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The Wrongologist

Geopolitics, Power and Political Economy

Friday Cartoon Blogging??

It sounds like an old story, but the Wrongologist and Ms. Oh So Right are again headed to a wedding in Vermont, so there will be no new posts until Monday. Therefore, cartoons!

We can’t ignore the visit of Pope Francis. Yesterday, he spoke to the Congress, and the usual spin ensued. Like the Liberty U folks when Bernie spoke there, the defining political issue for 90+% of Republicans is abortion. As long as the Pope remains with them on that issue, there’s no contradiction between their faith and political affiliation.

They will no more listen to this Pope on other issues than they did to John Paul II’s anti-war messages.

Liberals, including liberal Catholics, appreciate Francis because he says some things that they’ve believed for a long time. It’s always nice when an authority figure affirms one’s beliefs. But the three Catholic POTUS candidates, Christie, Jeb, and Santorum, have already rejected anything Francis has to say on climate change and income inequality. As have all the GOP members of Congress regardless of their religious affiliation.

The Pope’s big job:

Clay Bennett, Chattanooga Times Free Press

Brian Williams returned from banishment to anchor coverage of the Pope:

COW Brian Williams

We may see a government shutdown this fall. One thing to keep in mind about the Republican debate over whether or not to risk a government shutdown for the “defund Planned Parenthood” movement is that this isn’t a fight over goals or principles. There isn’t a single Republican presidential candidate who does not favor “defunding Planned Parenthood:

COW Shutdown again

The GOP is moving on to Carly:

COW Fiorina

Volkswagen’s CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned on Wednesday over the emissions cheating scandal, saying “I’m not aware of any wrongdoing on my part.” Strange choice of words, probably written by his PR team. This is a rogue company that undertook anti-social activities for profit. Anyone can see that this is the outcome we should expect if Mr. Market is allowed to run free:

COW VW2

The Beetle morphs:

COW VW

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Pope Francis on Capitalism

With the Pope starting his visit to the US, most focus will be on Conservatives’ support for the Catholic Church’s views against abortion and gay marriage. Conservatives are far less enthusiastic about Francis’ views about climate change and capitalism, both of which are covered in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si’.

While the Wrongologist has not read Laudato Si´, he did read an extensive and thoughtful review by William Nordhaus in the NY Review of Books, who says the Pope thinks that the degradation of our environment is a symptom of deeper problems: rapid change, unsustainable over-consumption, indifference to the poor, and the decay of social values.

Nordhaus notes that the encyclical contains an extensive discussion of the features of markets and modern capitalism. It emphasizes dysfunctional tendencies and distortions, witness his criticism of excessive consumption:

Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. Compulsive consumerism is one example of how the techno-economic paradigm affects individuals. [Paragraph 203]

And Francis’ criticism of the distorting effect of the drive for profit:

Once more, we need to reject a magical conception of the market, which would suggest that problems can be solved simply by an increase in the profits of companies or individuals. Is it realistic to hope that those who are obsessed with maximizing profits will stop to reflect on the environmental damage which they will leave behind for future generations? [Paragraph 190]

Nordhaus quotes Francis, who argues that profit-seeking is the source of environmental degradation:

The principle of the maximization of profits, frequently isolated from other considerations, reflects a misunderstanding of the very concept of the economy. As long as production is increased, little concern is given to whether it is at the cost of future resources or the health of the environment; as long as the clearing of a forest increases production, no one calculates the losses entailed in the desertification of the land, the harm done to biodiversity or the increased pollution. In a word, businesses profit by calculating and paying only a fraction of the costs involved. [Paragraph 195]

Francis singles out financiers for special disapproval:

In the meantime, economic powers continue to justify the current global system where priority tends to be given to speculation and the pursuit of financial gain, which fail to take the context into account, let alone the effects on human dignity and the natural environment…. [Paragraph 56]

The Pope criticizes capitalism’s push to make ultra-consumers of everyone:

This paradigm [consumerism] leads people to believe that they are free as long as they have the supposed freedom to consume. But those really free are the minority who wield economic and financial power. [Paragraph 203]

Pure capitalism ignores two major shortcomings of those economies run by Mr. Market: The first is the emergence of monopolies, or things like unregulated pollution, which distort market outcomes. The second is inequality of opportunities and income. And much has been written about rising income inequality, particularly by Seitz and Piketty, and Joseph Stiglitz.

However, it would be inaccurate to point solely to the depletion of resources or pollution as major causes of rising poverty. Instead, it is forces such as the labor-saving nature of new technologies like robots, rising imports from low- and middle-income countries, and the capture of our income taxing system by corporations and the wealthy that have distorted our markets.

Specifically, as economist Arthur Okun has written, markets do not have automatic mechanisms to guarantee an equitable distribution of income and wealth:

Given the chance, [the market] would sweep away all other values, and establish a vending-machine society. The rights and powers that money should not buy must be protected with detailed regulations and sanctions, and with countervailing aids to those with low incomes. Once those rights are protected and economic deprivation is ended, I believe that our society would be more willing to let the competitive market have its place.

So, as this week rolls out, expect to hear many voices on the right argue that Francis is an unrealistic economic fool. In particular, expect to hear George Will’s arguments this week in the National Review echoed by the media. Here is a representative quote from Mr. Will: (emphasis by the Wrongologist)

Francis’s fact-free flamboyance reduces him to a shepherd whose selectively reverent flock, genuflecting only at green altars, is tiny relative to the publicity it receives from media…He stands against modernity, rationality, science and, ultimately, the spontaneous creativity of open societies in which people and their desires are not problems but precious resources. Americans cannot simultaneously honor him and celebrate their nation’s premises.

See what George Will did there? He says that climate denialism is pro-science, while belief in climate change is anti-science.

Know the enemy by their arguments.

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – September 20, 2015

Pope Francis, Russia’s President Putin and China’s President Xi walk into a bar…Well, it won’t be that type of week exactly, but all will be in the US over the next few days. There will be summits and mini-summits, and a few hallway meetings between them and individually, with Mr. Obama. But the game-changer is likely to be Pope Francis, who is bringing his message about Mr. Market, and how Mr. Market isn’t working for the average Joe. In fact, many Republicans are suspicious of the Pope:

COW Pope Republicans

Rep. Paul Gosar, (R-AZ) says he’s boycotting Pope Francis’ appearance before Congress. He said:

If the Pope wants to devote his life to fighting climate change then he can do so on his personal time.

Rep. Gosar, who has received campaign contributions of $12,500 from oil and gas companies and $28,850 from electric utilities, doesn’t believe in climate change. Apparently, he would rather the Pope devotes his speech to abortion, Planned Parenthood, and to the threatened religious liberties of County Clerks.

This Pope’s message causes discomfort for people on both sides of the aisle. Conservative Catholics used to welcome Francis’ predecessors ecstatically, and with open arms, but that was in the old days, when Popes were Popes:

COW Popes Different Welcome

Even when in the Reagan Library, today’s GOP candidates can’t duplicate St. Ronnie’s message:

COW Reagan Meme

The GOP debate brought the smell of roasted pig:

COW Burned Pig

Views now differ on Paradise:

COW Paradise

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Monday Wake Up – December 1, 2014

Today’s Wake Up is for entrenched power in America.

Inequality and political polarization has progressed to the point that the “The Hunger Games” trilogy is being taken seriously as literature with an important message for our time.

Its symbols are appearing in protests around the world and have made it into opinion columns:

Some protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, have adopted Katniss’s revolutionary slogan, “If we burn, you burn with us.” In Thailand, students flashing District 12’s three-fingered salute — a symbol of protest in the film — have recently been arrested. (The salute has apparently been outlawed since spring.) In a few short years, “The Hunger Games” and its symbology have become a part of the cultural commons.

America’s upper middle class thinks that inequality is an issue because it means low GDP growth, solely because people can’t buy enough consumer products to create good jobs. However, there could be an inflection point ahead when having more consumer goods ceases to be the goal of the middle class, or the people in poverty.

Look back at the French and Russian monarchies for a lesson about what that transition might look like, and how fast it can come about.

Today’s wake up music isn’t designed to get you dancing. It is the political anthem, “We Can’t Make It Here” by James McMurtry. McMurtry is the son of the novelist Larry McMurtry. The song won the 2005 Americana Music Award for song of the year. Music critic Robert Christgau has ranked “We Can’t Make It Here” as the best song of the 2000s. Bob Lefsetz said that “We Can’t Make It Here” has stood the test of time because of its unmitigated truth. Listen, while thinking that this was written in 2005, not this year:

Sample lyrics:
Will I work for food, will I die for oil,
Will kill for power and to us the spoils,
The billionaires get to pay less tax,
The working poor get to fall through the cracks

Monday’s Links:

Millennials are having to choose between affordable housing and jobs. It has always been true that there are fewer jobs where housing is affordable, but today, those two halves of the American Dream are living farther apart. Jobs with high wages are in unaffordable cities. The affordable homes cluster in the cities with lower wages and less upwardly mobile families.

Governor Christie (R-NJ) gives early sign that he is running for President. Christie vetoed a bill that would have banned crating pigs. New Jersey has few pig farms, but they are widespread in Iowa.

You can unknowingly lease a dog in San Diego CA. People who thought they purchased a dog using time payments actually leased the pet. After 27 months of payments, they could pay a $93.52 fee to end the lease, or $187.04 to purchase the pet. Why not just get a rescue animal? Read the paperwork, people! This is probably the next Wall Street securitization scheme.

Pope raises eyebrows by saying:

When we read about Creation in Genesis, we run the risk of imagining God was a magician, with a magic wand able to do everything — but that is not so…

His point was that Catholics should believe in evolution and the big bang theory. Next, Kansas and Texas will probably try to excommunicate him. Clearly, he’s been confused by those science-y people.

News from Russia:

Are the sanctions working? Russian firms that are under sanctions by the West must refinance $20 billion by April-sanctions are making that difficult.

There is a serious nuclear waste problem in the Arctic, brought to you by Russia. According to a joint Russian-Norwegian report issued in 2012, there are 17,000 containers of nuclear waste, 19 rusting Soviet nuclear ships and 14 nuclear reactors cut out of atomic vessels sitting on the bottom of the Kara Sea. The worst case scenario is described as “an Arctic underwater Chernobyl, played out in slow motion.” Oh, great, and I was worried about Crimea.

Water thievery is growing in California along with the drought. Thieves are cutting pipes and taking water from fire hydrants, storage tanks, creeks and rivers to get their hands on the precious commodity.

Thought for the week:

I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong. –Katharine Graham (Owner of the Washington Post)

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