Raw notes march 8
March 9, 2009 § Leave a comment
Reading the extraordinary Camus The Rebel
We have been slow to face up to the fundamental problems in our financial system and reluctant to take decisive action with respect to failing institutions. … We have been quick to provide liquidity and public capital, but we have not defined a consistent plan and not addressed the basic shortcomings and, in some cases, the insolvent position of these institutions.
We understandably would prefer not to “nationalize” these businesses, but in reacting as we are, we nevertheless are drifting into a situation where institutions are being nationalized piecemeal with no resolution of the crisis.
The U.S. has always been a decentralized nation, skeptical of top-down planning. Yet, the current administration concentrates enormous power in Washington, while plan after plan emanates from a small group of understaffed experts.
The U.S. has always had vibrant neighborhood associations. But in its very first budget, the Obama administration raises the cost of charitable giving. It punishes civic activism and expands state intervention
The issue has been drawn. No longer do we hear, “since the great depression”, Because the crossing of the line has now happened.
The NYT today has
The acceleration has convinced some economists that, far from an ordinary downturn after which jobs will return, the contraction under way reflects a fundamental restructuring of the American economy. In crucial industries — particularly manufacturing, financial services and retail — many companies have opted to abandon whole areas of business.
“These jobs aren’t coming back,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte. “A lot of production either isn’t going to happen at all, or it’s going to happen somewhere other than the United States. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses.
And we start to get published books that look for causes through blame, rather than systemic.
Meltdown: How Greed and Corruption Shattered Our Financial System and How We Can Recover (Nation Books) by Katrina vanden Heuvel and the editors of The Nation
So we need to do this right. With respect to monetary policy, I think we have learned that monetary policy loses its punch as interest rates get stuck at or near zero. Not everyone agrees – some people argue that unconventional monetary policy can still be used effectively – but even if that’s true, I don’t think that monetary policy alone can stop the downturn and turn things around.
That leaves fiscal policy. I believe that fiscal policy can help people during downturns like we are in now. I could be wrong about that, the evidence just isn’t there to say for sure. But of the two errors, not helping people when help would have mattered, and trying to help but failing to do any good, I’d rather make the second mistake.
This suggests that there are two angles: monetary and fiscal. What is left out is the economy, the economy as a productive enterprise and as a way of sharing the profits of a society with those who live in it. The real question is to find out where that economy is, where it can go, where and why we can create jobs.
(Westmoreland to the king, inciting him to the St. Crispen’s Day Speech in Henry V)
When did hard work become such an unquestioned virtue?
Aren’t there virtues that are more, well, virtuous? Not to get all mushy here, but what about love? Abstract, sure, but it reeks of merit. Or what about goodness, or mercy? Beneficence is always nice, although maybe it has a little taint of self-righteousness. Let’s see. Oh, I know, peacefulness, or its altruistic twin, peaceableness. Or compassion.
If it weren’t for the fact that hard work is the fetish virtue of the most powerful empire, it might not even rank as a virtue. It might have come to be something more like a virtue’s helper, like endurance or fortitude or hope. What dictator doesn’t get up in the morning and look forward to the day’s debaucheries with a heart full of hope and expectation? Genghis Khan had hope for the young virgins in his neck of the woods, and to this day, they say, a significant percentage of the DNA is his. “You can’t…” say the naysayers. “Yes we can,” say those filled with hope. I remember James Hunt in seventh grade, fine figure of a youth. He used to drag me around the football field by the mouth guard of my football helmet. He was filled with hope. Seize the day.
Hard work as a virtue. What this means is that if someone shows up at work with a bad cold and breathes and coughs on everyone, we’re meant to admire their pluck.
If it hadn’t become the religion of the empire, hard work might have been something unimportant but mildly virtuous, like thrift or courtliness or not swearing. Or unimportant and unvirtuous, like change. Change is the stuff left over after you’ve given away the real money. It doesn’t become a virtue until you actually do something, like perform an action on a diaper. These secondary potential virtues only become virtues if they’re linked to a real one, like the way an assist in hockey only counts if it’s connected to an actual goal. And speaking of sports, it’s not hard to imagine a world in which hard work is so secondary that it’s something like hustle, the moderately virtuous little leg-and-buttock action performed to please Coach. Definitely extra-curricular.
Hard work is a strangely neutral virtue upon which to found a social experiment. My kids have intuited my ambivalence about it and have responded by seldom emptying the dishwasher, an act of minor malfeasance I repay here by taking the time to mention it in a journal with a wide international readership. Not that they care. But justice will out. Hey, remember justice? There’s a virtue for you. Often named in the breech.
Readers of CounterPunch are likely to be familiar with Joe Bageant’s oddly satisfying missives from the working class front lines. I say ‘oddly’ because Bageant gets the vernacular of a certain kind of suffering so nicely that readers are liable to enjoy the pieces even when we are being targeted, in one or other of our subject positions, as the problem. Whether we are middle class, or are rehearsing the prejudices of our own liberalism, or forming half-cocked opinions of southern culture, we might well find ourselves with egg on our faces. On the other hand, it’s not as if Bageant spares his own neighbors down there. We see his fallen angels in all their patchy glory in his ribald nuts-and-nipples hagiographies. I have been a street person and a professor for an equal number of years in my life, and I have wandered off-trail in the south—the South—in most of the nameless places, been chased as often as helped along, come to love and hate rednecks in equal proportions. Have been called, in my turn, a redneck. Have passed certain portions of the Jeff Foxworthy test, “You might be a redneck if…” Reading Bageant’s Deer Hunting with Jesus reminds us that the single defining virtue of a southerner, and the standard by which other cultures are judged, is this commitment to hard work. My parents are on the Tennessee River downstream from the horrific spill reported here in CP by Mike Roselle (Jan. 9-11), but no one in their reddish neck of the woods is likely to make too much of a fuss against an employer like the TVA. To me, this reticence is counter-intuitive. Why would you work against your own interests? But if work is the fetish virtue, all the rest follows.
We tend to think of southern culture as laggardly, but in fact it yields to no one in this most essential of American traits, its highest virtue. To adopt wise King Solomon’s words about industry (the concrete form of the more abstract word ‘industriousness’): Go to the Bageant, thou sluggard. Consider its ways, and be wise. We might have a whole class named after a minor and barely virtuous virtue, but they really are what’s made America.
So about that first question, when did hard work become such an unquestioned virtue? Thanks for asking, and the answer is 1637.
In the old days, classes were about possession of land. On one whole set of continents, in what came to be known as the Americas, all the people possessed all the land, and were possessed by it. Not a perfect system, but not bad, either. Nice trees, too. Elsewhere, not so good. A landed class that was tiny. A beholden class that got to do stuff on someone else’s land, like it was a privilege. Courtliness a big virtue, not just a set of minor rituals like opening a door for a lady as it is now. Common use in warfare of the trebuchet, a device invented by the French that combined the best of the catapult with the comfort and convenience of the indoor toilet. I fucken love history. And French people.
But the reason we have a working class in the Americas these days, instead of a class denominated by some other virtue—the justice class, the mercy class, “yeah, he has a goodness class background, real salt of the earth”—is because of the hidden revolution of 1637, where the conspirators took everything over and re-wrote the history books so thoroughly that no one noticed. Now here’s a conspiracy theory even Alexander Cockburn could believe in. The triumph of the works guys. And we got—the works. Just for the record, I’m not saying Cockburn’s even heard of this.
What we have been calling The American Revolution was actually a minor rivalry between some English aristocrats. The king’s side found it so unimportant it used German mercenaries to do the fighting, and the king would often forget there was a war going on, though a bit of tea might occasionally be used to help him maintain focus. The stakes were infinitely low, as the comparison state, Canada, makes clear (both pro-king Canada and anti-king America would end up driving the same Detroit cars in the end). The squabbling in the late eighteenth century didn’t matter because everything important had been decided in 1637. And the most important thing was work.
Someone should write a book on this. Someone almost has. Stop nagging me. I’ve been working on it. But not too hard. Wouldn’t be much point in hustling. It’s a book against hard work. Form’s as important as content. Still, I haven’t changed a diaper in a while. Things are coming on apace. There’s hope for me yet.
David Ker Thomsonis the recipient of a year-long National Endowment for the Humanities fellowship to write his book, A, a history of American radicalism since 1637. He apologizes to the American taxpayer for the tardiness of the manuscript. The latest portion is published in South Atlantic Quarterly, the “Home” special issue, January, 2009. He can be reached at email@example.com
Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”
We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …
We can’t do this anymore.
Gilding says he’s actually an optimist. So am I. People are already using this economic slowdown to retool and reorient economies. Germany, Britain, China and the U.S. have all used stimulus bills to make huge new investments in clean power. South Korea’s new national paradigm for development is called: “Low carbon, green growth.” Who knew? People are realizing we need more than incremental changes — and we’re seeing the first stirrings of growth in smarter, more efficient, more responsible ways
The Tomasis said that they owned about 200 houses in Cleveland. (They purchased 2,000 homes last year, in 22 states.) They explained that they, unlike most other wholesalers, provide each buyer with the mechanicals — pipes, a boiler, a furnace, all the basic materials that had been stripped — that the purchaser would then be responsible for installing. Brancatelli derived some comfort from this description. From his background with a nonprofit housing group, he knew the theory that people who put sweat equity into a house will be more committed to its upkeep and to making the mortgage payments. The financing the Tomasis laid out, though, made Brancatelli squirm. The purchaser would pay $500 down and then make monthly payments of no more than $450, which was below local rental prices. But the interest rate was 10 or 11 percent. What most concerned Brancatelli was that the Tomasis eventually hope to package the mortgages and sell them to investors.
And just as yours, black bar with
The book GardenWorld Politics – www.dougcarmichael.com/GWP.html
“The book” in red would be terrific.
Ken Rogoff with lots of gloom and doom:
Countries are so deep in debt, they risk drowning in red ink, by Kenneth Rogoff, Project Syndicate: No one yet has any real idea about when the global financial crisis will end, but one thing is certain: Government budget deficits are headed into the stratosphere. …
Although governments may try to cram public debt down the throats of local savers (by using, for example, rising influence over banks to force them to hold a disproportionate quantity of government paper), they eventually will find themselves having to pay much higher interest rates as well. Within a couple of years, interest rates on long-term U.S. Treasury notes could easily rise 3 per cent to 4 per cent, with interest rates on other governments’ paper rising as much, or more. …
Given that the economic stimulus bill was billed at saving or creating 3.5 million jobs, and the total number of jobs lost since December 2007 is 4.4 million and rising, some economists quoted in the Post story suggest we may need another stimulus package before long. “It’s not going to be enough, folks,” one said, and the International Monetary Fund told governments around the world to get more involved in boosting their economies. However, the paper doesn’t quote any stimulus skeptics.
Margaret Rachel Kitzinger, The Choruses of Sophokles’ Antigone and
Philoktetes: A Dance of Words. Mnemosyne Supplementa 292.
Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2008. Pp. 146. ISBN 9789004165144. $113.00.
Reviewed by Victor Bers, Yale University (firstname.lastname@example.org) Word count: 1265 words
To read a print-formatted version of this review, see http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2009/2009-03-16.html
To comment on this review, see
Larry Summers is interviewed by the Financial Times: