In the heat of writing the last post, there was something I didn’t stress enough. The post shouldn’t have been about making a prediction. Predictions are fun, but not really that useful except to try and make yourself look smart or to accidentally make yourself look dumb. In overemphasizing the prediction, I understressed what should have been the central point, which is that – in a country with key costs rising faster than incomes – people are suffering. People are suffering and increasingly unable to afford the things they need the most. That’s what matters.
Have you ever heard of the economist William Baumol? Probably not, because economists are almost always boring and often little more than hacks that rich people invest in to help them save money on taxes. But Baumol appears to be one of the rare economists to stumble upon a genuine insight. One of his ideas is known as Baumol’s cost disease (always name your smart discoveries after yourself), which essentially states that if large capital investments are used to automate the mass production of goods, the price of those goods will fall and the costs of services – i.e., tasks that humans must in large part perform – will rise as a result. Because wages for workers benefiting from increasingly automated, increasingly efficient, mass-production will rise, these workers will be more able and willing to pay higher prices for services. When this happens, prices and wages for service workers will rise. Thus, even though Beethoven’s Fifth remains Beethoven’s Fifth whether it be played in the 18th century or the 23rd, God willing, the players and conductors in the 23rd will be payed much more than the player and conductors were payed in the 18th. And, since the playing of Beethoven’s Fifth can’t be automated the way manufacturing a diaper can be, the cost of the Fifth, relative to the cost of the diaper, will increase.
Put another way, as the ability of capital to mass produce dead objects/goods increases, the relative price of these dead objects will decrease against that which cannot be mass-produced – again, i.e., tasks that humans must in large part perform.
One more try: as people experience income growth and can purchase many goods with less money, they will pay more for things that are less easily automated, aka people-performed work aka services. If you still don’t understand at this point you should probably stop reading and make loud fun of me for being a bad writer and explainer.
None of this mattered. It’s really worth considering if it ever does.
What can we say? The news says “President Donald Trump” hundreds of times each day and a neo-fascist and an investment banker are the two choices for president of France. These are the times we live in.
The French election, as with the U.S. election last year, is helpful in that it shows us exactly how scared we should be. And we should be very, very scared. In this corner: Marine Le Pen, A woman who white-washes France’s collaboration with the Nazis in the Holocaust. In the other corner: Emmanuel Macron, an ex-investment banker and ex-minister of the current government with a single-digit approval rating who thinks that the problem with the current oligarchic neo-liberal order is that we have the wrong technocratic manager in charge – instead of the order itself. It’s the 2016 U.S. election with the genders switched and a less mentally ill (scientifically speaking) but more professional rabble-rouser.
Unlike in the U.S., the center-right is not capitulating to its right-wing, which means that the self-styled centrist Macron will most likely win. If he does it will make an interesting case study in political tactics for controlling populism. The center-right’s stampede away from Le Pen, toward Macron, may discredit them even more if Macron proves to be the same abysmal failure that most leaders of his ilk have turned out to be. On the other hand, the French political mainstream may continue to succeed in slamming the door in the reactionary right’s face in perpetuity. Plus, their move, in the moment at least, is much closer to the right thing to do than what Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell have done in the U.S.
If Macron wins, I wish him the best of luck managing France, as he is the far lesser of two evils compared to Le Pen and her National Front. But make no mistake, Macron is a shithead. And all the luck in the world may have run out for shitheads like him.
If Le Pen wins, then one of the few things I’ll look forward to is Donald Trump shaking her hand.
On April 16, the people of Turkey went to the polls for a referendum. The matter under consideration was a broad set of amendments to the country’s constitution. Most notable among other things, the amendments would abolish the office of the Prime Minister and effectively replace Turkey’s parliamentarian government with a presidential system.
Most every presidential system of government needs a strong executive to function effectively, and the proposed amendments did not claim otherwise. In the process of doing away with the government’s Prime Minister, the amendments would endow the president, a largely ceremonial post with little hard power in the previous system, with the powers of chief executive and head of state. And the actual powers that come with these title bumps are far from trivial – new authority to appoint government ministers, select judges, enact laws by decree, declare states of emergency, and dismiss parliament.
Parliament, which would serve at the pleasure of the president, would also be stripped of its authority to scrutinize ministers as part of their appointment proceedings or conduct thorough investigations of the government. It would retain the ability to impeach the president, however, since the president could dismiss parliament at any time it remains to be seen if that capability has any tangible force behind it.
Though a unique issue in a unique country, like Brexit and the Trump victory, the referendum in Turkey won by a tight margin at the polls: 51.4 to 48.59.