“The Most Magical Place on Earth” is one of the best-ever episodes of the Social Distance podcast.
Mine Furor is both seeing how far people will let him talk about election delays without pushback and distracting from the astonishing but unsurprising economic contraction. We have to juggle more things than we have hands. That’s what juggling is.
The economy’s stunning contraction in the April-June quarter came as the viral outbreak pushed already struggling businesses to close for a second time in many parts of the country, sending unemployment surging to nearly 15%. The government’s estimate Thursday of the second-quarter fall in the gross domestic product was the sharpest such drop on records dating to 1947. The previous worst quarterly contraction, a 10% drop, occurred in 1958 during the Eisenhower administration.
Jennifer A. Richeson for The Atlantic explains how Americans’ views of racial progress are dramatically skewed, and even when studies bring them to believe things in the past were (somewhat) worse than they’d thought, they can’t seem to bring themselves to believe things are bad now.
For the past several years, I, along with my Yale colleague Michael W. Kraus and our students, have been examining perceptions of racial economic inequality—its extent and persistence, decade by decade. In a 2019 study, using a dozen specific moments between 1963 and 2016, we compared perceptions of racial wealth inequality over time with actual data on racial wealth inequality. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the respondents in our study significantly overestimated the wealth of Black families relative to that of white families. In 1963, the median Black family had about 5 percent as much wealth as the median white family. Respondents said close to 50 percent. For 2016, the respondents estimated Black wealth to be 90 percent that of whites. The correct answer for that year was about 10 percent.
Lyta Gold’s cultural profile for Current Affairs of “the fake nerd boys of Silicon Valley” (via Paris Marx) pretty much is impossible to summarize, which in this case is a good thing. I’ll just drop this one paragraph, for its final two sentences. Emphasis mine.
As long as we live under capitalism, new hardware and software will only have two real purposes: to collect data, and to sell it. Inventors and investors can claim whatever specific inspiration from Tolkien they like, but every single one of the enchanted objects in our midst is a palantir. Suburban neighbors use Google Nest or the aptly named Amazon Ring to spy on each other (and to let the police spy on them); employers use a variety of techniques to monitor their employees’ every move. As Nicole Aschoff writes in Jacobin, “Microchips, mobile spyware, and perpetual, individualized monitoring are all part of capital’s fantasy of twenty-first-century scientific management—a future in which our movements, impulses, and rhythms are perfectly adapted to the needs of profit-making.” ‘The future’—our present—is capital’s fantasy, and that’s why it’s a nightmare. We live in a hell of black magic, and it’s not even composed of original or imaginative spells: just random objects dragged out of previous works and remembered for us, half-sale.
I’d think that what Ashville just adopted mostly will start a debate over what can and should be meant by reparations. Is forming a committee to promote more economically-just city fiscal priorities reparations? (Maybe it is; I’m asking.) Either way, the resolution’s recitation of what’s effectvely a long history of injuries and usurpations is impressive.
The most sobering thing about Max Abelson’s rolling interview with an anonymous, white billionaire over the course of the pandemic is that despite how he comes across in it, you just know that when he read it he felt no sense whatsoever of shame.
I thought about the rage at bosses he’d described on our last call and asked him if I could float some ideas about the source of that anger. Was it the sheer size of the gap between the rich and the rest of us? He shrugged that off. “You’ve always had that gap,” he said. “Now everybody knows about it.” I pointed out that inequality had gotten worse. He insisted that the most significant change was how much attention we’ve been paying to the gap. He blamed social media.
I reminded him that his views on some things had evolved since the pandemic began. Could he eventually change his mind about this? “It’s not ‘the system,’ ” he reiterated. “Everybody’s got to stop with ‘the system.’ ” He didn’t sound exasperated, just amused. His voice had the same tone of charmed mellowness it’d had five or so weeks earlier. It’s a rich sound.
“Grasshopper,” he said. “Grasshopper, I’ve got to teach you.”
Helen Lewis overstates the alleged excesses of so-called cancel culture — which, really, is accountability culture — in much the same way as Jill Filipovic but Lewis has an economic argument here that, interestingly, also echoes something Filipovic had highlighted.
Our employers have colossal power over us, and workers have very, very little. The concept of “employment at will” — that your employer can fire you at any time for any transgression, or no transgression at all — is just not a thing in the saner democracies to which we often compare ourselves. A big part of this is waning union influence, but it’s generally a consolidation of nearly all workplace power into the hands of employers, to the detriment of employees.
Whereas an overlooked issue for Filipovic was the inequities in power between employer and employee and whether or not worker vulnerability was being leveraged by the left, Lewis looks to the idea that what she considers the excesses of “cancel culture” often are the result of corporations and other institutions performatively bending to progress only just enough to get activists off their backs.
In each instance here, I think we aren’t speaking of the excesses of “cancel culture” so much as exceptional and outlying errors (although not even in all the cases they raise, but setting that aside). And so, as I’ve said before, while it’s important to watch for errors it’s arguably more important to watch out for the cruel, the sexist, and the rapacious (ahem) using these outlying errors as a shield against accountability culture itself.
I think there’s something to be said for being wary of leaning into labor inequities as a means of punishing people, and for being wary of falling for performative wokeness by institutions, just not without also saying something about whether someone really did do something egregious or harmful; certainly not without also ensuring that we aren’t allowing those who punch down to use exceptions as a means of warding off potential accountability for themselves.
Rob Harvilla for The Ringer has a great look at how — and what — alt-weeklies are doing these days. I especially appreciated this bit from The Austin Chronicle’s music editor.
“One of the things I’ve done for most of my 27 years at the Chronicle is edit the live music listings page: Here are the 20 shows you need to know in the next week,” the Austin Chronicle’s Raoul Hernandez explains. At first the paper pivoted to playlists, to streaming suggestions, to downloads. “So that’s worked well. But as the state has opened up and there have been some live music events, suddenly the question is ‘So, are we recommending these?’ And it hasn’t been much of a question to me, because as the editor of the page, the answer is simple: No, I am not recommending anybody go out.”
It is impossible to overstate how bizarre those words sound, coming out of a veteran alt-weekly music editor’s mouth. “Which is a hard position to be in, because we’re the boosters of the local clubs and the artists,” Hernandez says. “We’re part of that ecosystem. So to not be able to get behind them and say, ‘Go team!’ is not a position anyone wants to be in. But what do we recommend? We recommend you stay home. That’s what we recommend.”
Annie Lowrey for The Atlantic reports that cash payments as economic security during the pandemic have worked, with recipients being able to pay bills, get out from under debt, and have greater choice during job searches; in essence, says Lowrey, offering people not just some sense of financial stability but thereby psychological security as well. As noted for The New York Times by Jamelle Bouie (via Robin Rendle), keeping workers “on edge — and willing to accept whatever wage is on offer […] is a feature and not a bug of our economic system”. A feature, says Lowrey, that denies Americans the “ability not to worry” day after day, week after week, that they aren’t going to make it.
My beloved Oregon Zoo reopens tomorrow for three members-only days followed by resuming public access, and I am conflicted. For the past four months, I’ve not left my neighborhood. Even were I to calculate that public transit with its mask requirements, social distancing, and reduced capacity plus the zoo with its mask requirements, social distancing, and reduced capacity were not really a risk, I’d still have to contend with the question of whether or not my autisticness is capable of handling the hour-long commute (or more, given the reduced capacity) to the zoo, the restricted movement of a single-direction route through the zoo, and the hour-long (or more) commute back to home. I’ve reserved a slot for Thursday afternoon, in the event I feel like it’s worth the expense in psychic resources. What I really need is for the zoo to show us what Wednesday looks like, so I have some advance sense of expectations; then maybe I’d have enough data to weigh.
“New disease models released today by the Oregon Health Authority warn that daily COVID-19 infections could increase 20-fold by mid-July if trends continue,” reports Willamette Week — which also reports, “Oregon bars, restaurants and other businesses may be forced to shut down again as COVID-19 cases spike, Gov. Kate Brown acknowledged today.”
My concern with Ben Mathis-Lilley’s look at Larry Kudlow saying Americans will have to just “live with” the resurgence of the virus should be with Kudlow’s blithe disregard, but I find I’m more concerned with Mathis-Lilley effectively letting Kudlow and his ilk off the hook even while superficially criticizing them.
This impossibility, of making a full economic recovery without a full public health recovery, is a bind that almost every official in the U.S. except hard-line Trump loyalists saw coming.
It’s ludicrous to suggest that folks like Kudlow don’t actually understand that you can’t make “a full economic recovery without a full public health recovery”. They understand this; their goal isn’t “full economic recovery”.
So long as can lurch from one quick, superficial fix to another for the next five months, they hope it’s enough to fool the voting public into believing Trump saved the economy, and so win the election.
They’re cynical not clueless and it’s exasperating how many people engaged in journalism keep granting them the escape clause of the latter.
By now you’ve read Nikole Hannah-Jones’ call for reparations, but I wanted to highlight just a couple of things that should inform the context in which we white people discuss any of these issues.
It has been more than 150 years since the white planter class last called up the slave patrols and deputized every white citizen to stop, question and subdue any black person who came across their paths in order to control and surveil a population who refused to submit to their enslavement. It has been 150 years since white Americans could enforce slave laws that said white people acting in the interest of the planter class would not be punished for killing a black person, even for the most minor alleged offense. Those laws morphed into the black codes, passed by white Southern politicians at the end of the Civil War to criminalize behaviors like not having a job. Those black codes were struck down, then altered and over the course of decades eventually transmuted into stop-and-frisk, broken windows and, of course, qualified immunity. The names of the mechanisms of social control have changed, but the presumption that white patrollers have the legal right to kill black people deemed to have committed minor infractions or to have breached the social order has remained.
On income and wealth:
As we focus on police violence, we cannot ignore an even starker indication of our societal failures: Racial income disparities today look no different than they did the decade before King’s March on Washington. In 1950, according to a forthcoming study by the economists Moritz Schularick, Moritz Kuhn and Ulrike Steins in The Journal of Political Economy, black median household income was about half that of white Americans, and today it remains so. More critical, the racial wealth gap is about the same as it was in the 1950s as well. The typical black household today is poorer than 80 percent of white households. “No progress has been made over the past 70 years in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households,” according to the study.
And yet most Americans are in an almost pathological denial about the depth of black financial struggle. That 2019 Yale University study, called “The Misperception of Racial Economic Inequality,” found that Americans believe that black households hold $90 in wealth for every $100 held by white households. The actual amount is $10.
“The cause of the gap must be found in the structural characteristics of the American economy, heavily infused at every point with both an inheritance of racism and the ongoing authority of white supremacy,” the authors of the Duke study write. “There are no actions that black Americans can take unilaterally that will have much of an effect on reducing the wealth gap. For the gap to be closed, America must undergo a vast social transformation produced by the adoption of bold national policies.”
I’m being flippant in that last post but also I’m not actually being flippant at all. Literally just hours after I’ve read the part in Nikole Hannah-Jones’ call for racial economic justice where she discusses how it’s not like any of the United States’ civil rights laws made up for the past of racist economic deprivation which held Blacks back even as Whites were given both hands-up and hand-outs, I read that thing about Jenny Slate. So, I really do want to know: is she giving any of that money back, since for four whole seasons those wages could have gone to increase the financial stability and well-being of a Black actress?
All that remains of the window displays of The Aspire Project, which offered “affordable and accessible dance programs and fitness classes for all ages” in downtown St. Johns. Already shutting down in June, SARS-CoV-2 cancelled its final Spring term.