Fun Facts

It’s the final edition of fun facts!

The world’s top 10% of income earners are responsible for between 25 and 43% of environmental impact. In contrast, the world’s bottom 10% income earners exert only around 3–5% of environmental impact.

The wealthiest 0.54%, about 40 million people, are responsible for 14% of lifestyle-related greenhouse gas emissions, while the bottom 50% of income earners, almost 4 billion people, only emit around 10%.

The Labor Day Graph That Says It All (David Sirota)

US adults will spend approximately 44 years of their life staring at screens.

Less than 20 percent of human disease is genetically determined; the rest is triggered by the environment we live in.

An infant in its first year consumes two and a half times as many calories, drinks five times as much water, and breathes three times as much air per pound of body weight as an adult. Neurologically, 90 percent of lifetime development occurs by age 4.

There are eight parking lots for every car, covering 30 percent of our cities and collectively taking up as much space as the state of West Virginia.

Minimum wage workers cannot afford rent in any U.S. state

Cities have existed during a mere 3% of the estimated 300,000-year existence of our species.

Pre-ground coffee contains ground-up cockroaches.,the%2034%2Dminute%20mark

About 13% of people tell 10 lies per day.

Up to the late 1950s, investors earned more income from stocks than bonds.

Earth has a surprisingly small amount of water compared to other planets in the solar system.

Pandemic exploited to further transfer wealth from the poor to the rich from ABoringDystopia

Despite the rising climate change-fueled wildfire risks, Arizona spends far more on its prisons and law enforcement apparatus than it does on direct costs of firefighting.

Apple now has $193.82 billion cash on hand. Or about $25 per person on the planet.

Five of the largest US tech companies – Apple, Amazon, Alphabet, Facebook, and Microsoft – have market valuations equivalent to about 30% of nation’s GDP, almost double what they were at the end of 2018.

Flash Gordon was only created because King Features couldn’t get the rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars. Years later, George Lucas would write and direct Star Wars only because he couldn’t get the filming rights to Flash Gordon. John Carter of Mars was eventually made into a feature film years later, which was one of the biggest Box Office flops ever.

The average human body has enough iron in it to forge a metal nail that is 3-inches long, enough sulfur to kill all fleas on a dog, enough carbon to make 900 pencils, enough potassium to fire a toy cannon, enough fat to make 7 bars of soap, and enough phosphorous to make 2,200 match heads.

In Europe, 1 in 8 deaths are linked to pollution.

By June of 2019, guns in the hands of ordinary Americans had caused more casualties than the Allies suffered in Normandy in the first month of a campaign that consumed the military strength of five nations.

The number of Americans who gave up their citizenship in the first six months of 2020 was more than double the figure for all of 2019, in which a mere 2,072 citizens cut ties to the US. The recent wave of renunciations has made the first quarter of 2020 the highest on record, with 2020’s second quarter taking the number-two spot.

Using current data storage densities, the number of bits produced per year and the size of a bit compared to the size of an atom, at a rate of 50% annual growth, the number of bits would equal the number of atoms on Earth in approximately 150 years.

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.

Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment.

CEO compensation surged 14% in 2019 to $21.3 million: CEOs now earn 320 times as much as a typical worker

Laos is the most heavily bombed nation in history, with the US secretly dropping an average of 8 bombs a minute for 9 years during the Vietnam war.

US Tech Stocks Are Now Worth More Than the Entire European Stock Market

One in four young adults say they’ve seriously contemplated suicide in last 30 days.

Active shooter drills in schools have become a $2.7 billion industry, and new research shows they have almost no value in keeping kids safe and are responsible for an increase in mental health problems for kids, especially younger ones.

Human activity has wiped out about two-thirds of the global wildlife population in just over four decades.

Jumps are classified by what kind of foot transfer happens. You hop on one foot, you leap from one foot to the other. Jumping is two feet to two feet. Assemble is jumping from two feet but landing on one, and Sissonne is jumping from one foot and landing on two.

Game Over

C-Realm 564: Game over, man! Game over!

My comments:

It appears that my characterization of extreme right-wing politics acting as a sort of pied piper for young men was incorrect. That’s why I asked the question, of course. We often fall into the trap of doing too much talking and not enough listening. So I got the message, and I stand corrected. I hope I caused no offense by that mischaracterization—I certainly didn’t mean to.

It’s a bit surprising to hear myself described as a member of “the Blue Tribe.” Really?

I’m not sure where the idea that I view collapse as a linear rather than a cyclical process comes from. Really, my sentiment was simply meant as more of a rejoinder to people who dismiss or downplay the seriousness of the situation we’re in. Short of a nuclear war or meteor strike, human culture, including in this country, will continue in some form. Apparently I sounded like a crazed lunatic in the way I formulated this argument. That’s too bad.

As for the predictions by George Friedman in “The Storm Before the Calm,” well, I hope he’s right. It would be the height of arrogance to say that I know what’s going to happen in the next ten years. I don’t do that. Maybe we’ve reached a Zenith when it comes to political chaos, street violence and failing institutions. Maybe what we’re seeing in the U.S. really is no big deal.

Amusingly, it was prompted to this line of thinking by some comments from Mike Duncan—author of “The Calm Before the Storm”—that got me thinking about this. He pointed out (in an interview with Patrick Wyman) that the sentiment that “things have been bad before, but we all muddled through somehow” tends to ignore the vast amounts of suffering caused by upheavals, and the fact that meany people do NOT make it through unscathed, or at all.

[1:13:12] “I think we were talking a little bit about this one type of person who is convinced that this is just how things are. Things are normal, everything’s going to be fine. Why are you worrying about it? You guys are all crazy alarmists. Everything’s fine. This won’t change that much, you guys are hysterical.”

“And then there’s this other group of people who are like, ‘well, you know, things have been bad before and we’ve always gone though tough times, but we’ve always made it out the other side. So why are you freaking out? Sure there was a Great Depression, but we made it through. Yeah, there was a Civil War, but we made it though that.”‘

“Yeah, but do you know how bad it was to live thought that?…and they look to me sometimes as a historian to back them up where they’re saying, ‘Lets talk to this historian. He knows that things have been bad and we’ve been okay.’ And I’m like, are you kidding me? That stuff was all horrible! I don’t want to live through any of that…The people who live make it through in one piece. It is the literal definition of survivor’s bias…”

I have this aphorism that I like to use: you study the past so you can make decisions in the present that will make for a better future.…Yes I’m shouting about how this could all be very bad because I don’t want it to be very very bad. People are like, ‘Oh you must be loving this.’ I’m not loving this. I don’t want any of this to be happening…

So I do want to study the past. I do want to tell you about how bad things have been before. I do want to tell you that things could be bad again, in fact they WILL be bad again. Things are going to be bad again. But if you pay attention, and if you realize that things could be bad again–we do have agency. I don’t believe that history is come crazy spiritual force that just molds us and does to us what it will…I don’t think that were just molded by forces beyond our ken. We do have agency. We can control events. We can respond to things. And I think that historical literacy and embracing that instead of tying to say aloof from it is a very good strategy.”

So, in the end, this is my legacy: a crazed, depressed loser from Minnesota? Who needs it? Let the historical podcasters be the Cassandras. Nothing I say really matters, or makes a difference. I guess now is as good a time as any to walk away. I’ve got a few things in the can, so I might as well put them up over the next few months. Otherwise, I’m done. Thanks to all who read and commented over the years. Stay safe. Take care.

Random Observations

Since I don’t use Twitter:

The problem with conservatism today is that it simultaneously advocates for a return to a traditional pre-capitalist social order while also advocating for a bleeding-edge high tech capitalist market economy, complete with “creative destruction” of entire industries and a highly mobile, compliant and well-educated workforce.

One of the worst and most destructive aspects of neoliberalism is that it offloads risk entirely onto the lone individual. This drastically contributes to generational inequality because we don’t all start out with anywhere near the same capacity to absorb risk due to our differing family circumstances.

For all the talk about how dysfunctional government is and how it can’t do anything right–from Covid testing to unemployment insurance–the institutions that primarily serve the interests of the wealthy have been working just fine, and have continued to work just fine throughout the entire multi-decade era of so-called “small government” (surveillance, shipping ports, the legal system, police, the banking system, the Federal Reserve, etc.)

The whole clipping coupons, limited-time-only sales, and scouring around for “deals” that comprises modern retail shopping was the original “gamification” of something. Now we acquire points every time we buy stuff. If only other more pro-social aspects of our lives were as easily gamified.


Recorded a podcast with Christopher Ryan today. Hopefully I didn’t sound like too much of a dork.

Hamstrung by Ideology

Americans generally believe that business and government are somehow in opposition; that government can only “interfere” in the workings of business and markets, and that “the economy” is something totally separate and distinct from the rest of society, including from political decisions and social cohesion.

The reason they think this is because of the pervasive libertarian ideology promoted by conventional neoclassical economics. And by libertarian, I’m referring to the systemic bias that pervades all conventional capitalist economics, not just the radical extremist ideology that goes under that name. Neoclassical and classical economics fosters the belief that “economics” must be kept wholly separate from every other aspect of society.

The Chinese, coming from a Marxist—and Confucianist (although in this case, Legalism is probably the better fit)—perspective, believe no such thing. They know that business and government are really the same thing, and always have been, and they make no bones about it. They are free from the Western delusion that there is some sort of “pure” capitalism, free from the taint of government intervention, or the delusion that such a thing is even possible. They do not have the ideological commitment to the”invisible hand,” or the blind faith that anarchic markets will automatically lead to beneficial social outcomes.

I had that thought reading the following paragraph by Adam Tooze:

As Trump’s trade warriors point out, the range of instruments that China deploys in industrial competition makes a nonsense of trade policy as defined by the WTO. Complexity and opacity are key to the success of China Inc. As Blustein shows in an illuminating cameo about tractor tyres, the network of state support for Chinese industry extends from central and local government grants and tax exemptions to subsidised land deals, cheap electric power and a raft of subsidised low interest loans, from the government as well as public and private banks. When rubber prices surged in the early 2000s Beijing devised a scheme to supply it at a reduced price and gave a set of inducements to rubber producers. The arrangements are all-encompassing yet almost entirely deniable, as the American lawyers retained by Chinese firms demonstrate when they face unpleasant questions from the US Department of Commerce.

Whose Century? (London Review of Books)

“Trump’s trade warriors,” as Adam Tooze calls, them, represent that standard American perspective that government should “butt out”, i.e. “not pick winners and losers.” That markets should be free to run themselves and that government should not “interfere.” This comes from a blind commitment to libertarian ideology.

The Chinese know that this is nonsense. They know that production and governance are inseparable. True, it’s no longer centrally planned as in the old days. But the myopic faith in an anarchic market to achieve ideal outcomes is a flaw that the Chinese do not posses. It’s an advantage of coming from a non-Western perspective free from the blinders imposed by neoclassical economic thinking as developed in the West. Of course the government manages the commanding heights of business and trade. What else would you expect?

The Chinese view is the more historically accurate one. In the West, the fairy tale is told of plucky businessmen succeeding despite being frustrated at every turn by petty government bureaucrats. This tale was further enhanced by fabulists like Ayn Rand, who peddled this nonsense for ideological reasons while having no knowledge of economic history, or even any experience in the actual business world.

Marxists, by contrast, have always been fully aware of how the state creates and sustains the capitalist economy, and has always done so. From the passing of laws, to issuing and regulating the supply of currency, to the establishment of limited liability corporations, to the building of infrastructure, to the selling off of formerly public lands to private interests, to the implicit assumption of risk, to the issuing of bonds, to intellectual property laws, to publicly-funded research, to numerous subsidies, to a basic social safety net, to K-12 mass schooling, to the provisioning of police and military to enforce contracts and property rights—the list of how government and business interests are intertwined—not opposed—goes on endlessly. There is no “great wall” dividing a self-contained intellectual abstraction called “the economy” from all the other aspects of human life in this world.

It seems the ideological blinders conferred to us by libertarian classical and neoclassical economists are—ironically—causing the West to fall behind at the game it supposedly invented, especially the U.S.

And, speaking of ideology, it was also ideology that has made globalism such a problem in the U.S., specifically the frontier ideology of  self-reliant “rugged individualism,” where honest, hard-working people never require outside help or “handouts.” This ideology insists that, rather than letting “the government” take of you, you should just bootstrap your way out of your circumstances through grit and pluck.

This, of course, is absolute nonsense, but it’s the dominant ideology of the Republican Party and conservative philosophy more generally. In the U.S., it manifests itself in the idea that “welfare” is inherently a bad thing, and that anything the government does to help its citizens is “communism”. This is the reason why the “China Shock” was so uniquely bad in the U.S. compared with other countries that were just as exposed to the neoliberal globalism. The reason you didn’t see the same backlash to “free trade” in other countries as compared to the U.S. is because those countries decided to care of their citizens instead of just throwing them under a bus:

Every advanced economy in the world – Japan, South Korea, European countries (Italy in particular) – felt the ‘China shock’. But only in the US has it led to the kind of political crisis we have witnessed since 2016. It is this that requires explanation. …Given the resources of American government, a shock on this scale could have been cushioned through spending on welfare, education, reinvestment and relocation. But that would have required creative politics, which is precisely what has been obstructed by the Republicans. Instead the problem wasn’t addressed, unleashing a pervasive status anxiety among lower-middle-class and working-class white Americans, especially men. It was in the counties where the highest number of jobs were lost because of the China shock that Trump scored best in the 2016 election.

Since the Clinton era, the Democratic establishment has held up its side of the bargain, deflecting opposition to globalisation from trade unions. What it did not reckon with was the ruthless cynicism of the Republican Party in opening its doors to xenophobic, know-nothing white nationalism, inciting talk of a nation betrayed and swinging over to protectionism. The Democrats also didn’t take into account the dogged refusal of the Republicans to co-operate in their efforts to patch together America’s welfare state, even, or especially, when it came to fundamentals such as unemployment insurance and health coverage…

In other words, if we hadn’t been so wedded to the “government bad” and “society owes you nothing,” attitudes, and if the elites had been even a little less rapacious, we would not have seen entire swaths of the country reduced to sub-third-world status, and hence the rise of authoritarian right-wing populism. In the U.S., for example, even health care is tied to a having a job, and instead of dealing with that problem, the politicians of both parties chose a politics of distraction and misinformation that has led us to where we are now.

Due to an ideological distaste for “big government solutions” and “government handouts,” inherited from libertarianism, the only other avenue for aspiring populist politicians was to promise to somehow “bring the jobs back,” so that workers could head back into the factories and “earn” the basics of life like health care and the money to pay for food and shelter. But, of course, this will not work. U.S. manufacturing continues to expand output, even while shedding workers. It was China’s low wages that made them predominant—low wages that would not work with the high fixed costs of food, education and housing in the U.S. High-wage manufacturing jobs were replaced with the “service economy”, and the ideological conception that what we earn is entirely down to our own personal “marginal productivity” (again promoted by neoclassical economists) led to opposition to any efforts to raise the bar for wages.

In both of these cases, we can see where hidebound ideological blindness prevented the U.S. from taking the steps that other countries have effectively taken, which has led to the creation of much more successful 21st century societies outside the U.S.—whether it it’s Europe’s social democracy or China’s state-managed capitalist/communist hybrid. Since both of these options are effectively off the table due to our ideological commitments, all Americans can do cry to the heavens that the imaginary libertarian world that “should” exist is nowhere to be found as we continue to circle the drain of history.

“China under the control of the CCP is, indeed, involved in a gigantic and novel social and political experiment enrolling one-sixth of humanity, a historic project that dwarfs that of democratic capitalism in the North Atlantic.”

It’s a long piece, worth reading in full: Whose century? (London Review of Books)

BONUS: To prove the point made above:

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

The figure compiled by The Times comprises a variety of government incentives, including grants, tax breaks, factory construction, discounted loans and environmental credits that Tesla can sell. It also includes tax credits and rebates to buyers of solar panels and electric cars.

A looming question is whether the companies are moving toward self-sufficiency — as Dolev believes — and whether they can slash development costs before the public largesse ends.

Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies (L.A. Times)

Things Covid-19 Has Proven Are True

I found this on one of the files on my jump drive. I don’t think these really need any more elucidation, because they should be self-evident, so I’m just going to put them out there. This list will probably expand over time.

The stock market is not the economy.

Health care should not be tied to employment.

Taxes do not fund government spending.

There is no shortage of money.

Globalized, just-in-time supply chains are fragile.

A lot of the work we do is pointless and nonessential. Or, put another way, jobs are more about earning the money to live rather than doing socially useful work.

The most important workers in society are often the least paid.

American politicians are corrupt and incompetent.

The notion of the “service economy” is bogus, and always has been.

“Small government” is not an inherent virtue.

A functional social safety net is actually good for business.

Feel free to add on to the list.

BONUS: This is a good perspective from a commenter on Naked Capitialism:

“I’ve been referring to Coronavirus for a while as the world’s most effective stress test of institutions, maybe the biggest such experiment in history. It has unerringly found the weak link in every country and society its hit – whether that weak link being weak institutions, stupid politicians, sclerotic bureaucracies, religious nutcases, institutional groupthink, authoritarian tendencies or whatever. In the US its found not just one, but a whole series of weak links it can exploit. The results are not pretty.”

BTW: I’m still not happy with the blog layout. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Random Observations from Late Capitalism

What’s up with the “trying to build my empire” line on Instagram profiles lately? Really, everyone is trying to build an empire? How about just trying to live your fucking life? Oh, right, anyone who does that is “lazy.” Everybody is trying to be Jeff Bezos, since being an ordinary person apparently doesn’t cut it anymore. Since when is the goal of the average person “building an empire?” (of course, I know the answer, since Neoliberalism). I don’t think there are enough resources for 200+ million people in the U.S. to each have their own “empire”—by definition an empire consists of the ruler and the ruled: an emperor and subjects.

How is it that people say these things uncritically? It’s like Neoliberalism in America has become so internalized, so ingrained, so much the water in which we swim, that it’s penetrated into our very soul.

And what’s up with all the MLM stuff everywhere? It seems like every woman on Instagram is engaged in some sort of multilevel marketing sales scheme. There are the old standbys like makeup (Mary Kay, Avon), with all sorts of new skin care/beauty products joining the mix. The latest schemes are things like essential oils and products made out of CBD. Then there are the always-popular health supplements. Everyone’s social media now is hawking product (when not posting conspiracy theories). It’s like everyone is a seller, but there are no buyers.

And are we ever going to reach Peak Supplements? It seems like every celebrity in the world is hawking some sort of magic pills. Tom Brady is the latest to jump on the bus in a field pioneered by luminaries like Alex Jones, Joe Rogan, Gwynneth Paltrow, Tim Ferriss, and countless televangelists. It’s like their core business model is deliberately attracting an audience of gullible paranoiacs so you can continually sell them useless shit. It was only a matter of time before a politician like Trump used this exact formula to win and maintain political power as well. I have a hunch he’s just the beginning.

This is what we call “business” today?

And related to that, whenever someone signs up to shill for one of these companies, they often say something like “proud to be a member of the [insert scam product] family.” Family? Really??? What’s with this idea that all of these money-making operations are any sort of family? Um, you’re not a member of a  family; you’re an employee. How sad is it that we have come to be gaslit into seeing employers as like our families—employers that owe us nothing and will terminate us without remorse based on numbers on a spreadsheet.

To say the language of late capitalism is Orwellian doesn’t to it justice.

And has anyone noticed the posters with exhortatory messages that have sprung up all over capitalist workplaces? It’s like something out of the late stage Soviet Union. Dig that coal, bale that hay, tote that barge!

And no wonder. Just like in the late Soviet Union, morale has long since eroded away, replaced by dark cynicism and gallows humor over things like unpayable debt and health care bills. Any connection between “hard work” and reward has been severed for the vast majority of people. Whatever class you’re born into, that is where you’ll stay. So we need to constantly encourage the proletariat to keep their noses to the grindstone, because previous motivators like prosperity, stability and social advancement are long gone.

And the similarities to the late Soviet Union don’t stop there. We have the spectacle of a fossilized gerontocracy exemplified by Trump, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, et. al., unable to respond to the dire challenges facing the country, just like the uninspiring grey bureaucrats of the late stage Soviet Union. We have a cynical youth alienated from the political process and facing declining living standards with no realistic way to change course. We have a media that’s basically party propaganda. We have mass spying on the citizenry beyond anything the Soviets could muster. And lately, we even have secret police “disappearing” people off the streets of American cities to unnamed dark sites.

It’s capitalism run amok. We’re not just workers anymore—we’re all perennial hustlers; we’re all an “empire of one.” We’re popping magic pills for “total human optimization” while waiting for “our ship to come in.” We’re substituting instrumental money relationships for genuine ones. Every parent is working like a madman to give their kids any edge in the unremitting status tournament of American life. As Chris Rock observed, “anytime you’re talking to an American, you’re really talking to their agent.” And it’s only gotten worse since he first made that observation.

This culture is so toxic. It’s irredeemable. It’s one reason why I feel so alienated and alone in America. How can you possibly relate to anyone else in a culture like this? How can you have any kind of genuine relationships when everyone around you is a hustler; when everyone is spending every waking moment climbing the status latter and “building their empire?” It’s just so hopeless.

Attack Ads! Podcast

Jim and I chew the fat about the Nuisance Economy over that the Attack Ads! Podcast. It was fun to be a podcast guest once again, so I’m glad he had me on.

Here’s a bit of our correspondence you might find interesting. I mentioned that Franklin Roosevelt did not have things like Fox News to contend with. He mentioned that there was a lot of co-opted media at the time that was very opposed to Roosevelt’s New Deal (mostly owned by rich newspaper barons). But my point was that television news did not exist, and television news is a completely different animal because it renders people more suggestible than when you actually have to parse words in written media. He replied:

Roosevelt dealt with privately-owned newspapers and (especially) radio, which has a power of its own. There is something about a well-modulated human voice to convey not just information but opinion.

You’re right about the light. There is something about flickering, low-light experiences which imprints on us easily. I’ve heard theories that tales told around the nightly campfire were the main method of imparting helpful wisdom, so our brains glommed on to those conditions for paying attention. Hence, the Latin word “focus,” which literally meant “domestic hearth.” Combine such a mental preference for optics with a human voice, both backed by vast fortunes and the need for their continuance, and… Oh, yeah, here we are!

We also talked a bit about the economics of Henry George via email. I’m somewhat familiar with George, but haven’t dived in too deep. Jim mentioned an economist working in the Georgist tradition called Mason Gaffney:

Gaffney is yet another economist banished from the “respectable” discipline for heresy (but not inaccuracy). As I’ve said so often, economics is really a type of theology.

He also said quite a few interesting things about rents and rent seeking. He turned me on tho this author: Gerrit De Geest. Chapter one of his book is available as a paper online: Rents: How Marketing Causes Inequality (Chapter 1)

De Geest’s argument is that wide wealth and income differentials are not primarily the results of differences in individual ability, intelligence, inventiveness, or “hard work.” Instead, he argues, they are the results of being able to capture outsize economics rents. This is done by distorting markets, and the primary means of distorting markets is (ironically) called marketing. Marketing today is the science of distorting markets for the benefit of businesses in order to extract outsize profits far in excess of the costs of production and distribution. This is everything from exploiting cognitive biases to vendor-lock-in, to extending copyright protection and many other techniques.

Furthermore, he claims, these techniques have reached such a high level of sophistication and ubiquity that nearly all markets everywhere are heavily distorted in some way towards rent-seeking, and consumers are often powerless to resist. He sees this as a under-represented reason for the rise of extreme inequality that we see everywhere today. And this is all perfectly legal. As he puts it, “business schools have outsmarted law schools.”

We’ll take a closer look at that another time.

Civilization Never Changes

I’m glad I was able to recall where I read this fact:

When humans start treating animals as subordinates, it becomes easier to do the same thing to one another. The first city-states in Mesopotamia were built on this principle of transferring methods of control from creatures to human beings, according to the archaeologist Guillermo Algaze at the University of California in San Diego. Scribes used the same categories to describe captives and temple workers as they used for state-owned cattle.

How domestication changes species, including the human (Aeon)

Because it sets this up perfectly:

Do I even need to comment? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose…