Uncommon Sense

August 6, 2016

The NYTimes: On the Slippery Slope and Accelerating

Journalism is suffering or, rather, we are suffering from a steep decline in the quality of journalism. Schlock and shoddy journalism has always been with us and always will, because it is cheap. If I may quote an executive of the National Enquirer magazine in court, “Everybody knows we make this stuff up.”

High quality journalism, though, is expensive. And, unfortunately the funding base for high quality journalism has evaporated. First on TV, where news divisions were not expected to make money but now they do, to newspapers, which used to be somewhat profitable and now are marginal at best.

The result has been that a great many journalists have been fired and a great many good journalists have retired and been replaced by, well, poorer journalists.

I was reading a column in today’s Times (“We’re in a Low-Growth World. How Did We Get Here?” by Neil Erwin, Senior economic correspondent at The New York Times’ The Upshot column in which he refers to an interview with Larry Summers, economist and former Obama administration economic advisor:

Mr. Summers, in an interview, frames it as an inversion of ‘Say’s Law,’ the notion that supply creates its own demand: that economywide, people doing the work to create goods and services results in their having the income to then buy those goods and services.
In this case, rather, as he has often put it: ‘Lack of demand creates lack of supply.’”

Apparently the good reporter missed something in translation, because the “framing” is a bit upside down. Say’s law has been widely discredited (and in economics that means “doesn’t work” rather than it is flawed logically or whatever) and the fact that demand drives supply is long standing economic principle.

The way it is stated it appears that Say’s Law is the operative principle, but in these unusual times it has been inverted (“In this case, rather …”). So, “normal” is declared to be an aberration.

Do realize that many folks still quote Say’s Law as if it were valid because it supports the fiction that is supply-side economics (which has also been thoroughly discredited (aka doesn’t work), just look at the last 35 years as evidence).

So this piece implies that Say’s Law is valid and an unwary reader would have that “factoid” reinforced.

Only a savvy journalist would note that either Mr. Summers misspoke or he was speaking ironically or was actually trying to counter the zombie idea of Say’s Law (zombie ideas are those that refuse to die because they are propped up for various reasons).

In any case, we lose when the quality of journalism declines and decline it has. We are on the slippery slope and accelerating. Soon, someone on the N.Y. Times staff is going to say “Everybody knows we make this stuff up.”

Yo, Trumpers, You Picked the Wrong Target for Your Ire

There is a large stream of anti-immigrant sentiment in the supporters of current GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump. They are not alone. Immigration issues fueled a great deal of the Brexit vote and they form a core of the central issues for the far right-wing parties springing up all over Europe.

This is “normal” in the sense of when economic times are tough, there is a tendency to lash out at the “cause” of one’s misery. It is also “normal” for the subjects of our lashes to tend to be those we are prejudiced against.

What is unfortunate is that the target of our ire is poorly selected. It is not immigrants who are the cause of our current economic woes. Immigrant communities have lower crime rates that do established communities. Immigrants are usually more zealous regarding American values than home grown citizens, but are they really the reason why you don’t have a job? Have they swooped in and taken up all of the banking jobs? How about real estate? Computer technicians? Auto mechanics? Plumbers? Tool and die workers? An interesting case occurs regarding doctors. It seems that most of the medical professionals I see are either foreign born or appear to be first or second gen Americans. But I don’t see a lot of doctors complaining about how immigrants have stolen their jobs.

One can also make a strong argument that immigrants are an injection of vitality into our culture. I can remember a time when the gourmet dining opportunities in the Midwest involved chicken-fried steak. Now one can easily find Thai food, sushi, Ethiopian restaurants, etc. and that is just our food culture.

No, immigrants should not be the target of our ire.

The real target are the oligarchs, those in the class of people we refer to as being “rich,” the 1%. It is they as movers and shakers in business who have ruthlessly exported good jobs out of the country to be replaced by McJobs, low paying service jobs. They are the ones campaigning for lower business taxes when business taxes, the actual ones, not the listed maximums, are the lowest they have been since they were instituted, leaving ordinary people to pick up the slack. These are the people trying to starve the government of receipts so it will stop “redistributing” their wealth to the undeserving poor (and minorities) in obvious wastes of money like Social Security and Medicare. These are the people who have redistributed the people’s wealth into their pockets but don’t want that flow reversed or even diminished. These are the people for whom no amount of money is “enough” and who will do almost anything to get “more.” These are the ones who label poor people as being “lazy,” who think an education is the cure for all economic ills (it is not), and who think government should be limited to waging wars (profitable ones anyway) and enforcing contracts.

The real target of our ire should be the plutocrats, who with their obscene amounts of wealth have bought the courts, the legislature, and the political parties.

People like … Donald Trump.

August 3, 2016

The Wisdom of Ordinary People

A comment made regarding a post on the Naked Capitalism blog (Brexit Realism: Maybe Voters Were Not Dumb by David Miles, Imperial College Business School) shows a great deal of wisdom and the danger associated with the current states of our economies. The comment was in regard to the Brits exiting the European Economic Union (Brexit):

When people say the ‘economy’ will be harmed by an action, I’ve taken to asking – and it applies to Brexit – whose economy ? Before neoliberalism allowed Capital to hoover up all the gains in productivity and keep it, wages and productivity were at least loosely coupled. If I don’t get any more of the pie, why should I care if the pie is bigger? Most if not all economists only talk about the economy of Capital, giving scant regard to the economy of Labour. I think some Brexiters couldn’t see how dewealthing some rich people was going to hurt them – especially if they are on social welfare or benefits.

The commenter used a tag rather than his/her name so it is hard to give credit. (Why do people hide behind a nom de plume? Fear of retribution?)

The danger is those left out of the “gains of the economy” have no vested interest in its general welfare. Clearly capitalism has no checks and balances built it (as are so often claimed as in phrases like “But a corporation would not do that as it would harm their reputation …”) to restrain greed and greed has brought us to the point that a vast majority of Americans (and Brits and …) couldn’t care less about the “economy” because they are not part of it. They have been excluded by those seeking wealth by any means. Soon, throwing another plutocrat on the fire to stay warm is going to sound like a good idea.

August 1, 2016

Am I an Unrepentant Grammar Snob?

Filed under: Culture — Steve Ruis @ 12:24 pm
Tags: ,


I seem to be bombarded with idiotic phrases of late. Here are but a few examples:

Pre-Drilled Holes These accompany something for sale that would otherwise require the purchaser to drill some holes during assembly. But the term essentially implies that the holes were created prior to the use of the drill. Don’t them mean just “drilled holes” and can’t they just say “no drilling required?” If the thing were to sold assembled would they brag of “pre-screwed screws” or of it being “pre-assembled?” I suspect so.

Pre-Cancerous Growths/Pre-Diabetes These terms, the second of which is being pitched as a real disease, make about as much sense as describing your skin as being “pre-sunburnt” before you visit the beach or your body as being “pre-reduced” before going on a diet. These terms really smack of someone having something to sell, like insurance because, gosh, you never know when something bad will happen. Sheesh.

Renewable Energy This term is especially irritating as it is a contraction of “renewable energy sources” and is often chopped down all the way to “renewables” in discussions of commercial energy production. Energy cannot be renewed or reused, period. Take firewood, a “renewable energy source” for millennia. Collect fallen wood from a forest or even chop down trees, season the wood, and prepare it for the fireplace and voila, you have a home heating and cooking system in the form of a “fire place.” The “source” is said to be “renewable” because another tree can be grown. A better term would be “replaceable energy source,” because the first tree is not coming back, even if a new tree grows from the stump of the old. If you step back a little, the energy needed to grow that tree came from the sun, so burning wood is a manifestation of solar power. For a tree to grow, a seed has to have nourishing soil, plenty of water available, and a host of symbiotic relationships with the biota in the vicinity, but the energy is supplied through sunlight. Sunlight is not renewable, it is not even replaceable, it is just a source of energy that is damned near inexhaustible in the potential life span of our species.

I realize being a grammar (and syntax, and punctuation, …) snob is a form of self-inflicted would and I should just give it up … but … aaaaarrrggghh!

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