Pluralistic: Uplinkchump Linkdump (08 Jun 2024)

Originally published at: Pluralistic: Uplinkchump Linkdump (08 Jun 2024) – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

Today's links

A French auto wrecking yard: a pile of damaged cars in a field, bordered by trees.

Uplinkchump Linkdump (permalink)

It's Linkdump Saturday! This is the day on which I clear the giant backlog of links from the previous week that I haven't managed to post in my newsletter's "Hey look at this" sections. This is my 19th linkdump; here's the previous 18 dumps:

Let's start with some fun and games. Liam is a high-schooler who created "Bad Plumbing," a Jenga-style boardgame using a variety of 3D printed shapes; the game was a smash hit at his local game-jam, so now he's kickstarting it:

The shapes are delightful and Seussian, and there's a very ingenious game dynamic that's not just "make the pile bigger." You can pre-order for $30, and for $100, you'll get a version with a custom-designed shape of your specification. I backed!

It's lovely to see something that's both excellent and delightful, but to be honest, the majority of this week's links are excellent and enraging. Most of these links from The American Prospect, which has, under David Dayen's executive leadership, gone from "a magazine I really like" to "the first thing I read every day."

This week saw a the Prospect publish a stunning series of articles on prices, a sacred object for neoliberal economists, who see them as the carriers of the information that allows society to order itself for maximum efficiency and broadest benefit. Unfortunately for these economists, the love-affair with prices is one-sided: they may love prices, but prices hate neoliberalism.

The dogma that says that any government interference in pricing will destroy the economy by "distorting" prices does not survive contact with reality. The instant the government steps away from regulating monopoly, and its handmaiden, fraud, prices go batshit crazy.

This week's Pluralistic newsletters were dominated by this brilliant series in the Prospect. On Wednesday, I wrote about the Prospect's investigations into algorithmic and surveillance pricing:

And yesterday, it was the epidemic of junk fees:

There's more than I could fit into the newsletter, though, like Friday's excellent piece on the scourge of surge pricing by Sarah Jaffe:

Jaffe's piece was especially interesting given economist Ramsi Woodcock's compelling case that surge pricing is a per se violation of antitrust law:

The Prospect series was so timely. After decades of pricing orthodoxy, economists like Isabella Weber are making huge waves (and attracting a tsunami of abuse). Weber's interview with Vass Bednar on the Globe and Mail's Lately podcast this week is a must-listen:

(Though if you get your econ ideas from the New York Times, you'd miss this whole revolution, as the Grey Lady's views on prices remain mired in the Reagan era:)

Few prices are more important than the price of the roof over your head – after all, "shelter" is only second to "food" in the hierarchy of needs. Dayen's Friday story for the Prospect in NIMBYism gets to the crux of the cost-of-living crisis: people who own houses want houses to be expensive, and will go to enormous lengths to make sure that shelter costs as much as possible:

Dayen attributes this to "the wealth effect" – that is, most people would like to be richer, and the minority of Americans who have a positive net worth owe that status to rising house prices, and the plurality of Americans who have a negative net worth thanks to a mortgage are counting on rising house prices to flip them into the black.

When America threw off the Gilded Age, we charted two courses to prosperity for working people: labor unions and home ownership. The ruling class cannily convinced us to rely solely on the latter. The housing emergency raging across the country is the inevitable result of that decision:

The Prospect's consistent brilliance isn't merely an editorial matter, of course. The magazine features a recurring cast of some of the best muckraking writers in the field, and the absolute peak of that impressive pile is Maureen Tkacik. Tkacik's work on Boeing is stunning:

Her labor coverage is second to none:

And no one writes better than her about private equity:

I am in pure awe of Tkacik's prolific and expert work. So when I read her piece on Long Covid in the Prospect this week, I was stunned to learn that she has been severely disabled by this heavily downplayed – but rampant – chronic illness:

The fact that Tkacik is doing this career-defining, high-frequency work while being randomly smashed by a series of acute Long Covid incidents makes her achievements nothing sort of heroic. But Tkacik's Long Covid coverage isn't a lament for her personal situation – it's a characteristically brilliant investigative story about the systematic cover-up of Long Covid by the NIH, which has a long history of dismissing inconvenient illnesses as psychosomatic, from black lung to chronic fatigue.

Tkacik's Long Covid coverage adds yet another subject where I'm learning more from the Prospect than from other sources – part of a host of issues where the magazine leads the pack. An issue far more squarely in its wheelhouse is antitrust, especially the intersection of antitrust and labor rights.

This week, I eagerly devoured Luke Goldstein's story about the latest in a series of lies that Amazon executives were caught making to the US government:

You may recall when Jeff Bezos lied to Congress, claiming that the company didn't spy on its sellers and clone their best products:

Or when Amazon posted a lying rebuttal to a Congressman who objected to its drivers being forced to pee in bottles in order to meet its punishing schedules:

The latest lie: Jeff Bezos and CEO Andy Jassy lied to the Senate about the company's relationship to its drivers, whom it insists are "independent contractors" because they are hired through cutouts called "Delivery Service Providers":

These drivers work for Amazon. It dictates their working conditions. It installs cameras that watch their eyeballs while they drive. It enforces an illegal "no poach" system that fixes their wages. And it lies about all this. To the Senate.

You know what they say, it's not the crime, it's the cover-up. Tech barons go through life in a warm bath of their own bullshit, surrounded by lackeys who are contractually prohibited from calling them on it. They forget that there are people out there in the world who won't offer them this deference – including lawmakers and regulators.

That's why Facebook lied to the FCC when they bought Instagram, withholding key information in order to secure regulatory permission for the merger:

After decades of inattention, the world's governments have discovered a newfound energy for busting trusts and smashing corporate power. Five years ago, it looked like maybe this was a fixup by Big Cable or Big Content to take Big Tech off the board so they could claim more dominion over our lives:

Today, every sector is coming in for antitrust scrutiny, and the tempo is only increasing. Just this week, the FTC and DOJ opened investigations into Microsoft, Openai, and Nvidia:

Yeah, there's still a lot of policy focus on tech, but that's because tech has extended its tendrils into every area of policy. That's the end-point of a decades-long process of tech going from sitting alongside important policy questions to being inseparable from them. I've had a front-row seat for that transformation, through my work with EFF, whose brief just keeps expanding as tech infuses every aspect of our lives and rights.

The latest example; EFF's "Surveillance Defense for Campus Protests" by Rory Mir, Thorin Klosowski and Christian Romero:

The military has gone all-in on electronic surveillance, and campuses have gone all-in on militarized policing, so campuses are now sites of electronic warfare, and protesters are vastly overmatched. This is an excellent and timely guide.

Well, this is where this week's linkdump comes to an end. It only falls to me to send you off with one last week:'s buy-one/get-one sale on DRM-free audiobooks, with a share of each sale going to an indie bookstore of your choosing! This is a heckin deal, and a great way to start weaning yourself off of the Audible monopoly (also, my latest novel The Bezzle, is in the sale):

(Image: Cjp24, CC BY-SA 3.0)

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This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Broadcast Treaty negotiations (day 2/3)

#20yrsago WIPO Broadcast Treaty: consolidated three-day notes

#20yrsago Bush’s climate-change Lysenkoism

#15yrsago Chinese court hands down prison for extortion of virtual wealth

#15yrsago Repo man who specializes in recovering planes from deadbeat con-artists, gangsters and drug-lords

#15yrsago GE sucks up government money, invests in secret stuff that we’re not allowed to know about

#15yrsago Terrorism is auto-immune war; war-on-terror does the terrorists’ job

#15yrsago More hard data on the impact of free/pirated downloads on book-sales

#10yrsago London property bubble entombs a thousand digger-machines

#10yrsago Jay Lake, on blogging your own death

#5yrsago A non-Aboriginal business has licensed the copyright on Australia’s Aboriginal flag, and are making copyright claims against Aboriginal businesses

#5yrsago Payday lenders switched their trade show to a Trump hotel and sent Trump at least a million bucks, then he gave them carte blanche to make billions preying on poor people

#1yrago Capitalists hate capitalism

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

As someone who owns a house, I do not understand this. At all.

Yes, I own a house, and it’s part of my overall wealth, but my house isn’t fungible. If it’s worth more, I can’t use that worth to buy more nerd kit. In many senses, the value of my house is abstract.

But also, one day I’d quite like to live in a nicer house. If houses get more expensive, this gets harder. If I live in a house worth $250,000, and I’d like to move to a house worth $500,000, I need to find or borrow $250,000 to make that happen. But if house prices double, and I’m suddenly moving from a $500,000 house to a $1M house, then I now need to find or borrow $500,000 from somewhere, which is considerably harder.

The only kind of homeowners that rising house prices benefit are people looking to downsize - because of the inverse effect to the one I’m looking at if I upsize. And I just don’t see how there could be that many people looking to downsize at any given time.

I suppose there is the fact that the majority of people looking to downsize are retirees, and they tend to be more politically active, and vote in higher proportions, than younger voters. But even so, I don’t see how that makes up for the size of the effect seen by the researchers.

Indeed - I try to unpick this here: The Rent’s Too Damned High – Pluralistic: Daily links from Cory Doctorow

Excellent points. That certainly explains why prices go up, and why landlords (who I forgot to consider) would want prices to rise. But most homeowners are not landlords, and I’m not sure how landlords + downsizing retirees is still a large enough pool of homeowners to account for the general observation that “people who own houses want houses to be expensive”.

Valuing something more is not the same as wanting it to be more expensive. You’re still better off if the things you value are inexpensive.

Because wage stagnation, the destruction of the social safety net, and the spiraling costs of health care and education means that every homeowner sees the liquidation of the home as the last hope for paying for:

  • Their end-of-life care;

  • Their kids’ student debt;

  • Their own medical debt;

  • Their kids’ downpayments.