Farewell. The Flying Pig Has Left The Building.

Steve Hynd, August 16, 2012

After four years on the Typepad site, eight years total blogging, Newshoggers is closing it's doors today. We've been coasting the last year or so, with many of us moving on to bigger projects (Hey, Eric!) or simply running out of blogging enthusiasm, and it's time to give the old flying pig a rest.

We've done okay over those eight years, although never being quite PC enough to gain wider acceptance from the partisan "party right or wrong" crowds. We like to think we moved political conversations a little, on the ever-present wish to rush to war with Iran, on the need for a real Left that isn't licking corporatist Dem boots every cycle, on America's foreign misadventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. We like to think we made a small difference while writing under that flying pig banner. We did pretty good for a bunch with no ties to big-party apparatuses or think tanks.

Those eight years of blogging will still exist. Because we're ending this typepad account, we've been archiving the typepad blog here. And the original blogger archive is still here. There will still be new content from the old 'hoggers crew too. Ron writes for The Moderate Voice, I post at The Agonist and Eric Martin's lucid foreign policy thoughts can be read at Democracy Arsenal.

I'd like to thank all our regular commenters, readers and the other bloggers who regularly linked to our posts over the years to agree or disagree. You all made writing for 'hoggers an amazingly fun and stimulating experience.

Thank you very much.

Note: This is an archive copy of Newshoggers. Most of the pictures are gone but the words are all here. There may be some occasional new content, John may do some posts and Ron will cross post some of his contributions to The Moderate Voice so check back.


Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Way From Here?

By BJ Bjornson

I�ve been watching the Occupy Wall Street protests with a mixture of hope and pessimism. The hope is buoyed by the fact that the protests have sustained themselves and even built momentum over the past month, finally forcing the powers that be to start paying some attention to the anger that underlies the movement.

The pessimism is of course related to the clear unwillingness of a large segment of those powers to actually change a system that�s working quite well for them unless forced to, and it remains very uncertain whether or not simple protests will be sufficient to force more than merely cosmetic changes to the system.

Before I get to the reasons for that, it is a good idea to remember just why the protests exist to begin with. John Robb has been doing a pretty good job in following these things as well, and in a recent post, included this chart as a pictorial representation of just what these protests are about.


The same point has been made elsewhere, but basically boils down to the fact that since the late-70�s, early 80�s, gains in worker productivity have not been matched by gains in worker compensation. Instead, the cream�s been skimmed off the top by those at the top, and it�s mostly the latent anger at this which is driving the OWS protests.

The skimmers now find themselves in a very bad situation that makes compromise difficult, partly of their own making. That part being that while workers� pay hasn�t matched their increased productivity, the cost of living has, and now far too many of the 99% can�t afford the products they�ve been getting paid less and less to make. This is also why OWS is a worldwide phenomenon. The trans-nationals have been competing by looking for cheaper and cheaper labour forces to make their products, but we�re now getting past the point where there is any benefit from doing so. And with so many formerly well-paying jobs disappeared off-shore into sweatshops or transformed into low-paying service jobs, the potential customer base for those products has started to shrink as well.

Without customers, there is no demand, and with no demand, there are no profits to be made, short of the casino trading in financial products that Wall Street has become.

The second critical point is the one Ron has referred to often, and which Kevin Drum has a post on today: Peak Oil

It�s not the only resource which is facing constraints; though it is one of the biggest where the economic effects are already being felt. This is bad news for everyone, but for the folks at the top of the ladder, it means that simply moving back to a post-WWII economy where strong unions and government oversight allowed for a successful middle class and growing incomes across the board, including those at the top, just isn�t possible anymore. The overall economy is going to struggle to maintain any kind of real growth without smacking up against resource constraints that stop it in its tracks.

That means things might actually be a lot closer to the zero-sum game some of the more reactionary pundits make the �class war� out to be, which means the �haves� are going to be ever more reluctant to give in to the �have-nots�.

On the other hand, there is still a fair bit of room for that increased productivity to be put to truly productive uses at a local level that will allow for greater prosperity for most people even as resource constraints constrict trans-national supply chains and businesses that depend upon them. That change is coming upon us whether we like it or not, and it remains to be seen just how hard the entrenched interests fight against it.

Another John Robb post looked at the possibility of a Capitalist Reformation, modeled after what happened to the European Church, which may wind up being the model this transition takes. And while a reformation might not mean a complete rejection of the current system, but only a rejection of the current implementation/hierarchy/rules due to corruption, failure, and injustice (his words), I don�t recall the historical Reformation being at all peaceful, and it took a good long time to shake itself out.

Thus, my pessimism regarding the OWS movement. I wish them every success, because the alternative means things will ultimately get a whole lot uglier, as they have at other points in history.

All the shouts about "class war" bring to mind images of rabid Jacobin mobs in 1793 hauling brave nobles and gentlemen to the guillotine. But if Rupert & co. really want us pondering that image, we owe it to ourselves to leaf back just a few pages to 1789, when the revolution began as a much more moderate thing, inspired by events across the ocean, in America.

France was broke. Louis XVI and his ministers were incompetents who deliberately squelched commerce with internal tariffs and policies that crushed innovation. The church owned much of the productive land, tax-free. So did the feudal aristocracy. Top merchants and corporations managed to wrangle exemptions too. After years of quagmire wars, poor tax revenue, bank collapses and mismanagement, Louis needed more money to stave off bankruptcy and save the country. So he summoned the Estates General.

That was the rough French equivalent of the British Parliament, but with much less authority. In fact, it had last met in 1614. But Louis was desperate. What he needed was for the first and second "estates" -- the clergy and nobles -- to vote themselves a temporary levy and join the third estate (the people) in paying their fair share.

That's how it all started. The country's leader asking oligarchs and aristocrats to pay the same rates as common folk, for a while, especially since they already owned damn near everything. The answer given by the dukes and bishops and marquiseseses? Heck no! We're the ones keeping it all together. The managers and investors and owners and job-makers. The government can damn well keep its mitts out of our pockets. It's our money, not the state's.

We�re not there in North America quite yet, and if the OWS movement results in some real change rather than a simple re-entrenchment of wealthy interests, we can hopefully still avoid it altogether.


  1. In addition to Peak Oil etc. we have to look at climate change. Just ask TX and OK - drought. Just ask the Dakotas - historic flooding. Climate change = less food. Ironically unless TX gets significant rain fall the next few months they will have to shut down coal fired power plants because of a lack of cooling water.

  2. Many years ago I was in Mexico with a friend who was a contractor and we were watching a highway construction project. There was no heavy equipment being used, and workers were carrying concrete in buckets. My friend was talking about how he could bring his company down and do these projects faster because he had all this fancy equipment and our guide tells him he would not be allowed to use that equipment.
    �What?� my friend exclaimed, �That�s crazy. How can you make money with laws like that? Why would the government outlaw the use of equipment?�
    the guide replies, �The government does not care about companies making money. The government cares about being sure that these men can feed their families.�
    High productivity is not a good thing for working men and women.

  3. I watched similar scenes in Korea in 1966, women with babies on their backs sweeping around railroad tracks, men making cement drain pipe sections using 3-part metal forms, stone masons building what we called "kimchee walls" from granite and sometimes three men using a single shovel (one guided the handle and the other two rhythmically pulling the load with rope attached near the scoop). It was something of a game to look for cracks in those granite block walls but I never saw any. I could write a list of similar examples... and look now at the difference between the Republic of South Korea and their brothers and sisters to the North. Developing countries often understand and apply capitalism more constructively than those yelling loudest about its virtues.

  4. Bill H, What�s missing from your anecdote is where your friend explained that the folks working those machines wouldn�t get paid any more than the poor buggers hauling the concrete buckets, with the savings from firing all the other folks going straight into his pocket. Because when that happens, you�re entirely right; high productivity is not that good a thing for the people who need work, and that is exactly what has been happening in the U.S. for the last 30-35 years. That you�ve internalized this scenario as being the way it always is provides another example of just how well the propaganda supporting such has worked.
    The difference with the post-war boom period was that the guys working the machines, because they could do so much more work, got paid a great deal more as well, enough that they could start driving demand themselves, and demanding better infrastructure and so forth, so that there was a whole lot more work to do, enough that the rest of the poor buggers who had been hauling buckets could find themselves operating machines for much higher wages themselves, boosting demand and thus creating more work and more wealth. A quite virtuous cycle where increased productivity increased wages which increased demand which increased the number of employees needed.
    Two caveats, of course. The first regarding how some of these poor guys can�t be retrained from bucket hauling to bulldozer operator. There was a pretty good debate regarding the progress v. luddite debate going on recently at the LGM blog stemming from a post on self-serve checkouts. There�s no way I can properly delve into that subject short of a whole series of blog posts, so for now I�d suggest a quick search for those threads to see the arguments borne out. And again, while I�m sure you can find examples of such happening even during those boom years, the aggregate worked out pretty well for the great majority. (No doubt helped in large part by powerful unions who made certain the companies had to offer proper re-training of the older employees when new tech came down the pipeline.)
    Second caveat, and again one mentioned in the post, is that all of this growth has been fuelled to a large extent by our accelerating depletion of finite fossil fuels and other tangible and ultimately limited resources. We�re already starting to bump up to the limits of that extraction, and whatever else that will mean, in this context it means that growing our way out the problem is going to be next to impossible.