Literally Rome

To Repeat:

In actuality, the acquisition of the right to vote by those outside the city had little meaning to all but the wealthy. Membership in the Roman assemblies was not done by election – it was a direct democracy. Voting was done by tribes, and all citizens were assigned to a particular tribe (often based on wealth) where each tribe voted as one. However, to vote a person had to appear in person which was something only the wealthy could afford to do. But citizenship was not eternal. If necessary, an individual’s citizenship could be revoked; this latter condition was mostly reserved for criminals.

Every five years a citizen had to register himself at the Villa Publica for the census, declaring the name of his wife, the number of children, and all of his property and possessions (even his wife’s clothes and jewels were declared). Every Roman citizen believed the government had a right to know this information. All of this data was reviewed and evaluated by the city’s magistrates (censors) who could “promote or demote each citizen according to his worth.” Tom Holland wrote on the value of the census, “Classes, centuries, and tribes, everything that enabled a citizen to be placed by his fellows, were all defined by the census.”

Juxtaposed to discussions at the Supreme Court today:

Multiple times during Tuesday’s hearing on the Trump administration’s move to add a citizenship question to the census, Gorsuch returned to vague allusions to an unsuccessful 2016 Supreme Court case that dealt with that possibility.

Gorsuch’s lines of inquiry didn’t get too much traction at Tuesday’s arguments, which mostly focused on the technical considerations of Secretary Wilbur Ross’ decision to include the question. But, in a way, they were appropriate, given that overhauling how legislative districts are drawn — a massive voting rights change that would diminish the political power of urban and diverse communities — appears to be the endgame of the current push to add the question.

Greece vs. History

o-GREECE-FLAGMy affection for Greeks and Greece knows no bounds, but even setting that aside, via Digby, here is Thomas Piketty, author of Capital in the Twenty-First Century, bringing some historical perspective in an interview with DIE ZEIT on the subject of Greek debt:

ZEIT: But shouldn’t they repay their debts?

Piketty: My book recounts the history of income and wealth, including that of nations. What struck me while I was writing is that Germany is really the single best example of a country that, throughout its history, has never repaid its external debt. Neither after the First nor the Second World War. However, it has frequently made other nations pay up, such as after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, when it demanded massive reparations from France and indeed received them. The French state suffered for decades under this debt. The history of public debt is full of irony. It rarely follows our ideas of order and justice.

ZEIT: But surely we can’t draw the conclusion that we can do no better today?

Piketty: When I hear the Germans say that they maintain a very moral stance about debt and strongly believe that debts must be repaid, then I think: what a huge joke! Germany is the country that has never repaid its debts. It has no standing to lecture other nations.

The internets are continuously aflutter with ‘who has the facts,’ and ‘who has them right.’ But the easy moral indignation available about the Greek debt crisis for any and all is actually… too easy. One needs to look deeper and as usual, history is instructive. Not saying the Germans or any nation is wrong, but as Krugman points out, the ‘No’ vote was actually a victory for democracy in the face of demands from the banksters. It’s more complicated than just ‘the Greeks need to pay up.’ It takes a bit to suss all this out and gain anything like an informed opinion. But we owe (get it?) it to ourselves to do so.




Tubman_20With some ferocity, I usually resist the impulse to delve into matters financial. But this Dr. K item on GE Capital seems both clear-cut and easy-to-understand:

Most economists, I think, believe that the rise of shadow banking had less to do with real advantages of such nonbank banks than it did with regulatory arbitrage — that is, institutions like GE Capital were all about exploiting the lack of adequate oversight. And the general view is that the 2008 crisis came about largely because regulatory evasion had reached the point where an old-fashioned wave of bank runs, albeit wearing somewhat different clothes, was once again possible.

So Dodd-Frank tries to fix the bad incentives by subjecting systemically important financial institutions — SIFIs — to greater oversight, higher capital and liquidity requirements, etc.. And sure enough, what GE is in effect saying is that if we have to compete on a level playing field, if we can’t play the moral hazard game, it’s not worth being in this business. That’s a clear demonstration that reform is having a real effect.

Bold is mine, because this is key, both to Dodd-Frank and what largely works for business in the U.S. today at the behemoth level. Orwellian language about fairness and tax burdens and putting America to work [again] is just that – all myth. The megacorps want every tactical advantage to operate as alpha predators, forcing all non-megacorp entities to use language like this to accurately describe their actions. It’s win-win, and very savvy of them. Terrible for everyone/thing else. But his little crack of light – an admission that they can’t play if those are the rules is telling, so let’s listen.

Image: will we put American heroine Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill?

One treeellion dollars

Dr. K brings the Platinum wrath:

[President Obama] will, after all, be faced with a choice between two alternatives: one that’s silly but benign, the other that’s equally silly but both vile and disastrous. The decision should be obvious.

For those new to this, here’s the story. First of all, we have the weird and destructive institution of the debt ceiling; this lets Congress approve tax and spending bills that imply a large budget deficit — tax and spending bills the president is legally required to implement — and then lets Congress refuse to grant the president authority to borrow, preventing him from carrying out his legal duties and provoking a possibly catastrophic default.

And Republicans are openly threatening to use that potential for catastrophe to blackmail the president into implementing policies they can’t pass through normal constitutional processes.

Enter the platinum coin.

I don’t get what kind of machine you would drop such a coin into but, as is well documented, I don’t understand a lot things.

The Fake Issue


The national debt is a fake political issue. I’ve had this conversation many times with family members with opposing political views, because it seems like the one issue on which we can at least agree. But it’s not. Because it’s only a political issue. The people who scream deficit don’t really care about it – they only want to use it to try and abolish the social safety net. You might agree with them. But using the deficit as the reason is a cowardly, dishonest way to achieve your goals.

President Clinton balanced the budget at the end of the 1990’s, and the very first thing that happened was that Republicans began screaming that The Surplus was a threat to our very existence. The deficit wasn’t mentioned again until another Democrat moved into the White House. Then suddenly, vapors.

Please note for future reference. The government is also neither a family household nor a business and should not be run like either. Anyone likening this or any government to either one is being purposefully dishonest and manipulative and should not be afforded the gravitas above that enjoyed by any random lifer in the lunch line at Marion USP, later this afternoon.

Image of the first debt clock licensed under Creative Commons.

Schemes inside of Schemes

On #OWS, plus for when he word-whips Little Tommy Freidman (age 9), Taibbi is a national treasure:

STUPIDITY INSURANCE. Defenders of the banks like to talk a lot about how we shouldn’t feel sorry for people who’ve been foreclosed upon, because it’s they’re own fault for borrowing more than they can pay back, buying more house than they can afford, etc. And critics of OWS have assailed protesters for complaining about things like foreclosure by claiming these folks want “something for nothing.”

This is ironic because, as one of the Rolling Stone editors put it last week, “something for nothing is Wall Street’s official policy.” In fact, getting bailed out for bad investment decisions has been de rigeur on Wall Street not just since 2008, but for decades.

Time after time, when big banks screw up and make irresponsible bets that blow up in their faces, they’ve scored bailouts. It doesn’t matter whether it was the Mexican currency bailout of 1994 (when the state bailed out speculators who gambled on the peso) or the IMF/World Bank bailout of Russia in 1998 (a bailout of speculators in the “emerging markets”) or the Long-Term Capital Management Bailout of the same year (in which the rescue of investors in a harebrained hedge-fund trading scheme was deemed a matter of international urgency by the Federal Reserve), Wall Street has long grown accustomed to getting bailed out for its mistakes.

The 2008 crash, of course, birthed a whole generation of new bailout schemes.

The LTCM fiasco was particularly egregious, even and especially at the time. Stomach-turning levels of under-believability, as this 1998 article from Harper’s illustrates. And we just carried on.