Bernie Sanders Voters: Welcome!

Bernie SandersIn my recent Odds and Ends Vol 24, I noted that I think the #NeverBernie brigade should be more respectful of Bernie Sanders because his millions of supporters are very much part of the Democratic Party’s coalition. Indeed, a big argument against Sanders in 2016 was that on policy issues, there was no difference between his voters and Hillary Clinton’s voters. The fact that this is now ignored is one of many aspects of what I’ve come to see as “Bernie Sanders just can’t win.”

Sanders-Trump Voters

Many people make a big deal of the fact that 12 percent of Sanders supporters voted for Donald Trump. I’m going to dig into this. But there is a bit of confusion on the matter. When this number comes up, I am sometimes also told that many Republicans voted for him in open primaries. That certainly means that Sanders actual support was less than is indicated by this vote total.

Personally, I just don’t think there are that many Republicans who voted for him. Sanders got over 13 million votes. It is absurd to think that even one million of those votes were from Republicans. But even granting that, it’s only 8 percent.

More importantly, if a lot of Sanders voters were really Republicans, that means that a much smaller number of actual Sanders supporters voted for Trump — more like 4 percent. But as I said: this is nonsense. To a first approximation, we can assume that all the people who voted for Sanders actually supported him. And that means that roughly 12 percent of them voted for Trump over Clinton.

Now 12 percent sounds like a lot. But it actually isn’t. Sure, in a ridiculous race like 2016, just a few votes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania could have turned the election. But I don’t think we can blame Sanders voters generally.

Clinton-McCain Voters

As political scientist John Sides points out in an article in The Washington Post, far fewer Sanders voters voted for Trump in 2016 than Clinton voters voted for John McCain in 2008. Did you get that? Let me repeat: far more Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama than Sanders voters in 2016 refused to vote for Clinton.

How many more? According to polls, 24-25 percent of Clinton voters in 2008 refused to vote for Obama. So double. That’s pretty amazing.

Conservative Sanders Voters

But let’s return to the “Republicans voted for Sanders” idea. Sides presents some evidence that even if Sanders supporters weren’t Republicians, there were a number of conservatives in his coalition. It makes sense. There were people who would simply never vote for Hillary Clinton. So in the primary, they voted for Sanders.

For example, only 35 percent of the Sanders-Trump voters voted for Obama in 2012. Compare this to 95% for Sanders-Clinton voters.

What are we to make of this? I think it is clear. There was a small but important fraction of Sanders support that came from people who were conservatives and so just didn’t like Clinton. Some were Republicans and independents, but mostly they were simply conservative Democrats. They were never going to vote for Clinton, and had Sanders won the primary, most of them wouldn’t have voted for him in the general election. Most important: the vast majority of Sanders supporters will support whoever the Democrats nominate.

#NeverBernie

Just the fact that so many Clinton supporters went for McCain in 2008 should be enough to put a halt to all the #NeverBernie nonsense. But there is another, much more troublesome, way of looking at it. It could be that roughly a quarter of the Democratic Party (its more conservative members primarily) simply don’t support the party if it nominates someone considered too liberal. Or just “not who I want.”

Note that for all the screaming about Bernie Sanders not being loyal to the Democratic Party, he has been. He campaigned often and well for Hillary Clinton. He’s told his supporters not to harass his opponents. And he has said that he will support whoever the Democratic nominee is.

Not that I think any of this will matter. For a lot of Democrats, Sanders is simply “the bad child.” Everything that is bad will be taken as confirmation that Sanders is horrible and everything that is good (in as much as it is acknowledged at all) will be taken as an exception.

What if Sanders Became President?

This brings up something very concerning. I believe that if Sanders became president, he would get the same kind of support that Labour has shown Jeremy Corbyn. Most of the party will provide him with lukewarm support while a notable fraction will actively undermine him. And then he’ll be accused of alienating the party.

The truth of the matter is that there are liberals who would rather see Trump get another term than allow Sanders to become president. And God knows, they have their reasons. We all have our reasons, even if they will look pretty weak as we watch Trump start his sixth year in office.

The truth is that I would have liked it if Sanders had formally joined the Democratic Party in 2016 and stayed in. I find his claims to independence and socialism annoying. But I don’t think it would have mattered. There is just a set of people who will always hate him just as there is a set of people who will always hate Hillary Clinton.

I’m not looking forward to this upcoming election. And if Democrats don’t watch out, we’ll have a repeat of 2016 — one way or another. And I can’t even feel good about the obvious hypocrisy of many in the Democratic Party. They’ve already shown who they are.

But there’s time to realize what I’ve been saying for years: there are two alternatives in the coming election. And that’s it. I noted in 2016 that people who thought there was no difference between Clinton and Trump were delusional. And in 2020, people who can’t choose between Sanders and Trump are equally delusional.

And if Sanders Loses?

On the other side, pretending that Sanders is some kind of villain probably will cause him to lose. But at what cost? One idiotic #NeverBernie person tweeted:

We know how many Dems support Sanders: millions. We also know that if the vast majority of Sanders supporters hadn’t supported Clinton in the general election, she would have lost profoundly.

But this tweet shows that in this particular echo chamber, people just “know” that Sanders supporters don’t matter. But they do.

In their scorched-Earth approach to Sanders, the #NeverBernie brigade threaten the entire Democratic Party. No one needs to like Sanders if they don’t want to. But it would be really helpful to the party if they didn’t act so stupidly.

So let me say it: all Bernie Sanders supporters are critically important. And they are welcome by the vast majority of party members. That’s because the vast majority of them are party members. I don’t remember all this fuss when the Democratic Party marched to the right for three decades.

Çatalhöyük and Human Nature

Çatalhöyük

When talking politics, I seem forever to be told that my egalitarian ideas just don’t work. This usually takes a simple form. “Socialist can’t work because ‘Stalin’!” But then I dig down into people’s thinking. It is all the same: humans naturally depend upon incentives. If people can’t become rich they won’t work. This kind of argument shows just how much mainstream economics has poisoned our society. There is nothing “natural” about modern society.

Çatalhöyük represents a stable and successful egalitarian system. So why don’t capitalists engage with it as an example of socialism?

Look at the history of humans. Through most of our time on Earth, we have lived in extremely egalitarian communities. Paleolithic cultures (small nomadic groups) had very little hierarchy — especially regarding gender. It was only during the Neolithic (when humans lived in non-nomadic settlements) that hierarchy began to rise. At first, this seems to have been the result of increased fertility. Women spent more time pregnant. But specialization meant that a religious class could rise up. This ultimately destroyed the traditional egalitarian and democratic basis of earlier societies.

(That’s right Virginia, the Greeks didn’t invent democracy.)

But there is at least one Neolithic city that remained egalitarian. And it did so for roughly 1,800 years. Çatalhöyük. It was founded 9,500 years ago in southern Turkey. At its peak, it had a population of 10,000 people. It’s remarkable for a number of reasons. As I’ve discussed before, the people developed farming after the city was settled. This is the opposite of what archaeologists had long thought was always the way Neolithic cities came into being.

Economic Egalitarianism at Çatalhöyük

What’s most notable about Çatalhöyük, however, is the absence of “great houses” — temples and so on. This isn’t because they lacked religion. The houses are littered with religious objects. And different houses have different levels of religious iconography. But the people who had higher levels of religious status did not have higher levels of economic status.

This is remarkable. It’s almost as though the people of Çatalhöyük thought that all people should have the necessities of life. Their people didn’t have to hunt around the garbage heaps to find food. Indeed, there were no poor people.

Ian Hodder is the current head of excavations at Çatalhöyük. In the following half-hour video, he provides an overview of what we know about the city:

I’m not saying that Çatalhöyük was some kind of utopia. But it is an example of people forming what seems very much like an anarcho-communism system. And they didn’t find it necessary to allow their most productive members of society to live in large houses inside fences. Somehow, everyone managed to get by without roaming police to incentivized economic policy.

Stalin vs Capitalism

Recreated Çatalhöyük Home
Recreated Çatalhöyük Home

One thing most Americans forget about the Soviet Union is that it started in an economic hole. Russia was a very poor country. Under Stalin, the people became richer at a faster rate than Americans did. I’m not saying this justifies the brutality of Stalin. But why do we focus on it when apologists justify capitalism in the same terms? “Yes, millions starve each year because of capitalism, but it is justified because of all the poor people who get pulled out of poverty!”

If the justification for capitalism is that it “works” then there is nothing to criticize Stalin about, right? I personally have a problem with both. But capitalists pretty much never engage with the problems of the system. And when they do, they simply brush away all the deaths associated with it. In these arguments, capitalism never fails. When there is a failure, it is because capitalism isn’t being done right. The fact that capitalism has never been “done right” is not engaged with.

Çatalhöyük as Socialism Example

Çatalhöyük represents a stable and successful egalitarian system. So why don’t capitalists engage with it as an example of socialism? I think it is the same reason they always rush to Stalinism: they don’t know of any other socialist system. The entire basis of their critique of socialism is based on Cold War propaganda.

Counterarguments

But if these people did defend against the troubling example of Çatalhöyük, I know roughly the lines of their argument. They would say that this is just one city and the model would not scale up to the world. But that begs the question. Humans have invaded all parts of the world — creating untold environmental damage — because of capitalism. Do we really need 7+ billion people on this planet?

Çatalhöyük was not some isolated city. It traded far and wide. It was a major exporter of pottery.

But I still don’t see how this model does not scale up. It’s not like Çatalhöyük was some isolated city. It traded far and wide. It was a major exporter of pottery.

“Ha!” I hear the capitalists say. “It was involved in trade so it wasn’t socialism!” I am constantly shocked at how ignorant people who defend capitalism are. Markets are not a thing that capitalism created. Capitalism is simply a system in which people can own infrastructure and thus make money for doing nothing. (It doesn’t speak well of the defenders of capitalism that they are economically ignorant about the very systems they defend and attack.)

An Example Nonetheless

But Çatalhöyük is a good example of socialism regardless of any holes that can be poked in it. That is because it shows that there is nothing natural about the social Darwinian model of human behavior. Humans live good lives without being incentivized by huge profits.

Today, we assume that people won’t work unless they are constantly under threat of living on the streets. This is what Paul Ryan was getting at when he said, “We don’t want to turn the safety net into a hammock that lulls able-bodied people into complacency and dependence.” Why did he think this? It isn’t based on evidence. It is just something everyone “knows” in modern America.

Çatalhöyük proves this is not true. The fact that we have trained generations of humans to live awful, meaningless, competitive lives doesn’t make it natural. And it also provides hope. We can untrain people. We can allow them to see the truth. Humans are social animals. We take care of each other. We don’t need the promise of millions of dollars to go to work.

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!

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.

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.

Fitbit and Corporate Oppression

Fitbit Go365Last week, I watched Michael Moore’s new film, Fahrenheit 11/9. It was good — even inspiring. But what most stood out to me was the story of a teacher’s strike in West Virginia. Really, just one part of it. The teachers were forced to buy and wear the Fitbit Go365 just to get insurance. And if they didn’t get sufficient exercise, they were charged $500 at the end of the year.

It’s the Corporations Not the Government

I’ve long been parroting Neil Postman’s idea that our society has turned into Aldous Huxley’s nightmare of a people controlled through pleasure rather than George Orwell’s nightmare of control through terror and pain. But the truth is that neither get at the way control exists in the modern world. We effectively have no government in that it is controlled for the purpose of making our largest corporations profitable. Thus, it is the corporations that control us.

Seen in this light, both Huxley and Orwell were prescient. Corporations use both carrots and sticks on us. And forcing teachers to wear the Fitbit device is a great example of this. Most Americans would be apoplectic if the government directly demanded that people wear a fitness device. But in this case, it is “voluntary”! Teachers don’t have to get health insurance. And if they exercise enough, they won’t face the $500 fine! This, in America, is what we call choice.

Neoliberalism: Tyrany of the Corporations

This is also what the federal government does to states. For example, states didn’t have to participate in the test-obsessed and charter-schools-pushing Race to the Top. But if they wanted extra money for their already under-funded schools, they had to. (Of course, many of them didn’t get much money anyway.)

And this is ultimately what is wrong with neoliberal policy. Private business doesn’t get involved with government in order to make the country better. I’m not sure why people don’t see this. After all, we are constantly reminded that corporations have but one purpose: to make money. Yet as a group, we buy this pseudo-science of the “magic of the market.” Charter schools will save us because of unknown market magic. And never do a statistical analysis! Instead, compare the best charter schools to the worst public schools!

Similarly, we have test-based education because the non-profit foundations of the Gates and Walton families have decided that it is the key to better education. I won’t say they are doing it just to avoid higher taxes, because the truth is that I don’t think it even occurs to them that higher taxes might be necessary. When you have that much money, you just know higher taxes are counterproductive.

There Is No Choice

But the Fitbit story still stands out. You probably remember how the televisions in Nineteen Eighty-Four were two-way. During morning exercise, Winston was chastised for not performing well enough. The power elite don’t need such low-tech systems of control. They can just use technology to see how many steps you take per day.

But don’t, for a minute, think this isn’t coerced. Our society has developed a mythology that obscures coercion. It goes along with the idea that if a woman doesn’t stab a man forcing himself on her, she wasn’t raped. Someone who’s been out of work for a year has the “choice” to not take that job that forces them to accept arbitration. And the teachers at Stonewall Jackson (!) Public School had the “choice” to go without health insurance or work somewhere else.

All of these things are coercive. And no amount of myth-making changes that. But in order for it to matter, people need to recognize that all these “choices” aren’t. They aren’t even real alternatives.[1]


[1] A choice provides you with the ability to pick from all possibilities. An alternative allows you to pick from a set number. People usually don’t make this distinction, but it is profound. In a capitalist system, one rarely gets a choice unless they are rich.

Howard Schultz and Delusional “Moderates”

Howard SchultzHere we go again! Billionaire coffee monger Howard Schultz is thinking of running a “third-way” campaign for the president. You see, according to him, what Americans are begging for is a man who is tolerant of gays, wants more immigration, and wants to see less spending on Social Security and Medicare. Democratic voters would generally agree with the first part of that but not to the extent that they would hate the second part. Republican voters would hate all of it.

Who are the people begging for this man to run?

Mostly, it appears that rich media figures are looking for Howard Schultz or any of hundreds just like him. You know: people like Scott Pelley who has a net worth of $16 million.

You see, Howard Schultz is offering exactly what urbane rich people most want:

  1. Low taxes because they want to keep their money
  2. Few regulations because they don’t have to worry about unsafe working conditions or environmental poisoning but love cheap stuff
  3. Social tolerance because diversity is fun as long as you don’t have to be near poor people.

There’s nothing wrong with this. Vote your interests rich people! The problem is that these particular rich people report it as given that this is the what the rest of us want.

What Americans Do Not Want

Back in 2016, the Voter Study Group produced a report, Political Divisions in 2016 and Beyond. And one of its findings was what I’ve known for decades: almost no one is socially liberal and economically conservative.

There are plenty of people who are the opposite: socially conservative and economically liberal. In the following graph, you can see this for the 2016 election. The blue dots are Clinton supporters, red dots are Trump, and the yellow dots are for someone else — generally what’s his name, the Libertarian.

Ideology 2016 - From Voter Study Group

What Americans Largely Do Want

What’s amazing is that the quadrant that is almost empty is the one that the media constantly tell us is the mean between the two extremes. It’s called “moderate” or “centrist” but it is really libertarian.

The opposite quadrant has a much larger claim to being indicative of what Americans want. That’s because Americans are bigots who don’t want anyone messing with their Medicare and Social Security. This is populism in America.

Yet we are expected to believe that what Howard Schultz offers is a non-ideological plan. One that just so happens to be what is best for Scott Pelley and him. Libertarianism isn’t ideological in the sense that what you want is never ideological; it’s just common sense!

Extremist Non-Ideology

Even worse, these so-called moderates and centrists are usually extremist. Most Americans would find them very liberal on social issues and very conservative on economic issues. Even the extremists in the Republican Party know they have to talk around cutting entitlement programs. But to Howard Schultz, it’s just good government!

I get tired of repeating this. But the truth is that the mainstream media have yet to get a clue about this myth they report as undisputed fact. They present populists as if they are dangerous. But these libertarians masquerading as moderates are presented as brave truth tellers. As long as the media don’t get a clue, the rest of us will have to continue to point this stuff out.

But the issue is actually quite clear: don’t trust rich people. They are not here to save us. They are running because they have huge egos and figure that governing is a win-win: they get more money and power and the people get the benefit of their genius. At least in their minds.