Random Forbidden Thoughts

Today, no main theme, just some random forbidden thoughts:

1. Communism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other economic system!

Boosters of capitalism like to say that it has “Raised more people out of extreme poverty than any other system!” They never tire of repeating this claim. But, technically, shouldn’t that distinction really belong to Communism? I mean, not just the Soviet Union and China, which went from essentially feudal monarchies to industrial and military superpowers in the twentieth century, but in the last twenty years or so, China has lifted almost 800 million people out of poverty. And as we all know, China is ruled over by Communists! That’s just a fact.

In other words, technically, we have the Communists to thank for alleviating world poverty!

Now, of course, I’m trying to be a bit provocative here. It’s an effort to “Own the Libs” (i.e. Libertarians).

Now, to deal with the obvious arguments: Capitalists will say that China only became rich when it abandoned doctinaire Communism and embraced Western-style capitalism. And, of course, that’s partially true. But there are a couple of subtle distinctions to be made here.

First, is Chinese “capitalism” anything like what we see in West? If it is, then you’ve got to acknowledge the HUGE role the state plays in it (state capitalism). If it’s not, then you’ve got to admit that “Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics” has done the lion’s share of lifting people out of poverty during the reign of global Neoliberalism, not laissez-faire or Neoliberal austerity as applied in the rest of the developed world.

So you can’t have it both ways. You can’t tout the glories of laizzez-faire Neoliberal night-watchman capitalism AND at the same time tout statistics about global poverty alleviation. That’s completely disingenuous.

Not only that, but you also have to acknowledge that this version of capitalism has little to do with “freedom,” and is, in fact, highly authoritarian. What if it is found that capitalism works better under oppression than under democracy? What then? What will “classical liberals” use to justify their preferred economic arrangments? And will they continue to pretend that the state is somehow not involved in making it work?

What happens if and when capitalism becomes more oppressive than communism ever was?

2. Capitalism in the supermarket aisles

And, speaking of simplistic arguments, one of the other things capitalist boosters always point to are the supermarket shelves overflowing with food. This is tangible proof of capitalism’s superiority, they say, and who can argue with that? There are many stories of Communists defecting to the West and literally falling down weeping the minute they enter a supermarket. I call this the “Capitalism delivers the goods”™ argument. But were those communists of yore really gazing upon the results of the completely unfettered “free market?” Or was it something else entirely?

If you look closely at the products on the shelves, nearly all of them got there in one way or another thanks to extensive government intervention in the economy!

It’s a fact that almost none of the stuff on the supermarket shelves groaning with food got there thanks to the “natural” workings of the free market. Rather, it is a mixture of regulated markets, private and public land ownership, and government intervention that has evolved over time. Furthermore, this hybrid system has evolved without any sort of central planning or conscious top-down design, meaning it—and not “free and unfettered “markets—could be described as the best reflection of the bottom up empirical knowledge so famously touted by the Austrian economists like Mises, Hayek, et. al. It’s the ultimate source of our plentiful, cheap, and affordable food.

So if we’re thankful for the cornucopia we discover every time we enter a supermarket (and we should be), then I think we should drop the idiotic pretension that it’s all down to the “free market” and acknowledge the hybrid system we’ve developed precisely by ignoring free market fundamentalism and its purblind advocates. And maybe we should acknowledge that system and its successes instead of advocating a return to the first principles espoused in Econ 101 which have been shown by experience not to work.

When it comes to the food supply, is there any arena where the completely free market is allowed to operate with no state intervention? Perhaps local farmers markets. But if we really had to depend on those alone for all our groceries, would we have the same level of capitalist plenty to brag about? I mean, even Communist states eventually embraced local farmers markets, gardens and roadside stands. If we had to pay small farmers the true cost of the food they produce, would there be as much gloating by capitalists about our superabundance? After all, some of these same free-market-libertarian capitalists will complain when they have to pay $5.00 for kale or $3.00 for carrots at their local farmers markets. Now Imagine if they had to buy all their groceries that way like their great-grandparents had to. Maybe that would temper their enthusiasm for the free market.

Libertarians love the free market as an intellectual exercise, but they are fortunate that they don’t actually have to live in their imaginary world.

How much it’s really the government that is responsible for our bounty really deserves an entire book written about the topic. I can’t do the subject justice here, but let’s just take a few examples to illustrate the point.

I’ve written before about all the ways dairy (milk, cheese, butter, yogurt, etc.) is regulated and subsidized in the U.S. (I live in Wisconsin, after all). Basically, supply and demand are “smoothed over” by government buying up excess supply to keep prices reasonably high for producers. The excess is eventually sold off if and when prices spike too high for consumers. The end result is that you can buy a gallon of milk for more or less a stable and remarkable cheap price at the supermarket.

But what if that didn’t happen—what if we kicked away all those subsidies as the libertarians advocate? Well, it’s not a theoretical exercise—that’s the way it used to be in the bad old days. What happened was wild price swings, gluts, and oversupply. Then, as dairy farmers went broke and threw in the towel (adding to unemployment), prices rose, so consumers couldn’t afford it anymore. After all, it takes decades to start a functioning dairy farm. It’s not something that can just be ramped up and down at as spot prices dictate in the real world outside of libertarian fantasies.They reason it’s not done that way anymore is because it didn’t work!

Compare that to today where I can reliably expect to walk into my local supermarket and expect to pay about $2.50 for milk year-round. That’s where your bounty comes from. But we all have to pretend it’s all down to the blind workings of the free market and impersonal supply and demand forces thanks to misinformation and ideology promulgated by Econ 101 courses. As David Graeber points out, these are taboos–things that “everybody knows” but no one is allowed to say out loud.

People used to pay a much higher percentage of their income for food. The average worker at the time of the French Revolution spent half their daily wage on bread. That had to be driven down in order to develop a viable consumer economy. Cheap food was a state-driven project to help the capitalists from the beginning. Richard Manning goes into some of the details in his landmark book Against The Grain. He quotes the departing head of agribusiness monolith ADM, Dwayne Andreas, admitting that any CEO dumb enough to think that the free market operates in agriculture is incompetent and should be fired: “[the] Free market is a myth. The reason we don’t call it socialism is that socialism is a bad word.” (p. 144)

Now multiply that by every major commodity you care to imagine, from corn to peanuts to sugar. If you seriously do a deep-dive like a professional agricultural economist would, I’m willing to bet that you find almost nowhere where the free market operates as portrayed in Econ 101 indoctrination textbooks.

Not to mention that one of the things that keep good so artificially cheap for consumers in the U.S. today is explicitly a market failure—monopsony! If I recall correctly, there are only two milk buyers in the United States for dairy farmers to sell their product to, so they can put the squeeze on strapped farmers, transferring the risk from consumer to producer. As I recall, a similar situation exists for beef and pork–only 3-4 companies exist to buy them from the producers, keeping prices artificially low. I’m willing to bet that something similar is true for just about every agricultural product on the shelves today.

My point is that its disingenuous to deploy the “Capitalism delivers the goods”™ argument and point to our current system which exists almost entirely in opposition to free market principles as espoused by libertarian market fundamentalists.

Why does this matter? Because libertarians like to promote a “rugged individualist” approach to life for us wage earners, where no one should ever become “dependent” on government for “handouts.” At the same time, corporate producers are utterly dependent upon handouts–writeoffs and subsidies which we all benefit from–but which we have to pretend don’t exist. This is what is meant when people like me use the phrase “socialism for the rich; capitalism for the poor.”

After all, the government could theoretically do for us workers what it does for dairy–and all the other commodity producers. It could buy up excess labor supply in down times and discharge in it in flush times, keeping the “price” for labor—i.e. wages—high and steady. Instead it does no such thing. It lets labor “find its price” justifying it’s non-interference according to free market principles and dogma.

I first heard this idea espoused by the Australian MMT economist William Mitchell. He used the example of the wool industry in Australia. He called such government subsidies and interventions a “full employment of wool scheme,” which benefited the politically powerful commodity producers, and realized it could just as easily be applied to labor (since labor is commodified under capitalism). This assumes, of course, that government wants high wages and not low ones; that is, it works for the good of society in general and not for the narrow corporate interests who fund political campaigns (who overwhelmingly benefit from bargain basement wages). I think we all know the reality behind that one. But then, isn’t that the real problem we need to solve?

In fact, the whole idea of occupational licensing, as economist Dean Baker often points out, is to keep the supply of the licensed occupations limited, and keep hence wages higher than they otherwise would be in globalized labor markets. That’s why urban, educated “professionals” have not seen their wages crater the way their working class brethren have. Thus, they have an easy time touting the benefits of capitalist free markets.

Which raises another issue:

3. Is the modern nation-state strong or weak???

It’s conventional wisdom that national governments have been hollowed out thanks to globalism. That is, in a globalized world, no single nation state has the power to do much of anything anymore—guarantee high wages, safe working conditions, provide generous social benefits, etc. No nation state can raise taxes on corporations in a globalized world, the argument goes, because transnational corporations can always move their headquarters or shift money abroad beyond the reach of parochial taxing authorities.

The Powers that Be (TPTB) constantly inform us that this is a “historical inevitability” about which nothing can be done, ironically deploying a Marxist-style dialectical materialist argument. The nation-state is a slow-moving dinosaur bound for extinction, they say; the fast-moving globalized corporation has all the real power. It’s simply “the March of Progress,” aided and abetted by technology, and those left behind in the expanding sacrifice zones of the Post-Industrial world must either move, adapt, or be left in the dust.

It leads to what’s been termed the Hollow State. The Hollow State is still a sovereign entity in outward appearance—it still has a standing army, a national legislative body, regulations, circumscribed borders, police, a flag, and so on; but it no longer has any real control over its economic affairs. Instead, that’s been delegated to the anarchic global marketplace and supranational economic institutions beyond the reach of the voting public or local politicians. Countries need to be competitive with the lowest taxes and least amount of regulations anywhere on earth in a neverending race to the bottom. There’s nothing that can be done about this, argue TPTB—it’s as inevitable as the moon or the tides, and besides, it’s already raised millions of people out of poverty! (see topic #1 above).

But a potent counterpoint to this case is made by the same economist I mentioned earlier, Australian William Mitchell, in a powerful book co-written with Thomas Fazi called Reclaiming the State: A Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World. He argues that the state apparatus is still potent, despite what Neoliberals claim, and that it is still the best weapon in the progressive arsenal for systemic reform. He argues that the “weak” state articulated by Neoliberals is really just an illusion. In reality, the state is just as powerful as it ever was, it’s just that the state apparatus has been appropriated by financial institutions and retooled for the benefit of a small circle of transnational business elites rather than the citizenry:

The authors show how neoliberal ideology, in its official anti-State guise, has been little more than a convenient alibi for what has been an essentially political and State-driven project aimed at placing the commanding heights of economic policy in the hands of capital and especially Finance Capital.

Far from neoliberal globalisation making the Nation State out of date, all its key elements were the result of choices deliberately and consciously made by national governments as their ruling elites set out to limit State sovereign rights.

The authors call this a process of “depoliticisation” of policy. Its principal elements were: the reduction of the power of parliaments via-a-vis the executive; making central banks formally independent of government; adopting constitutional limits on debt-to-GDP ratios and public spending, as with the 2012 Stability treaty, thereby limiting what politicians can do at the behest of their voters; enforcing free movement of goods and capital, and, above, all shifting government powers from the national level to the supranational.

‘Reclaiming the State – a Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World’ (Village Magazine)

C. P. Chandrasekhar gives the best one-sentence definition of Neoliberalism I’ve yet seen: “…the framework of measures that preaches market fundamentalism but uses the state to engineer a redistribution of income and assets in favour of finance capital and big business.”

Here’s Mitchell himself, taking on the conventional wisdom espoused by the corporate media and economists in his blog:

Here are a few simple questions to start with:

If the nation state is dead why does Wall Street spend billions of US dollars trying to influence who wins government and once government is decided on influencing the outcome of specific legislation.

Over the period that…the nation state has [supposedly] lost relevance, the total spending in the US on lobbying has gone from $US1.45 billion (1998) to $US3.36 billion (2017) and the number of unique, registered lobbyists who have actively lobbied has risen from 10,404 to 11,502.

Why does “Dark Money” exist? Billions are spent in an effort to influence elections for the ‘nation state’. Why, if the nation state is dead?

[…]

Why do organisations such as the Dow Chemicals spend $US13.6 million lobbying government in 2016, if the state no longer has the capacity to limit their activities?

Why do “Many of the UK’s largest companies shroud their lobbying efforts in secrecy and do not disclose their political engagements to the public or shareholders” and spend billions of pounds lobby government?

Why did “six of the big energy companies” spend “tens of millions of dollars for a climate change denial campaign, despite knowing the claims were false”?

Even though the Greek government surrendered its currency sovereignty upon joining the Eurozone, why did the ECB essentially threaten to bankrupt its financial system in 2016 at the time of the referendum if they didn’t think the government had any legislative capacity to take independent decisions?

Tobacco, gambling, medicines, energy, and the rest – why do they outlay billions to influence government legislation if the state has withered away?

The answers to all these questions are obvious and seem to have evaded …many on the Left who have bought the globalisation has undermined the state hype.

The Left propaganda that the state is powerless – continues (BillyBlog)

I think Mitchell and Fazio’s arguments are pretty potent and deserve consideration for those of us who want to halt or reverse the damage Neoliberalism has wrought on the societies across the world, especially here in the United States.

4. The Left “Has No Ideas”

And while I’m at it, I’d like to give a shout out to the Left Out podcast which I’ve been listening to recently. They’ve been focusing on economics as of late, and here are a few of the interviewees they’ve had on:

Michael Hudson

Steve Keen

Stephanie Kelton

David Harvey

Anne Pettifor

They are hosted by Democracy at Work, which also hosts Richard Wolff’s Economic Update podcast.

Isnt it interesting how the Left supposedly “has no ideas?” At least that’s what we’re told, anyway.

And isn’t it also interesting that you won’t hear any of these public intellectuals—often with prestigious university posts and large followings—in any of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web” podcasts, videos or live events despite its claim to be simply a post-partisan, non-ideological intellectual movement centered wholly around the principle of “free speech”? You hear a lot from the IDW about embracing alternative viewpoints and how the Left wants “safe spaces” and “hates free speech.” Yet it seems to me like there are some opinions that they don’t want more widely disseminated. For example, I wonder if we’ll see them taking up the cause of this silenced individual who was the victim of blatant state censorship:

West Point graduate who wore Che Guevara T-shirt discharged (BBC)

If they do, indeed, do that, it might change my opinion that they are mostly a stalking horse for discredited reactionary ideas like Social Darwinism and Neoliberal economics. I won’t hold my breath.

If you want to know what alternatives there From the article above, the book by Mitchell and Fazio belies the lack of ideas on the Left:

Reclaiming the State analyses the elements of such a nationally-based progressive socio-economic programme – central to which is State control of currency, credit and banking. The authors are confident that in the coming years the growing mass of citizens threatened by the forces of neoliberalism will more and more choose the reality of national democracy, imperfect though it may be, over the fantasy of a democratic global society of atomised individuals, which is the implicit vision of neoliberalism.

They recognise, however, that a compelling socio-economic programme is not enough to enable progressives win the hearts and minds of the people. If the political Left is to become relevant in the form of successful mass political parties again it needs to make its own the rhetoric of nationhood, as Ireland’s James Connolly and countless pioneers of the classical Labour and socialist movements did in their day.

They conclude: “Beyond the centrality of the State from a political-economic point of view, the Left has to come to terms with the fact that for the vast majority of people that do not belong – and never will belong — to the globe- trotting international elite, their sense of citizenship, collective identity and common good is intrinsically and intimately tied to nationhood… In this sense, a progressive vision of national sovereignty should aim to reconstruct and redefine the national State as a place where citizens can seek refuge in democratic protection, popular rule, local autonomy, collective goods and egalitarian traditions, rather than a culturally and ethnically homogenised society. This is also the necessary prerequisite for the construction of a new internationalist world order based on interdependent but independent sovereign States”.

‘Reclaiming the State – a Progressive Vision of Sovereignty for a Post-Neoliberal World’

These economic ideas are already commonly deployed in the service of the military industrial complex, the financial industry, banks and transnational corporations. It’s only us workers and citizens who are told that we must “live within our means” and “tighten our belts.” There’s no reason we can’t lift our own people out of poverty as effectively as the Chinese Communists have been able to.

5. The Battle for Money Has Begun

And speaking of ideas about money, I had meant to write about the various currency and banking reform proposals floating around Europe, but in the interim one was already voted down–the Vollgeld proposal in Austria. The other one is in Italy.

Was that a good thing? I don’t know. It seemed like there were some very good ideas, and some questionable ones. My knowledge of Vollgeld comes mainly from this piece by Martin Wolf in the Financial Times, which makes it seem like a good idea. Given what I know about the private banks’ ability to “create money” and how that leads to handicapping the state and causing speculative bubbles, I’m tending to think that these proposals might be beneficial:

According to a database compiled at the IMF, 147 individual national banking crises occurred between 1970 and 2011. These crises afflicted small and poor countries like Guinea, and big and rich ones, like the US. They were colossally expensive, in terms of lost output, increased public debt and, not least, political credibility. Within just three years from 2007, cumulative output losses, relative to trend, were 31 per cent of gross domestic product in the US. In the UK, the recent crisis imposed a fiscal cost only exceeded by the Napoleonic war and the two world wars…

So how does [the financial/banking] industry create mayhem on this scale? And why is it allowed to do so? It does so — and is allowed to do so — because…banks create money, which is an essential public good, as a byproduct of their lending, which is an important economic good.

We want banks to have risky assets and safe liabilities. Yet the liabilities of a highly leveraged, risk-taking institution cannot be safe and will unavoidably seem least safe during a crisis. Yet it is then that people want their money — their reserve of purchasing power in a frightening world — to be at its safest. Worse, it is often easiest for banks to justify lending more just when they should lend less, because lending creates credit booms and asset-price bubbles, notably in property.

The willingness of the public to treat bank liabilities as stores of safe purchasing power provides stable funding, until panic sets in. To reduce the likelihood of panic, governments insure bank deposits, liquidity and even solvency. That makes crises rarer, but bigger. The authorities are simultaneously supporting banks and reining in the excesses created by support. This is a system designed to fail.
An alternative way to make the system safer is to strip banks of the power to create money, by turning their liquid deposits into “state” or “sovereign” money. That is the idea backed by the Vollgeld initiative.

An alternative way of achieving the same outcome would be via 100 percent backing of deposits by claims on the central bank — an idea proposed by free-market Chicago School economists in the 1930s. The rest of the financial system would then consist mainly of investment banking and mutual funds. The latter shift risk on to the investors automatically. The former might need to be regulated, but mainly on capital…the proposal raises questions about the purposes to which the new sovereign money might be used.

The obvious possibility is to use the money to finance the government. This idea is highly objectionable to some: it would surely create big challenges. Yet those challenges are nothing like as fundamental as was transferring responsibility for a core attribute of the state — the creation of sound money to a favoured set of profit-seeking private businesses, co-ordinated by a price-setting government institution, the central bank. In no other economic area is public power so mixed with private interests…

There are many other ideas in this broad area that seem worth pursuing. One would be to allow every citizen to hold an account directly at the central bank. The technological reasons for branch banking are, after all, perishing quickly…no private institution should have better access to the public’s central bank than the public itself does. Furthermore…the central bank could operate monetary policy by lending freely against safe mortgages. The central bank would not need to lend to banks per se at all. It would focus on assets.

The fundamental point here is that the burden of proof should not be on those who favour change. After a long series of huge and destructive crises, it falls rather on those who support the status quo, even today’s modified status quo…

Why the Swiss should vote for ‘Vollgeld’ (Financial Times)

The Italian proposal is somewhat different. It looks like a way to create an alternative government-backed sovereign for state spending to currency to compete with (and ultimately supplant) the Euro:

We present here the mini-BOT proposal drawing principally from the book of Borghi Aquilini.

Mini-BOT are planned to be a type of IOU (“I owe you”) that will be issued in paper form and small denominations (€1 to €500). Borghi even presents facsimiles of the new mini-BOT mimicking the euro banknote in his book. In a first step, the government would use mini-BOTs to pay public arrears. Mini-BOT, unlike traditional BOT, would pay no interest and would have no maturity.

The government would guarantee accepting mini-BOT for future tax payments, thereby implicitly safeguarding, according to its proponents, its value. Proponents also hope that mini-BOT would be used for payments between private agents. That being said, parties other than the government would not be obliged to accept mini-BOT. It is planned, however, to accept mini-BOT as legitimate mode of payment to settle energy bills or buy train tickets or other goods and services supplied by publicly owned companies.

The crucial idea of the mini-BOT is that it would be used as means of payment. Due to their character (paper form, small denominations) it is hoped that they will be spent locally, thereby stimulate growth in the Italian economy. Thus, Borghi sees mini-BOT as a tool of fiscal expansion without relying on the euro.

However, there is also another side to the mini-BOT which is important to highlight. Borghi explicitly points out that mini-BOT are seen as a necessary step to the abandonment of the euro by Italy: “It’s true that mini-BOTs are in euro but once they will be widespread they will form a sort of ‘spare wheel’ that will make the transition to our currency much easier. [ …] the day of the passage [to the new currency] it will suffice to declare the mini-BOT the new money.”

A Hard Look at the Mini-BOT, the Parallel Currency Idea of Italy’s New Ruling Coalition (Naked Capitalism)

‘Mini-BOT’ money & debt cancellation: Are Italy’s populist ideas worth hearing? (Glint)

One thing I do know is that money evolves over time, and we currently have many problems with the status quo. It’s time for a change. There are also very good proposals for debt abolition out there from Michael Hudson and Steve Keen:

Some ways to introduce a modern debt Jubilee (VoxEU)

‘Quantitative easing for the people?’ (BBC)

6. The Internet is finally going away.

It’s finally happening – the internet is going away. I’ve noticed that there are very few places I can visit anymore. More and more sites are being paywalled (Financial Times, WSJ).

I installed Adblocker on the advice of a reader because all the software bloat was literally crashing my computer on most news sites. Now, however, those news sites are blocking anyone with the Adblocker plugin installed from visiting their site and I refuse to disable it. (Business Insider, the Onion, etc.)

Combine those two and there are very few news sites I can visit anymore. I estimate that about 50 percent of the links on Naked Capitalism are off limits to me. Some sites can still be visited by browsing “incognito,” (NYT, WaPo) but I doubt even that will work forever.

Not to mention all the spyware, malware and viruses that are ubiquitous. My computer acts up constantly, and my virus/malware checkers can find nothing.

What does that mean? I don’t know. It’s a lot harder blogging today, that’s for sure. It probably means I’ll spend more time analyzing books and working on long-form essays, and even less time on the news of the day.

7. Peak Oil is Dead! Long live Peak Oil!!

It seems like the whole idea of Peak Oil disappeared after Armageddon failed to materialize on schedule in 2008. Then the Mayan 2012 apocalypse came and went. Everyone breathed a big sigh of relief. It was all just chicken little hysteria.

Or was it?

I started to wonder when I read this in the Washington Post. Wage gains are being wiped out by inflation driven by oil prices (shades of the 1970’s):

In May, U.S. inflation accelerated to its fastest pace in more than six years — and wiped out what little wage growth the typical American worker had seen over the past 12 months in the process.

The consumer price index was 2.8 percent higher this past pay May than it was the same month one year ago; that increase leaves real average hourly earnings for production and nonsupervisory workers (a.k.a. the vast majority of workers) 0.1 percent lower than they were 12 months ago.

Notably, while wage growth was infamously tepid during the Obama years, the low-inflation environment of 2015 and 2016 did allow ordinary workers to secure real raises. Part of the uptick in inflation this year is a product of rising oil prices, a phenomenon over which the American president has little control…Regardless, the fact that workers aren’t seeing any real wage gains at … the peak of an economic expansion is a crisis. … If workers can’t secure a bigger slice of the economic pie at a time of 3.8 percent unemployment, when can they?

The reason there was no pressure on oil prices for the last decade or so is because the economy was in the shitter. But now it’s coming back, although I doubt trump has anything to do with it—it’s just the cyclical nature of capitalism. But now that net demand is increasing, there is once again upward pressure on oil prices, just as the experts predicted. And it’s apparently increasing inflation and eating up wage gains. Add to that the fact that it’s happening at the same time as people are dropping out of the work force and housing is becoming unaffordable almost everywhere in the U.S. leading to an acute housing crisis.

Peak Oil was once resigned to the dustbin. But it was just resting. I suspect that we will once again be having more uncomfortable discussions about high energy prices in the very near future.

8. Housing Bubble 2.0?

It’s petty obvious we are in the midst another housing bubble. I get offers to buy my houses nearly every single day.

But when I saw a handwritten sign recently offering to teach people to “be their own boss” by learning how to flip houses, I realized how bad it is.

It’s 2008 all over again. House prices rising at ridiculous rates, speculators rushing in, houses changing hands in a matter of days. Easy money. No doubt it will end the same way. How much of this great economy is due to another wave of false enthusiasm and speculative bubbles? Perhaps all of it. How long can we go on like this?

9. Mini-Bleg

I have a problem on my computer where the cursor will randomly jump to another location on the page while I’m typing. Has anyone even heard of this problem anywhere else? You could not design a more exquisite form of torture of a writer than this, and ironically I use this computer mainly for writing this blog. It’s pretty frustrating to have your thoughts end up in the middle of another sentence and entire paragraphs randomly disappearing. Any ideas how to fix it?

Also, does anyone know of a cheap and easy way to digitize books. I have some rare used books that I can’t get newer copies of that are falling apart, and I’d like to have them for reference. I see scanned books on the internet, but I’m not sure how it’s done. Any advice? Thanks.

18 thoughts on “Random Forbidden Thoughts

  1. I know part of the method, but you probably won’t like it. It involves dismantling the book with a razor, cutting its spine to remove all the individual pages, then scanning the pages one by one.

    This is why it’s rare to see really expensive books offered on places like The Pirate Bay, unless they have already been offered as ebooks. (It’s easier to break DRM encryptment.)

    • That may not be a problem since the spine is already broken and lots of pages and sections are loose. I have to hold it together with a rubber band, and I’m afraid pages might end up lost or out of order. I was hoping there was an easier way than feeding every page one-by one into a scanner. There are a lot of pages. Is there some sort of copy-machine thing where it does it automatically?

      The book is “By The Sweat of Thy Brow” incidentally. Good book about the organization of work through time. I can’t find another used copy anywhere for a decent price.
      https://books.google.com/books/about/By_the_sweat_of_thy_brow.html?id=QMbDAAAAIAAJ

  2. My computer cursor will skip around when using Word, and it seems multiple updates is leading to more crappification of Microsoft products and the OS.

    For digitizing books, if you have good copier, you can scan two pages at once and then save them in PDF form. You can always merge the pages into one document for easy viewing using Adobe.

    • I’ve heard of that program, but my problem is in all programs (I typically write in WordPad). The only thing I can think of is something wrong with the BIOS.
      There’s a good scanner at the downtown library, and I’ve used that for books I’ve gotten through Interlibrary services. It’s still a lot of work though!!!

  3. Rather than using a browser-based adblocker (the main examples of which are controlled by huge corporations anyway), you can download software that essentially blocks your computer from connecting to the ad networks’ servers at a very low level. It’s a much cleaner and faster solution and sites can’t tell if you’re using it. A good one is Disconnect Desktop.

    Paywalls are also easy to circumvent if the site offers you a certain number of free articles per month (as most do). Clearing your browser cookies will almost always re-set the view count.

  4. I haven’t used it myself (since I heard about it only recently), but there’s a new gizmo called Ad Nauseum (damn, how I love that name!). Essentially, it clicks on all the ads but shows you none, thus confusing web pages and ad-based data miners to no end.

    Concerning state-issued debt money, I’m sure you’ve heard of Ellen Brown. Have you heard her podcast, It’s Our Money with Ellen Brown? That group is probably doing the most to make public banking a reality outside North Dakota.

    I tend to get cursor skips when my mouse is going wonky. (I’ve no experience with those blasted track pads, since I regard them as evil.)

    • I have heard of Ellen Brown! I should read more of her online work. I’ve been meaning to read Web of Debt for a while now.

      I’ll look into Ad Nauseum (which is also the name of good book critical of ads too).

      No, it’s not the mouse. Google searches have turned up nothing. It seems it’s some unique problem known only to this computer!

  5. I enjoyed these random thoughts. Thanks for sharing them. Since we seem to have many similar thoughts, your ideas and the info you find out about them save me some redundancy and usually open my eyes to new trails I need to go down. I always enjoy exploring a new trail!

    • Thanks! I like to stimulate people’s own explorations. For me, it’s a quest for insight into how the world around me really works.

      • A thought occurred to me after doing my usual slow burn (scattered thinking) from reading these thought. The question is, why are true believer capitalists absolutely terrified of socialists? Perhaps this fear is the same in reverse, but I live in the U.S. so I’ve only seen the one side of this fear. What I mean is if a country opts for socialism or communism then they are ostracized. No more trade with them, threats and sanctions begin, war may break out, etc… (and you know the black ops are sabotaging them as much as possible.) Anyway, If capitalism is so superior, why not just keep on trading with them and letting that superiority show itself? Especially from the crowd boasting so much about free markets? Why the whole take my ball home and burn the bridge shtick? Not that I’m asking you to answer this question. It’s just something I’ve thought about.

        • I had the exact same thought! I wrote about it a few years ago on the old site. Check it out. From the post:

          I had a thought about President Obama’s visit to Cuba from a different angle. His visit prompted the usual howls of outrage from Republicans/right-wingers. “Going to Cuba is unacceptable,” he’s “humiliating” the U.S., and so forth (right-wingers on my Facebook were apoplectic as I would expect). It’s a continuation of the Republican strategy never to deal with, talk to, or otherwise acknowledge “the enemy,” whoever they are–Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, the Democrats, etc.–no dialogue, no relations, and certainly no treaties (even when you get what you want).

          But the thing is, if you’re very opposed to Cuban socialism and believe that the way of life in the U.S. is so superior, as right-wingers do, wouldn’t you want as much engagement as possible? That way, Cubans can see how much better-off Americans are (in their opinion), and prompt them to pressure their government to unleash the invisible hand of the free market which produces all of that prosperity. They will not tolerate the ineffective state-run socialism one you show them how much more prosperous Americans are, would be the line of thought here. That seems far more likely to achieve your goal if you’re a right-wing free-marketeer instead of treating them like your enemy and having no contact whatsoever.

          https://hipcrime.blogspot.com/2016/03/right-wing-policies-produce-worse.html

    • Please do! In fact, I’ve been trying to get on more podcasts lately, so if you’d like me to be a guest, I’d be happy to.

      • That’s a great idea! I would have to figure out how to get a two-party conversation recorded, but hey, I’m planning on doing exactly that in the future, so you could well be a first!

        (Sorry for not responding quickly. I didn’t get a notification of your response, for some reason. I’m having the same problem at Blogspot as well, which is a bear, since that is where I host my show notes and feedback, alas.)

        Thanks again!

        Jim

  6. Does your computer have a touch pad? Sometimes ones palm will slightly graze it causing the cursor to move when typing.

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