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Those ‘green shoots’ appear to mostly hype

April 30, 2009 Leave a comment

From Zero Hedge, an overview on how the current downturn is hitting the rest of us. The upshot is that the confident consumer is NOT leading the way out of this disaster:

-the deleveraging of the US consumer is strongly, strongly under way. This is great news for the long term, terrible news for short term demand. Personal interest payments (non-mortgage) are down -9.54%, presumably on a combination of lower rates, personal bankruptcies and reduction of principal. Additionally, personal saving as a % of disposable income is up 38.10%. Again, this is great news in the long-term and is a strong signal for the USD and the US economy. Some of this no doubt is a fear-triggered response to the current economic and employment outlook but we believe that there is a permanent increase in savings hidden in the numbers. As a whole, this is a dagger for the macro demand picture and further calls into question the fundamentals of the recent equity rally.
In short, individual income continues to fall, the government is spending more, taking in less and growing debt for social programs and the drop in US consumer demand cannot be viewed as temporary. None of these are good or encouraging signs that we are near the bottom – the consumer has spoken, let’s hope the market listens.
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How does capitalism end? (Part 3, or Why Bernie Maddoff should replace George Washington on the dollar bill)

April 24, 2009 1 comment

Hint: It ain't because of his good looks!

Hint: It ain't because of his good looks!

Continued from here

We have stated the death of capitalism is the death of work.

We have also stated that, rather than reducing hours of work during the Great Depression, and, thereby, gradually abolishing capitalism, virtually all governments decided to kill money instead.

According to the Wiki:

Every major currency left the gold standard during the Great Depression. Great Britain was the first to do so. Facing speculative attacks on the pound and depleting gold reserves, in September 1931 the Bank of England ceased exchanging pound notes for gold and the pound was floated on foreign exchange markets.

Great Britain, Japan, and the Scandinavian countries left the gold standard in 1931. Other countries, such as Italy and the United States, remained on the gold standard into 1932 or 1933, while a few countries in the so-called “gold bloc”, led by France and including Poland, Belgium and Switzerland, stayed on the standard until 1935-1936.

According to later analysis, the earliness with which a country left the gold standard reliably predicted its economic recovery. For example, Great Britain and Scandinavia, which left the gold standard in 1931, recovered much earlier than France and Belgium, which remained on gold much longer. Countries such as China, which had a silver standard, almost avoided the depression entirely. The connection between leaving the gold standard as a strong predictor of that country’s severity of its depression and the length of time of its recovery has been shown to be consistent for dozens of countries, including developing countries. This partly explains why the experience and length of the depression differed between national economies.

What the above statement says, in economist-speak, is that governments around the world sought to save capitalism, and maintain the overly long hours of work, by first debasing money – breaking the link between paper currency and gold – and, then, in a deliberate, and covert manner, insidiously subverting its purchasing power.

Thus began the largest and most sustained act of class warfare in the history of humanity, as governments, at the urging of industry and finance, began to sabotage the living standards of working people in every nation – a surreptitious campaign of starvation designed to bludgeon their populations into working longer and longer hours.

Within a short period of time, these same working families would come to expect each year that maintaining the exact same standard of living they had enjoyed the previous year would require more hours of work, more members of their families performing wage work, and, increasingly, to leverage those additional hours with an ever increasing volume of debt.

It is fairly easy to see the results of this secret war in the graph below compiled from statistics provided by  the Federal Reserve Bank from 1985 to 2006. The graph shows the decline in net savings of Americans as a percentage of their disposable income:

savings_dis_inc

From Discursive Monologue blog

The net effect of these policies were to discourage and penalize saving, and convert the populations of various countries to a life of debt-driven consumption – the actual and very real potential for starvation lurking beneath a thin veneer of only apparently stable subsistence.

These three moments which we have so far discussed: (1) The steady abolition of work by the internal logic of capital; (2) the creation of a mass of superfluous labor utterly cut off from productive employment; and, (3) this same work force mired in actual conditions of abject impoverishment beneath a thin veneer of only an apparently stable, even an apparently improving, standard of living, finds its most developed expression precisely in statistics drawn from the United States for good reason: Owning the world’s reserve currency has allowed the US to pursue these policies more aggressively than any other nation on the planet, and all of them collectively.

Owing to the dollar’s unique status, a legacy of World War II and the resulting war-related economic catastrophe visited on the other industrial nations, the US was in the enviable position to do to all other nations what they were doing to their own national populations: rob them.

The Wiki provides a case which demonstrates the problem countries faced when they did not own the world reserve currency:

Japan’s Finance Minister Takahashi Korekiyo was the first to implement what have come to be identified as Keynesian economic policies: first, by large fiscal stimulus involving deficit spending; and second, by devaluing the currency. Takahashi used the Bank of Japan to sterilize the deficit spending and minimize resulting inflationary pressures. Econometric studies have identified the fiscal stimulus as especially effective.

The devaluation of the currency had an immediate effect. Japanese textiles began to displace British textiles in export markets. The deficit spending, however proved to be most profound. The deficit spending went into the purchase of munitions for the armed forces. By 1933, Japan was already out of the depression. By 1934 Takahashi realized that the economy was in danger of overheating, and to avoid inflation, moved to reduce the deficit spending that went towards armaments and munitions. This resulted in a strong and swift negative reaction from nationalists, especially those in the Army, culminating in his assassination in the course of the February 26 Incident. This had a chilling effect on all civilian bureaucrats in the Japanese government. From 1934, the military’s dominance of the government continued to grow. Instead of reducing deficit spending, the government introduced price controls and rationing schemes that reduced, but did not eliminate inflation, which would remain a problem until the end of World War II.

Japan left the Gold Standard in 1931, allowing it to discourage imports and make its exports cheaper through devaluation of its currency – which had the effect of reducing the standard of living of its own population. Additionally, it was borrowing in the capital markets to fund a massive military build up.

Japanese working families were dealt a triple blow to their living standards: Cheaper imports were curtailed, exports grew at the expense of domestic consumption, and domestic productive resources, which could have been utilized to satisfy consumer demand, were being redirected to military preparations.

THe United States suffered no such ill effects because the dollar was not only the national currency, it was the world reserve currency as well.

Since, goods are denominated indollars, and all currencies tend to be valued by their exchange rate with dollars, the US was uniquely positioned to do what Japan could not: Maintain the appearance of a rising standard of living, while pursuing a massive military build up, and an ever growing trade deficit, by borrowing back the money it used to purchase goods and services from the rest of the world.

Essentially, the United States was able to enjoy all of the goods and services it imported from the rest of the world – including the much complained about cost of imported oil – free of charge, simply by recycling the dollars it used to purchase those goods and services through American banks to be lent out to you, or, to purchase state and local government, corporate, and federal bonds!

However, far more important than this silly global ponzi scheme, is the net effect of this process as it applies to the question at hand, “How does capitalism end?”

Because it is precisely the dollar, the currency at the heart of this ponzi scheme, which became the scaffolding around which was erected, the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being.”

To be continued

How does capitalism end? (Part 2, or, will we always have Paris?)

April 23, 2009 Leave a comment

Continued from here

There have been volumes written on why Marx came to a different set of conclusions about the future of capitalism than economists, but this is no place to open that discussion.

It would bore all of us to tears, and succeed only in confusing matters of not the least bit importance to the present subject: namely, “How does capitalism end.”

Moreover, we are not sure we understand all of Marx’s theory, and are entirely too lazy to bother testing this misgiving by actually reading everything the guy wrote, and the thousands of pages of material assembled for and against his arguments by the famous and the obscure among us who have.

We think we do grasp, however, the nub of his argument: Capitalism was abolishing work!

No one set out to abolish work. In fact, every capitalist undertaking was only begun with the idea of expanding the market share for some particular capitalist and his/her firm. But, the result of millions of small incremental technical changes in the way things were being produced were accumulating into an ever accelerating reduction in the time society needed to produce everything it consumed.

Eventually, if things continued to progress the way they had been up until Marx’s time, work itself would become entirely optional, and mankind would be freed from the era of scarcity.

Good stuff, huh?

There was/is, as you can imagine, a slight problem with this rosy prediction: Society was organized along completely different principles.

We will get to this little problem, but first, a short note.

****

An Aside: Leave Paris Hilton out of this discussion

parishilton

Paris Hilton: We wish we had her parents

(We can ignore, for the remainder of this piece, members of the idle classes, like Paris Hilton, who seems to consume in great excess despite having never performed the slightest bit of work in her life, and who would not know what work was were it not for observing the people around her who neglect their own families to satisfy her every whim. And, please! Let’s not judge Paris too harshly, since we would have jumped at the opportunity to take her place in the Hilton nursery crib had chance offered us such opportunity. Personally, we mourn the fact we got stuck with our own decidedly impecunious parents, and will hold their lack of skills at accumulating more wealth than God against them until the day we die!)

****

So, what was the problem with Marx’s rosy prediction?

Heretofore, and at present, our access to the means of life has been measured more or less by the amount of work we performed – whether you provided yourself with the things you needed directly, through your labor on a small family farm, or, as most of us do today, indirectly through wage work.

Capitalism was upsetting the applecart on this entire arrangement: Even as it was delivering more material goods through improvements in productivity, it was shedding the demand for workers to produce this greater material wealth.

All of this was relative, of course.

Even as capitalism was shedding jobs, it was creating new ones in industries unheard of in earlier times – railroads, oil, automobiles, etc.

But, eventually, if Marx was right, this relative gain in new jobs would go negative – more jobs lost than created; and, after that, would turn into an absolute loss of  jobs.

You can imagine what might happen once capital began shedding jobs faster than it was creating them, but, just to be a stickler on this fact, we will remind you: The Great Depression!

That’s right, some time around the Great Depression work started to get permanently scarce:

The decade of the 1930s saw the Great Depression in the United States and many other countries. In 1929, the U.S. unemployment rate averaged 3%. In 1933, 25% of all American workers and 37% of all nonfarm workers were unemployed. In Cleveland, Ohio, the unemployment rate was 60%; in Toledo, Ohio, 80%. Unemployment in Canada reached 27% at the depth of the Depression in 1933. In some towns and cities in the north east of England, unemployment reached as high as 70%. In Germany the unemployment rate reached nearly 25% in 1932. One Soviet trading corporation in New York averaged 350 applications a day from Americans seeking jobs in the Soviet Union. There were two million homeless people migrating across the United States. One Arkansas man walked 900 miles looking for work.

(Economists, who are about as reliable in these matters as astrologists are at predicting your next love mate – perhaps less – tend to disagree on this cause for the Great Depression, and that is fine; since if they did agree on it, that would be prima facie evidence that Marx was not only wrong, but clinically insane to boot.)

Suffice it to say, there was an alternative to this massive explosion of unemployment: hours of work could have been reduced as was proposed by many writers, and which Tom Walker has pointed out was even proposed by Lord John Maynard Keynes, for whom the policies of permanent economic expansion have been named generically in the United States.

But this is all beside the point, since the policies of economic expansion were adopted, and, for the next seven decades or so, has been the official economic mainstream of such discourse.

Which is to say, government around the world decided to kill money – inflate prices – rather than reduce hours of work for the vast majority of people.

During the seven decades since the Great Depression, these policies have allowed the formation of what likely would not have been possible in the absence of such government intervention: a massive body of individuals who are completely superfluous to real economic activity, but who, nevertheless, receive wages for entirely unproductive, and economically unnecessary work, and who, only through this unproductive and economically unnecessary work gain access to the means of life – food, clothing, shelter, etc.

Left to its own devices, capital would have gradually displaced the great bulk of its workforce from work, forcing society to address this displacement by reducing hours of work in proportion to compensate – trading unemployment for free disposable time – as it had for about a century prior to the Great Depression.

This, however, was not to be.

Instead, the post-war period saw the proliferation of jobs like motivational guru, economist, campaign manager, financial speculator, yoga instructor, daycare attendant, real estate agent, lawyer, interior decorator, manicurist, project manager, wedding planner, and a host of other occupations having in common only that they do not produce anything real, yet offer millions of otherwise unemployable persons a chance to pick up a paycheck.

And, this does not even begin to cover the millions more in prisons, working for the DMV, or, sailing aircraft carriers around the Persian Gulf.

This incredibly massive body of working people, existing in every country, and, in particular, in the most advanced and productive countries, owe their circumstances in every real sense to the very policies which are collapsing, and have collapsed, in our present crisis.

It is here, then, that we can begin to sketch out what the death of capitalism looks like – understanding, in the course of this essay, that we are not simply talking about the death of capitalism, but the death of work itself, and, of destitution, the struggle for necessities, and all the old filthy business…” that accompanies it.

To be continued

How does capitalism end?

April 22, 2009 Leave a comment

The deepest belief of the modern economist is that the economy is a self-stabilizing system. This means that, even if nothing is done, normal rates of employment and production will someday return. Practically all modern economists believe this, often without thinking much about it. (Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said it reflexively in a major speech in London in January: “The global economy will recover.” He did not say how he knew.) The difference between conservatives and liberals is over whether policy can usefully speed things up. Conservatives say no, liberals say yes, and on this point Obama’s economists lean left. Hence the priority they gave, in their first days, to the stimulus package.

James K. Galbraith, No Return to Normal

Galbraith clearly places himself in the camp of those who thinks government intervention is required in this crisis. Unlike even the members of Obama’s economic team, however, he places on the table that the current economic crisis may not be self-correcting, at least in the near term.

Recovery, he allows, may not be inevitable for capitalism; and, the Obama team may be working with a false set of assumptions:

Policies are based on models; in a slump, plans for spending depend on a forecast of how deep and long the slump would otherwise be. The program will only be correctly sized if the forecast is accurate. And the forecast depends on the underlying belief. If recovery is not built into the genes of the system, then the forecast will be too optimistic, and the stimulus based on it will be too small.

Beyond the distinction between conservative and liberal economists regarding the usefulness of government intervention to facilitate the return of the economy to a growth path, there is, as implied in Galbraith’s essay, an additional distinction to be made between those who believe the economy is self-stabilizing and those who assert it is not.

egg2We count ourselves among the latter; preferring the view that capitalism is not only not self-stabilizing, but carries the seeds of its own destruction – that it has a built in self-destructive trajectory and a historical conclusion.

Which, when you think about – and we do think about it a lot these days – is pretty fucked up, since capitalism is pretty much the way this society is organized, and remains the vital material context for such things as putting food on the table of millions of working families in this country and every other country on the planet – without exception.

The death of capitalism – far from its favorable treatment in most socialist literature – simply constitutes a potential extinction level event for our species, akin to environmental degradation, and, over a shorter time horizon, somewhat, but, uncomfortably, not too far below the likely impact of a small wayward asteroid.

To get an idea of how profound an upset of society such a death implies, one need look no further than the writings of a guy who first predicted its inevitability.

Karl Marx wrote these words in 1845:

[Capitalist relations] can, of course, only be abolished given two practical premises. For it to become an “intolerable” power, i.e. a power against which men make a revolution, it must necessarily have rendered the great mass of humanity “propertyless,” and produced, at the same time, the contradiction of an existing world of wealth and culture, both of which conditions presuppose a great increase in productive power, a high degree of its development. And, on the other hand, this development of productive forces (which itself implies the actual empirical existence of men in their world-historical, instead of local, being) is an absolutely necessary practical premise because without it want is merely made general, and with destitution the struggle for necessities and all the old filthy business would necessarily be reproduced; and furthermore, because only with this universal development of productive forces is a universal intercourse between men established, which produces in all nations simultaneously the phenomenon of the “propertyless” mass (universal competition), makes each nation dependent on the revolutions of the others, and finally has put world-historical, empirically universal individuals in place of local ones. Without this, (1) communism could only exist as a local event; (2) the forces of intercourse themselves could not have developed as universal, hence intolerable powers: they would have remained home-bred conditions surrounded by superstition; and (3) each extension of intercourse would abolish local communism. Empirically, communism is only possible as the act of the dominant peoples “all at once” and simultaneously, which presupposes the universal development of productive forces and the world intercourse bound up with communism. Moreover, the mass of propertyless workers – the utterly precarious position of labour – power on a mass scale cut off from capital or from even a limited satisfaction and, therefore, no longer merely temporarily deprived of work itself as a secure source of life – presupposes the world market through competition. The proletariat can thus only exist world-historically, just as communism, its activity, can only have a “world-historical” existence. World-historical existence of individuals means existence of individuals which is directly linked up with world history.

(We hope the excerpt did not cause a cerebral embolism in our readers)

From what we can understand of this passage – and, we admit, our understanding is at best faulty and woefully inadequate – Marx conceived of a global economic crisis, involving mass unemployment and extreme want among billions of working families who have been rendered superfluous to the production of material wealth by the development of capitalism itself. This will be a crisis which begins among the most advanced industrial nations, and spreads, through global trade relations, to all nations within a fairly short period of time.

He is, therefore, describing a circumstance where wage work itself has become impossible on a global scale – a situation where mankind as a whole is forcibly ejected from the age of scarcity at once and together.

The Great Depression is highlighted in Galbraith’s essay because it opened a window into this moment of hard to imagine economic circumstances, sending shock waves throughout the most advanced countries, and plunging them into a near catastrophic failure.

gd24

According to Irving Fisher, noted economist and a member of Skull & Bones, in his 1933 paper, “The debt-deflation theory of great depressions,” the Great Depression threatened the very fabric of American society:

Had no [government intervention] been applied, we would soon have seen general bankruptcies of the mortgage guarantee companies, savings banks, life insurance companies, railways, municipalities, and states. By that time the Federal Government would probably have be come unable to pay its bills without resort to the printing press, which would itself have been a very belated and unfortunate case of artificial respiration. If even then our rulers should still have insisted on “leaving recovery to nature” and should still have refused to inflate in any way, should vainly have tried to balance the budget and discharge more government employees, to raise taxes, to float, or try to float, more loans, they would soon have ceased to be our rulers. For we would have insolvency of our national government itself, and probably some form of political revolution without waiting for the next legal election. The mid-west farmers had already begun to defy the law.

Interestingly enough, Fisher spoke optimistically in his paper of the country emerging from the depression in 1933, when, in fact, it would last for almost another decade.

And, that indicates why the Great Depression pretty much did not become the event predicted by Karl Marx: As severe and long as it was, it did not come close to the catastrophic collapse of wage work itself – nor did capital become, a power against which men make a revolution…”

Instead, the Great Depression was the starting point for the  fascist (non-pejoratively understood) interventionist model of government directed economic growth policies, which aimed both to curtail the most egregious results of the business cycle, and to manage a (hopefully) permanent economic expansion.

But, by adopting these policies, we think it is safe to say society moved one step closer to that ultimate prediction, for reasons we will turn to next.

To be continued

The Asshole Indicator…

April 17, 2009 Leave a comment

(Cue music)

Larry Summer to the Economics Club:

“So I don’t think we can hold out the prospect the unemployment will stabilize at the current level. And, I think there are seven cameras there, which means seven cameras too many for me to provide a number (laughing) for the number at which (laughing) it will – uh – at which it might be likely to peak…”

And, from the Wall Street Journal via Calculated Risk blog:

“In a forthcoming paper in the Journal of Monetary Economics [economists Simon Gilchrist and Vladimir Yankov at Boston University, and Egon Zakrajsek at the Federal Reserve] show that spreads on low- to medium-risk corporate bonds, particularly those with 15 or more years until maturity, predicted changes in the economy phenomenally well, forecasting the ups and downs in both hiring and production a year before they occurred. Since writing the paper, they extended their analysis back to 1973 and found bonds’ predictive ability still held.

“With the massive widening in corporate-bond spreads last fall, the economists’ model predicts industrial production will fall another 17% by the end of the year, and the economy will lose another 7.8 million jobs on top of the 5.1 million it has shed since the recession began.”

Police Chief Martin Brody to Quint:

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.. “

Poverty is not a defect…

April 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Traveled to Mozambique during our long silence:

"Poverty is not a defect"

"Poverty is not a defect"

So, Africa is poor, not in the way Roxbury, or South Side Chicago is poor, but the way rural Mississippi was poor when Robert Kennedy visited it during the 1960s. This sort of poverty is somehow different than our own looks, because there is no context for the poverty.

You look at the people and you wonder, “Where do they get their clothes?” Because, when you look around, there is not even a store in the area from which clothes could be purchased, or even stolen. But, they are wearing clothes, nonetheless, and you wonder, “How can this be?”

And, people literally build their own small hut, or, rather, weave them from plants in the area – very few built-up structures, and those are cinderblock, which is, surprisingly, very expensive, even though there is mud and grass, and, hence, the materials for permanent structure readymade at hand. I only saw one case where someone was using native clay material to build their structure.

It is really very confusing.

The region of Mozambique we visited was coastal, but, so far as we could tell, not much of their diet is drawn from the sea. They grow corn and manioc, even though there is very little nutrition in either. The fish we saw were dried clams of some sort, and the occasional man or woman standing by the side of the road holding up a prawn for sale – to whom, it is unclear, since the roads are mostly empty and ill-maintained.

Meanwhile, we were told, Chinese trawlers are off the coast vacuuming the sea life off the ocean floor, because there is very little Mozambique can do to enforce its rights without a navy.

The sights are overwhelming. Women walking down the empty roads with large baskets on their heads, miles from anywhere, and you wonder to yourself, “To where could they be walking.?”

But, they are walking, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that the roads have no destination – there is one, but, of course, you can’t see it because your eyes are western and in the west the destination is always a mall or job or some other silly crap. No jobs here: only about 300,000 real wages jobs in the entire country and all of them are government jobs or the urban classes who cater to the few with wage income.

We stayed in the town of Jangamo, which is located in Inhambane Province (In-yam-bah-ne’). Our niece is working on a project there, and her boyfriend is helping to rebuild an old cotton gin abandoned by the Portuguese at the end of colonialism.

Her project is to develop personal care products from natural sources to be exported to the west. His project is to restart the gin and export the raw cotton to buyers.

Wonderful ideas, but I couldn’t help but look at the local area and its lack of internal development and wonder why these projects aren’t aimed at serving the needs of those in the area. It was very touch and go, because I was interested in making sense of this illogic without discouraging them.

The development path is illogical because it is externalized activity: you work not for yourself and family, but for overfed and over consuming westerners, and, from the proceeds of this activity, acquire the means to feed yourself. Jangamo becomes a part of the process of alienation of self, your activity no longer directly improves your life.

Yes, it might improve it indirectly, but until that goal is realized, you have worked very hard for nothing. Moreover, anything which can come between you and that goal, can and will come between you and that goal: fluctuations in the price of raw cotton, fashion trends in big western cities, etc.

I mostly tried to point this out indirectly, by asking what is the need for this or that item: how fish added to the diet of the area might improve the health of the children and such. But, I tried to avoid saying anything which might be interpreted negatively.

Finally, one evening, as he and I rode in the back of the pickup together from Inhambane to Jangamo, I blurted out to what suddenly occurred to me:

We were talking about the failure of Frelimo to realize its dream when it liberated the country from the Portuguese, and I suddenly said, “Some places weren’t meant to be a country. Everyone can’t have a flag and national currency, and all that stuff.”

And, as the words were leaving my mouth I realized Jangamo was Mississippi in the 1960s. I had been trying to put it in its own box, but clearly Jangamo was a township on the outskirts of Washington, D.C.

That’s when I realized how really hopeless the situation was…

What you have to understand is that the United States is the perfection of the Fascist dream of nationhood. Nowhere are the symbols and realities of national life more developed than here.

Our capital markets are more liquid and more extensive than any nation on earth. Our military might is equal to that of all other nations combined. Our universities, cultural icons, language, and institutions attract people from around the world to an extent unseen since the days of Rome.

Our currency is THE MONEY of nearly all global transactions – commodities are priced in dollars, oil, gold, and every other currency on the planet is denominated in dollars.

This is the realization of the Fascist idea of national renewal.

But, it also means every other nation is an incomplete, deformed, realization of that same Fascist ideal, as every other auto market is more or less an incomplete version of the American auto market, every other venue is a more or less imperfect form of Broadway, or, every form of celebrity is a more or less inferior form of Hollywood celebrity.

Hence, economic development, to mean anything, must mean selling into the American market, and work, as such, is not a thing to be valued unless it results in commerce with the American market.

Jangamo, then, is just another labor pool for Washington – as Mississippi was in the 1960s – a labor pool whose exploitation was restricted by segregation and outmoded social relationships of plantation life.

My use of term like inferior, incomplete, imperfect, and deformed, are not value judgments; they are terms which try to describe a relationship where one thing blocks the full flowering and all round development of another.

Broadway, therefore, drains the best talent from around the world, as auto design and engineering is shaped by the needs of consumers in the US market, or, the national interests of other nations are shaped by the military presence of the Pentagon.

The deformities in Jangamo’s economic development are also circumscribed not in Jangamo, but by economic conditions in the dollar zone.

Which means this: Jangamo is poor not because they work too little, or too ineffectively, but because we Americans work too much.

I saw this as some sort of epiphany one day as we went to visit the local hospital in the town. On the way there we passed a small hand-made roadside stall which was the local equivalent of a 7-11. Each of these little shops are often inscribed with some slogan which is special to the owner.

Our niece translated the slogan of this little shop: “Poverty is not a defect.” This Frelimo slogan was meant to state the poor need not be ashamed of their condition, but for me, in that moment, its real meaning was obvious:

Poverty is not an accident. It is not some malfunction in the way our economy worked; some disease, or sickness in it. It is not the result of greed or avarice. It is its rational result of its own processes.

Poverty IS THE PRODUCT OF OUR ECONOMIC ACTIVITY; and all productive activity itself is the production of poverty.

You can’t fix this by working more, or harder, or more productively, or by organizing work more efficiently, or by freeing capital markets, or by easing monetary policy, or by stimulus plans…

You can’t fix it by printing more money, or building more factories, or moving more of them overseas, or funding healthcare or any of the shit we blithely describe as the ultimate solution to the creation of wealth in our society…

The enemy is our own activity.

This was my Damascus moment at that fork in the road on the way to visit the Jangamo hospital staffed entirely by Cuban physicians in a town with 99 percent unemployment – a town too poor to train the residents of Jangamo to heal themselves.

Forget the stimulus: We need to reduce the work week now!

April 17, 2009 Leave a comment

Below is a chart of unemployment at the end of 2008 – listed by state. The two columns which will interest you the most are the column labeled U-3 – the “official unemployment rate – and, U-6 – the broadest measure of unemployment, including those workers who have lost all hope of getting a job, and those who are working less hours than they would like.

By the official measurement of unemployment 8 states are now in double digits. By the broadest measurement of unemployment 25 states were already in double digits by the end of 2008. The current US unemployment rate, by the broadest measure has now topped 15 percent.

As of March, 2009, a further 2.3 million persons are in prison, and an additional 1.4 million persons are serving with the US military.

In the last official recession, unemployment continued to rise for about 12 months after the recession was officially considered ended.

unemployment-by-state1

We need to reduce the work week now.