Why calling Bernie Sanders a “sellout” is missing the point

Anyone who follows the progressive left in the US has probably encountered a lot of criticism of Bernie Sanders ever since he endorsed Hillary Clinton for president and campaigned for her to beat Donald Trump in 2016. Some of Sanders’ biggest supporters during the 2016 primaries, such as Jimmy Dore and Debbie Lusignan, the host of Youtube’s the Sane Progressive, have now become his biggest critics.

I was disappointed by Bernie’s reaction to many of the obvious attempts to manipulate the vote in the 2016 Democratic primaries. In my opinion, he should have publicly criticized the Democratic Party for engaging in this skulduggery, but I also understand why he didn’t. He saw his candidacy as a way to raise important issues in the Democratic party and force them to be discussed on the national stage. He knew enough about the machinations inside the Democratic Party to know that he would not be allowed to win the nomination for president, which is why he was able to keep campaigning with such passion on the issues even when he knew that he would loose.

At the end of the day, he wanted the Democrats to win the presidency no matter what because he has spent the last 3 decades in congress watching the Republicans gut the policies he cares about. He knew exactly how evil Trump would be as president, because he had seen what past Republican presidents did to the environment, labor rights, market regulation, etc. He has no illusions about corporate Democrats like Obama and the Clintons, but he knew that he could still push on important issues under a Hillary presidency, whereas that would be impossible under Trump.

Bernie was afraid that if he raised the issue of election fraud and all the dirty tricks of the Hillary campaign, that it would discredit her in the general election and the Republicans would win. With hindsight, many of us on the left wished that he had, since Hillary ended up loosing anyway. Basically, Bernie decided that the short term political impact of denouncing the dirty practices in the Democratic Party would be worse than the long-term good that it might cause in pushing the party to reform.

Bernie has always been a politician who values small, but tangible gains, which is why he spent so many years fighting for amendments in Congress. Maybe Bernie’s decisions were too short-term in scope, but we should also realize the long-term strategy that Bernie is playing. First of all, he is now angling to really win the presidency in 2020 and he thinks that the party might allow it to happen, whereas it wouldn’t in 2016. This means that he has to play a delicate game where he doesn’t totally alienate the bigwigs in the party, but tries to show them that the best way to win is a populist left strategy not based on corporate and big-money donations.

He founded Our Revolution so that progressive activists could work to reform the Democratic Party from within, while he pretends that he is not involved. This means that Our Revolution can work to get elected progressive candidates, but they generally don’t primary sitting establishment Democrats in congress, and they leave that work to Brand New Congress, the Justice Democrats and the Democratic Socialists of America. This means that Out Revolution can work on changing the rules of the DNC, but Bernie has to pretend that he doesn’t have a dog in that fight. He can publicly criticize the party, but he has to keep that criticism within certain acceptable bounds, and one of those limits is not talking publicly about the dirty tricks that were played against him.

These strategies have disenchanted many former supporters like Jimmy Dore, who want Bernie to found a third party that will force the Democratic Party to either coopt their issues or risk loosing elections. I understand the third party strategy and historically it has worked. Almost every progressive idea that was adopted by the Democratic and Republican Parties between 1870 and 1940 first came to the fore under a third party. Reformers like Teddy Roosevelt and Franklin D. Roosevelt basically adopted the ideas of the third parties and implemented them. Without the Populist, Progressive and Socialist Parties laying the groundwork, the ideas that became anti-trust law and the New Deal probably never would have been enacted in public policy.

The thing that the third-party advocates fail to acknowledge, however, is that the Democrats and Republicans have spent over a century laying down rules to prevent third parties from arising after witnessing the threat posed by the Populist, Progressive, and Bull Moose parties. Bernie is a practical politician and he has looked closely at the tangled thicket of rules that are designed to hinder a third party.  He sees little chance of a third party succeeding on a national level, whereas he sees a viable path for success in taking over the Democratic Party from within. So far the empirical evidence suggests that he is right. His agenda is taking over the party.

However, as Jimmy Dore loves to point out in his Youtube videos, the leadership of the party is still playing all sorts of tricks to resist reform as well, so there is no guarantee that Bernie’s strategy will work. The only sitting corporate Democrat in the US congress who has lost a primary so far has been Joseph Crowley, so reforming the Democratic Party is hardly a sure bet at this point. Dore argues that the leadership of the Democratic Party is going to make sure that Bernie won’t win the presidential nomination, and he is wasting his time trying to play ball with the Democratic Party leadership, when he should be attacking them publicly. Dore believes that Sanders is “sheepdogging” progressives into a corrupt party that doesn’t want to reform itself, when he should be using his political capital to build a third party that can challenge the Democrats from the outside.

On the other hand, the polling shows that Bernie is the front-runner to be the next Democratic nominee for president, although the mainstream press will never acknowledge it. The other potential presidential candidates know it, which is why Kristen Gillibrand, Kamala Harris and Cory Booker sound more and more like Bernie every day. Even if Bernie doesn’t win the nomination, whoever does win will have to adopt much of Bernie’s agenda at least in their public discourse. The problem is that a candidate like Gillibrand, Harris or Booker will probably pull from the Obama playbook, and run as a progressive, but govern as a centrist and a corporatist.

More important, in my opinion, is the work to replace the corporate Democrats in congress and the state houses with enough populist left politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, so that a Bernie-style president can push through Medicare for All, free tuition at public universities, a public infrastructure bill, ending the wars, etc. FDR was a great president because he had a Democratic Party in control of congress. He not only had progressive leaders in congress who were pushing the New Deal, but he was able to work in coordination with them to pressure recalcitrant congressmen into voting the right way.

I wish that progressive activists would understand Bernie’s strategy, rather than posting asinine comments online like “Bernie’s a sellout” or “we can’t trust Bernie after he endorsed Hillary.” Leftist activists seem to take a special kind of delight in leaving these sorts of comments on Youtube.  It is fine to disagree with Bernie’s strategy and to work on a different one, but at least have the maturity to acknowledge what he is trying to do, rather than engage in pointless character assassination and failing to acknowledge the political realities of the US. Bernie may be pursuing the wrong strategy and reform of the Democratic Party might not work in the long-term, but we would all be better off if we stopped trying to see this as the moral failing of Bernie as an individual, but rather understanding it as long-term strategy to achieve a set of progressive policy goals.

Personally, I believe that we need both an inside and an outside strategy to eventually be successful. Working for reform within the Democratic Party and third-party activism are both useful, because both strategies help to push the Party to the right place and these two strategies are not mutually exclusive. In fact, doing one helps reenforce the other. Helping the Green Party get 5% of the vote and primarying corporate Democrats both help to push the Party to the left and adopt a progressive agenda. If a third party is ever going to successful in the US which is a winner-takes-all system, then we are going to need Democrats in office who are sympathetic to rule changes such as ranked-choice voting. At the same time, working in the DSA and the Green Parties is certainly not a waste of time, because they pose a credible threat to Democrats who are forced to coopt their agenda. Even if we chose to work through a third party, we shouldn’t disparage progressive politician like Bernie who have chosen a different path to achieve the same policy goals.

I follow the Molly Ivin’s strategy when voting. Vote for the third party as a protest when the vote is not close in your district, but vote for the Democrat when the vote is close. I voted for the Green Party candidate in 1992 and 1996 against Bill Clinton, but I held my nose and voted for Obama in 2008, because I thought that the race would be close in Indiana, where I was voting. I voted for Bernie in the Democratic primaries in 2016, but didn’t bother to vote in the general election, because Indiana was going to go overwhelming to Trump, so my vote was effectively meaningless. If I were able to vote in a place like Pennsylvania, Florida or Ohio, where the vote was expected to be close, I would have held my nose and voted for Hillary, despite her patently corrupt practices as a politician.

Given the kind of damage that Republicans are wont to inflict on the nation, progressives need to be strategically smart and not be ruled by simple passions in our voting. Part of that strategy can be third party voting, but it makes no sense to disparage the moral character of people like Bernie who are pursuing a different strategy. If you feel that Bernie’s strategy is wrong, than attack the strategy, not the man. At the very least, acknowledge that we share many of the same goals on the left, if not the same way of getting to those goals.

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Cómo la industria de PCs dificulta el uso de otros sistemas operativos

Ayer ProcessMaker Inc., que es mi empleador, me entregó un nuevo laptop–un HP Probook 450 G3–que tuvo Windows 7 instalado por defecto. ProcessMaker Inc. tiene reglas para prevenir el uso de software ilegal, entonces tuve que considerar que hacer con la copia de OEM Windows en la maquina.

He utilizado Linux desde el año 1999 y siento totalmente desarmado tratando de usar cualquier versión de Windows después de Windows XP. Tengo una partición de Windows 7 en mi laptop personal que sólo he buteado 2 o 3 veces en los últimos dos años. Recuerdo que lo utilice una vez para verificar un problema del hardware y otra vez para hacer una llamada por Skype, que ha dejado de funcionar en Debian 8.

No me gusta Windows por razones técnicas porque es un sistema muy inferior y por razones ideológicas porque soy partidario de la filosofía de software libre y la libertad digital. Sin embargo, tenemos preguntas acerca de Windows en el foro de ProcessMaker que necesito contestar. Entonces, necesito usar Windows de vez en cuando en mi trabajo, pero prefiero usarlo en una maquina virtual. Es mucho más conveniente para mí arrancar una maquina virtual de Windows que rebutear la maquina en una partición separada de Windows. Continue reading

A short summary of the facts why a boycott of Israel is necessary

I have come to the conclusion that the only moral response to Israel’s version of Apartheid for Palestinians is to boycott Israel and its products and to encourage others to do the same. It seems to be a waste of my time to keep demanding that the US government stop giving Israel $3 billion per year in military aid and stop vetoing resolutions in the UN Security Council that would hold Israel accountable for its actions.

Many others have examined the moral implications and the philosophical rationale of a boycott. However, I haven’t been able to find a short summary of the facts about Israel’s occupation of Palestine, so I have written one, to help people understand why a boycott is necessary: Continue reading

The response to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez

The primary election of 28 year old Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) to represent the Bronx and Queens in congress has been a lightning rod for the passions and fears of so many Americans. Partly because AOC represents so many segments of the population which have so little voice and her win as an underdog was so dramatic, she was instantly catapulted to the national stage. There aren’t many leaders on the left who are young, female, Latina, boldly progressive and telegenic like her. She has gained over 800k Twitter followers in just a matter of months. For the 58 million Latinos in the US and the millions of urban youth, they don’t have many heroes on the national stage, so she has became the symbol to channel their energy.

Because she was so pretty and passionate and her story of overthrowing the man angling to be the next Speaker of the House was so compelling, AOC got a ton of media coverage both on television and in social media in the weeks following her primary win. Her use of the taboo phrase “democratic socialist” to describe herself and her call to abolish ICE made her the newest object of fascination in the public eye.

AOC carries the energy and passion of the grassroots left, but she also excites the lizard brain of conservatives, that seems to dwell in perpetual fear of the other. They love to attack her, characterizing her as both an airheaded dunce of the radical left and a dastardly mastermind who plots to turn the US into a Venezuelan failed state.

Anyone who listens to AOC talk knows she is hardly stupid, and most of the things that conservative pundits pounce on to demonstrate her lack of knowledge actually demonstrate their own stupidity. For example, when they criticized her for saying that Israel is “occupying” Palestine, they showed their own misunderstanding of the true situation on the ground in the Middle East by repeating the propaganda of the Israeli government. AOC paused when questioned and naively admitted, “I am not the expert on geopolitics on this issue,” but what she said demonstrated far more knowledge than the right-wing pundits who have criticized her for her response.

The 1948 war ended with Israel occupying 78% of historic Palestine and expelling 750,000 Palestinians from their homes. The 1967 war resulted in Israel taking over the remaining 22% and expelling 300,000 Palestinians. Today, 600,000 Israelis live in illegal settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank and Israel has a policy of stealing more Palestinian land which it calls “facts on the ground” in its campaign to reclaim the historic Israel. Today, Israel controls 63% of the land in the West Bank and has joint control over another 22%, so Palestinians only control 18% and their movement within that 18% is restricted by walls, roads and checkpoints.

As a political novice suddenly thrust into the national spotlight, I suspect that AOC was trying to find a way to frame her response in a way that would not offend Jewish voters and she didn’t have enough experience to know that she should never admit not being an expert or being unsure how to respond. An experienced politician like Bernie Sanders who has been handling these sorts of gotcha questions for decades would have anticipated the question and prepared response or would have known how to insist on the basic point that an injustice is occurring in Palestine, without getting tripped up by the details.

AOC hasn’t always figured out the best way to frame her issues and how to avoid saying things that allow the right-wing attack machine to sharpen its knives, but it is precisely the fact that she doesn’t artfully avoid the issue of Palestine and she speaks so passionately about the injustice of the current Capitalist system that makes her so refreshing. AOC reacted with the natural outrage an ordinary person watching the home demolitions in Palestine and the evictions of working-class people by banks and land developers in the Bronx. What makes her so attractive is that she didn’t poll test her message before she called for the abolishment of ICE when she sees immigrants being deported and children being separated from their parents.   

Fortunately, AOC now has a safe congressional seat, where she doesn’t have to worry about being driven from office for giving voice to an ordinary person’s natural empathy and moral outrage in the face of injustice. In time, I expect that she will get better at anticipating the gotchas and have formulated her responses beforehand, but it will deeply sadden me if she becomes another poll-tested, anodyne slogan machine who becomes so gun shy from the political fray that she is beaten into conformity with the status quo. 

The right-wing talking heads have made AOC their newest public boogey to excite the fear of the right and rally the base. Just watch what Liz Wheeler says about her:

Liz Wheeler seems to be incapable of reading Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez’s platform. Nowhere does AOC talk about the government taking over the means of production. Medicare for All means that the hospitals are still privately run, but the government provides insurance. When Bernie Sanders and AOC say “democratic socialism,” they are talking about policies from European social democracies, not from Stalin, Mao, Kim, Castro, Chavez or Maduro.

Why does Wheeler think that Medicare for All and free tuition at public universities will turn the US into a Stalinist state? Every developed country in the world except the US has universal health care and it hasn’t led to authoritarian dictatorship. The US used to have free tuition at many of its public universities in the 1950s, and it didn’t lead to Communism. My parent’s attended the University of Texas in the 1960s, where tuition was basically free, and they didn’t think that it led to the destruction of American values. By every measure (GDP per capita, life expectancy, surveys of happiness, education levels, etc.), Scandinavian countries have a higher standard of living that the US, plus they have lower levels of corruption (as measured by Transparency International) and are more democratic.

As for Wheeler’s argument about the cost of AOC’s proposed policies, Medicare for All will save the US between $300 billion and $1.7 billion per year (depending on the study). Free tuition at public universities will cost about $70 billion per year. Even when you add in free tuition at trade schools, it will be less than $100 billion per year. The US congress just approved a $100 billion increase to the military budget, taking it to $716 billion in 2019 and the new tax cuts will cause a $1.9 trillion deficit over the next 10 years, so the US could easily afford it. I haven’t seen a cost estimate of AOC’s federal jobs guarantee, but I doubt that it will be over $150 billion per year currently or $400 billion per year during times of economic depression. The US government employed 13 million people during the Great Depression and the massive investment in infrastructure in the 1930s helped the US grow economically over the long run.

The Trump tax cuts gave 83% of the cuts to the top 1%, while raising taxes on 72% of taxpayers over a 10 year period. Most rational people would say that America should have been spent that money on health care, education and infrastructure, rather than helping the wealthiest and most powerful Americans grow even more wealthy and powerful.

Three Americans (Gates, Bezos and Buffet) now own as much wealth as the bottom 56% of Americans. The best way to change the current situation where the rich get richer and everyone else gets poorer is to implement the kind of policies being proposed by AOC. Many countries have tried it, including the US in the past, and it hasn’t created the kind of dystopia that Wheeler imagines. People like Wheeler seem to be incapable of rationally analyzing AOC’s proposals and can only engage in fear-mongering and smearing because they don’t have a rational response.

The ludicrous response from the right is almost expected at this point, given how many on the right called Obama a secret Muslim Socialist born in Kenya. AOC ticks all the boxes to ignite their fears. She is a socialist, a Puerto Rican, a feminist, a millennial and a product of the immoral inner-city–all categories that the right loves to denigrate and castigate as destroying America.

What is more interesting has been the conflict within the Democratic Party around AOC. The Democratic leadership has offered her a mixed response in public ranging from Nancy Pelosi dismissing her as a irrelevant sideshow in an unusual district and a cautious attempt to jump on her popular bandwagon by Tom Perez. However, behind the scenes, there are rumors that they are taking steps to marginalize her. It is unclear at this point how many Democrats will support Joe Crowley’s attempt to dislodge her by running on the Working Families ticket against her in the general election, but is is clear that a number of the traditional party operatives would prefer to keep interlopers like AOC out of power.

AOC has become a lightning rod for much of the grassroots energy in the party that is pushing for real, progressive change, rather than the timid half-steps that have characterized the Party since the election of Bill Clinton in 1992. Although Bernie Sanders and AOC and most of the others who call themselves “democratic socialists” aren’t real socialists according to the definition taught in economics class. When AOC calls for a federal jobs guarantee, you might call that socialism, since the state will be hiring millions of people, but when you balance that with AOC’s calls to reduce military spending, the net effect might be that the state controls less of the national economy.

In an interview with Vogue, AOC said that socialism to her means “democratic participation in our economic dignity, and our economic, social and racial dignity.” She continued: “To me, what socialism means is to guarantee a basic level of dignity. It’s asserting the value of saying that the America we want and America we are proud of is one in which all children can access a dignified education. It’s one in which no person is too poor to have the medicines they need to live.”

I suspect that AOC calls herself a “democratic socialist” because she was inspired working on the presidential campaign of Bernie Sanders and met people who shared her passion for social justice in the Democratic Socialists of America. Democratic Socialism for people like AOC means less about how to organize economic production and more about how people participate in the political system and how ordinary people live their lives. In this understanding of her political label, AOC is not a disciple of 20th century socialists like Britain’s Clement Attlee who wanted the state to run the health care system and nationalize the railroads, mines and utilities. Instead, she is a follower of Bernie Sanders, in the way she talks about grassroots organizing to build a popular mass movement for change, and the state guaranteeing basic necessities for all people. The word “democratic” is fundamental to that understanding since it is based on popular movements rising up from below to achieve a non-violent revolution of the political process. The “socialism” part means working for a more just society where working class people aren’t marginalized and the government takes care of people in need.

Political scientists will throw up their hands in disgust at the way that AOC and Bernie Sanders use the word “socialism,” but most people who call themselves socialists today in Europe aren’t that different from social democrats in their policy agenda. Even in a country like Bolivia, where the Movement toward Socialism (MAS) has controlled the country for over a decade, socialism ended up meaning more taxation, rather than the government taking over the natural gas fields that provide half of the country’s exports.

Maybe you can call Bernie Sanders a socialist in his advocacy of worker-owned co-ops, but that was a minor plank in his platform that was hardly mentioned in his standard stump speeches on the campaign trail. Italy has had a policy of helping to support worker-owned co-ops for decades and nobody calls the country socialist. If Sanders is a socialist, he is one who hearkens back to the 19th century when Robert Owens was setting up factories run by workers and Karl Marx was theorizing about how workers would run the workplace in order to no longer be alienated from the product of their labor. In some ways, however, Sanders is more up-to-date than his critics in his understanding of the word “socialism.” The economist, Richard Wolff, who is arguably the most famous Marxist in America today, is a passionate advocate of worker-owned co-ops. Wolff repeatedly points out in his lectures that socialism today doesn’t mean what it meant in the 1950s.

At the end of the day, the label “democratic socialist” is less about a formal socio-economic definition, and more about signaling a radical change in values and the style of political organizing. People are sick of listening to smooth-talking, poll-tested politicians who do the bidding of wealthy donors and don’t seem to care about the welfare of ordinary people. Perhaps it is the rise of Youtube, Twitter, Facebook and social media in general which allows ordinary people to talk more directly to each other in the political sphere, but people expect more unvarnished bluntness. Working longer hours at lower wages and struggling to pay the rent, the student loans and the health care bills have made ordinary people angry and frustrated with the status quo.

When a politician like Bernie Sanders publicly states, “I’m a democratic socialist,” it tells ordinary people that he is just at mad at the status quo as they are and he can’t be bought off or dissuaded from trying to change the system. For the youth in the audience who didn’t grow up with the propaganda of the Cold War, socialism is what they heard the right say about Obama for years, so it has lost its capacity to scare them. The label has more negative connotations for older generations who were inculcated with decades of anti-Communism, but it does not necessarily mean that they negatively view a politician who willingly adopts the label. Some portion of the audience will shut down and dismiss everything a democratic socialist says as the words of a deluded lunatic. Another portion of the audience, however, will conclude that the politician is honest, since nobody calls herself a socialist if she is trying to manipulate or appease people just to get elected. Millions of Democrats walked from hearing a Sanders’ speech in the 2016 presidential primary, thinking to themselves that he was sincere and unbought, which is far more important than ideology in today’s context. People know that they can trust Sanders to fight like hell for their health care and a higher minimum wage, and all the money and backroom deals in the world won’t be able to deter him from fighting on their behalf.

After years of hearing politicians say pretty things in public, the blunt honesty of politicians who call themselves “democratic socialists” is a breath of fresh air for many voters who are fed up with the current system. The majority of voters don’t need convincing since what Sanders and AOC are saying on economic issues is what they already believe, according to the public opinion polls. It is mostly a matter of closing the trust gap, which they do very effectively by using a politically-incorrect label like socialism and by refusing to take donations from corporations and employ SuperPACs.

Socialism in America has given expression to the leftist desire for meaningful change, but it is hardly the kind of revolution that its critics imagine. The right wing is using it as a means to fear-monger about the left and rally its base. Establishment Democrats rightly see is as a challenge to their way of doing politics, which is based on middle of the road centrism and milking money from wealthy donors. The leadership of the Democratic Party is waking up to the unpleasant reality that Bernie Sander’s surprising popularity in his 2016 presidential campaign was hardly a fluke. He has inspired a whole new generation of similar politicians who are challenging them to either take bold stances on the issues or face grueling primary challenges.

According to Gallup, 57% of Democrats now have a positive view of socialism, which is down one point from 2016, but up 4 points since 2012, so the Democratic base hasn’t substantially changed its views, but they now have a whole new class of political leaders to give voice to their sense of frustration with the existing Capitalist system. Democratic leaders who criticize “democratic socialism” need to understand what it represents and why it appeals to American voters who are hardly socialist in the traditional sense, but are embracing its promise to confront the status quo and improve their lives.

Most establishment Democrats aren’t as out of touch with their base as Joseph Crowley, so they will probably be savvy enough to not offend their base and survive primary challenges from democratic socialists. The progressive candidates endorsed by Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress and the Democratic Socialists of America have won roughly half of their races so far in the primary season, but they generally don’t win against entrenched Democratic incumbents, especially on a state-wide level. Alison Hartson lost to Dianne Feinstein and Kevin de Leon in California, Paula Jean Swearengin lost to Joe Manchin in West Virginia, Kaniela Ing lost to Ed Case in Hawaii, and Cori Bush lost to Lacy Clay in Missouri. Where the races were close, as in Abdul El-Sayed’s loss in Michigan’s gubernatorial primary and Brent Welder’s loss to Sharice Davids in Kansas, they weren’t running against Democratic incumbents, so wins like AOC’s are likely to be rare. AOC won in part because it depended on which candidate had the most loyal base which would show up to vote, since it was a primary designed to limit the turnout to the party faithful. Ordinarily this kind of limited primary helps the incumbent, but the number of institutional loyalists tied to Crowley weren’t that many, whereas AOC managed to build a base of supporters outside the traditional party structure that overwhelmed the institutional voters.

Nonetheless, the very fact that entrenched politicians like Feinstein and Manchin are facing credible challenges from the left will inevitably change the dynamic in the party. Just like the way that Republicans were forced to cater to the demands of the Tea Party activists, establishment Democrats will stop being so dismissive of the demands of their grassroots activists, knowing that they could be knocked out by that same base in the next election.

Democratic socialism will be less of a threat to America than its critics imagine, since in many ways it represents a return to the politics of FDR and the party of the 1930s-60s which responds to the demands of its chief voting blocks. Today, voters are no longer as organized into institutions like unions and voting leagues, but social media, alternative media, progressive organizations and intersectional movement building are gaining the ability to bring voters to the polls in similar ways. Most of the political pundits and the leadership of the party continues to delude themselves about the power and potency of the movement.

It is unlikely that democratic socialism will present much a challenge to the Democratic establishment in the 2018 primaries, despite all the attention that AOC’s win has garnered. The real challenge to the establishment will come when Bernie Sanders runs for president again in 2020. Almost all the presidential contenders except Joe Biden on the Democratic side have already embracing Sander’s policy agenda to some degree by publicly supporting Medicare for All and vowing to take no corporate donations. In an effort to co-opt Sanders and win over his voters, Gillibrand, Warren, Harris and Booker are likely to start sounding very similar to Sanders on the campaign trail.

It is hard to predict the future, but it is likely that Bernie Sanders will be the front-runner in a crowded field if he runs in 2020 and his brand of democratic socialism has a good chance of winning, since it best answers the aspirations of the Democratic rank-and-file. No other candidate will have the kind of passionate and committed supporters like Bernie Sanders. Nobody in the party dislikes Biden, but the base of the party isn’t willing to go to bat for him like it will for Sanders.

Even if Sanders doesn’t run, it is clear that anyone who hopes to represent the base has to run on his agenda in 2020. Whether his brand of “democratic socialism” becomes the message of the party or not, his agenda if not his style of politics will inevitably come to the fore. The leadership of the Democratic Party had better make its peace with what democratic socialism represents, whether they call choose to adopt its label or not, because it is the future of American politics.

 

The consolidation of the offshore wind turbine manufacturers

Adwen, an offshore wind turbine manufacturer which is a subsidiary of Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (SGRE), just announced that it will be cutting its current workforce of 480 employees to just 220 employees by 2020. All development and sales of Adwen turbines will be halted, and the remaining staff will be focused on servicing the existing turbines in the field. The engineering staff that currently develops Adwen turbines will be incorporated into Siemens Gamesa.

With this announcement, the Adwen brand of turbines has been effectively terminated. It is the sad end to a promising company that used to be the second largest manufacturer in the world of offshore wind turbines with 18.2% of Europe’s installed offshore capacity at the end of 2015. Adwen’s announcement sounds the death knell for the innovative AD 5-135 turbine, which used a hybrid drivetrain that combined the lower cost of a geared drive with the lower maintenance of a direct drive. There is also no hope of ever reviving development of the Adwen AD 8-180, whose 88.4 meter blades were the longest in the world and its 10 meganewton-meter gearbox was the most powerful in the world. Despite the fact that Adwen had 2 GW of future orders on the books and probably could have survived as an independent company, its geared turbines competed too closely with the direct drive turbines (SG SG 8.0-167 DD, SWT-7.0-154 and SWT-6.0-154) that parent company Siemens Gamesa offers for the offshore market.

It is worth contemplating how few offshore wind turbine manufacturers still remain in the market. Back in 2011, the Siemens SWT-3.6-120, Vestas V112-3.0MW, BARD NV (5MW), REpower 5M, Areva M5000 and Hitachi/Fuji Suburu 80/2.0 were all in production, and there were public announcements about the future development of the MHI Sea Angel 7MW, Samsung S7.0-171, Alstom Haliade 150-6MW, Vestas V164, Siemens SWT-6.0-154, Enercon E-126 (6MW), XEMC Darwind XD115-5MW, Sinovel SL6000, Ming Yang SCD 6.5MW, BARD 6.5, AMSC WT5500FC, CSIC H151 (5MW), Daewoo 7MW, Gamesa G132-5000, Nordex N150 (6MW), GE 4.1-113, Goldwind 6MW and Clipper 10 MW Britannia for offshore use.

The offshore wind industry has changed dramatically since the heady days of 2011 when the sky seemed to be the limit for the offshore business. Vestas hit a financial crisis in 2012 and realized that it didn’t have the necessary resources in house to finish developing its V164, so it created a joint venture in 2013 with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), which then axed its own Sea Angel turbine. Areva also decided that developing offshore turbines was too expensive to go it alone, so it created a offshore wind joint venture with Gamesa named Adwen in 2014. This short-lived JV came to an end in 2017 when Gamesa merged with Siemens. In order for Gamesa to be able to complete the merger, Gamesa bought up Areva’s stake in Adwen. GE tried twice to develop its own offshore turbines that never made it to market, before it bought up Alstom in 2016. These mergers have reduced seven offshore turbine manufacturers down to just three. The only remaining offshore wind turbine manufacturer from 2011  that hasn’t yet been merged is REpower, which was renamed as Senvion in 2014, but it is widely rumored to be looking for a partner in the offshore wind industry.

Almost all the other offshore turbines planned in 2011 never got financed or never made it past the testing of prototypes. The American turbine maker, Clipper Windpower, was hit hard by the 2008 economic crisis and was bought up by United Technologies (UT) in 2010, which killed its plan to build a gigantic 10MW offshore turbine in 2011 and then shut down all new turbine manufacturing in 2012, when UT decided to only focus on aerospace. When South Korea announced a plan in early 2011 to install 2.9 GW of offshore wind, Samsung, Daewoo, Hyundai, Doosan and STX all started developing offshore turbines. Samsung even created the largest turbine rotor in the world with 83.5 meter long blades. Then in 2014, it decided wind turbine manufacturing was a money pit and abruptly quit the market. All of its South Korean rivals also quit the wind business as well, except for Doosan which recently announced it would develop an 8MW offshore turbine. Currently only 38MW of offshore turbines have been installed off South Korean shores.

Despite the fact that offshore wind did grow dramatically in Europe, few European turbine manufacturers were able to take advantage of that growth. BARD went bankrupt in 2013, killing its planned BARD 6.5 turbine. Enercon produced its E-126 which at 7.5MW was the most powerful turbine in the world before the introduction of the V164, but Enercon gave up on the offshore market as being too risky for the Germany company, despite employing a direct drive technology that should have been a good fit for the offshore market. Nordex couldn’t find partners to help finance its N150, and has retreated from the offshore market as well.

Back in 2011, there were 6 manufacturers of offshore turbines (Siemens, Vestas, BARD, Areva, REpower and Hitachi/Fuji), plus another 18 companies (GE, Clipper, Samsung, Daewoo, STX, Hyundai, Doosan, MHI, Alstom, Gamesa, Nordex, Enercon, Goldwind, Ming Yang, CSIC, XMEC Darwind, Sinovel and Dongfang) had announced plans to enter the market. Almost none of those plans that looked so rosy in 2011 came to fruition. Looking at the cumulative market shared of offshore wind turbines by the end of 2017, it is striking how few of those companies with grand plans in 2011 hold any significant market share today.

Percent of cumulative global offshore wind turbine capacity at end of 2017:
Siemens Gamesa: 54%
MHI Vestas: 15%
Shanghai Electric (Sewind): 7%
Senvion: 7%
Adwen: 5%
Goldwind: 3%
Envision: 3%
CSIC: 1%
GE: 1%
Source: Calculated from data in the GWEC Global Wind 2017 Report

Siemens Gamesa has built or designed 66% of the world’s existing offshore wind turbine capacity if including its subdivision Adwen and the turbine designs that it licenses to Shanghai Electric (Sewind). It may seem surprising that Siemens Gamesa has so dominated the offshore market, when it equally shares the onshore market with Vestas, GE and Goldwind.

Source: Windpower Monthly (2017-10-02) Top ten turbine makers of 2017.

Siemens first pioneered offshore wind turbines back in 1991, but Vestas was taking most of the offshore market in the mid 2000’s, when offshore wind was just starting to emerge. It is worth examining why Siemens ended up beating Vestas in the offshore market as shown in the graph below of MW of new offshore turbines per year between 2000 and 2016:

 

Vestas effectively killed itself in the offshore market by using a gearbox that couldn’t stand up to the rigors of coastal winds. Rather than developing a new turbine, Vestas tried to repurpose its existing V90-3.0 onshore turbine for offshore usage. After installing 30 V90-3.0 turbines in the Kentish Flats wind farm in 2005, it had to replace all the gearboxes over the next 2 years and was forced to take the V90 off the market in 2007 until it reintroduced the turbine sporting a new gearbox developed with Hansen Transmissions. This new gearbox, however, proved little better. In May 2012, Vestas reported gearbox problems with 376 of the V90-3.0 turbines that it installed between 2009 and 2011. Questions were raised about the quality of Vestas’ turbines, when the end of the blade broke off a prototype of the V112-3.0 in 2010, which was being developed as the successor to the V90-3.0.

In contrast, Siemens had developed a reputation for good turbines with reliable gearboxes that had low maintenance costs. 96% of the turbines that Siemens installed in the US between 1983 and 1989 were still in operation in 2009. This reputation served it well in the nascent offshore market, where the increased strength of the winds made damage more likely and the high cost of access via boats and helicopters made maintenance more costly. Historically, the gearbox was the part of the wind turbine which was mostly like to fail, so Siemens turbines with their reliable gearboxes were deemed the safest bet by risk-adverse electric utilities and energy project developers.

The design of the high speed, 3 stage Winergy gearboxes and the squirrel-cage generators used in Siemens SWT-3.6-107 and SWT-3.6-120 was very conventional, so it is hard to say that Siemens’ geared turbines were significantly better than its competitors, but almost 10 GW of those two turbine models were installed. Siemens advertised its SWT-3.6-120 as “thoroughly tested, utterly reliable,” and the large number of its deployments created a snowball effect that made it hard for other turbine companies to compete with its reputation. Shanghai Electric (Sewind) chose to license Siemen’s SWT-3.6-120 turbine design because it was so well tested in the field. Because Siemens had so many orders for its offshore turbines, it was able to design its own special ships for installing turbines in coastal waters, which allow it to install a turbine in less than 24 hours.

While Siemens had a reliable design with good reputation and economies of scale in its favor, it mostly took the lion’s share of the offshore market because its competitors were suffering financial woes that restricted the needed R&D and marketing of their offshore turbines. Vestas was suffered through financial turmoil, which hindered its ability to deploy the V112 and delayed the development of the V164, so Vestas was stuck trying to sell the outdated V90 to the offshore market. REpower was also experiencing financial woes, which is why it was sold off to the Indian company Suzlon in 2007. Suzlon, however, had so highly indebted itself buying REpower and trying to increase its production capacity, that it was forced to sell off the company in 2015 in order to avoid bankruptcy. Areva was loosing millions of euros every year on its nuclear business and Gamesa was hit by the loss of renewable energy subsidies in Spain, so neither company had sufficient funds to properly invest in Adwen.

Siemens Gamesa probably won’t have such a commanding lead in the current generation of 5-9 MW turbines, as it did in the last generation of 3-4 MW turbines, but it is undoubtedly going to continue to grabbing the lion’s share of the market in Europe and Shanghai Electric has used its turbine design to grab 50% of the Chinese offshore market as well.

Shanghai Electric, Goldwind, Envision and CSIC have been relegated almost exclusively  to the Chinese market, although Envision and Goldwind have ambitions to become global players. With Adwen in the process of being phased out, there are currently only three competitive offshore turbine manufacturers outside of China. Senvion has limited reach, since it only has operations in 11 countries. Its 6.2M126 offshore turbine uses a high speed, 3 stage geared design from mid-2000’s which is outdated and considered less reliable than Siemens’ direct drive and MHI Vestas’ medium speed, 2 stage geared drive. For most of the world, the only real competitors in the offshore market are Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas.

It seems strange that so many companies have been driven out of the offshore market, considering the fact that the market size has quadrupled in six years, from under 1000 MW in 2011 to 4331 MW in 2017. With an exploding market, why were so many turbine manufacturers driven out of the offshore wind business and most of them forced to combine into larger companies in order to survive?  What makes it odder still is that so many of these companies like Nordex and Enercon were highly experienced in building onshore wind turbines or industrial giants like Samsung, Hyundai, Fuji and Areva with decades of experience in electrical generation and deep enough pockets to survive the initial R&D, yet they still found the offshore market too tough to survive.

First of all, it is important to recognize that many of these companies were relying on a home market advantage which hasn’t yet materialized in places like the US, Japan, South Korea, India, France and Spain. Although the market has grown rapidly, it is striking where it didn’t grow.

In anticipation of offshore wind eventually taking off on the American Atlantic seaboard, GE started experimenting by installing its 3.6 SL turbines in 2003 off the coast of Ireland. The American market, however, still hasn’t materialized a decade and a half later and GE’s turbines have only been deployed in a single 30 MW wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island. After the 454 MW Cape Wind offshore project was first proposed in 2001 off the coast Massachusetts, it faced a decade and a half of of lawsuits and public protests from local residents before it finally died in 2017.

Similar protests from the residents of  South Korea helped kill 2.9 GW of planned offshore wind farms in South Korea. The public opposition and the lack of firm commitment from the South Korean government led to Samsung, STX, Hyundai and Daewoo all fleeing the market. Samsung tried in vain to sell its turbines in Europe as well, without any success.

Fuji Heavy Industries developed a 2MW turbine with Hitachi for typhoon prone Japanese waters back in 2009 and has been testing it as a floating turbine since 2013, but it never saw much usage. After spending three years trying in vain to sell the Suburu 80/2.0 turbine to Japanese utilities, Fuji Heavy Industries sold out its stake in the wind business to Hitachi in 2012. Hitachi proceeded to loose millions of yen developing a 5.2 MW floating turbine that could be used in the deep waters off the Japanese coast and survive typhoon winds. Hitachi’s failure was partly due to Japan’s geography, but it was also due to Hitachi’s lack of focus. Rather than invest in renewable energy, it was been distracted by the joint ventures it created with GE in nuclear power and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in thermal generation, which are both dying industries that will continue loosing money.

After the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster in 2011, the Japanese government also prioritized saving Toshiba and Hitachi’s nuclear business and importing more liquefied natural gas, rather than pivoting to renewables. Most of Japan’s offshore wind potential is located in the less-populated, northern regions, but the country lacks an adequate grid to transfer electricity from Hokkaido and Tohoku down to Toyko and convert it from 50Hz to 60Hz to sell to western Japan. The Japan Wind Power Association estimates that only 96 GW out of a potential 378 GW of offshore wind capacity can be developed due to limitations in the grid. Although a feed-in tariff for wind and solar energy was introduced in 2012, Japan currently only gets 15% of its electricity from renewable sources and its current energy plan only targets increasing that percentage to 22%-24% by 2030. There is no clear plan for developing its offshore wind industry or upgrading its electrical grid for renewable energy.

After the Indian company Suzlon outbid France’s Areva to buy REpower in 2007, it proceeded to accrue $2.5 billion in debt as it geared up to sell its turbines in India where the government was offering big subsidies for renewable energy. Suzlon planned to build a  300MW wind farm off the coast of Gujarat before the Indian government slashed the energy subsidies. Suzlon was forced to abandon the idea of marketing offshore wind to the developing world and in 2015 it sold off its Senvion division in a fire sale to avoid bankruptcy.

In the past, the economics of offshore wind made it largely impossible to compete with other sources of energy, without the firm backing of governments and heavy subsidies. According to REN21’s 2017 report on renewables, the capital cost of installing a kW of onshore wind capacity in 2016 was on average $1263 in Asia, $1866 in Europe, and $1805 in North America. In comparison, installing a kW of offshore wind cost $3286 in Asia and $4207 in Europe. Block Island off the coast of Rhode Island, which was the first offshore wind farm in North America, had a capital cost of $5500 per kW. Even when factoring the higher capacity factors for offshore wind due to the fact that that the wind speed is higher and more constant, the offshore wind energy is still costs 20% more than solar and 40% more than onshore wind. There is more wear and tear on offshore turbines subjected to coastal storms and accessing the turbines by boat or helicopter makes the maintenance costs much higher. What ultimately killed the Cape Wind project was not the 23 lawsuits and the public protests, but the fact that the power utilities didn’t want to pay the contract price of $220 per MWh when they could get cheaper electricity from other sources.

Only in Europe where the governments had strong mandates and were willing to massively subsidize offshore wind, was it able to take off. China had a similar experience as Japan, Korea and the US with offshore wind, until the government stepped in a couple years ago and started mandating its installation. China’s offshore wind installations didn’t take off nearly as fast as called for by the government’s five year plan, but it is now expected to grown 40% per year until 2020 due to the Chinese government’s goal of transitioning away from coal as fast as possible. South Korea and India are just as dependent upon coal as China, yet they don’t have the same level of governmental support to drive their offshore wind industries.

Even in places where the subsidies were strong and there was governmental support to grant regulatory approval, most wind turbine manufacturers lost their shirts in the offshore business. It takes years of prototyping and testing to develop a good offshore turbine that power project developers are confident enough to buy, since the maintenance costs and potential financial risks in coastal waters will be much higher than on land. The technical problems BARD experienced before it went bankrupt, convinced project developers like Orsted (formerly DONG), E.ON, Innogy, Vattenfall and Northland Power that it was very risky to go with untested offshore turbines and newly designed electrical conversion and transmission systems. One of the reasons why Vestas and Gamesa paired up with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Areva, respectively, was because their experience in electrical generation and transmission reassured wind project developers. On top of that, new types of ships, cranes and foundations needed to be designed to install offshore turbines and developing the best techniques and figuring out the logistics took years of costly experimentation.

After Siemens established an early lead in the offshore market and had a battle tested turbine model like SWT-3.6-120 with thousands of deployments, it was hard for any other company to compete in the offshore market. Companies like Samsung invested millions only to discover that it would take millions more in costly testing and small-scale deployments to convince the big wind project developers to risk their capital on their untried turbines. Even worse was the fact that there were very few offshore wind projects to go around and they often took far longer in the planning, financing and regulatory approval than initially expected.

The steep cost of entering the offshore market was coupled with the double whammy of reductions in renewable energy subsidies in Europe, India and the US. Between 2013 and 2016, direct subsidies for wind energy in the US fell 80%, from 6187 to 1266 million dollars. After Spain eliminated most of its renewable energy subsidies, its two wind turbine manufacturers, Gamesa and Acciona, could no longer survive as independent companies. Gamesa sought the safety of a merger with Siemens and Acciona sold itself off to Nordex. The margins for turbine manufacturers have grown smaller as the subsidies have dried up and energy companies have fewer profits so they are willing to pay less for turbines. According to the World Energy Council, the average selling price of onshore wind turbines in the US has dropped from roughly $1500 per kW in 2008 to between $950 and $1240 per kW in 2016. China has experienced similar trends with the price of wind turbines falling 37% between 2007 and 2016.

The price of offshore turbines is dropping at a faster rate than onshore turbines, judging from plummeting prices being paid for offshore wind electricity in public bidding. In the UK’s latest round energy auction for offshore wind, the winning bid of £57.50 per megawatt hour was over 50% lower than the average £117.14/MWh awarded in the last comparable bidding round just two years ago. Maryland will paid $132/MWh for its offshore wind electricity that is scheduled to come online in 2020, compared to the $250/MWh paid for Rhode Island’s Block Island offshore wind farm, which came online in 2016. The price of European offshore wind electricity has dropped from roughly $0.17 per kWh in 2010 to $0.13 in 2017, and recent auctions for offshore wind farms in the Netherlands in 2022 and Germany in 2024-5 will sell electricity at the unsubsidized price of $0.06 per kWh. It is highly likely that other countries will follow the example of the Netherlands and Germany and start auctioning off future wind farm concessions at unsubsidized energy prices.

There is the potential for massive growth in offshore wind. Many governments around the world have formulated new plans to install offshore wind on a massive level, such as Belgium (4GW by 2028), Netherlands (11.5GW by 2030), Germany (15GW by 2030), Taiwan (5.5GW by 2025), France (3.3GW by 2023), UK (18GW by 2020), South Korea (13GW by 2030), China (30 GW by 2020), New York (2.4GW by 2030), New Jersey (3.5GW by 2030) and Massachusetts (2GW by 2027).

There are a number of companies that plan to challenge the duopoly of Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas in offshore wind. GE is promising to finally bring Alstom’s Haliade 150-6MW to market in 2019. GE also plans to be the first company to introduce the next generation of offshore turbines in 2021 with its gigantic Haliade-X, which will have a capacity of 12 MW and 107 meter long blades. GE has both the resources and the technical know-how to design such a monstrosity. It recently bought the Danish company LM Wind, which manufactures the longest blades in the world, including 75.1 meter blades for Goldwind and 88.4 meter blades for Adwen.

Hitachi is also gearing up to finally enter the offshore market after years of testing and prototyping. However, Hitachi recently announced that it will install 21 of its 5.2MW turbines in Taiwanese waters, so it appears to finally be entering the commercial offshore market in a serious way. Goldwind might also become a serious competitor in the future. The Chinese company is now testing its GW154/6.7MW and promises future GW164/6.45MW and GW171/6.45MW models. The prospects look good for GE, Hitachi and Goldwind, since each company should have a special advantage in their home markets of the US, Japan and China, respectively.

My prediction is that only Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas will be able to compete globally in offshore wind. Senvion will probably either be bought up or go bankrupt, since it can’t compete with the global giants. Goldwind will become a regional player, that dominates in China, but also gets installed in some developing countries that receive financing from China. GE might be able to challenge the global duopoly of Siemens Gamesa and MHI Vestas, especially if it ends up being the first company to bring a 12MW turbine to market, while its competitors are stuck with 8-9MW turbines. However, I think that it more likely that GE will be a regional player limited to North American shores. GE is currently betting big on offshore wind, but it is the type of company where a future CEO might decide that it isn’t getting enough orders for its offshore turbines to justify the high costs, and decide to quit the market. As for the rest of the companies, they have done little except produce some prototypes to test and they are unlike to ever bring any offshore wind turbines to market in a serious way.

The problem is that developing the next generation of 12+ MW turbines is going to be so expensive that only a few giants can compete. Offshore turbine manufacturing is becoming like jumbojet manufacturing. It takes tens of billions of dollars to do the necessary R&D and many years of large orders are needed to pay back those costs. In an industry where the technology is changing so fast, there is little guarantee that a turbine model will be used long enough to ever repay the development costs.

Developing the current generation of 5-9 MW turbines took longer and cost more than than anyone in the industry anticipated. Vestas, the largest turbine manufacturer in the world, started developing its V164 in 2009 and it took nearly 8 years to take it to serial production. Siemens also started developing the SWT-6.0-154 in 2009, which is a huge investment for a turbine which ended up seeing almost no commercial deployment before being replaced by a better model. Alstom started testing prototypes of the Haliade 150-6MW back in 2012, yet GE won’t bring it to market until 2019.

By the time the industry starts developing the 20+ MW offshore turbines, the R&D for these turbines will probably cost as much as developing the Boeing 787 and Airbus A380. A small company like Senvion simply can’t compete at that scale and larger companies like GE, Hitachi, Doosan and Goldwind that are currently determined to compete might loose so much in the attempt, that they will throw in the towel.

If northeastern states in the US keep delaying their plans for offshore wind parks and the Haliade 150-6MW flops in the market, GE might throw in the towel and stick to less risky ventures.

Jordan Peterson ignores the importance of social policy in addressing societal problems

Jordan Peterson was recently interviewed in San Francisco by Simulation, which is a series of talks and interviews with interesting people. As one of the “radical leftists” and “cultural Marxists” that Jordan Peterson loves to mock, I actually enjoyed listening to this talk and I learned some interesting things from Peterson. I can’t say the same about Sam Harris, Ben Shapiro or most other conservative commentators, so I definitely recommend watching the whole interview on YouTube:

The interview was a wide ranging conversation on a whole slew of topics and the interviewer wasn’t very well prepared in my opinion on the academic topics that were discussed, so Peterson was able to opine freely with little push back. I suspect that Peterson would have been taken to task on a number of his arguments in an academic convention, but he is playing in the court of public opinion, which is much less knowledgeable on these topics.

On the question of wealth redistribution, Peterson argues that wealth and achievement naturally accumulates toward the top in all societies, even in prehistoric societies. In making the argument that overaccumulation of wealth at the top is feature of all societies, he throws up his hands and says “nobody knows what to do about it”. He ignores all the ways that societies thorough out history have alleviated overaccumulation of wealth at the top.

Peterson even argues that wealth will accumulate naturally in the hands of the people with the most intellectual ability, which is better for society, since they will use that wealth in the most productive fashion. In making this argument, he ignores all the empirical evidence showing that wealth redistribution has a lot of benefits for society as a whole. Redistributing wealth toward the bottom causes more economic growth than distributing wealth toward the top, because it causes money recirculation in the national economy. Also, the studies of a universal basic income, providing apartments to homeless people, investing in low-income schools, guaranteed retirement funds, and raising the minimum wage all show economic and social benefits to the society as a whole. Peterson uses the example of the cocaine addict who misuses extra wealth and ends up overdosing, but Peterson uses the example of a few outliers and generalizes for all of society. There is a great deal of academic literature to showing the benefits and efficacy of redistributing wealth toward the bottom of society.

Peterson pretends that the most productive thing to do with wealth is to let the richest people keep it and uses the example of Bill Gates using his wealth to cure malaria, polio, sleeping sickness and other diseases. Yes, there are people like Gates and Musk who use their wealth productively, but there are many more like the Koch Bros, Sheldon Adelson, etc. who use their wealth to corrupt the economic system and destroy democracy. The economic literature supports some wealth inequality to promote growth, but it is clear that the level of wealth inequality that we currently have actually depresses economic growth because it destroys demand in the economy and reduces the recirculation of money.

On an individual basis, I think Peterson has a lot of insightful advise for how people can improve their lives, but he is a psychologist treating individuals who are generally outliers. A sociologist who does statistical analysis on society as a whole comes to opposite conclusions about what is good public policy. For example, individuals should think that working hard leads to success and there is some evidence for that. But, it is also true that society investing in schools and training, especially for the underprivileged has huge benefits, which Peterson seems to ignore. He looks at the lowest 10% and says that it is pointless to provide training to them. However, he ignores the 90% who would benefit from extra schooling and training. I work as a computer programmer and I can tell you that there are some people who simply don’t have the mind to be good programmers, but there are roughly 25% who do, but only 1% every get the training to do it. For those 24% of society who have the mental ability but not the training to be programmers, they would really benefit from free or subsidized education programs, as any sociologist would tell you. Peterson has nothing so say about the “radical left” proposals about how to better fund education for the disadvantaged.

Another major hole in Peterson’s argument is the fact that he ignores how IQ is influenced by environment and he ignores all the proposals of the “radical left” to improve the environment for the disadvantaged. For example, Peterson has nothing to say about proposals to improve the nutrition of people living in food ghettos and how to give people economic security to create the kind of stable and secure environments which produce children of high IQ. I appreciate all of Peterson’s insight into the importance of play, but otherwise he is remarkably silent on the kind of social policies that are needed to help the development of children and raise their IQs.

Peterson is right to point out how wealth and success accumulates to the few at the top, but he has zero to say about how to alleviate that overdistribution towards the top. He basically pretends that that it is a natural function and we don’t have any idea how to alleviate it. Many societies have features which mitigate the overaccumulation of wealth at the top, whereas unregulated Capitalism promotes it. There is a major difference between today’s neoliberal Capitalism that concentrates wealth and the giving away of wealth in order to gain social status among the Native Americans of the Pacific NorthWest. Peterson pretends that there is no social policy to address the overaccumulation at the top (other than making war and promoting plague), whereas any sociologist or historian could point to dozens of ways to address this problem (including changing Capitalism, which Peterson refuses to consider).

Peterson talks about the studies among animals showing that reciprocity arises naturally from play and is essential for development. Based on those studies, he concludes that morality is universal and a natural development from play. Strangely, he doesn’t use those same studies to advocate for good social policy. For example, he discusses the studies that show that stable hierarchies occur among chimpanzees when the dominant males establish friendships with the lesser males and look out for the welfare of the baby chimpanzees. In contrast, instability and violence occurs in chimpanzee society, when the males at the top of the hierarchy use physical domination and treat the lower chimpanzees badly, which leads to short reigns of power which are quickly overthrown.

Peterson is strangely silent on the social policy implications of the very studies he cites. The “radical leftists” who Peterson derides would look at those studies and conclude that it is a bad public policy to spend huge amounts on the police and military budgets. They would advocate against domestic policy based on police violence and a foreign policy that tries to physically dominate other nations.

Peterson also talks about the studies where $100 is shared between two people and Peterson noted that the people who are generous and share over 50% will do better in the long run. He doesn’t use those studies, however, to conclude that the wealthy should be forced to share their wealth with the lower classes and treat then better if we want a stable and prosperous society.

Peterson is correct to point out that women on average are more interested in people and men are more interested in things, but that doesn’t mean that sexism doesn’t exist in the STEM fields or that we shouldn’t have social policies to encourage women and minorities to pursue those fields, just like we should have social policies to encourage men to become nurses and teachers. Sexist attitudes do exist in these fields of work and it helps society as a whole to overcome them. Men who find childhood development fascinating shouldn’t feel belittled and their masculinity challenged when they become kindergarten teachers, just like women shouldn’t be steered away from using math. We need social policies to fight against sexist attitudes in society rather than pretending that is entirely the natural interests of the sexes that lead to gender disparities in jobs. Peterson is right that there are different interests on average in the sexes, so some of the gender disparities are not socially constructed, but some of the disparity is also socially constructed. We have both biological and social and cultural factors that lead to gender disparities and he refuses to talk about the policies that are needed to address the social and cultural factors.

Peterson became famous last year when he argued against rules banning gender discrimination in speech in Canadian universities. Peterson derides the social construction of gender as having no basis in the scientific literature and dismisses it as a form of “cultural Marxism” promoted by leftist academics. It seems rather bizarre to me to call the social construction of gender a Marxist idea, since Marx believed that culture was arose from material production and was rooted in materialist interests of the classes. Marxian analysis of culture is diametrically opposed to the postmodern analysis used by many feminists, especially when it is rooted in language. What people like Peterson call “cultural Marxism” did arise from leftist academics, who were often sympathetic to Marxist movements, but it is downright disingenuous for Peterson to tar them as Marxists if you know anything about the philosophical basis of Marx’s arguments.

Peterson criticizes Silicon Valley companies for trying to hire more women and people from diverse backgrounds. He seems oblivious to the studies showing that businesses which have more women, more racial minorities and more diverse backgrounds of their employees tend to function better and are more successful.

In conclusion, there is some truth to Peterson’s arguments about a competence hierarchy rather than a domination hierarchy and the natural distribution of rewards toward the top, but he is strangely silent on all the academic studies about how racial and class bias make a difference in success and promotion (as well as religious bias in some countries). He is right to criticize many academics for failing to acknowledge that biology and natural tendencies play a role in many of society’s problems, but he fails to acknowledge that there are also social and cultural factors at play and that social policy can play a important role in addressing these factors.