A Thing I Do Not Understand about Progressives


Jason Kuznicki

Jason Kuznicki is a research fellow at the Cato Institute and contributor of Cato Unbound. He's on twitter as JasonKuznicki. His interests include political theory and history.

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  1. Avatar Benjamin Daniels says:

    Is the Walmart family wealthier than 40 percent of the United States?

    “Today the Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America.”
    Bernie Sanders, Sunday, July 22nd, 2012.

    Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, tweeted a startling statistic to his followers on July 22, 2012: “Today the Walton family of Walmart own more wealth than the bottom 40 percent of America.”

    Sanders speaks and writes frequently about wealth distribution in the U.S., a hot-button issue among liberals and a rallying cry of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

    The Waltons, of course, are members of the proverbial 1 percent. But are they really sitting on that much wealth?
    We decided to fact-check Sanders claim and rated his statement True. Read our complete analysis.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      That’s because so many people have a negative net worth. These days a typical person with a mortgage will. Just for example.

      Sum them all up, and you get an alarming result, but ultimately an irrelevant one. If someone is paying a mortgage, you can’t tell me they are unable to afford buying a few shares a month. Either they can, or they won’t be in their mortgage for too much longer.

      The uncomfortable fact lurking behind my question is that Americans overwhelmingly prefer a life of consumption to one of saving. And things will remain pretty much as they are until that changes.Report

      • Avatar Benjamin Daniels says:

        The point remains that “the left” is not going to be able to buy enough stock to counteract the Waltons, let alone enough to affect markets, until progressives have a lot more income that they’re willing and able to risk. Which kind of presupposes the changes in the income distribution that are one of the end goals.

        On the other hand, this is where proposals for sovereign wealth funds come in – the ideal being a political representation of social welfare in the active management of the nation’s corporations. Which is, well, socialism, the idea that political preferences trump market/money incentives.Report

      • Avatar Mo says:

        A typical person with a mortgage does not have negative net worth. Only if they have an underwater mortgage do they have negative net worth because the house is an asset. As bad as things got, I believe underwater mortgages, while more common than before, are still the exception, not than the rule.Report

    • Avatar david says:

      Dude, *I*… little old *ME*… has more wealth than the bottom 40% of America.
      And I’m not a billionaire. I simply have no debt and enough spare change in my
      pockets to buy a McDonald’s lunch.

      BTW, Bernie Sanders is also wealthier than the bottom 40% of America…
      that damn capitalist pig. He should be ashamed of himself.

      But, it’s a nice example of the old “lies, damn lies, and statistics” trope.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Has he paid off his mortgage? does he rent in washington?Report

      • Avatar Russell M says:

        i think you are misapplying here. the walton family has more wealth then the bottom 40% of the population when taken together. I am sure that 60% of the population has more wealth then the bottom 40% on a person to person basis.Report

        • Avatar Alan Scott says:

          Russell, the point is that the bottom 40-ish percent of the population has a total net worth of zero, due to all those folks whose debts exceed their assets.

          The total net worth of the Waltons isn’t small, certainly, but it’s still a drop in the bucket compared to the net worth of the whole population. It’s only a trick of math that makes that 40% statistic work. David’s point is that you can apply that same trick to him just as well as to the Waltons without shifting your percentage down very far.Report

          • Avatar Russell M says:

            so everyone in the bottom 40 has an underwater mortgage? maybe it is just the fact that for the last 30 years income for the middle class and poor has not even kept pace with inflation while for those at the top it keeps growing by leaps and bounds?

            so yeah a small family having more total wealth than over 100 million people being explained away because the poors have debt don’t quite square with me. and i am sure the facts broken down do support you contention. still dont like it.Report

            • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

              An underwater mortgage is one in which the balance of the mortgage exceeds the value of the home.

              Not everyone in the bottom 40 is going to have one, but when you sum their net worths, the few who have large underwater mortgages certainly get spread around in effect, and along with the credit card debt and the like you end up with the negative equity folks pulling down a lot of people who are slightly (or more) in positive territory.Report

              • Avatar Russell M says:

                oh I know i am wrong on the facts and that the walton thing can be twisted any way one wants, as with most stats.

                like i said i still don’t like it. the fact that a solid 40% of america is one bad day away from bankrupty court and living in a box/car/back at moms depresses me to no end.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                But that’s just the point of my previous comment: 40% aren’t that close to bankruptcy. Within that 40%, there are a few with a very large amount of unsecured debt, and when you sum them with many who have a modest savings, you wind up with zero.

                That doesn’t put the modest savings folks any closer to bankruptcy. It just looks a whole lot scarier.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                One. Sick. Day.
                there, fixed it for ya.

                And yes, it is true. Even for those with insurance.

                If only 33% of Americans have a grand in their savings account — do you know how easy it is to run up that in medical bills?Report

              • Avatar Murali says:

                I have a grand in my account and I don’t even earn any money. (I got it from collecting health comp from a car accident and an honorarium from Arizona’s freedom centre)Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                I think I just set some kind of record for reading Russell M.’s comment wrong.

                First I saw, “oh I know i am wrong on the facts and that the walton thing can be twisted any way one wants,” and thought he was referring to Tod Kelly’s cologne.

                Then I saw, “living in a box/car/,” and thought, “Ooh, living in a boxcar would be pretty cool.”

                I must need more coffee.Report

  2. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    So a Progressive Bain Capital?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I mean more like a progressive AmeriTrade, I think. A brokerage/investment company that goes out of its way to keep per-trade costs low and perhaps to educate investors about corporate governance.

      All that, plus the solidarity that unions used to have, and pitched to the middle class. It seems an obvious proposition to me, but then again, I already own stocks. And I use them for evil.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Conned the Rockefellers into buying your stock for well above market price recently?

        … didn’t think so.

        Raped and pillaged people’s private investments because they dared to believe our President when he said everything’s fine in the stock market?

        … didn’t think so. Bankrupting the stupid is fun AND profitable.

        I never claimed to be -nice-Report

      • Avatar david says:

        The thing that always amuses me about Liberals is how they claim to have inside knowledge as to the intents of all those “evil” capitalists/conservatives/Republicans/etc, yet to absolutely zero to act upon said inside knowledge.

        The Iraq War was Cheney’s War to make Halliburton rich. OK, so how much Halliburton stock did they buy at the onset of the war? Under $7 per share in January 2002 (over $53 in June 2008), so don’t tell me no one could afford it. Blood for oil? Stock charts look the same for Exxon/Mobile. And for Boeing.

        Moral objections? Fine, buy the damn stocks anyway. And use your power as a stockholder to vote at the annual meetings. Assuage you guilt. But, don’t walk past the pot of gold and then complain about how little financial opportunity you have in life.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          Was cursing having sold ammo stock after that incident in Connecticut.
          … it’s always FUN to play on fear. Fear’s nice and fucking predictable.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          HAL was trading at 10 in 2003. It ran up very nicely to 56 or so until 2008, when we started withdrawing from Iraq. Went back down to 14 or so.

          I made a killing buying call options on HAL, watching Katrina come ashore in 2005. I gave the profits to the Salvation Army.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

            You’re clearly not a true scotsman, er, progressive, then, Blaise.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              You’ve heard folks say “Nobody’s bigger than the market?” This is generally true. But I can tell you for a fact there’s only one thing bigger than the market. An effing hurricane.Report

  3. I don’t buy individual stocks because I know myself well enough to know that I don’t know enough about investing to pick good ones.

    Regarding the crux of your post, I have a little bit of trouble reconciling it with your views about voting in general. You have described voting as irrational, each individual vote having essentially no impact on the outcome of the election. (A viewpoint with which I have quibbled, which is rather beside the point.) Do you think your Standard-Issue Progressive has enough cash on hand to purchase sufficient equity in Evil Corporation X to effect a different outcome?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      There have already been cases where this has happened. Shareholder activism is definitely a thing.

      And just setting these aside for the moment, wouldn’t investing be a good idea to co-opt the vast profits being scooped up by the capitalists? No one after all prevents the average person from doing so.

      If your fear is that you’d pick the wrong stocks, there are certainly advisors who can help. Having done it myself, I don’t really believe that it’s as scary or mysterious as all that.Report

      • You’re right, no doubt, about that last part.

        I think I’ve been psychologically scarred by the tech bubble bursting when I was in residency. I remember at least one resident and one attending physician (about whom I have an amusing and completely off-topic story I could tell, if I were inclined to clog up your comment thread with irrelevant varia) making lots of theoretical money investing in tech companies that did nothing I could make sense of and urging me to sink my meager funds into same. The whole time I kept thinking “but what does the company do ?” and refrained from buying in. And then the tech bubble burst and I decided it was best to trust my instincts about not knowing about investing and stick with mutual funds.Report

  4. Avatar Kazzy says:

    My financial guy knows all the nitty-gritty, but I know for a fact that stocks make up a significant portion of our investments.Report

  5. Avatar BlaiseP says:

    Progressives have a long history of investment and disinvestment in various aspects of the market. They run mutual funds. PORTX and GCBLX are out there. Green investing is actually a thriving part of the market.

    Just because you haven’t run across them doesn’t mean such investment firms don’t exist. There are many of them. This is just embarrassing. Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      I’m aware that socially responsible investing exists, but let’s face it, these are small potatoes compared to what might be done. Also, investing in companies that are already socially responsible, in whatever way we define that, isn’t what I had in mind.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Let’s face it, you didn’t do your homework. So why aren’t you folks on the left organizing, buying up equity, and making a difference in all kinds of ways?

        Absolutely the dumbest thing I’ve ever read on this site.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Buying companies you already like is not what I mean.

          I mean only to say that there is way too little shareholder activism, and that complaints from the left about corporate governance and capital taking too large a share of the pie both have a common, very obvious solution.

          If you think it’s dumb that I didn’t talk about the thing you wanted to talk about, well… that’s just like almost every other conversation I’ve ever had with you in these comments.Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            What you meant to say and what you did say are now diverging wildly. As usual, you issue these Glib Generalisations and Intemperate Questions. When I come in to point out, with evidence (not that you provided any of your own) that Liberals have always considered their investment strategies in light of their own goals and consciences, lo do you get all aggrieved and point out this is the general tenor of our conversations.

            You start out saying dumb things, asking rhetorical questions? Don’t then complain about my answers. That’s been the case with all our conversations. The very idea — if you want to understand Progressives, your complete ignorance of us is reflected in the emptiness of your complaints about us.Report

            • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

              You know, I get the sense that you really just don’t want to be a part of the conversation on this site anymore.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Is this a conversation?
                So why aren’t you folks on the left organizing, buying up equity, and making a difference in all kinds of ways? I’m curious.

                Well, Heffman, we Folks of the Left are doing exactly that. Did Jason see fit to ask how progressives invest? No. Did he even offer advice, such as rephrasing it as Shouldn’t you folks on the left be organizing, buying up equity, and making a difference in all kinds of ways? Even that would be more acceptable, for I could then say Well, yes, we are doing such things, here’s some evidence….

                That sort of thing.

                But no. Instead we are hectored about what we aren’t doing — in the stupidest, most confrontational phrasing possible, the rhetorical negative.

                So I decided I would cut Jason a New One. No, I’m not really interested in conversation. It wasn’t even asked in an answerable form — as if he had already proven we didn’t do such things and was now proceeding to hector us for our hypocrisy, with not one iota of proof nor even a solicitation for conversation. It was fundamentally disrespectful: not mere ignorance of what he doesn’t understand — but a statement as if he did understand.Report

          • Avatar b-psycho says:

            Returns overwhelmingly going to capital suggests labor is being actively screwed. Sure, some people can buy stocks if they have the money, and perhaps a smaller subgroup within those may even be able to get some bit of influence on a company (though nowhere near as much as the board members or huge investors), but small scale dabbling on the capital side isn’t equivalent to mass reaction on the labor side to the whole status quo.

            I’m cool with the co-ops thing mentioned by a few already. Honestly, I hope that spreads like wildfire, and prefer as non-hierarchal organization as we can possibly get. In the meantime, well…people need money.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              “Returns overwhelmingly going to capital suggests labor is being actively screwed.”

              In a relatively free market it also implies an increaing supply of labor. Considering tht biggest trend of the past twenty years is that the labor market opened up to an extra two billion laborers, the facts seem to match the theory perfectly.

              Higher profits also are the market’s signal for increasing capital investment in producing more factories and investing in new ideas and products, thus paving the path for reduced profits and higher demand for labor. The system self corrects. Don’t fish with it. Markets are much smarter than we are.Report

              • Avatar b-psycho says:

                You’re assuming it hasn’t already been extensively fished with? That what we’re looking at is actually all result of spontaneous market order?

                Far as I can tell, the portion of gains that weren’t revealed to be illusory due to financialization pretty much just got pocketed. The demand shortfall that is pointed out when it comes to hesitancy to reinvest & hire more is self fulfilling prophecy on that count.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                “You’re assuming it hasn’t already been extensively fished with? That what we’re looking at is actually all result of spontaneous market order?.

                No, I am sure there has been manipulation by the various interest groups trying to game the system. Free markets require rules prohibiting coercion and fraud, therefore if working correctly these things are prohibited, and gaming is impractical and counterproductive. However, the system is so complex that you can actually introduce activist levels of regulations which can themselves be gamed. The primary way to game the system is via the regulatory mechanism itself.

                Long set up to reply that I believe the wide scale trends within the developed nations concerning returns to labor and capital are explainable primarily in terms of spontaneous order as two billion additional workers connected into the system. Capital and third world workers are capturing gains over their past levels and over priced developed world workers are competing with people willing to do more for less. believe it or not I see this as both fair and just for humanity a a whole.

                As to returns being pocketed, I think you might be shifting frames between developed nations and the entire world. Capitalism does advance via bubbles and busts, and sometimes money is not reinvested in a timely fashion as PB mentions, below. However, markets are a worldwide phenomena now. Workers are doing great worldwide. Billions are now rising out of absolute poverty toward the lower middle class.

                Worldwide GDP is at its highest ever. Fewer are in poverty than ever. Capitalists are seeing juicy returns on capital. I see this as damn good.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                What are the rules about massive security holes? Undisclosed? How about a corporation stealing your data without your knowledge?

                …is this force or fraud?Report

              • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

                The system corrects eventually, given enough time. But like any control system, it’s reactions may be overdamped or underdamped, it may oscillate and not be stable especially given driving inputs, and it’s probably not be optimal.

                I don’t think anyone here is saying that market wouldn’t probably get there eventually. The issue is does it get there in a timely fashion, and if regulations or modest intervention would improve its reactions.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I think wise interventions can indeed moderate the cyles or speed recovery. However, I have very little faith in the wisdom and intentions of those designing the interventions. The system is really complex, and it offers huge opportunities to game the system for the benefit of special interest groups while pretending to help others.

                In my reading of history this has always been the case. Special interest groups always come up with a reason to give themselves a privileged position disguised as something good for everyone else. Guild protections. Royal monopolies. Trade protection. Import restrictions. Stomp out sweatshop labor. Etc.

                A little Tylenol is great. A lot and you die of liver failure.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                I recommend we use asprin. it’s better for you anyway.Report

  6. Avatar Marchmaine says:

    It is possible that a stockholder revolution might effect some changes, though I’m not particularly optimistic that shareholders do much of anything that the managerial class has not already learned to manage.

    What I wonder is why there are not more varied models of corporate earnings distribution; the best source of re-distribution should happen at the companies owned and operated by folks that want to see better distribution of the wealth produced by the workers at the company.

    There’s room for experimentation here, but shockingly little going on. Liberal or Conservative or Libertarian, the managerial class is running all corporations on the same pyramid model.Report

    • Avatar Roger says:

      Is that because the model works, and if it does work, who does it work for? Stockholders? management? The CEO?

      How would you like to see earnings distributed? How would it work?Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine says:

        As you say, the model works; and it works shockingly well for the CEO, Managerial class, and somewhat well for stockholders. That’s rather my point.

        My question, following on Jason’s question, is whether the American left is actively looking at alternative business models? There are very few large enterprises built on anything other than what we see, Mondragon in Spain is perhaps the best well known.

        But, if you are a traditionalist such as myself, justice in wealth creation and distribution should start where the wealth is created. I see precious little of that; and even less experimentation and exploration of new (or even old) ideas.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          Any more details on what types of experiments? This would answer Jason’s question.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP says:

          Again, I can only point to what we’ve actually done in this space. I have repeatedly brought up this story, forgive me if you’ve been here before:

          When I first came to Guatemala, I started drinking good coffee: cheap as dirt in the local marketplace. I thought to buy 50 kilo bags of it and sell it in the States. Looked at the logistics and thought better of it. There’s a spot market in New Orleans: I’d be competing with bigger players. Even if I hauled it around to the then-budding do-gooder coffee shoppes, there wasn’t enough margin to justify the effort.

          But I investigated the mechanics of another market: wine. Like the domaines of France, here was a commodity grown on small estates. About 5% of wine will fetch high prices, 20 to 30% will fetch good prices and the rest is drinkable but is largely fungible, often blended. But even a small domaine of a few hectares can be profitable. Like wine, coffee must be processed and endures a hefty mark-up before the consumer drinks it.

          In Guatemala, there are no lawns. Coffee bushes are everywhere. The bigger coffee dealers would meet with small growers, offering a price based on the New York coffee contract. I saw a market distortion, a fatal weakness, an opening to expose the really good stuff to its true price point.

          Here is my scheme: every market day, coffee growers would bring in their quintal bags of coffee. A small committee of tasters would brew coffee from each bag and grade it. The bag was then stapled with a tag to that effect and stored in a bonded warehouse, usually a back room in the church. I’d put it up for auction on the then-new EBay.com with a hidden reserve price: Chichicastenango arabica 50 kilos grade Superior, Quetzaltenango arabica 50 kilos grade Good. On market day, I’d bring back the bids, the owner of each quintal could then decide to sell or not.

          This system never had to trade much coffee but it did expose superior coffee to its true price point. It completely broke the old pricing model. Now the coffee farmers knew the true price of their product and could negotiate with the bigger buyers. As with wine, it also established branding for a village’s coffee.

          We don’t need “alternative” business models: all the working models emerged from antiquity, the caravan trade, the Silk Road, from letters of credit created during the Crusades, venture capital and accounting from Amsterdam and Portugal, Venice and London, the joint stock companies and the regulated stock exchanges. They appear and reappear in history. We need only to apply the correct model to specific markets.Report

    • Marchmaine,

      Good point. There’s a pretty wide gulf between owners and managers, and although I’m not corporate guru, I imagine that gulf is often written into the corporation’s charter or terms of the stock.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        I’ve not tended to see this in my experience. In general, our efforts were usually aimed at optimizing long term value for stockholders. The normal issues with agency conflict of course tend to crop up, but never became critical.

        The one exception I see to this is in CEO selection and pay. I think corporations need to discover ways to better manage their CEOs. I could be wrong here though.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          “certain” ceos have formed an oligopoly, and simply rotate in and out of CEOship, no matter how well they do while being a CEO.Report

        • Roger,

          You probably have more experience than I do, but it does seem to me that the stockholders generally don’t know and don’t want to know how the corporation is managed on a day-to-day basis or even on a short-term basis, as long as they’re getting something measurable out of the deal (dividends, high value).

          I also understand that some stocks are aggregated into large portfolios where the stockholder might not even know what stock she holds, let alone anything about the management.

          As I said, you probably have more direct experience than I do.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            I pretty much agree. And I do suspect something is amiss in the relationship CEOs have with boards.

            Overall I think the interests of the officers of a corporation align fairly well, all things considered, with the interests of stockholders.Report

            • If you’re talking about pecuniary interests (or other interests closely tied with things like market value, etc.), you’re probably right.

              I can imagine (and here I’m embarking on a tangent more than anything) that a large enough corporation can develop its own entrenched bureaucracy, the members of which have their own interests that may not align with those of either the shareholders or the directors. But I’m really just thinking out loud (well, figuratively “out loud”) and what I’m saying is not particularly relevant to the discussion.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I almost mentioned bureaucracy and politics in my earlier response but then cut it for conciseness. instead I just dropped in the words “fairly well”.

                I totally agree that organizational dynamics least toward organizational sclerosis and bureaucratic bloat. This is one reason why I so value competition between complex organizations. I believe corporations will bloat and become dysfunctionally bureaucratic and wasteful over time. Competition is necessary to creatively destroy or punish those that go too far. It also attracts a constant stream of new organizations into th mix that have not yet ossified.

                I see competition as infinitely more valuable at this than a board.Report

    • Avatar Matty says:

      What then to make of this list? I’d call employee ownership a different model of corporate earnings distribution. Or if you prefer cooperatives here is an article about 300 big ones (as of 2007 ), note which country had the highest number of global 300 coops and the third highest revenue going to them.

      Could more be done, sure it could but its not like nothing is being done at the moment.Report

      • Avatar Marchmaine says:

        Not sure if you are replying to me or Roger… are you confident that cooperatives are all that innovative? Some are, to be sure, but a lot of cooperatives are a way for the profit making center to off-load costs and responsibilities to their “owner-operators” sort of like how some “contractors” are really a lot like “employees” without all the fuss of incurring any sort of employee/employer relationship. This is particularly true in agriculture, which I see heavily represented on the list.

        That’s why I ask whether folks are aware of interesting projects that are attempting to re-assess some of the inequalities of the current corporate model. Otherwise, I could also post a list of Partnerships and celebrate the partnery aspect of them.Report

        • Avatar Matty says:

          My response was to the question “why there are not more varied models of corporate earnings distribution”. I’m afraid I took it too literally as asking for models of profit distribution that are not based on publicly traded shares.

          It appears that in fact you were asking why business is not more radical in dealing with inequalities and there I not only don’t have an answer I largely agree with you.Report

  7. Avatar Roger says:

    Good opening question, Jason.

    Obviously nothing is keeping progressives from investing, and many do. This still does not negate their argument that those unable to invest are on the wrong side of the latest US trends between capital and labor. Of course, I laid out details recently* on institutional solutions which would allow the working poor to invest more, and as usual the progressives all pretended to drop their pencils and change the subject, as it interfered with their soapbox narrative.

    There is of course nothing keeping progressives from collectively starting their own or buying majority interest in a corporation. The problem is that corporations operate under a scorecard of profits. And in a free market, profit depends upon pleasing customers, not pleasing ones fantasies on how the world works. Businesses thrive or fail based upon reality, not rationalizations. Thus those actually running businesses are either awakened on reality, or they are run out of the business, or they take the progressive path and seek out cronyism to use politics to supplement their failed ideas.

    I am not saying that progressives cannot run companies. I know several that do. However, they do not run their companies based upon their ideology — they in effect partition their politics from their responsibilities. Or, they seek out political cover.

    *In Ethan’s recent post against savingReport

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Costco’s run on a basically progressive ideology — eliminate churn, keep your damn workers happy, and they’ll work better than otherwise.

      WOOT ran on a progressive ideology too, if you bother to look. Trust your damn customers.Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        I guess I operated under progressive ideology too,then.Report

      • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

        I think that leftists are somewhat confused as to how Costco’s model works. It’s not that paying people more makes them more productive, but rather that paying more allows Costco to skim the cream from the labor pool. It’s a good business model, as far as it goes, but there’s only so much cream to skim. You can’t have every company running on that model.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          It also increases worker retention. That saves a lot of money, because recruiting and training is expensive. (Google does the same thing, for more highly skilled workers.) And in general higher-morale workers are more loyal, work harder, take less sick leave, etc. The notion that this only applies to “the cream” is misguided.Report

      • Avatar Bob2 says:

        One of my favorites is how Valve pays its employees, but that’s probably limited to spheres where knowledge workers are key and not your normal labor pool.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

      Of course, I laid out details recently* on institutional solutions which would allow the working poor to invest more,

      The one you couldn’t interest people in offering, because the commissions would be too low? 🙂Report

      • Avatar Roger says:

        Er, um, well… Yeah, that one.

        On the brighter side, I am aware that a company is building it. Some of my team took the idea elsewhere to a company not beholden to a high initial comission model. I will reach out to him and see how it is going.

        Even here though, I am sure the idea runs into regulatory barriers. The financial world is massively regulated, and I am pretty sure they will need to be very enterprising to work within regulations concerning automatic increases on withdrawals for investments.

        In all seriousness, I would love to see a financial product which helped the working poor become better prepared for the future. I built a lot of products in my day, but would have been most proud of something like this.

        You would be surprised to learn that I actually built a green product designed to reduce CO2 emmissions. I can’t go into detail, but it eventually was withdrawn as the economics didn’t quite work out for the firm. I think we had it in about half the states though at one time.Report

        • Avatar Kim says:

          It’s $10 a trade online. If you’re a broker, that is (test isn’t that hard, I take it). But, to get back to what Jason was talking about, that means that you need $1000 to invest. Which only 33% of Americans got in their bank account.Report

  8. Avatar Jaybird says:

    Didn’t Al Gore start up something like this? Am I misremembering?Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      You know what I find so irritating about all this? Al Gore doesn’t run a mutual fund. Funds like MMA Praxis have been out there since the end of WW2, conscience driven investments have been a part of US financial history since the very beginning — and folks are now bringing up Al Gore as if he sprang full grown like Athena from the brow of Zeus.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      OH! I misunderstood. We’re not talking about stuff like Al Gore did or making money ethically.

      We’re talking about Lefties buying up stock in Big Evil Company and then showing up for stockholder meetings and asking about using better filters in the smokestacks, forcing votes on better filters, then publicizing these votes, then voting for better filters.

      I suppose that the biggest problem to this is that it involves buying individual stocks (as Russell pointed out, this can be scary). On top of that, it would involve getting together enough money to buy a percentage of a company… and what percentage would we have to be talking?

      Additionally there is this internal scenario that I see where Team Green buys up X% of Big Evil Company and then the price plummets as the market retreats… which, sure, gives more opportunity to buy up more stock (hurray!) but also pretty much means that the people who bought the original X% will have lost all of their money. As such, this strikes me as a trick that will work once and then the biggest investors will have learned a hard lesson.Report

      • 1+ to that last paragraph.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        I understand JK’s point to be less focused on actually shifting the way business is done (though to whatever extent that is done, good for the progressives!) but more about taking advantage of the system rather than standing on the outside railing against it.

        If stocks are a means of enrichment and progressives want to address wealth inequality, than encouraging folks who are on the wrong side of inequality but have the means to invest to do so in stocks might help achieve this goal.

        Do I have any of that right?Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          Yes, you do.

          At the very, very least, you are (a) diluting the capitalist class, which ought not to be a bad thing; (b) increasing the savings rate, which is good for the long term; and (c) capturing your share of the outsized returns to capital that we’ve been seeing lately.

          And of course, there is the chance to reform corporate behavior.

          The problem with this solution may be, as LWA seems to suggest below, that it’s not a governmental solution, and thus it can only affect a few corporations rather than all of them.Report

          • Avatar Chris says:

            I suspect that if doing what you suggest were relatively simple and straightforward, it would have been done already, regardless of whether progressives are anti-capitalism (they aren’t). The fact that it hasn’t been done, for better or worse, by either side to any significant degree, suggests that it is neither simple nor straightforward, or perhaps even possible. I imagine what you’d see, if it were relatively easy to do this, is a bunch of politically-oriented investment groups competing for companies in order to drive their behavior (and perhaps their political influences) in certain directions. It’d be an interesting sight to see, for people who are into that sort of thing.Report

            • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

              regardless of whether progressives are anti-capitalism (they aren’t)

              Suppose that a white guy were to stand up and start explaining his views on what’s wrong with black people today, and the changes they would need to make to improve as a race. It’s not that he’s anti-black or anything like that. He likes black people. It’s just that he’d like them better if they weren’t quite so black.

              You’d call him a racist, wouldn’t you?

              Well, that’s how leftists talk about capitalism. They’re not against it, per se. They like capitalism. They’d just like it better if it could be a bit more like socialism, and if it would learn its place and stay there, not always poking its nose in places where it doesn’t belong, like health care and education.

              So yeah, leftists kind of are anti-capitalism.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                If that was intended as humor, it’s pretty funny.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

                I have a Roomba. It cleans my floors. Sometimes, though, when my kid dumps a bowl of Cheerios on the floor, I get out a broom, or at least point the roomba at it so things get cleaned up a little faster.

                I’m not against the Roomba, per se. I like the Roomba. I’d just like it better if it could clean up spills faster, or at least not always rely on a random walk and go over clean areas 3 times before eventually blundering into the mess that needs cleaning.

                So yeah, I’m kind of anti-Roomba.

                I’m also running out of patience with the Roombaterians who tell me I should name my Roomba “Rosie”, and if I just wait long enough, it’ll do my dishes and make me dinner, too. I’m really getting hungry, see.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Identify the people not worth arguing with, and stop arguing with them. Problem solved.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:


        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          Well, there are two examples that come to mind. The first is the example set by Michael Moore in Roger & Me where he shows up to stockholder meetings and makes trouble (or tries to).

          The second is something that I imagine nobody but me really knows about because it involves, yes, Professional Wrestling. For a while there, in the early/mid-oughts, the WWF was *AWFUL*. Downright atrocious. The booking (as in storylines, who won/lost) decisions only made sense if you looked at it through the lens of nepotism rather than through the eyes of someone who took a writing class (bad guys winning when they shouldn’t have, good guys being cut off at the knees, that sort of thing). Well, there was a quarterly WWF (or WWE, whatever, they’ll always be the WWF to me) phone meeting where Linda McMahon would give speeches about how great the company is doing, here are the numbers from the PPVs, that sort of thing, and have a Q&A session.

          Well, for a couple of years, these phone calls actually got interesting because someone who actually watched the show started calling in and asking questions. “What the hell were you thinking when you had so-and-so lose? Do you think that your bad booking decisions are costing the company money?”

          That sort of thing. This guy became a hero to every single one of the “smart fans” out there on the internet. We discussed him on the message boards and wondered if he’d call into the next one and talked about how Management had Direct Feedback into their storylines… that sort of thing.

          Anyway, in both cases, we’re talking about people who definitely have an agenda, it’s definitely an agenda on the side of the angels (seriously, the storylines were *BAD*), and that they were able to take it to management by something as simple as buying stock and then carving out time to show up to shareholder meetings.

          And you’d think that more folks would do that.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Going Galt, only in reverse. Progressives would buy up these corps and destroy them. As Harvey Korman said in Blazing Saddles: “Kinky!”

        Since I seem to be the only Progressive Liberal around here willing to explain our thought processes, here is a feeble and very likely ineffective attempt to do so:

        We would look at investing in a firm such as Alstom Group. We Progressives know the history of Big Evil Coal — it’s not evil, it’s just amoral. We got sick, quite literally, as a nation, of breathing coal fumes and cleaned up our act. We predicted the same would happen in other nations. Alstom retrofitted a dirty coal plant in Wisconsin, it’s not a perfect solution but it’s a huge improvement. And now, sure as shit, China’s new premier is making noises (coughing noises mostly) about cleaning up his coal fired plants. We’re not going to force anyone to do anything. We let time and tide do the work. Mankind will get around to doing the right thing, once he’s run out of options and people start passing out on the streets of Beijing. That’s a powerful motivator.

        Progressives are not stupid. We understand corporations. Libertarians, for all their much-praising of them, don’t. This may be a function of the fact that Libertarians still think it’s 1929 and Ludwig von Mises still walks the earth. They haven’t evolved, you see.Report

        • Avatar Dave says:

          Libertarians, for all their much-praising of them, don’t. This may be a function of the fact that Libertarians still think it’s 1929 and Ludwig von Mises still walks the earth. They haven’t evolved, you see.

          Speaking of stupid things written on this blog…Report

          • Avatar BlaiseP says:

            Demonstrate that Libertarians have evolved one iota since von Mises. Much ignorant yawping, asking why Liberals don’t Go Galt and bust a move on Peabody Energy coz they’re a Wicked Ol’ Polluter and we’re gonna make them clean up their act. This is absolute proof Libertarians haven’t evolved since von Mises.Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              Your sample size might be a hair low.

              (I came to Libertarianism via Solzhenitsyn, myself. I don’t know how much von Mises he read.)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                (Not that the sample you’ve taken would lead everybody to the same conclusion you’ve reached, of course.)Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                Given that Solzhenitsyn was a rabid monarchist (czarist) for most of his life, I find that both odd and not odd at the same time.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                The First Circle (which I cannot recommend enough) didn’t really spend a lot of time on the Czar.

                The scene that stuck with me (and sticks with me still) is the opening to Chapter 18. I found it just now by googling: solzhenitsyn the first circle “blew his nose”

                Bobynin’s interactions with Abakumov hit me like a lightning bolt.Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I haven’t read The First Circle, but I just put it on my e-reader thingamajig.

                August, 1914 is one of my favorite books. I also like A Day in the Life…Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Oh, you’re in for a treat.Report

              • Avatar Aaron David says:

                Book club?Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Sure, let’s test the waters in a sidebar.Report

              • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

                I’ve had that very conversation. And it wasn’t in Russia. OK, minus the prison camp part, but certainly the “It’s not my fault you made idiot promises I can’t keep” and “Part of the problem is you higher-ups always being in the fishing way” part. The result was the guy I leveled with leaving for another company before the disaster hit, and the whole division being laid off a few months later.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                My experiences with that conversation have been in the role of briefing the guy who has to (gets to?) have it with the manager type.

                All of us had stuff to lose, though.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Interesting. I thought Solzhenitsyn blamed Russia’s troubles on its lack of faith in God, not lack of faith in capitalism.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I read his stuff more as editorialized journalism than as straightforward philosophy.

                I was left holding his book and asking myself stuff like “what is my relationship to authority? What is its relationship to me?”

                That sort of thing. I didn’t come to Libertarianism through economics. When I meet Libertarians (more rarely than I’d like), I tend to assume that they also didn’t get there through economics rather than that they did.

                It makes a lot more sense to me to become Libertarian after reading The Gulag Archipelago than to become Libertarian after reading Atlas Shrugged. For one: it’s possible to finish The Gulag Archipelago.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                “It makes a lot more sense to me to become Libertarian after reading The Gulag Archipelago than to become Libertarian after reading Atlas Shrugged. For one: it’s possible to finish The Gulag Archipelago.”


              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Food for thought there. I haven’t read First Circle in many years. Now I think I’ll have to, again.

                See, I have this personal vision of myself as a post-classical liberal. An evolved liberal, betrayed by conservatism’s lies, with far too much experience to ever take libertarian economics seriously.

                The old saying about “He who governs best, governs least” ? It’s no truer of governing than contracting. He who governs best does the least damage, so I think. No tyranny is quite so subtle as the one which commences with theory and goes to practice. Nature doesn’t work that way. The human heart doesn’t work that way.

                We had fed the heart on fantasies,
                The heart’s grown brutal from the fare;

                I don’t remember enough of First Circle, I have it somehow lumped in with Kafka in the untidy hoard of memory, but I do know One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich and I found the quote I was looking for:

                “Who’s the zek’s main enemy? Another zek. If only they weren’t at odds with one another–ah, what a difference that’d make!”

                Enough with the fantasies of freedom. We are all in this together.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Reading Kafka has me feeling tense and frustrated and when I put the book down I am more upset than when I picked it up. I don’t recall laughing when reading anything of his. Even “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect” isn’t particularly funny.

                Solzhenitsyn? I found myself shocked to laugh out loud from time to time. The chapter 18 excerpt there has a couple of big ones. If I recall correctly, The Gulag Archipelago did too.

                When you read First Circle again, I think it will recategorize itself away from The Castle (which is what I assume it’s next to now).Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                There’s always a smarter idiot around the corner. if not, we’ll build one.
                That’s why government must be lithe and agile.Report

            • Avatar Roger says:

              Just for discussions sake, how do you suggest it should have evolved? In other words, what are your concerns with Mises that you think libertarians are missing out on?Report

              • Avatar Dave says:

                Stop living in 1929 and believing that von Mises is alive you unenlightened fool!!!

                Wait, you’re telling me it’s 2013 and he’s dead????

                Never mind… 😉Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Okay, I’ll take that question at face value.

                Mises made two important and fallacious assertions about economics. We must not run him down too far: he was writing before the Great Depression. He was never completely wrong: he was usually half right.

                First Mises thought the free market would efficiently allocate resources. Mises understood, but never accounted for, the need for competition or how market makers will tend to collude to suppress competition.

                But more importantly, Mises thought markets were beyond calculation. This was in fact true in Mises’ time. It is no longer true. Mises correctly opposed socialism but for the wrong reasons: as with his assertions about efficient allocation, he could not (nor in fairness could he envision) an interconnected world where trading algorithms and currency arbitrageurs would in fact go far beyond what he thought impossible — to create problems as serious on the other side of the Calculation Problem as on the one in Mises’ time.

                And that’s just a starting point. Libertarians need to pull their socks up and re-read Mises. I’ve read him and understand where he was right — for his time. How anyone can go on believing him in these times is beyond me.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                No, no, no.

                Markets are still beyond calculation. All those impressive algorithms? They don’t help. The claim that they go “beyond” the calculation problem to the “other side” of it is nonsense. What, do we really have complete information about preferences, thanks to computers? Nonsense.

                Or perhaps you could go make your case to Lehman Brothers? Were it the true that we could calculate in anticipation of the market, they would certainly have done it. They tried and failed, not because they went “beyond” socialist calculation, failing somehow to hit the sweet spot, but because computers still can’t do it. Particularly in a world where everyone else’s computer is trying to do the exact same thing.

                As to the claim that Mises didn’t realize that firms would collude, that’s not nonsense, not pure gobbledegook, but it is without a doubt completely false.

                Human Action, Part IV, chapter 16:

                5. If the available quantities of the good m are owned not by just one man, firm, corporation, or institution but by several owners who want to cooperate in the substitution of a monopoly price for the competitive price, an agreement among them (commonly called a cartel and branded in the American antitrust legislation as a conspiracy) is required to assign to each party the amount of m it is allowed to sell, viz., at the monopoly price. The essential part of any cartel agreement is the assignment of definite quotas to the partners. The art of cartel-making consists in skill in bringing about an agreement about the quotas. A cartel collapses as soon as the members are no longer prepared to cling to a quota agreement. Mere talk among the owners of m about the desirability of higher prices is of no avail.

                As a rule the state of affairs that makes the emergence of monopoly prices possible is brought about by government policies, e.g., customs barriers. If the owners of m do not take advantage of the opportunity to combine for the achievement of monopoly prices offered to them, governments frequently take upon themselves the organization of what the American law calls “restraint of trade.” The police power forces the owners of m—mostly land and mining and fishing facilities—to restrict output. The most eminent examples of this method are provided on the national level by the American farm policy and on the international level by the treaties euphemistically styled Intergovernmental Commodity Control Agreements…

                And on and on and on about it. Mises may have underestimated the danger, but I’d have to be convinced, and he does seem to spend a lot of time on it.Report

              • Avatar Dave says:

                Markets are still beyond calculation. All those impressive algorithms? They don’t help. The claim that they go “beyond” the calculation problem to the “other side” of it is nonsense. What, do we really have complete information about preferences, thanks to computers? Nonsense.


                I’m not sure if BlaiseP is thinking the same thing that I am when I read this, but I’m not as quick to dismiss this as you are. I’ll give you another way to look at what he’s saying.

                Yes, I agree that markets are still beyond calculation, but that does not make the rest of the argument fall apart. I think there’s a valid point in there but not expressed in the best possible way.

                I know the calculation problem was one of the critical arguments against central planning and a damn appropriate one. Without any means to gather information from the marketplace in order to determine price, the efficient allocation of resources becomes impossible. At the risk of being overly general, I’ll just say that this is an argument against regulations and for markets functioning without interference.

                If one side involves the problems that arise from regulation, then the “other side” involves problems that arise from markets functioning in absence of the appropriate forms of regulation. This is how I see it since he was using modern financial markets as his example. If he’s talking about systemic risk, he’s right.

                Just a thought.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Competitive markets approach some level of efficiency. The “Free” markets do not. In fact, history has pulled poor Mises’ argument inside out like an old sock: unless markets are explicitly kept competitive through regulation, they tend toward monopoly.

                Lehman Bros is not chalk on your side of the board. Because they traded in unregulated space, for all their astrological calculations, they had no fundamental price information. Lehman colluded, purposely, with the agencies which might have furnished them meaningful information about the wretched quality of the mortgages they were fobbing off on their clients. They had no clue of the extent of their own exposure because they could not calculate the extent to which all these instruments were leveraged against each other. They were lying to others but more importantly, they lied to themselves.

                This is why I hate debating you, Jason. You don’t pay attention to what’s said. Combined with your ignorance of the fundamentals of risk and information theory, you’re beyond discussion and beyond hope of redemption.Report

              • Avatar Jim Heffman says:

                “unless markets are explicitly kept competitive through regulation, they tend toward monopoly. ”

                Name a monopolist market, and we’ll show you the government regulation that permitted the monopolist position.

                Note that “only one provider of a specific product or solution” is not a monopoly unless no alternative exists. Only McDonald’s sells Big Macs, but I can always go buy a Whopper instead.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                That’s easy. Until quite recently, the LCD market. Largest price fixing case in history.Report

              • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

                The biggest difference between us is very easily stated.

                When I’m shown to have been in black and white, I have at least on occasion the good grace to admit it.

                You on the other hand declare victory, bluster some more, and move right along as if nothing had happened.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                When the title of your post is A Thing I Do Not Understand About Progressives, larded throughout with proof you Do Not Understand Anything about Progressives, I will then consider the source when schoolmarmed on the subject of Bluster. This is the very worst post you have ever written here.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                TV Capacitors.

                One does not call it a monopoly because no alternative exists. One calls it a monopoly because it is not setting prices competitively, but rather at “the price the market will bear.” (How to tell? Raise costs. The competitive player simply raises prices — because his competitors are doing the same, nobody minds. The monopolist can’t raise prices, because he’s pricing not based on costs but on externalities((e.g. people have a psych sticking point to paying more than 10 dollars for a pack of cigarettes))Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                When was the last time they pulled the switch at the NYSE? (The one they installed after that 1980’s black swan event?)

                …. oh, right. Talking to Jason is useless.Report

              • Avatar Dave says:


                Before I address your comments, does your first point have to do more with market makers in terms of financial markets?

                To your broader comment about evolving from Mises, my economic views were more driven by Hayek and the Chicago school and some of the key assumptions of the Chicago School got turned inside and out during the financial crisis.

                I’ll elaborate later.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Simply put, yes. Competitors will tend to collude if they can. Competition is hard.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yeah, you can’t push a string, can you?
                ZIRP presents a real problem to that crowd.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Thanks for the serious answer, Blaise.

                I am not sure exactly where or how to start my response, as I think you both manage to underestimate Mises and the evolution of thought since him.

                “First Mises thought the free market would efficiently allocate resources.”

                I don’t know where to start because I basically disagree with the implication of your statement. Markets DO allocate resources, in general, better than the alternatives. Mises wrote many chapters in Human Action on this aimed specifically at the role of prices and the danger of economic calculation absent the existence of prices. However he repeatedly denies the ability of markets to plan perfectly for the future. “We do not assert that the capitalist mode of economic calculation guarantees the absolutely best solution of the allocation of factors of production.”

                Maybe it would be more productive if you explained what you think does allocate resources and create solutions for mankind that is better than markets? I DO agree that markets are not the right solution for all problems.

                ” Mises understood, but never accounted for, the need for competition or how market makers will tend to collude to suppress competition.”

                Jason has addressed the second part of this sentence. I will just add that Mises also wrote an entire chapter in HA on the importance of competition, coining the term catallactic competition for the constructive brand of competition as producers strive with each other to better serve consumers. He labeled it “one of the characteristic features of the market economy.”

                I share Jason’s amazement that you believe markets are now calculable. Is this really your belief, or are we both misreading you?

                Again, I appreciate your straight answer, but the central premise seems to be that Mises thought these things which are wrong. I either disagree he thought them or disagree that they are wrong. This of course does play to your second allegation which is that we have not evolved beyond this error. The reason of course being that we,like, totally disagree it is an error.

                That said, I do think Hayek advanced some of Mises’ ideas on the knowledge problem and the evolutionary nature of institutions. I think Hayek’s ideas have been further improved too, especially the odd way Hayek seemed to believe a version of the naturalistic fallacy as it applied to institutions.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Very decent of you to grant my points. I still believe in the power of competitive markets. But given time, markets tend toward monopoly and price fixing. It’s simply the law of gravity in action: think star and planet formation. Eventually space is cleared of matter, forming ever-larger bodies in orbit.

                Competitive markets do efficiently allocate resources — but only if they trade in regulated markets where price is exposed and liquidity can be calculated. The Calculation Problem has been solved: we don’t need all the data. We need the price of a commodity on an regulated exchange denominated in a currency traded on another regulated exchange. Without a basis in truth, meaningful financial reports and such, markets flatly refuse to operate.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I don’t disagree with you as much as you might imagine.

                However, I fail to see how free market are attracted to a state of monopoly. Monopoly position creates monopoly profits, which attracts capital like flies to you know what. The only way to repel entrants competing for above market returns is to use force to do so.

                This of course leads to the need for regulated markets. The regulation needed is regulation prohibiting coercion, while not initiating coercion from the regulator himself.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                You defeat the entire thrust of your argument by your incautious use of “Free” to describe these markets. Insofar as they are kept competitive, they will continue to do the beneficial work of capitalism.

                Likewise coercion. I know it’s theology for you Libertarians but don’t inflict it on me. The power to regulate is by definition the power to coerce.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Take a business model where the more money you have, the more profit you make. (ain’t your business insurance? That’s the one I’m thinking of, at any rate).

                Ya get monopolies fairly easily, because it’s hard to convince enough folks to get out of one position and into your new business. Ya need a TON, to even make the same profits that the other guy does.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                No theology. Classical libs tend to endorse the use of fire to suppress fire. Coercion is acceptable as a means to discourage coercion.

                It seems like you keep losing sight or making light of this distinction.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Kim, this makes no sense. Some P&C markets have hundreds of competitors. I would have loved to raise my rates to increase returns. That was a major focus of just about every job I had for nearly thirty years. The “problem” for me and my company, and the “solution” for consumers and society in general, is that customers will not buy our products and not renew if we raise prices above what the market will bare.

                Insurance is an extremely competitive market. Thank God.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Catallactic competition is entirely mythical, Roger. Prices are not governed by choice: that’s too simplistic. It presumes an array of choices are always on offer, that sufficient demand will be continuously met by sufficient supply, that markets will be sufficiently liquid to support such transactions, that prices will go down and product quality improve. That’s just not going to happen in the real world. For catallaxy to appear, economies must be regulated within an inch of their lives.

                Libertarians are constantly singing the sad song of Force and Fraud. Would that they were half so worried about Fraud, for Fraud is a mere subset of Force.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                sorry, should have been more specific. was thinking health insurance, which is notably more openended on the high side than housing/car insurance. (P&C is what?)Report

        • Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist says:

          Which is why every noisy progressive out there is demanding change NOW!Report

      • Avatar zic says:

        So team green would be an indication to short companies in your scenario?Report

  9. Avatar JLW says:

    So let me get this right.

    1. Nobody on the left owns stocks
    2. All lefties are anti capitalist

    This is an absurd Fox News stereotype chumera. Viz Warren Buffet and Bill Gates. Not to mention anyone who has a 401k or an IRA.

    As for politicizing, see CALPERS. In a 1 share 1 vote world only collective action (of the kind being forcefully undermined by anti-unionists) can provide a counter weight to the Waltons and their ilk.

    Most lefties I know don’t have any problems with capitalism or the idea that corporations should pursue their own naked self interest. What we’d like to see is a countervailing enforcement mechanism in government that makes them abide by the rules of the road.

    As the saying down this way goes – I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one for murder.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      So let me get this right.

      Great, I’m here to help!

      1. Not enough people on the left own stocks, given their professed beliefs, many of which are quite clearly correct.
      2. Anti-capitalist sentiment may make it difficult for them to correct this error.

      Fixed that for you.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        I wonder, who counts as a progressive, and how do we determine to what extent they are invested in the stock market?Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          Does the content of my 401k count? Does Warren Buffet’s personal investments count? His quantum fund?

          Heck, most PEOPLE don’t invest. Period. Conservative, progressive, apolitical — and if they do, the vast bulk of them do so through mutual funds in the form of their 401ks. Most people don’t have the disposable income or the desire for risk to actually, you know, [i]invest[/i].

          The people that do are called “rich” and “really rich” and they tend to be, by nature, conservative since conservative these days means “less regulation on business, lower taxes on the rich, and lower capital gains taxes” and nothing else.

          This seems like a bunch of nonsense and question begging, really. Progressives must not invest in the stock market, because if they did they’d take over and things would be different! Ergo, “whatever point I had is thus proven”.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Most people invest. Nearly every single human invests in depreciating assets. Humans are dumb. Some humans invest in appreciating assets. We call these smart folks.

            I get called rich now? Say whut? I know I make considerably less than most folks around here… Ya can call me smart all you want, but Rich is $6 mill or higher, and that’s self sustaining.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

              I assume by depreciating assets, you mean things like houses, cars, and children? Yep, clearly people who buy a house instead of rent because of its tax advantages, need to drive to work because of where housing is available in most parts of the country, and want to have kids are dumb instead of just having different priorities or less available to invest than you do.

              “People that do what I do are smart. People that don’t do what I do are dumb.” Somehow, that doesn’t hold a lot of weight with me.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                1) Nope. Just cars. Children appreciate (and you can start working them as young as 3, if you’re inhumane). Houses tend to rise as inflation/wages does, so not really depreciating (yes, it’s the land which is appreciating, as the house depreciates. big diff).

                2) What tax advantages? Most people don’t itemize, and particularly aren’t saving much from the mortgage interest deduction.

                I can think your lifestyle choices are dumb if I wanna. Nyah. Besides, What would you call it if someone put $12000 per year into a “quality of living” increase? People take cars for fucking granted, and don’t actually understand how much they’re paying for ’em. So, yeah, that’s dumb. Hell, if I thought half the folks actually ran the numbers before they bought the car, I wouldnt’ be bitching. They don’t, and you know it.

                There’s forty or fifty other lifestyle choices that are smart (e.g. Roger likes surfing).Report

              • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

                I’d be interested in any actual data you have that having children makes sense to a parent from a purely economic perspective. Have you “run the numbers” that you seem so enamored with?

                Estimates of the cost of raising a child vary from half a million to well over a million dollars to the parents (USDA vs. WSJ), and most of that cost comes early in their life when investing those dollars would be a good long-term investment for the parents. I find it hard to believe most parents get that money back from a purely economic perspective and a quick look didn’t find anything, but if you have “run the numbers”, feel free to chime in.

                Of maybe some things aren’t just about “running the numbers.”Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Well, let’s play this straight. And that means I’m going to feel free to half-ass as much of this as I want, because I sure as hell haven’t actually done the numbers yet.

                50 Hours a week, of unpaid labor, paid at $8 an hour? For Fourteen years (see, I’m being humane. Kid can start work at 4, not 3). You’re looking at ~$300,000. Now, you’ll notice I’m not compounding this, and that’s rather intentional. You get free work, you don’t get free investment.

                Now, just looking at wiki, I’m calling a bit of bull on your numbers (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cost_of_raising_a_child#United_States)

                For around the median income, you’re talking somewhere south of $200 grand. Again, using the USDA numbers (which I actually want to look at more closely). I’m cheap, not gonna deny it, and I’m likely to give kids used clothes more often than not (or let ’em make their own… say, by age 7 or 8).

                I haven’t counted in college… but I also haven’t counted in elder care.Report

              • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

                You think you can get 50 hours a week of productive work out of a child from age 4? You must not have kids. 🙂 For a number of years you’d easily lose more value just supervising that work than the useful work you got.

                In addition, mot counting college costs (which are again early and high) or lost income and job opportunities from the time spent raising children is a large difference. Finally, any provided elder care comes much later in life after 20 years of appreciation of a significant fraction of a million dollars. That pays for a lot of elder care.

                The anecdotal discussions I’ve seen generally conclude that children making economic sense in rural/agrarian economies. In these economies, though the lost income opportunities aren’t nearly as large as in a skilled industrial economy compared to the value of comparatively 12 years of free (relatively) unskilled manual labor.Report

              • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

                “You think you can get 50 hours a week of productive work out of a child from age 4?”

                Productive, unproductive, whatever. Just so long as I get that extra 50 hours of quiet household.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Oh, no doubt, I’m certainly not getting $8 an hour out of a 4 year old. A dollar an hour might work, provided I had tasks that the kid could carry out (carrying rocks in a mine, yes, running sales counter, no).

                Not everything needs to be fully supervised, either.

                If you can find someone to work from home, then you haven’t lost much in the way of income/job opportunities (still oughta dock something for time spent nursing kids back to health. 1% do ya?).

                I’ll agree that elder care is certainly at the very least a wash, and probably a point on the no-kids side.

                At age 12-15, kids are probably capable of more than unskilled labor. Train ’em right and they can be writing stories, or programming, or otherwise doing real work, for well over $8/hour.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                rofl, Tod, put the cleaning cloths on the kid, and let him crawl around cleaning the floors…Report

      • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

        Is there some data you can cite, or is this post meant to be facetious?

        I am not aware of any person over 30 or 35 who has the financial means, regardless of political stripe, who does not invest in stocks.Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          How many times have you read stories about Americans’ lamentably low savings rate?

          How many times have you nodded along with those stories?

          I hadn’t thought this was a controversial point, or even one in need of citation.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Please read the numbers again. Consumer debt is plummetting.

            We have a low savings rate not because people are dumb, but because you get a better return on investment on paying off your damn credit card bills.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

            So, you basic assumption is that there are progressives with money to invest who don’t do so, since you discount people who don’t have wealth to invest. Where are they keeping that money, then? In a mattress somewhere? Progressives like myself with money to invest generally have it in our retirement accounts and kid’s college savings accounts. Like others have said in this thread, if you don’t present evidence of their existence, it seems like you’ve set up a straw man to knock down here.Report

            • Avatar Kim says:

              They’re keeping it in hedge funds and using it to burn down the American Economy, just like everyone else.

              Or, a real answer, Silver!Report

          • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

            I think you are conflating two very different financial terms.

            There is a pretty huge difference between savings and equities; they are two separate things. In fact, one of the reasons savings has gone done – especially since the 90s – is that most financial advisors recommend *against* savings, because the rate of return in equities has such a greater rate of return in the long run.

            Savings *is* down, even (especially!) amongst the conservative, monied classes. My understanding is that equity investment is as close as you can get in the financial world to universal among those past a certain age who have the means.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          I don’t really know how many people invest, and what their political orientations are (I doubt Jason has those numbers either), but I’m pretty sure that most of the people I know who are progressives are capitalists, so if they don’t invest (I suspect most of them who can do), it likely has nothing to do with their attitudes towards capitalism.Report

      • Avatar JLW says:


        You are the one making the assertion that “not enough people on the left own stocks” and that people on the left are “anti-capitalist.” Evidence please.

        There is a fundamental mistake being made by folks on the right that “all rich people are conservatives” which is echoed in your piece. This mistaken stereotype is the foundation for the original question and is leading you to false conclusions.

        Here is some evidence for your consideration. High income people (top 20%) make up exactly the same percentage of both major parties – 31% of both Republicans and Democrats. Interestingly 38% of independents qualify. http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/2012/09/26/161841771/how-income-divides-democrats-republicans-and-independents

        One would never know this startling fact from the rhetoric flying around about “job creators=conservatives” and “moochers=liberals” – but if one looks at party registration (33% Democrat, 24% Republican) as a proxy for Conservative/Liberal this means there are more Liberal rich people than Conservative rich people. Surprise!

        Which goes back to my point. The fix as liberals see it isn’t to “fix companies” – it is to “fix government” so it can do its job in providing a level playing field for competition by minimizing fraud, insider trading, and other abuses which pervert capitalism.Report

    • Avatar MaxL says:

      Exactly so. I think the OP is is confusing “loudest” with “all”..

      1) A handful of very wealthy people (I am thinking the Waltons, Murdochs Kochs etc…) make a great deal of noise about conservative politics. It is worth noting that their financial self interest and political interests line up very, er, conveniently.

      2) I don’t know any progressives who have done well financially who haven’t also invested in equities. It’s worth remembering that, in the last campaign, there were quite a few wealthy progressives who have been saying, “Raise my taxes.” I will concede the point that there weren’t an overwhelming number of wealth progressives excited to give money or launch a TV news channel dedicated to that cause, however.

      3) Protecting status quo arrangements, especially those regarding status arrangements (and so inherited wealth), is a pretty good working definition of classic conservativism.Report

  10. Avatar James Hanley says:

    So why aren’t you folks on the left organizing, buying up equity, and making a difference in all kinds of ways?

    Collective action problem?Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Probably, yes.

      But if the returns to capital are so great, and it seems that they are, then this shouldn’t matter so much. Should it?Report

      • Avatar Ethan Gach says:

        Are they?

        This kind of feeds into Noah Smith’s thing about people not being wealthy because they don’t save. Does record corporate profits and a resilient stock market translate into relatively high returns on investment?

        Interest rates are lower than ever, no? I didn’t think the market patricularly wanted my capital at the moment. And if it doesn–it probably won’t pay well if I still try to give it anyway.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Bear raids.http://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/bearraid.asp

        The return to OTHER PEOPLE’s capital are far greater than yours.Report

      • Avatar Troublesome Frog says:

        Maybe I run in the wrong circles, but all of my progressive friends and I save a good portion of our income and hold it largely in stocks. I’m really not sure that there’s any sort of “corporations are evil” ideology driving a lack of stock investment. I think it’s just a low savings rate across the board.

        As for why we’re not marshaling our stock holdings and using them to push Dow Chemical around, we’re busy. My friend and I are raising a private army to handle the North Korea problem. You’re welcome.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Jason is obviously not aware of how much capital it takes to invest in high earning vehicles.

        Do you have a $100,000 per year lying around? That’s how much it takes to buy into a hedge fund (and they’ll get decent returns for you… unless the government screws them over).Report

    • Avatar Michael Drew says:

      Agreed, there is a collective action problem, and when combined with LWA’s explanation below,

      I think there is a confusion about what progressive/ liberal goals are regarding corporations.
      The progressive vision isn’t about individual corporations/ people pursuing “good behavhior” as if it were some sort of morality. [/] The vision is of a society bound by rules and norms.

      I think it renders this avenue of action pretty much invisible to people. There is not only a collective action problem simply to egt it going in numbers; there is also an information/coordination problem of, once you motivate people, then directing those efforts toward a small enough set of companies that there can be an impact. An then, once you’ve done that, you’ve limited the scope of your impact as compared to all of business practice.

      By comparison, on the governmental avenue essentially all of these problems are solved for you from the outset. (1) You have a pre-existing motivated and engaged set of potential actors (everyone who’s politically engaged and approximately like-minded to you; (2) you have a coordinated target for action (effecting changes in the direction of policy in specific governmental agencies); and (3) as has been stated elsewhere in the thread, whatever impact you have will apply to a broad set of companies rather than just a small number you concentrate on influencing, to whatever extent you can get effective enforcement in place.

      When you take that on board, it seems like a no-brainer where to direct reforming energies. Whether the governmental avenue is actually a legitimate avenue into which to put the lion’s share of one’s reforming energies is obviously open to debate (and it’s the majority of what we do in fact spend our time debating around here, and indeed I think it’s the unstated motivation for this post), but given that progressives for the most part regard it as an eminently legitimate avenue for those energies, I don’t think it’s any surprise that it’s where they are focused, given the efficiency of impact that it seems to have.

      Then there’s individual acquisitive energies. A further advantage to the governmental avenue for reforming energies is that it likely satisfies a person’s sense of doing what she can to advance something like a vision along the lines of LWA’s description. From there, decisions about personal investment can be made in the straightforward profit-seeking way that it is assumed investors of all kinds employ as a matter of course (though, of course, in many cases people do choose to pursue various kinds of what they deem to be socially or environmentally conscious investing (and more power to them).

      So I think this kind of just breaks down into component parts: why do people expend their reforming energies in the way they do, and why do people exhibit the saving &or investing behavior that they do? I think that to expect there to be cross-consistency of values across these domains of life’s activities depends on an assumption about people generally displaying this kind of consistency that simply doesn’t have much basis in experience with people in general to support it.Report

  11. Avatar LWA says:

    I think there is a confusion about what progressive/ liberal goals are regarding corporations.
    The progressive vision isn’t about individual corporations/ people pursuing “good behavhior” as if it were some sort of morality.

    The vision is of a society bound by rules and norms. Jason’s question amounts to saying “why don’t you have your business pay a living wage while everyone else uses Chinese convict labor?”Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      A fair point. But I wouldn’t discount morality entirely: If everyone else used Chinese convict labor, would you do it too?Report

      • Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

        There’s a problem, there.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          A classic economic one, in fact. Everyone — investors, consumers, owners — might be better off using better paid labor, but if the chinese convicts were cheaper in the short run, the guy using them would run everyone else out of business.

          So everyone has to use chinese convict labor, lest they be driven from the market.Report

          • Avatar Roger says:

            Not cheaper, more productive. There is a difference. Another important consideration is whether consumers would choose to buy convict labor and whether other countries should accept it as imports.

            I support import restrictions and consumer boycotts of slave labor.Report

  12. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    Because buying enough of an individual stock to have a voice in the company’s policy is risky as hell, and you’re not going to have any voice investing in (much safer) mutual funds?

    Because much investing is done via 401Ks, and those steer you towards mutual funds (which, once again, dilute any influence you might have)?

    Because the majority of shared in X are help by institutional investors, and no group of concerned individuals is going to outvote them?

    If you can run some numbers showing how this would be practical, please do. At the moment, there’s nothing here to be taken seriously.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Yeah i think this is the nub of it. The vast mass of stocks are inertly held by institutional owners who aren’t going to move in response to a small minority agitating for responsible corporate behavior. Also your average progressive would point to the incestous collusion of boards of directors and managers that routinely occurrs in corporate governance today. If stock holders aren’t going to move when their directors and managers are actively fishing them out of money they’re certainly not going to move over liberal issue #whatever.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Also, bear raids. The big players are actively out to screw little players out of house and home.Report

        • Avatar Morat20 says:

          Hight Frequency Trading, which amounts to a giant table rake.

          Or, if you’re a gamer — they’re the LPB’s. If everyone’s got a full second of lag, and he’s running along at 150ms, you’re screwed no matter your skill level.Report

            • Avatar Morat20 says:

              Low ping bastards. 🙂

              The jerks playing on the actual server, who didn’t have to worry about the latency. (Which was a bigger deal, back in the days of Doom and the other early FPS games).

              Reflexes and skill are nice, but the guy who can execute inside your decision loop has to be REALLY bad to lose.Report

              • Avatar Bob2 says:

                Except everyone’s wall hacking with trading algorithmsReport

              • Avatar Kim says:

                not small time investors.Report

              • Avatar Morat20 says:

                HFT’s operate inside everyone else’s decision loops. They exist to ‘provide liquidity’.

                In practice, they match buy and sell orders — utilizing a method to make sure the buyers pay the most they’re willing to, the sellers take the least they’re willing to, and the HFT’s pocket the difference.

                It seems like that would be…market distorting, insofar as the “price” established between buyer and seller is unrelated to anything except the HFT’s ability to probe out their min/max bids.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                So, how does this relate to getting the best price of the day on a stock?
                Specifically, how am I able to do that? I guess, it’s because I’m able to guess what the min bid of the seller is, and ask for that. HFTs only work where the market is somewhat opaque?Report

      • Avatar Roger says:


        I think the liberals are doing a pretty good job of answering Jason. I do want to push back a bit on this dilution/minority influence issue.

        The companies want people to bid up their stock. Thus attracting liberals by appealing to their values is something that most large companies already try to do. Of course they also play to conservatives and Christians and any other sizeable group. I spent countless hours in corporate meetings over topics which were obviously aimed at nothing more than PR toward special interest groups (meaning it was never about the business economics, but the PR value for PR value alone).

        Obviously every company balances profit with the various competing special interest groups. As a watered down version of Jason’s initial question, I would suggest that progressives strongly consider increasing the influence they push toward corporations. It does make a difference.Report

        • Avatar Tod Kelly says:

          “The companies want people to bid up their stock. Thus attracting liberals by appealing to their values is something that most large companies already try to do.”

          Right on target.

          No Fortune 500 that advertises about how “green” they are does so out of a love for the planet.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          Yes Roger, but they’re trying to get liberals to bid up the price of their stock. They are emphatically not trying to get liberals to come in and start exercising stockholder control over the managers of the company.

          Managers in large corporations are out to pad their position and personal assets first and help the company flourish/benefit their shareholders second. When they can do both they do so (and look good doing so). When the two are in conflict then they swiftly jettison the second part. The spectacle of corporate managers reaping gilded benefits and pay from the carcass of mismanaged dying corporations is a multitude. When someone comes in and tries to seize control of a company Managers swiftly begin applying poison pills quite literally destroying shareholder value and making the shareholder stock less palatable to buyers in an urgent bid to preserve their positions.

          What you’re talking about is marketing which is just fine. But what Jason is talking about is management/control which is an entirely different thing.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP says:

      These days, trying to run your own stock portfolio is not particularly wise unless you know the nuts and bolts of these companies. Mutual funds might seem to dilute influence at face value but they do put the fund in the hands of a handful of professional investors who spend all day looking at those nuts and bolts of the underlying component holdings. Sorta like the rationale for a lawyer or any specialist practitioner. He who does it all day long is better at it than you, who have other things to do all day and don’t get paid to do it. You get paid for what you do all day long. Everyone’s a specialist. Find a good one who understands you and your goals — and trust him.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        ETFs do better than mutual funds (or at least as good as).

        And if you do know the nuts and bolts, look out for insider trading charges.Report

  13. I believe the Presbyterian Church (USA) has done this sort of thing in recent history (past 5-8 years-ish). I won’t call them a lefty organization, but the issues they sought to address are generally aligned with “The Left”. I think they had some success (I think they got John Deere to stop buying parts from Israel or something like that… I really can’t remember that well).

    There’s also a Canadian church-based organization, KAIROS, that tends towards the progressive, and they have attempted this sort of thing as well (though I don’t think they had much success – they kind of got called out on the carpet for it and then implausibly denied they had done any such thing).

    Of course, this doesn’t dispute your larger point, as these are just two examples, but there is evidence that some organizations are trying to do what you suggest.Report

  14. Avatar david says:

    Perhaps because the notion of bribing someone you see as doing wrong into stopping is repellent, as a matter of justice.Report

  15. Avatar NewDealer says:

    I think there are some progressive groups that invest and then try to influence decisions that the corporation makes or they only invest in companies that they consider ethical.

    I don’t know how effective they are.Report

  16. Avatar Mike Schilling says:

    So why is it that libertarians don’t get involved with the major political parties at the grass-roots level (get out the vote drives, volunteering in local campaigns, running for county commissioner, etc.) to build up power within that party in order to influence its direction? Local action, non-coercive, no rent-seeking, etc. all sounds extremely libertarian to me. I mean, I know that both parties have some abominable views, but you know who gets the fix that? The party organization. You know who doesn’t get to fix it? A third party that tops out at 1% of the vote.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      folks do. We call some of them democrats, and some of them republicans.
      Also, in some places (texas), the libertarian vote is the minority party vote, not the democrat (who often doesn’t run)Report

    • Avatar Glyph says:

      Ouch. Harsh, but fair.

      On the JK side of the argument, all the downsides are there also with investing, but at least you could be making some green to compensate for the parts of your soul that are slowly dying. 😉Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Mike, perhaps I’m being uncharitable again, but it seems to me like you’ve decided that no criticism of government or liberals/progressive/whathaveyou should ever go without a redirect back to business/markets or libertarians.

      Clever, in a way, in that it allows you to never actually have to seriously think about whether any criticism of your side is justified.Report

      • Avatar Glyph says:

        Eh, I dunno Professor, in this case the shot seemed pretty justified to me. Jason’s post essentially says, “Why don’t progressives get into bed with institutions they largely distrust, so as to effect long-term change?”

        I don’t think it’s necessarily out of bounds for Mike to point out that the exact same argument/analogy could be made in re: libertarians & the major political parties, especially given how often libertarians point out that buying something IS basically a vote.Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        So I commented on this in two ways:

        1. I explained why I consider this idea impractical.
        2. I reflected it back to say “The same sort of logic leads to another idea. Does that one make sense?” And, implicitly, “What light does the reflected idea shed on the original one?”

        I think both comments were constructive. And to be blunt, yours is pretty much an ad hominem, since it doesn’t address what I had to say, but the fact that I said it.Report

        • Avatar James Hanley says:

          If it was just this one comment, I’d agree, but it seems to me that a pattern has developed, in which you turn every critique of government or liberals around on the critic. If the critiques really work so well going both directions, then I’d expect to see you doing the same when someone critiques markets or libertarians, turning it around against the pro-government/liberal critic. Not seeing that, it appears very opportunistic to me, and so likely driven by something more than just the legitimate logic of the comparison.

          Much like a comment or who might always respond to a criticism of Republicans with “Democrats do it to,” but never chimes in with “Republicans do it to” whenever Dems are criticized. However reasonable the oerson’s claims are in isolation, nobody seriously will believe he’s not driven by a desire to deflect criticism away from his own preferred side.

          It just seems to me in general that there hasn’t been a good discussion of economics in be hell of a long time here, and it’s because too many of us–and plausibly me and my side, too, and I’m just less noticing of it–are retreating to defending our ideogical or partisan domains, and there’s hardly anyone engaging in these anymore who has anything approaching an open mind.

          A pox on all our houses. Let’s talk about something where we might actually be able to have a real conversation, without all the deflection, misdirection, and instantaneous resort to insults. Maybe Rush.Report

    • Avatar Jaybird says:

      I find that there is a non-zero amount of value in putting an issue (or a meme) out there and seeing how the parties line up.

      Sometimes you get something like targeted assassinations where there’s not a whole lot of daylight between the two parties.

      Actually, that’s mostly what happens.

      Every now and again, however, you can find that there’s one side out there who says something to the effect of “WHAT THE HELL????” and, next thing you know, you’ve got strange bedfellows.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        dude. I saw the words “targeted assassinations” and my mind ground to a halt.
        Two minutes later, I realized… oh, he doesn’t mean killing people.

        I think I missed the metaphor. Elaborate please?Report

        • I assume he does mean killing people.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

          Yeah, I got it on the first re-read, but at first glance I thought JB was saying something like “The two parties are so close together, they could be taken out with a single shot” 🙂

          (Kim: it’s not a metaphor. He’s saying that both parties approve of targeted assassination.)Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Oh. As an Issue. Not as in killing your interlocutors.
            Mea Culpa.

            … how many people actually approve of Targeted Assassinations? How many people own stock in corporations who have engaged in this practice?Report

            • Avatar Jaybird says:

              I don’t think that the issue is “how many” as much as how the fact is that there are ones who do who also happen to be the ones with access to the means to employ it.

              If you’ve paid taxes, you’ve given money to these corporations (if “corporations” is the proper term).Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                No, I meant actual fucking corporations. Doing targeted assassinations on American and other soil. Of people currently engaged with them in legal battles, or of other corporations’ CEOs.

                … you meant governments. Unless you meant governments being coopted by large corporations (arguably, installing the Pinochet regime was really a move by US copper interests)Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                Well, in my defense, the thread we’re in is one asking why Libertarians don’t join one of the real political parties.Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                ya. you good. I bumped the question down a ways, hoping to start a slightly differently threaded convo.

                Because, for the truly objectionable corporation, it’s hard to tell, isn’t it, who they are??Report

        • Avatar Jaybird says:

          You know. Killing American Citizens on foreign soil where we haven’t declared war (well, we *DO* have an AUMF) without congressional oversight. We have threads about it periodically.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Now you’re scaring me, Mike.

      But you do sort of have a point. So… shall I become a Republican? That’s what you wanted, right?Report

      • Avatar Mike Schilling says:

        The areas where we disagree are so minor compared to the batshit evil that is today’s GOP, that, yes, your becoming an influential Republican would be a very good thing.Report

      • Avatar North says:

        Either that or convince America’s libertarians to move to one of our smaller states en masse and take control. I don’t know if I can think of a more powerful boon to libertarianism than an example of a functioning libertarian polity*.
        Admissibly taking over New Hampshire wouldn’t produce a libertarian ideal but one would think you could get close even with the oppressive Federal level imposing on it.

        *Then again the functioning communist example did for communism what cocaine did for Rick James.Report

        • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

          It’d only be a useful experiment if the state wasn’t free-riding off of the federal government or nearby states, a la the Portland, OR/Vancouver, WA discussion. I know we’re all waiting with bated breath on the success or failure (or even establishment) of the Citadel, of Glennbeckistan, or whatever non-starter libertarian utopia is proposed next.Report

  17. Avatar Kolohe says:

    Are there enough publicly traded companies with enough voting stock held by the public (and willing to be sold) to actually be able to gain control more than few random corporate boards?

    Hostile takeovers ain’t beanbag.Report

  18. Avatar zic says:

    Shareholders have never had much leverage, other then electing the board, of large companies; and only then if a specific group of shareholders has control of a majority of shares.

    The only investors who really have a big say in corporate ethics/management are so rich they can buy a controlling share or rich enough that they’re venture investors, able to spell out the terms of their control are spelled out in the deal, at which point we’re not talking pubic traded companies anymore. Due diligence before such a deal is so much more intensive then anything a public company reveals to potential investors that they’re not even in the same ball park. And the say of early-on investors falls to the say of later investors, like dominoes, until the day that the company might go pubic.

    And when I say venture investing, I specifically mean through a venture fund or angel investment, not the typ of equity investing done by Bain that pillages a company’s assets while loading it with debt and who-knows-what kind of management looking for bonus pay.

    The biggest need for capital within our economy right now is for angel investing, seed money for start-up companies that will grow quickly and create jobs.Report

  19. Avatar Kim says:

    … how many people actually approve of Targeted Assassinations? How many people own stock in corporations who have engaged in this practice?

    I believe we don’t see much progressive work, because it’s difficult to rally the outrage machine around specific corporations (and the ones who you can — or could, tend to be privately owned).Report

  20. Avatar Ethan Gach says:

    So basically educate people and encourage them to take part in pay to play politics rather than shaming it?Report

  21. Avatar Heisenberg says:

    This post reminds me of posts by conservatives who complain “Why doesn’t the ACLU protect X?” in cases where the ACLU is, in fact, defending X.

    Fact is, there are progressive shareholder activists. I found a couple of groups in less than 30 seconds of Googling. Why is the right so pathologically opposed to research?Report

    • Avatar Russell M says:

      because research is the enemy of of making ideological points. once you let research and science in they can wreak up the ivory tower.Report

  22. Avatar Bob2 says:

    This comment has been deleted by limerick by Mark Thompson

    Bob2 lacked a point
    So he tried to get everyone out of joint
    He cussed and he spat
    And chose to act like a rat
    In the future, please be more adroitReport

    • Avatar Kazzy says:


      This post seems to me to violate the LoOG Commenting Policy, specifically this portion:
      “In general, a comment will be deemed inappropriate if it makes no attempt to address a point germane to the original post or another comment and instead contains nothing more than a blanket personal attack directed at the author or another commenter will be deleted.” Please refrain from such types of comments going forward.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Kazzy, I’m 100% supportive of your comment and critique.

        But if I may, I’d like to use this opportunity to demonstrate the weakness of the League’s commenting policy.

        Bob2’s comment did not direct a blanket personal attack at the author. He did not say, “Jason, you are shit,” but “this post is shit.” Nor was it non-germane to the original post, since it directly addressed what the author thought of the post’s quality, if expressed, eh, colorfully.

        I think any of our able lawyers here could get Bob2 off scott-free, even though it’s evident to all of us that his post contributed nothing of value to the discussion. In fact I wouldn’t be shocked if Bob2 had carefully thought about how to phrase that so it wouldn’t technically violate the commenting policy.

        There’s a gap between the League’s ideals and its intention to ensure progress toward them.Report

  23. Avatar Shazbot3 says:

    Sorry Jason, but this is kind of a silly question.

    1. Some liberals don’t have money for stock.

    2. Some liberals do have money for stock but see the most effective and moral use of it as charitable giving.

    3. Some liberals do have money for stock, use it to buy stock, and try to influence companies to be more environmentally sound, more socially conscious, etc. It is just that this is a small effect compared to other market forces.

    4. Some liberals have money to buy stock and do not use their money to influence the corporation to act more morally out of self-interest.

    Maybe you want to argue that the liberals in 4. are hypocrites in that their actions aren’t in accord with their moral beliefs. If so, my response is:

    A. So what? Hypocrisy is universal. You are close to committing a tu quoque fallacy like “That vegetarian is wearing a leather belt, so he is a hypocrite, and therefore vegetarians are hypocrites. Therefore, I am justified in not being a vegetarian because there is a problem with vegetarianism.”

    I’m not saying that you are committing a tu quoque, but lots of liberals would say that they do believe we should aim at wealth and try to act as moral owners, but lots of people are going to fail at doing this because of the immoral and corrupting force of greed.

    B. An individual liberal could be justified in claiming that their individual choice to buy stock in a way that maximizes morally beneficial consequence at the expense of their own self-interest (e.g. buying stock in a company that pollutes and is profitable to try to get it to stop polluting) is unjustified iff no one else is going to do the same with their stock. That is, we have a collective action problem here. A liberal can claim that they would vote for laws requiring every company to behave in a way that minimized corporate profit while also, before those laws have passed, spending money in a way that maximizes their own individual profits without any kind of logical inconsistency, if it is true that only collective action will make a difference and individual action won’t, which is not an unreasonable thing to think.Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      I doubt most liberals in 4) know how/what the companies are doing /in their name/Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

      “I hear that corporations behave abominably. But you know who gets to change that? Shareholders.

      So why aren’t you folks on the left organizing, buying up equity, and making a difference in all kinds of ways? I’m curious.”

      Also, the cutesy rhetoric of this post is beneath you, Jason. If you want to make an argument, make it clearly and forcefully. “I’m curious” is beneath you.

      Also too, in some cases isn’t it wise of a liberal to spend their money giving to non-profit charity to make that moral improvement more than it is to trying to minimize the evil of corporations?

      You have offered no argument for why it is wrong to try to use regulations to reduce corporate immorality, donations to help poverty, etc.

      There are arguments about all of this that are very interesting, but your just trolling for controversy here. You’re great, but this is blah stuff.


  24. Avatar James Hanley says:

    After reading all the comments here, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is absolutely no value anymore in writing anything at all about markets here at the League. The debates are predictable, almost scripted, and of course there are those who are incapable of engaging with anyone who disagree with them without resorting to insults. These “debates” make me wonder if the League has run its course, has passed its peak. Certainly it cannot serve any longer as a place to bring people of different viewpoints together to actually have a discussion if so many are so smugly confident that those idiots on the other side aren’t worth listening to, only insulting and lecturing at.Report

    • Avatar Shazbot3 says:

      The idiots around here are incapable of not looking down there noses in a smug way. I look down my nose at these smug idiots, and I do it with smug.

      And I assert, without argument, that they are not arguing for their positions.

      All these fools can do is insult each other.



      Just kidding. Don’t be angry with me Hanley. I get your point, but I would make it from the other side of the aisle, so there must be something wrong.

      The League is great (still great, IMO) but we need to find a way out of this Ground Hog Day (aka the eternal recurrence) of arguments about certain subjects.

      Focusing the topics in the OP somehow (a government mandate to this effect is a good idea) would be a good start. And maybe some rules on what isn’t relevant or something.

      I think some posts about very philosophical subjects like desert in general, egalitarianism, free will, redistribution, positive and negative rights, the social contract, etc. might help us get out some very basic disputes that could then be referred back to, instead of rehashed again and again, when there is a more specific debate about some specific policy. That is, we can say, “Oh, the problem here goes back to this old dispute about egalitarianism, which we agreed to disagree on, so let’s move on.”

      I also think some regular participants are (consciously or not) constantly derailing threads, in interesting ways sometimes, but at other times just bringing us back to Groundhog Day.Report

    • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

      As someone who’s read a long time but only posts occasionally, I’m not sure it’s any worse than it’s ever been. The liberals continue to assume that the libertarians are all actually anarchists in disguise who think the market will magically fix things, as they always have. The libertarians continue to assume the liberals don’t really believe in the market. Despite this, bits and pieces of insight and understanding trickle across the divide now and again.

      To quote Billy Joel (and date myself badly): The good old days weren’t always good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.Report

    • Avatar Brandon Berg says:

      Identify the people not worth arguing with, and stop arguing with them. Problem solved.Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        Not really, because that means as soon as they appear you cede the field to them.Report

        • Avatar zic says:

          That’s only if your goal is to dominate the field instead of communicate.

          Have you ever trained a dog? I learned one of the best life-skills in the world when I got a dog and had to train it: reward good behavior, ignore bad. You yell at that dog when it barks at people walking down the street or gets into the trash and ignore it when it’s behaving, and it will bark at people walking down the street and get into the trash to get your attention. You tell that dog how good it’s behaving when it’s behaving, turn your back on it and walk away when it’s barking, and it will behave to get your attention.

          With actual people, when you engage with the bad behavior, you reinforce it, reward it. When you ignore it, when you refuse to acknowledge it, the reasons for the bad behavior — provoking a response — don’t happen, the reward vanishes.

          It’s not ceding the field, it’s refusing to engage an inferior, dishonest opponent because they lack honor.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            Maybe. In fact, yes, I know that’s true to some extent.

            1) Personally I am unwilling to continue my series of posts on markets, even though I have been encouraged to, because I feel confident in predicting what the “debate” will look like.

            2) I think that always shutting up when someone else stomps and yells just teaches them that stomping and yelling enables them to shut down their opponents–it’s a technique whose goal is to shut out dissenting voices. I have a colleague who used to pull the trick of always talking over people, making sure he was louder than them, so he could effectively keep anyone who disagreed with him from having their position heard. He did this to me and I called him on it, bluntly, and he’s not tried it on me since, and I’ve noticed that he does it less overall, or at least in larger meetings that we’re both at.

            So my goal is not to actually engage the behavior, but to call it out.Report

    • Avatar Alan Scott says:

      Given the initial question, I don’t see anywhere to go but down. The simple answer to “why don’t progressives buy stock?” is “They already do.”

      And most of the initial replies are variations on that, from “anyone of sufficient means already owns stock” to “there are plenty of investment options that specifically target companies that conform to progressive notions of how a corporation should act”

      The only parsing of the question that didn’t get a lot of play is the “Why doesn’t Team Lefty by up stock in Big Evil Corporation and force it to change?. And Jaybird addressed that one pretty well in his comment: Buying controlling interest in a company that profits only from exploitation and then forcing it to stop exploiting means that you’ve just spent a whole lot of money on something that no longer turns a profit.

      Given that Jason’s question gets answered in the first few posts, is it any wonder that the threat turns into Kim shouting about Bear Raids, Blaise being a bit of a windbag, a tangent on Kafka, and a discussion about the ROI of having kids?Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:


        You make the point well, I think. If Jason was wrong, then it should have been fairly easy to demonstrate that, with some degree of respect for the tone of debate. Instead we get stomping and roaring about how evil and stupid he is and folks +99ing “cut him a new one” type language.

        It’s no wonder people start shifting to other topics, trying to find something civil where they won’t get shat upon.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Bear raids are the answer to why it’s not profitable for someone to invest as a small time investor. Well, one of them. RR posted plenty more.Report

    • Avatar Russell M says:

      Because not everybody is set in their ways. i realize that blaise, you, jason, and mike will never ever agree on anything related to the market, because you all are coming from fundamentally different ideological grounds. I actually learned things in these threads that either help me define my views or change them based on actual evidence/mindset shifts. just because some of the threads go down the same rabbit hole does not mean there is no worth in that hole. or another way just because you have been to the top of mountain does not mean everybody else hasReport

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        Eh, where did I ever claim to have been to the top of the mountain?

        Look, I’ve been one of the offenders here many times, and all those times the conversation went south to no good end also. My complaint is not so much that we’re all still holding our positions, but that it seems the subjects can’t even be brought up anymore without some people immediately starting to stomp around intent upon playing dominance games instead of engaging in real debate. I suppose they mistake it for real debate, but I think most of us, if we pause to reflect, realize it’s not how meaningful discussion actually takes place.

        My ongoing complaint remains that while the League strives to be a place of real discussion, it never does police itself quite well enough for that.Report

        • Avatar DRS says:

          Maybe we could have a thread about business and the market without the libertarians simply asserting their particular points as if they’re self-evidently true and only someone trying to be difficult could possibly disagree?Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            DRS, did I not say both sides were surely to blame? Did I not admit I have been part of the problem?

            For you to assert that the problem is libertarians making assertions is to turn a blind eye to your own side’s sins here. If you think there aren’t plenty of liberals here doing exactly what you’re criticizing libertarians for, then I think you have put on your ideological blinders this morning.Report

            • Avatar DRS says:

              My “side” on this issue is that of people here who might be as bored to death as I am of reading these never-ending-yet-somehow-never-proved assertions about libertarianism that consist of the poster’s personal views about society, like Jason’s original post above. Usually I just ignore them; they’re boring to me, as I said.

              I respectfully suggest you get off the issue of blame; it’s not helpful and you’re coming across as defensive. And acknowledging your own part-of-the-problem-ness is not a license to continue being a part of the problem.

              I like you and you’re a fellow map-lover. And for what seems to me like the 485th time, I am not a liberal but a conservative.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                DRS, I’m trying to be polite, but in all seriousness I’m very tired of liberals who repeatedly demonstrate tharpt they’ve never stidied economics arguing about markets as though they have the latest and greatest understandings.

                Feel free to reject that (although I take your point about not being one, and am sorry i didn’t catch tat before), I won’t mind. My point is simply that the tiredness of never-proved-assertions runs more than one way.

                And again, my real complaint is not that people hold these different views, but the tone of the debate. I don’t think there’s been a pro-market or pro-libertarian post in recent memory that hasn’t resulted in a few (and it’s only a few) people acting as though they’re trying to drive any libertarianism folks off the League. And us libertarian/pro-market folks are no better when we respond in kind.

                “I decided to cut him a new one” and “this is a shit post” are not exactly indications ofReport

        • Avatar Russell M says:

          did not mean anything by top of the mountain. guess it was a meta4 that got away from me. also i was just using You blaise mike and jason as examples. did not mean to cast any stones. just works better then aerith and bobo as examples.

          as for the league not policing it self well enough i think the level of coersive modding and warning is just about right. just because 2 people talk past each other and may dive into invective and crass stupidity does not mean we need more police state. just means you need to use that scroll wheel on yo mouse.Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          To be honest, James, I think this was Jason’s fault (hey, I tried to actually engage… look at the beginning of the thread). He started the thread with political stereotypes and basically a pulled-out-of-his-ass claim about a group’s investing. If you want a serious discussion about markets, it’s probably best not to prime political stereotypes and a team mindset from the start. But I’m pretty sure a serious discussion about markets is not what Jason wanted.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I don’t agree James. The League’s commentariate has always been pretty merciless. I could see my way maybe to observing that where the most boisterous responses around here used to come from the right now our commenters with the least decorum are coming from the left. That said Jason’s opening post was pretty much red meat for this tone of discussion in the first place (full disclosure, I liked it and I like the thread and I like that it was under off the cuff).Report

      • Avatar James Hanley says:

        “I decided to cut him a new one” was not condemned, but applauded.Report

        • Avatar Russell M says:

          to be fair jason did go all red meat for the dogs with his phrasing in the OP.Report

        • Avatar North says:

          By a couple people.
          I’d like to note, with enormous affection, that in this thread you’re taking a couple of commentors behavior and applying it to the entire League. The number of comments that were written in the manner you are deploring are massively outnumbered by polite substantive responses.Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            I think a couple commentors can quickly ruin a thread, particularly if they respond very very churlishly to every comment with which they disagree. I’m not saying most people here behave like that. It is, and always has been, only a very distinct few (and I am not criticizing the League’s liberals in general, nor am I saying that the non-liberals here don’t have their own folks who’ve acted like this), but as the old saying goes, a few bad apples spoil the barrel.

            And it may have been only a couple of people who praised “cut you a new one,” but there were not even a couple of people who criticized the comment. If silence is in fact the voice of complicity, then the absence of critique spoke volumes.

            Curiously, there’s been more critique of my audacity to critique than there has been of the actual insults that have been spewed here. 😉Report

            • Avatar North says:

              James, meta threads always draw more commentary. We learned that from the TVD days if we didn’t know that before.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                Granted. But that doesn’t stop me from being bothered that people are more quick to respond to criticism of bad behavior than they are of the bad behavior itself. It seems to me to be a sort of tribalistic instinct, akin to the type of patriotism that gets angry when someone points out that their country’s done something wrong. And I’m sure it cuts across all ideological lines. I’m not saying it’s a liberal thing.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                But that doesn’t stop me from being bothered that people are more quick to respond to criticism of bad behavior than they are of the bad behavior itself.

                American society in a nutshell, especially with regard to issues of race, gender and class.Report

              • Avatar James Hanley says:

                American? Only?

                I guess that’s why the French are so open about their history in Algeria, and the Turks have repeatedly apologized for the genocide of Armenians.Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                I was thinking more along the lines of the defensiveness re: racism or sexism issues. How people are more quick to cry “race card!” than they are to recognize or condemn actual racism.

                Historical aversion to admitting to terrible acts isn’t unique, and it’s certainly a real thing, but it’s not what I was referring to at that particular moment.

                There’s something about American conversations about race or gender equality that makes people far more likely to respond to accusations of wrongdoing than wrongdoing itself.Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                Nob, do you find Americans are especially racist or sexist?Report

              • Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

                I find white, male Americans to have a blindspot on cultural racism or misogyny that when pointed out tends to result in a reaction that would’ve been pistols at 10 paces before breakfast a hundred fifty years ago.Report

        • Avatar DRS says:

          James, that was one phrase in a total comment that was a lot longer than one sentence. Are you really saying that was the only part you read or are reacting to?Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            No. In a prior comment I initially wrote about that, and added in that I didn’t think folks were specifically plussing that part of the comment, but the other parts. I wish now I hadn’t deleted that whole section of my comment.

            But the presence of the plussing and the absence of any critical response, or even an “it’s over the top, but I agree with the substance” indicates that no one was particularly bothered by the addition of that phrase.

            Can I assume that from now on every time I disagree with someone it’s okay for me to say “I’m going to cut you a new one,” as long as I also include some substantive comments? Because while I’m not really looking to cut you a new one, if using those words is considered unworthy of critique, then I might as well get in on the fun.Report

            • Avatar DRS says:

              Well, no I wasn’t particularly bothered by it because it’s a figure of speech. It’s not like it was a personal threat to take a knife to a person’s anatomy. I’ve heard much worse (and read much worse) over the years. Result of a misspent youth, I suppose.Report

  25. Avatar Fnord says:

    So why don’t libertarians buy up equity and make a difference on, say, corporate rent-seeking?

    I expect the answer is much the same:
    1) Shareholder activism isn’t trivial.
    2) People do, but it isn’t a magic bullet (because shareholder activism isn’t trivial).Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      There’s a turnaround of the question that strikes home, I think.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        It strikes home, sure. But which group on the whole has more money to invest, libertarians or progressives?

        I think it’s pretty obviously the latter, and then we need to have the conversation about coordination again.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          The absolute amount, I’m sure. But I’d venture to guess that the per capita amount is higher, perhaps much higher, or libertarians. That’s just a hunch, mind you…Report

          • Avatar James Hanley says:

            What Kazzy said.

            Of course it also depends on what distinguishes a progressive from a mere liberal, and I’m not sure we’ve ever gotten a solid handle on what that is.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy says:

              I don’t even know what a progressive is, to be perfectly honest…Report

              • Avatar Chris says:

                I asked who counts as a progressive at the start of the post. I got no answer.Report

              • Avatar Jaybird says:

                I imagine that membership is decentralized.Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                A Progressive believes in the Evolution of Government. Every day’s newspapers bring in a fresh crop of events. It now seems the Obama administration, stung by allegations of Kill Lists, has moved its drone operations from CIA to DoD. Here we see government responding to outside pressure, much as life itself responds.

                Few, if any, principles guide the Progressive. Like Hobbes’ Monarch, who views his own success or failure in terms of the health and prosperity of his kingdom, the Progressive views Good Government in exactly the same terms. Insofar as more people could thrive in a given context, were a few onerous inequalities and inefficiencies corrected, we see no problem with state intervention. Thus, we believe market reforms ought to be phrased in terms of an optimality wherein risk still equals profit and capitalism still thrives.

                For the Progressive, governing is rather like tending a garden. Two sorts of stupidity are seen in gardeners: those who love their gardens to death and those who won’t weed or water. The Progressive, unlike his more-Liberal counterpart, believes too much government is as bad as too little. Our yardstick for the happy medium is happiness itself, the pursuit of which is often neglected, wherein more people thrive than fewer. Guided more by sheer cynicism, we usually view the rise of the very poorest as the best yardstick. We do not care how rich the very richest become: it may well be the rich may have to become astronomically rich if the poor are to rise from extreme poverty. But poverty is expensive: the poor fill our jails.

                We are often charged with the Crime of Statism. We remain entirely unapologetic: stating with Hobbes’ Monarch, “he who governs best does the least damage”. To it we might add “he who governs best will adapt to changing needs, not cling to antiquated axioms.”Report

              • Avatar Roger says:

                I like this summary from the League’s premier wordsmith.

                I like the emphasis on change and evolving over time.
                I like the way he emphasizes the minimum reliance on first principles.
                I like the way he emphasizes the importance of equality.
                I like the way he emphasizes the role of appropriate state intervention.
                I like the way he emphasizes the active role of a gardener.

                Sounds like a pretty good summary of progressive ideology to me. Do other progressives agree?

                I am a bit surprised by the way he minimized the dangers of extreme wealth and by his introduction of happiness as a yardstick of societal success. I hear many progressives worry that extreme wealth will be used to rig the game in favor of the rich. As to happiness, it sounds almost like utilitarianism, and I never thought of progressives as especially utilitarian. Feel free to school me….Report

              • Avatar Kim says:

                Yeah. I’m tempted to add that libertarians seem to think like hot-pepper gardeners. You still want a garden, but you want to be as hostile towards it as possible. (this, naturally, makes all the other gardeners shriek, because you aren’t being nice to your plants).

                I do not “worry” that extreme wealth will be used. I see it currently being used in that fashion, and I call it out where it can be verified (astroturf like the TeaParty in particular).

                I don’t like happiness as a yardstick. It’s too personal, and invariant, for my tastes. (that is to say, people remain at the same level of happiness even if you improve their condition).

                I’d rather we put the premium on opportunity, and the ability for the lowest to achieve success through being smart. Blaise is more looking at the “pursuit of happiness”, than happiness itself, anyhow.Report

              • Avatar Russell M says:

                Best one i have seen. mind if I steal it?Report

              • Avatar BlaiseP says:

                Feel free.Report

        • Avatar Fnord says:

          And which group’s ideals are more prevalent in, eg, the socially responsible investing movement? Entirely consistent with the differences in the size of the movements, just with drastically lower importance of activist investing as a tool for social change than you seemed to assume in the OP.Report

  26. Avatar Llama says:

    Shareholders can change corporate behavior? Not anywhere outside of academic theorizing is that true. In fact, many academics don’t even believe (voice v. exit).Report

  27. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    When presented with a written claim, one can always read it either charitably or not.

    For example:

    The fact that I am surprised at what seems to me like a low level of shareholder activism does not mean that I am asserting the nonexistence of shareholder activism.

    This same fact of a surprisingly low level of shareholder activism does not mean that I am asserting that liberals are all poor freeloading moochers, and that only conservatives add value to the economy.

    The fact that I was interested in shareholder activism doesn’t mean I am ignorant or disdainful of socially responsible investing, which is a different thing. Activism buys up irresponsible companies; socially responsible investing avoids them.

    The fact that some of my questions turned out to have plausible answers doesn’t mean that my post was a “shit post.” It means that we were having a conversation. And maybe even that I learned something.

    (“He learned something!” “Hush! I’d much prefer to go on thinking that he was evil.”)

    But I observe that the comment just referenced has remained undeleted, and I infer the opinion of the management around here accordingly. I don’t have the power to moderate comments on my own posts, of course.

    To the people with whom I’ve been having an adult discussion: thank you. LWA, Mike, Fnord, and others, it’s been both helpful and informative. I really mean that.

    To those in charge of moderating comments on my posts: I’m glad I know where things stand, I guess. If a “shit post” around here is a post declaring that it seems that liberals have failed, then my days here will be numbered. You can have your self-congratulatory progressive smugfest without me.Report

    • Avatar Russell M says:

      but without you we have to slag ourselves and we already have a place for that. It’s called the Democratic party.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      Dude, you’ve been around blogs long enough to know that even in relatively tame places like this one, if you start out with talk (talk that can be construed as a criticism; talk that trades in political stereotypes) about a political team, political teamwork is what you’re going to get. Granted, Bob2 (who seems to be somewhat of a poorly conceived court jester) gave you an isolated, one-sentence, contentless jab 200 odd comments in (and I suspect management missed it, but why give charity when you’re not getting it, right? also, do they usually delete such comments, or just shame the people?), but for the most part, I think you got the discussion you asked for.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      Jason, have you notified anyone who has that kind of power of the violation of the commenting policy so they can delete it? AFAIK the League’s comments are not very closely monitored or policed. If you’d like to advocate for a more stringent regulation of comments and the appointment of more moderators maybe that’d be a good conversation to have around here.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        I presumed I hadn’t needed to. Given the way in which it was discussed in lots of other comments, I figured, well, it’s apparently just within the bounds as people see it now.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          Jason, I do believe you have the power to delete comments. I once deleted a comment on one of my post… it was ultimately a poor decision on my part but the power was there. I’ll cop to not having been following this thread that closely so please don’t consider my silence on the matter as acceptance or compliance.Report

        • Avatar Dave says:

          I missed it. I”m sorry.

          I would have torn him to pieces. Should I do so now?Report

    • Avatar James Hanley says:

      Amazing. Writing “this is a shit post,” invokes no adverse comment. Objecting to that does invoke adverse comment.

      Do I need new glasses, or is there in fact something wrong with this picture?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:


        I agree with you that “This is a shit post” crosses the line. I didn’t realize that was the ENTIRETY of a comment until just now and will weigh in. However, I’ve learned that the behind-the-scenes operations of this place are… curious… and do not feel particularly empowered to actually do anything about it, despite technically having the power.Report

        • Avatar Roger says:

          “I’ve learned that the behind-the-scenes operations of this place are… curious… and do not feel particularly empowered to actually do anything about it, despite technically having the power.”

          This got my interest. Care to elaborate?Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        a.) I didn’t see the “shit post” comment until Jason pointed it out.
        b.) In my reply to Jason I commented on it.
        c.) I see no reason to reply to Bob2 directly.Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I disagree with C) and am on the record stating that, fair or not, silence often communicates acceptance. I don’t think that every individual has an obligation to speak up in every instance, but I was surprised to see that no one spoke up. So, I did.

          I’m not faulting your view or logic, mind you. Just disagreeing. We can still do that here… right? :-pReport

    • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

      Two minor points before I’m done with this thread:
      1. I, too, was somewhat offended by the tone of the initial post, which to me came across as pretty condescending to progressives like myself who read this site.
      2. As others have pointed out, some of the post’s basic assumptions (progressives don’t invest) seem to be undermined by a little thought and a Googling. There’s a difference between “my questions have plausible answers” and “my post deserved more due diligence.
      3. As a result, of 1 and 2, I understand the general intemperance of Blaise’s, though it goes a bit farther than I would have (it’s Blaise). That said, some of the same intemperance shows in my initial response to Kim, mea culpa. Overall, though, the “I decided to cut him up” attitude expresses the annoyance the initial post engendered in me pretty well, too.
      4. I found the “shit post” remark over the top, so didn’t respond to it. I don’t have (nor would ever want) edit/delete rights here.Report

      • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

        Hmmm, maybe I should learn to count a little better. 🙂Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        2. As others have pointed out, some of the post’s basic assumptions (progressives don’t invest) seem to be undermined by a little thought and a Googling. There’s a difference between “my questions have plausible answers” and “my post deserved more due diligence.

        The second sentence of the post contradicts what you describe as the posts’s “basic assumptions.”

        Which choice is more plausible, ask yourself: That I really believe that everyone left of center religiously avoids all stock purchase? Or is it — just maybe — that you didn’t read correctly?Report

        • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

          The first 17 words of your post are, and I quote:

          Here’s a thing I don’t get: Why aren’t way more progressives putting money into the stock market…

          Do you still stand by what you wrote there?

          If you had just asked why progressives aren’t politicizing their stock market investments more heavily, that wouldn’t have evoked as much outrage, even though there are a wide range of progressive funds and divestment movements around today that are actually doing that. Instead, you started by saying something that to many of us came across as trivially wrong and simple political red meat. So we didn’t have a lot of sympathy for you when you got a red meat response.

          If you one person reads your post differently from what you claim you meant, maybe that one reader is at fault. If, on the other hand, a large number of people misunderstand what you thought you were trying to say, perhaps the person you should be pointing your finger at is in the mirror.Report

          • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

            Just a quick followup: I learned technical writing as an undergrad at the foot of Prof. Dan Embree and was thrilled to escape with a B. Clear, concise, technical writing is now a major part of what I do for a living.

            Number (4) from the Gospel According to Embree is the relevant point here, but I encourage everyone to read it: http://www.bagley.msstate.edu/current_students/technical_communications_program/tcp/embree.pdfReport

          • Avatar Dave says:

            If you one person reads your post differently from what you claim you meant, maybe that one reader is at fault. If, on the other hand, a large number of people misunderstand what you thought you were trying to say, perhaps the person you should be pointing your finger at is in the mirror.

            No he shouldn’t.

            As a finance guy, I would say that his presentation could have been better but his question was clear to me. I knew exactly where he was going and it had nothing to do with Progressives not investing nor the sort of responsible investing BlaiseP took him to task for allegedly not knowing (although he did).

            The notion that Jason is suggesting that Progressives avoid the stock market altogether is silly. I’m sorry if people got offended, but in the proper context, there’s no reason to be.

            Nob Akimoto wrote a post that answered the question the way it should have been answered without people getting upset. It’s very good.Report

            • Avatar Patrick Bridges says:

              Next time I submit a paper for review and it comes back with a number of the reviewers misunderstanding something I said, I’ll be sure to blame the reviewers for being dumb and not changing anything when I submit a revision. I’m sure that’ll work well.

              There are stupid readers everywhere. My experience as a writer, though, is that if a sizeable number of people misunderstand me, it’s not their fault, it’s mine.Report

            • Avatar Stillwater says:

              No he shouldn’t.

              Well, it can’t be that simple. If the essay was posted to communicate a specific idea to people – in particular liberals, right? – in the form of a question but the intended audience missed it, then there’s a problem in communication. And it can’t fall entirely on the readers shoulders. I think part of this is Jason’s fault, but not in the way you – or he – might expect. Jason, I think, attributes too much understanding to his readers – some of these ideas just strike him as entirely obvious, so obvious that other people can’t help but understand them the way he does – which fosters confusions (and tensions) rather than resolving them. This happened explicitly in his posts about charitable contributions. readers didn’t understand what he was arguing (because it was a subtle concept), and all too often Jason viewed those comments the wrong way: as understanding and rejecting his argument, rather than as rejecting an argument he wasn’t making.

              A little patience going both directions would make for better threads.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP says:

              Quit making excuses for Jason. At no point in his presentation did Jason even once phrase anything but a begged question and I am not alone in so saying. You might take your caveat out of parentheses and demonstrate your claim from the post. Seems I’m the one who gets to furnish the proofs.Report

  28. Avatar Russell M says:

    as an actual answer to the OP i have to say more of us are not investing in company’s that offer a great ROI if they happen to get there by making decisions we feel are evil/immoral/slavetastic. most of my friends don’t believe in profiting off of that kind of behavior and buying high-priced shares to stop them for doing their very profitable activity and destroy the value of our own shares seems… dumb to us.Report

    • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

      Honest question here, I mean it.

      Let’s say you decide not to buy Altria (née Philip Morris), because they are an evil manufacturer of cigarettes. And you don’t want to be a part of that.

      I’d ask you to consider that your action, and the similar actions of thousands of others, only makes evil pay even better for, say, the Republicans.

      If someone is going to profit, why shouldn’t it be you?Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        Follow up…

        And if you somehow see that money as “tainted” and not something you want in your pocket, think of the good you could do by donating it…Report

        • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

          That said, I can readily imagine enterprises in which I would never want to invest regardless of return, although these are also the sort that I think should be prohibited outright, like extortion, contract killing, or businesses relying on slave labor.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            Oh, sure. But the question becomes what, precisely, is their objection to investing in Altia?Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            10 to 1 you’ve already invested in at least one of those.
            At least when I invest, I know whose money I’m stealing
            (Yeah, maybe they’ll learn a lesson about trusting authority)Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        Equally honest question:

        Why couldn’t you just invest in companies that compete with Altria? Say, whatever company produces Nicorette? Isn’t there more than one way to skin a cat, investing-wise?Report

        • Avatar Kazzy says:

          I assume Jason’s answer would be something to the effect of, “Sure! Just invest somewhere!”Report

          • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

            It is. If stocks get outsized returns, then that’s where your money should be.Report

            • Avatar Chris says:

              If your question is just, “why don’t progressives invest?”, then I ask you again, “what makes you think they don’t?” I mean, do you know any progressives with enough money to invest who don’t?Report

              • Avatar Kazzy says:

                I don’t mean to keep answering for Jason, but my thoughts are this…

                Progressives might invest but, as I allude to below, they don’t invest AS progressives… or seeking some progressive agenda. My hunch would be that progressives invest in stocks with relatively equal frequency to other groups once you control for income and profession and all that. If there is a gap, I’d likely attribute it to progressives gravitating towards fields of employment that are not as tied into investing, thus making it something for which they do not see the immediate value of.

                If I am right in this regard, then I suppose my question to Jason would be why he is signaling out progressives? My hunchy answer to that question is that progressives, true progressives, do not come to the ideology light. It is pretty easy to decide if you are left or right, liberal or conservative. But ideologies like progressivism, libertarianism, and socialism take an active effort and knowledge to understand and align one’s self with… I mean, I don’t even REALLY know what progressivism is. So if someone identifies as progressive and does so earnestly, they are already likely more principled and involved in thinking about and supporting a political ideology than the average Joe, thus the higher standard.Report

      • Avatar Russell M says:

        because the stain on my soul can not be washed off by any amount of money.(not that i think PM as it is now is inherently evil. when they were lying about the addictive potential of nicotine and the health effects, yeah but we now have gov warning on every pack that the cancer sticks can, surprise surprise, give you cancer. Selling people things that are bad for them while you are telling them is it bad for them is not evil. That’s just good marketing I believe.)

        but good question. I don’t have an answer for those who do not believe in the soul or an afterlife.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP says:

        Why would anyone buy Altria? It was trading around 30 ten years ago, it’s trading at 33.69 now. Why would even the most cynical investor want to own MO in the first place? It’s a tricksy equity: highly taxed, highly regulated yet still its customers go on buying the product.

        An MO buy at this point would be like investing in a hypothetical Charleston Slaveco in 1820. Slaves were still being legally sold and if importation had been restricted, there were plenty of second generation slaves to be sold and demand was increasing. But enough signs were already visible, revealing the nation was sick of the slave trade.

        Unlike Charleston Slaveco, where demand was increasing, cigarette smokers are slaves to their habit but demand is decreasing: it does tend to kill its consumers with statistical probability. Altria diversified away from tobacco products. The market for tobacco will never completely go away, so I might rate Altria a long-term hold: no amount of regulation and taxation will drive the price below 30, but coupled with that stability is no real hope of price gains, especially with a product which kills its customers. Altria did declare a dividend, trying to keep its long-term stockholders happy but it doesn’t justify a big buy.

        What drives you to beg these questions? Why don’t you ask why Liberals/Progressives would decide not to buy Altria (née Philip Morris). It might not be “because they are an evil manufacturer of cigarettes.” And if we don’t want to be a part of it, wouldn’t it make more sense to ask why we don’t want to be a part of that instead of begging the question?

        Capitalism isn’t evil. It’s amoral. Get that straight in your mind about us. Only naifs would paint capitalists as bogeymen. Just stop it, okay? You aren’t “asking” us anything with these begged questions. I’ve already pointed out how this Progressive predicted a rise in HAL, another of these supposedly [hangs pairs of fingers to each side of his head] “evil” companies — and thus turned that rise into a large donation to Katrina relief.

        If anyone is going to profit, why isn’t it you? You so smaht, why you no rich?Report

        • Avatar cfpete says:

          “Why would anyone buy Altria? It was trading around 30 ten years ago, it’s trading at 33.69 now.”

          Buying 10 shares of MO ten years ago @ 34.29 = 342.90

          Gives you (today) 10 shares of MO @ 33.95 = 339.50
          7 shares of MDLZ @ 28.56 = 199.92
          3 shares of KRFT @ 51.02 = 153.06
          Total = 692.48
          You more than doubled your money in 10 years; (not including dividends) you have an appox. 7.3% annual return.

          Progressives could have bought out MO, shut down the tobacco business, spun off the food companies and sold the remaining MO stake in SABMiller while still making a small profit.Report

  29. Avatar Kazzy says:

    Personally, I think the answer is obvious… and is nothing unique to progressives…

    It is easier to talk the talk than walk the walk. It is far easier to sit around with like-minded friends and bang the table about progressive/liberal/libertarian/conservative/whatever ideas than to actually take action to see them realized. Couple that with the financial risks that come with investing with goals beyond balancing risk and return (for whatever balance the individual seeks) and you have a recipe for people quite literally not putting their money where their mouth is.Report

    • Avatar Chris says:

      This is true: as with any political group, the ratio of progressives who do anything to promote progressive causes to the number of progressives who talk a good talk is small. “Hey, I recycle and buy only organic vegetables. What else do you want me to do? Attend shareholders meetings in Boise or something?”Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        More broadly, my guess is that political ideology goes out the window when it comes to money management. Rather than falling into different political groupings, folks probably separate out based on being good or bad at it, or simply whether or not they even do it (with a gentle reminder not to necessarily conflate those two groups… there are people who might be good with money but without enough of it to invest… and there are people who have tons to invest and do so poorly).Report

        • Avatar Chris says:

          What’s more, and this is more of a direct answer to Jason’s question, I don’t think most people, progressive or otherwise, understand how publicly traded companies work well enough to know that, if they buy stock, and if they buy stock collectively with other people who think like they do, they can influence the directions that a company takes. I’d bet that even most people who own stock think of the management of companies as separate from the “owning” of companies via stocks.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy says:

            If I remember the financial planning class I took in high school properly, aren’t their different types of stock which confer different amounts/degrees/types of management?

            FWIW, since it seems relevant, I do remember a movement at my college (a major Jesuit institution) to engage in “socially responsible investing” with their endowment, arguing that our investments should mirror our espoused Jesuit values.Report

    • Avatar North says:

      I suppose the same point would apply to conservatives. Corporate america is generally pretty friendly to gays for instance. Why don’t social cons buy lots of stock and force the corporations to stop being so socially liberal?Report

  30. Avatar Recovered Republican says:

    You’re fucking joking, right?

    The majority of the stock that the non-ultra-rich can get their hands on is nonvoting stock. They don’t really get to control it or vote with it. If it’s in a 401(k), chances are it is in through a mutual fund of some sort that strips their voting power or another similar arrangement.

    The richest get to buy stocks at major discounts. THEY get stock options. THEY get stock perks. They get stocks paid to them as part of the compensation packages. Not only that they have the critical amount of money to play with diversified investments and create situations where it’s impossible for them to really “lose” that money. Stock went down? Simply don’t exercise that stock option, put the money elsewhere. REAL PEOPLE, the ones you are insisting would somehow be able to play on an even field, don’t have stock options to play with.

    The game is fucking rigged and you ask why those who are just trying to save enough for retirement aren’t going all in with their entire life savings on #50 in the roulette wheel?Report

    • Avatar Kim says:

      Dude. I’ve had stock options. They’re not hard to get if you’re willing to be your own fucking broker.

      401ks are for losers.

      Bear Raids are what keeps most small-time investors from actually earning money.

      Totally agree with you about the hedging.Report

    • Avatar Russell M says:

      the language here seems wayyyy out of line.Report

  31. Avatar Chris says:

    Here’s a thing I don’t get: Why aren’t way more progressives putting money into the stock market, and then politicizing the hell out of it?

    I hear again and again that capital is eating up all the returns in this country. For the last few years that’s certainly been true. Well, do you want a piece of that? Buy stocks.

    I’ll add another answer: I’m not sure these two paragraphs are compatible. That is, it’s not clear to me that one can politicize the hell out of the stock market and then still hope to have a piece of the massive profits, because those profits don’t come from politically-oriented business practices, but from profit-oriented business practices.Report

  32. Nob Akimoto Nob Akimoto says:

    Out of serious curiosity…

    Is phrasing something like: “(Yes, it would mean becoming capitalists. Perhaps this is what makes it objectionable?)

    Meant to invoke charity in interpretation?

    I think the post itself brought up a question that probably would be clarified more often, but I do think there was a bit of a snarkfest going into the post that’s hard to interpret as anything other than defensively.Report

    • Avatar Recovered Republican says:

      He doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I’m learning to count on that from libertarians.

      He doesn’t know the difference between real people who don’t have an extra few thousand dollars a month or more to throw into some stock account, and the people who are working paycheck to paycheck and trying to put enough away on the side at 50 to 100 dollars per month to get a little into an emergency fund or put aside for college for their kids.

      I bet he doesn’t have kids and has never lived a real world lifestyle.Report

      • Avatar Kazzy says:

        “I bet he doesn’t have kids and has never lived a real world lifestyle.”

        You’re wrong. I know for a fact that Jason has a child and, while I’ve never met him in person, I’m fairly confident he does indeed exist, and is neither a hologram nor living in a virtual world.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

        This comment made me smile.Report

        • Avatar Recovered Republican says:

          So prove me wrong. Or answer my other response above.

          You make a blanket assumption that the average joe working construction and trying to put a little bit aside for emergencies and some small retirement savings is going to get the same stock deals that make the stock market make money for rich people, and I say that’s a load of crap. We can’t get the same deals they get and when we do put money into stocks it’s at a hell of a lot higher risk where we have to go all-in just to start buying in and the moment we lose we lose our shirts. The rich assholes who run the stock market get stock options and get to decide AFTER they know who the winning and losing stocks are which ones to buy and walk away from.

          The system is fucking rigged, that is why the real working joes who work for an honest living instead of sitting on their asses in ivory towers don’t just go all-in on the stock market like you insist we should. Answer that point.Report

          • Avatar Kim says:

            Buying insurance on your stocks is fucking rigged. The big companies are so desperate they’re literally illegally stealing from small time investors.Report

      • Avatar Chris says:

        This blog, and the world, would be a better place if no one ever said “Members of POLITICAL GROUP X do/don’t do/know about/don’t know about/are all/are never Y” again. Such statements (and again, this thread began with one, so you reap what you sew) are pretty much worthless as conversation starters, and they assume a sort of essentialism that just doesn’t inhere in social categories. I mean, we’re talking about large, diverse groups, defined more by family resemblances than a set of necessary and sufficient criteria. Pretending otherwise gets us nowhere.

        That said, all libertarians think killing kittens with knives formed from the extracted teeth of puppies is a good thing.Report

      • Avatar Kim says:

        Exactly. Jason’s never been given an offer he can’t afford to turn down… if you know what I mean. He’s never been blackmailed into working for someone… or kidnapped, or forced into a job that he hates, because his boss is a scary motherfucker who’ll… oh, what was that term… “cut you”? He’s never been intentionally poisoned on the job, or been given an impossible task, because it Must Be Done or everyone loses their jobs.Report

  33. This thread has gotten way too meta. I’m shutting it down.Report