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“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear”*…

Three considerations of Gary Gerstle‘s important new book, The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order: America and the World in the Free Market Era: First Robert Kuttner ponders why Democratic presidents embraced an economic credo that annihilated their own public philosophy and its appeal to the electorate…

Beginning with the presidency of Jimmy Carter, a succession of Democratic presidents joined Republicans in turning away from the New Deal model of regulated capitalism toward what has come to be known as neoliberalism. The neoliberal credo claims that markets work efficiently and that government attempts to constrain them via regulation and public spending invariably fail, backfire, or are corrupted by politics. As public policy, neoliberalism has relied on deregulation, privatization, weakened trade unions, less progressive taxation, and new trade rules to reduce the capacity of national governments to manage capitalism. These shifts have resulted in widening inequality, diminished economic security, and reduced confidence in the ability of government to aid its citizens.

The Republican embrace of this doctrine is hardly surprising. Given the lessons learned about the necessity of government interventions following the 1929 stock market collapse and the success of the Roosevelt administration as a model for the Democratic Party, the allure of neoliberalism to many Democrats is a puzzle worth exploring.

The term “neoliberalism” itself is confusing, because for at least a century “liberalism” in the United States has meant moderate left, not free-market right. Neoliberalism in its current economic sense draws on the older meaning of liberalism, which is still common in Europe and which holds that free markets are the counterpart of a free and democratic society. That was the claim of classical liberals like Adam Smith and Thomas Jefferson.

Only in the twentieth century, after the excesses of robber-baron capitalism, did modern liberals begin supporting extensive government intervention—the use of “Hamiltonian means” to carry out “Jeffersonian ends,” in the 1909 formulation of Herbert Croly, one of the founders of The New Republic. This view defined the ideology of both presidents Roosevelt and was reinforced by the economics of John Maynard Keynes. In Britain, the counterpart in the same era was the “radical liberalism” of social reform put forth by the Liberal prime minister David Lloyd George.

The term neoliberalism also gets muddled because some on the left use it as an all-purpose put-down of conservatism—to the point where one might wonder whether it is just an annoying buzzword. But neoliberalism does have a precise and useful meaning, as a reversion to the verities of classical economics, with government as guardian of unregulated markets…

Free Markets, Besieged Citizens

Brian Kettenring worries (with Gramsci, as quoted in this post’s title above) that the transition to what’s next could be treacherous…

In a contest among global models, one option is the state-authoritarian capitalist model represented by China. A second one would be a neoliberalism retooled for the 21st century. But because neoliberalism has failed on its most central promise (growth) and other important tests (climate, inequality, and race), it is increasingly marginalized, if still persistent in the public imagination and the structures of important national and international institutions. A third option—which seems ascendant—is the ethno-nationalism of Trump, Viktor Orbán, Jair Bolsonaro, and company. The economic track record of ethno-nationalism in power has often proved anti-neo-liberal—especially on trade, but often on public investment, the social safety net, and even industrial policy—but that hasn’t foreclosed tax cutting or deregulation. And while the racialist and exclusionary politics of ethno-nationalism are disqualifying, its record of governance is, with some exceptions, poor.

None of these geopolitical arrangements will serve America or the world well in the third decade of the 21st century. For those who share Gerstle’s critique of neoliberalism, the task is to chart a fourth way that is inclusive, sustainable, and consonant with strong democratic governance and pluralistic societies. At present, this fourth way appears to be the harder road. That said, Rise and Fall offers guidance for how it might still win the day. 

Gerstle reminds us that geopolitics can have unpredictable economic side effects. The war in Ukraine has accelerated inflationary dynamics in the global economy, increasing the price of everything from energy to wheat. It’s too soon to assess the long-term consequences of the Russian invasion. Still, one optimistic reading of the potential by-products of the war might be accelerated investments—at least in Europe—in the green energy sector…

Neoliberalism Is Dying. What Comes Next?

And L. Benjamin Rolsky considers the moral– and spiritual– baggage that it carries…

… A moral code accompanied the neoliberal order to protect itself against its worst excesses and moral failures. Many Americans were perfect matches for neoliberalism’s entrepreneurial politics, its promises of unbridled freedom once remade in the image of homo economicus; many were not. For Gerstle, the neoliberal order produced two interrelated modes of citizenship within the body politic: conservative neo-Victorianism and liberal cosmopolitanism. The former encouraged self-discipline in the name of market austerity and the proverbial Christian family. The latter privileged diversity, self-expression, and socioeconomic mobility. As Gerstle describes, “It celebrated the cultural exchanges and dynamism that increasingly characterized the global cities — London, Paris, New York, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Toronto, and Miami among them — developing under the aegis of the neoliberal order.” This much is most certainly true circa 1975: the beginnings of neoliberalism’s deregulatory ascent.

Within the same moment, however, neoliberalism would also help give birth to additional forms of religiosity including the “Prosperity Gospel,” replete with global communication networks, acts of spiritual exuberance, and larger-than-life television personalities. While this tradition of health and wealth dates back to the late 19th century, it found its domestic stride in the United States within the postindustrial conditions of the neoliberal order in the 1980s and 1990s. The fact that prosperity gospel healer Paula White-Cain has rekindled her relationship with former president Donald Trump’s communications team speaks to the intimate relationship between neoliberal success, political freedom, and spiritual prosperity in American political life — especially in 2022.

The rise and fall of the neoliberal order has curtailed some religious ideals and formulations in the name of neo-Victorian morality, but it also cultivated equally powerful forces that promised to liberate true believers from their respective experiences of spiritual captivity. Until such forces of neoliberal freedom are understood and diagnosed as complex forms of economic captivity themselves, there is no telling how much longer the neoliberal order can remain fractured yet deeply informative of our collective political imaginations…

Religion of the Market: On Gary Gerstle’s “The Rise and Fall of the Neoliberal Order

How neoliberalism rose, fell, and what might replace it: @rkuttnerwrites, @bkettenring, and @LBRolsky on a powerful new book by @glgerstle.

* Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebooks

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As we compose our selves for change, we might recall that it was on this date in 1965 that Bob Dylan was booed off stage at the Newport Folk Festival during his first public performance with electric instruments (and a band that included Michael Bloomfield and Al Kooper)… The cat-calling began with his opening number, “Maggie’s Farm,” and continued through three more songs, after which Dylan left the stage. As a peace offering to Pete Seeger and other aggrieved organizers, Dylan returned later to do two acoustic numbers… but the die was cast; thereafter, his career was electrically-powered… and both folk and rock music were forever changed.

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“When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”*…

Staying yesterday’s agribusiness theme: George Monbiot on the extraordinary challenges facing the world’s food system…

For the past few years, scientists have been frantically sounding an alarm that governments refuse to hear: the global food system is beginning to look like the global financial system in the run-up to 2008.

While financial collapse would have been devastating to human welfare, food system collapse doesn’t bear thinking about. Yet the evidence that something is going badly wrong has been escalating rapidly. The current surge in food prices looks like the latest sign of systemic instability.

Many people assume that the food crisis was caused by a combination of the pandemic and the invasion of Ukraine. While these are important factors, they aggravate an underlying problem. For years, it looked as if hunger was heading for extinction. The number of undernourished people fell from 811 million in 2005 to 607 million in 2014. But in 2015, the trend began to turn. Hunger has been rising ever since: to 650 million in 2019, and back to 811 million in 2020. This year is likely to be much worse.

Now brace yourself for the really bad news: this has happened at a time of great abundance. Global food production has been rising steadily for more than half a century, comfortably beating population growth. Last year, the global wheat harvest was bigger than ever. Astoundingly, the number of undernourished people began to rise just as world food prices began to fall. In 2014, when fewer people were hungry than at any time since, the global food price index stood at 115 points. In 2015, it fell to 93, and remained below 100 until 2021.

Only in the past two years has it surged. The rise in food prices is now a major driver of inflation, which reached 9% in the UK last month. [Current estimates are that it will be 9% in the U.S. as well.] Food is becoming unaffordable even to many people in rich nations. The impact in poorer countries is much worse.

So what has been going on?…

Spoiler alert: massive food producers hold too much power – and regulators scarcely understand what is happening. Sound familiar? “The banks collapsed in 2008 – and our food system is about to do the same,” from @GeorgeMonbiot in @guardian. Eminently worth reading in full.

Then iris out and consider how agricultural land is used: “Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture.”

… and consider the balance between agriculture aimed at producing food directly and agriculture aimed at producing feed and fuel: “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare.”

Hélder Câmara

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As we secure sustenance, we might send carefully-observed birthday greetings to Dorothea Lange; she was born on this date in 1885. A photographer and photojournalist, she is best known for her Depression-era work for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Lange’s photographs influenced the development of documentary photography and humanized the consequences of the Great Depression.

Lange’s iconic 1936 photograph of Florence Owens Thompson, Migrant Mother [source]
Lange in 1936 [source]

“The keeping of bees is like the direction of sunbeams”*…

Loading bees for transport

And moving those bees…

About 75% of crops and one-third of the global food supply rely on pollinators such as honeybees, according to Our World in Data. But farmers have to rely on commercially managed honeybees trucked in from other states to help pollinate certain crops, such as almonds, because there aren’t enough wild bees to do the job. And trucking bees hundreds or thousands of miles is not simple…

Honeybees are disappearing due to shrinking habitats and the growing use of pesticides. When there aren’t enough bees to pollinate fields of crops, companies pay beekeepers to transport their colonies of bees for pollination season. 

“The great pollination migration” happens every year in February when the almonds bloom in California.

Pollinating the seemingly endless fields of almond trees in California requires 85% to 90% of all honeybees available to pollinate in the U.S… Bees are trucked into California from across the country…

Earl and Merle Warren are brothers, truck drivers and co-owners of Star’s Ferry Transport, based in Burley, Idaho. They started hauling bees for a local beekeeper in 1990 and moved about 50 loads of approximately 22 million bees each last year for companies such as Browning’s Honey Co.

“This is not like a load of steel or lumber. These are live creatures. This is those beekeepers’ livelihoods, so we do everything possible to keep them alive,” Earl Warren said.

Some beekeepers estimate that every time you move a truck of bees, up to 5% of the queens die… Minimizing stress for bees is critical, so beekeepers rely on experienced truck drivers to navigate difficult situations such as warm weather, few opportunities to stop during the day and inspections…

A fascinating link in the modern food chain: “A day in the life of a honeybee trucker,” from Alyssa Sporrer (@SporrerAlyssa).

* Henry David Thoreau

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As we ponder pollination, we might spare a thought for a scientist whose very field of study was (and is) made possible by bees, Anders (Andreas) Dahl; he died on this date in 1789.  A botanist and student of Carl Linnaeus, he is the inspiration for, the namesake of, the dahlia flower.

220px-Double_dahlia
Dahlia, the flower named after Anders Dahl [source]

“Where there’s a will, there’s a way”*…

Each year, millions of barrels are shipped from NYC to the Caribbean. Ameena Walker unpacks the why, how, and the economics involved…

For many Caribbean communities across New York City, carefully curating barrels to ship to relatives outside of the U.S. is a relatively common practice. Fueled by an urge to provide for loved ones left back home, the Caribbean diaspora in New York, and cities around the country, meticulously source a variety of sought-after goods, intricately packing them in barrels on the cusp of overflowing and eventually mailing them overseas. The unconventional shipping method is the most affordable way to get a hefty load abroad. More than four million barrels are shipped from the northeast to the Caribbean annually, indicating a strong demand for merchandise from the U.S and a thriving business in this niche logistic sector….

The justification for using barrels to ship goods is practical. An empty 55-gallon HDPE or HMWPE drum weighs around 50 kg, but has a capacity of around 1,200 kg. Their maneuverability also plays a large part, as they can be easily stacked, rolled, or forklifted and withstand pressure and temperature changes during storage and handling….

Once the barrel is obtained, you’ll need to fill it to the brim. This is one of the more intriguing aspects of the process, as it is essential that no space is left unfilled. Practices like rolling clothes as tight as possible, stuffing the insides of footwear with additional items, removing excess packaging (e.g., taking shoes out of boxes) and shoving small items like batteries and toothbrushes into nooks and crannies ensure that not even a single crevice is left void. It’s not uncommon for someone to climb into the barrel to squish the whole mass further down, provided there aren’t any breakables or spillables inside. Virtually any item can be shipped, and it can take anywhere from a couple of hours to several months to fill a drum to maximum capacity. It’s an unspoken rule that if the barrel doesn’t require a full-sized adult to sit on top of it to force it closed, there’s room to pack more! After the drum is willed shut, it is sealed with a metal clamp and locking security cable that secures the lid and ensures its contents will not be accessed while enroute. It is then labeled on the top and side with sender and receiver’s information that should match whatever is on the shipping documents…

Despite the expansion of e-commerce, many Caribbean countries still don’t have access to simple conveniences like online shopping, making it difficult to obtain necessities. Relatives in major U.S. cities mollify this by making sure their loved ones back home get the goods they want and need, with no ocean standing in their way and no barrel packed too full…

Eminently worth reading in full: “Remittance by the Barrel,” from @awalkinny in @the_prepared.

Proverb

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As we pack it tight, we might send gilded birthday greetings to Johns Hopkins; he was born on this date in 1795. A businessman who is largely remembered as a philanthropist, he operated wholesale and retail businesses in the Baltimore area; he built his fortune by judiciously investing his proceeds in myriad other ventures, most notably, the Baltimore and Ohio (B & O) Railroad. In 1996, Johns Hopkins ranked 69th in “The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – A Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present

His bequests founded a number institutions bearing his name, the best-known of which are, of course, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins University.

Although Hopkins is widely-noted as an abolitionist, recent research indicates that Johns Hopkins was a slave owner for at least part of his life.

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“Information was found to be everywhere”*…

A newly-proposed experiment could confirm the fifth state of matter in the universe—and change physics as we know it…

Physicist Dr. Melvin Vopson has already published research suggesting that information has mass and that all elementary particles, the smallest known building blocks of the universe, store information about themselves, similar to the way humans have DNA.

Now, he has designed an experiment—which if proved correct—means he will have discovered that information is the fifth form of matter, alongside solid, liquid, gas and plasma…

Dr. Vopson said: “This would be a eureka moment because it would change physics as we know it and expand our understanding of the universe. But it wouldn’t conflict with any of the existing laws of physics. It doesn’t contradict quantum mechanics, electrodynamics, thermodynamics or classical mechanics. All it does is complement physics with something new and incredibly exciting.”

Dr. Vopson’s previous research suggests that information is the fundamental building block of the universe and has physical mass. He even claims that information could be the elusive dark matter that makes up almost a third of the universe…

Is information is a key element of everything in the universe? “New experiment could confirm the fifth state of matter in the universe.”

* James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood

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As we go deep, we might send thoroughly-modeled birthday greetings to Stanislaw Ulam; he was born on this date in 1909. A mathematician and nuclear physicist, he originated the Teller–Ulam design of thermonuclear weapons, discovered the concept of the cellular automaton, and suggested nuclear pulse propulsion.

But his most impactful contribution may have been his creation of the the Monte Carlo method of computation. While playing solitaire during his recovery from surgery, Ulam had thought about playing hundreds of games to estimate statistically the probability of a successful outcome. With ENIAC in mind, he realized that the availability of computers made such statistical methods very practical, and in 1949, he and Nicholas Metropolis published the first unclassified paper on the Monte Carlo method… which is now widely used in virtually every scientific field, in engineering and computer science, finance and business, and the law.

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