I really enjoyed these two interviews on the D&D Beyond channel with actors Deborah Ann Woll (True Blood, Daredevil) and Joe Manganiello (True Blood, Justice League, Magic Mike), both D&D fanatics. In Deborah's interview, she talks about how she got started in the hobby, what kind of characters she likes to play (fighters, surprisingly enough), and her thoughts on the current D&D renaissance.
One interesting observation she makes about RPGs as a unique form of acting/theater: When a party saves a character or survives an ordeal, or otherwise experiences a dramatic moment, there's often an intense, visceral response from the players that she says she doesn't experience in any other type of acting. As an actor, she longs to evoke this kind of response in people, so that's one of the things that draws her to D&D.
In the Joe Manganiello video, we get a tour of his E. Gary Gygax Memorial Dungeon (think: MTV Cribs for nerds) and hear about how he got back into the hobby after a long hiatus and how he went about converting his basement wine cellar into this enviable game space. The large dragon, beholder, and mind flayer sculptures are very cool. Joe also talks about the impact that D&D had on him as a kid and how he learned foundational skills in storytelling, world-building, and acting that he later employed as a professional actor. D&D was his gateway drug.
In mid-December of 2018, Geek & Sundry announced a new D&D-themed show, coming in February, starring Deborah Woll. Called Relix and Rarities, not a lot is known about the series except it appears to take several steps further toward theater over theater of the mind, with changing sets, costumes(?), and an episodic storyline driven by Dungeon Master Woll and the indeterminacies of dice rolls.
The whole area of roleplaying game entertainment is still in its infancy and highly experimental. Shows and streams are trying out all sorts of ways of presenting gameplay, from the Hollywood Squares-style of Critical Role and countless other YouTube and Twitch shows, to the animated game sessions of HarmonQuest, to the hybrid style of Dimension 20's highly-recommended Fantasy High. It will be interesting to see what Woll and G&S have in store.
Chipotle is permanently on Santa’s naughty list. But Santa is a pretty nice guy and he still gives naughty companies what they ask for. In this case, Chipotle had a dream. See, they were routinely stealing wages from workers. But it feared the workers coming together for a big lawsuit. So it started forcing workers to sign mandatory arbitration agreements. Whoops!
A few years ago, the burrito chain Chipotle began requiring employees to sign mandatory arbitration agreements. The idea was to force the workers to give up their right to sue collectively over wage theft or workplace discrimination.
Chipotle’s plan seems to have worked out a little too well: The company is now facing a flood of arbitration cases from former employees determined to win the backpay they claim they are owed.
Facing potentially huge liabilities, Chipotle recently asked a federal judge to block the workers from seeking arbitration with lawyers who’d represented them in court ― despite the fact Chipotle had forced arbitration upon its workers via agreements they had to sign when they were hired.
The judge denied that request, calling Chipotle’s actions “unseemly.”
“This is their worst-case scenario, apparently ― and the scenario they asked for,” said Kent Williams, one of the attorneys representing the former Chipotle employees.
The Supreme Court had legalized this sort of thing, thinking that it was going to help employers deal with their pesky workers, the ultimate goal of the Roberts Court. But it turns out that 150 workers decided to file for individual arbitration anyway, even though it’s a big pain.
Unlike a collective- or class-action lawsuit, all of those claims would be administered separately, and they could get very expensive for Chipotle. A single case can run tens of thousands of dollars in lawyers fees and payments to the arbitrator service ― in this case, JAMS. The cost of litigating can dwarf the actual damages.
“If you start running the numbers on this thing, arbitration costs could top $30,000 or $50,000 [each],” said Williams. If hundreds or thousands of workers pursue cases, “You get up to, like, tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars very quickly, just in arbitration expenses.”
Under the arbitration rules, Williams said, the cases would be heard in the county where Chipotle last employed the worker in question, meaning the claims would be spread out all over the country. Chipotle has roughly 2,400 locations, according to its latest SEC filings. If so many cases were to move forward, they would present a logistical nightmare for the company.
Williams said Chipotle has so far refused to pay its share of the arbitration filing fee, which amounts to $1,100 per case, preventing those cases from proceeding. A similar situation has been unfolding for Uber drivers who also signed arbitration agreements. As Gizmodo reported earlier this month, some 12,000 drivers are pursuing arbitration with the ride-sharing giant. Like Chipotle, Uber has not paid the filing fees required in those cases.
Contempt for the courts when they don’t go along with your position goes real well with your contempt for workers.
But Chipotle’s court filings say plenty. The company wasn’t satisfied with getting nearly 3,000 mostly low-wage workers booted from a large lawsuit. It asked Kane, the judge, to forbid those workers from pursuing arbitration with Williams and his team as their attorneys. Their rationale: Because the workers had signed arbitration agreements, they never should have received notice about the collective-action lawsuit and become clients of Williams and his colleagues.
Kane rejected that argument, essentially saying that whatever happens in arbitration isn’t his court’s business. But once the arbitration filings started coming in, Chipotle appealed. “The arbitrations are going forward,” the company bemoaned in its filing, “causing immediate harm to Chipotle.”
The judge ruled against Chipotle yet again, and leveled a withering critique of the company’s legal strategy: “Chipotle’s attempts to delay and obfuscate the claims of the Arbitration Plaintiffs in both the courts and in arbitration (the forum to which it required these employees to submit) are unseemly.”
Also, Chipotle is pretty bad and is only worth eating at if there as a desperation choice. About once a year I end up at one and remember this for the next 11 1/2 months or so.
Attempting to pass the crown of Chief Neoliberal Shill on to me, Noah Smith has an excellent Twitter thread that cites me: Noah Smith: "Here is a thread about neoliberalism. At the beginning of this year I was elected "Chief Neoliberal Shill", but the true Chief Neoliberal Shill has always been Brad @delong. In 1999, he wrote the following neoliberal manifesto: https://t.co/QQCBFHjgYR. DeLong's case for neoliberalism is basically: It's not about YOU, rich-country person. It's about people in poor countries. Neoliberalism, he says, is the best (only?) way for the world to recover from the inequalities generated by colonialism and unequal industrialization.... Obviously, lots of people toss around the word 'neoliberalism', using it to mean anything from Obama-style centrism to Ayn Rand-style feudalist libertarianism. But I like DeLong's version best. Neoliberalism as the most expeditious antidote to colonialism.
The "neoliberalism" I was talking about then is a relatively distant cousin (but was a cousin) of what people are calling "neoliberalism" today...
And Miniver Cheevy has formatted my argument of 1999:
a counsel of despair with respect to the possibility of social democracy today (outside of the global economy’s industrial core).
a counsel of hope with respect to the prospects for rapid market-generated economic development outside the global economy’s industrial core—if governments adopt market-conforming policies.
a bet that improvements in transportation and communication—the shrinking world—“globalization”—gives us today an extraordinary opportunity to rapidly reduce global inequality by incorporating more and more people and more and more more regions into the global economy.
the only live utopian program in the world today...
...A counsel of despair…
After World War II in Latin America, and at the achievement of independence elsewhere outside the global economy’s core, there were high hopes that social democracy (or something further to the left) could be successfully instituted. And there were high hopes that such social democratic or socialist regimes would enable peoples living outside the core to cut a generation or more off of what had been a lengthy, bloody, and cruel three- or four-generation process of industrialization and democratization in northwest Europe and its settler colonies.
Social democratic or socialist governments would from the beginning establish strong redistributive social insurance states to severely reduce the income and wealth inequalities that had been characteristic of Bismarckian Germany or the Gilded Age United States. They would put into place the physical infrastructure to reduce infant mortality and disease that the aristocracies and bourgeoisies of northwest Europe had not thought profitable. They would spend money like water on education.
Moreover, they would use Keynesian policies to make sure that growth was free of the recessions and depressions that characterized industrialization in the industrial core. They would carefully manage their connections with the global economy—choosing the level of the real exchange rate, controlling imports so that imported goods were those of high social utility, preventing artificial drives for export success from raising the prices of necessities to the people, and establishing national independence from imperial capital.
They would nationalize at least the monopolistic commanding heights of the economy (if social democratic) or nationalize far more of the economy (if socialist) in order to take full advantage of the massive economies of scale in industry, and to make sure that investments in capacity and productivity that made sense from the social point of view were made — as they would not be if large-scale industry remained private, and if it proved difficult for the private monopolists to make a profit off of such investments. And all these economic decisions would be made by democratically-elected governments responsible to an electorate that had learned by exercising power what the trade-offs were and how to choose the best path forward that led by the quickest way to utopia.
By the end of the 1970s, however, it was clear to all except blindered ideologues that something had gone very wrong with social democracy at the periphery. (And that even more had gone wrong with really-existing socialism at the periphery.)
Stable political democracy proved far more to be the exception than the rule. Authoritarian rule by traditional elites, dictatorship by impatient army officers, and charismatic populist politicians ruling by virtue of carefully-prepared and carefully-staged plebiscites were much more common than were stable parliamentary or separation-of-powers democracies. Those aspects of social insurance that were installed seemed to do more to redistribute income from (poor) rural peasants to (richer) urban workers and (rich) urban civil servants than to moderate income and wealth inequalities. With some exceptions (many of them among really-existing-socialist countries) high government spending on education and on physical infrastructure seemed to produced less in the way of actual education or infrastructure—and more in the way of sweetheart contracts to the Minister of Regional Development’s nephew’s cement factory—than one would have hoped.
The nationalized commanding heights of the economy turned out more often than not to become employment bureaus for the politically well-connected: under Juan Peron in Argentina the number of employees of the (newly nationalized) Argentinian railroad system close to tripled, while the number of trains and the volume of goods carried fell. It seemed that while the state was superior as an instrument of social evolution, it was not very good as a bank, or as a stock exchange, or as a nursery for inefficient enterprises.
Too-great a reliance on Keynesian policies of demand stimulation turned out to generate high- and hyper-inflation, with the recessions that came with the crash of the monetary system proving arguably larger than the booms-and-busts Keynesian policies were supposed to avoid. Import restrictions turned out to limit imports not to those of social utility, but to those profitable to the import companies owned by the son-in-law of the Vice Minister of Finance — and to the Vice Minister himself. High real exchange rates turned out to do less to amplify the purchasing power of the country abroad than to artificially shrink exports, and to divert employment and investment away from sectors of comparative advantage.
There were exceptions: places outside the core where the social-democratic program was a stunning success.
Southern Europe alone managed to “converge” to the industrial core of northwest Europe, its ex-settler colonies, and Japan.
East Asia managed to limit corruption and maximize investment in infrastructure and export capacity, achieving the fastest economic growth rates ever seen in world history (albeit with disappointingly slow progress toward political democracy, and civilian blood on the hands of the military in massacres ranging from the thousands (in South Korea) to the tens of thousands (in Taiwan) to the hundreds of thousands (in Indonesia).
India managed to hang on to political democracy (albeit with disappointing economic growth).
In Brazil rapid growth in measured GDP was associated with the most hideous income distribution ever seen.
It seemed that the key was political democracy. With stable political democracy—in France, in Italy, even in Spain after the fall of Franco—social democracy could work and achieve great successes. Without political democracy it seemed that the chances of success were low (unless somehow the poorly-understood foundations of East Asia’s low corruption could be duplicated). And it also seemed that the prospects for achieving stable political democracy on the periphery were rather low. After all, France experienced its first democratic revolution until 1789, yet depending on who you talk to it was not until 1871 or 1958 or 1981 that France truly achieved stable democracy.
Hence neoliberalism as a counsel of despair.
As Marx wrote, the executive branchy of the modern state is nothing but a committee for managing the affairs of the ruling class—meaning, among other things, that a democratically-elected legislative branch turns the state into something better. But the prospects for stable political democracy in the periphery are slim. And thus the government becomes the tool of the ruling class—a ruling class that may be made up of army officers, or landlords, or urban elites, or those who profit as middlemen from the traditional channels of trade and exchange—who are not terribly interested in the success of social democracy or in rapid broad-based economic growth.
Hence the policy advice of neoliberalism as a counsel of despair: get the state’s nose out of the economy as much as possible. When the state is neither an instrument of positive redistribution nor an instrument of growth-boosting investment, its interventions in the economy are likely to go strongly awry. And to the extent that a reduction in the economic role of an elite-controlled state can be required as a price for rapid incorporation of an area into the global economy, such a reduction should be required.
A counsel of hope…
Yet neoliberalism is not just a counsel of despair, it is a counsel of hope. The hope is that the prospects for rapid market-generated economic development outside the global economy’s industrial core are very bright.
The prospects for rapid market-generated economic development are very bright for three reasons.
First, the productivity gap between the periphery and the industrial core has never been larger.
Second, governments now have a large number of positive examples to copy (as well as negative examples to avoid) in planning market-conforming development strategies.
Third, investors in the industrial core now have the confidence and the resources to materially assist in peripheral development.
First, because the productivity gap between the periphery and the industrial core has never been larger, what Alexander Gerschenkron called the “advantages of backwardness” are now uniquely great. In 1870 an Indian or a Chinese textile-making entrepreneur could perhaps quadruple labor productivity by importing the modern capital goods of the British industrial revolution. Today any entrepreneur on the periphery has the prospect of being able to amplify labor productivity tenfold or more by investing in latest-generation or latest-but-on-generation capital equipment and factory organization. The stunning multiplication of productivity in Mexican automobile manufacture gives a clue to how quickly productivity can be amplified—if the capital is there to do so.
Second, all governments everywhere are now aware—from the examples of northern Europe, southern Europe, and East Asia—of those government interventions and policies that appear to be powerful boosters of growth. They are aware of the centrality of education (especially female secondary education) in accelerating the demographic transition. They are aware of the importance of making it easy for domestic producers to acquire industrial core technology (embodied in capital goods or not). They are aware of the importance of administrative simplicity and transparency. They are aware of the value of the transportation and communications infrastructure that only the government can provide. In those areas in which the government’s nose should and must stay deeply embedded in the economy, even those states controlled by elites that have only a limited interest in growth and development now have many positive models to imitate.
Third, improvements in communications and transportation have made investors in the industrial core more willing than ever before to consider placing their capital in the periphery. The pre-World War I wave of international investment was largely limited to regions in which there were lots of white guys—guys who could play polo (never mind that polo in its original form was a sport played by central Asian nomads using a goat carcass as a ball)—plus the French geostrategic commitment to Russia as an ally against the Second Reich. The U.S. benefited enormously from Britain’s willingness to lend capital to industrializing America in the years before 1900. The inflow of capital cut a decade or two off of the time it took the U.S. to industrialize (and crony capitalists like Jay Gould, Colis Huntington, Charles Crocker, and Leland Stanford took British investors to the cleaners as well).
Now that investors in the industrial core are willing to commit their money to regions in which there are not lots of white guys, an opportunity to speed industrialization that used to be limited to a relatively narrow part of the non-European world is now open to many more—if their governments undertake the steps needed to reassure industrial-core investors, and if those who make economic policy in the G-7 can limit the destructive effects of the financial crises generated by the manic-depressive swings of opinion in Manhattan, London, Frankfurt, and Tokyo.
A bet on globalization…
And this is where the neoliberal view of the world is weakest: in its bet on globalization — its bet that a tightly-integrated global economy, with large flows of capital and goods (and, to the extent industrial core governments permit, of labor) is a richer and faster-growing global economy. John Maynard Keynes and Harry Dexter White would disagree with the proposition that large flows of capital are good: they would call them too dangerous to be risked.
Nevertheless, neoliberals today are more impressed with the gains from capital flows than the risks. The quadrupling of real wages in Indonesia from 1965 to 1997 would have been significantly lower without capital inflows which carried technology and enabled higher domestic investment (even though real wages in Indonesia have fallen by at least a quarter since 1997). Lowered transportation and communications costs have amplified the gains from expanded international trade by an order of magnitude over the past generation. And it is next to impossible to have large international flows of goods while excluding the possibility of large international flows of capital as well. Small changes in the timing of payments and in the extension of trade credit add up to large swings in the capital account.
Thus neoliberalism is not only a bet that increasing economic integration is a good thing—that an integrated global economy will see much more levelling-up than levelling-down—but that successful stabilization policy can be pursued by the G-7 on a global level. It is thus a claim about the economic environment (that the gains from globalization are large) and about the state capacity of the G-7 (that they can successfully carry out global-level stabilization policies).
The only live utopian program…
Perhaps not all of the principles of neoliberalism are correct.
Successful development in East Asia suggests that the counsels of despair are perhaps somewhat overstated: East Asia is an example if not of successful social democracy at least of a successful developmental state. On the other hand, as Lant Pritchett has observed, there is nothing worse than state-led development led by an anti-developmental state. And pending a better understanding of what has gone right in East Asia or much greater success in institutionalizing political democracy, the risks of a government turning away from the neoliberal path and attempting to duplicate East Asian developmental states appear very high.
The belief that the opportunities for market-conforming development are now uniquely great appears to be almost certainly correct. But the jury is still out on whether the free-capital-flow part of “globalization” is a good thing: the odds are 80% that the G-7 do have the state capacity to successfully manage a world economy with large-scale capital flows, but there is a 20% chance that they do not.
Nevertheless, the neoliberal program is the only live utopian program in the world today.
Opposition to neoliberalism on the left seems to call for a return to effective autarchy. But if there is one lesson from economic history over the past hundred years, it is that there has been one decade—the 1930s—when economic autarchy was the road to relative prosperity, while there have been nine decades in which the more open to trade a country’s economic policy, the faster has been economic growth.
Opposition to neoliberalism on the left seems to call for a return to state control of the economy—to the pattern of Peronism or of the PRI—in the hope that this time the state will be not the tool of elites with little concern for development and growth but instead the faithful servant of the interests of the masses. That is not very likely. The state can be the servant of the people only if political democracy is well-established, and not always then. To place one’s chips on the maximization of the power of a not-very-democratic and not-very-developmental state does not seem a promising path for either democratization or successful industrialization. It seems to embody a remarkable unwillingness to learn from world history since the end of World War I, and an ideological-blinded refusal to ever mark one’s beliefs to market.
Opposition to neoliberalism on the right seems based on a fear that neoliberalism will bring with it a breakdown of social order: peasants will no longer fear landlords, workers will no longer be the clients of bosses or of the leaders of government-sponsored puppet unions, and voters will no longer respect the views of notables.
All the rest of us certainly hope that the right-wing opponents of neoliberalism are correct, and that neoliberalism this generation will begin structural transformations that will make social democracy on the periphery possible next generation.
A Yale philosopher on fascism, truth, and Donald Trump.
“Fascism” is a word that gets tossed around pretty loosely these days, usually as an epithet to discredit someone else’s politics.
One consequence is that no one really knows what the term means anymore. Liberals see fascism as the culmination of conservative thinking: an authoritarian, nationalist, and racist system of government organized around corporate power. For conservatives, fascism is totalitarianism masquerading as the nanny state.
A new book by Yale philosopher Jason Stanley is the latest attempt to clarify what fascism is and how it functions in the modern world. Stanley focuses on propaganda and rhetoric, so his book is largely about the tropes and narratives that drive fascist politics.
I spoke with him recently about what fascism looks like today, why the destruction of truth is so essential to fascist movements, and whether he thinks it’s accurate to call President Donald Trump a fascist, as some have.
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Almost everyone means something different when they use the word “fascism.” What do you mean by it?
I think of fascism as a method of politics. It’s a rhetoric, a way of running for power. Of course, that’s connected to fascist ideology, because fascist ideology centers on power. But I really see fascism as a technique to gain power.
People are always asking, “Is such-and-such politician really a fascist?” Which is really just another way of asking if this person has a particular set of beliefs or an ideology, but again, I don’t really think of a fascist as someone who holds a set of beliefs. They’re using a certain technique to acquire and retain power.
So fascism isn’t a discrete category — it’s a spectrum? Or a sliding scale?
Right. And my book identifies the various techniques that fascists tend to adopt, and shows how someone can be more fascist or less fascist in their politics. The key thing is that fascist politics is about identifying enemies, appealing to the in-group (usually the majority group), and smashing truth and replacing it with power.
We’ll get into some more of those techniques, but I’m curious why you think fascism is so hard to pin down as an ideology. People on the left see fascism as the endpoint of right-wing reactionary thinking, and people on the right see fascism as nanny-state totalitarianism. Obviously, it can’t be both of these things.
I think it’s clearly right-wing. Part of the problem is that “right” and “left” are tricky to talk about, and it’s true that there are dangerous forms of extremism on both sides, but fascism tilts pretty heavily to the right in my view.
If you think about fascism as a sliding scale, ordinary conservative politics is going to find itself somewhere on that scale — which is not to say that it’s fascist at all, any more than ordinary Democratic politics is communist. But just as extreme versions of communism suppress liberty on behalf of radical equality, so too do extreme versions of right-wing politics, namely fascism, suppress liberty in favor of tradition and dominance and power.
Your specialty is propaganda and rhetoric, and in the book you describe fascism as a collection of tropes and narratives. So what, exactly, is the story fascists are spinning?
In the past, fascist politics would focus on the dominant cultural group. The goal is to make them feel like victims, to make them feel like they’ve lost something and that the thing they’ve lost has been taken from them by a specific enemy, usually some minority out-group or some opposing nation.
This is why fascism flourishes in moments of great anxiety, because you can connect that anxiety with fake loss. The story is typically that a once-great society has been destroyed by liberalism or feminism or cultural Marxism or whatever, and you make the dominant group feel angry and resentful about the loss of their status and power. Almost every manifestation of fascism mirrors this general narrative.
Why is the destruction of truth, as a shared ideal, so critical to the fascist project?
It’s important because truth is the heart of liberal democracy. The two ideals of liberal democracy are liberty and equality. If your belief system is shot through with lies, you’re not free. Nobody thinks of the citizens of North Korea as free, because their actions are controlled by lies.
Truth is required to act freely. Freedom requires knowledge, and in order to act freely in the world, you need to know what the world is and know what you’re doing. You only know what you’re doing if you have access to the truth. So freedom requires truth, and so to smash freedom you must smash truth.
There’s a great line from the philosopher Hannah Arendt, I think in her book about totalitarianism, where she says that fascists are never content to merely lie; they must transform their lie into a new reality, and they must persuade people to believe in the unreality they’ve created. And if you get people to do that, you can convince them to do anything.
I think that’s right. Part of what fascist politics does is get people to disassociate from reality. You get them to sign on to this fantasy version of reality, usually a nationalist narrative about the decline of the country and the need for a strong leader to return it to greatness, and from then on their anchor isn’t the world around them — it’s the leader.
This is partly why I think of fascism as a kind of anti-politics. I remember reading a quote from Joseph Goebbels, who was the chief propagandist for the Nazis, and he said that what he was doing was more like art than politics. By which he meant their task was to create an alternative mythical reality for Germans that was more exciting and purposeful than the humdrum reality of liberal democratic politics, and that’s why mass media was so essential the rise of Nazism.
That’s so interesting. The thing is, people willingly adopt the mythical past. Fascists are always telling a story about a glorious past that’s been lost, and they tap into this nostalgia. So when you fight back against fascism, you’ve got one hand tied behind your back, because the truth is messy and complex and the mythical story is always clear and compelling and entertaining. It’s hard to undercut that with facts.
This is probably a good time to pivot to the glittering elephant in the room: Donald Trump. Is he a fascist?
I make the case in my book that he practices fascist politics. Now, that doesn’t mean his government is a fascist government. For one thing, I think it’s very difficult to say what a fascist government is.
For another thing, I think the current movement of leaders who use these techniques (Vladimir Putin in Russia, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, to name a few) all seek to keep the trappings of democratic institutions, but their goal is to reorient them around their own cult of personality.
Again, I wouldn’t claim — not yet, at least — that Trump is presiding over a fascist government, but he is very clearly using fascist techniques to excite his base and erode liberal democratic institutions, and that’s very troubling.
But the blame there is as much on the Republican Party as it is on Trump, because none of this would matter if they were willing to check Trump. So far, they’ve chosen loyalty to Trump over loyalty to rule of law.
In the book, you imply that there’s something inherently fascist about American politics, or at the very least that fascism has always been a latent force in America. Can you elaborate on that?
Well, the Ku Klux Klan deeply affected Adolf Hitler. He explicitly praised the 1924 Immigration Act, which severely limited the number of immigrants allowed to enter the US, as a useful model.
The 1920s and the 1930s was a very fascist time in the United States. You’ve got very patriarchal family values and a politics of resentment aimed at black Americans and other groups as internal threats, and this gets exported to Europe.
So we have a long history of genocide against native peoples and anti-black racism and anti-immigration hysteria, and at the same time there’s a strain of American exceptionalism, which manifests as a kind of mythological history and encourages Americans to think of their own country as a unique force for good.
This doesn’t make America a fascist country, but all of these ingredients are easily channeled into a fascist politics.
And yet at the same time there are countervailing forces that push us in the opposite direction, and so America exists in this perpetual tension between liberal democracy and reactionary fascism.
Absolutely. America is exceptional in good ways as well.
We have an exceptional devotion to liberty and equality, as embodied in our struggle for civil rights and our fight against fascism in World War II. I’m corny about these things, and I believe America has had truly great moments and has made a lot of progress.
But, as you said, the fascist threat is always lurking, and we just have to be aware of it.
What does your book have to say about the way forward? If we are indeed threatened by fascist movements, both here and abroad, what can citizens and governments do about it?
We should heed the warning of the poem on the side of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which says, “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not Jewish. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me.” At a certain point it’s too late.
We learned first from that poem who the targets are. The targets are leftists, minorities, labor unions, and anyone or any institution that isn’t glorified in the fascist narrative. And even if you’re not in any of those groups, you have to protect those who are, and you have to protect them from the very beginning. Simple acts of courage early on will save you impossible acts of courage later.
To be clear, this isn’t alarmist. We’re not on the brink of some fascist takeover. But there are reasons to be concerned, and we should always be on guard — that’s the lesson of history. Our weapons are our high ideals of liberty and equality, and we have to fight to keep those American ideals.
We’re fortunate enough to have liberty and equality baked into our founding ideals. We have a long history of people appealing to those ideals and saying, “We might disagree on a number of things but we agree that truth, liberty, equality are things we stand up for.” So whatever happens, we have to continually double down on those ideals — that’s what will save us.
This article was originally published on September 19, 2018.
I have enormous respect for Ken, but I think he is largely wrong here. In any dystopian or failed state, why would you want to accept RogoffCoin? or DeLongCoin? Or any of the other ICOs coming down the pike. Yes, there is a space for a blockchain-supported anonymous currency. But the currency that will be adopted will be one that has substantial backing from somewhere—either some large organization with real asset and payments that decides it want to use it (a "cameralist" valuation), or a central focal point (which BitCoin might hold). I can see BitCoin being worth a hundred dollars in the long run because having been first mover is a potential focal point. I can't see anything else having value in the long run. It is not "cryptocurrency coins" that are "lottery tickets that pay off in a dystopian future"; it is (maybe) BitCoin.
After all, the South Sea Company had detected a true market opportunity—there would be durable demand for standardized Gilts. But, as Ken says, "the private sector may innovate, but in due time the government regulates and appropriates": the profits were reaped not by the South Sea Company or any of its competitors but by the British Treasury.
In the meantime, of course, there are Greater Fools for Fools to sell to, and so folly has a chance of looking wise ex post: Kenneth Rogoff: Betting on Dystopia: "The right way to think about cryptocurrency coins is as lottery tickets that pay off in a dystopian future where they are used in rogue and failed states, or perhaps in countries where citizens have already lost all semblance of privacy. That means that cryptocurrencies are not entirely worthless...