Saturday, February 09, 2019

Love among the mantises

I often reflect upon the word “morality,” the most troublesome and confusing word of all. There is no single or supreme morality; there are many, each defining the mode by which a system of entities optimally interacts. The eminent entomologist Fabre, observing a mantis in the act of devouring its mate, exclaimed: “What an abominable custom!” The ordinary man, during a day’s time, may be obliged to act by the terms of a half dozen different moralities. Some of these acts, appropriate at one moment, may the next moment be considered obscene or opprobrious in terms of another morality. The person who, let us say, expects generosity from a bank, efficient flexibility from a government agency, open-mindedness from a religious institution will be disappointed. In each purview the notions represent immorality. The poor fool might as quickly discover love among the mantises.

-- Jack Vance, The Book of Dreams

The economics of a proto-post scarcity society

I've spent enough time discussing how Rick Webb doesn't understand economics, instead retrojecting hollow capitalist tropes on a fictional television show. But it's worthwhile to discuss the economics of "proto-post scarcity economy." However, without the specific historical context, it's impossible to talk about how a hypothetical economy "actually is"; the best I can do is lay out a kind of general framework.

Economics is the science of how we make mutually exclusive choices, usually (but not always) choices about material things. How do we manage scarcity? So the first thing is to think about what is scarce. There are three things that are always scarce: unique things, land, and human time. And even if some resources are not scarce, a society might still want to use them efficiently. Finally, there are things that are still so expensive that not everyone who wants one could have it.

Unique things are scarce. There's only one Mt. Everest, and only so many people can climb it in a year. There are only so many great bass fishing spots, only so many Hawaiian beaches. Only so many people can use pristine natural parks and forests. There's only one Mona Lisa. How does a society get to decide how to use inherently unique things?

Land is scarce. Although we can improve some of the marginal land, there is a finite amount of land on the Earth. We can probably house a lot of people in urban high-rises, but only so many people can have their own castles, McMansions, or even detached ranch houses with big back yards. Only so many people can have their own farms or vineyards. A society cannot make more of this kind of land by building up. Even if the society builds up, penthouse apartments will be scarce. Apartments with a view of something other than the wall of the next building will be scarce. Again, how does a society allocate scarce land?

Human time is scarce in the sense that each person can do only so many things in a day. If something one person wants requires the effort or attention of another person, that effort or attention is scarce. Let me define a "job" in this context as human effort or attention for the benefit of other humans (even if doing that job is somehow beneficial to the "worker"). There will be "good jobs", where there are more people who want to do that job than there is "demand" for that job, and "bad jobs", where there are fewer willing people than demanded. Ideally, we want everything in equilibrium, where all jobs are "neutral": there are exactly as many people who want to do that job as there is demand for that job. How would a society do so?

Finally, a society would want to use even non-scarce resources efficiently. For example, a society might be able to produce as many shoes as people wanted, and if everyone woke up one day and decided they all wanted twice as many shoes, the productive capability would allow that with no other trade-off. Even so, it would make little sense to produce more shoes than people actually wanted. Even if there is no scarcity, a society might have to still track how many and what kind of shoes people want, and produce just those shoes and no more.

The answers to these questions depends in part on production technology. If everyone has a Mr. Fusion, a replicator, and a transporter, most of these problems go away, especially if the replicator can replicate most anything. For example, if a replicator can make the finest cuisine, there is no need for restaurants. If individuals' replicators can make most anything, there is no need to have factories or distribution networks. Similarly with transporters: if I can get in my personal transporter and just go anywhere, there's no need for trains, planes, and automobiles.

But replicators seem quite advanced. It's likely that a planet-bound proto-post scarcity society would instead use mostly automated factories, which are themselves constructed mostly automatically. Even if we can produce as many factories as we want to produce as many goods as we want, we would, I think, still want to be efficient about production, distribution, and expansion.

However, the above raises perhaps the most important issue: what does it mean to say that we can produce as many factories as we want to produce as many goods as we want? If some society produces some amount of goods but could relatively easily produce twice as much, why wouldn't people not want twice as much? At what point do we stop wanting more stuff? And, because people's preferences and desires are socially constructed, how do people stop wanting more stuff?

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Money in Star Trek

Rick Webb constructs money in Star Trek. Not "Federation credits", which can be explained simply as a plot device, but honest-to-god money.

Although Webb posits that there's more than enough for everyone, he believes the Federation carefully accounts for every citizen's consumption.
The amount of welfare benefits available to all citizens is in excess of the needs of the citizens. Therefore, money is irrelevant to the lives of the citizenry, whether it exists or not. Resources are still accounted for and allocated in some manner, presumably by the amount of energy required to produce them (say Joules). And they are indeed credited to and debited from each citizen’s “account.” However, the average citizen doesn’t even notice it, though the government does, and again, it is not measured in currency units — definitely not Federation Credits. . . . This massive accounting is done by the Federation government in the background.
But why would the Federation do such a thing? It makes zero sense to account for something that's not scarce. We account for scarce things, like the social product of others, because it's important to use every little bit wisely. But Webb assumes that there are excess welfare benefits: under ordinary circumstances everyone can use as much energy (or whatever) as they want. So why account for it in detail.

Webb continues,
So, behind the scenes there is a massive internal accounting and calculation going on — the economics still happen. They just aren’t based on a currency unit, and people don’t acquire things based upon a currency value. People just acquire things from replicators, from restaurants such as Sisko’s or coffee shops like Cosimo’s, or, presumably, get larger things from dealerships or (more likely) factories. This could still be called “buying,” as a throwback.
This activity is buying. And if you keep accounts, your unit of account is currency by definition, even if that unit represents a physical quantity. Webb sees the contradiction, but doesn't resolve it:
It is tempting to argue here that the massive accounting system uses a unit called the Federation Credit, but i don’t believe that’s the case. If it were, the credit would be too much like money because a) accounting is done in it, b) it is issued by a governing body (like a fiat currency) and c) it is fungible, i.e. you can already buy things with it and if you could buy things with it AND a and b were true, it would pretty much be a currency. This would fly in the face of Roddenberry’s absolute diktat that the Federation has no currency.
It doesn't matter whether we call it Federation Credits, if we're accounting in it, it's money. Even if the money in some sense represents energy, it's still money. Accounting is done in it. It's a fiat unit issued by the government, i.e. each citizen's welfare benefit. Citizens can "buy" things with it: when they use energy, Webb assumes their account is drawn down. Furthermore, Webb assumes that this money is an incentive, that people will do "menial jobs that cannot be done in an automated manner ... [because] there is some small, incremental increase in your hypothetical maximum consumption, thus appealing to the subconscious in some primal way." This is money. Currency. Moolah. Cash.

Whatever we call it, Webb posits something that works exactly like money in a market economy, except for one crucial feature: Webb's money does not ration consumption. Webb thinks the Federation is doing all the work of managing a currency for literally nothing but some sort of subconscious appeal. It makes absolutely no sense. Just accounting for everything doesn't mean the "economics still happen." For the economics to actually happen, there has to be people optimizing the use of scarce resources. The citizens of even a proto-post scarcity society do not, under ordinary circumstances, optimize the use of scarce resources, so there's no economics.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Central planning in Star Trek

In my previous post, I talked about how Rick Webb, in his essay, The Economics of Star Trek: The Proto-Post Scarcity Economy, doesn't understand market economics. In addition, Webb also doesn't understand central planning.

Webb believes that the presence of individual choice decisively disproves central planning. He concludes, "The Federation is clearly not a centrally planned economy"* presumably because "[i]ndividual freedom of choice is very obvious." Webb claims to know that individuals have freedom of choice because "[e]veryone chooses their careers." Well, everyone, that is, who has made it in the glamorous and dangerous world of interstellar exploration. Gene Roddenberry et al. are not going to show us all the people who wanted to be starship captains but didn't get into Starfleet Academy.

*Italics omitted

(One hilarious irony is that in Star Trek, like every other military, even in the most fanatical market economy, the United States, Starfleet is most probably a centrally-planned organization. As far as I know, no one has managed a military organization with market economics: the 1st Infantry Division is not a profit-maximizing economic actor. If Webb can see a market economy in a military, he can see a market in anything.)

We cannot conclude that the Federation lacks elements of central planning. Not just because the Federation is a fictional society and has no underlying economic organization at all, but also because we don't know the the actual contingent problems a proto-post scarcity society would have to solve, and we don't know the historical context, i.e. the existing political and economic power relations, they have to solve them under. Even if we were to assume the present-day United States leads the way to a proto-post scarcity society, we cannot reliably project more than a some few tens of years; we definitely cannot predict what would happen three centuries from now.

Still, it's important to be more definite about what we mean by "central planning". There is at least a grain of truth underneath Webb's idea. It's logically impossible to run a market economy without some households making some choices, and it is logically possible to run a centrally planned economy with households having no choices at all. But just because it's logically possible doesn't mean it's necessary or even desirable to run a centrally planned economy exclusively by pointing guns at people's heads and telling them what to do.

How much economic choice people have is dependent first on the wealth of a society. Until the middle of the 20th century, the vast majority of people in the United States were farmers. A person could choose their occupation, so long as almost all of them chose to be farmers. And if we look at the beginnings of our capitalist market economy, most of these farmers had to be rather violently pushed into selling their labor on the market (see, e.g., The Invention of Capitalism by Michael Perelman.) Not having a lot of choices doesn't mean we're not in a market economy. Similarly with the Soviet Union and mid-20th century China. Both were extremely poor societies — immediately after the revolution, Russia was running its entire productive capacity and railway transportation on firewood — so there were just not a lot of choices to be had, regardless of economic organization.

On the other side, in a very rich society, at least some people will have a lot of choices, regardless of economic organization. And rich or poor, people in high status and high demand jobs will be those who want those jobs. Regardless of organization, it's pointless and stupid to force a person to be a doctor if there are 10 other people, just as intelligent and hard-working who want to be doctors. We really can't tell the form of economic organization just by looking at a few people in a high status jobs.

Just as Webb doesn't understand market economics, he doesn't understand central planning. His ignorance is perhaps more understandable: there have been only two societies — the Soviet Union until 1980 and the People's Republic of China until the 1970s — that have engaged in central planning in a big way, and both of them were not only poor, but fighting cold and proxy wars against the United States, so information about their economies is hard to come by, and propaganda about our "enemies" easy to obtain. Still, a little common sense can go a long way.

There are two basic types of central planning: command economics and state ownership. A society can combine these two types and can combine them with a market economy. Central planning and markets are not logically exclusive.

The first type of central planning is a command economy. In a command economy, the government just tells people what to produce and where to distribute it. The precise form of a command economy depends on the specific technology of production and economic problems to be solved. In a very poor mostly subsistence economy, the government will decide they need more tractors, round up a bunch of farmers, tell them to build and operate more tractor factories, and give the tractors to those who are still farmers. If Ivan or Chen doesn't want to leave his farm and build tractors, well, too bad: do it or go to jail. (Note that most modern "market" economies kicked off industrialization just as coercively. They simply dispossessed a bunch of farmers or expropriated the commons necessary for their subsistence viability, and said, "Hey, if y'all want to get money for food, come build and work at this factory over here." Sure, they had a choice: work or starve.) In a richer country, the commanders have a wider range of options, and their actions will depend on the actual problems to be solved.

A country usually employs a mostly command economy when it is fighting a "big" war. i.e. a war that requires the country to employ almost all of its surplus to fight the war. Every country, Allies and Axis, the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union, ran the Second Imperialist War as a command economy. This type of command economy works directly at the firm level: the central planners look at the existing productive capacity of firms, and tell each firm, "You produce this many tanks, you produce this many planes, you produce this many bullets, bombs, and shells, etc." There's no point in the central planners telling each individual where to work: each person works at one of the local factories, or they starve or go to jail. Even though there's usually a severe labor shortage in wartime, workers do not engage in market competition for wages. They take the pay and/or rations set by the government. This kind of economic organization appears very desirable. As I note above, every country — capitalist and communist — in a "big" war has employed command economics to a significant degree.

Modern corporations and military organizations have an internal command economy. Although corporations compete with each other in a market economy, internally, almost every corporation in every country is a centrally planned command economy. The employees do what the central planners, i.e. the board of directors and the senior management, tells them to do, and they use the resources the central planners give them to do it. Again, a corporation that tries to structure its internal organization along market lines risks failing as spectacularly as Sears. There are employee- and employee/customer-owned corporations, but that just means the employees (and customers) choose the commanders: these corporations are still internally centrally planned command economies.

The second form of central planning is one where the state owns and operates firms and/or controls a substantial amount of financial capital. One example is Norway, with both state ownership of significant firms and a large sovereign wealth fund.

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Market economics in Star Trek

Rick Webb's essay, The Economics of Star Trek: The Proto-Post Scarcity Economy, is kind of dumb. I agree with Webb: we want to transcend our scarcity-based economic paradigms such as capitalism, and it makes little sense to understand economics by "resolving obscure trivia references" in a fictional television show. What we see on the show is dictated not by economic reality but by the demands of narrative: The producers, directors, writers, and actors must put on an entertaining and profitable show in a capitalist economy to capitalist viewers. There is no more underlying economic reality than there is an underlying engineering reality of warp drives and transporters. I don't think the economics of Star Trek make any sense at all, but so what? I don't watch the show as an economist, I watch it as a science fiction fan. I think Webb's whole venture is futile. The best we can do from watching Star Trek is find out what Gene Roddenberry and his successors thought about economics, not about the economics of a real "proto-post scarcity" economy. Unfortunately, Webb does just what he says he wants to avoid, and resolves obscure trivia references to impose a capitalist paradigm on the non-existent non-economy of a fictional television show. It's a confused, incoherent jumble of economic superstition filled with trivial logical fallacies.

*He has since expanded the essay into book form, which I have not read.

For the reasons listed above, it's a waste of my time as an economist to talk about what the Star Trek economy really is, since Star Trek isn't anything more than a surface. And it's not even that useful to talk abstractly about a proto-post scarcity society, i.e. a society where productive technology has advanced to make most ordinary needs abundant, but there are still larger scarcities. (For a fictional treatment of a true post-scarcity society, see Iain M. Banks' Culture series.) The problem is that political-economic systems are fiercely historically contingent. The political economy of any given proto-post scarcity society will depend on the specific historical details of how they got there.

However, I can perhaps correct some of Webb's more egregious misconceptions about political economy.

Webb associate markets with individual choices and central planning with the lack of choice. This association is incorrect. Markets and central planning are both very specific, detailed economic mechanisms. Saying that the Federation economy is market-based because people have choices is like saying that transporters use internal combustion engines like cars because like cars, transporters move people from place to place. So it's worthwhile to talk about how markets actually work in the real 21st century world.

Economics is about the study of scarcity. How can we choose best, as individuals and societies, when choosing to have one thing prevents us from having something else? If there's no trade-off, there's no economics. For example, we simply have no economic system at all for managing the quantity of atmospheric oxygen and carbon dioxide for animal and plant respiration. (Of course, global warming is another matter.) I don't have to buy oxygen in a market, nor is there any government telling me how much oxygen I can consume or how much carbon dioxide I must produce. So most people in Star Trek are just not economic actors in any sense, and there is no need for any economic system, markets, central planning, or anything else.

When we do have systematic scarcity, we have to carefully manage how we allocate what is scarce. The primary and most important scarcity is labor. We have found that human beings can vastly improve productivity by cooperative specialization. Instead of each household making everything they need themselves — growing their own food, building their own houses, weaving and sewing their own clothing, etc. — it is more productive to have individuals each doing one thing, and exchanging their products. Thus, I produce economics education, and I exchange that education for food, shelter, clothing, etc. Unfortunately, the people who consume my education do not grow food, build house, or manufacture clothing, so simple barter will not work. We have to have a more sophisticated system in place to allocate scarce labor, to make sure people specialize in the most productive endeavors.

A market economy is an institution for managing the allocation of labor to production and the allocation of surplus to increase productivity. The critical, essential feature of a market economy is the negotiation of money prices to maximize money income.

The simplest model of a market economy is just the interaction of households. Each household specializes in the production of one commodity for exchange. The households negotiate a money price with other households and exchange their commodity with those other households for money. The households then use the income from selling their own commodity to purchase commodities from other households, also with negotiated money prices. Each household chooses what and how much of its commodity to produce and, more importantly, the price of that commodity, to maximize household income. Stuff that other households produce is scarce, so each household has to carefully ration what they buy from other households to get the most "utility" from their purchases.

Households have a "choice" of what to produce and a "choice" of what price to require in the sense that no one points a gun at their head and tells them what and how much to produce and what price to sell it at. However, because a market economy exists to manage scarcity, a household cannot simply choose to produce whatever they please at whatever price they please, at least not for long. To maximize income, they have to produce the most in-demand commodity they can, and set the price to maximize their income: if the price is too low, everyone will want to buy it, but they won't make enough money; if the price is too high, no one will want to buy it. It turns out that to maximize its income, given its particular endowments (land, climate, skills, quantity of labor) there is usually exactly one commodity that a household "should" produce and exactly one price it "should" negotiate for that commodity.

It's provable that given a few assumptions (which are unrealistic in a complicated economy), this model will always produce a general equilibrium and a Pareto efficient distribution of subjective utility.

We can extend this simple model in various different ways to model things like managing a surplus of subsistence commodities or complicated multi-stage production, but these extensions must keep the negotiation of prices to maximize income (or net income, i.e. profit) to stay market-like.

By definition, when there's no scarcity, people will not use any mechanism, markets or otherwise, to optimize production or consumption. They do not choose what and how much of some commodity to produce in order to maximized their money income. They do not choose what to consume to make the most of their money income. They produce what they want to produce, and they consume what they want to consume. There's no market in a society like the Federation because there's no need for a market.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Thinly veiled stupidity

the stupid! it burns! Oh my! PZ Myers makes the list of burning stupidity with a thinly veiled metaphor about voting. I know, it's not his comic, but he reproduces it approvingly, as if it were profound instead of burningly stupid.

Briefly, the boat is sinking. One passenger, our hero (heroine?), has a life raft. The other passengers make trivial objections ("I don't like the color") and detach the raft as an act of protest. Of course, they all drown, and blame the hero for not offering "a more inspiring raft." The obvious metaphor is that the boat is our Republican-led government, our hero represents the mainstream "centrist" Democratic party, and the inane passengers are progressives.

The first problem is that as bad as our political situation is, a sinking boat is a terrible metaphor. A country is not a boat we can just abandon, at least not en masse.

The second problem is that it's egregiously insulting to trivialize the objections of those of us fail to support the mainstream Democratic party. While I don't object to insults per se, insults do not persuade, they marginalize. An insult says, "I do not care about your opinions; they are not worthy even of rebuttal." The message is that mainstream centrist Democrats such as Myers simply do not care about the objectives of progressives: our political situation is simply too dire to permit dissent. (Of course, it's always too dire, and when our situation isn't so dire, when the boat isn't sinking, it's just utopian foolishness to worry about the life boat, n'est ce pas?) The progressive and radical objections are more like, "The life raft will fit only 10% of the people (including economically privileged people like Myers) and you expect the rest of us to get in the water and push you to safety."

But the big problem, the real problem is just this:

The Democratic party does not want to save us.

A more apt metaphor is good gangster/bad gangster. "Look, my partner is a psycho. If I let him have his way, he'll not only burn down your store, but kill you and your whole family. I think that's horrible, and I don't want him to do that, but if you don't give me the protection money, I have no way to stop him." The Democratic party is the good gangster, the Republic party is the bad gangster, and at the end of the day they're in the bar splitting the take.

A more radical interpretation of the comic, which I cannot believe the author intended, is that the progressives are our hero, and the inane passengers the centrist Democrats. But we can't expect Democrats to have that level of sophistication.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Democracy vs. republic

On my 2011 post Deconstructing the Ten "Cannots" of Political Economy, (apparently) new commenter John Nicholas remarks,
I for one DO NOT want a democracy! We live in a Republic for a reason, it helps to protect the minority,the weak, from the masses.

Leaving aside for the moment that "democracy" and "democratic republic" are generally used as synonyms, which is the sense used in the context of the thread (Donald Trump and George W. Bush notwithstanding, we generally elect our republic's representatives by majority vote), the alleged superiority of a republic to a democracy is a bit of received wisdom, perhaps an article of faith, that deserves critical examination.

It's difficult to untangle theory and practice. Any system of government can be implemented poorly, so even observing that the American republic in particular does not, in fact, protect minorities and the weak except when such protection is actually demanded by the masses themselves, does not by itself argue that republics are inferior to democracy. One does not have to read the Constitution and the Federalist Papers all that closely to conclude that the working class and the propertied class constituted the "factions" that most concerned the founders of the American republic, and they were primarily concerned with defending the "weak minority" of the propertied against the masses of workers. However, perhaps this failing is a failure of implementation of our specific republic, not a theoretical weakness of republics in general.

Similarly, one can examine a poorly-implemented democracy (such as one in which every citizen votes on every matter, however trivial or inapt for social decision-making) and declare in insufficiency of that particular implementation. A working government has a lot of moving parts, and there are a lot of ways any particular government can go wrong despite the theoretical soundness of its basic structure.

Every other feature of government — e.g. rule of law, independent judiciary, centralization/devolution, or constitutionally established individual rights — is compatible with both a republic and a democracy. The crucial difference between a republic and a democracy is that a republic relies on trustee representatives; a democracy does not.

The key theoretical advantage of a republic is that these trustees will be more likely to act in the public good than would ordinary citizens under their own authority. But this key difference does not seem to pass the smell test. Why is the citizenry competent to elect wise public-spirited representatives but not competent to simply act with wisdom in the public interest? If some "faction" does not have an absolute majority, they would have to compromise to achieve majority support for some of their agenda, just as a trustee representative must compromise between factions to be elected by a majority. But this supposed theoretical advantage is illusory.

The real justification of a republic is to privilege a ruling class, some subset of people in the republic who monopolize rule. (The occasional "outsider" might sometimes be elected, but they are soon co-opted into the ruling class.) "Democratic" elections serve two purposes: first, simply to generate the illusion that the people rule themselves. More importantly, no ruling class is monolithic; the illusion of democracy does give people some scope to exercise pressure to mediate conflicts within the ruling class. A democratic republic is superior to an outright oligarchy, but only just.

The big drawback of a republic, a drawback that seems inherent to the form itself and not an accident of particular institutions, is that trustee representatives come to see themselves as apart from the people, representing the interests of the ruling class(es) rather than the people. Lenin writes about this phenomenon in The State and Revolution, and we've seen any number of modern examples, notably Barack Obama's privilege of Wall Street over Main Street after the global financial crisis. Indeed, the entire Republican party clearly represents the capitalist class and the Democratic party the professional-managerial class; no faction in government represents workers and ordinary people.

When the interests of the ruling class harmonize with the means of production, then ruling class politics is relatively benign. But when contradictions develop between the relations of production and the means of production, the republic's trustee representatives are tied too strongly to the outdated relations and fight to the death by the side of the obsolete ruling classes. Only a true democracy can promote and follow revolutionary changes.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Manufacturing anti-semitism

the stupid! it burns! Well! The Guardian manages to follow The Atlantic in The Stupid, it Burns! series. Never mind UKIP, Richard Spencer, the growing American neo-fascist/neo-Nazi/alt-right movements, etc., ad nauseam. In I still don't believe Corbyn is antisemitic – but his 'irony' comments unquestionably were, what's really important is for Simon Hattenstone to dissect a comment from British Labour Party chairman Jeremy Corbyn from five years ago to make a specious connection between anti-semitism and opposition to the democratically elected government of Israel (which government I do not support, and I would not travel to Israel for love or money... and I presently live in China). Although the stupidity and mendacity seems obvious enough, because this drivel was published in The Guardian, I will explain a bit.

In 2013, defending Palestinian ambassador Manuel Hassassian, Corbyn said that
Zionists who were in the audience . . . clearly have two problems. One is that they don’t want to study history, and secondly, having lived in this country for a very long time, probably all their lives, don’t understand English irony either.

Hattenstone sees clear evidence of anti-semitism: by "Zionists", Hattenstone claims Corbyn clearly meant Jews: Corbyn's comment "is unquestionably antisemitic."

Hattenstone's first tries the "swap the minority" argument:

And if there were ever a clear example of somebody conflating Zionist with Jews, this appears to be it. Let’s play the traditional “swap the minority” game. Instead of “Zionists” let’s make it, say, Muslims or African-Caribbeans or Asians or Irish needing lessons in history or irony. Not nice, eh?

This argument is beyond stupid. Any criticism or generalization becomes racist if you replace the object of criticism with a racial group. Murderers are violent => Black people are violent. The point is whether the initial object of criticism is itself a racial group, not that the comment is critical.

Next, Hattenstone tries to make the case that Zionist necessarily means Jewish. He quotes Shami Chakrabarti:
Crucially, I have heard testimony and heard for myself first hand, the way in which the word ‘Zionist’ has been used personally, abusively, or as a euphemism for ‘Jew’, even in relation to some people with no stated position or even a critical position on the historic formation or development of modern Israel. This has clearly happened so often over a number of years as to raise some alarm bells in Jewish communities.

This argument is just warmed-over third-hand Fox News "Some people say" bullshit. Just because some people use Zionist as a euphemism for Jew doesn't mean that Corbyn used it in that sense. Hell, I consider Republican and conservative as euphemisms for racist, but that doesn't mean that everyone who uses the former term means the latter.

Notably, Hattenstone does not link to the source (pdf) of the quotation, but to a summary article in which it does not appear. He apparently ignores such passages from the summary as Chakrabarti’s report "doesn’t deserve to be 'weaponised' in one direction or another." Chakrabarti "doesn’t offer an unambiguous definition of antisemitism and its relationship to anti-Zionism." Oh, and Chakrabarti calls for :a moratorium on trawls through the past statements of Labour party members." I suspect Hattenstone himself might not have the strongest grasp on the concept of irony.

Hattenstone continues:
Meanwhile, Labour’s new code of conduct states that the use of the word Zionism “euphemistically or as part of any personal abuse” may “provide evidence of antisemitic intent”. On both fronts, if Corbyn said the same thing today he would be in breach of his own party’s guidance.
But this would be true only if Corbyn actually did use the word Zionism "euphemistically or as part of any personal abuse," which Hattenstone has not, you know, actually established.

Finally, Hattenstone argues that criticism is indeed criticism. Corbyn said that
these British Zionists don’t study history, and they don’t understand irony . . . In other words, they are uneducated, they have failed to integrate or assimilate, they are outsiders, they don’t belong, they need to be taught a lesson. Sorry, Jeremy, this is the language of supremacism.

Hattenstone's extrapolation is complete nonsense. I cannot speak to British culture, but there are a metric assload of fully integrated and assimilated Americans who don't study history and don't understand irony. Most of them are in fact uneducated (although a lot of supposedly educated people don't study history or understand irony), but criticizing someone for being stupid is not saying they're "outsiders", except, perhaps, in that they are outside the group of intelligent people capable of basic critical thinking.

I'm not sure it's the hill I personally want to die on, or that the Western Left should die on, but the Israel-Palestinian conflict is one of the sharpest and most binary examples of social justice: The Israeli government and its supporters, Israeli citizens and non-citizens, are in the wrong, are acting grievously against social justice. It's impossible, I think, to be an honest SJW and not at least give lip service to the condemnation of the Israeli government's treatment of Palestinians.

I am hesitant to contradict Hanlon's Razor, even with all the charity I can muster, I can't explain Hattenstone's nonsense just with stupidity. This looks more like a malicious hatchet job: any challenge to the absolute authoritarian rule of the capitalist class must be smeared by any means possible. Hattenstone is lying, he knows he's lying, and he's lying on purpose, to discredit Corbyn and the Labour party. And The Guardian is complicit in this malicious purpose. One person might be just that stupid; it's too much of a stretch to believe that not just Hattenstone but also all the editors who published this crap are all that stupid.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Easily-grifted morons

[A]ll Republicans either have or are pretending to have completely disabled their bullshit detectors, and so now all Republicans are easily-grifted morons. — Brad DeLong