Monday, April 21, 2014

My latest Baffler post: forget all the nonsense you've been hearing about "liberal intolerance" on campus and elsewhere. The biggest threat to freedom is at the workplace.

We've heard a lot in recent weeks about alleged "liberal intolerance" -- at Mozilla, where a CEO was forced to resign due to controversy over his donation to an anti-gay marriage campaign, and at Brandeis, where the university revoked a planned honorary degree for anti-Islam activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. But the "intolerance" charges were bogus. The Mozilla guy was a PR disaster, and Mozilla was within its rights to fire him. Hirsi Ali has herself made many intolerant comments about Islam (such as her statement about the necessity of defeating all forms of Islam -- not just the radical kind).

The Mozilla and Brandeis cases pose no actual danger to free speech. There is a serious threat to freedom of expression in America, but it’s one that conservatives largely remain silent about: the threat posed to employees’ freedom of speech, by their employers, both on and off the job. Read my latest Baffler piece to find out about how, in recent years, employers have been able to legally fire workers for everything from driving a car with a bumper sticker of a candidate they didn't like to wearing a tie of a football team the boss didn't prefer to being a fan of My Little Pony. You can also find out about the growing trends of loss of privacy on the job (employers are demanding jobseekers and employees' Facebook usernames and passwords -- how could that possibly go wrong?) and political coercion at work (I cite examples of employees receiving campaign literature in their pay envelopes, being forced to attend political rallies, and more). Smell the freedom!

Sadly, conservatives rarely complain about the threat to freedom many Americans experience at the workplace. And to be honest, not a lot of liberals do, either. Liberals and conservatives alike tend to focus on cases where elites are affected -- hence the obsession, even on the part of some liberals, with "political correctness" on campus. The concerns of ordinary working people are not deemed as important, unfortunately.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

America is a plutocracy, and social science proves it

In my latest Baffler piece, I review a host of political science studies that show that the preferences of moneyed elites dominate the political process and drive political outcomes. I also look at a study which shows that our government is overwhelmingly dominated by millionaires, and that, yes, this matters -- our elected officials' class backgrounds influence the way they vote, particularly where economic issues are concerned. Can anyone doubt that we're living in a new Gilded Age that would put the old one to shame?

Friday, April 4, 2014

High-frequency trading is minor con. Wall Street is the real scam.

Here's my latest Baffler post. In it, I take a look at Flash Boys, Michael Lewis's new book about high-frequency trading. As I note, I'm puzzled by the parade of notables who have come forward vying for the Captain Reynault Memorial Award to declare how shocked (shocked!) they are about the corrupt practices of the high-frequency trading sector. In fact, these practices are well-known and have been covered in the financial press. 

I argue that the most serious problem isn't high-frequency trading so much as it is more systemic problems with the entire financial sector, which specializes in wealth appropriation, does a crap job at efficiently allocating capital toward investments (allegedly its primary function), and is a huge contributing factor to soaring economic inequality. That said, anti-Wall Street populist outrage is welcome. Let's just hope it doesn't stop there.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Check out my new gig: weekly blog posts at The Baffler

Readers, I'm excited to announce a new writing gig. The other week, I began blogging for The Baffler. I've been a huge Baffler fan since forever and I'm thrilled that they're publishing my work. My first post skewered recent comments Bill Gates made about how to end economic inequality. My second piece, which appeared Friday, takes a look at a fascinating wage-fixing case in Silicon Valley. I hope you enjoy what I've written so far. Look for my weekly posts to appear on Thursdays from now on.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Dark satanic mills

Scenes from the of history of capitalism: ever wonder where the phrase "to have been through the mill" came from? I just read an LRB review of a new book about memoirs from the Industrial Revolution. It includes an excerpt from one autobiography by a man named J.R. Clynes,, who'd been a child laborer in the Lancashire mills:
When I was a young man the term ‘to have been through the mill’ had a grim meaning. We accept it now as a slang addition to the English language, indicating a knocked-about and hard-worn appearance. In 1890 it described a mill worker whose childhood had been ruined by hard labour and little sleep, and who, in manhood, looked shrunken and white-faced.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

In praise of Thomas Piketty's utopianism

In my latest Nation post, I take another look at the big new Piketty book on inequality. There's a lot to like about it. Here's something else to add to the list: the dude's giant brass clanking balls. He tackles a huge topic, and he's honest enough to admit that dealing with it successfully will require bold -- even utopian -- solutions. Fiddling with the tax code on the margins, or throwing a few crumbs at the poor -- remember midnight basketball? -- is not going to do it. Give the man some, I say!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Latin America's surprising success story: how economic populism is transforming the most unequal region of the globe

Across the U.S. and Europe, economic inequality continues to soar. But there's one place in the world where economic inequality is declining significantly: Latin America. Attention must be paid, for several important reasons. Latin America has long been the most unequal region in the world, so what's behind the decline? As I explain in my most recent Nation post, economic growth has something to do with it. But more important than the growth has been the wave of  economic populism that's been been sweeping the region over the past decade, leading to redistribution, a sharp decrease in the poverty rate, and higher standards of living for working people throughout Latin America. These forms of populism take different forms, but one thing they they all share in common is a rejection the neoliberalism that marked the "lost decade" of the 1980s.