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Leicester City was not going to win the Premiership—not by a long shot. Nor was the Republican nomination supposed to be handed to Donald Trump. And Bernie Sanders, well, there was no chance he was going to give Hillary Clinton a serious run in the Democratic primaries.

And yet here we are.

Leicester City Football Club, as anyone who has even a fleeting interest in sports (or reads one or another major newspaper or news outlet) knows, were just crowned champions of the Premiership, the highest tier of British football, after starting the season at 5000-1 odds. There really is no parallel in the world of sports—any sport, in any country. (By way of comparison, Donerail, with odds of 91-1 in 1913, is the longest odds winner in Kentucky Derby history.)

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Similarly, Donald Trump was not supposed to win the Republican nomination. Instead, it was going to go to Jeb Bush and, if he failed, to Marco Rubio. (And certainly Ted Cruz, the candidate most reviled by other members of the GOP, was not supposed to be there at the end.)

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Finally, Bernie Sanders’s campaign for the Democratic nomination was written off almost as soon as it was launched. And yet here is—winning the Indiana contest by 5 points (when it was predicted he would lose by the same number of points) and accumulating enough pledged delegates to be him within a couple of hundred of the presumptive nominee.

What’s going on?

In all three cases, the presumption was that the “system” would prevent such an unlikely occurrence, and that the pundits and prognosticators “knew” from early on the likely outcome.

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So, for example, the winner of the Premiership was supposed to come from one of the perennial top four (Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester City)—not a club that were only promoted from the second division of British football in 2014 and last April were battling relegation (they finished the season 14th).

Pretty much the same is true in the political arena: neither Trump nor Sanders was taken particularly seriously at the start, and along the way the prevailing common sense was that their campaigns would simply implode or wither away. The idea was that the Republican and Democratic parties and nominating contests were structured so that their preferred nominees would inexorably come out on top.

There are, I think, two lessons to take away from these bolts from the blue. First, the “system,” however defined, is much less complete and all-encompassing that people usually think. There are so many fissures and contradictions in such systems that make what are seemingly unlikely outcomes real possibilities. Second, our presumably certain “knowledges” are exactly that, knowledges, which are constructed—in the face of radical uncertainty—out of theories, presumptions, blind spots, and much else. The fact is, we simply don’t know, and no amount of probabilistic certainty can overcome that epistemological gap.

So—surprise, surprise—Leicester City and Trump won and Sanders has put up a more formidable challenge than anyone expected from a socialist presidential candidate in the United States.

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According to a new study by JPMorgan Chase, about 3.1 percent of American adults earned income from the so-called Online Platform Economy (from Uber and TaskRabbit to eBay and Airbnb) between October 2014 and September 2015. (This represents a 47-fold increase over three years, beginning in October 2012.) And the financial significance of the gig economy is growing:

We find that the Online Platform Economy contributed significantly to the bottom line for certain segments of the population, notably labor platform participants in general, and specifically labor platform earners who live in San Francisco, or who are 35 and older or have low-to-moderate incomes. Among these segments, platform earnings represented, on average, more than a fourth of their income over a 12-month span.

Many dream that the “sharing economy” represents an alternative to the grotesque levels of inequality created in the rest of the economy.

As it turns out, it’s just that—a dream. The gig economy is itself contributing to increasing inequality across the U.S. economy.

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Eric Morath notes that “wealthier Americans benefit from the gig economy’s ability to generate more income from their assets.”

Of top income earners who did participate in the gig economy, 82 percent did so by renting an asset like a house or selling products they made or already owned. They did so through capital platform systems such as renting out property through VRBO or selling crafts on sites like Etsy.

Low- and moderate-income individuals were much more reliant on labor platform earnings (from working as an Uber driver or a TaskRabbit mover) than the rest of the population. Labor platform earnings represented more than 25 percent of annual income for participants in the bottom three income quintiles compared to just 20 percent of annual income for labor platform participants in the top income quintile.

And then, not even mentioned in the JP Morgan Chase study, there’s the capital behind all the various online platforms—whether working, renting, or selling. Uber CEO and cofounder Travis Kalanick is now supposedly worth at least $5.3 billion.

Not surprisingly, the gig economy is characterized by the same unequalizing, capital-labor dynamics as the rest of the capitalist economy.

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A few days ago, I made the argument that—however haltingly—we might just be finally emerging from the shadows of the Cold War.

And then I read Andrew O’Hehir’s [ht: sm] latest, in which he confirms exactly that:

Bernie Sanders is not going to be president. But in defeat he has accomplished something extraordinary, probably something more important than anything he could have achieved in four or eight frustrating years in the White House. For the first time since the end of the Cold War — and perhaps since the beginning of the Cold War — large numbers of Americans have begun to ask questions about capitalism. Questions about whether it works, and how, and for whose benefit. Questions about whether capitalism is really the indispensable companion of democracy, as we have confidently been told for the last century or so, and about how those two things interact in the real world.

Large numbers of Americans, especially large numbers of young Americans, are questioning capitalism in ways that were literally unimaginable for all but a tiny minority of people during the Red Scare. No, Sanders did not invent that questioning but, certainly, the unexpected success of his campaign reveals the deep cracks and fissures in capitalism’s legitimacy right now.

The rest of O’Hehir’s analysis is well worth reading. But, perhaps even more remarkable as a sign of these times, is his attempt (in this and in a previous piece) to draw an analogy from Lenin and the October Revolution—perhaps the ultimate Cold War taboo.

As O’Hehir explains,

Sanders perceived the decrepit Democratic Party roughly the way Lenin saw the crumbling Russian state, as an apparently powerful institution that in reality was ripe for revolutionary takeover.

Lenin and the Bolsheviks remain intriguing today, not to mention frightening, because of their abundant contradictions: How did a brilliant analysis of global capitalism in crisis, which seems almost eerily trenchant a century later, lead to such a dismal outcome? If capitalism is no longer to be viewed as the unalterable end-stage of history, and socialism is no longer an untouchable concept, maybe we can also get past the superstitious notion that every idea and insight that fed into the Russian Revolution inevitably produced the nightmarish Soviet state that followed. I feel quite sure that Bernie Sanders does not envision the overthrow of all political institutions or the seizure of all private property. His real relationship to the Bolshevik founder is a rhetorical and analytical one, and I find it implausible that Sanders is unaware of this. . .

Bernie Sanders served as accidental midwife at the birth of something thoroughly unexpected, the first faint glimmers of what the Marxists would have called a revolutionary consciousness. Where that will lead is anyone’s guess, but don’t be too sure that it leads nowhere and that the normative political order will soon be restored. Defenders of the system have mounted a forceful counterattack, but their confidence is too high and their vision of the future too limited. The threat of “political revolution” can no doubt be dispelled, for now. But the conditions that produced it — the intertwined failures of capitalism and democracy, as described by two socialist leaders a century apart — present problems that President Hillary Clinton cannot hope to solve.

For the old Cold Warriors who remain out there, that must really burn.

 

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There’s a story behind this Rick Friday [ht: jm] cartoon: he was subsequently fired.

Rick Friday has been giving farmers a voice and a laugh every Friday for two decades through his cartoons in Farm News. . .

“Again, I fall hard in the best interest of large corporations. I am no longer the Editorial Cartoonist for Farm News due to the attached cartoon which was published yesterday. Apparently a large company affiliated with one of the corporations mentioned in the cartoon was insulted and cancelled their advertisement with the paper, thus, resulting in the reprimand of my editor and cancellation of its Friday cartoons after 21 years of service and over 1,090 published cartoons to over 24,000 households per week in 33 counties of Iowa.

“I did my research and only submitted the facts in my cartoon.

“That’s okay, hopefully my children and my grandchildren will see that this last cartoon published by Farm News out of Fort Dodge, Iowa, will shine light on how fragile our rights to free speech and free press really are in the county.”

Special mention

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I continue to teach Michael Moore’s Roger & Me (along with other classics, including Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, Barbara Kopple’s Harlan County, U.S.A., and Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job) in my Topics in Political Economy course.

Apparently, Moore’s film inspired François Ruffin’s new film, Merci Patron! (“Thanks, Boss!”).

In the film, Mr. Ruffin stages a number of slapstick efforts to reach Bernard Arnault, the chairman and chief executive of LVMH, similar to the ways Mr. Moore tried to chase down Roger B. Smith of General Motors. . .

“Merci Patron!” follows Mr. Ruffin’s efforts on behalf of Jocelyne and Serge Klur, a couple in the northern town of Forest-en-Cambrésis who lost their jobs in 2007 with the closing of a factory that had been subcontracted to make suits for LVMH brands. Production was moved to Eastern Europe.

Mr. Ruffin coaches the Klurs, who are now destitute and whose home is threatened with foreclosure. Posing as their son, with dyed blond hair, he guides them on a quest to demand 35,000 euros, about $40,000, to settle their debts and to win a minimum-wage job for Mr. Klur from LVMH and Mr. Arnault.

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John Komlos has completed a new study, in which he attempts to improve upon the Congressional Budget Office’s (post-tax, post-transfer) estimates of the growth of U.S. income for the 1979-2011 period. The results are for quintiles and, within the top fifth, for percentiles. (The high estimates are based on using the personal consumption expenditures price index to deflate the modified CBO data, while the low estimates use the consumer price index).

The high estimates of the growth of median income are not changed markedly from the original CBO estimates. But the results are dramatic:

Growth rates varied considerably across the income distribution. The lowest quintile grew well enough at 1.0% per annum, although the dollar value of its average income was still a meager $17,900, which was barely the poverty threshold for a family of three. Moreover, their income grew at a much slower rate than that of the 5th quintile during this 32-year period. Hence, the income of the 1st quintile declined from 15% of the income of the upper quintile to just 10%. In addition, the growth in income of the lower-middle class (2nd quintile) and that of the middle class (3rd quintile) was the slowest, growing at a modest rate of 0.6% to 0.7% per annum, thereby reinforcing the general impression of a floundering middle class even with these high estimates. However, the upper-middle class (quintile 4) did better, growing at 1.1% per annum, but it also fell behind the 5th quintile which grew almost twice as rapidly, at a rate of 2.1%. Moreover, there were noteworthy differences even within the 5th quintile, insofar as the income of the top 1% grew at an “astronomical” pace of 3.9% per annum, so that in the course of this period it grew from 7 times to 14 times the value of the median income. Only the income of the 5th quintile grew faster than the median income. In addition to the growth in median income which was between 0.9% and 1.4% per annum one can also use the average of the five growth rates across the five quintiles as a measure of central tendency for the whole population. Such an average would lower the estimated growth rates of income for the whole population to between 0.6% and 1.1% per annum. (references omitted)

The differences are even more stark in the case of the low estimates:

The low growth rate estimates were 0.5% less than the high ones and, therefore, were quite subdued across the board with the exception of the 5th quintile which grew at a reasonable rate of 1.6% per annum. The estimated growth rates of the 2nd and 3rd quintiles were hardly distinguishable from (0.1%-0.2%). They differed the most from the high estimates in percentage terms. In fact, only quintile 5 registered an exceptional performance of 1.6% and within it the income of the top 1% grew at the stellar rate of 3.4%. In the main, all three middle class quintiles were left very far behind with only quintile 4 advancing slightly at a rate of 0.6% per annum. (references omitted)

We have, then, two major results from Komlos’s analysis: First, the “hollowing out” of the middle-class (as we can see from the fact that the incomes of the second and third quintiles consistently lagged behind those of the other quintiles). And, second, the only real growth occurred at the very top (since the incomes of the top 1 percent increased between 188 and 240 percent). The result was that the ratio between the top 1 percent and the bottom quintile rose dramatically, from 20.9 in 1979 to 51.2 in 2011 (an increase of 144 percent).

Is there any more stark indicator of the spectacular growth of inequality in the United States?

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Special mention

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