Listen below or download here
Here’s Jamelle Bouie’s piece on how communists and radicals forced the New Deal into existence. Ben mentioned that the New Deal neutralized leftist parties and he’s right. The Hoover Institute, which lauds capitalism as a matter of course, argued as much — with compelling evidence. We should also be careful to remember that the New Deal was heavily racialized.
In our episode covering the cuts to NIH, the EPA and generalized science funding, we mentioned the possibility of a “lost generation of scientists,” something that the science community has been worried about over the past several years and in some ways can be traced directly to enormous budget cuts. Something that might be exacerbated by the pandemic. One could argue that capitalism generally forces this problem into being, which is one reason that this problem exists in Europe as well. It also was easy to foresee in the United States just by looking at NIH and NSF funding trends.
As for the environment — whether it deals with quality-of-life environmental concerns like access to clean water and breathable air or whether it deals with existential risk, like climate change — a lot of the damage is undone in a way that can’t be fixed with regulation. The nature of environmental damage and regulation is that decades of can be undone in a year or less. One poisoned river takes years to clean up and we can’t currently get added carbon out of the air. A lot of the toothpaste is out of the tube.
Not only that, regulatory schemes aren’t as easy as a stroke of a pen in the current bureaucracy. As Grist points out:
And the most difficult Trump policies to unwind will be the ones that have already made it onto the books — which just happen to be some of the worst for the country’s air, soil, and water. Trump’s new rules on methane emissions, carbon dioxide pollution, and protected waters have all been “finalized” under his administration. That means they can’t be easily replaced without the Environmental Protection Agency writing up new rules.
Of course, the EPA’s budget has gone down in real terms since the 1980s and Trump’s cuts put it, in inflation-adjusted totals, to less than half that of the 1979 budget.
If you want a full accounting of how environmental standards were thoroughly gutted you could do a lot worse than this Brookings piece.
While we know that Biden wants to return to the standards of the Paris Climate Agreement, we also know it’s not nearly enough.
Ben also briefly mentioned the now-forgotten assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist. Read about it a little here.
From a long-term policy perspective, Betsy DeVos couldn’t accomplish much of what she wanted to. While that’s little comfort for trans students put through hell because of changes in federal guidelines, it also means that her impact — from a regulatory perspective — can be reversed quickly. But she has done something insidious that will make it tough to win on larger education initiatives. As the co-authors A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door explain:
Ms. DeVos has also elevated the education policy agenda of the far right, giving voice and legitimacy to a campaign to fundamentally dismantle public education. That campaign, pursued for the past few decades only in deep-red states, and often perceived as belonging to the libertarian fringe, has become the de facto agenda of the Republican Party.
So, while it is true that the Biden administration will swiftly reverse President Trump’s executive orders and administrative guidance from the Department of Education, Mr. Biden’s education secretary will still have to contend with extreme ideas that have suddenly entered the mainstream.
In particular, while federal pushes to embed privatization in the education policy failed, her efforts have renewed state-level efforts to push for private schools — at an even more important level than the federal government. The NEA has a big rundown on the biggest hits.
OMB Director Neera Tanden
We referenced a piece at the Daily Poster to discuss Neera Tanden, the budget director. Quoted below:
President-elect Joe Biden will reportedly nominate a White House budget director who has been one of the country’s most prominent critics of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and who has previously backed Social Security cuts.
There is some complicated language here of course — the idea was that they would change the cost-of-living adjustments to more accurately reflect the types of purchasing decisions people make, but the net effect is a reduction in social security payouts in an effort to match previous spending patterns that were already inadequate safety nets.
Yeah. I mean, what’s most — the thing I would say would most accurately characterize Neera Tanden, in particular, is that she is fundamentally a party loyalist. Even her mother has described her as such, as someone who’s very aggressive and very devoted, in particular in 2016 to Hillary Clinton.
So, what we’ve seen over the course of her career is that she has repeatedly kind of represented herself as open to the kind of moderate, I would describe it as, corporate Democratic pushes, to cut entitlements, for instance. She said in a notable clip in 2012 that entitlements had to be on the table.
When she was working for Hillary Clinton in 2016, she was one of her advisers that was advising her against adopting a $15 minimum wage, something which is hardly some far-left radical program. She’s on record as having said that we will never have Medicare for All, because people are going to be unwilling to let go of their private health insurance — this at a time where I believe we’re up to 14 million Americans losing their employer-based health insurance because of the COVID crisis and, of course, unemployment.
And Ben referenced Neera Tanden’s advocacy for stealing Libya’s oil.
Trump was not the only figure to propose taking Libya’s oil in return for bombing it, however. Neera Tanden, the president of the pro-Clinton think tank the Center for American Progress, proposed this same policy a few months after Trump.
“We have a giant deficit. They have a lot of oil,” Tanden wrote in an October 2011 email titled “Should Libya pay us back?”
“Most Americans would choose not to engage in the world because of that deficit. If we want to continue to engage in the world, gestures like having oil rich countries partially pay us back doesn’t seem crazy to me,” she added in the message, which was obtained by The Intercept.
John Kerry’s position as a climate czar of some sort is alarming. We mentioned a Nathan Robinson article in the Guardian as having some biting criticism of the choice. You can find it here.
He recently published an op-ed explaining “how to better tackle climate change” which focused entirely on nudging the free market into putting a price on carbon. Nothing about how to deal with the equity effects of carbon pricing (ie making sure the financial burden doesn’t end up falling on the poor). Nothing about the federal government taking action to convert the electric grid, shutting down fossil fuel-reliant power stations, and investing in renewable energy. Nothing about a Green New Deal. And given Kerry’s record of defending the expansion of US fossil fuel production under Obama, he’s very unlikely to get tough on the companies most responsible for the problem.
Jacobin also broke down Cedric Richmond, whose title is more general — director of the Office of the Public Liaison. Nevertheless, he’s expected to liaise with climate change activists.
Joe Biden’s transition team named one of the Democratic Party’s top recipients of fossil fuel industry money to a high-profile White House position focusing in part on climate issues.
On Tuesday, Politico reported that Biden is appointing US Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) to lead the White House Office of Public Engagement, where he is “expected to serve as a liaison with the business community and climate change activists.”
Richmond has received roughly $341,000 from donors in the oil and gas industry — the fifth-highest total among House Democrats, according to previous reporting by Sludge. That includes corporate political action committee donations of $50,000 from Entergy, an electric and natural gas utility; $40,000 from ExxonMobil; and $10,000 apiece from oil companies Chevron, Phillips 66, and Valero Energy.
Richmond has repeatedly broken with his party on major climate and environmental votes. During the climate crisis that has battered his home state of Louisiana, Richmond has joined with Republicans to vote to increase fossil fuel exports and promote pipeline development. He also voted against Democratic legislation to place pollution limits on fracking — and he voted for GOP legislation to limit the Obama administration’s authority to more stringently regulate the practice.”
At one point Ben asks if Richmond is the “cancer alley guy” and he is.
After posing for a quick photograph, where he smiled and placed his hand on Mary Hampton’s left shoulder, Richmond began to exit. As he was leaving, the congressman was asked: “How about writing them [Denka] a letter?”
“There have been letters,” he said, according to one of those in the room. And then he left, leaving Hampton and Taylor to hold a 20-minute meeting with an aide from his office.
A spokesman for Denka said the company had received no correspondence from the congressman. A spokeswoman for the EPA said the agency had also received no correspondence from Richmond’s office on the issue.
The congressman, who declined interview requests, also declined to provide evidence of correspondence related to the plant. He also declined to answer a list of detailed questions despite multiple requested deadline extensions. Shortly after receiving the Guardian’s questions, Richmond’s communications director, Jalina Porter, blocked both authors of this article on social media.
The article from In These Times says it all in its headline, “One Third of Biden’s Pentagon Transition Team Hails From Organizations Financed by the Weapons Industry“
Of the 23 people who comprise the Department of Defense agency review team, eight of them — or just over a third — list their “most recent employment” as organizations, think tanks or companies that either directly receive money from the weapons industry, or are part of this industry. These figures may be an undercount, as In These Times was not immediately able to exhaustively source the funding of every employer.
CSIS – General Dynamics Corporation, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman Corporation, Lockheed Martin Corporation and other weapons manufacturers
Two of the individuals named for Biden’s Department of Defense agency review team — Ely Ratner and Susanna Blume — list the think tank Center for a New American Security (CNAS) as their most recent employer. CNAS takes a significant chunk of its money from Northrop Grumman Corporation, as well as the U.S. State Department ($500,000 or more per year on both counts), and from Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and a host of corporations, including oil companies.
Jacobin has more on the nominees, many of them former WestExec executives.
On Monday, Biden announced that he has chosen Tony Blinken to serve as secretary of state. Blinken founded WestExec Advisors, a secretive business consultancy that has worked with defense contractors. Avril Haines, a former WestExec principal, will serve as Biden’s director of national intelligence.
Biden is also reportedly considering nominating WestExec cofounder Michèle Flournoy to serve as secretary of defense, as well as two corporate lawyers — Sally Yates and Karen Dunn — to serve as attorney general and the head of the Justice Department’s antitrust division, respectively.
Here’s Michele Flournoy being interviewed on the case for continued forward engagement. Her primary argument stems from this Foreign Affairs piece she co-wrote, called “Obama’s New Global Posture.” There’s a subscription-unlocked version here. This was a fairly vital piece for high school debaters back in 2012. A good summary of her ideology can be found, in all places in this Forbes piece from 2010 following the financial crisis.
Her ideas reflect several important underlying assumptions, namely:
–that the military, rather than the State Department or other nonmilitary agencies, has overwhelming congressional support, making it best placed to take the lead in national security matters;
–that almost all types of military power will be needed to deal with future conflicts, making her a keen supporter of the hybrid warfare concept; and
–as a consequence, that the defense budget should be kept at current levels, despite the economic crisis.
Here’s the piece from David Sirota uncovering the unsurprising fact that firms whose executives leave to serve in the Biden administration might expect to see some profits.
Two former government officials who may now run President-elect Joe Biden’s national security team have been partners at a private equity firm now promising investors big profits off government business because of its ties to those officials, according to government documents reviewed by The Daily Poster.
Pine Island Capital Partners lists former Under Secretary of Defense Michele Flournoy and retired General Lloyd Austin as a partner in the firm, and lists former Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken as a partner on a leave of absence. Flournoy and Austin are reportedly among the leading candidates being considered for Secretary of Defense, and Blinken is Biden’s designated nominee for Secretary of State. Pine Island’s chairman is John Thain, the former top executive at Merrill Lynch when the company paid out huge executive bonuses as it began to collapse during the financial crisis.
I also mentioned Avril Haines, who is brought up in the Guardian piece already mentioned piece — alongside Anthony Blinken — as a member of the security team.
She also played a key role in overseeing the drone strike program under Obama. This should be completely disqualifying, because Obama’s use of drones was a national disgrace.
Haines was involved in the sham “accountability” process that shielded CIA officials from being punished for their involvement with torture. Haines also supported Gina Haspel’s nomination as CIA director, despite Haspel’s direct supervision of the torture program. If Haines couldn’t even oppose the appointment of a torturer as CIA director, how can she be expected to rein in American intelligence agencies’ abuses of power?
It’s worth mentioning Lloyd Austin, the former general asked to lead the Department of Defense. There are a few issues at play, not the least of which is the idea of a former member of the military charged with controlling the executive functions surrounding the military — civilian control of the military has been a staple of what are meant to be liberal values in complex democracies and there is a rule in place — put there in 1947 to inhibit some of these problems by requiring that any person in charge of the DoD must be retired from the military for at least seven years. For Austin, it’s been four.
Keli Goff at the Daily Beast thinks this objection is dangerous — not because it’s racist in itself but because it could threaten the perception that Democrats do much for Black Americans.
But in a year in which the denigration and degradation of Black men has dominated our discourse, the imagery of three white Democratic powerbrokers vowing to block the ascent of a Black man to a history-making post for which he is overqualified is jarring. The treatment of Austin is not simply about one Black man or one Cabinet appointment. It’s about a larger disconnect between many Democrats in positions of power and the people who have historically comprised their base.
While Goff compellingly makes the case that the traditional requirements for positions in the cabinet that feature more qualified Black officials tend to be objectionable to the left — corporate America and the military — her answer is to suspend these incredibly important objections instead of pulling up qualified leaders from other fields, like organizing, elected officials (Mayor Pete Buttigieg is running the Department of Transportation after all), science, universities and more. These fields, due to structural factors like racism and classism, may have fewer qualified Black individuals to recommend to relevant cabinet positions. But they don’t have zero such candidates. We can resist corporate and military influence while also putting underrepresented voices into positions of power.
One good example comes up with Marcia Fudge, who was eminently qualified to be the Secretary of Agriculture — she’s long been a member of the House Agriculture Committee, especially as chair of the Nutrition subcommittee. She made a great point when she said, “As this country becomes more and more diverse, we’re going to have to stop looking at only certain agencies as those that people like me fit in. You know, it’s always ‘we want to put the Black person in labor or HUD.”
She got put into HUD.
Goff’s criticism of Democratic resistance to Austin — which has evaporated, incidentally — is completely dismissive of the legitimate concerns that come up with a former military official leading the Department of Defense or of corporate influence in politics. I can’t create a response any better than this –
The idea that representation overrides the material interests of impacted marginalized groups is poisonous and toxic. After all, Austin was commander of US forces in Iraq from 2010 to 2011 and headed up CENTCOM from 2013 to 2016. He’s no stranger to directly engaging in the US imperial project.
Oh and the corporation he worked for that “rained death on Black people abroad” is Raytheon. He is a board member of Raytheon that will pull in over a million dollars from them this year (and has every year from them or the consulting firm he was with that ended up merging with Raytheon). But he promises that he’ll preserve the civilian tradition. In These Times does a better job than I can do summarizing the many problems with the Austin nomination.
Austin is still listed by Raytheon, one of the largest weapons companies in the world, as a member of its board. Raytheon is a major supplier of bombs to the U.S.-Saudi coalition that began waging war on Yemen during the Obama-Biden administration (a war Austin oversaw), and the company has aggressively lobbied against any curbs on U.S. weapons sales to the coalition.
Austin — along with Flournoy — is also a partner at Pine Island Capital Partners. Here’s how the New York Times described the firm in an article published on November 28: “Pine Island Capital has been on something of a buying spree this year, purchasing the weapons system parts manufacturer Precinmac and a company until recently known as Meggitt Training Systems and now known as InVeris, which sells computer-simulated weapons training systems to the Pentagon and law enforcement agencies.” The same day, The Daily Poster reported that the company has boasted that its team’s inclusion of former government and military officials will help boost profits.
When it came to his actual positions — things that matter when you’re secretary of defense — Austin often found himself to the right of a president who, despite his 2008 campaign trail image, was no dove. In 2010, as the top commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, Austin advised President Obama against withdrawing troops from Iraq, and said he should instead leave 24,000 troops in the country (there were about 45,000 at the time).
As head of Central Command, which oversees the Middle East, Austin would go on to recommend in 2014 that Obama send a “modest contingent of American troops, principally Special Operations forces, to advise and assist Iraqi army units” in the fighting of ISIS, as paraphrased by the Washington Post.
That Austin was chosen to head the Pentagon shows that the U.S. political imagination around war and militarism remains trapped within Washington’s revolving door of weapons industry contractors and government officials. And it shows that the status quo of the Obama years — which brought us drone wars around the world, protracted occupation in Afghanistan and catastrophe in Yemen — lives on with the incoming Biden administration.
That Guardian piece by Nathan Robinson I keep bringing up also brings up Alejandro Mayorkas for the Department of Homeland Security.
Mayorkas was one of the original architects of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) and is considered a positive choice by advocates for immigrant rights. But it’s very unclear whether Mayorkas is committed to the equitable treatment of immigrants. When he previously served at the department, an inspector general’s report found that he had personally intervened to help rich people, including Hollywood producers, Vegas casino owners, and the former Democratic National Committee chair and Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, get around the usual immigration rules. The report was deeply damning, even quoting a witness who said Mayorkas explicitly prioritized “people with money” and bullied anyone on his staff who questioned the wisdom of his decisions.
And yes, his father owned a steel wool factory, as mentioned by Ben in the episode.
We initially discussed someone else as the CIA head but it turned out to be William Burns, whose expertise is evidently in “statecrafting” which doesn’t mean much except for potentially being a little more capable of lining up covert activity with foreign policy goals. As Axios points out, “Burns’ diplomatic background doesn’t necessarily mean he will eschew the harder-edged aspects of spy work. After all, under the Obama administration, the CIA undertook a concerted covert action campaign to degrade Iran’s nuclear program while also pushing for a negotiated suspension of Tehran’s activities.”
He is a “career diplomat” with previous experience as the US Deputy Secretary of State (under Barack Obama but has been in the Department of State under several administrations, including George W. Bush) and previously served as the president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Initially, one might assume that the Carnegie Endowment is free to publish or promote what they like because they are funded through an endowment from Andrew Carnegie — and that’s somewhat true — but their board of trustees happen to be full of banking and investment firms, including Citigroup, Dodge & Cox Funds, Makena Capital Management, Allianz, C3.ai, General Atlantic and more. They also have communication, health care and software firms represented — almost every one of the representatives from these companies is either the CEO, chairman, vice president or similar.
Burns has written books on the importance of diplomacy and has made his career as a diplomat and so that seems to be the angle — his apparent apolitical (which mostly reads as centrist) nature is meant to be appealing, again as an attempt to restore “normalcy” to institutions and revive them with legitimacy.
Here’s the Daily Poster piece on Gina Raimondo that I learned a lot of info from.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has presided over one of the deadliest COVID outbreaks in the country — and new documents obtained by The Daily Poster detail how she helped nursing home lobbyists shield health care companies from coronavirus-related lawsuits.”
As governor, Raimondo has slammed proposals to expand Medicare to cover everyone. Amid the pandemic in August, her administration approved health insurance companies’ steep premium increases that were criticized by the state’s Democratic attorney general as “unnecessary and ill-advised.” Health insurers have been raking in record profits, with fewer people seeking care because of the pandemic.”
In 2015, newly-elected Governor Raimondo announced her plans to “reinvent Medicaid,” a proposal that would result in cuts to Medicaid in each of her proposed budgets for the next five years.
Rhode Island health insurers must offer plans that do not cover abortion under new requirements in the state’s recently passed fiscal 2016 budget. The changes, signed into law late last month by Gov. Gina Raimondo, have raised concern among women’s healthcare proponents who fear the new language will restrict women’s access to abortion.
And from Prospect.org
In its most recent report, NARAL considered Rhode Island a state with “restricted access” on abortion, after half a decade with Raimondo in the governor’s mansion. “Restricted access” is the same designation placed on Wyoming. Thirty-six percent of women in the state live in a county with no abortion clinic (though of course the state is small).
Luckily, it seems like Xavier Becerra may be a better pick for people who want to increase health care access across the United States. As Natalie Shure writes in In These Times:
Rep. Ro Khanna (D‑Calif.) tweeted, “He is a strong choice and has always worked well with progressives.” Zephyr Teachout, a former campaign surrogate for Bernie Sanders, gushed “I am genuinely excited about the Becerra choice.” As a longtime supporter of a single-payer system whose AG tenure has focused doggedly on healthcare, Becerra may well be poised to use a powerful federal post to secure key progressive gains.
This seems to be more about strengthening the ACA, however, as Becerra has experience defending it in court. There are good signs overall, though:
But it’s also easy to imagine ways in which HHS could go beyond straightforward ACA fixes under Becerra’s leadership. He supported single-payer healthcare legislation both as a member of the California State Assembly in the 1990s, as well as in Congress, where he co-sponsored Medicare for All bills in the House. Even after being tapped to replace Senator-elect Kamala Harris as California’s AG in 2017, Becerra reiterated his support for public financing of the healthcare system, arguing that single-payer “takes away the inefficiencies in a system that has turned healthcare for people into a commodity.”
He has reportedly assured Biden that he won’t be pushing for Medicare For All, which is an enormous shame. So his impact on that front will be limited. That said, he also led a coalition of state attorneys general to challenge, in court, a Mississippi abortion restriction that prevented abortion services past 15 weeks. There’s also a lot of detail in this Jacobin article about his largely positive track record in challenging Obama’s HHS to be friendlier to people instead of pharmaceutical corporations — including the use of march-in rights and support for importation bills to lower the prices of FDA-approved medicines
The Biden administration ended up going with Merrick Garland instead of Doug Jones or Tony West (or Sally Yates). Garland, of course, is famous for being Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court when it was clear that the GOP was going to block whichever judge the administration nominated and was chosen by Obama’s team specifically because he was supposed to be conservative enough to pass muster with the GOP controlled Senate.
This leaves Garland’s spot on the DC Circuit Court of Appeals open, which is a risk as well. Perhaps telling:
Garland has an unusually broad base of support among Democratic lawyers in Washington D.C. thanks to a large number of law clerks who have gone on to high-profile jobs at the Justice Department and at prominent law firms.
There seems to be widespread consensus that Garland is a “moderate” whose role will be to preserve credibility and even-handedness to the Justice Department. The issue, naturally, is that “moderate” is defined by the political reality of the status quo, which tends to support federal prosecutions in the War on Drugs and complacency with law enforcement abuses. In fact, even this Washington Post article highlights that issue.
But some defense lawyers and criminal-justice-reform advocates have said they worry Garland’s record on the bench shows he is too deferential to the government and law enforcement — and perhaps would not be as aggressive about implementing the kind of dramatic changes they seek.
These articles always seem to mention it but never go into detail, with NYT saying just, “The choice of Mr. Garland, a white man with a record of favoring law enforcement over people accused of crimes, signaled to some progressives that their concerns were dismissed.”
This 2016 article is much better and details the numerous instances where Garland has sided with prosecution on drug offenses — even when it’s granted that evidence provided by prosecution is falsified or ineligible — and sided with law enforcement on abuse questions.
Of 14 criminal cases identified by The New York Times in which Judge Garland voted differently from at least one fellow judge, he came down in favor of law enforcement 10 times. There were no occasions in those cases in which he favored a criminal defendant, going against a fellow judge and Democratic appointee who sided with the government.
He also has a worrisome track record with regards to the detention facility/torture chambers at Guantanamo Bay.
After a judge ordered a Guantánamo Bay prisoner freed because the evidence that he was a Qaeda member was too thin, the government appealed the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. But as the detainee’s lawyers prepared to argue the case in January 2011, they had reason to hope that they might prevail again.
For one thing, the government had dropped several of its arguments for why their client was probably a wartime enemy, further weakening its case that he was not the innocent he claimed to be. For another, the three-judge panel included one of the appeals court’s few Democratic appointees, Merrick B. Garland, who is now a Supreme Court nominee.
But just 22 seconds after one of the detainee’s lawyers began arguing that only “tattered remnants” remained of the government’s case against his client, Judge Garland interrupted him. “Just because they had really strong arguments that they are not now using doesn’t mean the ones that are left are not pretty strong,” he declared.
Judge Garland’s panel went on to rule that the government’s evidence was good enough to keep holding the man after all. The judge’s vote was part of a pattern: As one wartime detention case after another has pitted state security powers against individual rights, he has often — though not always — deferred to the government.
From 2010 to 2012, the appeals court systematically turned back habeas corpus cases brought by detainees, instructing lower-court judges to use more government-friendly standards for interpreting ambiguous evidence. Judge Garland was not on the panels that developed the early key precedents, but he embraced and applied them without objection.
His deference is not universal but it is certainly substantial.
Garland has experience prosecuting “domestic terrorism,” an issue we brought up on our last show as one with generally thorny outcomes — though his experience as a prosecutor most often deals with Timothy McVeigh (where he led the prosecution) and white supremacist terrorism.
Republicans seem happy with him, which should be some indication of how the Biden administration will handle law enforcement.
There are some seemingly positive appointees in the Justice Department, including Vanita Gupta and Kristen Clarke, both of whom have experience in civil rights litigation to curb police violence. We’ll see how it goes generally.
I mentioned that some socialist economists were pleasantly surprised by Janet Yellen. That’s not to say that they are necessarily happy with her so much as they expected worse. Here’s a good criticism from Marxist economist Richard Wolff of her from six years ago.
As The Stranger points out, this is just an issue of relative expectations.
Why did the DSA card-carrying heterodox economist Doug Henwood tweet that “Joe could have done a lot worse than Yellen”? Because she is a neo-Keynesian, which is not the best type of Keynesian, but it is far better than a neoclassical economist.
The piece is interesting from the perspective of someone who believes in some form of “market socialism” or as one of its adherents puts it, “socio-capitalism.” For people just left of center-left but still believing that markets can work, Yellen seems to be a potential figurehead. At any rate, it’s better than we could have expected.
Janet Yellen as treasury secretary offers little to complain about, though it is notable that Biden did not heed calls to put a trust-buster like Elizabeth Warren in the role. Yellen is a highly respected academic economist and former Federal Reserve chair who is relatively apolitical, and her appointment has excited other Democratic economists including Lawrence Summers and Paul Krugman. Even the socialist economic analyst Doug Henwood says Biden “could have done a lot worse” than Yellen. The good news about Yellen is that she is not an advocate of austerity policies and has spoken of the need for the government to extend “extraordinary fiscal support” during the pandemic.
I also mentioned the proliferation of BlackRock executives in the Biden administration, something reported everywhere, including the Wall Street Journal.
“By picking folks with deep ties to large asset managers, the administration can help assuage financial executives’ concerns. It sends a clear signal to the industry to breathe easier: They can plan for stability without likely facing massive new regulatory or tax risks,” said Tyler Gellasch, executive director of investor trade group Healthy Markets Association.
The National Review had an optimistic breakdown of the issues involved with BlackRock executives filling these positions, though the author is a little bit more optimistic about what it might mean that Brian Deese was a sustainable investment advisor but I think he’s reading too much into it. His breakdown of stakeholder capitalism is interesting but I think breaks down at points.
Given that both Biden and Blackrock have criticized the notion that companies “should serve their shareholders” over stakeholders — people impacted by company policy, one might feel optimistic that there could be such a thing as corporate responsibility (there can’t be). But the author’s somewhat rocky journey through the concept ultimately lands on some criticisms worth looking at and reasons to think that maybe these BlackRock executives are actually just BlackRock executioves and nothing more.
Stakeholder capitalism itself is, in turn, as I have argued before, an expression of corporatism, a hydra-headed ideology with origins in the premodern, and a very mixed past — sometimes benign (it influenced the formation of West Germany’s social market economy) and sometimes not (it was an important element in pre-war fascist theory). The different forms corporatism has taken make it tricky to define with precision, but they share a common core: the conviction that society should be organized by and for its principal interest groups — let’s get back to that word “stakeholders” — intermediated by, and ultimately subordinate to, the state.
It is strange that the author criticizes the nebulous notion of stakeholder capitalism, points out the inherent corporate speak of sustainability and stakeholder talk from corporations and ultimately concludes that we’ll see strong climate legislation. I guess you can’t expect much more from an inherently pro-capitalist publication.
Instead, Jacobin does a better job breaking down what this might mean, already quoted at length in the show.
Joe Biden’s choice to install two former BlackRock execs in his cabinet is a major signal of his deference to Wall Street and the superrich. But it’s also a sign of the times: the world’s largest asset management company is revolutionizing finance by investing in capitalism itself.
BlackRock is the largest asset management company in the world, with nearly $8 trillion worth of assets under its control. It owns a stake of 5 percent or more in nearly 98 percent of firms in the S&P 500 index. BlackRock is so powerful that it can command a private audience with corporate management and state its preferences directly. Knowing the power the firm wields as an owner, corporate managers are no doubt eager to do what BlackRock has indicated it wants.
As Brett Christophers recently argued in Jacobin, “What serves the interests of the modern institutional investment community is not so much seeing this or that company perform well, but maintaining confidence in capitalism as a mode of social and economic production and reproduction.”