The Environment, Trump, Koch Brothers & Big Money

Trump’s recent announcement that he is leaving the Paris Climate Accord and his ongoing gutting of the Environmental Protection Agency should come as no surprise given his billionaire class Cabinet and advisers.  Now it is clear that the Koch brothers have been at work. They are notorious for their Libertarianism, election buying and ownership of huge coal mining corporations. 

Today (6/5/2017) on the New Yorker magazine website Jane Mayer wrote in her article, “IN THE WITHDRAWAL FROM THE PARIS CLIMATE AGREEMENT, THE KOCH BROTHERS’ CAMPAIGN BECOMES OVERT” of the now publicly visible campaign by the Koch brothers and many others to make their decade’s long campaign to deny climate change bear new fruit in public policy. More evidence that the plutocrats are now so secure in their control over our politics and the government that they can come out of the shadows and rule directly through Trump.

BTW – Jane Mayer spent 5 years investigating big money and particularly the Koch brothers. The resulting book almost reads like a cloak and dagger mystery excepting for the very real people and money at play: DARK MONEY: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right by Jane Mayer (Doubleday NY 2016) – reviewed in the NYTimes 1/19/2016 by Alan Ehrenhalt.

Neoliberalism Revisited

A return to a topic first posted 2/10/2017.

Neoliberalism – a term that needs never to be used

February 10, 2017

Dollars and Sense has been around since the 1970s. Always a source of well researched critiques of capitalism. I recently, after a more than 30 year hiatus, re-upped a subscription.

Dear Dollars & Sense,

Your new issue showed up the other day with the word “neoliberalism” in bold type on the cover. The continuing use of this term is not helpful. When I first saw this word a few years ago I wondered how the word “liberal” and “neoliberal” are connected? Then, I remembered the little I can recall about 19th century European political philosophy. Oh, its that liberalism that is new!

Really, outside of academic circles no one knows what this word means. Most in my circle find it off-putting, obscure and boring.

Free Market Religion

I prefer to refer to this ideology as “free market religion”. “Free market” is a widely used term as in “free market capitalism”. And “religion” gets across the fact that this is a counter-factual pile of BS.

If you don’t like my term, come up with something better. Please stop using “neoliberalism”.

A Reply from D&S

2/22/2017 – Chris Sturr commented on New Issue!.

in response to Mark Orton:


Mark, this is something that we struggle with, but we have over the years decided that it is more important to call our current economic system by the name that left economists have tended to use. You’re right that its origins are academic, but other mainstream publications have been using it more and more (for example, The Guardian, Salon, Jacobin, and (as far back as 1990) The American Prospect.

Dollars & Sense authors have been using (and carefully defining) the term “neoliberalism” for years now (most recently in David Kotz’s two-part piece on the crisis of neoliberalism (here, but for years before that). We do try to explain the term whenever we use it.

Sasha Breger Bush’s cover story makes a careful argument that Trump’s economic policies do not signal an end to the free-market, anti-government policies of the neoliberal era, but do signal the end to its globalist orientation. She’s proposing that if he gets his way we will be entering a different economic regime, and she gives it the name “national neoliberalism.” It’s a bold and thought-provoking analysis and we wanted to use her new term on the cover. We recognize that downsides, but we think our readers are familiar enough with the term and those who aren’t will read on to see what it means.

You suggest calling neoliberalism “free-market religion” (which reminds me of Bill Black’s term “theoclassical economics”–see for example here). I think that works when “neoliberalism” refers to free-market ideology. But “neoliberalism” also refers to an economic system that results after years of policy justified by free-market ideology. You’re right that the ideology is BS, and the economic set-up that results from years of “free-market” ideology is not really characterized by “free-markets” (as Breger Bush show’s, it’s just as much about corporate capture of government to promote ruling-class interests at the expense of everyone else). But the system itself is not BS and it deserves a non-pejorative name. The name that left economists have come up for it is “neoliberalism.”

Anyhow, you are surely right that it is offputting to some people, and that’s why we’ve struggled with whether to use the term. But we think the value of getting people familiar with the name of the economic system we’ve been living under outweighs the downsides of using the term. Your comment is a reminder that we need to do better about explaining what we (and left economists) mean by the term.

A Further Thought

This is of course an interesting addition to my knowledge of the thinking at D&S about the language they employ. But, even this discussion further supports my conviction that we need to develop a more robust accessible language to use in public discourse about one of the most important issues of our time. I am quite certain that the readership of D&S is not confused or put off by the term “neoliberalism”.

The audience of my concern is the average American who has been subjected to a sustained campaign of free-market thinking from the Republicans, most Democrats, the mass media, corporations, the academy…..not to mention Wall St. for the past 40 years. If we want to offer an alternative analysis we need direct language that does not refer to thinking and issues from 150 years ago that invites immediate suspicions that those speaking are academics and intellectuals who by definition are not connected to the day-to-day realities of American life.

Movie – War Machine – a misplaced parable

Netflix has just released War Machine onto the streaming media waters. This movie fits into the long tradition of American media mostly puffing up our military exploits or turning them into light tragi-comedy.  Brad Pitt, applying the acting style of a trimmed down George Clooney, portrays the fictional General Glen McMahon. Broadly and obviously based on the story of the real General Stanley McChrystal who took over the War in Afghanistan in June 2009 only to be ousted in June 2010 after a profile appeared in Rolling Stone Magazine revealed much foolishness and derogatory comments about President Obama and VP Biden. The movie has its comedic moments and the very broadly played General MaMahon is bound to either really annoy those enamored of the US military or fulfill the image of buffoonish generals that others may prefer.

Update on Trump’s Mental Capacities

The state of Trump’s mind has been a matter of continuous discussion ever since he came on the scene as a presidential candidate. Mental health professionals have weighed in despite their professions rules against doing so. More recently in an op-ed piece David Brooks posed the idea that we are dealing with a child, “When the World Is Led by a Child“. Some demurred at what they felt was a demeaning comparison with the actual positive characteristics of children.1 Others offer more political explanations for Trump’s behavior.

Perhaps He Is Just Getting Old – Dementia Is Underway

  1. Here are some responses concerning children: “Don’t Insult Kids by Comparing Trump to Them” – letter to NYTimes and “4-Year-Olds Don’t Act Like Trump“ []

Naive Talk about Healthcare from Adam Davidson in the New Yorker

Adam Davidson

Adam Davidson writing today in The New Yorker offered us “A BIPARTISAN WAY TO IMPROVE MEDICAL CARE – A straightforward change would save money and improve health. So why isn’t Congress talking about it?” This is an astonishingly naive misleading bit of chatter about healthcare.

Concrete Dumping – Redux

I stopped by the 2nd St. site where an F.H. Stickles Concrete truck was seen a couple weeks ago dumping waste concrete on public land next to a stream a bare 100 yards from the Hudson River. This inspired to earlier posts here: Concrete Dumping – more than a local Hudson nuisance and Dumping Concrete: a law of capitalism in action – a local example.

New signs have appeared to discourage this unfortunate practice. Presumably the city put them up?

Trump’s Innovations in Governing

The Plutocrats Have Occupied the White House and Executive Branch

It has been a fact of American life for decades that the rich and corporations control our political system. But this control has been exercised always one arms length removed from the actual levers of power. They have had to be satisfied with setting up their think tanks, hiring lobbyists, and buying politicians. Always they have had to put up with the unsavory influence that the public might have to disturb their plans and obstruct their enrichment. Even as described so eloquently and with such cleverness by Lawrence Lessig in his TED talk, “We the People and the republic we must reclaim“, the rich and corporations were always one step away from hands on control of the government.

The Global Context of the US Healthcare Debate

The solution to our healthcare fiasco is first to recognize its true nature and then to face down those who are consuming a fifth of our economic output while producing profoundly bad results. We need to take a much broader view in order to see that, compared to the rest of the developed countries, a) our current healthcare results are abysmal and b) our current healthcare costs are obscene.

America’s Longest War and Attorney General Sessions

Attorney General Sessions clearly knows no history, even that of his own lifetime. He is just another petty, cyclical political hack thrust into a prominent position.

Nixon’s War on Drugs which Sessions is now re-intensifying began as a cynical campaign tactic. As described by John Erhlichman, Nixon’s domestic policy adviser:

The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”1

  1. accssed 5/13/2017 []

Firing Comey and Trump as Solipsism

In his letter firing James Comey, now former Director of the FBI, Trump once again displayed the completely self-centered world that he inhabits. The second paragraph in this thankfully short letter reads:

While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the judgment of the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.