How the Market Is Betraying Advanced Economies


April 16,2016

How the Market Is Betraying Advanced Economies

coyle6_Michel StoupakNurPhoto via Getty Images_yellow vests

As lifestyles in the world’s developing economies improve drastically, many in the advanced economies are seeing their well being deteriorate – a trend that automation will only exacerbate. Without fundamental change in the framework of public policymaking, it is difficult to imagine a prosperous future in these societies.

 

CAMBRIDGE – Despite ever-improving conditions for millions of people around the world – documented by entities like the University of Oxford’s Our World in Data and highlighted by scholars like Steven Pinker – popular discontent is on the rise in many places. The reason is simple: whereas the first trend is being driven by low- and middle-income countries, the second is concentrated in high-income countries.

Apr 9, 2019 Joseph E. Stiglitz thinks it’s his attacks on the truth-seeking institutions that underpin economic prosperity.

Throughout the developed world, conditions for many workers are deteriorating, with no recovery in sight. Income inequality is near historic highs, wealth inequality is even higher, and economic insecurity is widespread.As the United Kingdom tears itself apart politically and constitutionally over Brexit, many of its citizens struggle with low-quality jobs, inadequate housing, and poverty so severe that they rely on food banks. France’s Yellow Vest protests have been hijacked by violent extremists, but they reflect real grievances about the growing challenge of maintaining living standards. In the United States, the Economic Report of the President touts the supposed elimination of poverty, but life expectancy does not decline in a prosperous country.In short, the post-World War II social contract in many of today’s developed economies is breaking down. And even more uncertainty and insecurity are on the way, as new technologies such as artificial intelligence and robotics take root.Though the pace and scope of the next wave of automation is impossible to predict with precision, the impact will be profound. Like other digital technologies, AI and robotics will boost the value of some skills while reducing the value of others. And, by , extensive algorithmic decision-making risks amplifying existing inequalities further.It is impossible to uninvent technology. But we should not fall into the trap of technological determinism. The forces that drive structural economic change are always refracted through policy decisions, which can help ensure that technological innovations contribute to a more prosperous future.

Given the depth of the transformation ahead, however, it is not just the policies themselves that must change, but the very framework on which they are based. This means abandoning the idea – which has shaped public policy for more than a generation – that the “market” must be the organizing principle for collective decision-making.

The market, in this sense, is an abstraction – one that has little to do with actual markets, which are social institutions as varied and multitudinous as Leo Tolstoy’s unhappy families. It embodies the assumption that, overall, we secure the best economic outcomes if producers compete to respond to the desires of individual consumers (in line with their purchasing power). And its performance is measured according to the number of contemporaneous exchanges taking place.This is to be the best metric. For one thing, it does not account for the depreciation of assets, from houses in California destroyed by wildfires to insect species at risk of extinction. It also fails to account for the fact that a growing proportion of exchanges in the digital economy involve “public goods,” consumption of which is non-rivalrous (the good can be shared by any number of people without being depleted).But there is an even more fundamental problem with assessing an economy’s welfare according to the satisfaction of individual choices. As the late William Baumol pointed out, if you assume that economic agents are independent, you will conclude that independent choices maximize their well being. This is circular reasoning.In fact, economic agents are not as independent as the conventional wisdom would have us believe. People’s consumption preferences are not discovered through introspection and then upheld permanently; they are shaped socially and change over time. In the age of social media “influencers,” this may be truer than ever, with turbocharged network effects amplifying the impact of one individual’s choices on others.Likewise, in production, there is far-reaching potential for economies of scope and scale – potential that grows even larger in high-tech domains. This means that one firm’s production decisions affect production by others in the same market.The conceptual underpinnings of policymaking need to be updated to reflect this economic reality. For starters, governments need to recognize that their decisions shape the structure of production, and develop strategies to support particular strengths in production (through innovation policies or procurement frameworks) or to address weaknesses (in areas such as skills). Economists like Dani Rodrik and have led the way in proposing ways to think about modern industrial strategy.Governments must also improve the opportunities available to those left behind in today’s fast-changing economy. This means ensuring that all citizens have access to quality public education, public transportation and broadband infrastructure, adequate health care, and decent housing. Such basic services are more important than income subsidies, because they are public goods, which the market – where decisions are made by aggregating individual demand – will not provide.The organization of millions of interdependent individuals in a technologically complex society will always be difficult to manage. With productivity flat-lining and public anger growing, it is clear that existing policies are not up to the challenge. Without a new approach, it is difficult to imagine a prosperous future for Western societies.

 

  • WmC Mantis  

    Is Diane Coyle trying to tell us that economic policymakers should be doing more to ensure a continually rising mean household quality of life? If so, she could have done it in fewer words.

 

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Enough of advocacy, says Suhakam chair as he tenders early resignation


April 15,20l9

Image result for razali ismail suhakam

Human rights commission (Suhakam) chairperson Razali Ismail has resigned about two weeks before his tenure was supposed to end.

Assuming the role back in 2016, he was scheduled to conclude his three-year term on April 27.

Razali confirmed that he had tendered his resignation letter to the Yang di-Pertuan Agong and Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad, and had also informed the commission of his decision.

“I have done three years (at Suhakam). I think I did a pretty credible job and I (now) want to do more than advocacy.

“Doing things like human rights, it’s an advocacy job and it is enough after a while.

“It continues to be what it is, advocacy. It doesn’t make a big difference on the ground,” he told Malaysiakini when contacted today.

Razali added that he had resigned before the end of his term to allow Suhakam more time to prepare for its new chairperson.

The commission is a government body parked under the Prime Minister’s Department. Its chairperson is appointed by the prime minister.

Moving forward, the former diplomat said he plans to move from advocacy to working on the ground.

“I want to do smaller things, look at smaller areas, empower people and help people.

“[…] In all these 40-over years, I have been defining myself as a Malaysian.

“Now, I want to do something on the ground to define myself as a Malaysian and a Malay, and help the Malays who are marginalised,” he said.

Under Razali’s helm, Suhakam has been a frequent and outspoken critic of human rights violations, including those by the government.

Among the things it advocated was the ratification of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd), which Pakatan Harapan initially agreed to before changing its mind following intense opposition from NGOs, UMNO and PAS.

Last December, police advised Suhakam to postpone its annual Human Rights Day celebration to give way to an anti-Icerd rally in Kuala Lumpur.

 

Musings on a nation gone half-mad


April 14, 2019

Musings on a nation gone half-mad

Opinion  |  Azly Rahman

Published:  |  Modified:

 

 

https://dinmerican.wordpress.com/2019/04/14/musings-on-a-nation-gone-half-mad/

COMMENT | Like all of you esteemed readers, I sometimes do not know what to make of the world we are living in. Especially that of our beloved country. But think about it, we must.

The wealthy and the powerful are having a field day, during the remains of their day perhaps, in a world ever changing wherein information wants to be free and the cybernetic world can help the maddening masses bring mad leaders down. In my half-wide awakeness, these past few days, I thought of these:

Malays and the syndrome of Harry Houdini

Reading about the state of things, I see academics continue to sell their soul to the forces of idiocy, to the deep state of decadence guised as traditional authority! Academics loyal to the power of hegemonic-idiocy, possessed, diseased hearts and minds, unfit to be teachers of ethics in society.

But that is their right to be intelligent or to be ignorant. Their right to give advice, to make things better, or to make matters worse. Their right to be ideologues, intelligentsia, or purely intelligent beings who will not sell their soul for any pound of gold. To be a sophist or to be a Socrates.

In my musings, I thought of these: No society will need monarchs to protect it, if each member takes pride in being a natural-born aristocrat with a free spirit.

Malays are too slow in releasing themselves from the shackles of feudal fear and mentality. Move faster. Question authority! Malay feudalism is merely a social construct borne out of a historical accident, lasting as long as the rakyat continue to surrender their mind, body and spirit.

Modern-day slavery continues to define our economic condition. The system of social injustice prevails, like a cultural logic of late capitalism gone illogical.

There is this cultural disease in Malaysia, manufactured. It is self-fear. Like a selfie of a one’s fear. Fear of other races instilled in the Malay mind is for the benefit of the powerful, political, and the feudal. For survival.

Malaysians must understand that today’s war is not about race and religion, but about class: of the powerful versus the powerless. Of the have-a-lots versus have-nots. A long war ahead, to redefine the way of the world and act upon it.

Too much bad history has plagued this most-obedient-people in the world. Only when Malays are taught critical reasoning, critiquing feudal ideology, and “liberation theology” will they be free.

The political and the feudal deep states have been using the old British colonial strategy of divide and enslave in order to maintain the status quo. In the Malay tradition, the idea of blind loyalty to feudalism must be dismantled. It is unfit for Malay intelligence of the Industry 4.0 era, especially.

In all cultural traditions, there are enabling and disabling aspects. Extract, reflect upon, revise and reconstruct those which are useless to the advancement of human cognition and liberation.

There is now a battle of cognition over culture in the Malay psyche. I presume a liberated Malay mind will never kowtow to any monarch, politician, ayatollah, or any master of slavery. We must end this form of mental imprisonment.

We must, especially, set the youth free. But freedom for Malay youth does not mean freedom to join Mat Rempits or neo-Nazi groups. That will be suicidal freedom.

There is this malaise in the south. This idea brought me to a related notion of hegemony and false consciousness. “Bangsa Johor” is an invented “nation” living in an oxymoron: being fearful of feudalism, yet showing absurdist freedom.

Today’s grand hypocrisy

In countries ruled by “Muslim monarchs,” you seldom find true Islam, mostly hypocrisy. Abuse of Islam is everywhere. Look around. In Malaysia, the more politicians claim Malay-Muslim parties will defend and protect Malay-Muslims, the more you find national robbery done nicely. Even the Pilgrimage Fund, the holiest of holy investment body, got robbed holistically, done religiously.

In today’s political chaos, we need a Napoleon with the heart of Socrates, the mind of Plato and Cicero, to return. In today’s politics, the Malay masses is the ageing Hang Tuah, blind-obedient, watching Jebat and the King fight over wealth. People are helpless, drained by the hope they held for 60 years. After a year of regime change, hope is slowly turning into yet another period of hopelessness.

In the case of the recent U-turn decision on the Rome Statute, are you justified to pull out of the Rome Statute when one has always wanted to be known as a “Third World warrior”? Aren’t we tired of claims of political conspiracy and coup d’état when the real issue is of no principle and the leaders involved could not make a stand? However dumb and dumber a president is, at least Americans have two terms maximum to suffer. Malaysia?

Let us take seriously the comical North-South Malaysian Cold War brewing. Today’s Pakatan Harapan–Johor government squabble is opening up an exciting dialogue on the role and responsibilities and limits of the monarchy.

The debate on the balance of power, the nature and future of the monarchy, and the growing voice of the people in deciding who is abusing power and what then must the rakyat do – these are demonstrations of a mature Malaysian democracy. Cultivate this wisely, but surely.

The wealthy and the powerful

Wealth and power have intoxicated those who are supposed to make Malaysia a better democracy. Arrogance will be overthrown. Race, religion, and the royalty will no longer be conveniently used as weapons of disharmony when information is set free.

It’s crucial now that our education system be transformed to teach the history of the people more than the history of the monarchy. In the Age of Post-Humanism, The Age of Kings will give way to The Age of Reason and Malay Enlightenment.

Over the decades, the intelligence and rationalism of the Johoreans have been eroded by this sense of false consciousness. Power and wealth held by the display of the sword, gold, and mental and physical enslavement cannot be sustained.

There was never a “protection of Malay rights”. Only a licence and reason to plunder, propped as an absurd symbol of tradition. The 1MDB fiasco and many others swept under the carpet or yet to be uncovered, are testaments to the magnitude of plunder.

Never in my life have I humiliated my mind by kowtowing to any form of modern and traditional authority. Never will. I

I believe Johoreans should be obsessed with books, and not just with football. The latter can be a passage to mind control and mob mentality. Besides, there is no Bangsa Johor. There is only Rakyat Malaysia.

Our goal as a nation is to treat each citizen with equality under the shadow of the Constitution’s supremacy. Young Johoreans, who do not know history, are cemented with fear, football, and false consciousness. Free them!

Thomas Jefferson revisited

Thomas Jefferson, statesman, author, an admirer of the Enlightenment thinkers and, most importantly, the author of the American Declaration of Independence did not want King and Religion to be foundations of the new nation.

In the case of what is happening in the Islamic world, we see chaos. Islam hates hypocrites. So, why do hypocrites appoint themselves as defenders and rulers of Islam?

In difficult cognitive times like these, I seek refuge in the work of, amongst other philosophers, the humanists such as Rousseau, Montesquieu, Voltaire, Diderot. And Marat and Robespierre.

Will we ever get out of this madness? Like Harry Houdini, the escape artist?

This is the question of our times. We are in a black hole.


AZLY RAHMAN is an educator, academic, international columnist, and author of seven books available here. He holds a doctorate in international education development from Columbia University, New York City, and Master’s degrees in six areas: education, international affairs, peace studies communication, fiction and non-fiction writing. He is a member of the Kappa Delta Pi International Honour Society in Education. Twitter @azlyrahman. More writings here.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

 

Masters 2019: Francesco Molinari leads Tiger Woods and Tony Finau by twoBy Peter Scrivener


April 14, 2019

Masters 2019: Francesco Molinari leads Tiger Woods and Tony Finau by two

Masters 2019: Francesco Molinari has ‘one of the rounds of his life’ to lead by two
Masters third-round leaderboard
-13: F Molinari (Ita); -11: T Finau (US), T Woods (US); -10: B Koepka (US); -9: W Simpson (US), I Poulter (Eng); -8: L Oosthuizen (SA), J Harding (SA), X Schauffele (US), M Kuchar (US), D Johnson (US); -7: A Scott (Aus), R Fowler (US)
Selected others: -6: P Mickelson (US); -4: T Fleetwood (Eng), J Spieth (US); -1: R McIlroy (NI). Full leaderboard

Open champion Francesco Molinari will take a two-shot lead over Tiger Woods and Tony Finau into the final round of the Masters at Augusta National.

Italian Molinari holed four successive birdies on the second nine to card a 66 and finish on 13 under as he looks to win a second major.

Woods, who won the last of his four Green Jackets in 2005, had a five-under 67 to move second with fellow American Finau, who was one of three players to hit a sensational 64.

Three-time major winner Brooks Koepka is a shot further back after a 69, while England’s Ian Poulter carded a 68 to remain in the hunt at nine under.

Tee times for Sunday’s final round have been brought forward because of anticipated thunderstorms. Players will be grouped in threesomes, with the first group set to start at 12:30 BST.

Woods, trying to win his first major title since the 2008 US Open, will tee off alongside Molinari and Finau in the last threesome at 14:20 BST.

The 14-time major winner said he would get up “around 03:45 or 04:00” local time to prepare for his 09:20 start.

“Usually the reward for playing hard and doing all the things correctly, you get a nice little sleep-in come Sunday, but that’s not the case,” Woods said.

“We’ve got to get up early and get after it. It will be interesting to see if that wind comes up like it’s forecast – 15-20mph around this golf course is going to be testy.”

There will be uninterrupted live coverage of the final day on BBC Two from 13:55 BST, with additional coverage starting at 12:30 online.

Masters 2019: Rickie Fowler & Francesco Molinari feature in best shots of day three

Molinari shows champion form

Molinari went quietly about his business, making two birdies on the first nine, and a run of four from the 12th on the second nine. The roars were appreciative, rather than loud.

The 36-year-old Italian’s previous best Masters finish was a tie for 19th back in 2012 but he has now gone 43 holes without dropping a shot, and that is champion material.

He did not make a bogey in his final 37 holes when he won The Open at Carnoustie last July. He played with Woods in the final round there but playing with Woods at Augusta, even with a two-shot start, will be a very different challenge.

Molinari, who also beat Woods three times alongside Tommy Fleetwood in the 2018 Ryder Cup, said: “I wish I only had to worry about him but there are a few more that are going to try to shoot a low round so it’s going to be exciting.

“I played slightly better on Friday but mentally I was very good.

“There were two big putts on four and five to save pars and I played the back nine as well as I’ve played it. And then there was a good par save on 18, it was nice to keep another clean scorecard.”

Patrons roar Woods birdies

Image result for 2019 Masters
Masters 2019: Tiger Woods remain in contention after day three at Augusta

Woods parred the first four holes before dropping a shot at the newly extended par-four fifth for the third day running.

However, three birdies at the next three holes got the 14-time major winner, and the patrons, interested. The roar that greeted his next birdie at the par-five 13th echoed across the course.

Patrons were still streaming down the hill on the 15th when he holed a short birdie putt, after a deft chip from the back of the green. The volume that greeted that was up a further notch.

Those without seats shuffled round to the 16th green, hundreds jammed in to a tiny corner. Most can’t have seen the tee shot, fewer still where it landed but the ear-splitting whoops and hollers told you it was close.

They say there is no roar like a Tiger roar at Augusta. And the one that followed his tap-in birdie at 16 reverberated around the Georgia pines. Nobody on the course could have missed that one.

This is the fifth time Woods has shot 205 or fewer after three rounds at the Masters. He won the previous four.

Woods said he gave himself a talking to between the fifth green and sixth tee. “It was simple,” he explained. “Just be patient and let the round build. The goal was to make sure I got to double digits and I did that.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in contention here, but then again the last two majors counts for something,” said Woods, who briefly led on the final day of the 2018 Open and finished runner-up to Koepka in the 2018 US PGA Championship.

Finau takes advantage of good conditions

Masters 2019: Tony Finau takes the outright lead on 10 under with a birdie on the 13th hole

Finau finished joint 10th last year despite dislocating his ankle when celebrating a hole-in-one during the par-three contest.

There were no such exuberant celebrations on Saturday, despite the 29-year-old opening his round with three successive birdies. Another birdie followed on the sixth before an eagle on the eighth took him right into the mix on nine under.

He narrowly missed a birdie putt on the ninth that was to set a new record of 29 strokes for the first nine.

And like many, he took advantage of the two par fives on the second nine to improve his score to 11 under, on a day of hot sun, light wind and low scoring all round.

‘Best golf ever seen at Augusta’

The 65 players to make the cut scored a cumulative 80 under par, which is thought to be the lowest scoring on a single day at the Masters.

“There has been some amazing golf today with three 64s,” said BBC Sport expert Ken Brown. “We have seen some of the best golf I have ever seen at Augusta.”

And BBC commentator Peter Alliss added: “They played some shots today that I can’t believe. I think ‘you can’t reach this hole with a driver, a seven or an eight iron’ but they do.”

‘The oldies are doing not so bad’ – Poulter

Poulter, who was playing with fellow 43-year-old Woods, opened with seven pars and two birdies and holed three more on his second nine, his only bogey coming on the 11th.

It was a terrific round from Poulter considering he also had to deal with being in the bubble of a super-charged Augusta crowd who are willing Woods to break his decade-long major drought.

“It’s always loud when Tiger makes birdies, but when you’re in contention at the Masters you’d probably pick Tiger Woods to play alongside. He was good fun to play with,” said Poulter.

“The oldies are doing not so bad, so I might have a 3.5% chance now,” he added, referring to a stat he said he heard on television that players aged 43 have only a 3% chance of winning the Masters.

Simpson, Koepka & Johnson also in contention

Webb Simpson, the 2012 US Open champion, was another of the three to post a 64 – one shot off the course record jointly held by Nick Price and Greg Norman – as he moved to nine under, level with Poulter.

They will play the final round with Koepka who had four bogeys in a 69.

World number two Dustin Johnson is among five players on eight under after a 70, while Rickie Fowler shot 68 to reach seven under.

England’s Fleetwood had a solid 70 to move to four under, alongside 2015 Masters champion Jordan Spieth who has picked up seven shots in two rounds following an opening 75.

But Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy told BBC Sport he made “too many mistakes” as his hopes of winning a first Masters title disappeared with a one-under 71 that left him one under par for the tournament.

 

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?


April 13, 2019

Who understands our times, Bernie or The Donald?

by Fareed Zakaria.com

https://fareedzakaria.com/columns/2019/4/11/who-understands-our-times-bernie-or-the-donald

There are many explanations for Benjamin Netanyahu’s victory in this week’s election that have to do with Israel’s particular situation — its economic boom, stable security climate and the prime minister’s political talent. But he is also part of a much larger phenomenon: the continued strength of populist nationalism around the world — and the continued inability of left-of-center parties to respond to it.

Image result for BERNIE AND TRUMP

 

The case for populist nationalism goes something like this. It’s a nasty world out there. People are trying to take our jobs, undermine our security, move into our country. The cosmopolitan urban elites don’t care; they benefit from these forces. So we need a tough guy who will stand up for the nation and against the liberals in our midst.

In some variant or another, this is the argument made by Netanyahu, Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Narendra Modi, Viktor Orban, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Jair Bolsonaro, the Brexiteers — and, of course, President Trump.

In 1972, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote that nationalism “expresses the inflamed desire of the insufficiently regarded to count for something among the cultures of the world.” He placed the roots of modern nationalism in Germany, a country obsessed with finding its place in the sun. But the sentiment — a kind of victim mentality — can be found in almost all modern variations, even among rich and powerful nations.

Look at Putin’s claim that Russia has been pushed around by the West since the Cold War, the Chinese obsession with their humiliation since the opium wars, the Israeli right’s complaint that the world is biased against Israel and Trump’s constant refrain that all foreigners — from Mexicans to Chinese to Europeans — take advantage of the United States. These leaders promise to rectify the situation and restore their countries’ proper standing in the world.

Trump’s embrace of the word “nationalism” illustrates the simultaneous attacks on domestic elites (with their politically correct language) and on perfidious foreigners. “We’re not supposed to use that word,” Trump said in October. “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word.”

When asked the next day what he meant by the term, Trump responded, “I love our country. And our country has taken second fiddle. . . . We’re giving all of our wealth, all of our money, to other countries. And then they don’t treat us properly.”

Netanyahu, for his part, has long argued that Israel deserves a much better “place among the nations,” a phrase that was the title of his 1993 book that argued for a robust Israeli nationalism that is aggressive and unapologetic. Though Israel’s strength and security have grown immeasurably, as its historical enemies — Saudi Arabia and Syria, among others — have either become buddies or basket cases, the argument that the world is against it has somehow persisted.

In fact, despite the pose of victim hood adopted by most of these populists, nationalism is probably the most widely held ideology in the world today. Which American politician today does not speak up for the United States? The real debate is whether nationalism should be informed and influenced by other values such as liberty and equality and, if these two sets of values conflict, which one should be preferred. That’s why the most ardent capitalists — from Friedrich Hayek to Milton Friedman — have always been in favor of globalization and economic freedom above nationalist protections and controls.

The danger for liberals is that they underestimate the power of these raw, emotional appeals. For centuries, liberals have assumed that nationalism was a kind of irrational attachment that would grow weaker as people became more rational, connected and worldly. In fact, Berlin wrote, like a twig that is bent in one direction and has to snap back, as globalization grew in its reach, nationalism would be the predictable backlash.

Populist nationalists understand the core appeal of their ideology. I recently asked a Bolsonaro supporter whether the Brazilian president’s economic policies (which are free-market-oriented and reformist) or his cultural nationalism was the key to his appeal. The supporter’s answer: Nationalism is the party’s core; the economics is simply about efficiency and growth.

Meanwhile, liberals in the United States still don’t seem to get it. The Democratic Party continues to think the solution to its woes is to keep moving leftward economically. This week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) revealed his new Medicare-for-all plan, which was immediately co-sponsored by four other presidential candidates. The plan will probably require an additional $2 trillion to $3 trillion in annual tax revenue.At the same time, Trump tweets about the Democrats’ love of “open borders” and insists he will protect the country and enforce its laws. What if Trump understands the mood of our times better than Sanders?

(c) 2019, Washington Post Writers Group

 

Trump’s Most Worrisome Legacy


April 13, 2019

stiglitz257_Win McNameeGetty Images_trump nielsen

Trump’s Most Worrisome Legacy

The US president’s attacks on America’s truth-seeking institutions jeopardize its continued prosperity and very ability to function as a democracy. As corporate giants capture the institutions that are supposed to protect ordinary citizens, a dystopia once imagined only by science fiction writers is emerging before our eyes.

NEW YORK – Kirstjen Nielsen’s forced resignation as US Secretary of Homeland Security is no reason to celebrate. Yes, she presided over the forced separation of families at the US border, notoriously housing young children in wire cages. But Nielsen’s departure is not likely to bring any improvement, as President Donald Trump wants to replace her with someone who will carry out his anti-immigrant policies even more ruthlessly.

Trump’s immigration policies are appalling in almost every aspect. And yet they may not be the worst feature of his administration. Indeed, identifying its foulest aspects has become a popular American parlor game. Yes, he has called immigrants criminals, rapists, and animals. But what about his deep misogyny or his boundless vulgarity and cruelty? Or his winking support of white supremacists? Or his withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, the Iran nuclear deal, and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty? And, of course, there is his war on the environment, on health care, and on the rules-based international system.

This morbid game never ends, of course, because new contenders for the title emerge almost daily. Trump is a disrupting personality, and after he’s gone, we may well reflect on how such a deranged and morally challenged person could have been elected president of the world’s most powerful country in the first place.

But what concerns me most is Trump’s disruption of the institutions that are necessary for the functioning of society. Trump’s “MAGA” (Make America Great Again) agenda is, of course, not about restoring the moral leadership of the United States. It embodies and celebrates unbridled selfishness and self-absorption. MAGA is about economics. But that forces us to ask: what is the basis of America’s wealth?

Adam Smith tried to provide an answer in his classic 1776 book The Wealth of Nations. For centuries, Smith noted, standards of living had been stagnant; then, toward the end of the eighteenth century, incomes start to soar. WhySmith himself was a leading light of the great intellectual movement known as the Scottish Enlightenment. The questioning of established authority that followed the earlier Reformation in Europe forced society to ask: How do we know the truth? How can we learn about the world around us? And how can and should we organize our society?From the search for answers to these questions arose a new epistemology, based on the empiricism and skepticism of science, which came to prevail over the forces of religion, tradition, and superstition. Over time, universities and other research institutions were established to help us judge truth and discover the nature of our world. Much of what we take for granted today – from electricity, transistors, and computers to lasers, modern medicine, and smartphones – is the result of this new disposition, undergirded by basic scientific research (most of it financed by government).

The absence of royal or ecclesiastical authority to dictate how society should be organized to ensure that things worked out well, or as well as they could, meant that society had to figure it out for itself. But devising the institutions that would ensure society’s wellbeing was a more complicated matter than discovering the truths of nature. In general, one couldn’t conduct controlled experiments.

A close study of past experience could, however, be informative. One had to rely on reasoning and discourse – recognizing that no individual had a monopoly on our understandings of social organization. Out of this process emerged an appreciation that governance institutions based on the rule of law, due process, and checks and balances, and supported by foundational values like individual liberty and justice for all, are more likely to produce good and fair decisions. These institutions may not be perfect, but they have been designed so that it is more likely that flaws will be uncovered and eventually corrected.

That process of experimentation, learning, and adaptation, however, requires a commitment to ascertaining the truth. Americans owe much of their economic success to a rich set of truth-telling, truth-discovering, and truth-verifying institutions. Central among them are freedom of expression and independent media. Like all people, journalists are fallible; but, as part of a robust system of checks and balances on those in positions of power, they have traditionally provided an essential public good.Since Smith’s day, it has been shown that a nation’s wealth depends on the creativity and productivity of its people, which can be advanced only by embracing the spirit of scientific discovery and technological innovation. And it depends on steady improvements in social, political, and economic organization, discovered through reasoned public discourse.

The attack by Trump and his administration on every one of the pillars of American society – and his especially aggressive vilification of the country’s truth-seeking institutions – jeopardizes its continued prosperity and very ability to function as a democracy. Nor do there appear to be checks on corporate giants’ efforts to capture the institutions – the courts, legislatures, regulatory agencies, and major media outlets – that are supposed to prevent them from exploiting workers and consumers. A dystopia previously imagined only by science fiction writers is emerging before our eyes. It should give us chills to think of who “wins” in this world, and who or what we might become, just in the struggle to survive.

 

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics, is University Professor at Columbia University and Chief Economist at the Roosevelt Institute. His latest book, People, Power, and Profits: Progressive Capitalism for an Age of Discontent, will be published in April.