Jon Walker • After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy

"After Legalization: Understanding the Future of Marijuana Policy" is a groundbreaking new book examining how legal marijuana will likely be treated in the United States 20 years from now.

According to Gallup 58% of Americans support ending marijuana prohibition, and Colorado and Washington State have already passed historic ballot initiatives to tax and regulate pot. When it comes to marijuana in the United States, it is no longer a question of when, but how it will be legalized.

After Legalization is a creative exploration of one likely future for legal marijuana that will give readers a sense of the coming battles, relevant players and political dynamics which will dominate the issue in the coming years.

But how will it happen, and what will America look like after legalization? What should be the age limit? Will we tightly restrict its sale to only a few specialty stores, or will it be allowed on the shelves at every shopping market in the country? Should we give individuals free rein to grow as much as they want, or will we limit production to a few licensed farms?

If you care about the answers to these and other questions concerning the future of marijuana policy, this is a pivotal moment to join the conversation; the decisions made now will likely define the industry for decades to come."

Maria Headley • Fact & Fiction in Journalism & Literature


In one of a series of conversation on literature, film, brain function, historiography, hagiography and memoirs, Jay Ackroyd talks with Maria Dahvana Headley about fact & fiction in journalism & literature.

Best known for the alternate historical/fantasy novel, Queen of Kings, (2011), Headly is an American novelist, memoirist and playwright. You can find her on the web at mariadahvana and on twitter @MariaHeadly

Listen here

Maria wrote a fascinating post about journalism and truth entitled SINATRA’S COLD IS CONTAGIOUS: HOSTILE SUBJECTS, VULNERABLE SOURCES & THE ETHICS OF OUTING

Stuart Zechman • Economic Growth and Inequality

One of a series of conversations exploring income inequality, economics and public policy, the 1%, plutocracy, income distribution, wealth distribution.

Stuart Zechman — Movement liberal, entrepreneur, technologist and public commentary organizer at legacy media political blogs such as TIME Magazine's Swampland; He uses Twitter as a primary communications tool and posts on occasion at Avedon’s Other Weblog and Yves Smith’s Naked Capitalism. • Follow @stuart_zechman

From Studio Audience

Patrick Coffey • American Arsenal • VS with Jay Ackroyd

One of a series of conversations exploring war, weapons, national security, and state terror with Jay Ackroyd. Listen

American Arsenal: A Century of Waging War

  • Covers every conflict in which America played an active role in the 20th century
  • Each chapter deals with a separate weapon and inventor, allowing them to be read individually or sequentially
  • Dispells simplistic ideas espoused by politicians and pundits on both sides, allowing the reader to understand the complexity of America's military development

Science historian Patrick Coffey writes for Salon. is a Visiting Scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. A chemist by training, he founded several companies that produced chemical instrumentation or software. In addition to American Arsenal, he is the author of Cathedrals of Science: The Personalities and Rivalries That Made Modern Chemistry






Masaccio • Markets & Regulation • VS with Jay Ackroyd

One of a series of conversations exploring income inequality, economics and public policy, the 1%, plutocracy, income distribution, and wealth distribution with Jay Ackroyd.



Ed Walker blogs at Firedoglake as Masaccio, writing about economics,finance and other issues.



I put this chart up a while ago, part of the  NBER President's presentation at the annual economists' conference. The NYT went into some detail on the subject yesterday., including additional charts.

Before WWI, once you reached 65, your life expectancy was pretty much the same regardless of your earnings.  Today, if you're in the bottom  half, on average you live to 81, vs 86 in the top half. The SSA data used for this study doesn't allow a comparison of the top to the bottom decile, but one would expect the gap to grow.


Isaac Martin • Rich People's Movements • VS with Jay Ackroyd

March 6, 2014 – Jay talks with Isaac Martin; sociologist and author of Rich People's Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent. One of a series of conversations exploring wealth, privilege and corruption with Jay Ackroyd.

Links will appear here


"Professor Martin's contributions to fiscal sociology include several historical and comparative studies of tax protest. His book The Permanent Tax Revolt (Stanford, 2008) has been described as 'the definitive history of the property tax revolt,' and as 'a must-read for anyone seeking to understand the true origins of the fiscal crisis of the United States.'

He also edited After the Tax Revolt (with Jack Citrin; Berkeley Public Policy Press, 2009), which assembled experts to examine the legacy of California's property tax limitation, and The New Fiscal Sociology (with Ajay K. Mehrotra and Monica Prasad; Cambridge, 2009), which brought together leading scholars of public finance and society to offer a definitive overview of the field."

Susie Madrak • VS with Jay Ackroyd

One of a series of conversations about income inequality, economics and public policy, the 1%, plutocracy, income distribution, wealth distribution. With Jay Ackroyd.

"Keeping an eye on the corporate elite."

"Keeping an eye on the corporate elite."

Feb 27, 2014 Living poor in the US. Susie & Jay discuss why it's expensive being poor. Susie Madrak is Managing Editor at Crooks and Liars. Her Suburban Guerrilla has been a bulwark of the blogosphere since there was a blogosphere.  She also posts at Crooks and Liars. Follow @SusieMadrak Listen

Poor as folk


Americans are the outliers

Links from this episode:

Jay and Lynn Stout discuss her book The Shareholder Value Myth


David O. Atkins • VS with Jay Ackroyd

Efficiency, Inequality and Growth

David O. Atkins is the Chairman of Ventura County CA Democrats, and a contributor to DIgby's Hullabaloo.  His last visit to Virtually Speaking was focused on participation in local politics and policy. This week, we talk about recent discussions of the impact of income and wealth distribution on the US economy. 

Listen! Feb 6, 9pm EST or later

Listen! Feb 6, 9pm EST or later

For the last 30 years the United States has been engaged in an economic experiment, testing a widely held theoretical view that a country's growth rate depends on two elements, technical change and the rate of capital accumulation.  The highest long term growth rate takes place when market forces set interest rates and, equivalently, the return on capital investment.  Such an allocation is called "efficient," and will lead to the highest long term economic growth rate. 


However,  efficiency is not the only criterion in a capitalist policy regime. A policy maker may prefer to sacrifice some efficiency, accept a lower rate of growth, in order to attain a more equal income distribution.  In  practice, this means establishing progressive tax structures and economic assistance for the bottom quintile of earners.  This trade-off is said to be inevitable.  Growing the pie as fast as possible by letting the market alone set the income distribution would lead to unacceptable social outcomes, so some moderation in growth rate would have to be tolerated to ensure a bare minimum for everyone. The classic presentation of this argument can be found in Arthur Okun's Equality and Efficiency: The Big Tradeoff

This view was (and is) widely held. The usual metaphor is a pie--market outcomes grow the pie fastest, but the proportional size of the bottom two quintiles shrink in the absence of intervention.

Liberals believe in preserving the size of the slices with strong social insurance programs for the general populace, as well as programs for the indigent.  Conservatives don't object to redistribution in principle.In their view, personal responsibility comes first, and only those truly in need should receive assistance.  Public social insurance programs are needlessly inefficient, and should be replaced by private insurance plans, such as Health Savings Accounts rather than Medicare and a privatized pension system rather than social security.  But everybody agrees that the fastest growth is associated with market allocations of capital, markets regulated to prevent fraud and the emergence of trusts.

A recent book by Thomas Picketty, Capital in the 21st Century, (French, translation available in March) challenges this consensus. He argues that in the absence of confiscatory tax policy on high income and wealth individuals, growth is suppressed. The market efficient allocation of capital leads to a concentration of income and wealth that so suppresses aggregate demand that puts the economy on a reduced long run growth path. Market allocations of capital grow the pie more slowly than a more egalitarian wealth distribution: (pdf)

There is an extended discussion of this presentation in a Tom Edsall post at the NYT.

In a timely fashion, David Cay Johnston notes that the Founders, writing before the neoclassical synthesis came to be, were deeply opposed to the concentration of wealth in the nascent United States, citing material from The Citizen's Share.

From David, posted in Hullabaloo

Wages versus Assets

The failure of neoliberalism

How the Right cannot cope with 21st century economics

And this article from the Economist on mechanization:

Allan Friedman & Marcy Wheeler • VS with Jay Ackroyd

Allan Friedman is a Visiting Scholar at George Washington University, and coauthor of Cybersecurity and Cyberwar (What Everyone Needs to Know). Marcy Wheeler, author of Anatomy of Deceit  is one of America's leading investigative journalists, specializing in national security and civil liberties issues. 

The discussion – one of a series exporing security, NSA, CIA, security state, intelligence, terrorism, cyber terrorism – centers on the President's national security speech to the nation, and on the nature, and risks of, cyberwar.

Marcy has been covering the speech and its implications ever since the speech was delivered. A good place to start is her fisking of the speech.

On January 23, the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board (PCLOB) released a damning report. The lead in Charlie Savage's piece in the NYTimes:


 An independent federal privacy watchdog has concluded that the National Security Agency’s program to collect bulk phone call records has provided only “minimal” benefits in counterterrorism efforts, is illegal and should be shut down.

And, also today, we learned that the contractors who watch the contractors aren't doing a very good job of security clearances. 

Allan Friedman • VS with Jay Ackroyd

Allan Friedman is a Visiting Scholar at George Washington University, and coauthor of Cybersecurity and Cyberwar (What Everyone Needs to Know). He and Jay discuss the nature of internet security in the modern world.


Links from the studio audience chat log

Password strength. it doesn't have to be hard to remember!

A good primer on secure practices

Ian Welsh • VS with Jay Ackroyd

One of a series of conversations exploring climate change, security state, revolution,

Rerun Jan 2, 2014 - Ian's been raising a bit of ruckus these days. You can read about his history of the failure of the netroots to influence Democratic politics and therefore US policy makers, which engendered a number of reactions.  This week, though, we discuss the issues embodied in three of Ian's recent posts:



Baseline Predictions for the next sixty years

A New Ideology 

How to Create a Viable Ideology

The most disturbing part of this discussion for most people is the hard reality that the way we live in the OECD right now is not sustainable.  While you often hear people say that, it's said in the spirit of the Poland Springs'  initiative of smaller caps on the half liter bottles of water they sell by the case. Ian on the next 60 years:

Climate change will continue to show up as more and worse extreme weather events, like the nasty hurricanes we’ve been seeing hitting further and further north.  We are going to also see changes in rainfall patterns, these will continue to devastate agriculture.
Aquifers are being drained dry, in ways that permanently damage them.  This is happening in China, the US, India and other places. This water will not come back.  Large areas that are currently agriculturally productive will not be, independent of climate change.
We will see huge dust bowls form, including in India, China and the US.
There will be widespread hunger, because agriculture is going to fail.  Period.  Right now hunger is due to distribution issues: we grow more than enough food to feed everyone, we just don’t care about feeding everyone.  In twenty to thirty years this will not be the case: we will just not have enough food.
Water will be as precious as hydrocarbons, which is, in part, because creating hydrocarbons requires water.  Expect much of the world not just to be hungry but thirsty.
All of this is baked into the cake: we are past the decision points on all of these items—they will happen, they can no longer be stopped.  Even if you take the most optimistic scenarios we would need to act radically, right now, and we aren’t going to.

Facing this is hard.  But we do so, in this discussion.  

Ian also reminds us that actually having competitive market requires strong government intervention, and that business people abhor free markets: 

What is oddest about modern ideology is what is oddest about virtually all ideologies: it contradicts itself.  We do not have either free or competitive markets, and not one in a hundred free market ideologues could define a competitive market, nor would they want one if they could, since an actual competitive market reduces profits to nearly nothing.  Free markets cannot exist without government coercion, yet we have come to assume that it is government which makes markets unfree, which is a half truth at best: governments often make markets most unfree when markets make governments unfree by buying government, and the first thing any good capitalist does upon winning a market is try to eliminate the free market, since an actual free market threatens a monopolist or oligpolist.

It's particularly weird to the finance sector commanding so much of the proceeds of the nation's economic activity. Finance is supposed to be transparent,with competitive pressures driving margins down, lubrication rather than parasitism.

Stephanie Kelton • VS with Jay Ackroyd

Policy Regimes:  MMT vs Keynes  

Visit for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Stephanie Kelton, Chair of the Economics Department at the University of Missouri, Kansas City,  joins us to discuss Modern Monetary Theory and how MMT policy recommendations compare to those of Keynesians, Monetarists and Real Business Cycle advocates. 

Stephanie appeared on Up with Chris last January, ostensibly to talk about the trillion dollar coin, but didn't really get a chance to explain why it's actually not a crazy idea. 



We do a little introduction to MMT, and then use the trillion dollar coin to illustrate the principles. MMT and Keynesianism are united in their policy recommendations at the zero lower bound.  Brad DeLong remarked on this a while ago:



When will our deficits and debt accumulation start the process of beginning to create real financial risk we need to guard against? We don't know. But we do know that the bond market will be very happy to tell us when the process starts.
Until then, Uncle Warren [Mosler] is right.

What we face here is what I call fiat currency cognitive dissonance syndrome. It makes people a little crazy when Stephanie says things like "$1 trillion? Make it 100 trillion. it doesn't matter unless Congress appropriates funds."   Ironically, she echoes the Monetarists and the RBCers when she says we have to look at the real economy. If there is idle capacity and widespread unemployment, choosing to not spend money to bring that capacity online is perverse. The ability of the US to issue a fiat currency that is treated as the world's reserve currency doesn't depend on the  bookkeeping the Fed does in approving monetary expansion through the creation of reserves or, yes, a trillion dollar coin. The dollar is the world's reserve currency because it is backed by the enormous physical and human capital that drive the real US economy.


Karen Ho • VS with Jay Ackroyd

An anthropologist looks at Wall Street culture



Karen Ho, Professor of Anthropology joins us to discuss her book, Liquidated: An Ethnography of Wall Street. Bringing the tools of anthropology's methodology of participant observation, Karen describes the culture and practices of the large investment banks and the people who populate them.

The pervasiveness of this culture, not just in the caverns of Wall Street, but also in the board rooms on Main Street and in suburban corporate campuses has had a profound effect on the broader culture.  Job insecurity, a hallmark of the investment banking career path has been disseminated to industries in a way that has led to apparently counterproductive results, at great expense to those industries.  

If you find this discussion interesting, consider listening to our discussions with Lynn Stout and Chris Hayes about, respectively, The Shareholder Value Myth and Twilight of the Elites.


Tim Noah • VS with Jay Ackroyd

Tim Noah, author of The Great Divergence join us to discuss inequality of income in America. This is especially timely, as  the census department just released the latest figures on income distribution

Despite the addition of more than two million jobs last year, soaring corporate profits and continuing economic growth, income for the typical American household did not rise in 2012 and poverty failed to fall, new data from the Census Bureau show.


“The poverty and income numbers are a metaphor for the entire economy,” said Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution. “Everything’s on hold, but at a bad level.”
Over a longer perspective, the figures reveal that the income of the median American household today, adjusted for inflation, is no higher than it was for the equivalent household in the late 1980s.
For all but the most highly educated and affluent Americans, incomes have stagnated, or worse, for more than a decade. The census report found that median household income, adjusted for inflation, was $51,017 in 2012, down about 9 percent from an inflation-adjusted peak of $56,080 in 1999, mostly as a result of the longest and most damaging recession since the Depression. Most people have had no gains since the economy hit bottom in 2009.

Tim has an MSNBC post analyzing the results :

A lot of people have been suggesting lately that the problem of income inequality is insoluble. “’Is the rise in inequality inevitable?” George Mason economist Tyler Cowan asks on NPR, touting his new book, Average Is Over. “It probably is.” Fortune’s Adam Lashinsky observes that “No one seems to have any good suggestions.” Harvard economist Greg Mankiw tells Thomas Edsall of The New York Times, “The question for public policy is whatif anything, to do about it.”Judging from Mankiw’s recent paper, “Defending The One Percent,” his own answer would be: nothing.
But actually, there’s quite a lot America can do to reverse growing income inequality. Whole books have been written proposing solutions. But the trend is getting worse under President Barack Obama—the first chief executive, ironically, to address the issue head-on since incomes started growing more unequal 34 years ago. “The problem that we’ve got right now is you’ve got a portion of Congress who–whose policies don’t just–want to– you know, leave things alone, they actually want to accelerate these trends,” the president replied when asked about this by ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos.
Classic Washington blame-shifting, right? But in this instance, Obama’s assertion is demonstrably true, as even a cursory glance at the inequality data demonstrates.

Tim and Jay discuss, first, the main subject of Divergence--that is, the contribution of different elements of the post 1975 economy and society that reversed the trend of greater equality in income in the US.  Then we discuss the implications of a great divergence.

At the core of this issue is the recognition that the degree of income and wealth equality is not a natural phenomenon. It is a policy choice made by government officials, elected and unelected, implemented by policies of tax, subsidy and direct regulation of the economy. For instance, the estate tax was designed to prevent the multigenerational accruing and preservation of great wealth, not as a revenue generating measure. The nearly confiscatory high marginal tax rates of the late 50s contrast with the current tax structure, which also feature special subsidies for income gained through investments (or even managing other peoples investments)  rather than wage labor.  Or the setting of minimum wages and minimum standards for working conditions are regulations that directly affect income distribution. We discuss these policies, and the trade-offs that occur when policy makers decide the degree of income inequality their societies will exhibit.


Listen beginning Sept 19 - 9p ET

Listen beginning Sept 19 - 9p ET

Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd
Timothy Noah, author The Great  Divergence: America’s Growing Inequality Crisis and What We Can Do About It
Studio Audience Chat Log - with links - Sept 19, 2013 

[18:01]  AM: now!
[18:01]  WW: we're live
[18:02] DB: Ok, got it
[18:02]  SN: there it is
[18:02]  BN: There we go
[18:02]  WW: Media, audio and browser
[18:02]  AG: Dano, Remember Waye King?
[18:02]  ER: increased egalitarian only because of sustained intense worker agitation over decades
[18:02] DB: I do, Albert
[18:03]  ER: and elite consensus that they should accommodate people
[18:03]  Stuart:
[18:03]  Stuart: A Kuznets curve is the graphical representation of Simon Kuznets' hypothesis that as a country develops, there is a natural cycle of economic inequality driven by market forces which at first increases inequality, and then decreases it after a certain average income is attained.[2]
[18:03]  WW: Here's the NYT review of Tim's book:
[18:04]  ER: NPR the other day ran a story preparing people for a future of no middle class as it's currently assumed, the lifestyle, not the statistical middle
[18:04]  IH: I think that Kuznet was mistaken, Marx was more right, just we hit a "bump" where they equaled out more.
[18:04]  Stuart: Is that middle 60 percent by gross or net income?
[18:04] DB: °͜° Ilsa
[18:05]  WW: don't forget to precede questions with QUESTION
[18:05]  ER: Marx was remarkably cogent and prescient, it's hard to fault his analysis as far as it extends, although it's of course aged by now. I've never seen an orthodox economist approach his insights
[18:05]  IH: /me <--- not a Marx fan, but knows when the guy is right
[18:05]  JF: I never liked Zeppo
[18:05]  WW: Stuart, I passed your question along
[18:06] DB: Zeppo was never very funny
[18:06]  Stuart:
[18:06]  ER: Keyness did some borrowing from Marx without throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and post-Kenyseian is about as good as it gets among the mainstream (like Stiglitz, contemporary [not old] Sachs)
[18:06]  Stuart: "Robert Merton Solow (born August 23, 1924) is an American economist particularly known for his work on the theory of economic growth that culminated in the exogenous growth model named after him. He was awarded the John Bates Clark Medal (in 1961) and the 1987 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences."
[18:06]  AG: Because we have hidden the need for government to partner with and support the general population.
[18:07]  Stuart: Thanks, W.
[18:07]  Jay Ackroyd: thanks stuart
[18:08]  AE: has there been any country that implemented Marx economics? (USSR was not it)
[18:08]  Stuart: Taft-Hartley!
[18:08]  JF: Albania?
[18:08]  AG: Money is always created by the state and must therefore be regulated by the state; however, ultimately the private sector must accept this legal tender as the currency unit.
 Therefore, the private and public sectors should best be thought of as being in partnership with one another and not opposing forces. Government by the people and for the people is not the antagonist in this story, but rather an entity that should be best utilized to maximize private sector prosperity.
[18:08]  Stuart:
[18:09]  Stuart: "Walter Philip Reuther (September 1, 1907 ‚Äì May 9, 1970) was an American labor union leader, who made the United Automobile Workers a major force not only in the auto industry but also in the Democratic Party in the mid 20th century. He was a socialist in the early 1930s and became a leading liberal and supporter of the New Deal coalition."
[18:09]  ER: the US does accept the use of some local currencies. I imagine it would not look favorably if those took off and it doesn't like things like BitCoin though hasn't pulled out all the guns against it
[18:09]  ER: that doesn't detract from Albert's point though =)
[18:09]  AG: Just because the idea came from Walter we are not going to implement it.
[18:10]  AG: Now where have I heard of that?
[18:10]  IH: Aka, I dont think so, I think the big flaw with Marxism (Communism?) is that it takes pure thought and introduces it to mankind, hoping that man will be logical
[18:10]  Stuart: That's a horrible theory, Albert. (Big) Private and Public are best positioned adversarially, such that each operated as a check and balance on the other.
[18:11] DB: Have to disagree, Ilsa. If Marx had been a pure Hegelian, maybe, but he wasn't
[18:11]  IH: quiet you !
[18:11] DB: °͜°
[18:11]  Stuart: When giant finance and industry partner with the state, it's the worst of all worlds. Checks and balances are necessary for small-d democratic power to meaningfully exist.
[18:11]  AG: Stuart, either you a joking or we must really agree to disagree.
[18:11]  ER: hey, I like Hegel, too
[18:12]  JF: Is Reuther one of the reasons we all drive Toyotas and Mercedes now? (semi-serious Q...)
[18:12]  IH: I think Marx just did not realize how greedy your average person was... especially when it was not the common man leading it, but one set of mandarins pushing another set out of power
[18:12]  ER: well practically speaking the private sector (big banking) is certainly in partnership with the state
[18:12]  ER: in every developed economy
[18:12]  Stuart: "wage-earners"
[18:13]  Jay Ackroyd:
[18:14]  AE: I think I agree. Marxism is obviously easily corrupted. sort of like the Libertarian plan.
[18:14]  Jay Ackroyd:
[18:14]  Jay Ackroyd: for later
[18:14]  Stuart: What kind of Democrat had taken power in the national party by 1997?
[18:14] DB: Libertarians have a very cynical view of human nature
[18:14]  AE: The Eisenhower Democrats
[18:15]  JF: is this a bonus question?
[18:15]  Stuart: Probably not the Eisenhower Democrats.
[18:15]  AE: thats what Clinton called himself
[18:16]  Stuart: Clinton called himself a "New Democrat"
[18:16]  ER: Clinton tried a modest stimulus in 1993 (that recession had been on) and was forced to back down by Wall Street
[18:16]  AG: Government is merely a tool that can be utilized to further private sector prosperity.
[18:16]  ER: he was a New Democrat, third way type opportunist, but initially was willing to be more interventionist for the broader economy
[18:17]  AG: Clinton's surplus was the basic cause of the subsequent loan bubble and finally the recession.
[18:17]  ER: Albert, channeling Mencken
[18:17]  JF: :-)
[18:17]  AG: Who is Menchen?
[18:17]  JF: a mench
[18:18] DB: H.L. Mencken
[18:18]  ER: a proto-libertarian
[18:18]  ER: :P
[18:18]  Stuart: QUESTION: Does Tim think that the term "plutocracy" is a useful or accurate descriptor?
[18:18]  IH: I am not sure that this has to do with capitalism vs ____ as much as it does humanity in general. throughout history there has been swings to out and out serfdom and control of the masses by the few. think of Czarist Russia. The question is, what do we do about it.
[18:19]  JF: good description of him Eleuth :-)
[18:19]  ER: it's clearly a plutocratic rather than democratic republic. apparatus of a republic indeed in operation but utterly co-opted. just look at the wishes of the people, consitently shown as supported by large majorities over decades, that never even get considered much less come to fruitition
[18:20]  AG: Ohhhh. Hahahah. So used to referring to him as H.L Men.
[18:20]  AG: Didn't recognize just the last name.
[18:20]  AG: I like him but not channeling him at all.
[18:21]  Stuart: QUESTION:  I seem to remember that "Bankruptcy Reform" passed rather easily...isn't it that popular policy that primarily serves the public interest is difficult to enact through modern government?
[18:21]  JF: <--missed the 'passed easuily' day in congress I guess.
[18:21]  ER: very little of "markets" money gets spent by businesses for capital investment, worker pay, etc. it just does gets hoarded and recycled in various financial markets by a small segment of the population that's the investment class
[18:22]  ER: compete means lower your pay and raise mine
[18:22]  ER: pyramid scheme
[18:22]  JF: :-)
[18:23]  ER: Bierce was also good: Politics, n. A strife of interests masquerading as a contest of principles. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage.
[18:23]  Stuart: Populist conservatives, not establishment conservatives.
[18:24]  ER: conservatives make the mistake of taking the public packaging of polciies seriously
[18:24]  AE: sorry. not going to talk up David Vitter lol
[18:24]  ER: that idea is at least as old as Strauss, of which Dano may be aware
[18:24]  IH: QUESTION - does the guest feel that the income disparity and power disparity that we currently see is different, or similar to the points in history where incereasingly a smaller and smaller percentage controlled a larger and larger portion of the power ?
[18:25] DB: Question: Whatever happened to the Kolko thesis? When did the corporate elite change their minds about regulation?
[18:25]  ER: yep, Stuart, and libertarians that came of birth as a large segment of the population after the business funded propaganda and think tank blitz. they've separated some since,and libertarians were willing to challenge their paymasters. there have been purges because of it
[18:26]  ER: and then some like the Kochs left the libertarian party when it refused to drop taxes to zero
[18:26]  Stuart: Really, US Senators are just tabula rasa prior to lobbyists walking in their offices?
[18:26]  ER: libertarian ideas are what we need to defeat to progress
[18:26]  IH: QUESTION is anyone else a bit weirded out by Dano's Talk Like A Pirate Day hat?
[18:26]  ER: and it's hard given actual functioning government
[18:26] DB: Jealousy is unbecoming, Ilsa
[18:26] DB: °͜°
[18:26]  AE: arg! why?
[18:27]  IH: :-)
[18:27]  AG: Caribbean pirate.
[18:27]  Stuart: Jay is right: Liz Fowler went from Max Baucus' staff to Wellpoint back to Baucus in time for the PPACA's Finance Committee draft to be written.
[18:28]  AG: glide
[18:28]  BN: It's been an interesting discussion to sit in on, but I need to jet....take care, all :)
[18:28] DB: Night, Bunni
[18:29]  Stuart: What is Tim talking about?
[18:29]  Stuart: Gensler?
[18:29]  Stuart: "In March 2009, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) attempted to block his nomination to head the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. A statement from Sanders‚Äô office said that Gensler ‚Äúhad worked with Sen. Phil Gramm and Alan Greenspan to exempt credit default swaps from regulation, which led to the collapse of AIG and has resulted in the largest taxpayer bailout in US history.‚Äù He also accused Gensler of working to deregulate electronic energy trading, which led to the downfall of Enron, and supporting the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which allowed American banks to become ‚Äútoo big to fail.‚Äù[16]"
[18:29]  Stuart: Oh, come on.
[18:29]  Stuart: "In early November, 2011, Gensler stepped aside from the CFTC's investigation of the giant derivatives broker MF Global because of his longstanding ties to Jon Corzine, the CEO of MF Global, for whom Gensler had worked while both were at Goldman Sachs."
[18:30]  IH: ugh, Stuart, not meaning to nag, but less cut/paste please :-D
[18:30]  ER: this week's economist had a hard on for Angela Merkel (male euphemism okay here?)
[18:30]  ER: The Economist
[18:30]  WW: it's apt, Eleu
[18:31] DB: In a good or bad way, Eleu?
[18:31]  Stuart: When was Gensler's Saul of Tarus moment, exactly?
[18:31]  ER: not clear if in the Dubya giving her a surprise massage way, Dano
[18:31] DB: Ah! Ok, Eleu
[18:32]  ER: (yes, he did that at a summit)
[18:32]  Stuart: Testify, Jay, testify.
[18:32]  Stuart: Absolutely correct.
[18:32]  AE: made Merkel let out a shout. Bush is such a dork.
[18:33]  Stuart: "indulged"
[18:34]  Stuart: What an interesting choice of words.
[18:34]  ER: I've not seen clear evidence that GMOs themselves are harmful but Monsanto et al's business practices certainly are. I see no reason not to allow GMO labeling although people will see it's nearly ubiquitous
[18:35]  Stuart: What?
[18:35]  AE: saw a number today. The 400 richest family's in USA have over 2 trillion
[18:35]  ER: I'd count lower parts of 10% in the upper-middle class
[18:36]  JF: We call them "Lindens"
[18:36]  Stuart: So, we're really going to conflate "affluence" with aristocrats?
[18:36]  WW: the really rich don't use commercial airlines
[18:36]  Stuart: The affluent have more in common with, say, Bill Gates or David Koch than they do with folks making ten or twenty thousand dollars less? Really?
[18:37]  ER: still petite bourgeoisie, they have limitations on their autonomy, are typically making most of their income from labor than sitting on money
[18:37]  Stuart: There are people who work, and there are people who don't. 99% of us work.
[18:38] DB: Exactly, Stuart. You either own it or you work for it
[18:38]  IH: and the hedge fund manager can still be snubbed because his blood is not blue
[18:38]  Stuart: Greg Mankiw is one of the people who claims tis.
[18:38]  Stuart: "this"
[18:38]  JF: "wealth is largely irrelevant"
[18:38]  JF: cough
[18:38]  ER: the extreme concentration we have make it so the top 10%, 1%, see that they're lower and psychologiically inventivizes them to aspire for more acquisition
[18:38]  Cosmo Fenwitch: So, if you have net wealth of a billion dollars but the stock market goes down and you lose $50,000,000 one year, are you very poor?
[18:39]  AG: And, Dano, if you own it you need only work half time - 12 hours a day.
[18:39]  Stuart: Greg Mankiw, "Defending the One Percent"
[18:39]  ER: hedge fund managers may be snubbed by polite society for being bombastic nouveau riche pricks
[18:39] DB: °͜° Albert
[18:39]  ER: Stuart and I are on a similar page here
[18:40]  ER: work vs own/invest
[18:40]  Stuart: Let's hope that more liberals get on that page, Eleutherios
[18:40]  WW: /me nods
[18:40]  JF: does romney 'work?'
[18:41]  WW: Jane I don't think so
[18:41]  JF: ah.
[18:41]  ER: he did build companies in his younger days, though as typical for big business hypocrits was bailed out of a failing business
[18:41]  ER: and benefits from substantial gov't spending
[18:42]  ER: Romney's father was a respectable Eisenhower/Ford -type Republican
[18:42]  JF: sigh; yo-yo's good guy
[18:42]  WW:
[18:43]  ER: as in Henry Ford, not the Pres. that presided over the beginning of neoliberalism
[18:43]  Delia Lake: yes, I agree, Jane
[18:43]  IH: QUESTION - is inequality the natural state of mankind?
[18:43]  AE: the Romney apple fell far from the tree
[18:43]  ER: not in Scandinavia
[18:43]  IH: which part?
[18:44]  ER: everywhere, though they're trending neoliberal
[18:44]  IH: the Denmark at least has a royal house
[18:44]  ER: and relative equality, regardless
[18:44]  AE: Romney's big campaign story about Staples was mostly bs
[18:44]  IH: I would challenge that mankind's natural state has always been inequality
[18:45]  ER: Iceland and Finland stand out as better in terms of trends (vs past inertia)
[18:45]  AG: I maintain that we need a marginal tax of 90% over $250,000.
[18:45]  JF: QUESTION: What's the status of the Volker Rule at this point?
[18:45]  Stuart: QUESTION: Aren't policies like minimum wage or Fed policy, etc...their possibility, really, indicators of the real problem with the American economy, which is a vastly disproportionate distribution of power? Don't these policies follow small-d democratic power, i.e. power is the horse that pulls the equality cart?
[18:46]  ER: nomadic tribes were fairly egalitarian, and select other post-agricultural societies but societies do tend to go unequal after agriculture and specialization
[18:46]  AG: And that tax money does nothing except drain the ability of the rich to challange the government.
[18:46]  IH: they always hyad a head man/woman though Eleu
[18:46]  ER: economic inequality begets political inequality
[18:47]  Avedon Sideshow: That's not true
[18:47]  ER: there usually, not always, were forms of hierarchy (they had a chief but often used consensus, at least of elders or warrios), but resource distribution tended egalitarian
[18:47]  Avedon Sideshow: There is no shortage - plenty of skilled people are out of work. And if there was a real shortage, they'd be raising wages to attract those poeple.
[18:47]  ER: ^^^^^^
[18:47]  AG: Government is a tool that is to be utilized by the citizens to further the private sector's prosperity
[18:48]  IH: a shortage of skilled labor because to many people are to poor to get an education post high school
[18:48]  Stuart: QUESTION: In other words, isn't it a mistake on the left to assert that, if only the proper policies were implemented by elites, our inequality misfortunes would be ameliorated, when it's really the case that politial-economic power needs to be returned --or taken-- by the people?
[18:48]  AG: Now, Stuart, I am in agreement with that.
[18:48]  IH: I agree Stuart, eat the rich!
[18:48]  ER: plenty of skilled labor except for a few select areas. and tech companies are trying to bring in foreign workers they can control and pay less (if not outright offshoring)
[18:49] DB: College should be free
[18:49]  AG: That's the present problem, the wealthy have taken control from "We the People" and are draining it for their own benefit.
[18:49]  ER: white collar and academic workers need to wake up. the rapidly increasing adoption of adjuncts (and perpetual post-docs) etc shows that neoliberalism marches beyond blue class (the logic of which should have been apparent)
[18:50] DB: Yep, Eleu
[18:50]  JF: QUESTION: Will the recent cancellation of the congrssional softball game impact recruiting of good players in the upcoming primaries?
[18:50]  ER: blue collar/working class
[18:50]  AG: QUESTION; Has any question been answered?
[18:51]  IH: nope
[18:51]  ER:
[18:52]  IH: elect democrats?
[18:52]  JF: g-m-a-f-b
[18:52]  IH: agreed Jane
[18:52]  ER: only after Occupy was inequality itself in the public discourse
[18:52]  JF: :-) Ilsa
[18:52]  ER: before there was talk about profligate banking and reform
[18:52]  ER: but not class
[18:52]  Stuart: "Certain Democrats"?
[18:52]  Stuart: What kind of Democrats?
[18:53]  IH: what was that about trees of liberty?
[18:53]  IH: those democrats
[18:54]  ER: Reagan and Bush I
[18:54]  ER: it matters
[18:54]  ER: but it's not the only solution
[18:54]  ER: incarcerating
[18:54]  AG: Revolution?
[18:54]  ER: today, not tomorrow!
[18:55]  IH: or fear of a revolution
[18:55]  ER: well, ok, maybe we need more ideological basis first
[18:55]  JF: laws need penalties
[18:55]  IH: we need them fearing it being their blood in the streets
[18:56]  ER: incipient paradigm shift?
[18:56] DB: My favorite slogan from '68 was from France (I think): We demand the immediate gratification of all our desires
[18:56]  AG: Laws need enforcement.
[18:56]  ER: absolutely, Ilsa and Albert
[18:56]  Cosmo Fenwitch: France? Guillotines?
[18:56]  JF: :-) Dano; (writes that one down)
[18:56]  ER: though savings and loan had broad prosecutions yet didn't slow down finance much
[18:57]  ER: it's important but not the only action to take
[18:57]  ER: Bill Black does great work on S&L and modern finance
[18:57]  JF: :-)
[18:57]  ER: there needs to be countervailing power
[18:58]  JF: prezactly
[18:58]  ER: Nixon wasn't nice but he did some nice policies
[18:58]  Stuart: Or they're afraid of people setting property on fire.
[18:58]  JF: Nixon was good for ping-pong
[18:58]  ER: there is a role for that, I think
[18:58]  ER: Stuart
[18:58]  AE: HMO's was not one of Nixon's better policies
[18:59]  ER: one of the worst
[19:00]  ER: Vietnam is a mixed thing, escalated then pulled out (against before he was before it before he was against it)
[19:00]  JF: support for HMOs was 'good idea. poor execution'
[19:01]  IH: another 20 years and Nixon will be remembered as one of the best presidents ever
[19:01]  JF: we all think heath maintenance is better and cheaper that reactive treatment
[19:01]  AE: huh?
[19:01]  ER: don't talk about Reagan in that tone of text, Ilsa
[19:01] DB: Only because most of us who remember him will be dead
[19:01]  AG: Actually I see the parallels with Germany from 1925 to 1935 as being much closer.
[19:01]  ER: Dano ¬∞Õú¬∞ :(
[19:01]  IH: Dano, but he DID do a lot of interesting things...
[19:02]  IH: agreed Albert
[19:02]  ER: there are indeed parallels, Albert
[19:02]  AE: HMO's have a srsly flawed biz model
[19:02]  JF: ...
[19:02]  Stuart: QUESTION: How has "politics become more tribal" on the left? Doesn't Tim mean "Democrats" when he refers to the left?
[19:02]  JF: Medicine has a conter-productive incentive
[19:03]  WW: "Policy makers and people they sleep with?"
[19:03]  IH: its kind of sick... in a cannibalism kind of way, to think of making money off of people being ill
[19:03]  ER: post-Occupy
[19:03]  JF: :-)
[19:03]  ER: post-popular movement
[19:03]  Stuart: I know, excellent turn of phrase from Jay
[19:04]  ER: QE, bailouts, and acceptable stimulus took care of the rich
[19:04]  JF: soon the story will be told: Bill Clinton and Madeline albright
[19:04]  ER: they suffered very briefly in 2007-08
[19:05]  ER: concentration now surpasses that period
[19:05]  Stuart: Hmm..since when does "taking on the chin" equate to "the government is an appendage of their own affairs"?
[19:06]  ER: scholarship only goes so far, Keynes' ideas were pushed by popular movements before he formally recommended them and wrote them up academically
[19:06]  JF: discussion... 'full of sound and fury signifying nothing'
[19:06]  ER: a Polish economist had many similar ideas prior to Keynes but that's a seprate issue
[19:06]  IH: "they got a lot of discussion going" = "gee... it would have been great if they had gotten their act together"
[19:06]  Katana Sword 2.1: releasing controls
[19:06]  ER: scholarship certianly matters but I'm really noting the absence of popular movement's
[19:07]  ER: which are invariably driving positive social/political change
[19:07]  ER: invariably
[19:07]  JF: how many polish economists does it take to monitize a lightbulb
[19:07]  ER: infinity before 1990
[19:08]  AG: None. That violates austerity.
[19:08]  JF: :-)
[19:08]  AG: Sound gone?
[19:08]  WW: I think we lost Tim
[19:08]  WW: ok, he's back
[19:08]  IH: but that doesnt matter, what matters is who THINKS they are the 1%, not actually who is.
[19:08]  ER: Stuart's last question was good too
[19:09]  ER: democracy is precise?
[19:09]  ER: what's the objection?
[19:09]  AG: Define Dictator.
[19:09]  ER: it's not precise in a certain light but what word is
[19:09]  AG: An hour filled with information.
[19:09]  AE: I am trying to google another book. it argues that economic inequality is the norm. The USA in the 50's and 60's with strong unions was an outlier.
[19:10]  JF: Thank you :-)
[19:10]  ER: there's something to that in terms of history, but that doesn't mean it's some natural state
[19:10]  ER: AKa
[19:10]  IH: Aka, I tend to agree
[19:10]  Delia Lake: great show. thank you Tim. thank you Jay.
[19:10]  WW: thank you everyone, good discussion
[19:10]  AG: Ilsa, you have the land audo on?
[19:11]  AG: :=))
[19:11]  IH: yeah, I do
[19:11]  AG: :=))
[19:11]  Delia Lake: lol
[19:11]  Stuart: Thanks, Eleutherios.
[19:11]  AE: no there is nothing natural about the economy, except that econmic things like the stock market and wages etc tend to revert to the norm.
[19:11]  IH: lol
[19:12]  ER: you mean equilibrium?
[19:12]  ER: norm definitely is problematic
[19:12]  Stuart: OK, Jay is sitting in our temporary RW studio, and we've got to tear down and get going.
[19:12]  AE: if you believe that then real estate and the stock market are going to have a huge correction
[19:12]  Stuart: RL
[19:12]  Stuart: Take care, folks.
[19:12]  AG: Bye, stuart
[19:13]  AE: I mean the historical average of things
[19:13]  JF: What I learned today: Lauren Lauren is the daughter of Neil and Sharon Bush. She opted for a redundent name since its easier to remember.
[19:13]  JF: Sounds good to me. :-)
[19:14]  JF: laterz!
[19:14]  AG: Like my friend, XX x
[19:14]  AG: The "x" is for the Phd.
[19:15]  AM: 'night, everybody.
[19:15]  AG: Good night.
[19:15]  WW: Good night

Kevin Murphy • History of Progressivism • VS with Jay Ackroyd


Kevin C Murphy — speechwriter, ghostwriter, researcher, editor, and advisor to progressive campaigns and political organizations — joins Virtually Speaking to discuss his fascinating doctoral dissertation, written proximately for his doctorate in History from Columbia but certainly looks like a book in the making.  

Uphill all the Way: The Fortunes of Progressivism, 1919-1929  reviews the period immediately after what historians have traditionally characterized as the end of the Progressive Era. In fact, Kevin shows  how elements of the progressive movement lived on, hidden in the apparent era of Normalcy, become absorbed into both Republican and Democratic parties.  In Kevin's words:

While examining the trajectory of progressives during the Harding and Coolidge years, this study also inquires into how civic progressivism -- a philosophy rooted in preserving the public interest and producing change through elevated citizenship and educated public opinion -- was tempered and transformed by the events of the post-war period and the New Era.


In the discussion, we explore the early stages of Harding's under appreciated administration--Kevin compares Harding/Coolidge to JFK/LBJ, with the President who died office providing the policy and political scaffolding that allowed his vice president to accomplish a large number of fundamental policy changes.  We then discuss how this period informs our current period, with the technocratic, anti-democratic elements of the progressive movement turned into todays Third Way centrism, while the urban progressives like Al Smith or Franklin Roosevelts sowed the seeds of the contemporary liberal wing of the party.

We also discuss Herbert Hoover as a reality-based advocate of technocratic solutions through public/private partnership, mechanisms that were reflected in, for instance, FDR's National Recovery Administration.  Hero of the post-war food assistance program Hoover implemend a program that reflected the middle class values and ethics of the movement that brought us both the Suffragette and the Temperance movements.

Under appreciated as well, notes Kevin, are the populist elements of the progressive movement, which included the founding of the KKK, a grass roots movement of the 20s that had a much broader membership and agenda than the contemporary version of the organization,  we can see reflected in the current right wing populism self-designated Tea Party members. 


Lynn Stout • VS with Jay Ackroyd

Author The Shareholder Value Myth; Distinguished Professor of Corporate and Business Law, Cornell University

Lynn Stout joins us to discuss her book, The Shareholder Value Myth.  The idea that a public corporation has one, and only objective — to maximize shareholder value — is such a widely held idea that it's deeply implicit in much current business writing.



What else is a corporation to do, but to maximize shareholder value? There might be some dispute over whether to manage a corporation for short term returns and a steadily rising stock price, by just beating analysts' quarterly targets or to take a longer term view of accepting quarterly ups and downs, while providing a steady growth and a reliable stream of dividends But in either case, the idea is to maximize shareholder value, right?

Lynn Stout argues in her book that this view is wrong both in principle — that as independent entities with multiple stakeholders, including a heterogenous set of (stock and bond) investors with different goals — corporations cannot, should not, and never were intended to focus solely on maximizing shareholder value.

Lynn is not alone in this view. Citing Thomas Kuhn's classic comments on paradigm shifts arising from bold individuals noting theoretical anomalies and empirical failure of  normal science, we've seen some exploration of the idea that maybe....perhaps, corporate governance means a little bit more. 

See FT's iconoclast Felix Salmon for instance. On why Apple should ignore its shareholders.  Or on the discount a company takes by being public

Professor Stout is an internationally recognized expert in the fields of corporate governance, securities regulation, financial derivatives, law and economics, and moral behavior. The author of numerous articles and books on these topics; her most recent book is The Shareholder Value Myth: How Putting Shareholders First Harms Investors, Corporations and the Public (Berrerr Koehler 2012). Professor Stout also serves as an Independent Trustee for the Eaton Vance family of mutual funds; as a member of the Board of Advisors for the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society Program; as Executive Advisor to the Brookings Institution Project on Corporate Purpose; and as a Research Fellow for the Gruter Institute for Law and Behavioral Research. She holds a B.A. summa cum laude and a Masters in Public Affairs from Princeton University and a J.D. from the Yale Law School.





David Cay Johnston • VS with Jay Ackroyd


June 27 - Investigative journalist, CJR contributor and 2001 Pulitzer prize recipient David Cay Johnston comes by to talk about modern debt peonage or neo-feudalism. More at Columbia Journalism Review.

Follow @DavidCayJ @JayAckroyd


The idea of modern debt peonage or neo-feudalism came to my attention at Marcy Wheeler's FDL blog. It's an old concept--the idea is that you can sell yourself into temporary slavery, with a plan of working off the debt. Most of us will remember hearing about indentured servitude as a means of funding a new life in America during the 17th and 18th centuries. But the practice is as old as domesticated agriculture. David Graeber discusses the practice at length in Debt, the First 5000 Years, describing, as well, the idea of a jubilee year when all debt, including servitude debt, is forgiven.  This was necessary, Graeber claims to forestall peasant uprising and land seizure.


Americans, and to a lesser extent, other OECD citizens are experiencing a revival of debt peonage. Students graduate from college, as Duncan Black has put it, with a mortgage and no house to show for it. Hourly workers find themselves dependent on checking cashing services that provide usurious, self-perpetuating payroll loans.  Middle class workers pay extremely high real interest rates on their consumer debt, and have had their retirement funds move from secure pension funds with a certain payout at retirement to 401K programs subject to market fluctuation and investment dollars lost to fees and transaction costs.

This has led to consumer product companies adjusting their market strategies to what they call an hour-glass or dumbbell economy, with a small number of very rich consumers marketed to on one end, and a large number of working class consumers at the other--and no more middle class. Companies like Proctor and Gamble that have focused on America's huge middle glass are no longer doing so.

In the wake of the worst recession in 50 years, there's little doubt that the American middle class—the 40% of households with annual incomes between $50,000 and $140,000 a year—is in distress. Even before the recession, incomes of American middle-class families weren't keeping up with inflation, especially with the rising costs of what are considered the essential ingredients of middle-class life—college education, health care and housing. In 2009,  the Census Bureau says income of the median family, the one smack in the middle of the middle, was lower, adjusted for inflation, than in 1998. 


David referred to two of his articles in this discussion:  

Labor Share of National Income Plummets

Wages Fall At Record Pace

Gaius Publius comments and summarizes at AmericaBlog

Richard Eskow • VS with Jay Ackroyd



Richard Eskow touches on  attempts to fight off the gutting of social insurance programs, grand bargain 'theater;' and then discusses wisdom, and its presence, or absence, from our network driven society. The springboard for the latter conversation is his essay Buying Wisdom

Buying Wisdom

The Art of Mindful Networking

Outside a conference on mindfulness for the Silicon Valley crowd stood a corkboard and a pad of yellow Post-it Notes. There, in keeping with the conference’s “Wisdom 2.0” name and theme, attendees were invited to write down their thoughts on creating a “global wisdom culture.” There were 50 or 60 suggestions on the board, mostly for things like online platforms to encourage “lateral communication.” But something was missing, I thought. I grabbed a pen, tore off a Post-it, and added a word that was conspicuously absent from the board: Wisdom.


I know: It might seem like a cheap shot. It’s just that, well, even the very name of the conference seemed off somehow. In the tech world, “2.0” is used to note a newer, better version of the original product. Upgrading the world’s wisdom teachings is a pretty heady ambition. Maybe an inflated sense of self-importance is simply to be expected when an executive from one of the organization’s corporate sponsors, himself a speaker at the event, says things like “Wisdom 2.0 is, quite possibly, the most important gathering of our times.”

Really? The most important gathering of our times? Not the Yalta Conference, or Nixon in China, or the UN Special Session on Nuclear Disarmament? Can’t we at least give the Kyoto talks on the environment an honorable mention?

There’s a revolutionary, fast-paced, and transformative wave sweeping through the elite cultures of the 21st century—but it’s not what its boosters think it is. It’s a wave not of technology but of narcissism, and it’s cresting at the intersection of wealth, corporate power, and guilt, as the rich and wannabe rich nourish their acquisitive drives with expressions of self-love. The third annual Wisdom 2.0 conference was suffused with the same self-satisfied glow that’s found at corporate feel-good events like the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting, events where powerful and wealthy elites come to network, schmooze, and congratulate themselves on their own generosity and understanding. Every other presentation at the Clinton gathering seemed to feature images of impoverished African children dancing in water from their village’s new well, while almost entirely missing was any discussion of the role some of the corporations represented there played in creating that poverty.

The Wisdom 2.0 conference provided the same kind of balm for the corporate conscience, but in a different way. While there were some excellent speakers, too many presentations merely offered purveyors of frequently mindless online pastimes the chance to convince themselves that they’re really promoting mindfulness.

If “mindfulness” is to create genuine change in our society, it must involve being mindful of more than just our own need for comfort, good health, or serenity. It must entail being mindful of the social and economic forces that allow some to prosper while others struggle, forces that promote and perpetuate certain behaviors and thought patterns while discouraging or suppressing others. Without that awareness, “mindfulness” will quickly descend into another luxury item that permits the few to ignore the impact of their behavior on others. If they are to attain the significance to which they aspire, conferences like Wisdom 2.0 must open themselves up to a broader kind of awareness than they can achieve by promoting a feel-good, tunnel-vision version of “mindfulness.”

The gathering, which was held February in a hotel and conference center in Silicon Valley, was presented as an exploration of the intersection of modern technology and ancient spiritual traditions. Its theme, according to the website, was “living with awareness, wisdom, and compassion.” It featured well-known Western Buddhist teachers like Jack Kornfield, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Roshi Joan Halifax. The spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle was also one of the featured speakers, and some newer figures on the scene, like psychologist and mindfulness teacher Kelly McGonigal (her website tells us it is “where science and compassion meet”) and her sister, my former colleague Jane McGonigal, whose work on computer gaming and social change has made her a rising media star who has been profiled at length on shows like Fareed Zakaria’s CNN program. (Our chat was interrupted in mid-sentence by a couple of investment consultants eager to “network” with her; it was that kind of event.)

Wisdom 2.0’s sponsors and supporters have included such tech giants as Google, Yahoo! and Facebook—and it shows. Their support helped organizers gather this constellation of Western mindfulness luminaries, often pairing them with executives from sponsoring corporations in sessions that felt like awkward blind-date dinner conversations. The “Zynga Meets Zen” session, for example, featured Roshi Joan Halifax and Eric Schiermeyer, a founder of the online game company Zynga, and himself a Wisdom 2.0 supporter. The roshi seemed to bristle slightly as conference organizer Soren Gordhamar introduced Zen and gaming on seemingly equal terms—but it could be argued that she didn’t bristle enough. “There is a kind of brilliance in Zen,” said Gordhamar, “and a different kind of brilliance in games....”

Gordhamar’s remark seemed to equate Zen Buddhism’s accomplishments with those of a company whose most notable achievement is the Facebook game FarmVille, but Schiermeyer was not one to see any incongruity in the comparison. Rather, he went on to effusively praise his own venture’s capacity for “clarity and insight.” Schiermeyer, like many other speakers, pushed the idea that mindfulness can and should be marketed the same way companies like Zynga market FarmVille, or with the same techniques they use to motivate their owners and employees—through acquisitiveness and need, or what Schiermeyer called “the technology of incentive.” There is a world in which the works of Dogen and Eisai as human achievements are indistinguishable from a game that encourages users to buy and trade pastel-colored animals on social media sites. To attend conferences like Wisdom 2.0 is to enter that world.

Like last year’s Buddhist Geeks conference, the meeting also included a lot of talk about “branding.” Schiermeyer’s bent for motivational selling proved to be popular, never more incongruously so than when he said that “if somebody wants to become a millionaire, which a lot of people do, and ... you can convince them that the best way to become a millionaire is to adopt these practices in a directed, conscious way, then you'll end up having a bunch of really conscious millionaires."

A venture capitalist in the audience agreed, telling me afterwards that “people today want to be millionaires, so we should market spirituality together with the ability to become a millionaire." He defended Schiermeyer's position. “What’s the worst that could happen? “You’d have a lot of mindful millionaires. That would be a good thing.” Unfortunately, comments like these may have been inevitable, since conference organizer Gordhamar was occasionally given to saying things like "there's a place for the authenticity of a lineage and a practice ... and there's this other voice which says No, but every generation is different, let's just go wherever they're putting their attention, who cares where the hell they're putting their attention, let's meet them there and let's be very creative in how we can incorporate it ... both potentially have a place."

Is that so? What about the matter of motivation? What matters isn’t just whether you’re mindful but also what you are mindful of. If your awareness is centered on money and comfort, does that help anyone else? Does it help you?

The Wisdom 2.0 conference and its organizers were also promoting a technology-centered vision of mindfulness like that reflected in the Buddhist Geeks podcast and conference, websites like Indranet, and a growing cottage industry of techno-spirituality books, blogs, and software products. At their best, these sites and gatherings can represent a kind of democratic leveling of differences among participants. We saw this, for example, at the Buddhist Geeks conference, where, much as they do on the Internet itself, attendees mixed without regard to name recognition, status, sect, or practice. But at their worst, Buddhist technophiles confuse science with spirituality and information with insight, and in the process, they overlook their own best opportunities to make a real contribution to society.

The clinicalization of spirituality, which seems to reduce it to a matter of physical and mental health, is a common feature of these conferences. While there is some good data suggesting that mindfulness and meditation can have a beneficial impact on individual health, that shouldn’t be confused with wisdom. Too many of these conferences and speakers conflate wisdom with well-being, enlightenment with ease, and compassion with comfort. A quick review of history’s great spiritual figures—the Buddha, Jesus, and Muhammad being among the best known— shows that they often rejected their own ease and comfort in pursuit of higher wisdom, or sacrificed themselves for a higher purpose once they found it. The journey from sacrifice to enlightenment is codified in religious traditions that range from Native American Sun Dance rituals to Tibetan practices of solitary meditation in caves.

If the subject is wisdom, those reams of blood pressure reports and magnetic resonance studies aren’t as meaningful as their champions claim. “The hours of folly are measured by the clock,” wrote the poet William Blake, “but of wisdom, no clock can measure.”

As at so many gatherings in the digital delta, the discussion at Wisdom 2.0 often confused the medium with the message— or, as they say now, the “platform” with the “content.” Digital technology—computers, cell phones, the Internet—are indeed a breakthrough in human communication, much as printed books, radio, and television all once were. But if the purveyors of those technologies were equally convinced they were revolutionizing the human experience, they left no record of it. The printing press played a central role in the Protestant Reformation, but it is hard to imagine Gutenberg sponsoring a gathering to praise the new wisdom he was bringing into being through his invention. Television pioneer David Sarnoff never tried to book Gandhi into a meeting room to praise the revolutionary human potential of his medium. What is it about digital entrepreneurs that creates such excessive self-regard? A greater sense of history—of block printing in the spread of Buddhism, or books in the democratization of Christianity— would provide these conferences with greater context for discussing newer technologies.

The “awareness” at Wisdom 2.0 too often lacked the “wisdom” and “compassion” organizers promised. The many hagiographic references to Steve Jobs praised a digital pioneer who became, of course, extremely wealthy. Jobs’s turtleneck-wearing, quasi-Buddhist persona was a natural fit for this crowd. But few attendees showed any interest in the tragic world of workers at the Chinese factories who built Jobs’s Apple products. According to independent reports, their lives were made much worse because Jobs chose to ignore reports from aid groups and others about working conditions there.

It’s a shame. Conference organizer Soren Gordhamar has written a book, also called Wisdom 2.0, and he’s a good writer with many useful things to say. It’s unfortunate that the conference didn’t stick more closely to the themes he explored in the book, which asks good questions about the balance between online time and “real life,” the medium’s untapped potential for aiding personal growth, and the challenges of being human in a digital age. You could build a good conference around those questions. The digital generation has few maps to guide it through the new territory wrought by its technology, and support and kindness are always worth sending toward any group of people trying to find their way. But this approach won’t meet their needs any more than it will meet society’s.

Some speakers spoke to those needs eloquently. Jon Kabat- Zinn openly discussed social issues in a way that challenged the insular nature of the gathering. Representative Tim Ryan, a member of Congress from the struggling Ohio Rust Belt, offered a refreshing break from entrepreneurial self-congratulation to discuss the value of mindfulness in urban settings and among children from impoverished families. Congressman Ryan, who has written a book called Mindful Nation, was generous in his assessment of the conference when I spoke with him a few months afterward. It’s “progress,” he said of the conflict between entrepreneurial acquisitiveness and mindfulness.

But the surprise challenge to self-satisfied cocooning came from Eckhart Tolle. I haven’t read much Tolle, who had always struck me as a nebulous and New Agey figure, but he led a meditation exercise masterfully. Tolle told a story about the usefulness of silence—one that ended with a friend sending him a blank text message. That led to the joking idea of an app that sends blank text messages to iPhone users at intervals throughout the day. More importantly, Tolle’s remarks brought a broader awareness into the room. We need a new social order, he said in a soft voice, and a new banking system. These systems have been created by the old egoic consciousness, he added. What’s more, said Tolle, we could drown in an excess of information and suppress creativity through an excess of thinking. These words challenged both the self-satisfaction and the economic goals of many conference attendees, and in doing that, Tolle provided a glimpse of what gatherings like this can be— and what they must become, if they are to be meaningful.

Instead, Wisdom 2.0 featured too many words like those that appeared on a conference whiteboard: “Can the soul learn to tweet?”

Wisdom is not necessarily synonymous with comfort, or better health, or even happiness. If Wisdom 2.0 had addressed the sometimes painful conflict between technological growth and human needs, it would have been forced to challenge its attendees, its speakers—and yes, its corporate sponsors. It could be argued that this, and not feel-good sessions for acquisitive millionaires, is the work of wisdom. Philosophers like Mortimer Adler, along with later thinkers like the economist Kenneth Boulding, created a simple hierarchy, known as DIKW, that was applied to early thinking about computer technology. It stood for Data, Information, Knowledge, and Wisdom, with data at the lowest rung on the ladder and wisdom at the highest. Each of these rungs is important. But data and information are not knowledge, and knowledge is not wisdom.

One week after the conference ended I found myself at a different gathering, this one a gathering of Sufi musicians in South Africa, where I had traveled to follow the work of an aid group working with HIV-positive Zulu villagers. A young Sufi singer from Mauritius made a striking observation. “All prophets in history,” she said, “came to upset the social order, not reinforce it.” That should be the goal of Wisdom 2.0 or any other gathering that claims to pursue true innovation—because insight is disruptive, wisdom upsets the old order, and mindfulness must inevitably lead us to confront those aspects of ourselves we’d rather bury in self-congratulation.


“Wisdom,” said William Blake, “is sold in the desolate market where none come to buy.” That market isn’t a great place to “network” with potential customers, or to find venture capital for your next start-up company. But if these conferences genuinely want to promote wisdom, they’ll need to go there eventually.

Richard (RJ) Eskow is a writer, consultant, and Senior Fellow at the Campaign for America's Future. A former country singer and punk musician, Richard became a Wall Street executive during the "go-go" 1990s, specializing in healthcare services, information technology, risk management, insurance, and financial analysis.  Among other companies, he worked for AIG, long before its notorious 2008 collapse.

Richard spent several years leading a consortium of universities, consulting groups, and research centers which advised the US State Department, the World Bank, foundations, and private corporations on social policy in over 20 countries.  His group played a central role in advising Central and Eastern European countries on healthcare, social welfare, and technology during their emergence from Communism.

Peter Moskos • VS with Jay Ackroyd


Peter Moskos was born in Chicago, graduated from Evanston Township High School, and lives in Astoria, NYC. He has worked as a movie theater usher, a Chicago Cubs usher, waiter, busboy, cook, bartender, bar manager, theater technician (lights and sound), boat captain, police officer, and professor.

While enrolled as a Harvard University graduate student, Moskos worked as a Baltimore City police officer from 1999 to 2001. He patrolled midnight shift in Baltimore’s high-crime Eastern District.

Cop in the Hood (Princeton University Press, 2008), Moskos’s first book, examines policing from a first-hand police perspective, focusing on the failure of the drug war and its impact on police culture and arrest decision in the ghetto. Cop in the Hood won the 2008 PROSE Award for Best Book in Sociology.

Moskos's second book, In Defense of Flogging (Basic Books, 2011), is a subversive attack on the prison-industrial complex. It earned Moskos recognition as one of Atlantic Magazine's Brave Thinkers of 2011.

Listen here!

Listen here!

Peter and Jay discuss the militarization of American police forces.  This includes not just equipment, or tactics, but also national coordination of what have always been locally controlled policy forces into much more of an internal security force designed to suppress people opposed to federal policies. 

The New York Times has covered the topic 

Radley Balko has written extensively on the topic. Some links: 

Huffington Post series


He's also written a book, which is included below with the links to Peter's work.