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Summer 2020 / Volume IV, Number 2
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Rebuilding the Economy

After the Viral Economy

In 1988, Jean Baudrillard announced “the triumph of a viral econo­my.” Already, he saw that the manic circulation of financial assets, information, and—indeed—viruses, both biological and technological, would define the new era. If everything must circulate freely, he observed, “well, so then must germs, viruses, drugs, capital, and ter­rorists. And this circulation of the worst things is much quick­er than the circulation of the best.” Thus, instead of the End of Histo­ry emerging out of an unchallenged liberalism, Baudrillard predicted the intensifying destabilization of a system “relieved of ideologies.” He described “the triumph of a virtual economy” driven by the “de­structuring of value” and speculative circulation: The game is such…

Investment, Productivity, and the Bonus Culture

Weak growth is far and away the most important economic problem facing the United States. This problem is not simply the result of the financial crisis or the severe recession that followed; the period of low growth began in 2000. Rather, it is the result of a much earlier reduction in business investment. While short–term…

Reforming U.S. Trade Policy for Shared Prosperity

Trade was an uncontroversial topic not so long ago. For most of the postwar era, trade worked well for the United States and for many other countries. A bipartisan consensus supported continuing trade liberalization as long as it was accompanied by full employment. Yet trade always had winners and losers, as economies adjusted to different…

Managing Decline: The Economy of Value Extraction

As I sit down to write, the coronavirus has completely paralyzed the U.S. economy. At this juncture, most conversations that are not about the plague seem a little off point. But some—like the ones in William Lazonick and Jang-Sup Shin’s recently published book, Predatory Value Extraction—are having their moment, too. Yes, it’s time to talk about share buybacks. Because they are, as Lazonick and Shin argue so persuasively, key to capitalism’s future…

Neo-Feudalism in California

Rather than the vanguard of a more egalitarian future, California has become the progenitor of a new form of feudalism characterized by gross inequality and increas­ingly rigid class lines, a trend that could be exacerbated in the after­math of the coronavirus outbreak, which has devastated much of the blue-collar economy. But the shift is likely to only further enhance those at the top of the state’s new class structure, those best suited for the inexorable and expanding shift to digital platforms…

Technocracy in Turmoil

From Technocracy and Populism to Technopopulism

A new political formation has arrived on the scene: technopopulism, or the synthesis of populism and technocracy. At first blush, such a formulation might seem like a contradiction. Technocracy and populism are typically understood as being deeply antagonistic to each other, perhaps appearing even as polar opposites: the rule of the experts versus the rule of the people. But the history of modern politics has rarely involved the replacement of one paradigm by another. Yesterday it was the technocrats who promised economic prosperity for nations; today it is the populists, as the technocrats sit atop an eviscerated industrial base, unable to account for its dilapidated state. Meanwhile, the causes that…

Science without Validation in a World without Meaning

Physicist Richard Feynman had the following advice for those interested in science: “So I hope you can accept Nature as She is—absurd.”1 Here Feynman captures in stark terms the most basic insight of modern science: nature is not understandable in terms of ordinary physical concepts and is, therefore, absurd. The unintelligibility of nature has huge…

Data-Driven Defeat: Information versus Interests in Afghanistan

In the Spring of 2012, my battalion arrived in western Afghanistan as the Obama troop surge, meant to break the Taliban, drew to a close. The Taliban remained unbroken, but our new mission was training and assisting the Afghan security forces. Like all supposed changes in policy for Afghanistan, this one amounted to less than…

Realignment and Resistance

First as Tragedy, Then as Farce: The Collapse of the Sanders Campaign and the “Fusionist” Left

In the aftermath of the collapse of the Bernie Sanders campaign, there have been many calls for serious reflection—each immedi­ately followed by comforting explanations that negate any serious reflection. “What if Occam’s Razor applies and the explanation for Bernie’s loss is the simplest?” asked former Sanders speech­writer David Sirota. “In all of American history, a…

Overcoming Capitalism without Overcoming Globalism?

Piketty’s earlier thesis, which all but disappears in the new book, was that the tendency of returns on capital to exceed the rate of economic growth threatens to undermine not only democracy but capitalism itself. Piketty, however, had little to say about the deeper political-ideological dynamics driving these trends. This latest book is an attempt to fill that gap. Capital and Ideology aims to explain not only what has happened but why. In particular, the book focuses on the relationship between inequality…

The Not-So-Strange Death of Israel’s Labor Party

After a year of three elections, it appears that Israel will now finally have a government. Former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz, who had run a yearlong campaign to supplant Benjamin Netanyahu, found himself out of options in April 2020. With the coronavirus as pretext, Gantz announced that he would join Netanyahu…

America Since the Sixties: A History without Heroes

Reduced to a short abstract, The Age of Entitlement seems artificially and debatably schematic in the manner of a David Brooks op-ed. But the book is more capacious than this would suggest. It is an eccentric work of history that is simultaneously a narrative of the baby boomers and their parents; a revisionist, even patricidal, account of the Reagan administration; and an entry in the crowded genre…

Meritocratic Culture

Losing the Narrative: The Genre Fiction of the Professional Class

Something strange happened to the news over the past four years. The dominant stories all resembled the scripts of bad movies—sequels and reboots. The Kavanaugh hearings were a sequel to the Clarence Thomas hearings, and Russian collusion was rebooted as Ukrainian impeachment. Journalists are supposed to hunt for good scoops, but in January, as the…

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    America in its present state of decline increasingly resembles the late Soviet Union, but one of the most unsettling parallels is its unmistakable slide into gerontocracy. From Trump to Biden to Sanders to Pelosi to most of the Senate, one might think that the biblical…

  • Lenin versus the God-Builders

    James D. White’s Red Hamlet: The Life and Ideas of Alexander Bogdanov is the first comprehensive English-language biography of Bogdanov. In it, White alternates chapters of straight biography with dense chapters that rehash Bogdanov’s philosophy and the debates surrounding it. The volume meticulously provides an…

  • After AIPAC

    Bernie Sanders’s announcement that he would not attend this year’s American Israel Public Affairs Committee (aipac) conference in Washington set off the usual round of recriminations, but it should not have come as a surprise. On his Twitter feed, Sanders described the annual pro-Israel gathering—typically…

  • A Public Baseline: The Australian Health Care Model

    Health care in the United States is riddled with contradictions. The country spends $3.5 trillion a year on health care—more than $10,700 per person and 17.9 percent of GDP—yet 28.5 million Americans are uninsured—nearly 9 percent of the population. America is the richest nation on…

  • The Reformation in Economics: Back to the Future

    It is hard to think of another book of the same genre, less still one recently published, that provides such a clear and accurate guide to what economics should be about and how it should be employed to analyze actual economies…

  • American Restoration: Edmund Burke and the American Constitution

    In mid-July 230 years ago, the people of England received a startling piece of news. They learned that on the previous day, July 14, 1789, a mob of angry Frenchmen had stormed the Bastille prison, thus toppling one of the prominent symbols of the Old…

  • Momentum Lost: Surveying the Fractured British Left

    In spring 2019 I published an article in this journal predicting that the British Left was far more divided than it appeared on its surface. I argued that the activist group Momentum, which had taken over the Labour Party, risked alienating traditional working-class supporters. My argument…

  • Commodity Financialization (and Why It Matters)

    In December 2018, a leading European bank sent its customers investing tips for the next year. To navigate “an increasingly challenging investment environment,” the bank advised, “The latter stages of the economic cycle have historically been one of the better times to invest in commodities.…

  • How to Relink Seven Billion People?

    World population has increased from one billion a century ago to roughly seven billion now, with rates varying greatly between different countries, tribes, and religious groups. Many of today’s unsettled political, economic, and environmental issues—the latter reflected in the recently published UN report stating that…

  • Subscription Capitalism: The Story of a Power Shift

    The emergence of the internet changed the business landscape in fundamental ways. Computer-based services could be offered to anyone irrespective of geographic restrictions. This meant that internet companies could become globally significant with relatively little initial investment, as demonstrated by Facebook, Google, and several others.…

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