[Plura-list] K-shaped recovery vs wealth taxes; Facebook vs Australia; The Paltrow-Industrial Complex

Cory Doctorow doctorow at craphound.com
Sun Feb 21 11:23:04 EST 2021


Tomorrow, I'm delivering a keynote address for the NISO Plus conference,
"The day of the comet: what trustbusting means for digital manipulation."



Today's links

* K-shaped recovery vs wealth taxes: Evita's spectre is haunting Argentina.

* Facebook vs Australia: It's not a link-tax, it's collective bargaining.

* The Paltrow-Industrial Complex: How Goop is cashing in on covid.

* This day in history: 2006, 2011, 2016, 2020

* Colophon: Recent publications, upcoming/recent appearances, current
writing projects, current reading


👨🏿‍🔬 K-shaped recovery vs wealth taxes

The K-shaped recovery - where the rich got richer and the poor got
poorer - wasn't inevitable. It is the outcome of hard lobbying by the
investor class to turn on floods of money to the rich, while starving
the poor of money, rent-relief and debt-relief.

This has enabled wealthy people to increase their fortunes through asset
inflation (STONKS) and financial engineering (buybacks, tax refunds, and
bonuses) and cash-transfers (personal LLCs taking in vast PPP loans).

It also drove poor people into unsafe working conditions as the only
alternative to homelessness and starvation, which let the rich keep
their businesses open and supplied a pool of "essential worker" labor to
deliver food and even serve in-person diners.

Thomas Piketty's 2013 CAPITAL IN THE 21ST CENTURY documents how
inequality is a self-reinforcing policy: markets drive capital
accumulation (that is, they make rich people richer), and capital is
mobilized to buy wealth-favoring policies.


But he also documents how unstable this whole arrangement is: for a
society to tolerate inequality, there must be a broadly accepted
narrative of fairness, some story that explains why the desperately
precarious should tolerate the smugly comfortable.


The worse the inequality, the thinner the narrative. As (im)morality
plays go, the pandemic is pretty on the nose. The K-shaped recovery saw
high mortality among racialized, precarious people, while the wealthy
are mostly upset about missing their holidays.

Add to that the iron grip that the wealthy maintain on policy, on
relief, insisting that $2,000 checks are beyond our means, pretending
that they're not making these claims from the jacuzzis they've filled
with free government money.

The status quo *will* collapse. In Piketty's 1789, that meant
guillotines. In Argentina, they're trying for a peaceful resolution:
they're taxing wealth. Any fortune of $3.4m faces a one-time Robin Hood
tax of 3.5%.


That is to say, they're allocating the tip of the top leg of the
K-shaped recovery to the bottom leg.

Bolivia has created a Piketty-compliant annual tax on fortunes of more
than $4.3m. Morocco's trying out a one-time tax on vast fortunes.

It's not just the global south: the UK's independent Wealth Tax
Commission recommended a one-time levy. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau wants
to "tax extreme wealth inequality."

Wealth-tax opponents say that they don't work - that wealth-taxes result
in deceptive asset revaluations and offshoring to financial secrecy
havens and so become costly boondoggles. But that's an incomplete
account of how the situation plays out.

It's more true to say that when a wealth tax is set to pass, the wealthy
mobilize their capital to create loopholes in the rules that guarantee
these boondoggles.

This is not the inevitable outcome of a wealth-tax. As Gabriel Zucman
has demonstrated, it's certainly possible to design effective wealth-taxes.


The investor class demanded a system that squeezed and squeezed, and now
we're facing a rupture. The Robin Hood tax advocates are trying to
manage an orderly, peaceful transition to a fairer system. The
alternative is not business as usual.


👨🏿‍🔬 Facebook vs Australia

There's an old Irish joke whose punchline goes, "If you want to get
there, I wouldn't start from here." That's basically how I feel about
the so-called Australian "link tax" and Facebook's retaliation.

Let's start with the fact that it's not a link tax - it's a form of
arbitrated collective bargaining that's meant to correct an imbalance in
negotiating power created by monopolization.

The problem that the system is supposed to ameliorate is that the
ad-tech platforms cheat. They lie about the reach of their ads. They lie
about the performance of their ads. They rig markets so they can
price-gouge. They collude to rig prices.


They design their systems so publishers leak intelligence to them, then
they exploit that leakage to gouge the publishers further. It hurts
advertisers, readers and publishers, and it's the result of an illegal,
collusive, corrupt ad-tech duopoly.


The existence of an advertising duopoly, meanwhile, is the result of lax
antitrust enforcement. Facebook and Google were permitted to execute a
long string of anticompetitive mergers and acquisitions, producing the
hyper-concentrated market we see today.

The obvious remedy to this situation is to break up the monopolies, but
that is off the table (for now). 40 years of neoliberal orthodoxy says
that monopolies are efficient and breakups don't work, so we're left
yanking on other policy levers.

For example, ad-tech pioneered a long, accelerating trend to
surveillance. Their reach meant they could gather data on nearly
everything that happened online (Facebook Like buttons, Google
Analytics). Their capital meant they could strangle privacy laws in the

Eventually this became too much to bear. The EU passed the GDPR - but
without breakups or other explicit antimonopoly measures. The result was
that FB/Goog had to look down the back of the sofa for change to pay for

Meanwhile smaller, EU-based competitors (who were much dirtier than
FB/Goog because they needed to behave worse to be economically viable in
the cracks left by the duopoly) were driven out of business, handing
even more market-power to Googbook.


Which brings me back to Australia. It's undeniable that publishers get
ripped off by Googbook. Their ad marketplaces are frauds from top to
bottom: fake metrics for fake users seeing fake ads, run on bid-rigging
and self-dealing.

Publishers that complain about this get slammed: Googbook uses the fact
that they have created anticompetitive, vertically integrated cartels to
tie a willingness to submit to crooked ad payments to traffic.

That means that publishers who make a stink about being ripped off - or
who take measures to prevent leakage of their internal business data -
have their traffic switched off. This is possible because regulators
permitted vertical mergers between search/social and ad-tech.

This vertical integration is the source of confusion about whether this
is a link-tax. The goal of the regulation is to clean up the ad markets,
but Googbook use links as a stick to beat up publishers when they don't
submit to corrupt ad practices, so links get implicated.

But the regulation's primary levers are transparency: it forces Googbook
to disclose which data it harvests from publishers and how it uses it;
it forces Googbook to disclose algorithmic changes that will result in
significant changes to ad performance.

Just as importantly, it forbids Googbook from using their search/social
business to retaliate against publishers who object to bad practices in
their ad-tech units.

At Matt Stoller writes, the idea "is to mimic a healthy market, where
there is transparency of data and a robust set of buyers and sellers
instead of a few dominant platforms."


The hope/wish is that all this transparency and guaranteed of
non-retaliation might means Googbook ending their market corruption so
publishers will get a fair price for their ad-inventory. And if they
don't, there's an arbitrator who hears both sides and sets prices.

This is how collective bargaining often works - when you have one side
of a deal who has all the power (like a big employer) and a diffuse set
of actors who lack power (like workers), an arbitrator hears both sides
and hands down a deal that's meant to be fairer.

But of course, this isn't a negotiation between workers and employers:
it's a bargain between a cartel of news organizations and a search
duopoly. That's not ideal! For starters, it means that the government
gets to decide who is a "news organization."

That's *ripe* for abuse. News organizations are expected to report on
the government *and* the government gets to decide whether they are
entitled to participate in collective bargaining with Googbook, which
could mean the difference between financial viability and bankruptcy.

Remember, one of the problems this system is supposed to resolve is
powerful entities (Googbook) using their power to punish news
organizations for complaining about their behavior - governments were in
that game long before Googbook came into existence.

And there's another problem: the structure of the Australian news
market, which is yet another highly concentrated industry, dominated by
a rapacious billionaire who uses his power to manipulate politics:
Rupert Murdoch.

Murdoch conquered Australian media the same way Googbook conquered the
net: through anticompetitive conduct that was waved through by collusive
regulators who never met a monopoly they didn't view as efficient.

It's not wrong to say that the only reason this regulation got off the
drawing-board is that Murdoch viewed it as a way to shift a few
balance-points from Big Tech's side of the ledger to Big Media's side.

Can't we - journalists, readers - hope for something better than being
dominated by a different set of giants and praying that the new boss
drops a few more crumbs than the old boss?

Goddamned right. The Australian reg tries to get a fair shake for the
independent press as well as the Murdoch press, setting out some
objective criteria for who is entitled to enter the bargaining unit.

But the fact is that monopolies reproduce themselves. As David Dayen
describes in MONOPOLIZED, when a monopoly forms, all the other
participants in the supply chain have to monopolize or die.


Big Pharma gets monopolized and squeezes hospitals. Hospitals monopolize
to fight back and squeeze insurers. Insurers monopolize and
squeeze...us. We're the only ones who don't get to organize to push back.

The people's countermonopolistic entity is the democratic state.

The state's job is to prevent monopolies from forming, and it has failed
to do that job for 40 years. Now it's stuck trying to fix the effects of
monopoly without fixing monopolies themselves.

40 years ago, we got rid of the idea of fighting monopolies because they
corrupted our governments and working lives - we replaced it with the
neoliberal idea of "consumer welfare," which held that only "bad"
monopolies should face enforcement.

What's a bad monopoly? It's when companies conspire to raise prices.
That's why the US government clobbered the Big Six publishers when they
leaned on Amazon to stop engaging in predatory ebook pricing.

But while the "consumer welfare" monopoly enforcement is aggressive when
two or more companies collude to set prices, it has n*o problem* if
those companies merge with one another and then do exactly the same thing.

When the CEOs of two companies conspire to set prices, it's illegal.
When they merge their companies and engage in the same conspiracy, it's
not. Collective bargaining is out, monopolization is in. That's why the
Big Six publishers are now the Big Four.

"If you wanted to get there, I wouldn't start from here." The highly
monopolized news sector is mainly controlled by extremist billionaires
and private-equity looters. The principal beneficiaries the Australian
regulation are part of the problem.

That doesn't change the fact that Googbook are a corrupt, collusive
duopoly. It also doesn't change the fact that there are a *bunch* of
indie news-outlets that got to ride on Murdoch's coat-tails in this

As with the GDPR, the question to ask is whether this will strengthen or
weaken monopolists, and there, I think, is some cause for hope. Forcing
Googbook to reveal their data-collection and algorithmic practices and
prohibiting retaliation is a solid anti-monopoly move.

Likewise, establishing a precedent for inter-industry collective
bargaining is a useful harm-reduction measure for dealing with a
monopolized market while we muster political will for breakups. It sure
beats the alternative of merging every industry into its own monopoly.

It's a confusing issue. Link-taxes are bullshit and they're
*pro*-monopolistic, since big companies can afford them and little ones
can't. But this isn't a link tax - the only reason it seems like one is
because links are the stick that Googbook beats its supply-chain with.

(Image IPWAI, CC BY-SA, modified


👨🏿‍🔬 The Paltrow-Industrial Complex

I don't know about you, but I've been worried about Gwyneth Paltrow.
We've had the plague for a year and the Paltrow-Industrial Complex
hadn't shown up with any kind of wellness grift!

Finally, we can breathe easy. As Beth Mole writes in Ars Technica,
Paltrow has finally entered the covid profiteering racket, and she's
going *big*, with a blog entry detailing the many ways you can shop your
way out of long covid.


Paltrow's post describes how she suffered covid "early on" and then
heroically overcame long covid with chiropractic, a "plant-based" diet
that's also fish-based (go fig), $102 worth of vitamins and supplements,
and $60 "detox" powder.

These aren't just health advice, of course - they're also products you
can buy from Goop or via affiliate links that pay Paltrow a commission.
Beyond that, Paltrow recommends hiking with $9,000 worth of specialized
gear ($8600 of that is a gold necklace).

As Mole points out, Paltrow also relates how she didn't see results
straight away, which implies an answer to what her customers should do
if her expensive remedies don't work - buy more and keep trying.

Mole does the lord's work in dogging Paltrow's heels. Not only did she
take to time to explain why you shouldn't squirt coffee up your asshole
as recommended by Goop:


But she even reviewed Paltrow's unwatchable Netflix show:


This work isn't just unpleasant, it's risky. Speaking as someone who's
been threatened by Paltrow's vicious attack-lawyers for criticizing the
ultra-wealthy alexjonesian nostrum-peddler, I can only imagine what
Mole's inbox looks like.


👨🏿‍🔬 This day in history

#15yrsago Artists paint Detroit’s derelict buildings Tiggeriffic Orange

#15yrsago Copyright office head denounces “big mistake” of extending

#15yrsago Shoes designed for illegal Mexican/US border crossings

#10yrsago America’s Chief Apocalypse Officer, a Fed job ad from 1956

#10yrsago How Anonymous decides: inside the lulz-sausage factory

#10yrsago Overcome information overload by trusting redundancy

#10yrsago Saif Gadaffhi, plagiarist

#10yrsago Gadaffhi Junior’s PhD celebrates “soft power,” democracy

#10yrsago Libya’s UN mission asks world to defend Libyans from Gadaffi

#10yrsago Google App to help locate people in Christchurch quake

#5yrsago Republican Congressmen backed by airline money kill research on
legroom and passenger safety

#5yrsago Uber uses customer service reps to push anti-union message to

#1yrago Gopher shows us how adversarial interoperability was there from
the start

#1yrago Bloomberg's campaign NDA is a gag order that covers sexual abuse
and other crimes


👨🏿‍🔬 Colophon

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (https://www.nakedcapitalism.com/).

Currently writing:

* My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and
reconciliation. Friday's progress: 601 words (113076 total).

* A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions.
Friday's progress: 258 words (6467 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Privacy Without Monopoly: Data Protection and
Interoperability (Part 1)

Upcoming appearances:

* Keynote, NISO Plus, Feb 22,

*  Mellon Sawyer Seminar on Contemporary Political Struggle: Social
Movements, Social Surveillance, Social Media (with Zeynep Tufekci), Feb
24, https://ucdavis.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_I99f4x8WRiKCfKUljVcYPg

* World Ethical Data Forum keynote, Mar 17-19,

* Launching "The Future You" with Brian David Johnson, Mar 19,

*  Balancing Worldbuilding and Narrative (with Karen Osborne and Kali
Wallace), Mar 24,

* Interop: Self-Determination vs Dystopia (FITC), Apr 19-21,

Recent appearances:

* Technology, Self-Determination, and the Future of the Future (CERIAS)

* Talking "Permanent Record Young Readers' Edition" with Edward Snowden

* Talking "Agency" with William Gibson

* Software Freedom is Essential to Human Freedom (linux.conf.au keynote)

Latest book:

* "Attack Surface": The third Little Brother novel, a standalone
technothriller for adults. The *Washington Post* called it "a political
cyberthriller, vigorous, bold and savvy about the limits of revolution
and resistance." Order signed, personalized copies from Dark Delicacies

* "How to Destroy Surveillance Capitalism": an anti-monopoly pamphlet
analyzing the true harms of surveillance capitalism and proposing a
(print edition:
(signed copies:

* "Little Brother/Homeland": A reissue omnibus edition with a new
introduction by Edward Snowden:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250774583; personalized/signed copies

* "Poesy the Monster Slayer" a picture book about monsters, bedtime,
gender, and kicking ass. Order here:
https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781626723627. Get a personalized, signed
copy here:

This work licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license.
That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially,
provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link
to pluralistic.net.


Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are
included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the
basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


👨🏿‍🔬 How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):


Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and


Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):


"*When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla*" -Joey "Accordion
Guy" DeVilla

-------------- next part --------------
A non-text attachment was scrubbed...
Name: signature.asc
Type: application/pgp-signature
Size: 195 bytes
Desc: OpenPGP digital signature
URL: <http://mail.flarn.com/pipermail/plura-list/attachments/20210221/c0ec9654/attachment.sig>

More information about the Plura-list mailing list