By Tim Wu
Mr. Wu is the author of “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Struggle to Get Inside Our Heads.”
For much of human history, what we now call “privacy” was better known as being rich. Privacy, like wealth, was something that most people had little or none of. Farmers, slaves and serfs resided in simple dwellings, usually with other people, sometimes even sharing space with animals. They had no expectation that a meaningful part of their lives would be unwatchable or otherwise off limits to others. That would have required homes with private rooms. And only rich people had those.
The spread of mass privacy, surely one of modern civilization’s more impressive achievements, thus depended on another, even more impressive achievement: the creation of a middle class. Only over the past 300 years or so, as increasingly large numbers of people gained the means to control their physical environment through the acquisition of wealth and private property, did privacy norms and eventually privacy rights come into existence. What is a right to privacy without a room of your own?
The historical link between privacy and the forces of wealth creation helps explain why privacy is under siege today. It reminds us, first, that mass privacy is not a basic feature of human existence but a byproduct of a specific economic arrangement — and therefore a contingent and impermanent state of affairs. And it reminds us, second, that in a capitalist country, our baseline of privacy depends on where the money is. And today that has changed.
The forces of wealth creation no longer favor the expansion of privacy but work to undermine it. We have witnessed the rise of what I call “attention merchants” and what the sociologist Shoshana Zuboff calls “surveillance capitalism” — the commodification of our personal databy tech giants like Facebook and Google and their imitators in telecommunications, electronics and other industries. We face a future in which active surveillance is such a routine part of business that for most people it is nearly inescapable. In this respect, we are on the road back to serfdom.
via Opinion | How Capitalism Betrayed Privacy – The New York Times
By Paul Krugman
March 4, 2019, 529 c
President Trump’s trade belligerence has done lasting damage to America’s reputation.CreditCreditPete Marovich for The New York Times
This is the way the trade war ends. Not with a bang but with empty bombast.
“According to multiple news organizations, the U.S. and China are close to a deal that would effectively end trade hostilities. Under the reported deal, America would remove most of the tariffs it imposed last year. China, for its part, would end its retaliatory tariffs, make some changes to its investment and competition policies and direct state enterprises to buy specified amounts of U.S. agricultural and energy products.
The Trump administration will, of course, trumpet the deal as a triumph. In reality, however, it’s much ado about nothing much.
As described, the deal would do little to address real complaints about Chinese policy, which mainly involve China’s systematic expropriation of intellectual property. Nor would it do much to address Donald Trump’s pet although misguided peeve, the imbalance in U.S.-China trade. Basically, Trump will have backed down.
If this is the story, it will repeat what we saw on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump denounced as the “worst trade deal ever made.” In the end, what Trump negotiated — the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement, or U.S.M.C.A. — was very similar to the previous status quo. Trade experts I know, when not referring to it as the Village People agreement, call it “Nafta 0.8”: fundamentally the same as Nafta, but a bit worse.”
via Opinion | America the Cowardly Bully – The New York Times
By Jamelle Bouie
Feb. 21, 2019, 24c
Image Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont leaving a news conference after the final Yemen Resolution vote in December.
Credit Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times
Bernie Sanders’s most prominent message is economic, organized around a critique of capitalist inequality, an indictment of the ultrawealthy and a call for expansive new social programs. It helped propel him to a strong second in the 2016 Democratic primary campaign and has returned as the marquee message for his 2020 campaign, which he announced on Tuesday with a promise to “complete the revolution.”
Unfortunately for his 2020 campaign, Sanders is less distinct on economic policy than he was in 2016. His rivals for the Democratic presidential nomination have either embraced broad ideas like Medicare for all or unveiled their own: Elizabeth Warren’s universal child care proposal; Cory Booker’s plan to drastically reduce housing costs; Kamala Harris’s LIFT Act, which would build on the earned-income tax credit and create a new monthly cash payment for most middle-class households.
But Sanders isn’t without an advantage. If in 2016 his foreign-policy thinking was underbaked, then in 2019 he stands as one of the few candidates with a fully formed vision for American foreign policy. It’s one that ties his domestic focus on political and economic justice to a larger project of international cooperation and solidarity, anti-authoritarianism and promotion of democratic values. It’s a vision that rests on the conviction that progressive politics must continue past the water’s edge.
Sanders articulated the substance of his foreign policy views in two speeches: one in 2017 at Missouri’s Westminster College — speaking from the stage where Winston Churchill delivered his “Iron Curtain” speech — and one last October at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
via Opinion | The Sanders Foreign Policy Advantage – The New York Times
Let’s be honest with ourselves: The new Democratic majority in the House won’t be able to enact new legislation. I’ll be astonished if there are bipartisan deals on anything important — even on infrastructure, where both sides claim to want action but what the G.O.P. really wants is an excuse to privatize public assets.
So the immediate consequences of the power shift in Washington won’t involve actual policymaking; they’ll come mainly from Democrats’ new, subpoena-power-armed ability to investigate the fetid swamp of Trumpian corruption.
But that doesn’t mean that Democrats should ignore policy issues. On the contrary, the party should spend the next two years figuring out what, exactly, it will try to do if it gains policymaking power in 2021. Which brings me to the big policy slogan of the moment: the so-called Green New Deal. Is this actually a good idea?
Yes, it is. But it’s important to go beyond the appealing slogan, and hash out many of the details. You don’t want to be like the Republicans, who spent years talking big about repealing Obamacare, but never worked out a realistic alternative.
via Opinion | Hope for a Green New Year – The New York Times
Paul Krugman will transfer to emeritus status at the end of the current academic year, after spending 15 years on the Princeton faculty. It is no exaggeration to say that Paul is one of the leading economists and one of the leading public intellectuals of his generation.
Paul grew up on Long Island, earned his B.A. at Yale, and received his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1977. After teaching at Yale for three years, he returned to MIT, where he revolutionized the field of international trade theory. A short stint at Stanford and a return engagement with MIT were followed by the longest stretch of his academic career, which he spent at Princeton with a joint appointment in the economics department and the Woodrow Wilson School. Of course, Paul is equally well known for his “other career,” as an outspoken opinion writer for The New York Times.
Paul was awarded the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences in 2008 for his work on international trade with increasing returns to scale. When Paul came to the field, the traditional theory of trade based on the 19th-century writings of David Ricardo explained trade by differences between countries that generated a comparative advantage for each. But Paul (and others) noticed the tension in the fact that a majority of trade took place between similar countries, with similar factor endowments and access to similar technologies. Surely, something else besides comparative advantage must be at the root of such trade. Moreover, traditional trade theory emphasized interindustry trade, with countries specializing in the production of some goods and exporting them in exchange for others. In fact, much of actual trade was intra-industry; countries imported and exported different varieties of relatively similar goods that fell into the same industry classification. Paul developed an elegant theory of international trade based on economies of scale and product differentiation. The existence of scale economies internal to the firm limited the extent of product differentiation that the market could support. But trade allowed countries to consume varieties that were not produced locally. Countries trade in order to take advantage of a larger world market and all gained from the greater diversity in consumption and potentially from longer production runs. Soon, Paul’s models formed the core of the “new trade theory,” which rapidly generated a paradigm shift in thinking about trade that persists today.
Paul’s work on “new trade” led relatively quickly and naturally to his 1991 monograph Geography and Trade, which soon spawned the “new economic geography.” In his monograph and a nearly contemporary paper in the Journal of Political Economy on “Increasing Returns and Economic Geography,” Paul developed a now-famous “core-periphery model” in which economies of scale in manufacturing interact with transport costs to generate the agglomeration of economic activities in a few large markets, leaving the periphery with the residual, constant-returns-to-scale activities. He demonstrated the possibility for cumulative causation in which the core grows large, because a large market is attractive to businesses, which want to locate near to their customers. In the process, the periphery can be left behind, even if the periphery is no different from the core at the beginning of the process. Soon, an army of regional and urban economists were running with his ideas, much as had been true in the trade field just a decade earlier.
via Paul R. Krugman | Dean of the Faculty
“Climate change is a hoax.
Climate change is happening, but it’s not man-made.
Climate change is man-made, but doing anything about it would destroy jobs and kill economic growth.
These are the stages of climate denial. Or maybe it’s wrong to call them stages, since the deniers never really give up an argument, no matter how thoroughly it has been refuted by evidence. They’re better described as cockroach ideas — false claims you may think you’ve gotten rid of, but keep coming back.
Anyway, the Trump administration and its allies — put on the defensive by yet another deadly climate change-enhanced hurricane and an ominous United Nations report — have been making all of these bad arguments over the past few days. I’d say it was a shocking spectacle, except that it’s hard to get shocked these days. But it was a reminder that we’re now ruled by people who are willing to endanger civilization for the sake of political expediency, not to mention increased profits for their fossil-fuel friends.”
via Opinion | Donald and the Deadly Deniers – The New York Times
So Donald Trump went to a NATO summit, insulted our allies, then made the absurd demand not just that they increase defense spending — which they should — but that they raise it to 4 percent of G.D.P., much higher than the bloated military spending in his own budget. He then claimed, falsely, to have won major concessions, and graciously declared that it is “presently unnecessary” to consider quitting the alliance.
Was there anything our allies could have done that would have mollified him? The answer, surely, is no. For Trump, disrupting NATO doesn’t seem to be a means to an end; it’s an end in itself.
Does all of this sound familiar? It’s basically the same as the story of the escalating trade war. While Trump rants about other countries’ unfair trade practices — a complaint that has some validity for China, although virtually none for Canada or the European Union — he hasn’t made any coherent demands. That is, he has given no indication what any of the countries hit by his tariffs could do to satisfy him, leaving them with no option except retaliation.
So he isn’t acting like someone threatening a trade war to win concessions; he’s acting like someone who just wants a trade war. Sure enough, he’s reportedly threatening to pull out of the World Trade Organization, the same way he’s suggesting that the U.S. might pull out of NATO.
via Opinion | For Trump, Failure Is the Only Option – The New York Times
David Lindsay: Another hard hitting piece by Krugman, who goes on to say that Trump acts like he is a Russian agent. His choices weaken NATO and make Putin stronger in his work to expand Russia.
“According to early indications, recent U.S. economic growth was full of beans.No, seriously. More than half of America’s soybean exports typically go to China, but Chinese tariffs will shift much of that demand to Brazil, and countries that normally get their soybeans from Brazil have raced to replace them with U.S. beans. The perverse result is that the prospect of tariffs has temporarily led to a remarkably large surge in U.S. exports, which independent estimates suggest will add around 0.6 percentage points to the U.S. economy’s growth rate in the second quarter.
Unfortunately, we’ll give all that growth back and more in the months ahead. Thanks to the looming trade war, U.S. soybean prices have plummeted, and the farmers of Iowa are facing a rude awakening.Why am I telling you this story? Partly as a reminder of the unintended consequences of Donald Trump’s trade war, which is going to hurt a lot of people, like Iowa farmers, who supported him in 2016.
In fact, it looks as if the trade war is in general going to hurt Trump’s supporters more than his opponents.Meanwhile, Trump’s trade war will benefit some unexpected parties. Was making Brazil great again part of his agenda?”
“But I find myself thinking, not about the fall of the Republic, but about the Pax Romana that came after — the two-plus centuries of stability that followed Augustus. Believe it or not, I think that era does have some lessons for us; this may be a sign of mental infirmity, but I’m gonna let it all hang out.
Not long ago, I would have said that very little about the Roman Empire was relevant to anything modern. It may have fascinated early modern Europeans like Edward Gibbon, but in the end it was a pre-industrial society, incredibly poor by modern standards, and sharing few modern values. True, the Roman Empire was bigger than most pre-industrial empires, and lasted a lot longer. But was it really different in any important way from, say, Assyria?
But I read a lot of history in my spare time, and as best I can tell modern scholarship is telling us that Rome really was something special.
What I learned first from Peter Temin, and at greater length from Kyle Harper, was that Rome wasn’t your ordinary pre-industrial economy. Of course it didn’t have a technological takeoff; but peace, interregional trade, and a sophisticated business and financial system made it surprisingly productive, with an overall standard of living probably not equaled until the 17th century Dutch Republic. Harper notes that Rome was held back in some ways by a heavy burden of disease, an unintentional byproduct of urbanization and trade that a society lacking the germ theory had no way to alleviate. But still, the Romans really did achieve remarkable things on the economic front.
They also achieved remarkable things on the political front. The Romans were not nice guys; they weren’t Edwardian gentlemen in togas. They had no qualms about slavery, were often casually cruel, and had no compunctions at all about using extreme force to put down any challenges to imperial rule. But while the threat of violence always lurked in the background, the Roman Empire wasn’t held together by a reign of terror. For the most part the Pax Romana was maintained through the willing cooperation of local elites. “
via Opinion | What Did the Romans Ever Do for Us? – The New York Times
Lovely piece Paul Krugman, thank you. This essay connects profoundly with any number of set backs recently. The TPP. the Trans Pacific Partnership, was one example of exemplary leadership by the Obama administration, and our allies, to continue free trade and respect for the rule of law and intellectual property rights in the Pacific rim. It was designed brilliantly to help the US and its allies coax China into more fair and legal trade practices. I hope and pray that the pro science wave will wash the no-nothings and sycophants of the 1% oil and gas crowd into the corner with a dunce cap on where they belong. Meanwhile, populist concerns need to be addressed. There is so much work to do. How do we keep out illegal immigrants for instance, without forcing the separation of parents and children, or their repatriation to death by gang warfare and terror? It might not be the Roman way, but we might have to consider requiring family planning in exchange for military help in controlling gang violence in Central and South America. David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-century Vietnam,” and blogs at TheTaySonRebellion.com and InconvenientNewsWorldwide.wordpress.com