February 28, 2017
The pronunciation in English is lay-say-fair. Its French origins date back to the late Renaissance. As the story goes, it was first used about the year 1680, a time when the nation-state was on the rise throughout Europe. The French finance minister, Jean-Baptiste Colbert, asked a merchant named M. Le Gendre what the state could do to promote industry.
According to legend, the reply came: “Laissez-nous faire,” or “let it be.” This incident was reported in 1751 in the Journal Oeconomique by the free-trade champion Rene de Voyer, Marquis d’Argenson. The slogan was codified finally in the words of Vincent de Gournay: “Laissez-faire et laissez-passer, le monde va de lui même!” The loose translation: “Let it be and let goods pass; the world goes by itself.”
To generalize the principle: Leave the world alone, it manages itself.
A Simple, Beautiful Ideal
People should enjoy the liberty to manage their own lives, associate as they please, exchange with anyone and everyone.
All these renderings express not only the idea of free trade — a main subject of dispute in 18th-century European politics — but also a larger and more-beautiful vision of the way society can be permitted to work.This idea can be summed up in the phrase “laissez-faire,” or in the doctrine of what was once called simply liberalism, which today is clarified as classical liberalism. This idea is this: Society contains within itself the capacity for ordering and managing its own path of development. It follows that people should enjoy the liberty to manage their own lives, associate as they please, exchange with anyone and everyone, own and accumulate property and otherwise be unencumbered by state expansion into their lives.
In the centuries that have followed, millions of great thinkers and writers have elaborated on this core idea within all disciplines of the social science. Then as now, there stand two broad schools of thought: those who believe in state control of one or many aspects of the social order and those who believe that such attempts at control are counterproductive to the cause of prosperity, justice, peace and the building of the civilized life.
These two ways of thinking are different from what is called the Right and the Left today. The Left is inclined to think that if we let the economic sphere be free, the world will collapse, which advances some theory of the disaster that would befall us all without government control. The Right is similarly convinced that state control is necessary lest the world collapse into violent, warring, culture-destroying gangs.
The laissez-faire view rejects both views in favor of what Claude Frédéric Bastiat called “the harmony of interests” that make up the social order. It is the view that the artists, merchants, philanthropists, entrepreneurs and property owners — and not the cartelizing thugs with state power — ought to be permitted to drive the course of history.
This view is now held by millions of thinkers around the world. It is the most exciting intellectual movement today, and in places where we might least expect to find it.
The growth of the idea of laissez-faire in our times is infused with a digital energy. Distributed networks take the idea to a whole new level: no one in control but everyone in control, with no central point of failure.
But the idea itself is not new in world history.
Though it is mostly associated with 18th-century British thought, it is a view of society that has much-deeper roots in the Christian Middle Ages and early Jewish thought. Nor is laissez-faire somehow a Western idea alone. The deepest roots of laissez-faire actually trace to ancient China, and even today, the thoughts of the masters offer a fine summary.
Here are some examples from non-Western thought:
Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.): “The more artificial taboos and restrictions there are in the world, the more the people are impoverished…The more that laws and regulations are given prominence, the more thieves and robbers there will be…”
“The Sage says: ‘I take no action, yet the people transform themselves, I favor quiescence and the people right themselves, I take no action and the people enrich themselves…’”
Chuang Tzu (369-286 B.C.): “I would rather roam and idle about in a muddy ditch, at my own amusement, than to be put under the restraints that the ruler would impose. I would never take any official service, and thereby I will [be free] to satisfy my own purposes….” The world “does simply not need governing; in fact, it should not be governed.”
Pao Ching-yen (4th century A.D.): “Where knights and hosts could not be assembled, there was no warfare afield…Ideas of using power for advantage had not yet burgeoned. Disaster and disorder did not occur…People munched their food and disported themselves; they were carefree and contented.”
The inviolability of property rights, the primacy of peace in world affairs and the centrality of free association and trade in the conduct of human affairs.
Ssu-ma Ch’ien (145-90 B.C.): “Each man has only to be left to utilize his own abilities and exert his strength to obtain what he wishes…When each person works away at his own occupation and delights in his own business, then like water flowing downward, goods will naturally flow ceaseless day and night without being summoned, and the people will produce commodities without having been asked.”These early beginnings of the idea began here but can be traced through thinkers of ancient Greece and Rome and through the Middle Ages, until the notion swept the world in the 18th and 19th centuries, giving rise to unheard-of prosperity, liberty and peace for all. In the 18th century and in large parts of the world (other than the English-speaking world), laissez-faire has been called liberalism or classical liberalism, a doctrine of social organization that can be summed up in the words of Lord Acton: Liberty is the highest political end of humankind.
20th Century Corruption
To be sure, the notion of liberalism was already corrupted early in the 20th century. As Ludwig von Mises wrote in his book Liberalism (1929), “The world today wants to hear no more of liberalism. Outside England, the term ‘liberalism’ is frankly proscribed. In England, there are, to be sure, still ‘liberals,’ but most of them are so in name only. In fact, they are rather moderate socialists. Everywhere today, political power is in the hands of the anti-liberal parties.”
That remains true today. And the revolt against this is often termed “libertarian,” a word that has long been associated with a primary concern for human liberty. It was a neologism for the postwar generation that was synonymous with liberalism. In current understanding, it refers to a tightening and radicalizing of the old liberal view. It asserts the inviolability of property rights, the primacy of peace in world affairs and the centrality of free association and trade in the conduct of human affairs.
It Can Exist
The state is on the march, but the resistance is growing.
Such a society is not historically unprecedented. Murray Rothbard wrote about Colonial America as an example of a wildly successful experiment of society without centralized state management. Medieval Europe made the first great economic revolution without recourse to the power of the nation-state. David Friedman has documented competitive legal orders in medieval Iceland. Other writers go so far as to say that given how we conduct our lives day to day, relying on the productivity of private institutions and associations, we never really leave a practical anarchy.As Mises says, liberalism/libertarianism/laissez-faire is not a completed doctrine. There are so many areas remaining to be explored and so many applications to make both in history and in our time. The most exciting books of our time are being written from the vantage point of human liberty. The state is on the march, but the resistance is growing.
It is a debilitating thing to watch the state push and push to gain more power, under the flags of Equality or Greatness or Security or Fairness, but it is a source of joy to know that ideas are more powerful than all the armies of the world. Reason, clarity, innovation, and relentless work for what is right and true will eventually lead the idea of laissez-faire to victory.
February 28, 2017
Posted by ducati998 under robots
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The term “artificial intelligence” is widely used, but less understood. As we see it permeate our everyday lives, we should deal with its inevitable exponential growth and learn to embrace it before tremendous economic and social changes overwhelm us.
Part of the confusion about artificial intelligence is in the name itself. There is a tendency to think about AI as an endpoint — the creation of self-aware beings with consciousness that exist thanks to software. This somewhat disquieting concept weighs heavily; what makes us human when software can think, too? It also distracts us from the tremendous progress that has been made in developing software that ultimately drives AI: machine learning.
Machine learning allows software to mimic and then perform tasks that were until very recently carried out exclusively by humans. Simply put, software can now substitute for workers’ knowledge to a level where many jobs can be done as well — or even better — by software. This reality makes a conversation about when software will acquire consciousness somewhat superfluous.
When you combine the explosion in competency of machine learning with a continued development of hardware that mimics human action (think robots), our society is headed into a perfect storm where both physical labor and knowledge labor are equally under threat.
The trends are here, whether through the coming of autonomous taxis or medical diagnostics tools evaluating your well-being. There is no reason to expect this shift towards replacement to slow as machine learning applications find their way into more parts of our economy.
The invention of the steam engine and the industrialization that followed may provide a useful analogue to the challenges our society faces today. Steam power first substituted the brute force of animals and eventually moved much human labor away from growing crops to working in cities. Subsequent technological waves such as coal power, electricity and computerization continued to change the very nature of work. Yet, through each wave, the opportunity for citizens to apply their labor persisted. Humans were the masters of technology and found new ways to find income and worth through the jobs and roles that emerged as new technologies were applied.
Here’s the problem: I am not yet seeing a similar analogy for human workers when faced with machine learning and AI. Where are humans to go when most things they do can be better performed by software and machinery? What happens when human workers are not users of technology in their work but instead replaced by it entirely? I will admit to wanting to have an answer, but not yet finding one.
Some say our economy will adjust, and we will find ways to engage in commerce that relies on their labor. Others are less confident and predict a continued erosion of labor as we know it, leading to widespread unemployment and social unrest.
Other big questions raised by AI include what our expectations of privacy should be when machine learning needs our personal data to be efficient. Where do we draw the ethical lines when software must choose between two people’s lives? How will a society capable of satisfying such narrow individual needs maintain a unified culture and look out for the common good?
The potential and promise of AI requires a discussion free of ideological rigidity. Whether change occurs as our society makes those conscious choices or while we are otherwise distracted, the evolution is upon us regardless.
February 27, 2017
Posted by ducati998 under politics
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Two weeks after David Stockman warned that “the market is apparently pricing in a huge Trump stimulus. But if you just look at the real world out there, the only thing that’s going to happen is a fiscal bloodbath and a White House train wreck like never before in U.S. history” and exclaimed that, when looking at markets, “what’s going on today is complete insanity” he is back with another interview, this time with Greg Hunter of USAWatchdog in which he, once again warns, that a giant fiscal bloodbatch is coming soon, and urges listeners to pay especially close attention to the March 15, 2017 debt ceiling deadling, at which point everything could “grind to a halt.”
As Greg Hunter writes, former Reagan Administration White House Budget Director David Stockman says financial pain is a mathematical certainty. Stockman explains, “I think we are likely to have more of a fiscal bloodbath rather than fiscal stimulus. Unfortunately for Donald Trump, not only did the public vote the establishment out, they left on his doorstep the inheritance of 30 years of debt build-up and a fiscal policy that’s been really reckless in the extreme. People would like to think he’s the second coming of Ronald Reagan and we are going to have morning in America. Unfortunately, I don’t think it looks that promising because Trump is inheriting a mess that pales into insignificance what we had to deal with in January of 1981 when I joined the Reagan White House as Budget Director.”
So, can the Trump bump in the stock market keep going? Stockman, who wrote a book titled “Trumped” predicting a Trump victory in 2016, says, “I don’t think there is a snowball’s chance in the hot place that’s going to happen. This is delusional. This is the greatest suckers’ rally of all time. It is based on pure hopium and not any analysis at all as what it will take to push through a big tax cut. Donald Trump is in a trap. Today the debt is $20 trillion. It’s 106% of GDP. . . .Trump is inheriting a built-in deficit of $10 trillion over the next decade under current policies that are built in. Yet, he wants more defense spending, not less. He wants drastic sweeping tax cuts for corporations and individuals. He wants to spend more money on border security and law enforcement. He’s going to do more for the veterans. He wants this big trillion dollar infrastructure program. You put all that together and it’s madness. It doesn’t even begin to add up, and it won’t happen when you are struggling with the $10 trillion of debt that’s coming down the pike and the $20 trillion that’s already on the books.”
Then, Stockman drops this bomb and says:
“I think what people are missing is this date, March 15th 2017. That’s the day that this debt ceiling holiday that Obama and Boehner put together right before the last election in October of 2015. That holiday expires. The debt ceiling will freeze in at $20 trillion. It will then be law. It will be a hard stop. The Treasury will have roughly $200 billion in cash. We are burning cash at a $75 billion a month rate. By summer, they will be out of cash. Then we will be in the mother of all debt ceiling crises. Everything will grind to a halt. I think we will have a government shutdown. There will not be Obama Care repeal and replace. There will be no tax cut. There will be no infrastructure stimulus. There will be just one giant fiscal bloodbath over a debt ceiling that has to be increased and no one wants to vote for.”
February 26, 2017
Posted by ducati998 under bikes
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The weather has been fantastic just the last few days…..but I have been tied up with either assignments and assessments for the Bar Exam, or work.
I haven’t been able to get out for a ride since last week sometime. I have just spent 5 hours typing up an assignment due tomorrow morning. Just finished. The sun is still shining, I’m thinking, time for a quick ride before darkness.
The missus has been out twice over the w/e while I was at work dealing with escaped prisoners, fights and all the other shite that the job entails.
February 22, 2017
For the American left, 2016 proved to be a year with a cruel twist ending. In the first few months, a self-
described democratic socialist by the name of Bernie Sanders mounted a surprisingly successful primary challenge to the Democratic Party’s presumed and eventual presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton. By the end of 2016, however, not only had Sanders lost the primary race, but Clinton had been defeated in the general election by a billionaire who dressed his xenophobic and plutocratic ambitions in the garb of class resentment.
But the apparent strength of the left wasn’t entirely an illusion. Even as late as November, the Sanders campaign had racked up a set of important victories. The Cold War had helped to entrench the idea of socialism as antithetical to the American political tradition, and Sanders had gone a long way toward smashing that ideological consensus. By identifying himself explicitly as a democratic socialist from the outset of his campaign, he helped give renewed meaning and salience to it as a political identity firmly rooted in the American tradition.
In addition to helping end the stigma around socialism, the Sanders campaign provided a blueprint for a new generation of leftists and progressives. By running in the Democratic primary and showing that he could draw large crowds, Sanders revealed an emerging left-leaning constituency. It seemed in those early autumn months that even in defeat, Sanders had opened up the path for a more progressive Democratic Party: “Sanders Democrats” could continue to work within the party and not only protest outside it. The way forward seemed clear: After Clinton won the general election, a strengthened social-democratic left could work toward the universal provision of various social services and push for criminal-justice reforms and other key priorities.
But now, instead of holding a strengthened position within a troubled but relatively secure Democratic Party, the left appears to be simultaneously invigorated and institutionally irrelevant. The ambitious ideas and goals that have blossomed in recent years—single-payer health care, debt-free higher education, a $15-dollar-an-hour national minimum wage, paid leave, criminal-justice reform—seem to belong to a political world that no longer exists. The left is now primarily on the defensive: Rather than seeking to push the welfare state toward completion, it must defend against its dissolution. Rather than ensuring fair access to public goods like health care, education, and housing, the task of the left is now to prevent the wholesale pillage of the commons. And rather than merely restraining the hawks in the Democratic Party, the left must worry about global devastation, whether through nuclear action or climate inaction.
So what remains of 2016’s hoped-for “political revolution”? Two books by Sanders, Outsider in the White House and Our Revolution, and two volumes of essays by some of this new left’s leading voices, The ABCs of Socialism and The Future We Want, offer us some clues. While written with different conditions in mind, these books still serve as important references for thinking through how to move forward.
Sanders’s emergence as the de facto spokesman and moral conscience of the American left was nearly impossible to anticipate. In spite of having risen to the highest elected position of any socialist in US history, Sanders wasn’t viewed by many leftists as central to their projects and organizing efforts, most of which, in the early 2000s, were directed toward non-electoral goals and communities in urban areas. But the themes that Sanders struck—reducing economic inequality, fighting climate change and the corrosive influence of money in our politics—were well-chosen for our moment of economic upheaval and drew progressively larger crowds.
A careful account of Sanders’s story, and why he emerged so suddenly, will be the work of future historians. But he has written two campaign autobiographies that provide a reasonable first draft. Outsider in the White House was produced relatively quickly and published in 2015. Other than a new preface by Sanders and an afterword by The Nation’s John Nichols, it is essentially a retitled version of Outsider in the House, his 1997 book. Our Revolution, published in the days after Trump’s election, recapitulates the candidate’s biography but also gives us an account of his primary campaign against Clinton and concludes with a detailed policy agenda.
Both books provide similar accounts of Sanders’s life, but the earlier book offers a more complete portrait of his youth and political formation. Sanders was born into a lower-middle-class Jewish household in Brooklyn. The son of a paint salesman,
he didn’t grow up in poverty but was conscious throughout childhood of the family’s lack of money. He attended Brooklyn College for his freshman year and then transferred to the University of Chicago, where he felt isolated among the children of businesspeople and professionals. By his own admission, Sanders wasn’t an especially good student, instead dedicating much of his time to activism with the university’s chapters of the Young People’s Socialist League and the Congress of Racial Equality.
The civil-rights movement was an important factor in Sanders’s politicization in the early 1960s. He participated in protests against the segregated housing owned by the University of Chicago, for which he was arrested, and in 1963 he made the long bus trip to Washington, DC, to attend the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech. Sanders also joined the Student Peace Union and became involved in the antiwar movement. After college, he moved to Vermont and lived in rustic conditions. After joining the antiwar Liberty Union Party, a statewide socialist party founded in 1970, Sanders ran for the US Senate in 1972, winning just 2 percent of the vote. Four years later, he ran for governor, winning all of 6 percent.
Perhaps it was Vermont’s isolation from the civil-rights movement and other struggles of the era that made Sanders incline toward electoral politics rather than other forms of activism. Or perhaps it was simply that the Liberty Union Party’s leadership could fit into a living room, and he happened to be the one who volunteered for a Senate run. But at a time when New York–based socialists like Michael Harrington were forming the predecessors of today’s Democratic Socialists of America to push the Democratic Party to the “left wing of the possible,” Sanders was instead gaining experience in presenting socialist ideas as part of electoral campaigns. If many on the left had reconciled themselves to the task of trying to reform the Democratic Party from within in the 1970s, Sanders had decided to carry on the tradition of electoral socialism inherited from his idol, Eugene Debs.
Sanders’s first political success came in 1981, when—to nearly everyone’s surprise—he was elected as mayor of Burlington by a margin of 14 votes. But it wasn’t his own election that prompted him to first use his signature phrase “political revolution.” Elected on a platform that included protecting the environment and halting property-tax increases, Sanders soon found that Burlington’s board of aldermen was unwilling to work with him. So he decided that he needed to lead a “political revolution” in order to win more elections: this time to take aldermanic seats as well as the mayor’s office. In the following election, his Progressive Coalition ran candidates in every ward, an effort that found them knocking on nearly every door in the city. The Sanders forces won several of these races, and while they didn’t have a majority, they had enough seats to veto any Democratic or Republican initiative, forcing the traditional parties to work with them. “If the mayoral victory one year before had been regarded by some as a fluke,” Sanders writes, “there could be no mistaking what was happening now. A political revolution had occurred in Burlington.”
In Sanders’s time as mayor, Burlington became a small-town echo of the municipal socialism of the 1920s. He halted the property-tax increases, as promised, and raised revenue through a room-and-meal tax. A community land trust was set up to create affordable housing for low-income residents. There was also lakefront beautification and cultural renewal, with free blues, jazz, reggae, and country-music festivals, and events featuring left-wing luminaries like Studs Terkel and Noam Chomsky. Sanders also gave the city something of a foreign policy, traveling to Managua for the anniversary of the Nicaraguan Revolution, to the Soviet Union on his honeymoon in 1988, and to Cuba in 1989.
The question remained whether Sanders’s form of “political revolution”—the idea that mass organizing and local electoral victories could help push American politics to the left—could work on a scale larger than the municipal one. In 1990, Sanders ran successfully for the House of Representatives, where he served eight terms; in 2007, he was elected to the Senate, where he caucused, sometimes uneasily, with Democrats. He became the highest-ranking American politician to describe himself as a socialist.
Sanders remained out of step with the centrist politics of the Democratic Leadership Council, which dominated the party in those years. He was willing to endorse Bill Clinton for president in 1996 as preferable to Republican rule, but he did so without enthusiasm. He thought mainstream Democrats had abandoned the language of class, and he opposed DLC-championed trade deals like NAFTA, which served to place American workers in direct competition with the lower wages and regulatory standards outside the United States.
Once he arrived in the House of Representatives in 1991, Sanders helped set up the Progressive Caucus with Democratic allies like Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Lane Evans of Illinois, and Maxine Waters and Ron Dellums of California. He worked on adding progressive components to existing bills, and he wondered, as he watched the 1996 Republican National Convention produce a huge bounce in the polls, “What could happen, what would happen, in this country if progressives were allowed to have four or five nights of prime-time television and front-page newspaper coverage? What would happen if we could present a point of view that most Americans are unfamiliar with? Would we suddenly become the dominant political force in America? No. Would millions of Americans develop a much more sympathetic attitude toward democratic socialism? Yes.”
But it would be impossible to test his theory of political revolution from the confines of Congress. It required far more public attention, and a galvanizing campaign that would raise money and consciousness and inspire volunteers to put in work across the country. That could happen with a presidential campaign, the only realistic way to test his theory on a much larger scale. In 2015 and 2016, Sanders discovered—one suspects much to his own surprise—just how far he might be able to take this tactic.
If Sanders had won the presidency, he would have encountered, just as he had in Burlington in the early 1980s, a legislature consisting of Republicans and many Democrats who would have been unwilling to work with him or accept his victory as more than a fluke. The real test would have come in the 2018 midterms—analogous to those aldermanic elections—with pro-Sanders candidates running across the country, competing for every House seat and the contested Senate ones. But perhaps the most important aspect of Sanders’s run in the Democratic primary was cultural rather than electoral: He gave renewed vigor to the egalitarian ideals of socialism and, along the way, revealed a growing base of young voters who shared his enthusiasm for them.
Sanders defines democratic socialism in an idiosyncratic way: It is, above all else, fundamentally Rooseveltian—especially the Roosevelt of the never-implemented Second Bill of Rights in 1944. For Sanders, certain social goods—housing, education, and health care—deserve to be understood as rights rather than as commodities sold for profit. To achieve these ends, he sees the need to fight the power of concentrated wealth, which distorts both markets and politics in favor of the wealthy. But Sanders has another critique that is equally powerful and just as salient to our moment. His frequent invocation of the 1 percent and its undeserved share of the national wealth is not only an argument about economic inequality; it is also an argument about political inequality. One cannot be an equal member of a polity if those with wealth have far more say and far more power in the political system. A political democracy requires an economic democracy—or, as Sanders writes in Our Revolution, “today’s tyrannical aristocracy is no longer a foreign power. It’s an American billionaire class that has unprecedented economic and political influence over all of our lives.”
Sanders’s success with young voters reveals a bimodal distribution of socialist enthusiasm. The old guard that came of age in the 1960s, like Sanders, has now been met by a growing influx of organizers from the ranks of those born after 1980, people who have entered the workforce during years marked by varying degrees of capitalist crisis. The ABCs of Socialism, edited by Jacobin founder Bhaskar Sunkara, and The Future We Want, edited by Sunkara and The Nation’s Sarah Leonard, offer us some insights into the ways in which this new generation is attempting to redefine the socialist tradition for the 21st century.
The two books have much in common, sharing an editor and several authors. The ABCs of Socialism is a direct response to the surge of interest in socialism generated by the Sanders campaign. During his candidacy, subscriptions to Jacobin increased by the hundreds each week, and basic definitional and historical questions poured in. The ABCs of Socialism offers selections from the magazine, in the form of questions and relatively brief answers, to provide a useful history of the socialist ideal.
Enthusiastic though they were about the Sanders campaign, Jacobin’s writers are explicitly rooted in Marxism in a way that Sanders is not. For the authors in The ABCs, socialism means something more than his vision of a Rooseveltian social democracy. In their analysis, socialism cannot be achieved through progressive taxation and a more robust system of rights that decommodifies certain social goods; this would bend, but not break, the power of capital. And capital will always fight back, just as it has for the last 40-plus years, starting with the crises of the early 1970s, which created opportunities for businesspeople and their political allies (like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher) to fight the power of unions and the welfare state.
For Sanders, the problem is Wall Street and the billionaire class, which have captured the government and shaped the market to their advantage at the expense of ordinary workers. For Jacobin’s socialists, the problem is more acute: It is capitalism itself. In Our Revolution, Sanders defends the idea of capping the size of major banks and briefly discusses having the government support worker-owned businesses. But as Sunkara, going far beyond Sanders, puts it in his essay for The ABCs, the socialist vision remains “abolishing private ownership of the things we all need and use—factories, banks, offices, natural resources, utilities, communication and transportation infrastructure—and replacing it with social ownership, thereby undercutting the power of elites to hoard wealth and power.” That doesn’t mean the state will seize your “Kenny Loggins records,” Sunkara puckishly adds: Socialism requires the abolition of private property, not personal property.
One of socialism’s problems in the 20th century was that its existing examples—at least the ones claiming to have gone beyond social democracy—were always politically repressive single-party states. The new socialists neither deny this fact nor dwell on it. Instead, they focus on the ethical appeal of socialism. For Jacobin’s writers, so long as capitalism remains—even in the modified form of social democracy—
injuries to human flourishing can be stanched, but not cured. It isn’t enough simply to expand the purview of the state if it leaves private property intact. But although the essays in TheABCs occasionally offer a Marxist critique of Sanders, they mostly articulate a view of socialism’s purpose that is similar to his own. As Sunkara puts it, the desired goal is “a world where people don’t try to control others for personal gain, but instead cooperate so that everyone can flourish.” Jacobin, which sometimes seems to take pride in being part of an unreconstructed left, more closely resembles the tradition of Marxist humanism that cropped up in the mid- to late 20th century, when actually existing socialism in the Soviet bloc too often proved to work against human flourishing. The point, after all, is to improve things.
If The ABCs seeks to establish a socialist ideal upon which to ground the left, The Future We Want is less theoretical and more focused on outlining the kinds of policies that might help to realize this ideal in our present moment. Collectively, the essays of The Future We Want think through how high-quality universal services, in an egalitarian context, would change human life.
Megan Erickson, in her essay “Imagining Socialist Education,” looks at our school system and argues that socialists must fight for universal access to the kind of liberating, decommodified education that members of the elite receive. In “Sex Class,” Sarah Leonard describes the importance of universal child care for socialist feminism—because otherwise the best that liberal feminism can offer will only be available to those who can pay. In “How to Make Black Lives Really, Truly Matter,” Jesse Myerson and Mychal Denzel Smith argue that overcoming the legacy of racism can only happen by closing the wealth gap between black and white Americans. To this end, they propose job guarantees and baby bonds that mature at 18 for all those born to families below the median net wealth.
Several of the book’s contributors mention the prospect of a universal basic income to cope with technological and social changes here and on the horizon, and to help manage the transition toward less work—the decommodification of life itself, and thus the weakening of the power of capital. But overall, the imagined interlocutor of these essays is neither on the left nor the right; it’s the sort of liberal who also seeks to reduce inequality, but would do so by increasing opportunity rather than reducing economic disparities. By highlighting the inequalities born out of liberal policies, the writers and editors of The Future We Want assert that the kind of goals that liberals and socialists share—greater formal equality, more egalitarian representation, a political system that doesn’t solely benefit elites—can only be realized through socialist means.
As we are no longer in a moment in which well-intentioned liberals are in power, these arguments will have to be repurposed. Donald Trump’s election has been a radicalizing experience for many: Subscriptions to the left’s magazines and membership in the Democratic Socialists of America increased throughout the Sanders campaign and jumped again after Election Day. But in
spite of its energy and vigor, the left now needs to rethink some of its strategies and ideas. Total control of the government by the Republican Party, joined with Trump’s executive power, means that even massive mobilizations will produce defensive victories at best. Those victories are real and clearly worth the fight—not least because they produce solidarity—but the losses will still pile up. We are no longer debating a slower or longer path to social democracy; we are defending against the racist, misogynistic, and kleptocratic practices of a man committed to dismantling the New Deal.
But the left cannot sustain itself on defense alone. Other than doing what it can to stop Trump’s worst abuses, the left must develop a theory of change for a moment when the Democratic Party doesn’t control any branch of government. For a time, Sanders seemed to have shown us how to pull the Democratic Party to the left. Yet the vulnerability of his strategy was that it required the party’s more centrist wing to win the presidential election—which, as events have proved, isn’t something we can take for granted. Despite this defeat, the energy to resist—and to build—is there. If the Democrats are still afraid to speak of class, they will have to be taught. Those who cannot or will not stand up to Trump need to face primary challenges from the left. And even if the party’s next presidential candidate isn’t a progressive, the left needs to make clear in the intervening years that he or she will have to win over a sizable number of young voters who are.
Trump’s enormous unpopularity means that, assuming the continued existence of small-D democracy, the Democratic Party will win major elections in the future. The left’s job is to make sure that when it does, it will be a more egalitarian and progressive force. Until then, the broad left should focus on the common ground: civil rights, economic equality, universal services, and real democracy for all. Whatever Trump succeeds in dismantling, we must have the ideas at hand to rebuild it stronger and better once he’s gone. In short: What do we need to do next? Everything.
February 21, 2017
Posted by ducati998 under blogging
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When I was a kid playing tennis in California in the ’70’s, I wore amongst other shoe brands, Stan Smith’s. I don’t remember particularly liking or disliking them but I certainly wore lots of other brands, who remembers Bata’s? A really ugly shoe, but super light and comfortable. The ‘big thing’ was poly-urethene soles, they were supposed to last longer etc.
Now, 40 years on, I see quite a few pairs of Stan Smith’s being worn by kids today. Apparently they never went away.
The island of Hilton Head in South Carolina is shaped like a sneaker, and Stan Smith lives on the laces, right off the river. Inside his house, the six-foot-four retired tennis player with the straightest back I’ve ever seen walks out of the second of his two closets and into the living room carrying five pairs of Stan Smiths, the sneaker, but he still can’t find the one he’s looking for. He has 40 pairs in 30 different styles, more or less.
The sneaker’s fame — and its longevity — takes even its namesake by surprise. You see, the Stan Smith is really the most basic of all possible sneakers. Its narrow white leather body is cushioned at the front with an almost-orthopedic round toe. Its three understated Adidas stripes are nearly missable perforations, as if they don’t care to be recognized, and it has just two spots of color, most classically in green: a tab on the back of the ankle and Smith’s face printed on the tongue. They are essentially anonymous, the saltine cracker of tennis shoes. They were endorsed by Stan Smith just after he won his first Grand Slam singles title in the summer of 1971 and just before he won his second, and last, the next year. He was, in other words, no Serena Williams, not even a Rod Laver.
Nothing about Smith or the simple design of the sneaker itself — neither has changed much since 1971 — explains how Adidas was able to sell 7 million pairs by 1985. Or how that number had grown to 22 million pairs by 1988. Or why Footwear News named it the first-ever Shoe of the Year in 2014. Or how it surpassed 50 million shoes sold as of 2016. Or how the sneaker grew far beyond its start as a technical athletic shoe and became a fashion brand, its basic blank slate evolving and taking on new meaning and purpose.
In the United Kingdom, soccer fans in Liverpool and Manchester fight over who got into Stan Smiths first. In Greece, Smith says, where it is traditional to give babies white shoes on the day of their christening, Stan Smiths became the white shoe of choice. There’s a professor of theoretical physics in Sweden who owns more than 200 pairs. Both Will Arnett and Hugh Grant have said they kissed their first girl while wearing Stan Smiths. Stan Smith the man once met a reporter from GQ Japan who told him he’s worn his eponymous shoes every day for the past 13 years. (Smith’s response: “I said, ‘You gotta be kidding me.’ ”) More recently, they’ve been taken up by Céline’s Phoebe Philo, as well as Marc Jacobs, A$AP Rocky, and North West, coming to define both a retro and minimalist movement in fashion just a few years after they were sold on the bargain shelves.
“Margie!” Smith calls out to his wife of 42 years, who’s planning his surprise 70th-birthday party in the kitchen. “You know that shoe with the white bag? Do you know where that is?”
Smith’s U of blonde hair is brushed perfectly down, as is his mustache, which he’s had since he could grow it, except for a few weeks when Adidas happened to take the picture that would go on to appear on the tongue of every Stan Smith shoe. His red-and-gray-checked shirt is neatly tucked into blue pants that match his blue suede Stan Smiths. It’s his eyebrows that stand out, the only unruly thing about him; each single hair living its own best life, swooping in and curling out, flailing like one of those blowup guys outside a car dealership, just trying to find somewhere to land.
For the community of the sneaker-obsessed, there is an event called “unboxing” — its closest relative is porn. It goes down on YouTube: A reviewer, or whoever’s first to get his hands on a new release, analyzes the sneaker from the moment he opens the shoe box. The person comments on how it looks tucked into the packaging, how it feels when touched for the first time, examining and fawning over each of its new and improved features.
Smith seems to know about this. Margie brings him the shoe, and he leans forward from his plush floral-printed chair toward the white bag, which also has his name on it, and begins the unboxing ceremony. “So this is kind of neat.”
He pets the bag, rubbing it between his fingers: “This is a parachute material.” He uses both hands to take the shoe box out and then slides one palm across the top. “And there’s a special white box, with three stripes made of holes, just like my shoe.” He opens the box: “You see this paper? They had special wrapping paper made with my signature on it.” It’s the same signature you’ll find on all Stan Smiths; there’s a single, extra-tall S that acts as the first letter for both his first and last name, a firsty-lasty so sure of itself it is ever connected in writing. Finally, he lifts the paper and pulls out the shoe. It’s the very pair of structured white leather sneakers with a green back tab and three understated stripes you can’t walk but five blocks in New York without seeing.
But here the leather is grayer and thicker. The picture on the tongue is different too. Smith has a mustache in it, as he does sitting in front of me today. He looks much older. “So they sent me this shoe with my current picture.” He smiles wide. All his teeth show. “I like the old one better.” Smith is the only person in the world who owns this pair. They were sent to him in January 2014, in the very early stages of what has become the greatest sneaker-revival story of all time.
February 20, 2017
Posted by ducati998 under politics
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Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s manifesto, penned clearly in response to accusations leveled at the social network in the wake of the bitter U.S. election campaign, is a scary, dystopian document. It shows that Facebook — launched, in Zuckerberg’s own words five years ago, to “extend people’s capacity to build and maintain relationships” — is turning into something of an extraterritorial state run by a small, unelected government that relies extensively on privately held algorithms for social engineering.
In 2012, Zuckerberg addressed future Facebook investors in a letter attached to the company’s initial public offering prospectus. Here’s how he described the company’s purpose:
People sharing more — even if just with their close friends or families — creates a more open culture and leads to a better understanding of the lives and perspectives of others. We believe that this creates a greater number of stronger relationships between people, and that it helps people get exposed to a greater number of diverse perspectives. By helping people form these connections, we hope to rewire the way people spread and consume information. We think the world’s information infrastructure should resemble the social graph — a network built from the bottom up or peer-to-peer, rather than the monolithic, top-down structure that has existed to date. We also believe that giving people control over what they share is a fundamental principle of this rewiring.
Whatever those beliefs were based on, they have largely failed the test of time. Instead of creating stronger relationships, Facebook has spawned anxieties and addictions that are the subject of academic studies from Portugal to Australia. Some studies have determined that using Facebook detracts from a user’s life satisfaction.
A Danish experiment in 2015, involving people weaned from Facebook for a week and a control group that kept using it, showed that people on the social network are 55 percent more likely to feel stressed; one of the sources of that stress is envy of the glossified lives reported by other users. Users’ well-being, research has showed, only tends to increase when they have meaningful interactions — such as long message exchanges — with those who are already close to them.
In his latest manifesto, Zuckerberg uses parenting groups as an example of something his company does right. But recent research shows that some new mothers use Facebook to obtain validation of their self-perception as good parents, and failing to get enough such validation causes depressive symptoms.
As for the “rewired” information infrastructure, it has helped to chase people into ideological silos and feed them content that reinforces confirmation biases. Facebook actively created the silos by fine-tuning the algorithm that lies at its center — the one that forms a user’s news feed. The algorithm prioritizes what it shows a user based, in large measure, on how many times the user has recently interacted with the poster and on the number of “likes” and comments the post has garnered. In other words, it stresses the most emotionally engaging posts from the people to whom you are drawn — during an election campaign, a recipe for a filter bubble and, what’s more, for amplifying emotional rather than rational arguments.
Bragging in his new manifesto, Zuckerberg writes: “In recent campaigns around the world — from India and Indonesia across Europe to the United States — we’ve seen the candidate with the largest and most engaged following on Facebook usually wins.” In the Netherlands today, liberal Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s page has 17,527 likes; that of fiery nationalist Geert Wilders, 174,188. In France, rationalist Emmanuel Macron has 165,850 likes, while far-right Marine Le Pen boasts 1.2 million. Helping them win is hardly something that would make Zuckerberg, a liberal, proud — but, with his algorithmic interference in what people can see on his network, he has created a powerful tool for populists.
Zuckerberg doesn’t want to correct this mistake and stop messing with what people see on the social network. Instead, the new manifesto talks about Facebook as if it were a country or a supranational bloc rather than just a communication-enabling technology. Zuckerberg describes how Facebook sorts groups into “meaningful” and, presumably, meaningless ones. Instead of facilitating communication among people who are already part of social support groups offline, he wants to project Facebook relationships into the real world: Clearly, that’s a more effective way of keeping competitors at bay.
The Facebook chief executive says his team is working on artificial intelligence that will be able to flag posts containing offensive information — nudity, violence, hate speech — and pass them on for final decisions by humans. If past experience is any indication, the overtaxed humans will merely rubber-stamp most decisions made by the technology, which Zuckerberg admits is still highly imperfect. Zuckerberg also suggests enabling every user to apply the filters provided by this technology:
Where is your line on nudity? On violence? On graphic content? On profanity? What you decide will be your personal settings. We will periodically ask you these questions to increase participation and so you don’t need to dig around to find them. For those who don’t make a decision, the default will be whatever the majority of people in your region selected, like a referendum. Of course you will always be free to update your personal settings anytime.
The real-life effect will be that most users, too lazy to muck around with settings, will accept the “majority” standard, making it even less likely that anything they see would jar them out of their comfort zone. Those who use the filters won’t be much better off: They’ll have no idea what is being filtered out because Facebook’s algorithms are a black box.
Zuckerberg casts Facebook as a global community that needs better policing, governance, nudging toward better social practices. He’s willing to allow some democracy and “referendums,” but the company will make the ultimate decision on the types of content people should see based on their behavior on Facebook. Ultimately, this kind of social engineering affects people’s moods and behaviors. It can drive them toward commercial interactions or stimulate giving to good causes but it can also spill out into the real world in more troubling ways.
It’s absurd to expect humility from Silicon Valley heroes. But Zuckerberg should realize that by trying to shape how people use Facebook, he may be creating a monster. His company’s other services — Messenger and WhatsApp — merely allow users to communicate without any interference, and that simple function is the source of the least controversial examples in Zuckerberg’s manifesto. “In Kenya, whole villages are in WhatsApp groups together, including their representatives,” the Facebook CEO writes. Well, so are my kids’ school mates, and that’s great.
People are grateful for tools that help them work, study, do things together — but they respond to shepherding in unpredictable ways. “Virtual identity suicide” is one; the trend doesn’t show up in Facebook’s reported usage numbers, but that might be because a lot of the “active users” the company reports are actually bots. If you type “how to leave” into the Google search window, “how to leave Facebook” will be the first suggestion.
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