Monday, July 30, 2018

Right-Wing Populism versus Multiculturalism

If one Googles the term “populism,” the following definition is obtained:

“the quality of appealing to or being aimed at ordinary people”

Historically, the term has been more associated with the political left where the issues dealt with class conflict between a wealthy elite and the remainder of the population.  But more recent history has demonstrated that populism also exists as a political force of the right.  The right-wing version produces a quite different definition of the term “ordinary people.”

Jan-Werner Müller has produced a description of what populism has become in his book What Is Populism? 

“In addition to being antielitist, populists are always antipluralist.  Populists claim that they, and they alone, represent the people….The claim to exclusive representation is not an empirical one; it is always distinctly moral.  When running for office, populists portray their political competitors as part of the immoral, corrupt elite; when ruling, they refuse to recognize any opposition as legitimate.  The populist logic also implies that whoever does not support populist parties might not be a proper part of the people—always defined as righteous and morally pure.  Put simply, populists do not claim ‘We are the 99 percent.’  What they imply instead is ‘We are the 100 percent’.”

Populists from the right will generally be against “the elites,” but they also tend to be against minorities, immigrants and others at the bottom of the economic ladder—people deemed to be non-contributors.  As such, they are not necessarily to be provided the same benefits as “real people.”

“Populists pit the pure, innocent, always hardworking people against a corrupt elite who do not really work (other than to further their self-interest) and, in right-wing populism, also against the very bottom of society (those who also do not really work and live like parasites off the work of others).

“….populism is always a form of identity politics (though not all versions of identity politics are populist).  What follows from this understanding of populism as an exclusionary form of identity politics is that populism tends to pose a danger to democracy.  For democracy requires pluralism and the recognition that we need to find fair terms of living together as free, equal, but also as irreducibly diverse citizens.  The idea of the single, homogeneous, authentic people is a fantasy….”

Müller explores the anti-democratic actions taken by right-wing populist governments in Europe and it becomes clear that the United States, with Trump as president and owner of the Republican Party, is living under a right-wing populist regime.

Google offers up this definition of the term “multiculturalism.”

“the presence of, or support for the presence of, several distinct cultural or ethnic groups within a society”

History informs us that attaining a multicultural democracy is a difficult task.  In fact, the past is full of examples that suggest the formation of a democratic government in a multicultural society is nearly impossible.  Yascha Mounk discusses this point within his book The People vs. Democracy: Why Our Freedom Is in Danger and How to Save It.  Mounk identifies three changes that have made democracy less tenable.  His first concern is economic: democracy is most healthy when everyone is benefiting from economic growth.  However, wages for most have stagnated over the past several decades.  Another concern involves the growth of new communication technologies.  In the past, major media outlets served as gatekeepers and kept the crazies and their conspiracy theories at bay.  Now, the internet and social media can provide instant transmission of the wackiest notions.  His third concern is the increase in minority populations due to immigration and the tensions that is creating.  That will be the subject here.

Mounk believes we should be concerned about the growth of multiculturalism in our societies.

“….does the ideal of self-government make it more difficult for a diverse set of citizens to live alongside each other as equals?”

“Two thousand years of European history lend considerable support to this supposition.”

Consider the recent history of the twentieth century.  It began with the linguistically and ethnically diverse central and eastern European regions under the control of various empires.  Rule from afar by a distant monarch meant that any local boundaries were essentially meaningless.  It made sense for people to intermix as they sought better lives for themselves.   When there is no local control, there is no local competition for dominance.  Ethnic mixtures could remain stable for generations.  With the end of World War I, these empires declined or disappeared, providing the opportunity to regain local control.  This would initiate a long period where the desire for dominance by the various ethnicities produced a time of turmoil and violence that only came to an end with the victory of the allied forces in World War II and their concerted effort to herd the various groups into homogeneous nation-states.

“By the time the horrors of World War II had been unleashed and exhausted, much of the continent had been ethnically cleansed.  For the first time in Europe’s history, most states could boast of the perfect “union of ethnicity, territory, and state” to which they had long aspired.  And it is only at this point that democracy triumphed across much of the continent.”

The postwar period saw the implementation of great social programs and broad economic gains in both Europe and North America.  A number of factors generated changing economic conditions which these nations continued to struggle with, but the integrity of the democratic states was maintained.  More recently, immigration issues have emerged and the growth in minority populations has called into question the survivability of the liberal democratic model.

“In historical perspective, the speed with which highly homogeneous nations have become heterogeneous since the end of World War II is remarkable.  In Great Britain, for example, ‘the number of ethnic minority citizens [stood at] a few tens of thousands in the 1950s.’  Today, there are over eight million.  The story is very similar in much of Western Europe.  In Germany, the government tried to fuel its postwar economic miracle by advertising for unskilled laborers in Greece, Italy, and Turkey, welcoming the millionth ‘guest worker’ to the country in 1964.  By 1968, the number of foreign citizens in the country was approaching two million.  Today, about seventeen million immigrants and their descendants live in Germany.”

The United States has long possessed a society comprised of a large number of immigrants.  The number of foreign-born held steady at 14% of the population for half a century until around the beginning of World War I it began to fall reaching a low of 5% around 1960.  After that it began to climb again, and it currently has returned to the 14% level while continuing to grow.

The earlier European history demonstrated that it was very difficult to form a democracy when multiple ethnic groups existed in the population.  The situation we are concerned with now involves an existing democracy with growing minority populations.  This is a different situation and need not necessarily lead to strife.

Mounk describes a pessimistic possible future.  We know that immigration has caused tension in essentially all affected countries, and the rise of anti-immigration populist groups in a number of them.  One might expect these tensions to continue to rise as the minority populations continue to increase until the political functioning of the nation is damaged.

When Mounk examines voting data, what he discovers is not consistent with this pessimistic view.

“Here’s the (apparent) rub: If a backlash against immigration—and perhaps the very idea of a multiethnic society—is so key to their appeal, then populists should be most successful among non-immigrant voters in areas with high immigration.  Donald Trump should, in other words, be riding high among white voters in Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City.”

“On the contrary, Donald Trump received 13 percent of the vote in Chicago, 17 percent of the vote in New York city, and 22 percent of the vote in Los Angeles.  By contrast, he did extremely well in rural counties with few foreign-born residents: in Trinity County, California (foreign-born population: 3.4 percent), Trump received 48.6 percent of the vote; in Lewis County, New York (1.7 percent), he got 65 percent; finally, in Gallatin County, Illinois (0.3 percent), he got 72 percent.”

Similar voting patterns are seen for right-wing populists in Europe.  It appears it is not the arrival of immigrants so much as the fear of the coming of immigrants that creates the social tensions.  Populists seem to do best in regions with a small number of immigrants, but areas in which recent growth in the number of immigrants has been significant.

Mounk suggests a positive spin on these observations.  Given that large cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York City have managed to accommodate life with significant minority populations, a conclusion is that those cities may have experienced the same tensions as immigration increased, but, over time, they learned to live in peace with that development.

“But there is also a more hopeful interpretation: Perhaps the effects of the first waves of immigration into a particular area are much more negative than the effects of later waves.  Once areas become accustomed to the reality of a multiethnic society, they may find that their fears do not materialize—and that they become less anxious about a continuing process of change.”

The recent history of California can be used as an example of exactly that type of transition.

“The experience of California seems to suggest that this more optimistic interpretation holds true in some places: From 1980 to 1990, the overall share of the foreign-born population rose from 15 percent to 22 percent.  A great wave of anxiety washed over the state.  Many native-born Californians were disoriented by the rapid pace of change, and grew furious that politicians were willing to accommodate the cultures and the languages of immigrants.  The backlash soon took political form.  Californians gave a big victory to a governor who staked his reelection campaign on strident anti-immigration rhetoric.  Taking advantage of the state’s highly democratic constitution, which allows for popular referenda on a large range of issues, they then excluded undocumented immigrants from public benefits; forbade public universities from practicing affirmative action; and banned bilingual education in schools.”

It would take only a few election cycles for attitudes to change dramatically.

“But in the 2000s and 2010s, the fever somehow broke.  Most Californians grew comfortable with the fact that high levels of immigration were a part of the local experience, and that the state had become ‘majority minority.’  As a result, the state is now known as one of the most tolerant in the country.  Over the past years, Californians have reversed many of the draconian laws they had passed by referendum two decades earlier with strong support from white voters.  And with its political leaders openly critical of President Trump’s immigration policy, the state has fast-tracked a slew of pro-immigrant bills since his election.”

Let us cling to this optimistic outlook.  Otherwise, only disaster can await us.  The flux of immigrants will not disappear.  If anything, it will continue to grow as climate refugees join the mix.  Multicultural societies are the future and we will have to deal with that.

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Consumer Politics: If You Want a Better World, Support Your Political Party

Tony Judt was one of our more astute observers of society and history.  As he lay dying from ALS his mind remained clear as his body failed him.  He managed to produce two books and contribute the majority of a third during that period.  Perhaps his most popular effort in an impressive career was the history he documented of the emergence of the great democratic states of Europe from the tragedy of World War II.  He had commented often on the sadness of watching nations that once believed “we are all in this together” and created great and just societies based on that principle slowly sink into the nastiness inherent in neoliberal economics.  In his book Ill Fares the Land (2010) he provided this assessment of where we stood at that time.

“We no longer have political movements.  While thousands of us may come together for a rally or a march, we are bound together on such occasions by a single shared interest.  Any effort to convert such interests into collective goals is usually undermined by the fragmented individualism of our concerns.  Laudable goals—fighting climate change, opposing war, advocating public healthcare or penalizing bankers—are united by nothing more than the expression of emotion.  In our political, as in our economic lives, we have become consumers: choosing from a broad gamut of competing objectives, we find it hard to imagine ways or reasons to combine these into a coherent whole.  We must do better than this.”

Since that time, a number of studies have discussed our “fragmented individualism” as a way of explaining why interest in the traditional work of political parties has waned—along with their effectiveness.  Wolfgang Streeck produced a particularly insightful examination of citizens as “consumers of politics.”  His contribution was an essay titled “Citizens as Customers: Considerations on the New Politics of Consumption.  This work was part of a collection of articles included in Streeck’s book How Will Capitalism End?: Essays on a Failing System. 

In Streeck’s telling, the postwar years were an era of prodigious demand for industrial goods.  Recovering from wartime destruction combined with pent-up postwar demand and augmented by the demographic transition from rural to urban and industrial settings, industries were faced with the need to mass produce cars, washing machines and such as quickly as possible.  This situation led to the production of large numbers of simply designed items that were required to be cheap and robust—an approach referred to as “Fordism” after the US automobile manufacturer.  Product differentiation was minimal.  Wages and profits soared in this era.

By the 1970s, supply would begin to catch up with demand and levels of economic growth could not be maintained.  What was necessary for manufacturers to sustain their profitability was the transition from an economy based on meeting the population’s needs to one based on meeting the population’s desires.  Augmenting the workforce with women and the option of moving production to lands with a cheaper workforce kept wage costs low.  Meanwhile, new technologies simplified the manufacturing process, making it more flexible.  It became cost-effective to allow significant variations within a product line.  This provided consumers the ability to select features that were important to them but varied from the default version of the item.

“Product differentiation matched manufactured goods—and increasingly, services—more closely to individual consumers’ particular utility functions.  At the same time, it enabled and encouraged consumers to refine that function, by developing or paying more attention to their individual wants, on top of the common needs served by standardized products.”

“What made the customization of product ranges economically attractive, and eventually helped capitalist economies move on from the stagnation of the 1970s, was the degree to which it increased the value-added of industrial production: the closer products came to the specific preferences of consumers, the more consumers turned out to be willing to pay—and, indeed, the harder they were prepared to work and the more they were prepared to borrow for the purchasing power needed to participate in the new paradigm of economic growth, with the transition it involved from saturated to affluent markets.”

This stage in economic evolution was accompanied by dramatic changes in society and in our political lives.  When there were only a few television shows to watch, only a few types of cars to choose from, and product choice was driven more by need than individual choice, societies were much more universally connected by shared experiences.  There was less opportunity for one to differentiate one’s self from others.  Similarly, in politics, association with a political party involved less opportunity for individual expression and demanded a loyalty to a set of common goals.

With the coming of broad product differentiation, selection of a particular product in the marketplace became a means of broadcasting a message as to what kind of person we were.  The message sent would align with messages being sent by others, but the number of others would be limited.  And the ties with others with similar interests and tastes would be limited as well. 

“The vast variety of alternative possibilities of consumption in affluent post-Fordist markets provides a mechanism that allows people to conceive of an act of purchase—concluding, as it often does, a lengthy period of introspective exploration of one’s very personal preferences—as an act of self-identification and self-presentation, one that sets the individual apart from some social groups while uniting him or her with others.”

“Sociation by consumption, then, is monological rather than dialogical in nature, voluntary rather than obligatory, individual rather than collective.”

“Since communities of consumption are much easier to abandon than traditional ‘real’ communities, social identities become structured by weaker and looser ties, allowing individuals to surf from one identity to the next, free from any pressure to explain themselves.”

These conditions are to be compared with the demands of a political community as instantiated by a political party.

“Unlike the highly flexible communities of choice that emerge in societies governed by advanced patterns of consumption, political communities are basically communities of fate.  At their core, they ask members to not insist on their separate individuality but to accept a collectively shared identity, integrating the former into the latter.  Compared to market relations, political relations are therefore by necessity rigid and persistent; they emphasize, and must emphasize, strong ties of duty rather than weak ties of choice.  They are obligatory rather than voluntary, dialogical rather than monological, demanding sacrifices in utility and effort; and they insist on loyalty—providing, in terms of Albert Hirschman, opportunities for ‘voice,’ while frowning upon ‘exit’.”

The above analysis leads to the conclusion that citizens grown used to highly personalized consumer decisions will carry over that mode of operation into their public, political lives.  That is essentially the observation by Judt with which we began.  Interests and enthusiasms come and go, and we think as individuals instead of as members of a collective.  But we are members of a collective and must relearn how to behave as such.

History tells us that most political change/progress comes when society is presented with a threat—particularly one that is existential in nature.  In the United States the existential threat was the Great Depression.  For Europe it was World War II.  In both instances, political changes ushered in greater prosperity and improved economic equality.  Consumerism, neoliberal propaganda, and other developments have weakened that sense of being members of a collective. 

It seems the liberal party has been more affected by consumerism than the alternative one.  Think of the Bernie Sanders supporters who were unwilling to accept an alternate candidate and chose to either not vote or vote for a third-party candidate.  That was not a vote wasted as a sign of rebellion, it was equivalent to a vote for Donald Trump.  It is those who believe in a liberal democracy who have become unreliable; those driven by fear, hatred, or greed never waver.

Those of us who believe in a liberal democracy face an existential threat.  Trump and his supporters want to make the nation into something foreign and undemocratic.  All that is necessary to counter this is to show up and vote.  We must forget our disappointment that pet projects are not perceived as being of high priority.  We must forget that our candidates are not perfect.  We must demonstrate military discipline because we are engaged in a war.  We must assume that survival of our way of life is at stake.

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Cellular Conflicts: Is Extending Life Possible—or Even Worth the Trouble?

Barbara Ehrenreich is probably best known for her book Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America.  She actually has authored a long list of books, all with intriguing titles, that appear sociological in focus.  It is somewhat surprising then to realize that her formal education resulted in a doctorate in cellular immunology from Rockefeller University.  Apparently, her range of interests were too broad to be constrained by a career in such a narrow discipline.  It would be awareness of a growing revolution in knowledge of how the human immune system actually worked that would drive her back to her original field for the production of her most recent effort: Natural Causes: An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer.  She was motivated by an article she encountered.

“The article….reported that the immune system actually abets the growth and spread of tumors, which is like saying that the fire department is indeed staffed by arsonists.  We all know that the function of the immune system is to protect us, most commonly from bacteria and viruses, so its expected response to cancer should be a concerted and militant defense.”

We tend to think of our bodies as well-tuned, highly-efficient machines with all sorts of mechanisms in place to ensure continued functionality.  But we all know that once the body reaches adulthood (or maximum efficiency), it begins a long downhill journey to dysfunction and ultimate death.  Given this initial view of ourselves we tend to believe people who tell us that this gradual decay is something that we can overcome by exercise, diet, or medication.  Ehrenreich’s devotes a great deal of her book to the attempt to disabuse us of these foolish notions.

“The body….is not a smooth-running machine in which each part obediently performs its tasks for the benefit of the common good.  It is at best a confederation of parts—cells, tissues, even thought patterns—that may seek to advance their own agendas, whether or not they are destructive of the whole.  What, after all, is cancer, other than a cellular rebellion against the entire organism.”

“I know that in an era where both conventional medicine and the wooliest ‘alternatives’ hold out the goal of self-mastery, or at least the promise that we can prolong our lives and improve our health by carefully monitoring our lifestyles, many people will find this perspective disappointing, even defeatist.  What is the point of minutely calibrating one’s diet and time spent on the treadmill when you could be vanquished entirely by a few rogue cells within your own body?”

Ehrenreich reached an age at which death was no longer improbable.  Rather than try to stave off further physical and mental decline by taking heroic measures, she decided that the time she had left was best used by pursuing a lifestyle that provided her pleasure and satisfaction.  Let others forgo pleasure and satisfaction in the vain attempt to prolong a life that is thus rendered much less worth living.

Ehrenreich elaborates on these thoughts throughout the book.  What is of interest here are the details she provides about the surprising roles of the immune system.  

To perform its function of protecting us from things like microbes and parasites that are foreign to our bodies, the immune system consists of an impressive array of structures and processes designed to disable or destroy these things.  However, the power to destroy can be dangerous if malfunctions can occur.  And they do.  There are at least 80 types of autoimmune diseases where the immune system, for whatever reason, turns on specific body parts.  Examples include rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, celiac disease and Graves disease. 

Ehrenreich likes the analogy to powerful military forces that are necessary for defense but, historically, have been difficult to control.

“Any human society within a spear’s throw of potential enemies needs some kind of defensive force—minimally, an armed group who can defend against invaders.  But there are risks to maintaining a garrison, or, beyond that, a standing army: The warriors may get greedy and turn against their own people, demanding ever more food and resources.  Similarly, in the case of the body, without immune cells we would be helpless in the face of invading microbes.  With them, we face the possibility of treasonous attacks on our ‘selves’—the autoimmune diseases….likened to ‘a mutiny in the security forces of a country’.”

Given that there is no explanation for why autoimmune diseases exist, Ehrenreich tends to think of immune system processes as being unreliable, in much the same way that humans are unreliable.  This is the basis for her earlier reference to immune system cells “that may seek to advance their own agendas.”  It is the readers’ choice if they wish to buy into this line of thinking.  One should at least keep an open mind while considering her description of the role a particular type of cell plays in “protecting” us.

Ehrenreich spent her graduate student days studying the cells known as macrophages (translates to “big eaters”).  Her studies convinced her that these were powerful actors working to protect us.

“With the exception of stem cells, there is probably no cell in the body more versatile than the macrophage, which originates, like so many other leucocytes, in the bone marrow.  Immature macrophages, called monocytes, are released into the bloodstream, where they may become attracted to a stationary object, like a dead or injured cell, and settle down to devour it.  As the macrophage eats, it grows and becomes ‘activated’—filled with vacuoles containing digestive enzymes that allow it to eat still more.”

Besides this clean-up function, macrophages are the designated killers of microbes deemed dangerous.

“Antibodies are the ingeniously bespoke protein molecules designed to bind to particular antigens—or patches of a microbe’s surface—either disabling the microbe or marking it for destruction by macrophages.”

As if they had a mind of their own, macrophages also participate in activities that are far from benign.

“Macrophages had been known since the nineteenth century to gather at tumor sites….optimistically, one might imagine that the macrophages were massing for an assault on the tumor.  Instead, it turned out that they spent their time in the neighborhood of tumors encouraging the cancer cells to continue on their reproductive rampage.  They are cheerleaders on the side of death.  Francis Balkwill, one of the cell biologists who contributed to the recognition of treasonous macrophage behavior, described her colleagues in the field as being ‘horrified’.”

“The evidence for macrophage collusion with cancer keeps piling up.  Macrophages provide cancer cells with chemical growth factors and help build the new blood vessels required by a growing tumor.  So intimately are they involved with the deadly progress of cancer that they can account for as much as 50 percent of a tumor’s mass.  Macrophages also appear to be necessary if the cancer is to progress to its deadliest phase, metastasis, and if a cancerous mouse is treated to eliminate all its macrophages, the tumor stops metastasizing.”

This type of behavior was first recognized in the case of breast cancer, but it has since been observed in other cancers.

“Breast cancer is not the only form of cancer that depends on macrophages for access to blood vessels and hence metastasis to new sites in the body.  So far, there is evidence that macrophages assist in the metastasis of lung, bone, gastric, and other cancers.”

Where there is inflammation, macrophages will congregate for the or the bad. Macrophages are now recognized as the cells most involved in the production of plaque which contributes to atherosclerosis.

“Many pathological or at least annoying conditions, from acne to arthritis, arise from inflammation. And inflammation, which involves a variety of leucocytes, is spearheaded by macrophages….At a later stage in the human life cycle, we find macrophages involved in arthritis  and diabetes, as well as chewing away at living bones to produce osteoporosis.”

Ehrenreich does not pretend to provide a complete description of all the immune system features, nor even just the roles played by macrophages.  She does provide enough information to make one wonder about the wisdom of the common advice to do whatever is possible to strengthen one’s immune system as a counter to disease.

Her goal was to convince the reader that his or her body is not a well-tuned machine that only needs to be maintained in order to continue to run healthily.  Health can be something we have no control over.  And as we age the effort to maintain health can be so intrusive in our lives that it detracts from our ability to enjoy the time we have left.  She provides this advice.

“I hope this book will encourage you to rethink the project of personal control over your body and mind.  We would all like to live longer and healthier lives; the question is how much of our lives should be devoted to this project, when we all, or at least most of us, have other, often more consequential things to do.”

“You can think of death bitterly or with resignation, as a tragic interruption of your life, and take every possible measure to postpone it.  Or, more realistically, you can think of life as an interruption of an eternity of personal nonexistence, and seize it as a brief opportunity to observe and interact with the living, ever-surprising world around us.”

The interested reader might find the following articles informative:

Monday, July 2, 2018

Product Dumping, Amazon Style

Robinson Meyer produced an interesting little article describing the work of a young legal scholar who has taken aim at Amazon as an example of what should be an illegal monopoly.  The work appeared in The Atlantic under the title The Trustbuster in the paper edition, and as How to Fight Amazon (Before You Turn 29) online.  The young person referenced is Lina Khan who is working at the Open Markets Institute, an “anti-monopoly think tank based in Washington, D.C.”  Meyer reminds readers of how powerful Amazon has become in a number of market arenas, and then describes the practices that Khan believes are monopolistic.

“First, Khan says, Amazon has been willing “to sustain losses and invest aggressively at the expense of profits.” This isn’t a controversial assertion: Amazon has posted an annual profit for only 13 of the past 21 years, according to The New York Times. Historically, it has plowed any profits right back into cheaper prices and R&D into everything from robotics to image recognition. Second, Amazon is integrated vertically, across business lines. In addition to selling stuff online, Amazon now publishes books, extends credit, sells online ads, designs clothes, and produces movies and TV shows. It is also one of the world’s largest providers of cloud storage and computing power, renting server space to Netflix, Adobe, Airbnb, and NASA.”

“These two practices—predatory pricing and integration across business lines—may sound normal. But under old readings of U.S. antitrust law, they are illegal.”

Amazon, and many other market giants have been allowed to grow almost without bound because self-interested capitalists and their bespoke politicians enthusiastically endorsed a particular view of antitrust law espoused by Robert Bork which designated higher consumer prices as the only criterion to be considered as an indication of monopoly.

“….in 1978, a Yale Law professor named Robert Bork promoted a clean new theory of antitrust law, inspired by the libertarian Chicago school of economics.”

“Bork decreed that all antitrust suits should be judged by one question: What will most lower prices for consumers? The answer, he said, was almost always more mergers. When companies merge, they get rid of redundant business units, lower their operating costs, and become more efficient, ultimately passing this efficiency on to consumers as lower prices.”

“Bork’s views become interesting in light of Amazon. Bork thought vertical integration was fine: Since he believed markets were perfectly efficient, he assumed that a lower-cost competitor would always butt in and fight off a would-be monopolist. And predatory pricing? It is “a phenomenon that probably does not exist,” he wrote. The Chicago school, he said, had proved that companies would always pursue short-term profits over long-term growth.”

What is of interest here is to put into perspective the reality that Amazon was able to sell items at a loss for many years and use its revenue to further its long-term business interests.  If China had sold books at a loss in the US in order to control the publishing industry and drive rival book sellers out of business, there would have been hell to pay.  China is often accused of using government subsidies to finance below-cost sales of its products.  Trump recently placed a tariff on solar panels because China was accused of that practice—often referred to as “dumping.”

What Amazon has done is actually the same “dumping” strategy.  Amazon grew in power by selling at a loss because a threatening global power was subsidizing it as well.  This entity was not a rival nation.  Rather, it was the even more dangerous US financial industry.  By continuing to boost Amazon’s stock price even though it was losing money, Amazon received a subsidy that allowed it to pursue its goal of market dominance.

Amazon clearly has monopolistic power in certain markets, no matter how one might choose to interpret the legality.  Perhaps, if enough Lina Khans continue to beat the drum, we can arrive at an antitrust approach appropriate for our age.  

And we can conclude that the Chicago school of economics was once again wrong.

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