Morning Ed: Economics {2018.03.29.Th}

[Ec1] As it turns to markets, things may be turning around in Argentina. I have three foreign leaders on my screensaver slideshow: May, Macron, and Macri.

[Ec2] If your “Case Against Google” leans heavily on the anti-trust case against Microsoft having had a positive effect by spurring innovation, you’re not going to convince me.

[Ec3] Asher Schechter makes the case that mergers are bad for innovation. This is an area where my views have drifted left to some degree. On the other hand… it actually makes a good deal of sense if the prospect of getting bought out by big companies encourages people to innovate with small ones.

[Ec4] Philip Berne argues that Samsung should ditch Android. They’re #1, but I’m skeptical their hold is that strong. It would be good news for LG and HTC, though.

[Ec5] When unemployment rates get low enough, employers eventually start re-evaluating hiring practices. Though it seems perhaps some, of course, start lobbying the government for foreign workers so that they might not have to.

[Ec6] Creative destruction requires destruction. Otherwise, you get graphing calculators.

[Ec7] How pharmaceutical company Novartis is bribing docs for prescriptions. All we ever got is coffee mugs and t-shirts, so I can only assume my wife is honest.

[Ec8] Chelsea Follett writes of the sexist origins of socialism. Meanwhile, Kristian Niemietz argues the distinction between Nordic social democrats and socialists.

[Ec9] Economics, globalism, and the fall of Troy.


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83 thoughts on “Morning Ed: Economics {2018.03.29.Th}

  1. Ec9 – I love Bronze Age Collapse takes. It’s a subject I literally knew nothing about until a couple years ago. (So I really don’t know if this take is good or not)

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    • I knew a little but hadn’t really thought of it from that angle.

      Given that Passover starts tomorrow night, I couldn’t help thinking of the Joseph story when reading the references to Egypt having grain while the rest of the world endured famine. While the historicity of the story is certainly in doubt, the most likely time frame for the Exodus story is generally given as middle to late Bronze Age.

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  2. Ec6: We’ve discussed this before. There is a large ongoing market for calculators that have: (a) exactly “this much” functionality, but no more; (b) a single unchanging user interface; and (c) a perfect emulation running on Windows that can be put up on a classroom display for instruction.

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  3. Ec3: He paints with too big a brush. Some mergers are bad for consumers, some are bad for innovation, some for both. But some do what they promise, and enhance innovation in significant ways by getting technologies to collaborate that would otherwise keep to their corners.

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  4. Ec8:
    Chelsea Follett is absolutely correct. Not only did the Soviet Union slaughter millions of people, they failed to produce sufficient supplies of tampns.

    Kristian Niemietz on the other hand delivers another powerful endorsement of Nordic style economic policies.
    Is there anyone who thinks this is not the way to go?

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  5. Ec8: The first link in Ec8 is bunk and is entirely like how Republicans argue that the Democratic Party are the real racists because of where the parties stood at the Civil War and Reconstruction but ignored every political development since then. There was a conservative reaction to the Industrial Revolution but the conservative reaction had nothing to do with Socialists. The conservative reaction was about preserving the interests of the landed gentry and nobility though and had nothing to with common ownership of the means of production. Part of their argument was that the nobility did care more for the laboring classes than the new factory owners.

    The Socialists were against both the landed nobility and the emergent classes of business owners. They were radical on issues of gender relations from the start by being early adopters of female suffrage and the idea that women should work outside the home and be free from the burdens of the domesticity cult of the Victorian Era. Socialists also advocated for free love. What Chelsea Folsett is doing is a nasty bit of slight of hand by conflating the two critiques of capitalism in one.

    Niemietz’s argument also involves distortions in the historical record. During the late 19th century, socialists split on how they could achieve socialism. The Democratic Socialists believed that socialism could be achieved through electoral politics once a true universal franchise was achieved because working people would vote in their interests. The Revolutionary Socialists believed that only a violent over throw of the system could achieve socialism regardless of how many people could vote. Revolutionary Socialists adopted the moniker Communist after the Bolsheviks achieved power in Russia. Democratic Socialists started to call their parties Social Democratic or Labor Parties. Social Democracy comes from a debate on how you can achieve socialism with the Social Democrats believing that you can do so non-violently.

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    • There were, as you point out, a lot of different reactions to the Industrial Revolution from various viewpoints.

      Follett makes the mistake of compressing vast history into simple bilateral factions, then overlaying contemporary political definitions onto historical factions and figures who would reject contemporary politics outright.

      It is also as I have mentioned before, using a sort of economic determinism. As in, assuming that had the October Revolution gone the other way, Russia under the Czar would have somehow blossomed into freedom and prosperity.

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      • The Tsar was out by February and the from what I’ve read, the Provisional government made the same mistake that the writers of the Weimar Constitution made with the Reichspresident, they basically gave the President the powers of an Emperor but change the title and hope being democratically elected would be good enough. There is a lot of ink spilling on how Russia would be like without the Bolsheviks. Revisionists argue that Russia was on the way towards constitutional monarchy and a more prosperous economy and society by 1913. They seem to have statistics on their side. Russia did do well economically under the last Tsars and living standards did increase.

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        • True that.
          The Russians did pretty well under the Communists as well.
          Compare the living standards of a Russian peasant in 1918 to one in 1988 and it shows a tremendous improvement.

          What I find interesting is that in some alternate timeline where the Czar survived, wouldn’t Russia look an awful lot like it does today?

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          • Let’s ask the question about 1988.

            In some alternate timeline where the Czar survived, would Russia in 1988 be identical to what our Russia was like in 1988?

            My answer is “No… No. Hell, no.”

            Given that I know that the Russia of 1988 is significantly different, I find the argument that both very different Russias would have magically ended up in pretty much the same place over the next 30 years to require some demonstrating.

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              • Do you disagree?

                Putin seems to have Czarist levels of power, yes.

                But I also know that Czarist levels of power from the early 1900’s evolved a certain way out in the wild and ended up in a very different place 100 years later.

                The argument that we’re where we are now is exactly where we would have been without the Soviet system is one that needs a little more support before I am willing to buy into it.

                It seems more likely to me that the Soviet system arrested the development of the country to the point where, only now, they’re getting back to where they were when Rasputin was a thing.

                Minus the “Ras”, of course.

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            • [insert shruggy face emoji here]

              Maybe!

              Looking at Russian history, they cycled from good Czars to bad Czars, times of peace and prosperity to times of horror and misery.
              It is easy to envision how the Czar may have died, only to result in a catastrophic power struggle resulting in essentially Stalinism.

              What conservative critics of Communism got right is that the Communist leaders replicated the abuses of power and class hierarchy of the Czars, just with different faces.
              Russian people behaved like Russian people, and the resources and wealth was transferred upwards just like it always had. A Soviet commissar was in a place equivalent to a minor noble in the imperial era.
              Or maybe the Czar would have gradually transitioned, Gorbachev-like, to something less abusive and the horrors of Stalin might not have happened.

              But that example itself is enlightening. After the fall of Communism, all sorts of wonderful futures were imagined for Russia, only to have it return once again to a cold authoritarian regime.

              So it seems reasonable to conclude that regardless of how the Revolution turned out, the future for those people was going to be pretty grim.

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              • So I guess cultural differences would prevent something like a parliamentary system with a figurehead crowned-head, kind of like what the UK more-or-less has? That’s kind of what I envisioned had not the Russian revolution occurred the way it did but maybe I’m overly optimistic sometimes.

                Also the fact that Alexi or whatever he was called was hemophiliac would have been a problem if he had ascended to the throne in 1925 or so. My understanding was that his case was particularly severe, also. And there seems not have been much will to promote one of the daughters, even though there was apparently a historical precedent for a female ruler. (Then again, I know precious little about Russian history, mostly just what I saw in “Dr. Zhivago” and what I know about the tsarevich’s hemophilia from teaching about it in biology….)

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                • Nations are like people, in that they make decisions, which can lead to a chain of consequences, sort of like Its A Wonderful Life.

                  I can imagine the weak Romanov Czar dying young, and replaced by a more modern pragmatic figure leading to a slow decades long liberalization to become like Spain after Franco.

                  Equally so, I can imagine after the disastrous WWI and subsequent Bolshevik uprising, the aristocracy turning in desperation to a White version of Lenin, leading to a White Stalin who would Make The Rabble Obey.

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                • The Tsars really believed in their hereditary right to rule Russia absolutely. More than any other monarchy in Europe, they didn’t want to concede any power to the people regardless of how minor. Even after the 1905 Revolution led to an elected Duma, Tsar Nicholas II did everything he could to ignore it.

                  Regarding cultural factors, its important to remember that Russia wasn’t a homogeneous state with shared national history and culture but a mass of different people, religions, cultures, and customs with different relationships to the Romanov Dynasty. Large parts of what made up the Russian Empire were colonies in all but name and only ruled by the Romanovs since the 19th century. Other parts were were under Romanov Dynasty until the 1613 when the dynasty started.

                  Russia consisted of big Western cities like St. Petersburg, Warsaw, and Moscow with educated populations and nomadic tribesman with no education. Good luck trying to cobble that into a constitutional monarchy when the monarch didn’t want any limitation.

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                • See my reply to fillyjonk.

                  Lenin and Stalin somehow managed to find millions of Russians who were eager and willing to kill millions of other Russians.

                  These murderous people weren’t the invention of Bolshevism, they weren’t created out of whole cloth. They were already there, ready and willing to do what was asked of them.

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                  • And just as, the Czarist regime could have made different decisions, so could the Bolsheviks.
                    It wasn’t predestined that Lenin emerged on top, or that Stalin come to power.
                    After the fall of the Romanovs, half a dozen different factions could have emerged and led things in different ways.

                    But as ever, my opinion is that these people were really just squabbling over who got the loot and who was to get shot.
                    I don’t see any liberal democracy emerging, for at least decades. But also, the size and number of people who died could have varied wildly.

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                      • I think that would be the most probable outcome of the combination a catastrophic waste of life in WWI and a near-successful revolution.

                        Not predestined, but likely.

                        Again referencing the rise of Hitler, its often imagined that “but for Hitler” things would have been great.

                        Germany, like most of the European powers after WWI was deeply traumatized, humiliated and impoverished, its society ripped apart by savage factionalism and collapse of the old order.

                        The Great War was really the death of the 19th century and the monarchy itself. No nation escaped unscathed, and the general faith in monarchy itself was destroyed without a new idea firmly in place to replace it.

                        Something Bad was going to happen one way or another.

                        The scale and extent and resolution of this Bad Thing was variable, but of all the possible timelines, one where everyone just lived in happiness and harmony after the Armistice was extremely unlikely.

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                        • I think I’m willing to go down this road of “there are only historical forces moving different cultures and individual events don’t matter much, really” with you.

                          But I admit that I suspect that I’ll find myself alone on this road tomorrow when we start discussing immigration or similar.

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          • I think you’d have to look critically at how a Czarist regime might evolve in the face of global pressure as compared to the strident ideologies and demagoguery of the communists.

            How have other monarchies evolved over time?

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            • I watched that show Berlin Babylon on Netflix, set in 1929 Germany.
              One of the plot threads was a conspiracy of German aristocrats and generals to restore the Kaiser to the throne and overthrow the Weimar Republic.

              Imagine that timeline had the conspiracy succeeded!

              Imagine WWII, where a revanchist Kaiser seeks to avenge the humiliation of 1918.

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              • I never feel like I am enough of a student of history to play the alternate timeline game when the point of divergence is before my own life, too many moving parts that I am certainly not aware of and thus not considering.

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              • @richard-hershberger

                While the show does some embellishment, this fact was absolutely right. The German conservatives and Army Officers did believe in the “stabbed in the back” myth and that they could have won WWI if it wasn’t for those treacherous social democrats (most of whom were suspect for being Jewish as well). They did want the Kaiser to return to the throne.

                Weimar was destroyed from the far left and the far right in a Pincer attack

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            • The problem with the Czars is that they also were beholden to “strident ideologies and demagoguery”. In this case, their strident ideology was absolute monarchy. Nicholas II was tutored and surrounded by true believers in absolute monarchy. He believed in absolute monarchy.

              It is true that he instituted the Doma following the 1905 revolution. It is also true that he dissolved the Doma numerous times for pressing social and democratic reforms that he did not like.

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            • The Japanese Monarchy only changed because the U.S. forced them too at the end of WWII. The Japanese worked really hard to save the monarchy as much as possible until the Americans got frustrated and decided to ignore them. See Embracing Defeat: Japan at the End of WWII by John Dower.

              The English Monarchy and possibly the Nordic ones seem to have seen the winds of change coming and went along with it relatively gracefully compared to other places.

              Juan Carlos in Spain was smart enough to make himself a figurehead monarch when Franco announced him as a successor.

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              • The English monarchy didn’t so much “see the winds of change coming” as get thoroughly spanked by the American Revolution and inherited insanity, leaving a vacuum Parliament was happy to fill. Although the Brits have also had a contentious relationship with their monarchs dating back to at least the Magna Carta.

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                • It is a very complicated story. England is an island which meant that the English Monarchs always had a much lower need for a big royal army than their continental counterparts. That left them historically holding a somewhat weaker hand vs their feudal vassals and citizenry et all than the continental equivalents had. And yeah they had the Magna Carta, several revolutions and Oliver Cromwell on their collective minds. George V felt his way around the shifting norms very gingerly but that set the stage for his second son who in turn passed that attitude down to HRM who’s been sorting it out ever since.
                  I mean, grading on the curve, the English Monarchs have done a decent job of surfing the waves of history when you consider how many of their peers ended up dethroned or drowned by it.

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                • This is unduly simplified. The trends reducing the power of the British monarch began long before the the American Revolution, and did not reach their conclusion for another century.

                  To grasp the power of the British king of George III’s time, look to the US Constitution. The powers of the President map those of the king pretty closely. This did not go unnoticed at the time, which explains a lot of the freak-out at the time.

                  In particular, foreign policy was the king’s purview. This was not unrestricted, with Parliament holding the power of the purse, but he had a long leash to do what he wanted.

                  This pattern more or less held for the next century, to Victoria’s reign. Then she got distracted after Albert died, and simply stopped. Parliament filled the power vacuum, bringing us to the modern monarchy.

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                  • Hmn. I will cheerfully cop to that – I *was* oversimplifying, mostly out of laziness and a little bit out of playfulness, but I do think you have to look at shifting relationships with their North American colonies as part of the British monarchy’s power decline.

                    How do you fit Canada’s polite but firm self-removal to a separate dominion, merely 55 years after the war of 1812, into the narrative you outline here? In my view, it had a lot to do with the monarchy having already learned they didn’t want to fight that fight. They let all THOSE subjects walk away from anything other than a ceremonial, constitutional monarchy without even much of a squabble.

                    It was the phrase “see the winds of change coming” that I was objecting to, as if the British monarchy was somehow wiser and more forward-thinking than other such monarchies, rather than plagued by feisty colonials and familial ill-health, not the idea of a gradual shift.

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                    • I confess that my knowledge of Canadian history is not what it ought to be, so I am making this up. That said, I suspect that the US would have been only to happy to intervene in an armed conflict between Britain and Canada, perhaps deciding to simply keep Canada in the process: third time’s a charm, after all.

                      I belong to the school that holds that the War of 1812 was more important than is usually credited. In the US imagination it is reduced to a few frigate actions and the defense of Baltimore. I suspect that the Canadian imagination gives more play to their being invaded. Again in the American imagination, the reasons for the war in the first place are a bit vague, and the conclusion indeterminate.

                      My take is that the underlying question was whether Britain could treat the US as a banana republic. While in theory all sovereign nations are equally sovereign, in practice we all know this isn’t true. Britain, as a side issue of the Napoleonic Wars, treated the US as less than fully sovereign. Whether or not this was justified is beside the point. The US’s declaration of war was a push back against this.

                      Most of the war was pretty half-assed. the US army did, well, poorly. Those frigate actions stand out as rare examples of US armed forces doing well. The defense of Baltimore was not nothing, but it also wasn’t a serious invasion by the British. It was a reconnaissance in force. They kept going until they met serious resistance, then left.

                      The British signed the Treaty of Ghent because they had more important things to worry about, not because they regarded the dispute as concluded. The widespread assumption is that they would come back for another round after Napoleon was taken care of once and for all. What changed? The Battle of New Orleans. This tends to be treated as this weird coda to the war, what with its occurring after the treaty was signed. To the contrary, it arguably was the most important battle of the war, because an American army beat a British army in a reasonably even, formal stand-up fight. This made the idea of coming back for more less appealing. It removed the assumption that this unfinished business could be finished pretty cheaply, when the time came.

                      Jump forward to the Civil War era and the idea of the British army fighting the US army in North America is frankly absurd. All that Civil War stuff was about the British navy intervening, not about hordes of redcoats appearing on the battlefield.

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              • What the Japanese were trying to save was the Meiji Constitution, which gave real actual power to the Japanese Emperor. The Americans did not want Japan ruled by monarch with real actual power but they long decided not to force a republic on Japan. The Americans stripped the Japanese monarchy of most ceremonial power though, so the Emperor isn’t even sovereign.

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      • As notes below, political ideologies often contain a suite of ideas, which can be broken apart and reshuffled in various ways.

        In the past few decades in America, leftist thought was a suite that encompassed economic socialism, feminism, gay rights, and environmentalism.

        But of course, this wasn’t always the case. The various Communist governments of the 20th century didn’t give a rip about environmental concerns or gay rights, and as the history of 2017 shows, nationalist fascism can easily be paired with acceptance of gay rights and socialised factors of production too.

        So yeah, Marx himself had retrograde ideas about women which is an astounding revelation to…no one really.

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          • Keynes figured the atrocities of the Soviet Union were due to inherent racial characteristics of Russians and (for some reason) Jews. It does not follow that racial essentialism and non-sequitur antisemitism are inherent tenets of Keynesianism.

            Darwin thought the working conditions of poor factory workers in England were just fine and required no particular social reform. It does not follow that opposition to a welfare state or labour condition reforms is an inherent tenet of Darwinism.

            Hitler ate a vegetarian diet. It does not follow that vegetarianism is an inherent tenet of Nazism.

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              • While I’ll readily admit that I don’t have the moral high ground that Lefties do, I’m still pretty sure that Leftism evolves and morphs and something that is essential to it today will, it turns out, not be essential to it tomorrow. Something that is pretty unfashionable today will, surprisingly, be something that you will have to parrot tomorrow lest you be accused of being called “not a *TRUE* lefty!” tomorrow.

                And it’s not trolling to notice such things.

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              • Yep, that slope sure is slippery. How do all those folks manage to stand at the top of it?

                A useful determining factor would probably be whether the idea under consideratoin shows up in the influential published works of the author within their field

                – not at all (e.g. only known by way of private letters or essays outside of their field of specialization)

                – once or twice in passing

                – elaborated carefully over several book chapters or entire books within the field of specialization, and included by citation in subsequent works

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                • How do all those folks manage to stand at the top of it?

                  Do they?

                  A useful determining factor would probably be whether the idea under consideratoin shows up in the influential published works of the author within their field

                  Well, we can always discuss “interpretation” at that point. “What he *REALLY* meant was” and so on.

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                  • Well, we can always discuss “interpretation” at that point. “What he *REALLY* meant was” and so on.

                    That’s useful in cases where it’s politically impossible to admit that the belief system is evolving in any way other than “coming closer to what the founder really meant”. Christian sects with wildly differing ideas all claiming to be the ones who really get the “message of Christ” are a good example of that.

                    Keynesians or Marxists or Darwinians are mostly not bound by a stricture against acknowledging that the system’s founder was ever wrong about anything.

                    So they are free to acknowledge the changes over time within the belief system as “the founder had some really good ideas in this area, but some pretty dreadful ones (albeit perhaps commonplace in their time, place, and social situation) in that area. So as we learn stuff, we don’t adhere to the founders idea about that subject.”

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                • Also – in what field of study does the *ism operate? Is this idea under consideration that was held or expounded by *, within the field in which *ism operates?

                  Newton’s significant contributions to modern life are in the fields of physics and mathematics. Something like 10% of his surviving writings are in the field of alchemy, but they’re not considered part of Newtonian physics.

                  Darwinism and the conditions of factory workers operate in different fields.

                  Keynesianism and the characteristics of the Jewish people operate in different fields.

                  Marxism and the proper place of women are closer together than the above examples, but not so much as Marxism and, say, the proper ownership of the modes of production.

                  Alsotoo the views of the founder are not necessarily the views of the school of thought as it currently operates. See e.g. Christianity. Or, you know, “Democrats are the real racists”.

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    • A lot of people get confused about how issues are packaged together. A modern American who espouses socialism is more likely to be a Democrat than a Republican. A modern American who espouses feminism is similarly more likely to be a Democrat than a Republican. That doesn’t mean that socialism and feminism necessarily come as a set, and it even more doesn’t mean that we should expect them to be a set at some arbitrary point in the past.

      A great example of how issues get reshuffled is that in the mid-19th century America the abolitionists were also prohibitionists (though not necessarily the other way around). This seems a weird combination today, but study the history of Evangelical Protestantism in it pre-millennial version and it makes perfect sense.

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      • A lot of people are simply concern trolls. Most men in the 19th century had horribly regressive ideas regarding gender. I can easily find examples of 19th century capitalists and others expressing sexist-sentiments. But what we have is people who dislike the current fascination their cohort have with “socialism” and go cherry picking for quotes to make the original socialists look bad because they were products of their time and space.

        So it is as Lee says “Look socialists are the real sexists!!!”

        It says a lot about the current state of the right that they always need to and/or can’t resist relying on concern trolling to advocate for their cause.

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  6. Vaguely socialism related – Paypal is blocking sales of the pamphlet The Struggle Against Imperialism and for Workers’ Power in Iran – likely just over some silly keyword search for the word ‘Iran’ as a token measure to comply with sanctions.

    In the past though, when Paypal auto-blocked sales of a book of photographs by Iranian photographers, they quickly reversed the ban and publicly apologized. This time though, they’re refusing to budge, and even refusing to explain themselves unless forced to under subpoena. It does sound like that response comes from pretty low down on the totem pole. Probably the 2013 public apology and making things right response came from much higher up the ladder – but hey, why let that get in the way of interpreting this as part of a systematic state-corporate censorship scheme?

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    • 1930’s? That era’s minimum wage laws were expressly designed to keep non-whites from taking jobs away from whites.

      In 1925, a minimum-wage law was passed in the Canadian province of British Columbia, with the intent and effect of pricing Japanese immigrants out of jobs in the lumbering industry.

      A Harvard professor of that era referred approvingly to Australia’s minimum wage law as a means to “protect the white Australian’s standard of living from the invidious competition of the colored races, particularly of the Chinese” who were willing to work for less.

      In South Africa during the era of apartheid, white labor unions urged that a minimum-wage law be applied to all races, to keep black workers from taking jobs away from white unionized workers by working for less than the union pay scale.

      Some supporters of the first federal minimum-wage law in the United States — the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931 — used exactly the same rationale, citing the fact that Southern construction companies, using non-union black workers, were able to come north and underbid construction companies using unionized white labor.

      https://nypost.com/2013/09/17/why-racists-love-the-minimum-wage-laws/

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        • What mechanism prevented them from hiring nonwhite people and paying them the minimum wage?

          It’s the land of “Plessy v. Ferguson” with Brown still decades away. To answer your question, the short answer is “nothing”… but blacks were presumably much cheaper for good reason.

          If nothing else, just interacting with the rest of society would be much easier for white workers (meaning yes, America was *that* racist).

          The more interesting question is whether the min wage has an outsized effect on minorities today and is still being used to shield expensive whites from cheap blacks. How much of the minority youth unemployment rate is from this as opposed to other things.

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  7. [Ec4] Doesn’t make a lick of sense.

    Being crappy about updating the phone’s OS has nothing to do with whether it’s Android or not. Samsung does a crap job of that with their Android phones. Xiaomi does a decent job of it on both their own phones and their Android roll for other vendors’ phones. LineageOS nee Cyanogenmod does a fantastic job on their roll of the OS for other vendors’ phones. It’s all about corporate decisions, not whether an OS is Android based.

    If you think Samsung is crappy about updates now, when all they have to do is take the updates from upstream and roll them downstream into their builds, just wait until they have to develop the updates from scratch.

    The rest of the article is similarly or more bunk.

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  8. @michael-cain will Truman and and bait.

    A look at why it takes 15 years and 32 million to build a public library in NYC:

    http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2018/03/how-can-it-take-15-years-and-usd32m-to-build-a-local-library.html

    On the one hand, Bloomberg’s Design and Construction Excellence program might create nice buildings that last as opposed to brutalism of Mayor Lindsay:

    It’s tempting to blame the Design and Construction Excellence program’s roster of fancy architects for mucking up the journey from wish list to ribbon-cutting. If instead of getting bogged down in elaborate designs, the city simply threw together Costco-like warehouses, surely they could churn out new libraries like widgets. A previous generation did exactly that, packing libraries into cheaply built, glum sheds known as “Lindsay boxes.” We are now paying the price for that approach, as roofs crumble and ventilation systems fail and the interiors reach new nadirs of shabbiness. By contrast, the century-old Carnegie libraries have proven beloved and rugged.

    On the other hand it is city politics that might add to the cash costs:

    In the end, the problem of how to build good public architecture briskly and frugally has little to do with design and everything to do with bureaucracy. Virtually no one feels the urgency or has the clout to reform a sclerotic system. Holl’s office keeps a color-coded chart of all the cast members who have been involved with the Hunters Point project over the years, and it’s a chronicle of churn. Employees at the various city agencies come and go, and learning curves need to be climbed over and over again.

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    • Awww, you like me, you really, really do!

      As much as I really want to tear into this, I think I’ll defer to Chip, since he probably has way more experience and insight into this kind of thing.

      I will say that there is probably a sweet spot regarding the number of effective stake holders in a project such that the job gets done as efficiently as possible while making sure that the community feels some amount of ‘ownership’ in it (rather than the project simply being an edifice of some politician or bureaucrat’s ego). I don’t know that our political process is very interested in trying to find that sweet spot.

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      • What I like about this article is that it presents a nuanced and complicated view. On the one hand, building fast and cheap is bad because you create buildings that depress nearly everyone* and end up falling apart earlier. But there is so much churn and shareholder issue for the fancy projects.

        *It turns out design and aesthetics matter for a variety of reasons. I partially wonder if the brutalist push was to get people to not use the library.

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        • IMHO, brutalism doesn’t make you not want to use the library, it makes you not want to linger in it. Get in, get what you need, and get out. Great way to keep the homeless/vagrants from hanging around the place and making the taxpaying users feel uncomfortable.

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          • And yet the brutalist library I grew up in, and the one where I went to college, and the one I worked in for six years, were all heavily populated, heavily beloved, and full of all kinds of people (homeless or not) inhabiting them for hours and hours at a time.

            It’s almost as though there is something other than the brutalism making the difference between which libraries are welcoming and which aren’t.

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            • Didn’t say it worked very well. Homeless folks will seek shelter regardless of the architecture, and most librarians want people to linger, even if others do not. Motivated employees can be quite creative when it comes to creating those little touches that make people feel welcome.

              Also, Maribou, you’ve been posting comments as moderator that I don’t think you intend to be moderator comments. Thought you should know.

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              • FWIW, I didn’t mean to be complaining about you saying that, more just… I dunno. We’ve probably talked about this before, but I grew up with and have always been around brutalist buildings, mixed in with all the other eras, and I just… don’t find them anti-human. Whatever that cold, depressing, miserable feeling is that other people get from them… I don’t feel that.

                So I’m always skeptical of any suggestions that the architects (or whomever) were actually trying to push people away.

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        • Thanks for the link.
          It was a wonderfully nuanced article, and the thumbnail takeaway is that like most disasters, had a lot of authors.
          Partly it is the very nature of bureaucracies to lack urgency, which can sometimes be good in avoiding hasty mistakes, but often just makes sluggish ones instead.
          Ironically, I have seen much the same in the private sector- unrealistic budgets, poorly chosen contractors leading to delays which lead to overruns.

          Another is the nature of the building; It was going to be a wildly expensive building with cost overruns no matter how it was delivered; It was by design and intent, a one of a kind prototype which had never been done,with adventurous features and exacting standards.
          A friend of mine is an architect who designs those exotic mansions for tech wizards that cost tens of millions to build. Not one ever was even close to the original budget or schedule.

          And yes, it is a question of incentives; Have any public servants lost their job or office as a result? No? Well, then expect the next one to follow the pattern.

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