Tuesday 29 August 2023

Foucault on the fart as political instrument

Did Foucault actually know any History? In a previous post, I came to the conclusion that he didn't. 

I invite any reader (I'm kidding, nobody reads this blog) to send me a quotation from that crackpot which isn't obvious nonsense.

Meanwhile, consider the following- 
But we can surely accept the general proposition that, in our societies, the systems of punishment are to be situated in a certain 'political economy" of the body:

Nonsense! Punishments tend to involve the infliction of fines or the confiscation of property as well as custodial sentences. There is no 'political economy' of the body unless it is the case that prisoners are cut open and their organs are extracted and sold to the highest bidder.  

even if they do not make use of violent or bloody punishment, even when they use 'lenient' methods involving confinement or correction, it is always the body that is at issue

Foucault has made a great discovery. When a guy is sent to prison, his body too is incarcerated! Who would have thunk it?  

- the body and its forces, their utility and their docility, their distribution and their submission.

But are prisoners required to submit or be docile while paying customers sodomize them? No. Foucault may be describing the victims of sex trafficking. He is not speaking of prisons in 'our societies'.  

It is certainly legitimate to write a history of punishment against the background of moral ideas or legal structures. But can one write such a history against the background of a history of bodies, when such systems of punishment claim to have only the secret souls of criminals as their objective?

But no 'system of punishment' has ever made so absurd a claim. If they had, wealthy people could have bought some nice 'secret souls' for themselves and then traded them on the Satanic or Angelic Stock Exchange.  

Historians long ago began to write the history of the body.

No they didn't. This is because the human body in its present form existed long before there was writing, let alone historians who could write.  

They have studied the body in the field of historical demography or pathology;

No. Ask a historian who has written a book about medieval dungeons what the average size of the dicks of the prisoners was and he will say he doesn't know. Why? Because historians don't actually study bodies. Even a guy writing a history of the Trump administration hasn't examined Trump's body though Trump is still alive and would want historians to give a favourable account of his dick.  

they have considered it as the seat of needs and appetites,

because the body does actually have needs and appetites.  

as the locus of physiological processes and metabolisms,

what other locus could there be?  

as a target for the attacks of germs or viruses; they have shown to what extent historical processes were involved in what might seem to be the purely biological base of existence; and what place should be given in the history of society to biological 'events' such as the circulation of bacilli, or the extension of the life-span (cf. Le Roy-Ladurie).

But this does not involve the study of the body. At best, it involves looking at data sets of a type assembled by Immunologists or those concerned with Public Health.  

But the body is also directly involved in a political field; power relations have an immediate hold upon it; they invest it,

No they don't. You can't tell by examining a body- living or dead- whether it was invested by anything of a political sort. You may be able to find bacteria or viruses of an invasive type but not 'infection' by political ideas or relations. 

mark it,

Did De Gaulle tattoo Foucault? No. It was Giscard d'Estaing who branded him in the buttocks.  

train it, torture it, force it to carry out tasks, to perform ceremonies, to emit signs.

People, not bodies, are trained or tortured or forced to carry out tasks. We don't say, 'I trained a body weighing 90 kilograms to perform the duties of a Cost and Management Accountant' . We say 'I trained Iyer- that fat bastard- to keep the books for my enterprise.' 

This political investment of the body is bound up, in accordance with complex reciprocal relations, with its economic use; it is largely as a force of production that the body is invested with relations of power and domination;

This simply isn't true. The body is invested with nothing. People are. True, a person has a body but a body also has a shadow. We may as well speak of the shadow being invested with 'relations of power and domination'. But why stop there? Why not say 'farts are invested with power and domination'? 

but, on the other hand, its constitution as labour power is possible only if it is caught up in a system of subjection (in which need is also a political instrument meticulously prepared, calculated and used);

No. A person may contribute labour power under conditions of complete freedom as well of subjection. I need to take a shit right now. Pray tell, what 'meticulously prepared and calculated' political instrument is represented by my need to fart and shit? 

the body becomes a useful force only if it is both a productive body and a subjected body.

Maybe, Foucault's readers thought that Marx or some other such nutter had made such a claim. But this simply isn't true.  

This subjection is not only obtained by the instruments of violence or ideology; it can also be direct, physical, pitting force against force, bearing on material elements, and yet without involving violence; it may be calculated, organized, technically thought out; it may be subtle, make use neither of weapons nor of terror and yet remain of a physical order.

Only if my need to take a shit right now is actually a meticulously prepared political instrument.  

That is to say, there may be a 'knowledge' of the body that is not exactly the science of its functioning, and a mastery of its forces that is more than the ability to conquer them: this knowledge and this mastery constitute what might be called the political technology of the body.

Which features 'meticulously prepared political instruments' such as my need to take a dump real bad.  

Of course, this technology is diffuse, rarely formulated in continuous, systematic discourse; it is often made up of bits and pieces; it implements a disparate set of tools or methods. In spite of the coherence of its results, it is generally no more than a multiform instrumentation.

I could shit in my bed instead of in the toilet. I suppose that is what makes my need to shit a 'multiform instrumentation'.  

Moreover, it cannot be localized in a particular type of institution or state apparatus.

So, there is no 'Department of farting' at the Home Office. Sad.  

For they have recourse to it; they use, select or impose certain of its methods.

Who the fuck does Foucault think is 'imposing' my need to shit on me?  

But, in its mechanisms and its effects, it is situated at a quite different level. What the apparatuses and institutions operate is, in a sense, a micro-physics of power,

Physics is its own 'micro-physics' or 'quantum mechanics'.  How fucking stupid was Foucault?  

whose field of validity is situated in a sense between these great functionings and the bodies themselves with their materiality and their forces.

There is no such field. Not in any fucking sense- save nonsense. Field theories incorporate objects with mass as well as massless energetic particles. 

Foucault, it seems, wasn't just ignorant of history. He also didn't know Physics or Mathematics or Economics or anything else. Still, he got very very excited by talking about docile bodies being 'marked' and 'tortured'. Also, he discovered that Neo-Liberalism is trying to get me to take a dump probably because my turds are very valuable. I should go shit on Foucault's grave as a mark of my veneration for his great discovery. This would make his ghost very happy indeed.  

Monday 28 August 2023

Guha on Modi's personality cult

China claims to be the world's largest democracy. It considers America to be less democratic. However, we don't believe that the Chinese leadership will change as a result of an election. We do believe that even a Trump will be forced out of office if he loses an election. By this criteria, India is a democracy. Elections have, in the past, caused a transfer of power. However the existence of a Dynasty is a vitiating factor. Modi, however, is not a dynast. He won two general elections on the basis of his perceived skill as an administrator. 

Ram Guha takes a different view. Writing for FP, he says there is a 'personality cult' of Modi and that Modi has dismantled Indian democracy. 

India claims to be the largest democracy in the world, and its ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), claims to be the largest political organization in the world (with a membership base even greater than that of the Chinese Communist Party).

Congress sometimes claims to have 130 million members which is about 40 million more than the CCP. 

Since May 2014, both the BJP and the government have been in thrall to the wishes—and occasionally the whims—of a single individual, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Only in the sense that America is in thrall to Biden.  

An extraordinary personality cult has been constructed around Modi,

There is nothing extraordinary in a big political party promoting its very popular leader. But Congress is spending more on promoting Rahul though he remains a moon-calf.  

its manifestations visible in state as well as party propaganda, in eulogies in the press, in adulatory invocations of his apparently transformative leadership by India’s leading entrepreneurs, celebrities, and sports stars.

Modi is successful and popular. You may say there is a Modi 'cult' just as there was a 'Sachin' cult when Tendulkar was the best cricket player in India. However, the Modi cult is nothing like the Gandhi or Nehru or Ambedkar cults.  

This essay seeks to place the cult of Modi in comparative and cultural context.

There is no such need. Modi is an Obama who can have a third term.  

It will show how it arose, the hold it has over the Indian imagination, and its consequences for the country’s political and social future. It draws on my academic background as a historian of the Indian Republic,

Guha has a 'Great Man' theory of History. It is foolish.  

as well as on my personal experiences as an Indian citizen.

Guha lives in Karnataka where the BJP just lost an election to Congress because the latter was better organized and the incumbent regime was tainted by corruption.  

However, since I am writing about a distinctively Indian variant of what is in fact a global phenomenon, what I say here may resonate with those who study or live under authoritarian or semi-authoritarian regimes in other parts of the world.

If this is genuinely the case, they will realize India is nothing like their own country because the ruling party may be turfed out next year.  

The term “cult of personality” was popularized, with regard to Joseph Stalin, by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev in his now famous speech to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in February 1956. According to an English translation of Khrushchev’s speech, he remarked that it was “impermissible and foreign to the spirit of Marxism-Leninism to elevate one person, to transform him into a superman possessing supernatural characteristics, akin to those of a god. Such a man supposedly knows everything, sees everything, thinks for everyone, can do anything, is infallible in his behavior.”

Stalin could kill anybody he wanted. His regime was authoritarian- i.e. forbade the emergence of any criticism or rival. Thus anyone who said 'there is a personality cult of Stalin' would have been killed. It is obvious that no such 'personality cult' obtains in India or America. Otherwise, Guha would have been killed for writing this. 

Guha does not mention the Emergency era when Indian journalists were jailed if they dared to criticize Indira or Sanjay Gandhi. Without authoritarianism you can have popularity but not a personality cult. 

A partial listing of these elected autocrats would include: Russia’s Vladimir Putin,Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, Modi, and, not least, the autocrat temporarily out of favor but longing for a return to power, former U.S. President Donald Trump.

Lula is back in power. If Bolsanaro was an autocrat why not Lula? If Trump, why not Biden? Erdogan survived a coup. His country has a different tradition to India. The same is true of Poland and Hungary. What about Macron? Is he an autocrat? Arguably, the French system concentrates more power in his hands. Modi's writ does not run in Chennai or Bangalore of Kolkata or even Delhi. Indeed, you'd be safer attacking than praising him in such places.  

These leaders have all personalized governance

Macron has certainly done this.  

and admiration to a considerable degree.

Macron may be less popular than Modi- but then Modi is probably one of the most popular leaders anywhere. 

They all seek to present themselves as the savior or redeemer of their nation, uniquely placed to make it more prosperous, more powerful, more in tune with what they claim to be its cultural and historical heritage.

By contrast Biden promises to fuck up America and to make it poor and weak- right?  

In a word, they have all constructed, and been allowed to construct, personality cults around themselves.

No. All political leaders since the Nineteen Sixties have hired image consultants and used Advertising and PR techniques to boost their popularities.  Was Kennedy an autocrat? 

While recognizing the existence and persistence of such cults of personality in other countries, this essay shall focus on the cult of Modi in India, for three reasons. First, and least important, it occurs in the country I know best and with whose democratic history I am professionally (as well as personally) engaged.

Guha does not get that it is unusual for the foreign born widow of the PM, who was the son of the previous PM who was herself the daughter of a previous PM to rule a country albeit through a political nonentity she had appointed PM.  

Second, India is soon to be the most populous nation in the world, surpassing China in this regard, and hence this cult will have deeper and possibly more portentous consequences than such cults erected elsewhere in the world.

Why? Is Guha saying India will try to conquer its neighbours? No. He is saying the BJP is going to try to convert Americans to Hinduism. Vivek Ramaswamy is their Trojan Horse.  

Third, and perhaps most important, this personality cult has taken shape in a country that until recently had fairly robust and long-standing democratic traditions.

Because a nice Italian lady should rule India if she happened to be married to the grandson of the first PM- right?  

Before Modi came to power in May 2014, India had in all respects a longer-lasting democracy than when Erdogan came to power in Turkey, Orban in Hungary, and Bolsonaro in Brazil.

It had been ruled by one dynasty for 80 per cent of the time. But assassination tempered autocracy.  

The 2014 general election was India’s 16th national vote, in a line extending almost unbroken from 1952.

So what? Sri Lanka has had regular elections under universal franchise since 1931.  

Regular, and likewise mostly free and fair, elections have also been held to form the legislatures of different Indian states. As the historian Sunil Khilnani has pointed out, many more people have voted in Indian elections than in older and professedly more advanced democracies such as the United Kingdom and the United States.

Because the population is much much bigger. Khilnani is a khretin.  

India before 2014 also had an active culture of public debate, a moderately free press, and a reasonably independent judiciary.

As it still does. The only thing which changed in 2014 was that the Dynasty had no PM candidate. Still, it expected Rahul to get in by 2019. They still think Rahul will win in 2024.  

It was by no means a perfect democracy—but then no democracy is. (In my 2007 book, India After Gandhi, I myself had characterized India as a “50-50 democracy.” Perhaps some countries in Northern Europe might qualify as “70-30 democracies.”)

What Guha means is that White peeps are better than Brown peeps. No wonder he thinks true democracy in India means the rule of a nice Italian lady. 

Before I come to the cult of Modi, I want to say something about the cult of a previous Indian prime minister, Indira Gandhi. She was the daughter of the country’s first and longest-serving prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru. In March 1971, Gandhi and the Indian National Congress party won an emphatic victory in the general election; that December, India won an emphatic victory on the battlefield over Pakistan, in part because of Gandhi’s decisive leadership. She was hailed as a modern incarnation of Durga, the militant, all-conquering goddess of Hindu mythology. The idea that Gandhi embodied in her person the party, the government, and the state—and that she represented in herself the past, present, and future of the nation—was promoted by the prime minister’s political allies. Congress party leader D.K. Barooah proclaimed, “India is Indira, Indira is India.” Equally noteworthy is a Hindi couplet that Barooah composed in praise of Gandhi, which in English reads: “Indira, we salute your morning and your evening, too / We celebrate your name and your great work, too.”

Nothing wrong in that. Hindi is a flowery language. Vajpayee, an opposition leader, used flowery language to praise Indira when she won a war.  

Shortly after the Congress leader read those lines at a rally in June 1975 attended by a million people, Gandhi imposed a state of emergency,

because of a Court judgment barring her from holding office by reason of irregularities in her election.  

during which her regime arrested all major (and many minor) opposition politicians as well as trade unionists and student activists, imposed strict censorship on the press, and abrogated individual freedoms. A little under two years later, however, Gandhi’s democratic conscience compelled her to call fresh elections in which she and her party lost power.

She was afraid, Sanjay's friends would arrange a nice little accident for her. Also, Mujib and his whole family had been massacred after he turned his country into a one-party state.  

Now compare Barooah’s short poem with an extended tribute, in prose, to Modi by BJP leader J.P. Nadda, offered on the occasion of the former’s 71st birthday. These words appeared in an article published in September 2021 in India’s most widely read English-language newspaper, the Times of India:

Modi has evolved into a reformer who passionately raises social issues plaguing India and then effectively addresses them through public discourse and participation.

True enough. His toilet building program is evidence of this.  

… [He] believes in the holistic development of our society and country through good moral and social values.

Who doesn't?  

He always leads from the front in addressing the nation’s most complex and difficult problems, and doesn’t rest till the goals are achieved.

We might say the same of a good CEO or the head of a local charity.  

… Modi is the only leader who has an electrifying effect on the masses and on whose call the entire nation gets united.

Yes. Other leaders are regional and Rahul is a moon-calf.  

During the [COVID-19] pandemic, his appeals have been religiously followed by every citizen.

Unless they thought the local government was utterly useless and would not provide them with food and shelter. Millions migrated back to their villages. But this phenomenon also occurred in opposition ruled States.  

… His stupendous success is the result of absolute dedication to people’s welfare and wellbeing. His only aim is to make India a Vishwaguru [teacher to the world].

Whereas previous leaders aimed to make India a Vishwavidhushak or laughing-stock of the world- right?  

Nadda’s piece is entirely representative.

It is boring and not flowery at all. Why? The Indian voter is focused on 'deliverables'. Saying nice, but boring, things about a successful CEO signals commitment to better 'last mile delivery'. That's all that matters.  

New Delhi’s newspapers are replete with op-eds by cabinet ministers offering sycophantic praise of the prime minister. Indeed, “Modi is India, India is Modi” is the spoken or unspoken belief of everyone in the BJP,

No. It is unspoken because it is foolish. Indira was popular in the South and East and even in Punjab or J&K. Modi and the BJP have a lot of work left to do in the South. On the other hand it has done well in the North East- but there are deep ethnic divisions in some states and it is not clear how successful it can be in healing those divisions.  

whether minister, member of Parliament, or humble party worker. As I was finishing a draft of this essay in late September, India’s external affairs minister, S. Jaishankar, told an audience in Washington that “the fact that our [India’s] opinions count, that our views matter, and we have actually today the ability to shape the big issues of our time” is because of Modi.

Manmohan was liked but then foreign Ambassadors in India reported back that he had no influence in his own Government. He could do nothing about 'retrospective taxation' or the Defence Ministry's settled policy of inaction on moving forward with procurement. Jaishankar is a professional diplomat. He knows that he should say things which are obviously true and which are in India's favour.  

The anti-colonial movement led by Mohandas Gandhi, the persistence (against the odds)

The Army would not take over, Commies were easy to kill if they wagged their tails,  and 'assassination tempers autocracy'. India is a democracy because it can't be anything else.  

of electoral democracy since independence, the dynamism of its entrepreneurs in recent decades, the contributions of its scholars, scientists, writers, and filmmakers—all this (and the legacy of past prime ministers, too) goes entirely erased in these assessments. India’s achievements (such as they are) are instead attributed to one man alone, Modi.

Who is saying that? Not Jaishankar. Not Nadda. Guha has no evidence to back up his claim. The fact is the BJP learnt the lesson of Vajpayee's 'India Shining Campaign'. There is no point trying to fool Indian voters by claiming that everything is wonderful. You have to compete with other parties on the basis of either your track-record or credible promises re 'deliverables'  

Meanwhile, in February 2020, a then-serving Supreme Court judge called Modi an “internationally acclaimed visionary” and a “versatile genius who thinks globally and acts locally.”

Modi had just showered praise on the Bench, so, in his response, Mishra returned the compliment. That's how a 'vote of thanks' works. If the other guy said you are the tops, you say he is super-cool, not that he regularly shits his pants.  

And India’s richest and most successful industrialists compete with one another in publicly displaying their adoration of, and loyalty toward, the prime minister.

Some may. Others don't. Birlas and Bajajs don't kowtow to anybody. Still, if a guy is popular, it makes sense to jump on the bandwagon.  

In February 2021, Modi joined the ranks of Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Muammar al-Qaddafi, and Saddam Hussain in having a sports stadium named after him while he was alive (and in office).

So what? It was obvious that the stadium got a boost by having the Modi tag. People thought it might be well-designed and worth visiting.  

The cricket stadium in the city of Ahmedabad, previously named after the great nationalist stalwart Vallabhbhai Patel, was henceforth to be called the Narendra Modi Stadium,

Because the sports complex as a whole was named after the latter. Gujarat benefits by highlighting two popular leaders from Gujarat.  

with the inauguration of the refurbished premises conducted by then-Indian President Ram Nath Kovind, no less, alongside Home Minister Amit Shah and other officials. Later that year, as Indian citizens received their first COVID-19 vaccines, they were given vaccination certificates with Modi’s photograph on them. As second and then booster doses were offered, the official certificates also had the prime minister’s photograph. I know of no other country in the world that has followed this practice.

It was a good idea because Modi's face is associated with honesty and competence. The old fear of 'adulteration' is removed.  

Indians asked to show their COVID-19 certificates when traveling overseas have since become accustomed to being greeted with either mirth or disgust, sometimes both.

This is only true of Ram Guha who, it must be said, excites mirth or disgust or, indeed, both.  

Any egalitarian democrat would be dismayed by


Modi’s extraordinary displays of public narcissism.

It is wrong to try to increase a people's confidence in the Government.  

However, the scholar’s job is as much to understand as to judge.

Guha is not a scholar. He is a hysterical fool.  

The cold, hard fact is that, like Indira Gandhi in the early 1970s, Modi is unquestionably very popular.

Indira was more popular, that too all over the country for two reasons- firstly she promised to end poverty and implemented far-reaching Socialist measures. Secondly, she did the right thing in East Pakistan. Sadly, as the economy deteriorated, there was growing unrest in some northern states.  

Why is this so? Let me offer six reasons.

First, Modi is genuinely self-made as well as extremely hardworking.

So is Gehlot or Kharge. The difference is Congress would never draw attention to their achievements for fear that their stature might grow and thus they would overshadow the dynasty. Pawar and Mamta are examples of leaders who did much better by breaking away from Congress. By contrast, the BJP knows that it gains by seeming to be above factionalism though Gadkare, for example, is known to be disgruntled. 

Folklore has it that he once sold tea at a railway station—while some have questioned the veracity of this particular claim, there is no doubt that his family was disadvantaged in terms of caste as well as class. He takes no holidays and is devoted 24/7 to politics, which can be represented as being devoted 24/7 to the nation.

Unlike Rahul. But there are plenty of workaholic Indian politicians. 

Second, Modi is a brilliant orator, with a gift for crisp one-liners and an even greater gift for mocking opponents.

Most professional politicians are excellent speakers. Modi is careful to avoid flowery Vajpayee type language.  

He is uncommonly effective as a speaker in the language most widely spoken in India, Hindi, and is even better in his native Gujarati.

Third, in terms of his background and achievements, Modi compares very favorably to his principal rival, Rahul Gandhi of the now much-decayed Congress party.

It has revived under Kharge. 

Gandhi has never held a proper job or exercised any sort of administrative responsibility. (On the other hand, Modi was chief minister of a large state, Gujarat, for more than a decade before he became prime minister.) Gandhi takes frequent holidays, and he is an indifferent public speaker. (English, spoken or understood by only 10 percent of the population, remains his first language.) He is a fifth-generation dynast.

Which would be cool if he weren't a moon-calf.  

In all these respects, Modi shines by comparison.

Fourth, as Hindu majoritarianism increasingly takes hold in Indian politics and society,

It took hold in 1947.  

Modi is seen as the great redeemer of Hindus and Hinduism. Reared in the hard-line Hindu chauvinist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS),

Vajpayee too was from the RSS. But then the RSS was formed by Dr. Hegdewar in imitation of the Congress Seva Dal founded by his pal Hardikar. Both had been members of the Anushilan movement before the war. Nehru was an enthusiastic members of the CSD which killed lots of Sikhs in Delhi in 1984.  

Modi frequently mocks the past rulers of India, both Muslim as well as British. He speaks of rescuing the country from “thousands of years of slavery” and of ushering in India’s much-delayed national and civilizational renaissance.

Nehru spoke in similar terms. In his autobiography he stated that India needed to be re-Brahminized.  

Fifth, Modi has at his command a massive propaganda machinery, sustained by the financial resources of his party and government and by 21st-century technology.

So does every other ruling Party in any State. Guha thinks Congress uses 19th-century technology.  

An early and effective user of Twitter and Facebook, Modi has had his party use both as well as WhatsApp to build and enhance his image.

All parties have cyber-cells.  

(The prime minister also has his personalized, and widely subscribed-to, Narendra Modi App.) Modi’s face, and usually no other, appears on all posters, hoardings, advertisements, and websites issued by or under the aegis of the Indian government.

A good thing if he is popular.  

He is thus able to use public resources to burnish his personality cult far more widely and effectively than elected autocrats elsewhere (even Putin).

No. There is a virtuous circle whereby successful people want to be associated with successful people. The Modi 'brand' adds value. That could change.  

Sixth, Modi is an exceptionally intelligent and crafty man.

Guha thinks politicians are usually stupid and naive.  

While mostly an autodidact, in 14 years as a party organizer and 13 as chief minister of Gujarat, he assimilated a huge amount of information on all sorts of subjects—economic, social, cultural, political. He can speak with apparent authority on the benefits of solar energy, the dangers of nuclear warfare, the situation of the girl child, developments in artificial intelligence, and much else.

Manmohan was careful to prepare scripted responses for meeting with foreign leaders which is why they thought him smart. Sadly, he could not appear smart in India because then Congress knives would have been out for him.  

He is also extremely shrewd in manipulating the political discourse within his party, and the country at large, to favor himself and diminish his rivals or opponents. (The likes of Trump and Bolsonaro are mere demagogues in comparison.)

They are amateurs. Lula and Biden are professionals. Had Lula not been in jail, Bolsanaro would not have won. Had Biden run against Trump, Trump wouldn't now be facing felony charges.  

Having outlined the elements of the cult of Modi, let me speak of its consequences for democratic functioning. The cult of Modi has led to the weakening, if not evisceration, of five crucial institutions that, in a democracy, are meant to hold unbridled power to account and to prevent the personalization of political power and the growth of authoritarianism.

They were eviscerated long ago. But, in any case, they couldn't check shit in India or anywhere else.  

The first of these institutions is the political party.

Congress became Dynastic. So did some Samajwadi (caste based Socialist) parties. In Tamil Nadu, the son of a previous CM is the current CM. The same is true in Andhra Pradesh and Orissa where the ruling party is purely dynastic.  

In part because so many of its leaders were jailed by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi during the Emergency, Modi’s party, the BJP, had previously stoutly opposed cults of personality.

But Advani saw that Vajpayee was electable and thus got behind him. Sadly, he didn't get that he himself was not electable at the age of 90 and thus Modi should be the BJP candidate in 2014.  

The BJP’s sister (some would say parent) organization, the RSS,

It's fine to say 'parent'.  

has always insisted that it does not believe in vyakti puja (worship of an individual). Since 2014, however, Modi has established his total and complete authority over the BJP.

Because the example of Manmohan's disastrous second term was fresh in everybody's mind. Modi had to be seen as the CEO running things. But promotion on the basis of merit- e.g. of Guha's fellow Tambrams, Nirmala and Jaishankar- is fine.  

Whether out of fear or adoration, all BJP leaders, even those senior to Modi in public life, have obediently fallen in line. There is not even a whiff of dissent within the world’s largest party in the world’s largest democracy; there is no Liz Cheney-like figure here at all.

Modi did not do crazy shit. Trump did. The latter is an amateur. The former is a consummate professional.  

The second institution that has prostrated itself before Modi is the Union Cabinet.

What's wrong with that? Modi's style of functioning was always known- indeed, that's what got him the top job. We saw what happened when Pranab was doing what he liked and Manmohan was the last to be informed.  

When Atal Bihari Vajpayee, the BJP’s first leader, was prime minister between 1998 and 2004, he governed as first among equals,

No. Brajesh Mishra ran the show. 

giving his senior cabinet ministers considerable autonomy, this in keeping both with his party’s ethos and with the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy that India had adopted.

If the PM enjoys the confidence of the House more than any cabal in the Cabinet, he prevails- that is the Westminster tradition. Guha does not understand British constitutional history.  

However, Modi does not consult cabinet ministers about important government decisions and makes sure that all credit for state welfare schemes accrues entirely to him.

Again, that is his prerogative. Suppose Gadkare and other malcontents tried to topple Modi. How many MPs would they be able to get on their side? Ten? Twenty? India's strict anti-defection laws discourage rebellion against a PM or CM who enjoys the confidence of the house. Suppose like Rajiv Gandhi, Modi appears implicated in a corruption scandal. Then the knives will be out for him. He would have to resign.  

The government is run largely, if not entirely, from the Prime Minister’s Office, which is staffed by unelected officials personally loyal to Modi, several from his home state of Gujarat.

This is misleading. They may come from different states but were part of the Gujarat cadre.  However, there is nothing unusual about this at all. 

Unlike with previous prime ministers (from different parties), in India today there is no consultation within the Union Cabinet.

How does Guha know? It doesn't matter if the consultation is informal and thus what gets on the minutes does not reflect discussion around the table.  

What Modi says, goes. And there is little debate within Parliament either.

Because the Opposition went in for disruptive tactics even though they had no power to stall anything.  

Whereas prime ministers such as Nehru and Vajpayee spent a great deal of time in Parliament, often listening with attention to the speeches of opposition MPs,

but both were shit.  

Modi uses it more as a platform to make his own speeches.

Nothing wrong with that. It is his choice- a sensible one given the circumstances. It simply isn't true that any Indian thinks debates in Parliament aren't shit.  

Unfortunately, the country has no tradition of Prime Minister’s Questions, an aspect of the Westminster model that India did not incorporate.

No other Commonwealth country adopted that convention which, in any case, only gained its present significance after live broadcasts began about 35 years ago. 

Bills on crucial subjects such as personal privacy and farm reforms, which affect hundreds of millions of Indians, are passed with little discussion and without being referred for assessment to a parliamentary select committee, as tradition demands.

There is no such tradition. It has always been the case that a legislator may move an amendment that a Bill be referred to a special committee and then a vote is taken.  

The speakers in both houses of Parliament are notoriously partisan, hastening the rapid conversion of an idea hatched in the Prime Minister’s Office into law, bypassing the cabinet and with no input from Parliament.

All of this is perfectly permissible. Different people have different 'styles' of functioning. One may as well take objection to their hair-styles.

Guha is missing a trick here. Stalin had hair. So did Hitler. Modi too has hair! This proves he is an autocrat! 

During the 2021 monsoon session of Parliament, for example, it took an average of 34 minutes for a bill to be passed in the Lok Sabha, the lower house. Some were passed in less than 10 minutes.

A good thing. If the law turns out to be shit, it can be quickly repealed.  .

The third democratic institution that has rapidly declined since 2014 is the press.

Yes. Subsidies from Soros & Co have turned a lot of news portals into shit.  

In a democracy, the press is supposed to be independent; in India today, it is pliant and propagandist.

Where? In Chennai? Kolkata? Delhi? The plain fact is that if Modi is popular in the market where you sell your wares, it pays to appear to be on his side. But plenty of Indian States are opposition ruled.  

In eight years as prime minister, Modi has not held a single press conference involving questions from the media.

So what? Guha just said the Press is shit. Why take questions from them?  

He conveys his views by way of a monthly monologue on state radio and by the occasional interview with a journalist known to be favorable to the regime, these conduced with a cloying deference to Modi.

If it works for him, what's wrong with that? On the other hand, Guha is right that Modi is showing Dictatorial tendencies in that he combs his hair. So did Hitler and Stalin!  

Furthermore, because most of the country’s leading newspapers and TV channels are owned by entrepreneurs with other business interests, they have quickly fallen into line, lest, for example, a chemical factory also owned by a media magnate does not get a license or an export permit.

Guha will now give examples of this happening- NOT!  

(Indian media also depend heavily on government advertising, another reason to support the ruling regime.

In your State- sure. But, in Bengal, the bigger incentive is to avoid getting beaten up by Mamta's goons.  

) Prime-time news channels exuberantly praise the prime minister and relentlessly attack the opposition—so much so that a term has been coined for them, godi media.

Some channels exuberantly praise the CM and attack the PM. I assume Guha's mother tongue is Tamil. Which Tamil channel is pro-Modi? Polimer, I suppose, could be called even-handed but then what's good for India is also good for TN. Tamils aren't to happy with Stalin's obsession with Rahul. Why call that Brahmin 'Sir'? Thankfully, he has toned down the sycophancy. 

These two words require a longer translation in plain English

No. Godh means lap. Godi media is in the lap of Modi.  

—perhaps “the media that takes its instructions from and obediently parrots the line of the Modi government” would do. Many independent-minded journalists have been jailed on spurious charges related to their work; others have had the tax authorities set on them.

If a government body receives information that the law is being broken- e.g. foreign donations are not being properly recorded- they have to take action. But plenty of journalists have been harassed in Opposition ruled States. The difference with the BJP is that their goons won't beat you or make you watch as they rape your kids.  

The fourth key institution that has become less autonomous and independent since May 2014 is the bureaucracy.

Guha wants India to be ruled by the ICS. But even the ICS had to answer to the Viceroy.  

In India, civil servants are supposed to work in accordance with the constitution and be strictly nonpartisan.

This is where the BJP scores over other parties. Civil Servants won't be scapegoated by Modi.  

Over the years, they have become steadily politicized, with many officials tending to side with a particular political party or even with a particular politician.

This had happened by 1946, when Muslim officers tended to side with the League while Hindus were almost all secretly reporting to Congress.  

However, since 2014, whatever independence and autonomy that remained have been completely sundered.

Modi did reduce the influence of the IFS by pushing out the Foreign Secretary. But he had a good reason to do so and the cadre bears him no ill-will because his foreign policy turned out to be very successful.  

In choosing his key officials, Modi places far greater emphasis on loyalty than on competence.

No. Competence is all that matters. Incidentally, a competent civil servant fulfils the task set for him by the elected politician in charge of his Ministry.  

Every ministry now has a minder, often an individual from the RSS, to make sure that, when a senior civil servant retires, his or her replacement will have the right vichardhara, or ideology.

Only Rahul babbles about 'vichardhara'.  Still, it would be interesting to know who Nirmala's minder is? What about Gadkare? Does he need a minder- that too from the RSS? 

Furthermore, state agencies have been savagely let loose to intimidate and tame the political opposition. (According to a recent report by the Indian Express, 95 percent of all politicians raided or arrested by the Central Bureau of Investigation since 2014 have been from opposition parties.)

Which may mean the BJP is the party of clean and honest politicians.  

These raids are held out as a warning as well as an inducement, for a slew of opposition politicians have since joined the BJP and had cases against them withdrawn.

That is counter-productive. It pisses off the grass-roots. Karnataka should be a wake-up call.  

Finally, the judiciary has, in recent years, not fulfilled the role accorded it by the constitution.

The judiciary says it and only it can interpret the Constitution.  

District and provincial courts have been very energetic in endorsing state actions that infringe on the rights and liberties of citizens.

Whereas what worries most people is having their rights and liberties violated by homicidal rapists.  

More disappointing perhaps has been the role of the highest court of the land. The legal scholar Anuj Bhuwania has gone so far as to speak of the “complete capitulation of the Supreme Court to the majoritarian rule of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.”

One may as well speak of Modi's complete capitulation the Bench which forced him to build a Temple for Hindus in Ayodhya.  

It has delayed the hearing of crucial cases;

which weren't crucial at all.  

even when it does, it tends to favor the arbitrary use of state power over protecting individual freedoms.

Indian judges will still have to live in India after they retire. State power is what protects them from the freedoms of individuals who want to chop of their infidel heads.  

As Bhuwania writes in Scroll.in, “During the Modi period, not only has the court failed to perform its constitutional role as a check on governmental excesses,

There are no excesses and, anyway, no Indian Bench has curbed the massive extra-judicial killing which has had to be carried out from time to time. 

it has acted as a cheerleader for the Modi government’s agenda.

Because it is a good agenda. Bhuwania's isn't. Nobody is cheering for him.  

Not only has it abdicated its supposed counter-democratic function as a shield for citizens against state lawlessness,

whereas it is the lawlessness of criminals which is what worries most people. Guha & Co prefer to live in a fantasy world where all crimes are carried out by jack-booted stormtrooper under the command of Amit Shah.  

but it has also actually acted as a powerful sword that can be wielded at the behest of the executive.” And furthermore, he writes, the Supreme Court “has placed its enormous arsenal at the government’s disposal in pursuit of its radical majoritarian agenda.”

The Bench has no fucking arsenal. It can't even punish Prashant Bhushan who says it is corrupt and stupid.  

As suggested by my earlier formulation of India as a 50-50 democracy, none of these institutions performed flawlessly in the past.

They were wholly irrelevant when they weren't a source of mischief.  

They were occasionally (and sometimes more than occasionally) timid or subservient to the party in power. There was no golden age of Indian democracy.

Because things have gotten better not worse.  

However, since May 2014 these institutions have lost even more—one might say far more—of their independence and autonomy and are now in thrall to Modi and his government.

Has Guha produced any evidence of this? No. He merely quotes sources funded if not founded by foreigners to defame India. But that is a stupid thing to do. The West needs India.  

It is important to note that the capture of these five institutions—the party,

the leader of a party captures the party- that's just wrong! 

the legislature,

the party which gets the majority in the legislature captures it! That's naked 'majoritarianism'! 

the press,

hasn't been captured because it just shits on everything.  

the civil service,

which became subservient to elected politicians in either 1937 (in the Provinces) or 1946.  

and the judiciary—has been crucial to the consolidation of other personality cults, too.

But Stalin, Guha says, had a personality cult without capturing any 'institution'. He just killed lots of people.  

My analysis of what Modi has done to democracy in India would broadly hold for Orban in Hungary, Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, and even to some extent Trump in the United States.

But it would also hold of Macron and Biden and Rishi and any other elected leader.  

I should briefly note two additional features of personality cults in such partially democratic regimes. The first is that they tend to promote crony capitalism, with a few favored industrialists making windfall gains owing to their loyalty and proximity to the leader and his party.

But Adani and Ambani and so forth were rich before Modi came to power.  There are new billionaires- like the Kamath brothers who have a discount brokerage- but they are not 'crony capitalists' by any means. 

The second is that they tend to promote religious or ethnic majoritarianism.

Fuck off! Stalin came from Georgia- Georgians were a tiny minority in the Soviet Union. 

The majority ethnic or religious group is said to represent the true essence of the nation, and the leader is said to embody, with singular distinction and effectiveness, the essence of this majority group.

Saddam and Assad were from minorities. So was Tito. So what?  

On the other side, religious or ethnic minorities, such as Kurds in Turkey, Jews in Hungary,

Hungarians were cool with Magyar speaking Jews 

or Muslims in India, are said to be disloyal or antithetical to the nation.

Britain and France keep a closer watch on their Muslims.  I wonder why. 

Majoritarian arguments singling out minorities for harassment or stigmatization are rife on social media, made often by ruling party legislators and, on occasions when he feels politically threatened, by the leader himself.

Guha is cool with such statements made by Kannada politicians though they target people like himself.  

Even while they were in office, it seemed to me that Modi was more dangerous to the interests of his country than Johnson and Trump were to theirs.

 Guha was wrong. Still, if you believe White Christian ladies are superior to Brown Hindus, you would naturally become very distressed when power shifted from Sonia to Modi. 

From July 2019 to January 2021, the world’s largest, oldest, and richest democracies were all led by charismatic populists with authoritarian tendencies. Boris Johnson

was not authoritarian. He was shambolic.  

and Trump are now both gone, yet Modi remains.

Because Modi is good at his job.  

Even while they were in office, it seemed to me that Modi was more dangerous to the interests of his country than Johnson and Trump were to theirs. The reasons for this are both structural as well as biographical. As the preceding discussion would have made clear, democratic institutions intended to act as a check on the abuse of power by politicians are far more compromised in India than in the United Kingdom or the United States.

Not under Modi. Under Sonia, the supposed head of government didn't head shit.  

In the U.K., the press, Parliament, and the civil service all sought to thwart Johnson’s authoritarian tendencies.

They failed. He was brought down by his Cabinet colleagues.  

As for the United States, even if Trump sought to pack the Supreme Court, lower courts remained independent;

But lower courts get overruled by the Supreme Court. 

so did the tax authorities and other regulatory institutions.

As is the case in India. But 'regulatory agencies' tend to get captured and there's always a way around the tax-man.  

Influential sections of the press did not capitulate to the cult of Trump;

As was the case in India.  

the universities remained crucibles of freedom and dissent.

No. They were shit. Obama warned against their promotion of 'wokeness' which played into the hands of the Republicans.  

Even the person Trump chose as his vice president acted to endorse the results of the 2020 election, in consonance with the U.S. Constitution and in defiance of his boss.

Because Trump, an amateur, did crazy shit. Modi has done no such thing.  

Democratic institutions are far weaker in India than in the U.K. or the United States.

The Indian Election Commission is much stronger than anything which exists in America.  

And as an individual, too, Modi represents a far greater threat to his country’s democratic future than Johnson or Trump ever could.

But there is no threat to democracy in any of these countries.  

For one, he has been a full-time politician for far longer than they have been, with much greater experience in how to manipulate public institutions to serve his own purposes.

Boris and Modi became legislators at about the same time.  

Second, he is far more committed to his political beliefs than Johnson and Trump are to theirs.

How does Guha know?  

While Johnson and Trump are consumed almost wholly by vanity and personal glory, Modi is part narcissist but also part ideologue.

He is neither. He is just very good at his job.  

He lives and embodies Hindu majoritarianism

just as Nehru, Shastri, Indira, Rajiv, and janeodhari Rahul did or do.  

in a much more thoroughgoing manner than Trump lives white supremacy or Johnson embodies xenophobic Little Englandism.

Johnson embodies nothing of the kind. He was an American citizen and may become so once again. The fact is he went out of his way to charm foreigners including those of the dusky persuasion.  

Third, in the enactment and fulfillment of his ideological dream, Modi has as his instrument the RSS, whose organizational strength and capacity for resource mobilization far exceed any right-wing organization in the U.K. or the United States.

because the Tory or Republican party are actually composed of three elderly spinsters and a cat- right?  

Indeed, if it lasts much longer, the Modi regime may come to be remembered as much for its evisceration of Indian pluralism

which happened at Partition and the departure of the Brits 

as for its dismantling of Indian democracy.

which would be a new departure- unless you count the Emergency.  

I have presented a qualitative narrative so far; allow me to append just a few figures that show how far India’s democratic standards have slipped in recent years. In Freedom House’s political and civil freedom rankings, India was among the countries with the largest declines in the last decade, dropping from “Free” to “Partly Free” in 2021. In the Cato Institute’s Human Freedom Index, India fell from 75th in 2015 to 119th in 2021. In Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, India fell from 140th in 2013 to 150th in 2022. Finally, in the World Economic Forum’s most recent Global Gender Gap Report, released in July, India ranked 135th out of 146 countries in overall score and lowest (146th) when it came to health and survival.

These are meaningless figures as I have explained elsewhere. The fact is, a country is not a Democracy if power rests in the hands of the Italian widow of a dynast.  

I’d like to end my essay with two past warnings by Indians against the unthinking submission to charismatic authority. The first warning is relatively well known. It is from B.R. Ambedkar’s last speech to the Constituent Assembly of India in November 1949. In the speech, Ambedkar quotes the English philosopher John Stuart Mill, who cautioned citizens not “to lay their liberties at the feet even of a great man, or trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions.” This warning was even more pertinent in India than in England, for, as Ambedkar points out:

in India, bhakti, or what may be called the path of devotion or hero worship, plays a part in its politics unequalled in magnitude by the part it plays in the politics of any other country in the world. Bhakti in religion may be the road to the salvation of a soul. But in politics, bhakti, or hero worship, is a sure road to degradation and to eventual dictatorship.

Ambedkar supported the First Amendment which as Frank Anthony observed meant India could become a Dictatorship. Still, the comic aspect to this is that Ambedkar decided to become a 'Boddhisattva' which means that now, thanks to Mayawati's building spree, he receives worship as an avatar of Vishnu!  

The cult of Modi the Superman, like the cult of Indira the Superwoman that preceded it, shows that Ambedkar was right to be worried about the dangers to Indian democracy of the religious practice of bhakti, or blind hero worship.

Guha has forgotten that 'personality cult' was a term applied by the atheist Kruschev to the atheist Stalin who presided over a genocidal, wholly Godless, regime.  

The ruling party’s presentation of Modi as Hindu messiah-cum-avenging angel falls on fertile soil.

Actually, it was the mistake of Congress and the Left to paint Modi as a killer of Muslims and avenger of the Godhra atrocity on Hindus, which helped him initially. But, he only became PM because Rahul was shit and thus Congress had to be shit.  

One would not expect the population of a free country to be so cravenly worshipful of a living individual—but, tragically, they are.

Guha used to get very angry when Indians or foreigners showed adoration of Mother Theresa or Nelson Mandela.  

The second quote is far more obscure but perhaps equally pertinent. It is from a letter written to Indira Gandhi in November 1969 by S. Nijalingappa, who was president of the Congress party when Gandhi split the party and made it an extension of herself. Born in 1902, Nijalingappa came of age in

1920 when India, which was a member of the League of Nations, held its first general election. 

an era of imperialism and fascism while being part of a freedom struggle that stood for democracy, nonviolence, and pluralism.

Not in the view of Jinnah and the Muslim League.  

The Congress party in which he had spent all his adult life was a decentralized institution with vigorous state and district units.

Nonsense! It was highly centralized and then the Kamraj planned had strengthened Nehru's grip on it even further.  

It had many leaders, never just one.

Why then did Govind Vallabh Pant call Gandhi the 'Il Duce and Fuhrer of India'? Nehru would have quit Congress if Patel and others hadn't bent the knee to him. Indira showed she was made of even sterner mettle.  

Now, as Gandhi sought to reshape the party and the country in her own image, Nijalingappa warned her that the history of the 20th century “is replete with instances of the tragedy that overtakes democracy when a leader who has risen to power on the crest of a popular wave or with the support of a democratic organization becomes a victim of political narcissism and is egged on by a coterie of unscrupulous sycophants who use corruption and terror to silence opposition and attempt to make public opinion an echo of authority.”

The poor fellow spent the next 30 years in the political wilderness while Indira's dynasty ruled- save when 'assassination tempered autocracy'. Why is Guha raking up this matter? Tamils though both Njalingappa and Kamraj were losers. Congress had lost TN permanently by the time this old fool wrote to Indira. Incidentally, Indira had gone against Kamraj and Bhaktavatsalam on the Hindi imposition issue. That's why Tamils were friendly to her. 

History offers us a few lessons. One is that—as the cases of Stalin, Mao, Hitler, Mussolini, Putin, and others all show—personality cults are always bad for the country that fosters and encourages them.

So, Xi's China will come to a sticky end- right? Don't bet on it. The fact is cults don't matter. Do sensible stuff or kill your enemies or people who might become your enemies and you are likely to stay in power. 

On the other hand, Dynasties tend to die nasty. Sooner or later the heir to the throne will turn out to be a retarded moon-calf.  

Historians have passed their judgment on the damage that the cult of Indira Gandhi did to Indian democracy and nationhood.

No. Economists passed that judgment. Had she followed sensible economic policies, she would not have had to impose Emergency. But much of the fault for this lies with her father. 

The day will come, though perhaps not in my lifetime, when historians will pass a similar judgment on the effects on India’s happiness and well-being of the cult of Modi.

Guha is alive. He is a historian. He has just passed exactly this judgment. I suppose he means a good, White, historian. But White historians are just as shitty as Brown ones. Sad. 

Jason Stanley is the Chinese Putin

In Politics, it is useful to be able to say 'such and such person or party shares traits with some 'uniquely characterized' person or entity.' Thus, though 'Churchillian' is a unique characterization of Winston Churchill, we may say 'Margaret Thatcher was Churchillian in such and such context'. We may go further we may say 'OMG! Thatcher is Churchill in a frock! However, this is merely 'imperative', not alethic. 

When is it useful to characterize a contemporary in terms of historical figures or movements? The answer is that if the two share a set of properties which only they have but other similar people don't have then you have the beginnings of a 'Structural Causal Model'. You can make predictions which apply only to a narrow class and which can be empirically evaluated. 

At one time, there was a Fascist or Nazi ideology and both Italy and Germany spent some money trying to promote this ideology. They intervened in the Spanish Civil War and put Franco and the 'Phalange' in power. After the war, though Franco remained in power, we can't say any country was promoting Fascism or Nazism. True, some crazy people- like 'World Fuehrer' Colin Jordan- tried to make mischief but they were as ineffectual as equally crazy Maoists. 

By 1979, when I was admitted to the LSE, a pro-Albanian Communist General Secretary was going around calling Ralf Dahrendorf- the Director- a Nazi! But he also thought the Soviet and Chinese leadership were 'Fascist'! This was pure Monty Python. Thus, to call somebody a Fascist was simply an attempt to raise a laugh. One might as well accuse a person of being a Vampire or a Werewolf.

However, it is no longer cool to call people Nazis. Why? 

Putin justified his invasion of Ukraine by claiming that Zelensky is a Nazi. Immediately afterwards, sensible people turned against the use of the word even for comic purposes. Precious lives are being lost because of a so called war against Nazism. 

 Sadly Jason Stanley isn't sensible. Nor is the Guardian which published the following-

In late February 2022, then Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, in the face of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, began a pro-Russia monologue urging his audience to ask themselves the question: “Why do I hate Putin so much?” The gist of Carlson’s comments about Russia’s leader is that Putin should not be regarded as an enemy. Instead, the real enemies of America are those who call white Americans racist, those who teach so-called critical race theory in schools, business elites who ship jobs abroad, and those who imposed Covid lockdowns on the United States.

Biden did not seem very keen, at least initially, on helping Ukraine. He too wants to concentrate on America's internal problems. As Obama had said, Wokeism was most dangerous to the Democratic party. Now, Vivek Ramaswamy- who first attracted attention with a book attacking 'Woke Inc.', is being taken seriously as a Republican candidate for the Presidency.  

In short, Carlson urged, the real enemies of America are internal

America may have external enemies, but it has proved very good at killing them. Still, every country- Russia more especially- has to concentrate on internal issues rather than invade foreign countries or seek to bring about 'regime change' there.  

– racial minorities,

WASPs? Americans of German origin?  

doctors and politicians,

some doctors have been very naughty as have a lot of politicians 

professors and educators,

again, some of them have been very naughty indeed.  

and large corporations who shift jobs to other countries.

Presumably, Jason approves of this.  

Carlson has been resolutely against US support for Ukraine.

Biden was initially rather lukewarm.  

Insofar as Carlson has since that point gone to war, it has rather been against these supposed internal enemies.

So, is Tucker Carlson hard to classify?

No. He supports Trump as his recent interview with Trump shows.  

On the one hand, he spreads tropes central to neo-Nazi propaganda, such as “white replacement” theory,

but this type of theory may also be propagated by anti-Nazi conservatives. Don't forget, both Mussolini and Hitler were supposed to be against the bourgeoisie and believed that Capital must serve the interests of the Nation State.  

suggesting that leftist elites seek to replace “legacy Americans” by foreign non-white immigrants.

Tyler Cowan and other economists who want more immigration aren't exactly 'left-wing'.  

On the other hand, he denounces media, intellectual and political elites, as well as US intervention in Ukraine, platforming those who identify as the “anti-war left”, such as Jimmy Dore.

a stand up comedian who supported Bernie Sanders. I suppose the fellow is entertaining and that matters in Television.  

How should we best understand this set of views?

In the same way ordinary people do. Some people are entertaining to listen to more particularly if they say outrageous things. But TV is just TV.  

If Carlson has fascist sympathies,

he would think POTUS should be the Fuhrer to whom the big billionaires must bend the knee. The TV stations must follow the line laid down by the Ruling Party which, obviously, should outlaw every other political party. The Trade Unions too must be placed under the control of the Government.  

as do, quite inarguably, many of those who applaud him, how do we understand his firm stance against US military and financial support for Ukraine?

He is saying 'we have a history of getting involved in pointless wars. Who really gives a toss about a far away part of the world?' For Europeans the answer is 'we do. If Putin wins in Ukraine, Poland will be the next target. Even the Swiss are beefing up their army. We can't directly intervene for fear of Putin's nukes but it is in our own national interest to do everything we can for that valorous nation.' Americans may feel differently because they are perfectly safe no matter what happens in Taiwan or Eastern Europe.  

Surely, historically speaking, fascism is not compatible with the isolationist position Carlson has urged.

It is perfectly compatible. Franco stayed out of the war and thus was left in peace. Hitler declared war on America. Had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbour, isolationism would have prevailed.  

We should look to history as our guide here. But the history that best informs us in this case is not European history, but American history.

Which says Nazism does not matter because elected governments were about as pro-capitalist as it was possible to be. Democratic administrations tended to be worse for African Americans than Republican ones.  

Before the beginning of the second world war, all of America’s pro-fascist parties opposed US intervention on the side of its allies against Nazi Germany.

There were no 'pro-fascist parties'. Both Democrats and Republicans tended to be isolationist. However, some progressives did express hatred for what Hitler was doing.  

Often, the opposition to the US supporting Britain against Nazi Germany was represented as “isolationism”.

America has always had an interest in upholding the freedom of the seas. It was profitable to trade with Britain and its Empire. The question of 'unrestricted submarine warfare' would always be a casus belli. However, it was the sneak Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour which tipped the balance. Otherwise FDR had been re-elected as the man who had kept the US out of the war.  

There were openly fascist organizations during this time, such as the German American Bund.

It was Nazi, not Fascist. When it was formed, Mussolini was opposing Anschluss. But it was tiny and collapsed quickly as the national mood changed.  

Somewhat more ambiguous was the America First movement.

It wasn't ambiguous at all. It was isolationist.  

As the historian Bradley Hart recounts, in a packed America First rally in Madison Square Garden in 1941, the Montana senator Burton K Wheeler denounced “jingoistic journalists and saber-rattling bankers” who were pushing the nation into war against Germany.

He changed his mind after Pearl Harbor but lost the 1946 election after a scurrilous pamphlet was published accusing him and Truman of being Fascists. No doubt, Jason agrees with the bit about Truman.  

While the agenda of some members of the America First movement at the time might have genuinely been pacifist, it’s quite clear that the main agenda was in fact support for Hitler.

Why stop there? Why not say that America only entered the War to enable White rule of Asia and Africa to continue? The plain fact is that wars are expensive. Lots of blood and treasure is squandered. Neutrality is not necessarily a bad thing. Switzerland has done well out of it 

The America First movement had strong support from American fascist movements of various stripes. Its most prominent spokesperson, Charles Lindbergh,

the son of a Socialist legislator 

published the following words in support of his anti-war position in an essay entitled “Geography, Aviation, and Race” in Reader’s Digest in 1939:

… It is time to turn from our quarrels and to build our White ramparts again. This alliance with foreign races means nothing but death to us. It is our turn to guard our heritage from Mongol and Persian and Moor, before we become engulfed in a limitless foreign sea. Our civilization depends on a united strength among ourselves; on strength too great for foreign enemies to challenge; on a Western Wall of race and arms which can hold back either a Genghis Khan or the infiltration of inferior blood; on an English fleet, a German air force, a French army, an American nation, standing together as guardians of our common heritage, sharing strength, dividing influence.

Apparently he was good at flying planes. Also he had married the daughter of a billionaire. Still, he was a silly man.  But silliness does not mean a belief that the POTUS should be the Fuhrer or Il Duce of the country. 

It is simply inarguable fact that American racial fascism

American racism didn't need to be fascist. The thing was 'bottom-up'.  

has a clear isolationist tradition, especially when the wars in question are against fascist opponents.

America entered the First World War when Fascism did not exist. It did intervene against the Bolsheviks though rather briefly.  

But is Putin’s Russia fascist?

It is a corrupt shambolic kleptocracy.  

In Russia, opposition politicians and journalists are regularly imprisoned or murdered. Russia has passed harsh laws against LGBTQ+ communities. Russia’s ideology is based on a militarized Russian nationalism, and its war against Ukraine is quite clearly genocidal in nature. Just as Nazi Germany represented itself as the defender of Christianity and Europe’s classic traditions against an existential threat posed by leftist atheist Jews, Putin represents Russia as the sole defender of the European Christian traditions against similar existential threats, such as “gender ideology”.

Putin says he is fighting the Nazi 'Azov Battalion' and the Hitler worshipping Zelensky. Jason and Putin both call people they don't like Nazis or Fascists.  

Putin’s Russia is the international leader of the global far right, promoting ultra-nationalism, religious traditionalism and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment across the world.

Russia isn't leading shit. 

If Russia is not fascist,

It isn't. It isn't a single party state. It is difficult to say if the ruling party has any ideology.  

then even Nazi Germany in the 1930s was not fascist.

What about Italy? If Italy was Fascist, so was Germany as Mussolini recognized. 

As the historian Timothy Snyder has urged, “we should finally say it”: Russia is fascist.

There is little point saying it when Putin is saying Zelensky is a Nazi. Nazi is worse than Fascist. But Jim Crow America was worse than both.  

Just as claims to be isolationists by American inter-war fascists were quite rightly taken to be expressions of support for Nazi ideology,

only stupid nutters thought so. The plain fact is Japan attacked the US and then Hitler, very foolishly, declared war against it. Franco was pretty damn Fascist and talked about invading Portugal but he didn't actually do so and after the War the Church helped his regime (which profited by getting rid of 'Phalangist' nutters) get rehabilitated. The Greek Colonels could have been called Fascist but America had no problem with them. It is foolish to pretend that America has entered ideological wars. Vietnam was about a foolish 'domino theory'. Kissinger explained that realpolitik is better than geopolitics. Ukraine is important according to the latter theory. Mackinder, its founder, thought that control of Eastern Europe would determine control of the 'World Island' and hence control of the World. This was silly but it can't be denied Ukraine is important. But this is because Ukrainians are very brave, very capable, very decent people.  

there is good reason to take Carlson’s similar claims not as denunciations of American militarism but as expressions of support for Putinism, which he seems largely to share.

One may take Jason's denunciations of people he doesn't like as support for Putin. Maybe the chap is merely stupid and paranoid- like Jason- not evil and greedy. 

What about Carlson’s scorn for the media, intellectual, financial and political elite, which he lacerates with regularity on his show?

Is Jason appreciative of such elites? If not, how is he different from Carlson? The latter says silly things to stay on TV. Jason says stupid shite so as to pretend to be an 'authority on Fascism'.  

Here too there is little ambiguity. Carlson does not scorn all elites – after all, he himself was making as much as $20m a year from Fox news. He only targets certain elites.

Jason only targets those he doesn't like. But instead of calling them Fascist- which is what Putin does in connection to his enemy Zelensky- Jason should find some other word- like 'Conservative'.  

In the ideology of American fascism, the elites he targets are associated with liberal democracy and Jewish control.

So, 'Conservative' is the mot juste. William Buckley's brother won an election back in the early Seventies as a Conservative.  

American fascists have always denounced the media, intellectuals and politicians.

The Left has consistently praised media moghuls- like Murdoch- and Professors like Milton Friedman and politicians like Ronald Reagan.  

Carlson is careful to avoid explicitly antisemitic statements. But his show is the home of anti-Soros conspiracy theories. The antisemitism in his programming is clearly dog-whistled, and Jewish organizations have been among the first to cheer his ousting.

Soros is anti-Zionist. Mainstream Jewish organizations are wary of him. 

Indeed, if Carlson did not regularly denounce media, intellectual, financial and political elites, regular targets of Nazi ideology, the case for calling him an American fascist would be much less clear.

The case against doing so is that Putin is waging war on Ukraine because he says its leader is a Nazi.  

At one time it was okay for educated people in England and America to use the term 'Jew' not to mean members of a particular religion or ethnicity but some supposed trait shared by those who do well in business but who lacked 'blue blood'. Then Hitler & Co took over that type of anti-semitism. It ceased to be cool. The fact is Jews are an ancient people and thus more not less blue blooded than the descendants of Goths and Vikings. Come to think of it, Lord Jesus Christ was Jewish. You can't get more blue blooded than sharing descent from King David with 'the King of Kings'. 

Nazi ideology supported strict gender roles – one of the central targets of the first mass Nazi book burning on 10 May 1933 was Magnus Hirschfeld’s collection of LGBTQ+ literature, the largest in the world and the largest documentation of gender fluidity (Hirschfeld coined the term “transsexual”).

But Britain and America had much more stringent laws against homosexuality. Hirschfeld collection would have been burned in England and he would have been sentenced to hard labour. Still it is true that prosecutions under the Nazis went up ten-fold. But Weimar too persecuted homosexuals. After the War, West Germany continued to prosecute homosexuals for a dozen years after the East stopped doing so.  

Carlson has used his platform to denounce transgender Americans as existential threats to Christianity.

Only if they hold an absurd doctrine which the fool invented. But anybody at all can hold that doctrine. I could say 'I am a cat. Miaow, miaow' and hold that if I want this to be the case then this is actually the case because I have God like powers. But I don't actually believe anything of the sort which is why I haven't given up my job bagging groceries at the Kwiki-Mart. 

Fascists target cosmopolitan ways as existential threats to masculinity – a viewpoint Carlson also clearly shares.

Don't be absurd. The thing is a joke. Still, it is true that if you eat a quiche rather than a steak then your dick is replaced by a clit. But the same thing happens if you read the Guardian. 

Finally, fascism praises violence against democracy, valorizing violent street mobs attacking democratic processes and institutions as martyrs to the nation. Here too Tucker Carlson fits perfectly into the tradition.

Fascists praise people with beautiful boobs. Carlson does so too. This means he has beautiful boobs- right?  

It is not difficult at all to classify Tucker Carlson’s political ideology.

Only if, like Putin, you enjoy calling guys you don't like a fucking Nazi 

He is an American fascist, only the latest in a long historical line.

No! He is a Chinese Fascist! Did you know Chinese people praise nice tasty food? So does Carlson. This proves he is Chinese! 

Jason, however, is the Chinese Putin because, clearly, he is neither. But that's how his 'epistemology' works. Tim Willamson must be so proud. 

Angus Deaton despairing of fun

America used to be a great country where if you were on Medicaid and had a low income, you could buy 240 oxycodone pills for a dollar and sell them for up to 4000 dollars.  Sadly, this could lead to overdose deaths.  

Angus Deaton writes in the Boston Review

The United States has seen an epidemic of what Case and I have called “deaths of despair”—

though they may have been no such thing. The fact is recreational drug use tends to be....urm... recreational rather than gloomy and despairing. 

deaths from suicide, drug overdose, and alcoholic liver disease.

Suicide may be contrary to Judaeo-Christian ethics. But there are 'honour' or 'shame' societies where it considered a sign of innate nobility.  

These deaths, all of which are to a great extent self-inflicted, are seen in few other rich countries, but in none, except in Scotland,

which is more similar to Scandinavia in that there is strong support for a full fledged cradle to grave welfare state. 

do we see anything like the scale of the tragedy that is being experienced in America.

There is a stereotype of a certain class of Scottish people as drinking too much and eating only deep fried Mars bars. Is Deaton saying working class Americans are like working class Scottish people? That still makes them way cooler than the people of most other nations. 

Elevated adult mortality rates are often a measure of societal failure,

or of not being a boring sod 

especially so when those deaths come not from an infectious disease, like COVID-19, or from a failing health system, but from personal affliction.

You say affliction, I say living my best life rather than being a granola eating pussy. 

As Emile Durkheim argued long ago, suicide, which is the archetypal self-inflicted destruction, is more likely to happen during times of intolerable social change when people have lost the relationships with others and the social framework that they need to support their flourishing.

Durkheim lived at a time when some people in great Western Cities were literally dying of starvation. There was no social safety net for 'self-respecting' people. 

Which suggests that despair actually means having partied a lot.  It may be that Deaton is a stern Christian moralist who says- 'you think looking at dirty pictures and having a crafty wank is a good way to pass the time. You are wrong. You are clinically depressed because your soul is atrophying. You are headed to Hell and in your heart of hearts, you know this very well. You can fool others that you are having a good time, but you are actually deeply unhappy.'

It may be that we could benefit by heeding such advise. The Puritan work ethic can make families and nations rich. But, it must be admitted, they become as boring as shit. 

Figure 1 shows trends in life expectancy for men and women in the United States, in the UK, and in Scotland from 1980 to 2019. Upward trends are good and dominate the picture. The increases are more rapid for men than for women: women are less likely to die of heart attacks than are men, and so have benefited less from the decline in heart disease that had long been a leading cause of falling mortality. Scotland does worse than the UK, and is more like the United States, though Scots women do worse than American women; a history of heavy smoking does much to explain these Scottish outcomes.

Most of us started smoking not because we despaired of life but because we thought it made us look cool.  

If we focus on the years just before the pandemic, we see a slowdown in progress in all three countries; this is happening in several other rich countries, though not all. We see signs of falling life expectancy even before the pandemic. (I do not discuss the pandemic here because it raises issues beyond my main argument.) Falling life expectancy is something that rich countries have long been used to not happening.

Figure 2: Adult life expectancy in Scotland and the United States (Source: U.S. Vital Statistics and Scottish life tables)

Figure 2 shows life expectancy at twenty-five and, for the United States, divides the data into those with and without a four-year college degree.

Which probably corresponds to a distinctions between boring people who do their homework and kids who love to party.  

In Scotland, we do not (yet) have the data to make the split. The remarkable thing here is that, in the United States, those without a B.A. have experienced falling (adult) life expectancy since 2010, while those with the degree have continued to see improvements.

People who can sit through boring lectures may also be the type who give up smoking and take up eating granola.  

Adult mortality rates are going in opposite directions for the more and less educated.

Because it is easier to get into College and to stay there and get a worthless degree which however is positively correlated to doing boring shit rather than partying hearty.  

The gap, which was about 2.5 years in 1992, doubled to 5 years in 2019 and reached 7 years in 2021. Whatever plague is afflicting the United States, a bachelor’s degree is an effective antidote.

Nope. Being a boring sod is the secret of living a long boring life. 

The Scots look more like the less-educated Americans, though they do a little better, but note again that we cannot split the Scottish data by educational attainment.

Even higher education can't turn a true Scotsman into a boring cunt.  

Figure 3: Drug overdose deaths, by age group, in the United States and Scotland (Source: U.S. Vital Statistics and WHO mortality database)

Figure 3 presents trends in overdose deaths by age groups. U.S. whites are shown in red, and Scots in blue. Scotland is not as bad as the United States, but it is close, especially in the midlife age groups. No other country in the rich world looks like this.

Angus is Scottish. Is he boasting about how cool the Scots are?  

In America, there is a narrative of overworked blue collar and self-employed people suffering pain and having to take recourse to over-priced opioids. But Scotland has the NHS and strong Trade Unions and pretty decent employers.

In 1995 the painkiller OxyContin, manufactured by Purdue Pharmaceutical, a private company owned by the Sackler family, was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). OxyContin is an opioid; think of it as a half-strength dose of heroin in pill form with an FDA label of approval—effective for pain relief, and highly addictive. Traditionally, doctors in the United States did not prescribe opiates, even for terminally ill cancer patients—unlike in Britain—but they were persuaded by relentless marketing campaigns and a good deal of misdirection that OxyContin was safe for chronic pain. Chronic pain had been on the rise in the United States for some time, and Purdue and their distributors targeted communities where pain was prevalent: a typical example is a company coal town in West Virginia where the company and the coal had recently vanished. Overdose deaths began to rise soon afterwards. By 2012 enough opioid prescriptions were being written for every American adult to have a month’s supply. In time, physicians began to realize what they had done and cut back on prescriptions. Or at least most did; a few turned themselves into drug dealers and operated pill mills, selling pills for money or, in some cases, for sex. Many of those doctors are now in jail. (Barbara Kingsolver’s recent Demon Copperhead, set in southwest Virginia, is a fictionalized account of the social devastation, especially among children and young people.)

So this is a story about Doctors who turned into drug pushers so as to buy sportscars.  The good news is that some people are in jail. Still, the fact that Scotland too has a drug problem- illegal drugs that is- suggests that a lot of usage was recreational. People did know that pain management via drugs was risky just as taking sleeping draughts to sleep is likely to send you round the twist. 

Smith’s notion of the “invisible hand,” the idea that self-interest and competition will often work to the general good, is what economists today call the first welfare theorem.

 The invisible hand will get you better quality and price and convenience for whatever poison you want. It is a separate matter that Society can outlaw repugnant markets and severely punish any who deal in them.

Exactly what this general good is and exactly how it gets promoted have been central topics in economics ever since. The work of Gerard Debreu and Kenneth Arrow in the 1950s

was useless because it ignored Knightian Uncertainty. An Arrow-Debreu universe is one where there is no need for language or education or any sort of coordination mechanism.  

eventually provided a comprehensive analysis of Smith’s insight, including precise definitions of what sort of general good gets promoted,

Nonsense! The thing was 'anything goes'.  

what, if any, are the limitations to that goodness, and what conditions must hold for the process to work.

The condition was no Knightian Uncertainty i.e. all future states of the world are probabilistically known.  

I want to discuss two issues. First, there is the question of whose good we are talking about. The butcher, at least qua butcher, cares not at all about social justice; to her, money is money, and it doesn’t matter whose it is.

No. The butcher may only want to sell to fellow Christians or Jews or whatever. The law may prevent him from discriminating in this way.  

The good that markets promote is the goodness of efficiency—the elimination of waste,

No. If markets clear, all that happens is that nobody can't buy or sell at the going price.  

in the sense that it is impossible to make anyone better off without hurting at least one other person.

No. This can always happen because relevant information is not available. I may have on my bookshelf a book which would be very valuable to you because it is actually by your biological mother. But you don't know this and I don't know this and so a potential Pareto improvement is not attained. 

Certainly that is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as the goodness of justice.

If we received justice who would escape whipping?  

The theorem says nothing about poverty nor about the distribution of income.

The theorem says nothing, period. If everybody has perfect information, they also have perfect information about what they need to do every day. There is no need for any money to change hands or actual markets to exist. Everybody would be a 'windowless monad' in 'pre-established harmony'.  

It is possible that the poor gain through markets

Not if they are really poor. Then they starve to death.  

—possibly by more than the rich, as was argued by Mises, Hayek, and others—but that is a different matter, requiring separate theoretical or empirical demonstration.

No. The poor will kill you if you start doing any fucking empirical demonstrations on them. The rich may just instruct their butlers to kick you in the seat of the pants and tell you to fuck the fuck off. 

A second condition is good information: that people know about the meat, beer, and bread that they are buying, and that they understand what will happen when they consume it.

Which is why new products should never be put on the market.  

Arrow understood that information is always imperfect, but that the imperfection is more of a problem in some markets than others: not so much in meat, beer, and bread, for example,

Fuck off! Eat bad meat and you get the shits.  

but a crippling problem in the provision of health care.

You are already seriously fucked if you are having to see a Doctor. This is no the case when you buy a beer or a burger.  

Patients must rely on physicians to tell them what they need in a way that is not true of the butcher, who does not expect to be obeyed when she tells you that, just to be sure you have enough, you should take home the carcass hanging in her shop.

Shit like that may happen to Deaton, it doesn't happen to me. I may be fat but I don't look like I could eat a whole cow.  

In the light of this fact, Arrow concluded that private markets should not be used to provide health care.

If there hadn't been private markets for medicine there couldn't have been a public health system. The latter can just as easily turn to shit as the former.  

“It is the general social consensus, clearly, that the laissez-faire solution for medicine is intolerable,” he wrote.

But the medical profession, like the accountancy or actuarial or engineering professions, can set up a professional body and a certification process and a professional indemnity fund and so forth. But any manufacturing industry can do something similar. This is like the 'market for lemons'.  

This is (at least one of the) reason(s) why almost all wealthy countries do not rely on pure laissez-faire to provide health care.

No. The reason is because voters- especially older voters- want taxpayers to pay to keep them alive. 

So why is America different?

It is very big. It is multi-ethnic. Also, at a time when the labour market was tighter, employers wanted to tie employees to them (this is like 'efficiency wages') through superior medical coverage.  

And what does America’s failure to heed Arrow

Arrow wasn't raising red flags about opioid abuse 

have to do with the Sacklers, or with deaths of despair, or with OxyContin and the pain and despair that it exploited and created?

Nothing at all. I suppose, the truth is, America legalized a type of drug and made some tax revenue out of it before handing the drug trade to the sweet and reasonable dudes who run the cartels.  

There are many reasons why America’s health care system is not like the Canadian or European systems, including, perhaps most importantly, the legacy of racial injustice.

Germany was never guilty of 'racial injustice'. 

But today I want to focus on economics.

Neither America nor American economics was always committed to laissez-faire.

It was committed to exterminating the First Nations and using African slave labour. Deaton thinks the place was a Socialist commune committed to vegetarianism and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and mind altering substances.  

In 1886, in his draft of the founding principles of the American Economic Association, Richard Ely

a White Supremacist who described African Americans as 'shiftless and ignorant.'  

 wrote that “the doctrine of laissez-faire is unsafe in politics and unsound in morals.”

Also Black peeps have ginormous dongs. We must string them up before they corrupt White women buy giving them orgasms.  

The Association’s subscribers knew something about morals;

and the danger of ginormous Black dongs. To be fair, Ely and, his student, Ross who coined the term 'race suicide', also hated Catholics and Jews and Socialists and so forth.  

in his 2021 book Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, Ben Friedman notes that 23 of its original 181 members were Protestant clergymen.

Which is why they hated Catholics.  

The shift began with Chicago economics, and the strange transformation of Smith’s economics into Chicago economics (which, as the story of Stigler’s quip attests, was branded as Smithian economics). Liu’s book is a splendid history of how this happened.
Chicago economists did not argue that markets could not fail—just that any attempt to address market failures would only make things worse.

Because those addressing the market failure were actually only interested in capturing a rent for themselves. If Capitalists are greedy so are those who claim to be able to tame those savage beasts.  

As Angus Burgin has finely documented in The Great Persuasion: Reinventing Free Markets since the Depression (2015), Chicago economists did not argue that Arrow’s theorems were wrong, nor that markets could not fail—just that any attempt to address market failures would only make things worse. Worse still was the potential loss of freedom that, from a libertarian perspective, would follow from attempts to interfere with free markets.

Better King Log than King Stork.  

Chicago economics is important. Many of us were brought up on a naïve economics in which market failures could be fixed by government action; indeed, that was one of government’s main functions. Chicago economists correctly argued that governments could fail, too. Stigler himself argued that regulation was often undone because regulators were captured by those they were supposed to be regulating. Monopolies, according to Milton Friedman, were usually temporary and were more likely to be competed away than reformed; markets were more likely to correct themselves than to be corrected by government regulators. James Buchanan argued that politicians, like consumers and producers, had interests of their own, so that the government cannot be assumed to act in the public interest and often does not. Friedman argued in favor of tax shelters because they put brakes on government expenditures. Inequality was not a problem in need of a solution. In fact, he argued, most inequality was just: the thrifty got rich and spendthrifts got poor, so redistribution through taxation penalized virtue and subsidized the spendthrift. Friedman believed that attempts to limit inequality of outcomes would stifle freedom, that “equality comes sharply into conflict with freedom; one must choose,” but, in the end, choosing equality would result in less of it. Free markets, on the other hand, would produce both freedom and equality. These ideas were often grounded more in hope than in reality, and history abounds with examples of the opposite: indeed, the early conflict between Jefferson and Hamilton concerned the former’s horror over speculation by unregulated bankers.

The fact is economists were merely playing catch up with what drunken businessmen were saying to each other.  

Gary Becker extended the range of Chicago economics beyond its traditional subject matter. He applied the standard apparatus of consumer choice to topics in health, sociology, law, and political science. On addiction, he argued that people dabbling in drugs recognize the dangers and will take them into account. If someone uses fentanyl, they know that subsequent use will generate less pleasure than earlier use, that in the end, it might be impossible to stop, and that their life might end in a hell of addiction. They know all this, but are rational, and so will only use if the net benefit is positive. There is no need to regulate, Becker believed: trying to stop drug use will only cause unnecessary harm and hurt those who are rationally consuming them.

What Becker believed did not matter. What rock stars believed did. People want to be cool like rockstars. They don't give a crap about what economists think of their behaviour. The fact is, drug and alcohol use is a 'costly signal'. If you can be high functioning when off your head on drink or drugs, you are a winner. Women want to be with you. Men want to be you or, in you- if they are that way inclined.  

Chicago analysis serves as an important corrective to the naïve view that the business of government is to correct market failures. But it all went too far, and morphed into a belief that government was entirely incapable of helping its citizens. In a recent podcast, economist Jim Heckman tells that when he was a young economist at Chicago, he wrote about the effects of civil rights laws in the 1960s on the wages of Black people in South Carolina. The resulting paper, published in 1989 in the American Economic Review, is the one of which Heckman is most proud. But his colleagues were appalled. Stigler and D. Gale Johnson, then chair of the economics department, simply would not have it. “Do you really believe that the government did good?” they asked him. This was not a topic that could possibly be subject to empirical inquiry; it had been established that the government could do nothing to help.

The point of this anecdote is not that Chicago economists were shitty but that all economists are at least twenty years behind the times. In 1989, America was intervening to put an end to apartheid in South Africa. It wasn't planning on restoring Jim Crow.   

If the government could do nothing for African Americans,

It was killing or incarcerating them. That wasn't, it isn't, a good use of tax money.  I suppose, Deaton means the Federal Government which was less horrible than the local Sheriff in a Southern Town. 

then it certainly could do nothing to improve the delivery of health care.

That might literally be true, from the legal point of view.  

Price controls were anathema because

you might hope to get paid money, one way or another, for saying so 

they would only undermine the provision of new lifesaving drugs and devices and would artificially limit provision, and this was true no matter what prices pharma demanded. If the share of national income devoted to health care were to expand inexorably, then that must be what consumers want, because markets work and health care is a commodity like any other. By the time of the pandemic, U.S. health care was absorbing almost a fifth of GDP, more than four times as much as military expenditure, and about three times as much as education. And just in case one might think that health care has anything to do with life expectancy, the OECD currently lists U.S. life expectancy as thirty-fourth out of the forty-nine countries that it tabulates. (That is lower than the figures for China and Costa Rica.)

Unbranded pharma is actually quite cheap in the US. Yet, Americans spend about 250 percent as much as Europeans.  

I do not want to make the error of drawing a straight line from a body of thought to actual policy. In his General Theory (1936), Keynes famously wrote that “Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influences, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist. Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.”

But Keynes was so stupid he thought diminishing returns to global agriculture had set in after the Great War. America was a net food importer. Germany would starve unless it conquered land to its east. Hilter was channelling Keynes's 'Economic consequences' when he invaded Poland. 

He added “I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.”

Bad ideas like his own. Don't pay people to dig holes and then fill them in. People will think the lunatics have taken over the asylum. Confidence in the Government would evaporate.  

Keynes was wrong about the power of vested interests, at least in the United States, but he was surely right about the academic scribblers. Though the effect works slowly, and usually indirectly. Hayek understood this very well, writing in his Constitution of Liberty (1960) that the direct influence of a philosopher on current affairs may be negligible, but “when his ideas have become common property, through the work of historians and publicists, teachers and writers, and intellectuals generally, they effectively guide developments.”

By 1950, voters in Europe and America had turned their back on Socialist policies and embraced free markets. Hayek wasn't ahead of the curve. He was behind it.  

Chicago analysis serves as an important corrective to the naïve view that the business of government is to correct market failures. But it all went too far.

Nobody cares what stupid shite Professors of non-STEM subjects spout.  

Friedman was an astonishingly effective rhetorician, perhaps only ever equaled among economists by Keynes.

But Keynes's General Theory only came out after FDR's New Deal was well underway. As he said in his introduction to the German edition, his system would work better in Fascist countries.  The plain fact is that Britain should have had a professional cadre of Budget specialists who would have worked out 'multipliers' for different industries. Essentially, the taxman is a partner in enterprises. Sometimes he should put more money in to get more money out. Government is just a service industry. 

Politicians today, especially on the right, constantly extol the power of markets.

They also try to make out they are God fearing Christians who are appalled by abortion and pornography and the sort of gay sex they pay a lot of money for.  

“Americans have choices,” declared Former Utah congressman Jason Chaffetz in 2017.

Why did he resign? What is a 'mid life crisis'? How much gay sex does it involve? 

“Perhaps, instead of getting that new iPhone that they just love, maybe they should invest in their own health care. They’ve got to make those decisions themselves.” Texas Republican Jeb Hensarling, who chaired the House Financial Services Committee from 2013 to 2019, became a politician to “further the cause of the free market” because “free-market economics provided the maximum good to the maximum number.” Hensarling studied economics with once professor and later U.S. Senator Phil Gramm, another passionate and effective advocate for markets. My guess is that most Americans, and even many economists, falsely believe that using prices to correct an imbalance between supply and demand is

how such imbalances are corrected 

not just good policy but is guaranteed to make everyone better off.

More particularly, because I can book you a nice mansion in Heaven for the low low price of $9.99. This is actually illegal because the Pope got Congress to put in an inflated minimum retail price which is why you need to send me the money through the dark web.  

The belief in markets, and the lack of concern about distribution, runs very deep.

America is a big country with lots of talented people.  Things work differently there.

And there are worse defunct scribblers than Friedman. Republican ex-speaker Paul Ryan and ex-Federal Reserve chair Alan Greenspan

a Nobel laureate like Deaton 

are devotees of Ayn Rand, who despised altruism and celebrated greed, who believed that, as was carefully not claimed by Hayek and other more serious philosophers—the rich deserved their wealth and the poor deserved their misery. Andrew Koppelman, in his 2022 study of libertarianism, Burning Down the House, has argued that Rand’s influence has been much larger than commonly recognized.

Americans weren't greedy bastards till a brainy Russian girl told them to be greedy bastards.

Her message that markets are not only efficient and productive but also ethically justified is a terrible poison—which does not prevent this message from being widely believed.

Any yet Deaton produces books which are sold through the market. It seems terrible poisons aren't so terrible if they end up inflating your bank account. 

The Chicago School’s libertarian message of non-regulation was catnip to rich businessmen who enthusiastically funded its propagation.

Soros is rich. What's he funding?  

They could oppose taxation in the name of freedom:

It was very naughty of the Americans to get rid of mad King George just because they didn't want to pay taxes to him.  

the perfect cover for crony capitalists, rent seekers, polluters, and climate deniers.

is what a paranoid nutjob would say. Why not go the extra mile and denounce the Post Office as the perfect cover for a paedophile ring.  

Government-subsidized health care as well as public transport and infrastructure were all attacks on liberty.

As was having to pay for killing random Muslims in far away countries.  

Successful entrepreneurs founded pro-market think tanks whose conferences and writings amplified the ideas.

Unsuccessful entrepreneurs could not do so. That's so unfair! 

Schools for judges were (and are) held in luxury resorts

as opposed to stinky shitholes 

to help educate the bench in economic thinking; the schools had no overt political bias, and several distinguished economists taught in them. The (likely correct) belief of the sponsors is that understanding markets will make judges more sympathetic to business interests and will purge any “unprofessionalism” about fairness.

38 American States elect their Supreme Court judges. 37 million dollars was spent on a recent Wisconsin election. Soros spends big on this sort of thing. 

Judge Richard Posner, another important figure in Chicago economics, believed that efficiency was just, automatically so—an idea that has spread among the American judiciary.

He was right. Economies of scope and scale should be encouraged. Consumers want lower prices.  

In 1959 Stigler wrote that “the professional study of economics makes one politically conservative.” He seems to have been right, at least in America.

In 1959, conservatives in America were for Jim Crow.  

There is no area of the economy that has been more seriously damaged by libertarian beliefs than health care.

The US spends about 16 per cent of per capita Income on Health. The UK and other European countries spend about 12 per cent. But US public spending is the highest in the world. Private spending wise, Switzerland is top. 

While the government provides health care to the elderly and the poor, and while Obamacare provides subsidies to help pay for insurance, those policies were enacted by buying off the industry and by giving up any chance of price control. In Britain, when Nye Bevan negotiated the establishment of the National Health Service in 1948, he dealt with providers by “[stuffing] their mouths with gold”—but just once.

Sadly, the UK, like the rest of Europe, is going to have increase per capita spending to US levels. 

Americans, on the other hand, pay the ransom year upon year.

Big Pharma spends 200 million pounds a year getting NHS trusts and consultants to prescribe more of their stuff.

Arrow had lost the battle against market provision, and the intolerable became the reality. For many Americans, reality became intolerable.

Which is why they are running away to Canada. 

Prices of medical goods and services are often twice or more the prices in other countries, and the system makes heavy use of procedures that are better at improving profits than improving health. It is supported by an army of lobbyists—about five for every member of Congress, three of them representing pharma alone. Its main regulator is the FDA, and while I do not believe that the FDA has been captured, the industry and the FDA have a cozy relationship which does nothing to rein in profits. Pharma companies not only charge more in the United States, but, like other tech companies, they transfer their patents and profits to low-tax jurisdictions. I doubt that Smith would argue that the high cost of drugs in the United States, like the cost of apothecaries in his own time, could be attributed to the delicate nature of their work, the trust in which they are held, or that they are the sole physicians to the poor.

I doubt Smith would argue anything because he is dead. The US currently contributes a little less than half of total Pharma R&D. That share will decline as China ramps up but ageing, affluent, populations are going to spend more on health one way or another. Pharma costs may come down but Baumol cost disease is still going to bite you in the ass.

When a fifth of GDP is spent on health care, much else is foregone. Even before the pandemic ballooned expenditures, the threat was clear. In his 2013 book on the 2008 financial crisis, After the Music Stopped, Alan Blinder wrote, “If we can somehow solve the health care cost problem, we will also solve the long-run deficit problem. But if we can’t control health care costs, the long run budget problem is insoluble.”

Unless people top themselves before they get too old.  

All of this has dire effects on politics, not just on the economy. Case and I have argued that while out-of-control health care costs are hurting us all, they are wrecking the low-skill labor market and exacerbating the disruptions that are coming from globalization, automation, and deindustrialization. Most working-age Americans get health insurance through their employers. The premiums are much the same for low-paid as for high-paid workers, and so are a much larger share of the wage costs for less-educated workers. Firms have large incentives to get rid of unskilled employees, replacing them with outsourced labor, domestic or global, or with robots. Few large corporations now offer good jobs for less-skilled workers. We see this labor market disaster as one of the most powerful of the forces amplifying deaths of despair among working class Americans—certainly not the only one, but one of the most important.

So, structural changes in the economy cause deaths of despair. Freeze up the economy and though people will still die, theirs will be very cheerful deaths. 

According to these accounts, the government is powerless to help its citizens—and in fact, it regularly and inevitably hurts them.

Also the Post Office is just cover for a paedophile ring.  

Scotland shows that you do not need an out-of-control health care sector to produce drug overdoses—that deindustrialization and community destruction are important here just as they are in the United States.

Scotland has been invaded by evil Sassenachs. Tory bastids are exterminating entire communities of peaceful crofters. 

But Scotland seems to have skipped the middle stages, going straight from deindustrialization and distress to an illegal drug epidemic. As with less-educated Americans, some Scots point to a failure of democracy: of people being ruled by politicians who are not like them, and whom they neither like nor voted for.

What does Deaton point to? Scots are very smart, enterprising, and are committed to Scandinavian style Social Democracy.  Sadly, they aren't boring or timid or spiritless. If there are generational problems, on the other hand, then there is a Pareto law such that concentrating resources on breaking such 'cycles of deprivation' will have a disproportionate impact. Apparently there are about 60,000 people with a drug problem of whom about 40 percent are receiving treatment of some kind. But, the most at risk may only be a couple of thousand or so. Anyway, this is the sort of thing Scottish people are better at figuring out for themselves. Hopefully, the SNP will move in a less namby-pamby direction now Sturgeon is history.

The inheritors of the Chicago tradition are alive and well and have brought familiar arguments to the thinking about deaths of despair. As has often been true of libertarian arguments, social problems are largely blamed on the actions of the state. Casey Mulligan, an economist on Trump’s Council of Economic Advisors, argued that by preventing people from drinking in bars and requiring them to drink cheaper store-bought alcohol at home, COVID-19 public health lockdowns were responsible for the explosion of mortality from alcoholic liver disease during the pandemic. Others have argued that drug overdoses were exacerbated by Medicaid drug subsidies, inducing a new kind of “dependence” on the government. In 2018 U.S. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin issued a report, Drugs for Dollars: How Medicaid Helps Fuel the Opioid Epidemic. According to these accounts, the government is powerless to help its citizens—and not only is it capable of hurting them, but it regularly and inevitably does so.

Sadly, Ron Johnson is right. Poorer people had an incentive to get prescriptions and buy drugs very cheaply and then sell them off at a big profit.  

I do not want to claim that health care is the only industry that we should worry about. Maha Rafi Atal is writing about Amazon and how, like the East India Company,

which gave the Indian sub-continent better governance than it ever had previously. True, the Crown took it over, but the fact is India has kept and built upon all the institutions created by John Company.  

it has arrogated to itself many of the powers of government, especially local government,

John Company was able to turn a profit by getting into the opium trade. Amazon isn't doing that. On the other hand it is true that if I need a police detective to solve a homicide case, I have to go on to the Amazon website.  

and that, as Smith predicted, government by merchants—government in the aid of greed—is bad government.

It turned out to be better government than government in the aid of some fanatical religion or degenerate dynasty. 

Deaton, it must be said, is honest enough when he handles data. The same can't be said of Amartya Sen, who readily confesses that he knows no econometrics.  

The beliefs in market efficiency and the idea that well-being can be measured in money have become second nature to

guys who work for a living 

much of the economics profession. Yet it does not have to be this way. Economists working in Britain—Amartya Sen, James Mirrlees, and Anthony Atkinson—pursued a broader program, worrying about poverty and inequality and considering health as a key component of well-being.

Sen claimed that Britain might experience a famine under Thatcher. He was tolerated because he was a darkie. Mirrlees and Atkinson were ignored because Labour had realized that the working class didn't care about equality. They wanted cheap holidays in Franco's Spain.  

Sen argues that a key misstep was made not by Friedman but by Hayek’s colleague Lionel Robbins,

a fool who thought 'ordinal' measures were kosher but 'cardinal' measures were not. Sen himself would point out that, thanks to Szpilrajn extension theorem, any ordinal measure could be turned into a cardinal measure. The thing made no difference whatsoever.  

whose definition of economics as the study of allocating scarce resources among competing ends narrowed the subject compared with what philosopher Hilary Putnam calls the “reasoned and humane evaluation of social wellbeing that Adam Smith saw as essential to the task of the economist.”

But there were no 'economists'- as opposed to guys getting rich organizing tax-farming schemes for the Government- back then. 

Sen, ludicrously, still doesn't get that Smith was saying 'darkies aren't really human beings. Fuck 'em.' He thought Smith lurved niggers.  Still, Smith was less dismissive than Hume of middle class British people. 

And it was not just Smith, but his successors, too, who were philosophers as well as economists.

They were shit. Nobody gave a toss about them. Those who got rich in new industries got into Parliament and wrote the laws.  

Economics should be about understanding the reasons for, and doing away with, the world’s sordidness and joylessness.

No. That is the function of Pop Music and smoking a lot of pot.  

Sen contrasts Robbins’s definition with that of Arthur Cecil Pigou, who wrote, “It is not wonder, but rather the social enthusiasm which revolts from the sordidness of mean streets and the joylessness of withered lives, that is the beginning of economic science.”

No. Public Finance was the beginning of economic science. The Government started getting quite good data sets and some mathsy guys could earn a little money, or gain a little influence, by interpreting those statistics and making policy recommendations. By the time Keynes got to Uni, there was a clear route from a supposed proficiency in 'Economics' to the Treasury and thus a position of influence. 

Incidentally, a shitty country with little in the way of Public Finance could have lots of guys with Economics degrees as well as more and more 'mean streets' and 'withered lives'. That's what happened to Sen's Calcutta thanks to, first Provincial Autonomy and then Partition and Secular Socialist Democracy.  

Economics should be about understanding the reasons for, and doing away with, the world’s sordidness and joylessness. It should be about understanding the political, economic, and social failures behind deaths of despair.

We have plenty of Netflix series about how the oxycontin epidemic occurred. But it would be foolish to suggest that the underlying reason is that some silly Professor, or bunch of Professors, chose the wrong methodology a hundred years ago. Deaton forgets that there were plenty of Marxist economists. But they were wholly mischievous. Still, it is true that you shouldn't do anything which is fun. You must dedicate your life to be as boring as possible. If this involves telling stupid, virtue signalling, lies- so be it.  

But that is not how it worked out in the United States.

Econ PhDs of a mathsy type can get you a well enough paid with Bezos. Americans think going to Uni should be about earning more money not understanding the reasons for doing away with Gravity or Joylessness or other things which are a total bummer, dude.