer (But Socialists Can). They are both crisp and, at times, hilarious.

These kinds of videos are also a good chance to see white nationalist videos without having to wade all the way through them — which is really hard. (For this, Shaun is better.) Even if you don’t follow much politics it doesn’t take long to notice some outrageous false or misleading statement.

Venezuela

BadMouseProductions has created at least two videos on Venezuela. The first was Argument ad Venezuelum, which is great. But just last week, he released Joanna Hausmann Is Lying About Venezuela. One thing above all that annoys me about the discussion of Venezuela is that our media’s tendency toward showing “all” sides of an issue on domestic issues is totally absent this issue. The video takes on this issue in the person of privileged “white” Venezuelan Joanna Hausmann.

For some unknowable reason, we almost never hear from supporters of Maduro (and Chávez before him). Instead, any loud-mouth who criticizes the regime is held up as George Washington (but without all the slaves). This is a small push back.

Support BadMouseProductions

Hausmann’s Venezuela video has roughly 350,000 views whereas BadMouseProductions’ has less than 50,000. This is why you should support people like BadMouse who are doing great work but getting relatively little exposure and support. And by “support” I definitely include watching and sharing the videos. Even if you don’t learn anything, they are a couple of quantum levels above most popular YouTube videos.

BadMouseProductions Patreon Thank You

Cosplay Socialists and Real Revolution

Cosplay Socialists - Jimmy DoreIn 1857, Frederick Douglass delivered a speech on “West India Emancipation.” In it, he noted something that is widely misunderstood. He said, “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.”

I think people imagine this in the context of the Civil Rights Movement — that one can’t expect social progress by waiting around for the power elite to realize that they ought to grant you the same rights they have. But I don’t think this is right. The word is “demand” not “request.” A demand implies consequence. Although the first consequence may not be violence (as Douglass notes), ignored demands ultimately lead to it.

Violence

In his book Intellectuals, Paul Johnson argues that leftist intellectuals eventually get around to accepting violence. He’s right. He didn’t need to write yet another cherry-picked conservative rant to prove it.

But what Johnson doesn’t admit is that violence is the basis of right-wing belief. It’s just that the right-wing is defending the status quo. So they define their violence as justified because they have enacted laws.

But laws are not correlated with morality. Imagine that you were in a flooded area and all the store owners were gone. If your child would die without some medication, you would be morally right to break into a pharmacy — even if you personally accepted the morality of property rights.

Take it one step further: why should you accept the morality of property rights? They are simply the result of historical theft from the commons. In other words, they are just a facile justification for historical violence.

Cosplay Socialists

If people are not seriously willing to risk it all, then they don’t deserve the right to call themselves socialists.

I’ve reached the point where I think that major social advancement will require violence. This is not because leftists are violent. Rather it is because the existing power structure will do anything it can to stop the degradation of its power. What I hope is that there are enough working people behind the cause to make resistance clearly futile. But looking at North Korea, I’m not encouraged.

In the United States, there are lots of what I call Cosplay Socialists. And as much as I like Bernie Sanders, I’d have to say that he is one. Still, a better example is Jimmy Dore. Don’t get me wrong: I do appreciate a lot of what Dore says. But he clearly sees himself as a revolutionary. And he isn’t.

What I think defines Cosplay Socialists is the belief that they can get revolution at the ballot box. And this isn’t going to happen. Wouldn’t it be nice if the billionaire class said, “You know, you’re right! Private property is theft! We don’t deserve all this money!”

You Say You Want a Revolution?

Let me lay it out. Suppose that leftists got control of Washington. They increased the number of seats on the Supreme Court to 100 and outlawed private property. Does anyone question that the military would side with Trump (or someone similar) and declare martial law? And every policing agency in the nation would side with this? And given that, how would the people fight back?

No. If the revolution comes, it will be in some small scale action. And it will grow from there. Most Cosplay Socialists I know are relatively well off. Would they — Would Jimmy Dore! — risk their comfortable lives to give revolution a chance?

Are they willing to risk death for a 10 percent shot at a better nation? What about a 1 percent shot? To be honest, I don’t think they would do it for a 50 percent chance — and there’s no way we are going to get odds like that.


Cosplay Socialist John Lennon: “Don’t you know that you can count me out (in).”

Marginal Change

If people are not seriously willing to risk it all, then they don’t deserve the right to call themselves socialists. Because here’s the thing: Denmark isn’t socialist. And don’t start talking to me about “democratic socialism” because that is simply a pretentious term for “liberal.”

So given that all the Democratic Socialists don’t actually support what would be required for revolution, they should get used to what our current system allows for: marginal improvements. And there’s nothing wrong with that. I’m keen to limit the damage done by our system until we can change it in a categorical way.

Of course, I’m a pessimist. Even if a workers’ revolution succeeded, history shows that all the other capitalist nations would sanction the new government. The BBC would report that the American People were against the revolution. The only advantage we would have is that the United States wouldn’t be trying to destroy our new government — but only because we managed to defeat it first.

The question then comes: do you support revolution in a meaningful way? Or do you just think that after workers have a majority in Congress the power elite will go along? If the latter, you need to stop pretending and start appreciating marginal advances like Obamacare and same-sex marriage, because those are the only things you are actually willing to fight for.

Afterword

Neal Meyer at Jacobin wrote, What Is Democratic Socialism? The article is typical of the happy horseshit of the power of sustained democratic pressure — even as he notes how Scandinavian countries have failed to attain socialism. But even he seems to understand the problems that socialism faces against entrenched capitalism, “At that moment, it will be the job of democratic socialists in movements and in government to do everything necessary to defend the democratic mandate they won” (emphasis mine).

I understand that one can’t call for violent revolution in this country; it is illegal — which is the same as outlawing radical change. (This alone proves that there is absolutely nothing “natural” about capitalism given that it only survives via edict.) The question is not what one’s public position is but rather whether if we are willing to do everything necessary to assure that a state by, for, and of workers will replace the capitalist system.

A Brief Introduction to Stewart Lee

Stewart LeeFor some time, I’ve been afraid to go public with the fact that Stewart Lee is by far my favorite comedian. And frankly, it’s embarrassing. I am exactly the kind of person who would love Stewart Lee: intellectual git who doesn’t get much exercise. According to him, his agent says his audience is made up of “people who like Terry Pratchett.” Of course, that begs the question. You could just as easily say, “Terry Pratchett fans are made up of people who like Stewart Lee.” Except: a lot more people like Pratchett than Lee.

I discovered Stewart Lee while researching Ben Elton. I’d admired him for years because of The Young Ones and Blackadder. And I learned that there was this guy who apparently hated him. Normally, you don’t find unknown comedian’s opinions listed in Wikipedia pages. So I went to find who this guy was. And I found this:

In addition to being hilarious, it’s a beautifully crafted bit of performance art. And that’s the thing about Lee: he’s an artist. There are lots of comedians who I find funny. But Lee is the only one who I consider an artist. His performances are like plays.

“Give It to Me Straight Like a Pear Cider That’s Made From 100% Pears”

A good example of this is a 25-minute routine that had its genesis in a television commercial for Magners Pear Cider. I can’t find the exact commercial that Stewart Lee references. But this is part of the series. Listen for, “Why don’t they just give it to him straight, like a pear cider that’s made from a hundred percent pears.”

That’s just 30 seconds. And it really isn’t offensive. What Lee discusses is the appropriation of art for commerce. I’m sure you’ve had the same experience of a beloved song being used to advertise a cruise line or tires. Recently, I’ve had Volvo using the Queen of the Night aria from The Magic Flute to sell the XC90. Magners is not doing this. But how Lee uses this ad to criticize this practice is brilliant.

Comedy doesn’t get any better than that. And even though much of it seems ad-libbed, it is in only the simplest ways. Watching different performances of Stewart Lee, I’ve learned that he can anticipate his audience. For example, he refers to the two women with “pink hair.” That wasn’t planned, but he knew there would be people in the audience he could point out.

Actually, I saw an interview with him in which he talked about needing to finesse routines. The audience doesn’t always do what he’s primed them to do. In about 10 percent of the cases, he has to figure out a way to work around it. Of course, those aren’t the routines that make it onto DVD and YouTube.

My Friends Hate Stewart Lee

When I’ve introduced Stewart Lee to my friends they show the same apathy that I do a new song by Meghan Trainor. And I do understand this. To some extent, Lee is a meta-comedian. Much of his act is about doing his act. He’s very big on complaining about one part of the audience not appreciating a joke, for example. And often, the humor is unstated.

His routine about the royal wedding climaxes at a point where the audience must laugh at an obvious joke that Lee does not make. And while most comedians would stop there, he makes a right turn. I love it but I can see where most people would like something more concrete:

I know I’ve presented over a half hour of Stewart Lee performing. If you’ve managed to make it through any of it, let me know what you think. My bet is that Frankly Curious readers will like it more than Frank’s friends. But I could be wrong. I was wrong before when I thought my friends would like him.

This is my favorite Stewart Lee routine: Scooby-Doo and the Pirate Zombie Jungle Island.

Afterword: Bridget Christie

For about ten years, Stewart Lee has been married to actor and stand-up comedian Bridget Christie. If you have Netflix, there is an excellent set by her. But this was my first introduction to her where she plays an ant stand-up comedian.

Stop Giving “Liberal” Corporations Credit

Starbucks SignI saw Cenk Uygur on The Young Turks talking about Howard Schultz. “To be fair to Starbucks, they are pretty progressive as a company — among the more progressive companies. They do a lot of good in the world including being decent to their farmers. That was why I was excited to see what Howard Schultz was going to bring.” He then goes on to note that Schultz seems only to be running in order to keep his taxes low.

But is Starbucks really progressive? And if it is, should it get credit for it?

Starbucks Is Progressive in Easy Ways

Compared to other corporations, Starbucks is progressive. But this isn’t the way to look at it. Let’s start by looking at how the company is progressive. It isn’t economically progressive. That’s what we are seeing from Howard Schultz. He’s all for being nice to minority groups — as long as it doesn’t cost him anything. And we see that with Starbucks itself.

Much is made of the fact that Starbucks pays above minimum wage. But to a large extent, this is necessary based on the quality they require from their workers. And they don’t pay that well. The average wage of a barista is $9.77 per hour — hardly a living wage. Hell, a store manager makes $17.44 per hour, on average. That’s $35,000 per year — just over the level that would qualify a family of four for Medicaid.

Store manager! Each store nets roughly $100,000 per year. Each store employs roughly 8 people. Just saying.

Progressivism as Branding

We need to think about branding. A big part of Starbucks’ brand is being enlightened. That’s because its consumer base is that vague economically moderate, socially liberal crowd that refuses to shop at Walmart.

Okay, that’s an overstatement. Their customers are generally urban professionals. There are lots of Republicans who go to Starbucks — but generally not the kind who are proud Trump supporters (but many of them doubtless do support him because he’ll keep their taxes down).

Is it any wonder that Starbucks has been what I think of as an MSNBC liberal: socially liberal and economically “I’m against economic inequality as long as we don’t do anything about it!” conservative? So Starbucks’ progressivism is the kind that would never get in the way of profits or the wealth of billionaires.

So Starbucks isn’t very big on the economic liberalism — the kind of liberalism that would actually cost them a lot. And when it comes to social issues, I doubt they lose anything. Call it part of the advertising budget, given how much good media they’ve gotten for it.

Regardless, I’m sure there are smart people at Starbucks who have worked out that every liberal thing the company does pays for itself in customer goodwill.

Starbucks Can Afford to Be “Progressive” — For Now

The New Prophets of CapitalBut none of this matters. Nicole Aschoff explains what’s going on in her great book, The New Prophets of Capital. Companies that don’t have much competition generally play the “socially responsible” role. It actually works great for the rich because when idiots like Howard Schultz decide they should be in charge, they can say, “We don’t need higher taxes! We just need companies like Starbucks and Whole Foods who treat people well!” But that doesn’t work.

Whenever a “liberal” company has faced competition, the first thing they do is to jettison their pretenses of liberalism. They know that branding will only take them so far and if a competitor is charging less, the competitor will win out.

So when a major coffee shop challenges Starbucks, watch as it turns into Walmart. As it is, they are already one of the top companies with employees on food stamps.

The Talk vs the Policy

There is a schizophrenic aspect to this. We have business leaders, on one hand, telling us that all we need is for corporations to be socially responsible and all our problems will vanish. And on the other hand, we have business leaders telling us that the only purpose of a corporation is to make money for shareholders. It doesn’t take much clarity to look at the world and see which side is telling the truth.