Trump, Impeachment, and Corruption

News Flash:  White collar criminologist, lawyer, and economist Bill Black has just given an interview about the impeachment proceedings.

By the way, I recommend Black as a source of information about economic and political matters, but especially the corruption of the bankis.  (He is also a former financial regulator and the author of an important work called The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One–which, according to James Galbraith, Professor of Economics at the University of Texas, is the standard work in the area.)

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ON WORK; a reaction to “Hold Me Down”

Over time, our increasingly marketing-saturated life spaces make us dumber, lazier, fatter, more selfish, less skillful, more adolescent, less politically potent, more wasteful, and less happy than we could and should be.

–Michael Dawson, The Consumer Trap (University of Illinois Press), 2005, p. 2.

WORK; What is it?

After watching “Hold Me Down”, one reaction was (along the following lines):

Well, some people don’t want to work….

Which is to say, I take it that

(Some) poor people – those who don’t want to work – get what they deserve.

For short, poor people get what they deserve.

Now, it is a profound truth in our society that no one gets what they deserve. Most of us are all, in varying degrees, mis-measured. Our capacities are not encouraged and society misses out on our real potential. And those who are most fortunate achieve less than they might if they lived in a more just society.

Or, so I would argue. One problem is that we have no adequate way to measure anyone’s contribution.
The myth which we are all taught says that if you work hard, you will get a reward.

It is my considered opinion that this piece of common sense (or is it propaganda?) simply is not true.

In the first place, there are those whose reward far exceeds their contribution. To paraphrase the American Sociologist Michael Dawson, there is the case of those who work for marketing agencies or public relations firms and promote dictatorships, or help companies pollute by green-washing, or who promote the sale of nuclear and other weapons, or who promote technologies used to spy upon citizens, or who encourage us to eat junk food (and the list could be extended)–All of those professions are well-paid, but what they contribute is not social well-being, but bad-being or ill-being, or disease, mental illness, and other harmful effects, including species extinction and climate destruction. (Greta Thunberg is right.)

So, what we call work is not often something deserving of respect, not praise-worthy, not positive or helpful, not admirable–even if it is well-paid. And, a person who does not want to participate in that harmful business (socially harmful) deserves praise, not condemnation.

Well you may say, even if all that is true, that’s not why poor people escape work. People don’t want to work because they are lazy!

Well, what is work? What is the thing from which (according to the objection) poor people wish to escape from?

The distinguished Political Philosopher Elizabeth Anderson recently described the sort of thing work is, of the sort of thing the contemporary workplace is. (1)

According to Anderson, the contemporary workplace is run by a “private government”, and (as she puts it) that form of government is a “communist dictatorship”. By “communist” she means that it is unelected, and cannot be changed. Moreover, workers in the average workplace have no freedom to express their opinions, choose their working conditions, are carefully monitored (spied upon) by their managers and supervisors.

The typical or ordinary workplace is not a place which encourages creativity, and it especially involves the regimentation—restriction, censorship—of emotions. This emotional phenomena was first discussed by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild many years ago, and has been further documented since then. (2)

Someone who wishes to escape from that sort of workplace is showing sanity, not illness.

Are there alternatives? The economist Richard D. Wolff has been arguing for employer-owned and employer-managed workplaces. That is one alternative. A real world existing example is the Mondragon Corporation in Spain. (It is easy to get information about Wolff or Mondragon on line.)
The political activist Michael Alpert (sometimes working with the economist Robin Hahnel) has also been advocating a new sort of workplace under the label “Participatory Economics.” He, also, can be easily found online.

Lastly, someone with knowledge of Economics might suppose there are scientific reasons to suppose the contemporary capitalist workplace rewards workers according to their contribution. This is not true. Standard economics is not able to prove that. Useful sources here include Yanis Varoufakis’s Foundations of Economics; A Beginner’s Companion, especially Chapter 7, pp. 181-184., or Steven Keen’s Debunking Economics. You will also find discussion of the ‘Cambridge Capital Controversy’ at the economist Matias Vernengo’s blog, “Naked Keynesianism”. The general topic is also discussed at the financial blog “Naked Capitalism”.

Now, I can well imagine that someone might say:

OK, so the contemporary capitalist workplace is unfair, undemocratic, and it doesn’t fairly reward our work. It is bad for our minds and bodies. It is also harmful for society. But we have got to go there. “WE” or most of us do have to go there, and we have no choice! But poor people escape. We pay, and they don’t! –And that’s not fair! (3)

I take it that the film “Hold Me Down” shows that the world they escape to is not one you would choose. How free poor people are, and to what extent their choices are constrained is, I think, most helpfully discussed by considering the evidence presented in Erik Olin Wright and Joel Rogers, American Society; How it Really Works—especially Chapters 13 and 14.


  1.  Originally presented as a lecture “Liberty, Equality, and Private Government”, The Tanner Lectures, available at . Lecture Two is titled “Private Government”, with the subtitle “Communist Dictatorships in our Midst”. In other words, she is making the deliberately provocative remark that Capitalist Firms are run like Communist Dictatorships.

2.  see, e.g., Talbot Brewer, “Emotional Alienation” and the references therein, in Carla Bagnoli, ed.,
Morality and the Emotions, Oxford University Press 2011.

3.  A sub-text (or unconscious thought?) here might be: “They deserve to suffer. They deserve to be miserable. They deserve to be punished for not working.” I cannot agree. Moreover, I would actually be prepared to argue, following Socrates, that retribution makes no sense. In other words, no one “deserves” to suffer. Any pain inflicted upon a person does not connect in a sensible way, or correspond to the alleged or imagined wrong a person does. Punishment only increases the amount of cruelty in the world. It cannot eliminate bad choices. We can minimize bad choices with social progress—social reform, changing the way in which our society works. But, to do that we must first describe how the system actually works—exactly what Wright and Rogers are doing.







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“Hold me down” and the South Bronx

On Monday 4 November, we shall watch the film “Hold Me Down”.

The film is set in the South Bronx.  There is now  a new film (“Decade of Fire”) telling the story of deinvestment and red lining in the South Bronx.  Government agencies and  banks refused to make housing loans to African-Americans, and refused to invest in the neighborhoods where they lived.

Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, recently  spoke to the makers of the film about the  history of the Bronx.  This is a bit of history which goes to (partially)  explain what you see  in  the movie, “Hold Me Down”.  It is the story of poverty in the USA.  There is a history here, and the decisions of banks and government officials are part of the history which leads to permanent poverty for generations of people in the USA.


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Understanding the USA: Economic Inequality


Understanding the society of the USA requires an understanding of its class system.   IN the linked editorial the economists Saez and Zucman highlight the wealth of the richest 400 people in the USA.  Their  power and influence is much greater than that of other citizens.  And, they have benefitted disproportionately from any progress in the economy in the past twenty or thirty years.

That sort of power difference is inconsistent with democracy.  A true democracy is a society where citizens have control over their lives.  When a small group has power out of proportioin to their size, there is no democracy. The power of the elite is power taken away from other citizens.

It is also true that the prominence of that small group at the top should make us uncomfortable with sociologists who prefer a more graduated notion of class.  One recent study (by two Sociologists at Oxford!) simply divided groups according to their employment category, geographical location, education, and marital status–but ignored income and wealth!  That makes it impossible to track the categories which are determining social outcomes.  The actual class structure of a society becomes opaque with such a method.


“Social stratification and cultural consumption:  The visual arts in England”, Tak Wing Chan, John H. Goldthorpe, Poetics, 35 (2007), 168-190.  (Thanks to Olga Vlasová for bringing this article to my attention.)

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Another murder by police

“He’s unconscious and in the process of dying. What is the threat?” said Chandler. “They just saw him as an animal who had been shot. They hunted a target. It’s inhumane.”

You can find the video if you want to see this murder.

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Persisting Poverty and Inequality: theme for 21 October 2019

Some background from Erik Olin Wright  and Joel Rogers:–%20Persistent%20poverty%20–%20Norton%20August.pdf

A film, “Hold me Down”:

For comparison between countries:

Child Well-being is Better in More Equal Rich Countries

“The Spirit Level” and the web site of the Equality  Trust:

ON the social  consequences of Inequality, a short video:

Evidence of narcissism (a pathology, something unhealthy) among the better-off, a paper by the psychologist, Paul Piff:

5.3 Million People  in the USA live in “Third World Conditions”–Philip Alston, UN Special Raporteur on Poverty

Report of the UN Raporteur on Poverty, after his visit to the USA:

“The United States is one of the world’s richest and most powerful and technologically innovative countries; but neither its wealth nor its power nor its technology is being harnessed to address the situation in which 40 million people continue to live in poverty.“–From the Report, added emphasis.

Interview with Philip Alston, Special Raporteur on Poverty:

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Talking about Trump

Last week the class expressed an interest in discussing Donald Trump.

There are several things to read or watch here.  Professional psychologists and therapists have made public statements about Trump’s personality disorder.  A New York attorney has written what is, in effect, a legal “brief”, a detailed argument aiming at the conclusion thtat Trump is not capable of carrying out the duties of the President of the United States.

So, you should at least look at some of these things–and really should at least read lawyer George T. Conway’s “Unfit for Office”:

On Trump’s narcissism, by Elizabeth  Mika, a therapist:

An interview with the psychiatrist Dr. Bandy  Lee explaining why she organized a conference of professionals in which  they discussed Donald Trump.  They  wanted to warn the public about the danger he represents:

A detailed account of how Trump and his father engaged in tax fraud:

Trump’s connection to the mafia, and the history of his family–a crime family:


View at

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