Archive for November, 2009
Eat some vegetables! And be thankful for it all!
Lester Brown on what to do…
Rik Emmett & Dave Dunlop…and a terrific song!
[Thanks to Chris H and social networking for turning me on to this.]
Was this the end of “communism”?
The events of 1989 are most often depicted as the failure of socialism. It’s a powerful interpretation that has served to discredit alternatives to the capitalist system, which is said to have triumphed, and to bestow upon capitalism an aura of legitimacy based not only on a reading of recent history but also on assumptions about the natural order, not least human nature. Capitalism, it is proposed, is the normal state of human traffic in what people make and value and need; socialism is the deviation. Capitalism responds to the nature of "man"–acquisitiveness, competition, egoism and the insatiable need for more. Socialism stands in the way of initiative, creativity and competition. Going by its nom de guerre, communism, it proposes radical equality in a world of unequals. Therefore, it can be maintained only by the coercive power of an entrenched elite and a repressive state. In the Eastern bloc, once that force was removed and party leaders lost confidence in their right to rule, communism naturally fell, and people’s instinctual drives for material accumulation were liberated. Markets won out everywhere, even when democracy did not.
History, however, is always more complicated and messy than the moral and ideological tales it may be called to serve. The history of Eastern Europe in the second half of the twentieth century can be told as the story of two series of revolutions: the communist-led revolutions of the post-World War II years that ousted the former ruling elites and transformed largely rural societies into urban industrial ones; and the anticommunist revolutions of 1989, mostly peaceful and in one case even "velvet," that overturned entrenched party regimes already weakened by political sclerosis. In Eastern Europe, one form of "actually existing socialism" was established at a particular historical moment–the beginning of the cold war struggle between an enormously wealthy, nuclear-armed United States and a significantly weaker Soviet Union. Forty years later, communism fell when political crises, economic stagnation (but not economic collapse) and a will to change the way the system worked coalesced at another historical moment. To the lasting dismay of democratic socialists in Europe and elsewhere, it was a moment of Thatcherite/Reaganite neoliberalism, vigorous anticommunism and muscular military and covert operations against the left and radical movements in all parts of the globe. As for socialism, what originated in the early nineteenth century as a noble political philosophy devoted to promoting the common good was reduced to an epithet hurled at anyone skeptical of the workings of laissez-faire or the idea that capitalism is intrinsic to the natural order. Socialism has a long history, but it has not been able to escape the crushing burden of its recent Leninist incarnation.
The rest of Ronald Grigor Suny’s assessment in The Nation is here.
After the last few posts, one would think it cannot get any worse. But it can: The Phillies lost their bid to repeat as World Champions! Congratulations to the Phillies for a great season (special shout out to the vastly underappreciated Carlos Ruiz).
Congratulations,too, to the Yankees, of course, of course. As a baseball fan, it is fun to watch Jeter, Sabathia, Damon, Matsui, et. al. But note:
Yankees 2009 payroll: $208 million.
Phillies 2009 payroll: $111 million.
This means it cost the Yanks $97 million to get those last two games. I know the NYC fans think it was worth it. But institute a salary cap and floor in MLB and see what happens then!
Three months ‘til spring training!!!
The bill of particulars:
U.S. budget is dependent on foreign finance.
U.S. too weak for diplomatic efforts; can now only use force of arms.
U.S. costs out of control to the benefit of the rich only (example—no money for universal health care, but we spend $400 a gallon for gas used by troops in Afghanistan.
U.S. political leadership rife with corruption (example—many on the take from private insurance companies)
etc., etc., etc.
This is a problem because:
In any failed state, the greatest threat to the population comes from the government and the police. That is certainly the situation today in the USA. Americans have no greater enemy than their own government. Washington is controlled by interest groups that enrich themselves at the expense of the American people.
McClatchy’s inquiry found that Goldman Sachs:
- Bought and converted into high-yield bonds tens of thousands of mortgages from subprime lenders that became the subjects of FBI investigations into whether they’d misled borrowers or exaggerated applicants’ incomes to justify making hefty loans.
- Used offshore tax havens to shuffle its mortgage-backed securities to institutions worldwide, including European and Asian banks, often in secret deals run through the Cayman Islands, a British territory in the Caribbean that companies use to bypass U.S. disclosure requirements.
- Has dispatched lawyers across the country to repossess homes from bankrupt or financially struggling individuals, many of whom lacked sufficient credit or income but got subprime mortgages anyway because Wall Street made it easy for them to qualify.
- Was buoyed last fall by key federal bailout decisions, at least two of which involved then-Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, a former Goldman chief executive whose staff at Treasury included several other Goldman alumni.
More evil here.
A stable, sustainable, full-employment economy is possible. Its institutions are imaginable. It would be democratic and efficient. It would embrace market competition. There would be a place in it for entrepreneurial capitalists and for a small business sector like the one we already have. In fact, it wouldn’t look too different from what our economy looks like today—and yet it would be very different.
Don’t miss this essay for a plausible analysis of our current crisis and a way to recover. Note: It is not in the plans of any of our “leaders.” Too bad.
To what end is Economic Democracy aimed?
We shall use the new-found bounty of nature quite differently than the way the rich use it today, and will map out for ourselves a plan of life quite otherwise than theirs…. What work there still remains to be done will be as widely shared as possible-three-hour shifts, or a fifteen-hour week…. There will also be great changes in our morals…. I see us free to return to some of the most sure and certain principles of religion and traditional virtue-that avarice is a vice, that the extraction of usury is a misdemeanor, and the love of money is detestable, that those walk most truly in the paths of virtue and sane wisdom who take least thought for the morrow…. We shall honor those who can teach us how to pluck the hour and the day virtuously and well, the delightful people who are capable of taking direct enjoyment in things.
—John Maynard Keynes, "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren"
The unemployment numbers due out are projected to top 10%. A report on NPR’s Morning Edition this morning notes that if you factor in the underemployed (those working part time but who wish to work full time) and those that have just given up looking for work, the real number nationally is closer to 16 percent. In some parts of the country, it’s more like 20% percent.
Couple this high unemployment rate with the disaster in the housing market, and you have a prescription for increased homelessness. The National Coalition for the Homeless produced a report [.pdf] a few months ago detailing the situation, and the New York Times published a long piece on the plight of one of those affected.
Not all are convinced that foreclosures are the main reason for homelessness—even in cases where that is exactly what is being claimed. Daniel Indiviglio remains skeptical. See his recent piece for the Atlantic’s Business Channel. Note especially what he has to say about the impact of foreclosure on renters and the role of personal responsibility. Even the Time’s piece shows that its subject did make some poor financial choices.
Also, we need to continue the discussion of whether home ownership ought to be the goal of everyone. Why not rent? Here’s an article [.pdf] about renting in a nation of owners. Timothy Noah mulled it over in Slate ten years ago (here and here), but the questions remain.
It is tough for a worker to demand equity at a job if that worker is bound to a mortgage and cannot afford to lose that job.
Of course, we’re back to the question of how to find a job these days in the first place.
And here is a critical assessment of Chomsky’s views.