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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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