Fundraiser 2017: Then They Fight You

This time last year, we set forth our long-term vision for the second decade at Cfdtrade. I started this site in 2006 because important things, namely, the obviously-perious state of the financial system, were going unsaid.

The response of the elites to the crisis has been not to try to remedy the underlying source of stress, that neoliberalism has worked out ver nicely for those at the top while leaving the rest with stagnant wages, less stable jobs, less class mobility, and crapified products, infrastructure, and governance. That was a feature, not a bug, except that those who came out winners often became so distant from ordinary people that they failed to see or didn’t care that their indifference was undermining the legitimacy of a system that had worked so well for them. But rather than fixing, or even trying to alleviate glaring abuses, the default response has been to act as if every problem can be solved by better propaganda.

I’d predicted in ECONNED that the most likely outcome of the financial crisis was paradigm breakdown, because too many influential people had a stake in the old failed order to be willing to risk their position and support real reform. As a result, economic pressures have moved into the political realm. Brexit, Merkel’s stunning election setback, and the rise of much-denigrated populists of the left like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn, and of the right, like Trump and Marine Le Pen, represent a series of repudiations to government and business leaders too busy patting themselves on the back to notice their self-serving policies were leaving huge swathes of society insecure and too often in distress.

The backlash has been ferocious. Who could possibly have imagined in October 2016 that the intelligence community, in combination with large portions of the press and the Democratic Party, would attempt a change in the Constitutional order to prevent the clear winner of a Presidential election from taking office? Even relatively small actors like Cfdtrade came under direct assault.

As we describe in our accompanying post, who would have thought that the Washington Post would effectively accuse us of being traitors and Vanity Fair would later attack us by name? The campaign against independent voices has only intensified, with Google downgrading both left and right leaning sites that it deemed not to be “authoritative,” which seems to be code for “sufficiently dependent on access journalism so as to be tractable.” Sites ranging from TruthDig, Black Agenda Report, to even the borderline mainstream Intercept have all taken hits to their traffic.

The big reason we got through a very difficult year so well is your support. Your loyalty as readers, particularly by sending articles to family, friends, and colleagues, participating in the Cfdtrade community by commenting, sending links and fetching animal photos, and coming to meetups and last but not least, your donations, enabled us not only to maintain our high standard of reporting and analysis and open new beats but also to strengthen Cfdtrade as an institution. Some of these lasting gains include:

Even better core team. Jerri-Lynn Scofield had started writing for Cfdtrade just before last year’s fundraiser. Thanks to your support, we’ve also been able to bring Outis on board to manage comments as well as contribute posts. Jules Dickson is also playing a significant behind-the-scenes role in helping maintain the quality of the comments section. Clive continues to demystify and debunk Fintech and keep tabs on the ever creaky state of big financial institution IT, a systemic risk to which regulators only give lip service. And even though Richard Smith has been focused on international scammers, with his name occasionally gracing the pages of Private Eye and the Herald Scotland, he regularly helps in the middle of the night with Twitter sightings and quick-turnaround takes on bank and technology questions.

Attracting new writers. Hubert Horan’s Uber series was the first time the economic fairly tale of Silicon Valley’s biggest, baddest unicorn came under question. Only after we featured his work have tech reporters felt the need to question Uber’s ability to ever make money, and no one has yet to lay a glove on Hubert’s analysis. The fact that Hubert came to us with this important story and that the captured technology press has felt compelled to address it is testament to how Cfdtrade punches above its weight. We’ve also had other writers with strong expertise, like Jack Lipton, an expert on how critical raw materials constrain production, and Enrico Vega, who writes for Italy’s analogue to the Financial Times.

Growing network of NC meetups. Not only did we do more than ever, and intend to visit even more cities in the next 12 months, but the NC in LA group is now meeting on its own regularly! When I visited Kansas City (more on the exciting MMT conference in the coming weeks) and had a reader meetup, one attendee from Miami wanted to find out how many NC readers there were there and start holding meetups. So those of you who are in or would be willing to go to Miami for meetups, please pipe up!

Solid technical foundation. It seems remarkable that it has taken ten years to get here, but the day to day IT operations of the site have become a non-issue. Yes, we have the occasional hiccup, but having the site seize up for not-good reasons or fall over in a DDoS attack or really bad spambot swarm (which looks awfully similar but doesn’t necessarily have the same motives behind it) are things of the past thanks to our webhost, Keith Freeman, our WordPress expert, Blair Cummins, with Lambert helping with some of the oversight.

All of these are critical to continuing to cover our ever-growing beats, including: the intersection between technology and governance, the failure to curb the Too Big to Fail firms, inequality, the appalling state of American healthcare and the fight for single payer, Brexit, CalPERS, the impact of climate-change-induced disasters on cities, migration, the role of the military, and the continuing legitimacy crisis of the political class.

So how do we at Cfdtrade play a role? We intend to be part of the solution and not part of the problem. We want to give you information and help you build analytical and rhetorical skills so you can be more effective in your own communities. These arguments in our comments section prepare you for what you may encounter at your dinner tables, in your workplaces, and in your town halls.

We believe our biggest impact is through delivering on our overarching mission: promoting critical thinking. The more adept you are at vetting what is presented to you as fact, at testing the logic of arguments, and at parsing propaganda, the more you will be able help those around you better understand the escalating power struggles as factions in the elites fight to maintain their position, as well as chart a better course for political and personal action.

We’d like to do more. We’d like to do it even better. We’ve managed to punch way above our weight with pretty meager resources. Just imagine how much trouble we could cause if we ever got our hands on some real money.

Please support our efforts. Give whatever you can, whether it’s $5, $50, or $5000, via our Tip Jar. Even a small donation helps us meet our fundraising goals. And if you aren’t in a position to give right now, you can help by linking to our posts on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media, and telling friends, family, and colleagues about the site, as well as contributing to our comments section.

In our accompanying kickoff post, we identify specific things that your donations will fund and will tell you when we’ve hit each of these monetary goals. Our first goal is $19,000 for digital infrastructure essentials. That may not sound very sexy, but this is our plumbing. I’m sure you know from your own experience that when your plumbing is not working, you feel its absence acutely. We have a large nut due both the size of our database (nearly one million comments and over 19,000 posts) and rising security threats.

You can give via check made out to “Aurora Advisors Incorporated,” sent to:

Aurora Advisors Incorporated
903 Park Avenue, 8th Floor
New York, NY 10075

Please be sure to let us know if you have sent a check so we can include your contribution in our fundraiser tally. Please send an e-mail with the subject line, “Check is in the mail” with the $ amount, to [email protected]

You can also use the Tip Jar to donate by credit card, debit card, or PayPal. Please note PayPal allows you to use your regular credit or debit card. If you are allergic to PayPal, checks are always welcome!

Finally, if and only if you are relatively well off in frequent flier miles but cash stressed, Yves can also accept some frequent flier mile transfers (the airlines limit how many a user can receive in one year) for American Airlines or Delta. Please e-mail her at the address above if this applies to you. We really want to limit this option to people who want to contribute but are finding it hard this year due to the ceiling on this type of donation. Any donations of this sort will go for flights to meetups.

Again, we hope you’ll support our work in ways big and small. You’ve helped us build a community, and with your continued backing, we aspire to make it even better in the coming year.

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36 comments

  1. Michael

    This is the first time I’ve ever commented here, but I’m a regular reader. I love Cfdtrade–I was happy to donate!

  2. skippy

    “We believe our biggest impact is through delivering on our overarching mission: promoting critical thinking. The more adept you are at vetting what is presented to you as fact, at testing the logic of arguments, and at parsing propaganda, the more you will be able help those around you better understand the escalating power struggles as factions in the elites fight to maintain their position, as well as chart a better course for political and personal action.”

    This is something myself, has over a protracted period of some years now, endured, for the exact meaning this mission statement confers. The reconciliation of previous environmental biases – conditioning in regard to the consideration of information presented here – that forces one – to reconsider previous views, sometimes at great personal discomfort, for reasons both of abject embarrassment [the fool of others (information arb)] and the discomfort of the exclusion one feels not being within the dominate circle e.g. heretic of sorts i.e. not much of a follower of any polemic camp of thinking.

    With that I spent the better part of a decadal period of being out of the labour pool and engaged shamelessly in my intellectual want on the web. The hundreds of blogs [personal views] and academic portals [white papers] spending thousands of hours trying to absorb both the physical reality as well as the human. Today I only spend time on a hand full of blogs, this one is at the top, whilst I still roam wide and far on the academic.

    With all that said, I have watched Yves from her early pod casts before this blog was started, she is at her core the same. Something I have admired her for, of which, is the driving thought that we can do better, for all, as we are not irrevocably tied to the currant state of affairs. Albeit no one individual is going to come and save the day [romanticism], it will only come with the diminishment of the creative class writers ability to craft the dominate narrative. To that the breath and depth of society being able to think for its self and require – proof – in material benefits in how our world or society is shaped is a corner stone to improving our chance at success or worse survival.

    Disheveled ….. if one can not assist with funding never forget to shamelessly bring this blogs name up in conversation. I have and still do almost on a daily basis.

    P.S. go the skunks part’ay

    1. Lambert Strether

      > the creative class writers ability

      I have always hated this phrase because I believe deeply that every human has the power to be creative (especially if they aren’t ground down and beaten down every day).

      1. skippy

        Its a well worn phrase to describe those in the employ of the ruling class to project a world view that supports the aforementioned, numerous examples on request that span human history.

        1. Terry Flynn

          I was thinking of writing something but you covered many of my points and more eloquently than I so I’ll just say bravo!

      2. Basil Pesto

        As it happens, I read an, I guess, counterpart to this line of thought the other day, but regarding science as opposed to creative endeavour, from the physicist and popular science writer Chad Orzel. The context here is responding to an article defending the study of the humanities and criticising the overvaluing of STEM subjects:

        “But the biggest problem I have with this whole line of argument is the way it sets science off as something alien, the classic example of which is the branding of arts and literature as “the humanities,” as if other fields are inherently inhuman. STEM disciplines are implicitly set off as something that isn’t an intrinsic part of “the human condition,” which Zakaria urges everyone to study. But, in fact, there are very few activities more essentially and intrinsically human than science.”

        More here:

        I think he reads the word “humanities” a bit too literally, but I largely agree with him. It’s worth noting that many of the great scientists have also very creative people. Also, quite a few great writers are with a scientific background! I too reflexively dislike the label ‘creative class’, or, moreso, people who describe themselves as “creatives”. Needless to say, not all creatives are created equal.

    2. Klim Maling

      This is a time when we need a Grey Champion, or several of them.

      Yves is a Grey Champion. Thank you.

    3. Yves Smith Post author

      I’ve also had to realize I was wrong about some things I thought I knew. If you look at my posts in the runup to the crisis, you’ll see I was a subscriber to the conventional Wall Street view that Federal debt was a risk to the economy. I still cringe when I see that sort of thing in my older posts. Fortunately it was only an occasional comment and not a big reason I thought Things Were Going to End Badly, but still….

        1. Eustache De Saint Pierre

          It appears to me that most of our problems come from those who seem to believe that they are incapable of having gotten anything wrong & I do not have the time to make a large list of the many times that my once comfortable consonance has been shattered & I am not looking forward to the next one – to err is human.

          Present circumstance does not allow for me to chip in at the moment, but fortune willing I most definitely will.

      1. John Zelnicker

        Yves – Just curious, who or what was it that changed your thinking about federal debt and deficits?

        Thanks.

      2. Vatch

        I just made my donation! Thanks for providing this site!

        I gotta say, I think the federal debt is a problem. The problem isn’t that there is a difference between what is collected in taxes and what the federal government spends. The problem is that the government owes money that it will probably never repay, and so it will be making interest payments in perpetuity. I consider that a problem. Whether it is a sufficiently severe problem so that it should be considered a risk to the economy, I really don’t know.

        1. Yves Smith Post author

          The Federal government does not “owe money” on Treasury bonds. The government could just as easily spend the money without issuing bonds. The use of bonds is a holdover from the gold standard days. Plus Treasuries are now the foundation of the global financial system. They are the biggest trading market by far and are the risk free asset off which all other bonds are priced.

          The Federal government can never go bankrupt (although it can choose to not to pay its bills). It can always pay off the bonds. It pays all of its bills by debiting accounts at the Fed. The bonds are almost an afterthought.

          The Federal government can create too much inflation, but it can’t run out of money to pay its bills.

          State and local governments are in a completely different situation. They are not what MMT calls a “currency issuer”. They use dollars created by the Federal government.

          1. Vatch

            ‘The government could just as easily spend the money without issuing bonds.’

            Yes, I know that, and it was implied when I said:

            The problem isn’t that there is a difference between what is collected in taxes and what the federal government spends.

            The federal government most definitely can create too much inflation. Under current law, it can also run out of money to pay its bills. It doesn’t have to be like this, but that’s how it is at this time.

            ‘The Federal government does not “owe money” on Treasury bonds.’

            I don’t understand why anyone would buy bonds if the government weren’t obligated to pay the interest that it says that it will pay. It sure seems to me like they owe money.

            1. John Zelnicker

              Vatch – The government is obligated to pay the interest and they pay it they same way they pay any other bill submitted to the Treasury, by debiting accounts at the Fed, which debits are then passed on to the bank account of the person or entity that owns the bonds.

              The principal is “owed” the same way a bank “owes” you the money in your CD. Those dollars already existed in another account and you transferred them to a CD, “paying it off” just means those existing dollars are transferred back to the account they came from. It’s an asset swap. No new dollars needed. Same with Treasury securities.

              The federal government can run out of money only if Congress decides to be irresponsible and refuses to raise the “debt ceiling”, which is a vestige of the days of the gold standard and the desire of those in power to deny nice things (such as universal healthcare, free education through college, affordable housing, adequate income support for those who are unable to work, etc.) to the “undeserving” poor and working classes. It’s really just more neo-liberal BS.

              There are a number of reasons to buy Treasury securities. One is that they are a risk free way to earn some interest (although very little right now). Another is to be used in various financial transactions such as repos.

              1. Vatch

                Yes, I agree with what you say. The important point is that under current law, the debt ceiling is real. If we reach the ceiling, then either new dollars or additional tax revenue are required to pay for the interest on Treasuries. A few days ago, commenter pslebow made a very wise statement about MMT:

                http://cfdtrade.info/2017/09/jared-bernstein-shows-costs-not-understanding-sovereign-currencies.html#comment-2865690

                MMT confuses the word “can” with the word “does”. The government can do lots of things but the reality lies within what it does do.
                Deficits do matter under the current system. If legislation was passed providing for the ability to create money rather than borrow as proposed in the Chicago Plan, Positive Money, the NEED act, etc. then indeed, deficits wouldn’t matter.

                To just assert something doesn’t make it true: “In a nation with a sovereign currency like the United States, federal tax revenues do not fund federal expenditures. ” This is, on its face, incorrect. …

  3. Ian

    I cannot describe how absolutely foundational NC has become in my daily readings. You have nothing but my deepest respect and love.

  4. Bugs Bunny

    Thanks Yves et cie. You know how much I appreciate NC – you have my full moral support and I spread the word in my own way. You’ll find my tip in the jar.

  5. PlutoniumKun

    NC is the first and last site I log into every day, its absolutely essential reading for me and has been fundamental to opening my eyes to what has been going on in the world. Its worth every cent of what I can afford to contribute.

    Oh, and I know this sometimes can be a time-suck issue for Yves and the others in the aftermath of any fundraiser, but I certainly don’t expect or wish individual messages of thanks – keeping this site at its usual state of excellence is the only thanks I want.

  6. Terry Flynn

    OK wasn’t gonna post but since I’d written most of this already, here’s my twopennethworth. Doesn’t appear NC related til closer to the end so bear with me – it link’s to Skippy’s point above regarding the (to paraphrase) groups (academia in this case) who don’t have their preconceptions challenged and who “dominate the narrative”.

    My experience (PhD 1998-2001 and postdoc positions to 2009, Senior Research Fellow to 2014, then promotion to full professor in process in 2015 when I left) was interesting. 1998-2009 was a period when the UK Medical Research Council had the cash to do something that was closer to what academics used to do in the tenured era (in the UK amongst other places tenure was abolished around 1990). It funded a centre at my uni which had a pretty broad remit. OK we did have to go through administrative hoops every 5 years but the fact I didn’t produce a genuinely innovative piece in the gold standard journal of my field (proposing methods from mathematical psychology not health economics) until 2007 didn’t hurt my career. Now I fully admit I stood on the shoulders of giants – partly through working hard (regular trips to Sydney giving myself a slipped disc in the process – coach class sucks on 23 hour intercontinental flights) and networking and partly through luck, I will freely admit. But we had something pretty revolutionary.

    That wouldn’t happen now. Why? Our unit was shut and funding has become a very different beast. Professors don’t get time to “think” but spend most of their time chasing increasingly scarce funding opportunities. If they don’t produce they get the push, as do members of their (crucial in health services research) team – who invariably are on short-term contracts. Plus the funding bodies are risk averse – if the choice is between something with some risk but high long term return vs building upon an existing ‘edifice’ that, with (just) a few studies required showing ‘validity’ of some sort, will get a health instrument into clinical trials – and hence published/cited in medical journals (as opposed to health services research ones) then KACHING! And in a metrics-based world that is the institutional structure and incentive. (Proposals must often also show “benefits to industry” – often hard and in our case when Sydney-based doubly so when companies using it refuse to let it be known since they did very nicely eviscerating the competition using it – BOSE and Macquarie Bank I’m looking at you in the 2009-2014 period.)

    Now the fact these edifices are built on very shaky (to put it kindly) foundations is ignored. In the earlier period of my career a few ‘big names’ did some re-analysis of existing papers suggesting this. Those papers now get ignored as much as possible and pushed under the carpet – they raise too many uncomfortable questions. If an entire ‘industry’ within HSR (that produces all the economic evaluation data used to inform decision-making at the national level in places like the UK/Canada/Australasia and increasingly mainland Europe) has to go back to square one to test assumptions made implicitly (and which are almost certainly incorrect) it means a bunch of people have to admit they’ve done 20 years of dud research and NICE becomes vulnerable politically – “so what drugs are REALLY cost-effective?”….”errr we don’t know anymore, give us 5-10 years and we’ll get back you” – oops.

    NC and any such similar sites are so important because they encourage inter-disciplinarity – which is used as a buzzword in academia and encouraged but in practice works in a very skewed way. Groups self-select to further their interest (and agendas) and not to raise inconvenient questions about their models. And, from my of former colleagues, they don’t visit sites like this where they may be made to think more.

    Now, other previous ‘voices in the wilderness’ (like the MMT people) would say “stop whining, just stick with it like we did”. But hopefully, as I’ve shown above (for my field, and chats with others suggest it’s not uncommon), things are very different from 30 years ago. Nobody has the opportunity to “get it wrong, try again, etc” and cheerlead for “something different that has been demonstrably proved correct in a discipline you guys aren’t talking to” – and though I know people like Bill Mitchell were able to do a lot of MMT development “alongside their day job” (he being an extremely accomplished econometrician who’s done lots of other macro modelling), again, the current structure doesn’t allow for that these days. You’re funded 100% to do the current project and your time is rigidly regulated. Now if enough health economists (for instance) read more broadly across blogs then maybe there’d be critical mass to force more funding for “checking the foundations”…but there aren’t. I also suspect that too many difficult questions would be raised as to the limitations of healthcare – witness the recent pieces on NC links on falls/stalls in life expectancy associated with austerity. Toxic research areas where many former colleagues are concerned – I got one piece published suggesting this kind of thing from my Bristol study, then I suddenly got my time filled up and wasn’t able to do the two follow-up papers I wanted to do. I won’t say that was something nefarious – but on another paper my team published a senior team member did tell me on the quiet that they wished we hadn’t published it.

    So whilst the situation looks somewhat bleak in academia (partly why I left) there’s still the hope that if enough people I direct here via /LinkedIn come read it then there may be additional force for the kind of change the MMT people have begun to get “at least into consideration and discourse” if not actual policy change (yet). Since my field is somewhat ‘niche’/tangential to NC it may be another such site that is best to promote change but at least people may be reading, cross-reading and contributing across these sites, including NC.

    Hopefully doesn’t sound too much like a rant – life has thrown me a few curveballs and I’ve largely dealt with the current one – hopefully, having contributed to two of the (five?) major funding drives in the past, my current situation will allow me to do so again.

  7. Bunk McNulty

    Someone somewhere some years back recommended that I read Econned. From there, I got to this site, and have read it just about every day since. I’d been taught at NYC business school (back before it became the Stern) about the magic of the free market. It was at NC that I realized there really wasn’t any such thing. And there is no faith like that of the converted! Thank you so much for taking the blinders away, and thank you for keeping your heads when it seems so many others are losing theirs.

  8. Corbin Dallas

    Excellent. I realize that I am paying for the labor – and doubly excited this year after the catastrophic decline in comment quality, which you recognized, shut down and are now moderating. Thank you for that pause and reevaluation of the discourse.

  9. Aksel Edgar-Lund

    I discovered NC a while back by way of Hubert Horans excellent series on Uber. I work as a journalist in a small town where I live in Norway. Even here, in our socialist country, the divide between the rich and the poor is increasing, to the detriment of society as a whole.

    Through NC I’ve also discovered Counterpunch and Truthout, of which I am now a regular reader. I find NC and the aforementioned sources provide a much more balanced view than much of mainstream American media. For that I am grateful and optimistic. I much appreciate the depth of knowledge demonstrated by the commentariat. I just donated, this is my first comment. Keep up the good work!

  10. George Phillies

    Sent $200. By PayPal. Sends a message to Paypal management, which has starting blocking folks for their political opinions.

  11. Laughingsong

    I’d be lost without you. I’ve had a relatively poor year so I apologize for not being able to give as much as previously. Please don’t consider the amount any reflection on your value in my life.

  12. Adam Rice

    Thanks so much for the work you guys are doing. NC is a tremendous blog.

    I recommend you add an option to donate via Bitcoin. The bitcoin community tends to be very charitable.

  13. compUTer guy

    This site has helped open my eyes like nothing before. Amazes me how y’all find the time for this. Hope you make plans for a Houston meeting in the future.

  14. katenka

    I don’t comment often, but this is perhaps an opportune moment to offer a general sort of remark that I very much appreciate this site and all the hard work that goes into it, and that you being here and being in the fight makes it easier for me to stay in the fight too, especially on the more draining days! (Donation sent.)

  15. YYB

    Yves,

    Came for the antidote. Stayed for the verisimilitude.

    Starting in 2007, IIRC. (Pushes $ 1,000.00 across the table.)

    Not wealthy. Just two elderly fixed-income retirees in small-town Minnesota.

    But…

    We each average at least 45 minutes every morning (often more) and another 45 or so when the cooler comes online at 1300 hrs, CDT. {(45 x 4)/60} x 365 = 1,095. The math says we are paying you and your posse less than a dollar an hour for top-shelf economics, political economy, science, humor and cat pictures. That has to be one of the best bargains ever, or at least since Peter Minuit bought Manhattan at a garage sale.

    Delighted to see the comments section back. Much as we value what you professionals do, the commentariat has become like an old friend too. (Realizing full well that doesn’t happen by itself, though it may sometimes look that way. A loon may appear to be peacefully floating on Mille Lacs, but under the water’s surface she is paddling like hell.)

    As so many folks (much smarter than ourselves) have said, “We appreciate what you do. Keep up the good work.”

    Best regards,

    Mrs. YYB & YYB

  16. flora

    I didn’t know anything about law school students MMN initiatives. Very glad to read this pushback against the law and economics movement. New information is the reason NC is must-read for me. Small donation made. Thanks for a great site.

  17. mk

    check is in the mail, thank you! (watch for the stamps with Jim Henson’s muppets on the envelope)

Comments are closed.