Friday, August 30, 2013
Ken McClenton invited me on his show The Exceptional Conservative to discuss Black Patriots and Loyalists for the second time. Like Marc Steiner of Baltimore public radio, he just read the book straight up, learned to his amazement and joy that blacks have fought for freedom throughout the history of the country, and recommends that every one read this startling story. He speaks to the force of miseducation, of Founding Amnesias (we spoke also of indigenous people) and the hunger that he – and a caller – had to find out the truth.
We had a lively conversation for which we were both grateful. You can listen here.
Black Patriots and Loyalists means to break out of a previously restricted or timid historians’ paradigm, one digging up the role of blacks on the British side, fitfully, over the last 30 years, and saying, with the great historian Gary Nash, that this is the American Revolution’s “dirty secret.” But this is no matter of a separate “identify politics>” (Nash’s wrote a wonderful book with the unilluminating title The Forgotten Fifth in 2006). Much more important is the discovery of history from below, of blacks and poor whites, particularly sailors, fighting for emancipation, making American freedom real, not just for “white men,” but for all (except indigenous people).
It was thrilling for me to listen to Ken read the dark passage, in Chapter 7, where George Washington presses Sir Guy Carleton, the British commander, to return slaves who have fought with and been freed by the British. Carleton rejects Washington’s claim, saying rightly this would be “a monstrous breach of the public trust” on the British part and that they are already embarked.
“Already embarked” exclaims Washinton.
Ken read this account of Washington, a hero of the America Revolution and a slave owner, and his jaw dropped (mine, too…). For here was a British secretary saying that Washington seemed no more than the “captain of a band of banditti” (Italian for bandits), and he was, of course, in this major respect, completely right.
Note that Washington recruited an all black and Narragansett indian regiment in Rhode Island in 1778 and supported John Laurens’ proposal to recuit and free 3,000 blacks in South Carolina, and 2,000 in Georgia in exchange for fighting which passed the Continental Congress in 1779. This was the zenith of freedom in the fight for American independence. To defeat the Crown, Washington was a statesman, and understood the evil of slavery.
And yet, right after the Revolution, he became a crass representative of slaveowners and returned to being a (somewhat ineffectual) slave owner himself (he had seen blacks fight and no longer believed in bondage). Yet Washington built bondage into the Constitution, for instance in the 3/5th clause which counted fractions of slaves only to give increased votes to their owners. This was a counterrevolution against black Patriots, against poor blacks and whites who had won gradual emancipation in the North. See here and here. I was initially horrified to read this, and frankly, any person of decent sympathies ought to be entirely unforgiving of the slaveholding of many of the Founders.
Let us, instead, honor the people, the democracy when it fights for decency, not the “great men” (Presidents) who prove to be not so great…
John Laurens and Thomas Peters and John Brown and Martin Luther King, Jr. are, nonetheless, pretty good.
I added the story, which was edited out of the final version of my book, of how the American slave-owners chased after reparations from the British for 43 years. For blacks escaped anew and went to Canada in the war of 1812. There is currently an ideological, largely false, putatively "value-free" inter-democratic peace hypothesis popular among political scientists, and quick to the lips of Bill Clinton and George Bush. They all conveniently forget that the US has overthrown 15 or so non-white democracies during and after the Cold War. The United States has also given massive military aid to reactionary regimes, for instance, every tear gas canister fired against democrats in Egypt during Arab Spring was made by the deceptively named Consolidated Systems Inc, but stamped USA.
The result is through a methodological sleight of hand – that in a case where each side does not lose a thousand soldiers, there is an intervention but not a war. See here and here. Thus, Nixon and Kissinger organized the murder of General Rene Schneider, President Salvador Allende and thousands who disappeared in Chile – but they were "not bellicose" toward other democracies. This is political science-speak, the opposite of the truth.
The outset of the Revolution was little better. Britain was a parliamentary democracy by the odd coding practices of political science, and so warred with the United States in the Revolution (they were not yet two separate regimes, however…) as well as in the war of 1812 when they are plainly, as weak democracies, a counterexample to inter democratic peace. Worse yet, the American government sued the Crown for repayment for the slaves Britain had “absconded with” (Article 7 of the Peace Treaty of 1783). In 1826, the tsar of Russia, awarded some millions of pounds to Americans in compensation.
Of political science, one might say, you really can’t make this stuff up…
It will take a much deeper kind of democracy, as John Rawls suggests in his Law of Peoples, (p. 53) to make the interdemocratic peace hypotheis, motivated by democratic influence from below, real. Now protest from below is trying to halt Obama’s illegal and unwise bombing of the wretched government of Syria. The U.S. has a terrible problem of out of control, i.e. tyrannical “executive power.” For the people to have deeper and easier access to bridge belligerence, shrink the war complex and move toward peace (negotiated settlements and not using American aggression – Syria has not attacked America) is a long way, yet, from here.
In talking about Ben Franklin, I told Ken Franklin’s last public writing in 1790 during the first debate in Congress, pushed by the Philadelphia Abolition Society which Franklin led, about abolition (see ch. 9, but this story about Franklin did not survive the final edit…). Franklin imagined an Arab despot (he catered to Orientalist ideology among his readers for the sake of exposing bondage) along the Barbary Coast who practiced slavery and was challenged by a pure sect, the Erika. The despot offered all the slaveowners’s arguments, then said that since there was money in it and the case was not clear, the Erika were wrong.
The abolitionists were not wrong…
Ken asked me if I still want to go more deeply into these matters, feel strongly about them. I do. We need to remake the understanding of American history, and empower people to take on a new pride, a sense that we can change things (in this, I agree with some of Obama’s sentiments two days ago).
This show is very lively especially because Ken and I disagree on some current matters (I am much more sympathetic to the crowds in Washington last weekend who called for an end to 2.3 million people in prison – 25% - of the world’s prisoners, and cutting off any chance at a decent life for young people, especially blacks and latinos. I regard marijuana smoking as something not to be persecuted, and certainly not by throwing away a generation. Ken fears that marijuana is a gateway drug. On another occasion, perhaps we can discuss this (granting Ken's point for the sake of argument, there is still a question of the magnitude of a generation's destruction...).
But the point is that Black Patriots and Loyalists unearths a bedrock truth about poor people throughout American history: that they have stood up (indigenous people, too). That heroic struggle for freedom makes a new kind of society, a multiracial and humane one, possible.
That underpinning, that each of us is free, and that many of us have a history long denied and needing, by many voices, to be told, is the discovery about the American Revolution and the point of view of Black Patriots and Loyalists.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
Joe Richey, a political activist and poet, sent me this apt comment on Obama's speech today. It is an interesting phenomenon that the US army, which committed ethnic cleansing, as if under a spell, names weapons for "Indian country": "tomahawks." In this, it emulates the shadowy names of civilian Arapahoe County but no Arapahoes, but of course, is a big time killer:
I Had A Dream Barack Obama Speech
Our President spread his palms wide and said,
“In the name of Martin Luther King Jr., a man of peace,
I too will so move as a man of peace:
To cooperate with UN chemical weapon inspectors’ timeline.
To refrain from unilateral military action against the people
of Syria, or their president’s residence and offices.
I understand, as most Americans understand, that collective punishment
of the Syrian people for the heinous acts of a few,
will not advance the cause of peace.
As a representative of the public will,
and like Martin - a child of the Lord,
I do solemnly swear.
These are times for ploughshares
Not for tomahawks!”
written on the 50th anniversary of MLK, Jr.'s I Have a Dream Speech
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Tracy Strong, Doug Vaughan and John Gaudette on American imperialism,the Dalai Lama, and the ferocity of Chinese domination, part 2
Chinese oppression in Tibet has much more of a back-story than most Americans are willing to acknowledge. In response to my post here on the Yong-he Tibetan Buddhist monastery in Beijing (a second part is to come), Tracy Strong, with long interests in China (see his fine biography of the courageous radical journalist Anna Louise Strong, who reported on the Chinese revolution, Right in her Soul here) wrote a measured account of the Dalai Lama as ruler of Tibet (and beneficiary of the oppressiveness of an older regime), indicates some weaknesses (I remain enormously impressed with the Dalai Lama's Autobiography, but want to look into the suppression of the worshippers of Shugden; there is an issue here of the inclusiveness and toleration of Buddhism which the Dalai Lama hopes to defend - as opposed to excluding - that the original Shugden killed some followers of another branch Nyingma. The Dali Lama hoped to exclude exclusivism (suppressing the suppressor, a point that consistent liberals might want to think about, i.e. being tolerant of Nazis where they commit crimes means "tolerating" the suppression of a diversity of viewpoints). Tracy alludes to some of the ferocity - the lack of coalition or genuine movement from below as well as murders of monks - which has accompanied the Chinese occupation.
Tracy also makes the important point that the autonomous region the Tibetans seek is a very large one. If China were willing to negotiate, such a demand might, I imagine, be qualified. China has rightly stood for defending its own territory. It fought in Korea to restore its own boundaries and North Korea's but not to enter the South. It rebuffed India's entry into Chinese territory in 1959, but stopped at the line of reclaiming what it thought had been taken. The contrast with U.S., for instance, in the aggressive war of 1846-48, seizing all the Mexican-named states save Florida, is stark...)
His recounting of conversations with the Chinese - genuinely puzzled about American sympathy for Tibetan resistance - is rightly critical of how the Chinese government has gone about the displacement of the Tibetans. But it is far from strong enough
Doug Vaughan rightly adds to this picture the role of the CIA (and the invasion of North Korea by the US) in trying to overturn the Communist revolution. Note that the CIA's commitment to the Tibetans is slight...
Finally, John Gaudette, a former student of mine who has gone to Dharmasala and learned some of the brutality of the Chinese occupation, is rightly shocked by it.
If the Chinese are to break out of their current isolation in the world, they have to alter their relationship with Tibet for which the Dalai Lama's proposal of an autonomous region, and the general compassion of Tibetan Buddhism (seeking to stop the killing, but looking at killers with understanding\compassion) provides an opportunity - by ceasing denunciation of the Dalai Lama and more killings. Tracy's thought about how the Chinese want Tibetan Buddhism but with no loyalties outside China, just like Christians of a Chinese variety, has two possible variants here. One is the attempting to set a new lineage for the Dalai Lama in China; the Dalai Lama is working, rightly, to block this. The government would then cordon off the Buddhists in China from Dharmasala and ethnically cleanse, both physically and culturally, Tibet. This course will increase the friction of China with the rest of the world about these matters, consolidate isolation.
The second is to work out an agreement for a Tibetan autonomous region backing off on the Han settling and displacement. That is the way of the future and China alone has the power to enact it (has to rethink everything, give concessions, try to heal over time). For along with economic development focused on green energy, working out decent relations with the Tibetans would do more for China's standing in the world than any other single change.
What John describes resembles Israel in Palestine. All of my students, mainly young women from the middle of the country, who went to study at the Hebrew University, worked with Palestinians, learned of the brutality of the Israeli occupation, and have roughly the same reaction. Jamie Siers was thrown down the stairs of an apartment building for trying to protect an 80 year old widow from eviction from her apartment in East Jerusalem...
The Founding Amnesias here - of America and the native Americans, of Israel - "a land without people for a people without land" and the Palestinians, of the Chinese "modernizers" and the Tibetans are, sadly, of a piece.
Tracy initially wrote:
"more in response shortly but it is worth noting that the Tibetans (ie those with the Dalai Lama) claim not only the Tibet autonomous region but also Qinghai and the Western Sichuan as part of their territory. I do not think this claim has been relaxed. This is a lot of territory."
He then sent the following description:
"The Tibetan situation is very complex. I have been to the Lama Temple in Beijing and it is as Alan describes it. A couple of remarks:
Tibet was before the Chinese came in essentially a theocratic feudal country. That is an odd combination for the West but the Dalai Lama was not just the spiritual leader and authority but also the ruler. Much of the work supporting the lamaseries was done by serf labor. Only recently has the Dalai Lama renounced his "secular" ruling role -- though what that amounts to at present is hard to see.
As the religious authority, the Dalai Lama is not a model of tolerance in relation to various factions inside TIbetan Buddhism. Those who stray from orthodoxy are repressed, cast out or put down. A recent notable example is the forbidden of the worship of Shugden, a popular Mahayana Buddhist deity. There was violence and even death threats and ostracism of those who persisted. I have not seen them but both the German TV show "Panorama" and the Swiss "10 vor 10" apparently had extensive shows on this. Shugden worship has been part of Tibetan Buddhist practice since the 15th century.[for more background on the controversy, see here]
After the Chinese came in they brought (took/kidnapped/ forcibly removed) a good number of Tibetan children to China where they were indoctrinated in the way of the Han; they have been subsequently returned to Tibet to occupy positions of authority.
The Chinese have been often very heavy handed in their wish to change the Tibetan system -- one may say that the old feudal system had to go but there are perhaps easier ways to emerge from it than the rather forcible ones the Chinese have employed. Many have been killed.
There is the additional problem --referred to in my earlier post -- that the pro Dalai Lama Tibetan forces claim not only Tibet as part of an autonomous region but also Qinghai and Western Sichuan -- a good chunk of Western China..
Finally , one must remember that China thinks of itself as an empire. It has no non-adjacent territorial ambitions and never has; but it is categorically unwilling to give up any part of what it considers to be China (and this includes Taiwan). This was the source, for instance, of the 1959 war with India where after retaking what it considered the Indians to have encroached upon, it simply stopped. China also refuses to tolerate any group that owes final authority to anything other than China. Thus it has no problem with Chinese Catholics as long as their bishops do not have allegiance to the Pope (in this, they are a bit like Hobbes in the XVIIth century). There are actually more Christians (absolutely and proportionally) in China today than at any time in the past.
As the successor to the Dalai Lama is not chosen by dynastic succession but by the passing of a number of complex and gnomic tests adminstered to very young children by monks, the line of succession is not at all clear. The present Dalai Lama has mentioned that he might be the last one -- I read this to mean that any successor not chosen in the traditional way by those loyal to the present Dalai Lama will be illegitmate. I suspect though that the Chinese will try to install their own -- and succeed in diluting the authority of the Dalai Lama.
When I was last in China, again and again I was asked how it was that the West and Americans in particular could be so supportive of the Dalai Lama's position. These were honest questions of surprise. The Chinese think, not illegitimately, that they have done a lot to modernize Tibet both in political regime and in infrastructure. But just as there were other ways to institute the First Five Year plan, there were probably other ways to do this.
Tracy B. Strong"
Doug Vaughan names American imperialism during the Cold War - and corrects an error or at least misimpression given by my previous post - and even the training of Tibetans by the CIA at Camp Hale in Colorado (is there no depredation including CIA activities which has, sadly, not found a home in Colorado?).
"The Chinese leadership was not simply paranoid and chauvinistic toward Tibet as a cover for an expansionist impulse among the Han majority, similar to the doctrine of Manifest Destiny among the European-American elite, as you imply in your attempt to be even-handed, balanced and nuanced in assessing what some call Han imperialism or colonization of Tibet. (You might go on to include the restive Islamic and Turkic-speaking western regions as well as Manchuria and Mongolia in your survey.) The liberators of China from the Japanese occupation were deeply concerned about US imperial intentions and responding to US actions and provocations in the Cold War. For example, you allude to the US refusals to permit national and popular-front regimes who had defeated the Japanese to take power in Korea; you might have segued to Vietnam. These wars were part of a strategy that lasted from 1948-72, fundamentally altering the political dynamics. The big wars were accompanied by continuous smaller wars, insurgencies, sabotage and harassment. They included the effort to foment rebellion in Tibet, including the training of "volunteers"/mercenaries at Camp Hale, Colorado, in the 1950s, in concert with efforts to "unleash" Chiang's huge army on Taiwan ("Formosa"), protected by the US nuclear threat as were the military dictators in South Korea, and another substantial KMT army in the Golden Triangle border region of Thailand. They tried continuously to 'roll-back' the Communist-led liberation of China. And failed. By failing to include these facts, and how China's government might otherwise have responded or preempted US proxies' attacks, your revision of the post-war history goes too far toward justifying the imperial strategy, which shifted to accommodation, co-optation and cooperation with state-capitalism in the 1970s."
Just one qualification of Doug's point: I agree with Tracy, policies could have been instituted, down to not kidnapping children to be future leaders, without the violence against Tibetans (and then, the Communists might have won more people over politically, as Mao suggests in his - not implemented for Tibet - very good pamphlet "On the Correct Handling of Contradictions among the People"). That it was not quite American-style ethnic cleansing, does not mean that it was not...ethnic cleansing.
The Chinese oppression of Tibetans has been ferocious. Tibetan monks and others have immolated themselves and instead of a decent response, their colleagues have been jailed and tortured, or their husbands or fathers.... John Gaudette, a student who has been working in Dharmasala for five months, responded to my previous post which favors the position of the Dalai Lama as if I must be accepting of this. I am not.
A caution on indigenous people in America: the ethnocide against the Plains Indians and consignment of survivors in concentration camps creates as severe transgenerational trauma as it gets (think also of the Tibetan nomads whom you emphasize below). That indigenous people survive today is not the equivalent of flourishing (it is flourishing against the grain...). They are a) often not recognized as human beings (that is racism still flourishes toward them; is constantly encountered by them - I name merely Mount Evans and Evanston...- and b) this racism ignites the trauma. No, their plight today is not as bad as when the US army was committing its attacks on Indians camped for the winter and murdering women and children (the last massacre at Wounded Knee was not a battle but an unprovoked attack on peaceful Christian ghost dancers...)
Yes, it is very bad. One should be careful of comparisons (since in oppressive societies, what is temporarily abated may come up again - currently Native American children are being deprived of food stamps by a rapacious Congress...). And no, it is not as bad as Chinese oppression of Tibetan is currently.
I hope you are enjoying China. I have been working at a Tibetan human rights organization in Dharamsala for the past five months. I have been curious to see what you would have to say about Tibet and China's policies. I suppose my exposure to China has been the opposite of what you have in China.
Here, I hear a lot of stories about how bad the situation is in Tibet and how there is no freedom. The economic development that China champions only benefits the Han Chinese that move into Tibet because of discriminatory hiring practices. The nomads are being forcibly resettled and forced to give up their traditional way of life (by 2014 90% of the nomads will be resettled according to Human Rights Watch).
China has also adopted the approach of controlling religion and trying to corrupt Tibetan Buddhism. I've talked to monks and read numerous accounts of how the government imposes "Patriotic Reeducation Campaigns" for the monasteries where the monks are forced to attend classes organized by openly racist Chinese officials. At the end of the classes they are forced to take a test that includes parroting the Chinese government's position on Buddhism and denounce the Dalai Lama. Anyone who fails the test is kicked out of the monastery.
In Lhasa the government has imposed the Grid surveillance system that would make the NSA envious. Everyone is required to register with their real name to use their cellphone or the internet. All communications are monitored and communications are frequently cutoff if there is a protest or self-immolation so that news cannot reach the outside world. With the Grid system Lhasa is divided into section and each one is monitored with cameras and police. If anything happens, such as a protest or self-immolation, the police are on the scene in second to minutes.
Protesters and other people committing the vague crimes of "splittism," which in almost every case I've heard involves people exercising their right to freedom of speech or freedom of assembly, are first detained by the police. The detention can last week to months without any charge and without anyone knowing where the person went. Torture during detention also seems universal. The prisoners are beaten (sometimes killed) with hands, fists, and electric batons. They are also tied up and suspended from the ceiling from their hands or in some cases thumbs. After detention they can be sent, unilaterally on the police's authority, to a labor camp for 3-4 years. More often they are given lengthy prison sentences for "spittism" or "threatening stability."
A recent trend is for the government to focus on relatives of self-immolators. In the past few weeks Tibetans related to self-immolators (nephews and husbands) have been sentenced to 10+ years in prison or death. Monks from the same monastery as a self-immolator have been given long prison sentences or sent to labor camps without any due process.
Especially since the Snowden leaks, comparing some Chinese tactics with what the United States has done is fairly common. There are a lot of similarities between colonialism and the American treatment of the Native Americans. The Chinese are not as explicitly as genocidal as the Americans were and the Tibetans are committed to non-violence but the idea of a historical or god given right to the land and to plunder the natural resources at the expense of the local population is very similar. More subtly there is the tone in Chinese propaganda that the Tibetans are savages and uncivilised and are now better off under Chinese rule. In Dharamsala these comparisons are used more to contextualize the treatment of the Tibetans than to excuse China's conduct.
For my part I think the comparison between some of the ugliest things America has done and China's treatment in Tibet is a reminder of American's shameful past but also a reason to act. The biggest difference that I see between the American treatment of the Native Americans and the Chinese treatment of Tibetans (among others that I am not as informed about such as the Uyghurs and Falun Gong) is that the Chinese abuses are happening now. This is not to say that life is good for Native Americans in the US and there are still substantial problems with access to the justice system, discrimination, poverty, and exploitative mining, but they are not being gunned down for holding a religious ceremony (as Tibetans were in Sichuan Province on July 6), gassed and beaten for protesting against illegal mining (in Qinghai Province last week), imprisoned and tortured for being related to a protester or having a photograph of the Dalai Lama.
I have seen a lot of pieces of Chinese propaganda that use the phrase, "what would America do if" or something similar but I've never found the arguments very effective. At the core the argument really an attempted ad hominem argument that tries to expose hypocrisy rather than address the issue. It is only an effective ad hominem argument if the person is not willing to admit America has its failings or believes in the infallible morality of the United States. A criticism of torture by the United States or China is just as valid from a Swede as its from an Eritrean.
In your non-violence class I remember when we went to stage a counter-protest against the Westboro Baptist Church [some of the students invited the class]. Even though they never showed up you told the class how it was significant that we could stage a protest without abuse from the police. At the time I was fairly nonplussed by the observation. I started to appreciate the significance more as the Occupy Protests were shut down by police in riot gear. After meeting Tibetans who have been shot, tortured, sentenced to labor camps based on the unilateral authority of the police and seen friends maimed, blinded, and killed for staging non-violent protest I am beginning to understand how important that right is.
What I do not understand is how your blog post mentioning Tibet can be so light of such horrific practices. Especially after reading your argument against inviting W. to DU, which focused on torture as a war crime, international standards, and the illegal use of force, your post concerning Tibet seemed very tame in response to torture as a crime against humanity (because there is no armed conflict in Tibet) and the violation of, and in come cases absolute rejection of, basic international human rights standards. My best guess is that living in Dharamsala and working for a Tibetan human rights NGO I am taking my new-found knowledge of the situation in Tibet for granted. When I was in the US I only heard passing references to Tibet and people's sympathy for Tibet. I did not hear specifics or much about the human right situation there.
I thought I would send a longer message with a cursory explanation of the situation in Tibet so that you would have another perspective on what is happening in Tibet and the government's systematic response to the longest on going non-violent movement in the world.
I was wondering if you saw any fire extinguishers when you were in Tien an men Square. I have heard that in response to the now 121 self-immolation protests against Chinese rule in Tibet they have special police with put fire extinguishers in Tien an men Square so that a potential self-immolator cannot take advantage of the historical importance of the venue.
I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay in China and beginning of the year is not too tainted by Bush's appearance.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
My friend Bill Stanfill, one of the leaders of the Social Science Foundation which backs the Korbel School, wrote a column in today's Denver Post favorable to inviting Bush to speak at the School's fundraising dinner on September 9th. I wrote one saying that giving an award betrays the heritage of the School by "honoring" an unrepentant war criminal. Neither of us saw the other's argument before today or knew who wrote the opposed presentation.
Bill's argument suggests that Bush is a speaker from a different part of the political spectrum than, say, George Soros, who gave one of the liveliest presentations yet at a Korbel dinner. This is unfair to Soros and those other speakers who have not committed war crimes (Condi Rice, my student, is, sadly, like Bush in this regard, though she has not so far been indicted abroad). Bill's article also fails to take up the fundamental issue of an "award" to Bush first for supposedly "improving the human condition" and later, after protest, for "global service" - both names travesties of the truth - which moved 1600 students and many faculty to protest the School's decision.
Why DU's Korbel School is right to honor George W. Bush
An evening of conversation with a former president is an opportunity
By William D. Stanfill
Former President George W. Bush speaks after a roundtable discussion at Hope Communities, Inc., in Denver on Oct. 20, 2011. (Andy Cross, Denver Post file)
Why DU's Korbel School is wrong to honor George W. Bush
When I learned that Christopher Hill, dean of the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies had invited former President George W. Bush for a conversation at the 16th annual Korbel Dinner, I was surprised and a bit disappointed. I took a deep breath, counted to 10 and realized that Hill's instincts were exactly right.
First, the Josef Korbel School is one of only 35 Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (ASPIA) schools in the world. And regardless of political persuasion, it is an honor to host a former president of the United States. The Sept. 9 conversation between Hill, a distinguished career diplomat, and Bush, the 43rd president of the United States, promises to be both interesting and compelling. Moreover, a candid, public conversation between Bush and Hill is an opportunity for the Korbel School, for DU and for the community.
A bit of history: In 1949 Josef Korbel came to the University of Denver with his young family to teach in DU's Department of International Studies. He had been a member of the Czech government-in-exile in London during World War II. As a young diplomat, he fought the Nazis before and during the war and battled Stalin's Soviet Union after the war.
In 1964 Korbel was appointed the first dean of the newly created Graduate School of International Studies. In 2008 the school was renamed in his honor. His children — Madeleine Albright, former secretary of state under President Clinton; John, a trustee of the Social Science Foundation at the Korbel School; and Kathy Silva, who resides in Washington D.C. — all attended the dedication and renaming celebration.
In 2010 Hill, fresh from his tenure as U.S. ambassador to Iraq, became the eighth dean of the Josef Korbel School. Hill served four presidents — Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama. He went through five Senate confirmation hearings, serving as ambassador to Macedonia, Poland, South Korea and Iraq. Hill served as undersecretary of state for East Asia. In addition, he served as special envoy to Kosovo and headed the U. S. delegation to the Six-Party Talks on the North Korean nuclear issue. I dwell on his career biography to illustrate a point. Prior to coming to Korbel and DU, Hill served his country with distinction — under Democratic and Republican presidents.
I believe President Bush's attendance at the Korbel Dinner adds distinction to the Korbel School and is consistent with its mission, vision and goals. For example, the school's mission is to foster a "culture of serious academic inquiry, integrating classroom lessons with real world experiences." The Korbel vision promotes "a plurality of ideas and opinions cultivating healthy, interesting debates over important issues." Major goals include "increasing the visibility and reputation of the school, both nationally and internationally, so that it ranks among the top tier of international studies programs."
We live in an era where the polarizing politics of sound bites and bumper stickers are a poor substitute for civic and civil dialogue. I recall when George Soros spoke at the Korbel Dinner, just prior to Bush's re-election. That year, discontent came from the other side of the political spectrum. A number of guests were unhappy with the liberal leaning of the speaker.
A great university is defined by an open dialectic — a forum where competing ideas are currency and where lively debate is the norm.
Since Hill's arrival at the school, the dinner's format has changed to reflect a Socratic inquiry. Rather than merely putting on a fundraising event featuring a high-profile speaker, Hill has adopted a conversational format, designed to provoke and inform.
Hill is a skilled, knowledgeable interviewer. If you would like to witness a discussion between a highly accomplished diplomat and one of the U.S. presidents he served, I invite you to attend the dinner. Bring a friend from across the aisle, listen to the conversation and draw your own conclusions.
Isn't that what universities and civil discourse are about?
William D. Stanfill is a trustee of the Social Science Foundation, which supports the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
Why DU's Korbel School is wrong to honor George W. Bush
School named for Josef Korbel should not give award to admitted torturer
By Alan Gilbert
On President George W. Bush's first day out of office in 2009, Manfred Nowak, a leading constitutional lawyer in Austria and U.N. special rapporteur on torture, requested that Bush be indicted for war crimes by the United States under its obligations as a signatory to the Convention against Torture. When Bush admitted ordering the CIA to waterboard prisoners in his presidential memoir, "Decision Points," Nowak reiterated his request.
Since the Inquisition, waterboarding has been the recognized paradigm of torture. Bush did not go abroad to Switzerland to advertise "Decision Points" for fear of potential arrest. He cannot go abroad. On Nov. 10, 2010, Bush proudly reaffirmed on the "Today" show that he ordered the CIA to waterboard prisoners.
During Bush's presidency, more than 100 prisoners died in Pentagon custody — homicides by American torture — by Pentagon statistics. Most prisoners at Guantanamo, indefinitely detained and tortured, have now been released to other countries and immediately freed because there had never been reliable evidence to detain them.
The charges against Bush are a matter of public evidence and personal admission. The Obama administration has ignored American obligations, but they are binding on it under international and American law.
For instance, the United Nations Convention against Torture was signed by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 and ratified by Congress in 1994. The relevant articles are:
Article 2, Section 2: "No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture."
Article 4, Section 1: "Each State Party shall ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law. The same shall apply to an attempt to commit torture and to an act by any person which constitutes complicity or participation in torture."
Additionally, U.S. Code prohibits torture ordered by officials or carried out by employees of the U.S. government.
Torture is a war crime. The Conventions against Torture are the bedrock of international law. At the Tokyo war crimes trial in 1946, an American-led tribunal executed Japanese leaders for failing to prevent war crimes. This is the legal doctrine of command responsibility. Bush ordered such crimes.
It is therefore a mistake for the Josef Korbel School of International Studies, which is dedicated to defending human rights, to extend Bush an award for "global service." It is part of the integrity and truth-seeking of a university to invite people who dare to speak against the grain as well as experienced policymakers. But torture crosses a line from the civilized world to barbarism. It violates the core of law.
Bush also initiated a destructive, futile aggression in Iraq, killing more than 100,000 people and displacing 4 million. He violated the chief clause, Article 2, Section 4 of the United Nations Charter, which prohibits "the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state." The U.S. not only signed this document, but proudly fought for outlawing aggression as the main crime of war.
Bush also violated the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution, Article 6, Section 2, which makes treaties signed by the United States the highest law of the land.
With his "with us or against us" attitude, lying about Iraq's connections to 9/11, and ordering torture, Bush has made America a rogue state in the eyes of the world.
More than 1,600 students and alumni and 24 faculty members at the Korbel School have courageously protested against this award.
Josef Korbel, for whom the school is named, an escapee from Nazism and dictatorship in Czechoslovakia and my mentor and friend, stood for the rule of law and against torture. That is the founding tradition of the Josef Korbel School.
Alan Gilbert is the John Evans Professor at the University of Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies.
Friday, August 23, 2013
Sean Lin, a brilliant Taiwanese student and friend, once wrote a long paper for me on the history of Chinese-Tibetan relationships over 10 centuries. There is a story here of conflict but also of sometimes diplomatic, perhaps even a cordial though distant relationship.
So I and my wife and a Chinese friend – one who has been told that Tibet is simply part of China and resistors, including the Dalai Lama, are criminal elements – went to the leading Buddhist temple in Beijing. It is not a Chan monastery. It is a Tibetan Buddist monastery (popularly called "the Lama Temple").
It opened in 1694. It was fully built during the Ching dynasty out of the Emperor’s brother’s house by the Qianlong emperor. It is today a rich place, beautifully restored, where large numbers of ordinary Chinese Buddhists come, buy incense from the women selling it outside the gate or from the monks in one of the stores in the temple, and burn the sticks in front of images of the Buddha and four sky guardian/kings. There are many, many worshippers.
Each is expected only to burn incense once. Some kneel and do it in more than one place. We sit resting from the heat and watch the monks come and burn one and then another great heap of incense sticks contributed by worshippers.
It is a very active temple with many Chinese…
My friend points out the Tibetan language on some of the signs. The Chinese government has worked to restore writings in Tibetan in Tibet, he says, and to see that Tibetan children, in the schools, learn Chinese and Tibetan (one wonders about the balance...)
It is, he says, a wealthy monastery (there are some images of the Buddha on sale here for 5 times my salary for a three week course). He has a feeling that the monks are wealthy and tells a story that the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan monks lived off the "slavery," under feudalism, of the peasants, cause disruptions. That the Dalai Lama initially welcomed the Chinese revolution, had meetings with Mao, and was the Vice President of the National People’s Congress from 1949-59 (when he fled) is not part of his account.
But the aura of reverence and respect, here in Beijing, is – for me and my wife both – dissonant.
The Qianlong emperor married off his daughter to a Tibetan prince. That was one of the dynastic efforts to consolidate a relationship with Tibet through diplomacy, shown also in the centrality of this Temple. Some 200 million Chinese are today Buddhist; Christianity is the growing religion, the Churches bustling, many with three gatherings a day, several prayer halls, but Buddhism, as one can see in this Temple, also has some vigorous hold, including on the young.
The claim that Tibet is part of China is not irrational. Yet China is huge; my wife often asks: why do they want to be so big? Why not have several parts go their own way? That is a perfectly sensible question in international politics – particularly for China whose regions and regional claims – to Tibet, to Taiwan, even to inner Mongolia - are troubled, and especially in the 21st century (many such movements have emerged in the world). Holding Tibet and trying to secure Taiwan by force are a continuing source of belligerence and antagonism toward China, of the scary image of China, cultivated in the United States. Yet the US government is a great aggressor in Asia far from home as in Korea and especially Vietnam; except for fighting Japan, America is a doubtful defender of freedom, all the modern and distant wars veiled by the domestically powerful name of anti-radical or anti-communist ideology.
Peter Minowitz wrote to me, suggesting that China is especially aggressive in Tawian. Today, the Taiwanese want to be in the United Nations, and China stops them.
I think this is unwise on the Chinese part, but it is hard to see this policy as strongly aggressive. Taiwan is the place to which Chiang Kai-Shek and many well to do Chinese fled (alomg with many less well to do supporters) after the Chinese Revolution, taking their wealth with them.
If the Loyalists had fled to Florida (once held by Britain and Spain) after the American Revolution (both territories were eventually ceded to the United States) and set up an independent colony backed by Britain lasting through the Civil War and maneuvering on the side of the South, backing the independence of the slave-owners, how would most Americans have felt about it?
The United States government backed the anti-radical forces, even after Chiang fought the peasant–Communist movement – the one that was fighting Japan allied with…the United States – in World War II. American arms and threats against China continue in an array of military bases in the area and 28,500 troops in Seoul (close to North Korea, a small country of 20 million, and China’s rare, old and troublesome ally).
The triumph of the Chinese revolution was a shock. In 1950, Life magazine ran a front cover: "Commies Eat Babies." The mind-numbing fanaticism of anti-communism could not be questioned – the endless worries about "Chinese blue ants," "Manchurian candidates" - without Truman-McCarthyism taking one down in the State Department or the film industry or Universities for having a thought.
Freedom of speech and the press then in America resembled the kinds of freedom practiced in fascism or the level of freedom practiced today in China toward democrats…. See here.
Though it is hardwired in – China is a country of a billion people, and taking them in as the diverse community they are would take work – the image does not, as Andrew Bacevich noticed of East Germany after the Wall fell (see Washington Rules, introduction) have much basis in life.
Are there any living shrines to the religions of native Americans in Washington or the rest of the country which rival the Temple I and my wife entered in Beijing? As I said, this is dissonant.
The Dalai Lama, fiercely and foolishly attacked by China (another person here mentioned how the Dalai Lama is revered in Russia; he is thought, all over the world, to be, among religious leaders, one of the wise) as a “bandit” and an enemy, has long striven for a “middle way,” to make Tibet an autonomous province of China. In his Autobiography as a colleague noted to me with some surprise, between pages 90 and 100, he describes the relationship between Marxism and Buddhism as compatible. He was, as a young man, a friend of the Chinese revolution and struck by Mao, whom he found charismatic.
Mao, who also took to the Dalai Lama but got lost in some hubris, told him one evening: "there is nothing in religion, you know." That was probably as dumb a thing as Mao (to the Dalai Lama yet!) ever said.
Mao probably saw (one senses from the Autobiography) his error – the Dalai Lama was horrified – and tried to reach out. But the policies in Tibet were too repressive, the Chinese settlement and army too threatening, the danger too great.
The Dalai Lama and many others adventured to Dharmasala in India.
The Dalai Lama thought that the Chinese revolution was vigorous and would lead to the establishment of a modern China. That was an accurate judgment. The Tibetan Buddhists had long had a difficult relationship with the Chinese, and the Dalai Lama's relations with Mao were complex. That the Chinese government would project its power and settlers into Tibet was hard to foresee. But the ruthless pattern resembles that of the US government into “Indian country” or the state of Israel into the illegally and immorally Occupied territories….
The founding myth of China is that it is modernizing and cooperative regime, a radical one, encouraging egalitarianism and the poor to rise socially – something that except for economic improvements and a recognition of the 56 minorities for educational purposes – there are free universities in China for some Tibetans who want to go to college – and in the selection of officials, is now in the background in this rapidly growing, state-guided capitalism (consider the legion of foreign stores, for instance in "Joy City" in Shenyang - there is a large transformer with a Burger King insignia on it, KFC, McDonald's, Mango, every store American or European; similarly, "Star Mall"...).
I should emphasize the affirmative action in China. This idea is to make the leadership of the society diverse. It does not have the recognition of past or current oppression that, say, slavery and Jim Crow in the United States are (or for indigenous people, that ethnic cleansing was), but the contrast with today’s racism in the United States is glaring. This is a regime moving from a kind of cooperative society to a kind of state influenced capitalism, rather than a society taking some steps out of the most extreme racism and then – the 5 Klansmen on the Supreme Court, even though Roberts is a very sophisticated lawyer and Clarence Thomas is…black – moving back towards it. Read Michelle Alexander, The New Jim Crow on the prison-industrial complex to see how extreme this is. But for the recent turn by Eric Holder and the judicial halting of New York's stop and frisk policy toward blacks and latinos, see here).
The role of women and “ethnics,” is, in China today, surprising.
In the late 1950s, the Chinese government, with few Tibetan officials, moved swiftly and coercively to resettle Chinese in Tibet. The growth of military action frightened many Tibetans into leaving. Many monks have since been murdered.
Yet the Dalai Lama calls for a “middle way,” in which Tibet becomes an autonomous region of China. He seeks to pursue this nonviolently. Like many indigenous leaders in the United States – Moketevato/Black Kettle for one – he sees no point in a violent war with the Chinese army. The Han population, 4/5ths of China, is very large, the army of 2 million well armed. The Tibetans are…small.
But Moketevato was ambushed and his people massacred at Sand Creek and murdered with his wife at dawn in another raid, this time by the aggressor George Armstrong Custer (the US army was often synonymous with massacre among indigenous people) at the Washita River in today's Oklahmoa in 1868.
Trusting the powerful and armed and "modern" is a dubious matter anywhere in the world. Switch the cases of China and Tibet and the United States toward indigenous people in your mind – a Rawlsian move – and this will become clear to you.
But it is not clear there is much to be gained except with international pressure and thus a spotlight, and pursuing the Middle Way if the Chinese leadership were to be wiser about Tibet. The oppression of the Tibetans is the leading sore spot for China in the world, the continuing, glaring sign - bright and big as "Joy City" - to everyone else that it is a cruel and untrustworthy regime. The Chinese leadership needs to back off these policies, do something to heal the relationship and pursue economic growth focused on green energy. Do that, and many will see the industrialization of China as a great benefit to humanity, emulate it (the Europeans and the Americans - viz. Solyndra - are currently being outcompeted by it), could also come round to contribute to saving the planet. China will then acquire friends...
Otherwise, that China is a nation of persecution will remain glaring in the rest of the world, China will remain politically isolated and very likely, unstable, and of course, humanity, through rapidly unfolding global warming, will be endangered.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
For parts one and two, see here and here.
Tracy Mott, a fine economist who rightly connects the insights of Michal Kalecki and Marx, set me the following notes:
Two of my colleagues and my ex-brother-in-law all sent me messages when Krugman wrote about Kalecki in last Friday's NY Times because my work is based on Kalecki. Below are my responses to them. Also, yes, your father's Keynesian ideas are important, as Kalecki and Paul Sweezy (who should have been at Harvard around the time your father was there?) would also tell us.
My father, Richard Gilbert, was a friend of Paul Sweezy and Maxine Yaple Sweezy who was an economist at Tufts, and together (among 7 Harvard and Tufts economists), they wrote An Economic Program for American Democracy, a short, popular Keynsian program for getting out of the depression which was the subject of widespread discussion in 1937-38 and made Keynsian insights into fighting depression a mass phenomenon. Sweezy’s hand can be seen in a reference to commodity fetishism – my father later thought amusingly.
Paul Sweezy and Leo Huberman among others worked closely with the Communist Party. They were among many Americans who thought the Spanish Civil War was a test of civilization against barbarism and supported the Abraham Lincoln brigade (Franklin Delano Roosevelt, sadly, did not). One night my father was hanging around with a group in which someone started talking about selling Daily Workers in the subway. Someone else urged him to be quiet since my father was there. The first person said “Oh, it’s only Dick,” meaning that he was, politically, a friend and someone who would not rat them out.
My father told me he would have joined the Communist Party – a peculiar organization though it had 100,000 members in the ‘30s - during the Spanish Civil War if anyone had asked him. Apparently, no one bothered (the Communist Party had many many foibles, an intensely undemonic and rather erratic organization that the American elite - with a fervid and self-serving fantasy life - demonized).
Though prominent in Washington as an advisor to Secretary of Commerce Harry Hopkins, and lead economist in the Office of Price Administration as well as speech writer for Roosevelt during World War II, my father was not hauled before the McCarthy committees. Milton Gilbert, his cousin, a conservative economist, was, however, because his wife and some friends had been Communists (Ruth Mayerson Gilbert, his wife, became an internationally recognized photographer in the last thirty years of her life - see here). He was asked whether he had attended a party on January 1, 1943, answered no, flashed on that he had been there, and fainted dead away. He quickly took a job in Paris for the OECD (Organzation for Economic Cooperation and Development) and ended his life as a Swiss banker.
I wrote a poem about Milton whom I stayed with in Paris which is below.
That the US chased Milton out, that it was hit and miss whether they harmed thousands of innocent others, whether they commonly persecuted people for having reasonable views (roughly, those Krugman expressed in the New York Times about Kalecki) says something striking about the intellectual misery of mainstream journalistic and academic commentary to this day (and will tell you what Obama’s spying is politically – not just morally – worth…). Krugman stands out for decency and forthrightness.
Paul Sweezy wrote a fine book on Marxian economics, The Theory of Capitalist Development, published early in World War II. Sadly, he made peace with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact briefly and sent my parents who were Jews, a Christmas card with a swastika on it (he forgot himself completely…).
Sweezy later founded and edited the Monthly Review which contributed much intelligent economic and political analysis about what was going on in the world and America’s role during the wasteland – in the commercial media – of the Vietnam War.
Tracy wrote to Markus Schneider:
“I think most economists don't know that there was any macroeconomics in Marx [most economists read up on the latest mainstream views and have little grasp of relevant economic theories which challenge them]. Joan Robinson [the famous Cambridge economist] pointed out to Roy Harrod that his knife-edge Keynesian long-run growth model could be found in Capital, Vol. II, so he looked at it and agreed.
Most economists think of Marx as labor theory of value and exploitation of labor. What they would see in Kalecki (if they bothered to look) is positive profits due to imperfect competition and effective demand problems due to fluctuations in investment spending. Albert Einstein understood that such macroeconomic issues were in Marx, but then he wasn't an economist and his education was in Germany and Switzerland.
Markus had written amusingly about the Krugman article "The Phony Fear Factor" (it is linked to in the first post in this series but you can also find it here):
“Thanks, Tracy! Very enlightening. I found especially that passage about "not finding much Marx" in Kalecki curious, but don't know enough to have judged it's accuracy or content. I did wonder whether it reflects mostly a lack of understanding of what Marx actually wrote? After all, to understand that Kalecki started with the schemes of reproduction requires understanding the schemes of reproduction!
Tracy had written earlier:
“Fred, Markus, & Robert:
“All three of you sent me messages about this. Thanks!
I have some vague memory of Krugman mentioning Kalecki's "Political Aspects of Full Employment" slightly a while back. [see here and below]. This version is better. I would say he read it well and got it right. Though I agree with Kalecki on almost everything, I used to think that this article of Kalecki's had some problems because I thought it would take some trigger, like rising inflation, to get the "captains of industry" mobilized against expansionary policy, but these days Kalecki's arguments seems to hit the nail on the head. Some of this I think is because, as Krugman says, the economics profession has gotten so bad in supporting the anti-Keynesian ideas. As you know, Kalecki developed these ideas independently, coming out of Marx's "schemes of reproduction," but he saw that "Keynesian economics" would run into these sorts of problems.
The most interesting thing to me is what Krugman says about Kalecki's "Marxism." Kalecki certainly focused on macroeconomic issues in a way that Marx only got started on in Capital, and the major aspect that is "Marxian" is that he relates the "Keynesian" effective demand schema to the distribution of income between wages and profits. In that sense, you don't find what most economists think of as "Marxist" in Kalecki. My friend Jan Toporowski got ahold of Kalecki's FBI file form when Kalecki was at the UN, which describes Kalecki as something like a committed socialist but not a dangerous subversive. I guess he was too much of a theoretician for them to worry about.
If one wants to understand today’s political-economic crisis in which capitalists shamelessly intervene to cut off food stamps (the sequester) and consign millions of people to permanent unemployment and suffering, Paul Krugman, leading economist on inequality, Keynsianism and international trade producing economies of scale among broadly similer economies and urbanization (see here), Nobel Prize winner and New York Times correspondant, reports accurately Kalecki’s insight. The economics profession, otherwise, sadly, goes, sleepily, its own way.
That is the point of Tracy’s response on Krugman and it gets sharply the profiteering and special opposition to creating effective demand, without a sign of an inflationary trigger (that all of this is unnecessary economically, given what is known about capitalism; that it is, as Krugman says, a particular, political stand – a choice without economic necessity – to harm ordinary people and throw them away, using a crisis or shock to steal pensions, social security, college tuitions (through the new debt-slavery), and the like, has been Krugman’s commendable theme recently.
But the point that Kalecki captures, which Tracy does not mention directly and is central to Marx, is class struggle. The elite uses its political power, without any inflationary trigger, to harm the poor mercilessly to get power unless people fight back (voting for Obama was one way…). It is the politics of capitalism which prevents Keynsianism (after World War II, my father wrote a piece in a collection edited by his Harvard colleague and friend, Seymour Harris, called Saving American Capitalism) from making capitalism consistent with full employment for ordinary people, that is, decent (recall Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms speech early in World War II).
Keynsianism was a way of saving capitalism, morally speaking, from itself.
Unreconstructed Ebeneezer Scrooge is thus the symbol of today's American elite, and the Republican Party a Scrooge avatar (Paul Ryan makes Scrooge spiritually handsome by comparison…).
But the politics of class stuggle, the relentless attack on unions (Scott Walker in Wisconsin is also a contemporary Scrooge stick-figure), and the need to seize even food stamps in the sequester, even to Native Americans who live in the poorest American communities, kills Keynsianism. That is the dark insight of Kalecki and in his latest column Krugman’s intuition (see here).
It will take a vision of a better capitalism, more redistributive than Keynsians imagine (perhaps what many including Kalecki think of as socialism) to free us of this nightmare. It will also take a large, militant, nonviolent movement from below...
Here is the poem I wrote about Milton Gilbert:
you quarreled with my father
economists and second cousins
and we never saw you much
but I remember Paris
after your latest ski trip
you puffed packs of Gaulois
touted your prowess
and looked up
you had Parisian style
(I loved your daughter)
worked for the O.E.C.D.
and ended your life
a gnome of Basle
your wife and all your Philadelphia friends
were commies once
and you were called
before the McCarthy Committee
set in the box
Bobby Kennedy took notes
“no, I did not attend a party
at Mortie Gilbert’s
Friday, January the First, 1943”
flashed on a toast
and fainted dead away
and took a job in Paris
the next day
Here is Krugman's first piece from his blog Conscience of a Liberal on Kalecki with the amusing point that these bankers/economists/politicians swear a reverse Hippocratic oath: "First do nothing to mitigate harm."
What Noah Smith says is the theme of Naomi Klein's The Shock Doctrine of which Western economic policy in this depression - with the exception of Obama's stimulus and the Fed's Friedmanesque polices (the latter primarily aimed at helping banks, not ordinary people) - has been another startling illustration. Krugman, to his great credit, underlines his previous failure to recognize this.
"May 16, 2013
The Smith/Klein/Kalecki Theory of Austerity
Noah Smith recently offered an interesting take on the real reasons austerity garners so much support from elites, no matter how badly it fails in practice. Elites, he argues, see economic distress as an opportunity to push through “reforms” — which basically means changes they want, which may or may not actually serve the interest of promoting economic growth — and oppose any policies that might mitigate crisis without the need for these changes:
I conjecture that “austerians” are concerned that anti-recessionary macro policy will allow a country to “muddle through” a crisis without improving its institutions. In other words, they fear that a successful stimulus would be wasting a good crisis.
If people really do think that the danger of stimulus is not that it might fail, but that it might succeed, they need to say so. Only then, I believe, can we have an optimal public discussion about costs and benefits.
As he notes, the day after he wrote that post, Steven Pearlstein of the Washington Post made exactly that argument for austerity.
What Smith didn’t note, somewhat surprisingly, is that his argument is very close to Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine, with its argument that elites systematically exploit disasters to push through neoliberal policies even if these policies are essentially irrelevant to the sources of disaster. I have to admit that I was predisposed to dislike Klein’s book when it came out, probably out of professional turf-defending and whatever — but her thesis really helps explain a lot about what’s going on in Europe in particular.
And the lineage goes back even further. Two and a half years ago Mike Konczal reminded us of a classic 1943 (!) essay by Michal Kalecki, who suggested that business interests hate Keynesian economics because they fear that it might work — and in so doing mean that politicians would no longer have to abase themselves before businessmen in the name of preserving confidence. This is pretty close to the argument that we must have austerity, because stimulus might remove the incentive for structural reform that, you guessed it, gives businesses the confidence they need before deigning to produce recovery.
And sure enough, in my inbox this morning I see a piece more or less deploring the early signs of success for Abenomics: Abenomics is working — but it had better not work too well. Because if it works, how will we get structural reform?
So one way to see the drive for austerity is as an application of a sort of reverse Hippocratic oath: “First, do nothing to mitigate harm”. For the people must suffer if neoliberal reforms are to prosper."
And Krugman added this fine comment (the more mercenary the crooks, the quicker they are to adduce mercenary claims about others...) after Tracy wrote to me:
"August 19, 2013
Keynes, Kalecki, Konczal, etc.
John Quiggin has an interesting take on some of what two modern Ks — me and Mike Konczal — have been saying about two illustrious former Ks — Keynes and Kalecki. Interesting comment thread too — if you’re not reading Crooked Timber, you’re missing out.
I just want to add one thing. Quiggin remarks,
Krugman is certainly going to upset plenty of people in the econ profession with this. But as with most partisan debates in recent decades, it’s a case of sauce for the gander. The public choice school has routinely represented economic arguments for government intervention as the product of rent-seeking by interest groups, and the economists who make such arguments as pawns or hirelings of these groups.
It’s not just the public choice school. Let’s not forget Robert Lucas’s smear of Christy Romer. First he denounced the stimulus with an argument that was, in fact, wrong even on its own terms. Then he flat out accused Romer of pure hackery:
'Christina Romer — here’s what I think happened. It’s her first day on the job and somebody says, you’ve got to come up with a solution to this — in defense of this fiscal stimulus, which no one told her what it was going to be, and have it by Monday morning.
So she scrambled and came up with these multipliers and now they’re kind of — I don’t know. So I don’t think anyone really believes. These models have never been discussed or debated in a way that that say — Ellen McGrattan was talking about the way economists use models this morning. These are kind of schlock economics.
Maybe there is some multiplier out there that we could measure well but that’s not what that paper does. I
think it’s a very naked rationalization for policies that were already, you know, decided on for other reasons.'
So I don’t feel much sympathy for anti-Keynesians who reach for the smelling salts when someone suggests that politics influences their ideology."
And here is Krugman's note on August 3 about Kalecki and the
"Roots of Wrongness
Today’s column [here] wasn’t written as a response to Noah Smith’s examination of conservative economic arguments since the crisis, but it has an obvious bearing.
Smith bends over backwards to try to find some truth in the various arguments bubbling up from the right — they’ve been 50 percent right on the budget? Really? — but still finds an extraordinary record of getting everything wrong. Why?
Well, Kalecki had the answer. We are in a Keynesian crisis that calls for Keynesian policies; but conservatives find both the diagnosis and the cure anathema, for political reasons. Conceding that the government can and should create jobs would devalue the importance of being nice to businessmen, and suggest that in general the government can do good things. So the obvious diagnosis and response are unacceptable.
And hence the seemingly endless series of bad new ideas. These ideas don’t add up to a coherent counter-theory of the crisis; they’re more a matter of throwing stuff at Keynes, hoping that something will stick.
Are liberals just the same? Actually, no — not now, anyway. Conservatives were quick to claim that liberals were just looking for an excuse to spend more — remember Robert Lucas accusing Christy Romer of “shlock economics”, of making up an analysis to justify Obama’s lust for spending? But liberals aren’t the mirror image of conservatives; they don’t seek big government as an end in itself. And in this crisis, liberals have just been sticking with the textbook, while conservatives are desperately seeking ways to ignore what we know.
Hence the remarkable record of wrongness."
Lastly, here is a note from Alan Maki adding to his fine analysis of the partial and anti-democratic misinterpretation of statistics in Charles Blow’s initial “A city without pity” here:
"I appreciate the further discussion of this article and my response.
You ask where I obtained the figure of 8% supporting all the reasons for poverty provided in the chart.
My figure of 8% comes from the link in Blows own op-ed piece as published in the NYT with links including this one:
See paragraph #5 the very last sentence:
By Erin McClam, Staff Writer, NBC News
Two decades after President Bill Clinton promised to "end welfare as we know it," Americans blame government handouts for persistent poverty in the United States more than any other single factor, according to an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll released Thursday.
Given a list of eight factors and asked to choose the one most responsible for the continuing problem of poverty, 24 percent of respondents in the poll chose "too much government welfare that prevents initiative."
Whether Americans are too dependent on government was a flashpoint of the presidential campaign last year, and shrinking government has been a focus of the Tea Party movement, which has risen since the election of President Barack Obama.
"Lack of job opportunities" was the second most popular answer, at 18 percent, followed by "lack of good educational opportunities" and "breakdown of families," with 13 percent apiece.
The other four options in the poll, in descending order, were "lack of work ethic," "lack of government funding," "drugs" and "racial discrimination." Eight percent of respondents said that all eight factors were equally responsible.
Alan L. Maki”
That all eight factors are responsible “equally” is not as clear as Alan made out, since several of the factors have some blame the victim quality, the attack on welfare as killing initiative – the first, horrific one – being included. The figure, nonetheless, does, on balance, support his basic point that Blow’s statistics misrepresent a large majority – the democracy – which lives not so distant from poverty and does not share the relentless and reprehensible cruelty of an elite which, nonetheless, has created some broader atmosphere of social and political stigma for its victims.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
cast their bodies
long si len ce
after the slaughter
Cheyenne warriors sacked Julesburg
Thursday, August 15, 2013
In relation to my post "An Elite without Pity" on Charles Blow's column last Sunday in the Times here, Robin Hensel wrote to me about pseudo-Christianity from Minnesota:
"Extremely well written and much needed.....thanks.for.writing this....the republicans and tea partiers have learned their ways in the word rhema name it claim it churches that are popping up everywhere......joel osteen....joyce meyer...benny hinn.....paul crouch....kenneth copeland...keneth hagin....creflo dollar....eddie long.....all preach if u aren't rich....u have sin in your life and if u are sick the same is true. They claim that god ordains wealth and its ok to keep.our wealth. This type of blasphemy is being taught and widely accepted as its a flowery and appealing message. What a sham. Christ would be saddened and angry that humans have sooo distorted his teachings. Thank you for speaking out.....I always enjoy what you write. In solidarity and mutual concern.....robin hensel. Little falls mn."
Robin circulated the article and Alan Maki, a union organizer of casino workers, including indigenous workers, and others in Minnesota, took apart Blow's statistics which purport to underlie the piece, and showed that they concur with my position, that most people are compassionate about poverty (just thinking about other humans; fearing themselves to fall into it) and that only the elite is not, I suspect that Blow had to translate his powerful initial insight into New York Times-ese and that Maki's improved interpretation of the statistics just makes his point both clearer and more hopeful i.e. the elite is wretched (they make unreconstructed Scrooge look compassionate), most people are not...
Maki's statistical insight is better than much of what purports to be social science and history today - though see the striking work by Thomas Herndon, a graduate student at U. Mass Amherst here and here, on the austerity fraud by the Harvard Professors Ken Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart. Maki also explores the questions which one is allowed to ask in the Times - certainly not ones about how capitalism leads to suffering and poverty amidst its profusion of wealth for some.
Alan Maki wrote:
"I want to thank Robin Hensel for bringing this to our attention.
Just so we are all on the same page... this discussion revolves around this article, A Town Without Pity" and the links included:
< http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/opinion/blow-a-town-without-pity.html?_r=0 >
And note; I have sent this to Charles Blow.
Several important points I think Alan Gilbert misses here. Plus what Charles Blow, writing in the New York Times, doesn't tell us about these numbers and the very important number of "8%" that Charles Blow leaves out for some reason (a "reason" kind of like a New York Times' "reason?").
First of all, if you add up all the numbers from the chart Blow provides, less the 24% (all the numbers add up to 87%; what happened to the other 13%?) you get a very good figure that 63% of the American people do have a very good grasp of poverty.
But; and this is a very important "but." But Charles Blow leaves out the number "8"--- 8%. 8% is the number of people who feel that ALL the reasons minus the 24% are responsible for poverty--- so, 71% of the people have a very good grasp of what causes poverty and demonstrate an empathy for the poor." [I am not sure where Maki found this last figure]
But actually, following Maki's very good point, this is 71% out of a total of 95% or roughly 3/4 of 100, that is, 75%...
Now 10% on the statistics Blow cites speak of "lack of work ethic" of the poor and 3% of drugs - both are potentially categories which would catch negative views of the poor, so that in the survey, a higher percentage than 24% may be in the blame the victim camp (and a somewhat lower figure than 75% in the camp that understands poverty). The 24%+ are in Washington, but also spread through the country, and as Blow underlines, this is a statistic which speaks - sadly - to the corruption, self-regard, and emptiness of the American elite and its supporters.
An important point which is clear in these categories is that these questions are not sufficient to break down what people actually think; they are not questions that produce "valid" statistics (technically, a valid indicator is one that is true, a merely reliable statistic is one that may, in fact, be false). Maki also raises some powerful questions which are omitted from the survey.
"Most likely if one were to include the 24% this majority would say they are part of the problem, too. If you have to scratch your head thinking about this you probably aren't going to understand much about poverty.
We aren't told the races (nor class) of the people interviewed since the numbers indicate there is an almost complete lack of understanding of the relationship between racism and poverty... if you don't have a job or you have a poverty wage paying job you are going to be poor. Well, guess what? Because of racist discrimination in employment practices without Affirmative Action being enforced people of color, in a society dominated by racism, are going to be poor.
One should read this article by Charles Blow directly from the New York Times' website < http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/10/opinion/blow-a-town-without-pity.html?_r=0 > and follow through on EACH and EVERY link encountered in order to get a better understanding of the issue itself--- plus, get an understanding why one has to "read between the lines" and question every single article or op-ed piece that appears in the New York Times and "how polls are conducted" in a tainted way to begin with.
For instance; why weren't people asked if capitalism creates poverty?
Why weren't people asked if so few people being so extremely rich causes poverty?
Why weren't people asked if these dirty wars are creating poverty?
[all excellent questions...]
Something happened to 5% of the people in this poll--- what is with this? Is it possible 5% of the people wanted these other three questions asked before they answered the pollsters?
Charles Blow could have referred to the last article written by his former colleague at the New York Times, Bob Herbert; why didn't he? He didn't want to get the ax like Herbert did [I am not sure that Herbert got the ax rather than moving on; it would be important to know]? An interesting question when it comes to what kind of "freedom of the press" we have in this country since the New York Times makes the boast that it is the best reflection of "freedom of the press" and apparently a lot of people buy into this hype because we all use the New York Times as a point of reference more often than not.
But, here is what Charles Blow missed:
Losing Our Way by Bob Herbert...
< http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/26/opinion/26herbert.html?_r=0 >
Now, Minnesota politicians in the state legislature--- Democrats (with their huge super-majority) and the minority Republicans who have been relegated meaningless and without any decision-making status what-so-ever except what the Democrats grant to them which is essentially acceptance of the Republican agenda!--- have a kewl and nifty little committee they call "Ladder Out Of Poverty."
But, their perverted sense of what a "ladder" is leaves much to be desired because their "ladder" has only missing rungs and rotten rungs. If one can reach the first rung of their "ladder" the rung breaks and they fall back down to the bottom and it becomes harder and harder to reach another rung. Charles Blow correctly points out, these politicians don't understand poverty and have no empathy for the poor.
Wars kill jobs just like they kill people; and these dirty imperialist wars, as anyone can see, also kill freedom and democracy--- one reason why the New York Times columnist, Charles Blow, can conveniently get away with not discussing these issues like his fellow columnist Bob Herbert did [there is ordinarily a limit to what even Bob Herbert, a very good columnist, would or could say in the Times]. People who are involved in the struggles for peace, full employment, universal health care, equality and defense of democracy are not permitted in the proverbial "public square." Remember, Occupy Wall Street was chased out of the "public square" and silence by billy club swinging police and police firing tear gas and rubber-covered steel bullets at them not to mention the little fact that the Obama Administration unleashed a force of over 500 FBI "Special Agents" to disrupt and disorient the Occupy Movement from within.[!]
Charles Blow never adds up the figures because he would have to explain why, in a country which boasts--- and the New York Times has been the biggest boaster for decades--- that we live in the world's greatest bastion of democracy--- that not only a bunch of uncaring, insensitive politicians are making the decisions in this country, but these politicians--- Obama especially--- are bribed by Wall Street to work for these wealthy parasitical vultures who profit from exploitation to begin with, their profits get a big boost from racism and they reap fabulous super profits from war and they have even managed to profit from the very poverty they create by all kinds of schemes from cutting food stamps and transferring the funding to the lucrative Military-Industrial Complex to enabling Wall Street bankers to reap huge profits just for issuing the plastic debit cards that are now food stamps.
It is not only as Charles Blow states that these politicians are an uncaring and non-empathetic bunch of morons and insinuates they have screwed up priorities; it is because they work for their Wall Street masters whose one and only concern is the bottom line--- PROFITS.
How else can one explain why the billionaire Democratic Governor of Minnesota, backed by the Rockefeller family's wealth, leading a Democratic super-majority would leave the state's Minimum Wage at $6.25 an hour--- lower than Wisconsin with [Scott] Walker at the helm, and lower than Mississippi or North Carolina--- only Georgia, Wyoming and Puerto Rico have lower Minimum Wages. Even the Virgin Islands have a higher Minimum Wage than Minnesota!
Any little school child can figure out that workers without jobs are going to be poor. And these same schoolchildren understand that workers receiving poverty wages are going to be poor--- concepts that Wall Street bribed politicians and billionaires like Mark Dayton not only don't understand--- but they don't even want to hear this.
What would poverty wage workers receive from the Obama Administration and Governor Dayton's Administration if they took to the streets demanding justice? Most likely, instead of the raise America needs, the sharp blow over the head from the policeman's bill club, tear gas and steel covered rubber bullets--- not exactly what one can feed a family on but the way Wall Street intends to try to survive.
Say, has anyone thought to look into the Full Employment Act of 1945 as proposed by liberal Democratic Congressman Wright Patman to see what became of that?
Why is it that not one single member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus would provide me with a copy of the Full Employment Act of 1945 and a transcript of the Hearings--- not even for a fee? [the question is why they have not raised the issue of full employment, but some people in Congress are decent on these issues; I would not fault, for example, John Lewis or Bernie Sanders...]
Is there a reason why politicians fixated on "jobs, jobs, jobs" when they want our votes refuse to make themselves accountable for not having full employment? Something to think about, eh? Especially when one considers the callousness of this 24%.
Which begs the question:
Why hasn't the Congressional Progressive Caucus brought forward real Full Employment legislation?
Perhaps if they don't know how to draft Full Employment legislation someone else should and they should run on this legislation as part of their platform for peace, which like poverty, is another word no one among this 24% wants to hear about.
Peace, Full Employment, Living Wages and Full Equality are like four peas in a healthy pod; wars, unemployment, poverty and racism are like four peas in a moldy, rotten pod... the rotten peas in the pod are going to cause the entire pod eventually rot... any home gardener should be able to understand this simple concept even if Obama's "economic advisers" from Wall Street don't understand.
Keep in mind that here in Minnesota, not only did billionaire Dayton and his Democratic super-majority not raise the Minimum Wage at all... they also refuse to enforce Affirmative Action even when it comes to two huge billion-dollar public works projects: the Viking Stadium and the Bridge over the St. Croix--- a joint project with the Scott Walker's Republican super-majority in Wisconsin. Dayton and these Democrats might be able to get away with "blaming the Republicans" for not enforcing Affirmative Action on the billion dollar Bridge over the St. Croix River; but, what is these Democrat's excuse for refusing to enforce Affirmative Action in the building of the billion dollar-plus Viking Stadium? Same excuse for not raising the Minimum Wage to a real living wage? Just what is the excuse? Does the excuse have anything to do with corporate profits and the super-profits derived from racism?
I take it that no one will mind me providing a Marxist viewpoint; after all, the New York Times' Paul Krugman just encouraged people to read a Marxist point of view: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/09/opinion/krugman-phony-fear-factor.html?ref=paulkrugman even though Krugman is more enamored with Keynes.
Anyways; I look forward to further discussion of all of this. And who knows; further discussion might lead to the kind of grassroots and rank-and-file working class mass action that might lead to at least some kind of miserly increase in Minnesota's shameful poverty Minimum Wage. Anyone ever thought of legislatively tying the Minimum Wage to all "cost of living" factors with regular increases that would lead to an improved "standard of living" of living beyond just keeping up with the "cost of living?"
Come on; it's not like I am suggesting Minnesota State Legislators should include casino workers under the protection of the States "Freedom to Breath" legislation and their right to work in smoke-free workplaces like all other workers or extend the protections of state and federal labor laws to workers employed in the Indian Gaming Industry.
Alan L. Maki"
Paul Krugman has been writing many good pieces in the Times about the importance of government spending in a depression and the crime - as Herndon and others have shown, it is no necessity - of a predatory elite turning its backs on the poor, preying on food stamps and the like.
I had emphasized Krugman's column because he, following Michal Kalecki, rightly reaches the conclusion that it is American politics, dominated by the extreme class war waged by the rich, including Larry Sommers and Richard Rubin and as Maki says, Governor Dayton and Minnesota Democrats, against the poor, which prevents what is scientific with regard to economics (that government putting poor people to work in a depression pumps money into the economy - others gain work because of their mainly local expenditures, and they spend pretty much what they get on necessities, hence, in economic terms, the multiplier of every dollar spent on these projects which begins to lift the whole economy) and minimal decency. He pretty much suggests Kalecki is right as, in this respect, a Marxist, and the point is, in our circumstances, hard to deny.
Richard Gilbert, my father and an FDR advisor, was, as a lecturer in economics at Harvard for 15 years, the first Keynsian economist in the United States (no Jew could receive tenure at Harvard before World War II...). He had been a Marxist as a teenager, but was convinced that there is a way out for capitalism. Despite the troubles of Communism (see Democratic Individuality, ch. 8), I have been less convinced of that than he.
In this depression, as in the 1930s (the main spending program that got the US out of the great Depression was World War II), the politics of capitalism has meant that the way to do something decent (Obama's stimulus program, for example) was hampered and criticized at every turn, that government spending accomplished some things, but has left millions unemployed. In the great Depression, this was despite the mass protests which forced the New Deal and achieved the industrial unions and significant steps against racism.
But after World War II, Keynsianism had seemingly been accepted. Not so, however. Capitalists have funded ignorance (as about climate change) - the Rogoff\Reinhart debacle being but the tip of the iceberg - and while solutions are known (and Obama, other things being equal, would have moved in this direction), they have stacked the deck against decency. Even the minimal policies of the reactionary Milton Friedman, who recommended the Fed bailing out banks and loosening the money supply in a recession (the policies Bernanke has followed) have been denounced by the shameless, Scrooge-emulator Paul Ryan...
Since every person who is unemployed has just as valuable a life as any employed person (and more valuable than those who spend their time preying on others) and many are now, as Krugman has emphasized, becoming permanently or "structurally" unemployed, this is a tragedy.
So I am increasingly a fan of my father's Keynsian ideas - that something better than this is available even under capitalism, that Obama could have moved the economy more in a green direction and provided major support for jobs and education (the debt-slavery of students is yet another, novel elite crime) - and am sad to see that frankly, here and in Europe, capitalism is both just as bad as Marx figured and bad in a number of ways which Marx could not yet imagine. Read the Communist Manifesto (or for a better argument, Capital, volume 1) and unfortunately, you will see exactly why the elite operates as it does.
But one should fight, as Alan Maki is doing, for a decent minimum wage, and a movement which goes much further to change these things (a nonviolent movement for an economy much more cooperative in its effects and thus, in its organization, than this one is).
Maki's letter was then picked up by C.T. Weber of the Peace and Freedom Party in California:
Alan has presented a very good analyst of the problems created by capitalism and its failure to find solutions to those problems. He also exposed the collaboration between the Democratic and Republic politicians. The question before us is "what do we do with this knowledge?". I suggest developing a platform and working program that will allow us to present a completely different vision of America and the world. Also, I would argue that we need to develop a vehicle to project our vision as an alternative to the twin parties of capital. That presents us with a couple difference among ourselves which we should resolve or maybe even reluctantly go our separate ways. Do we offer a vision of progressive capitalism or a vision of progressive socialism? Also, what kind of vehicle will give us the legitimacy we need among working people to present our vision? I think we need to organize and build a party based on real democracy which includes proportional representation, a healthy environment, a feminist or flattened power structure, racial and ethnic equality and a democratic economic system which I will refer to as socialism. When we analyse a situation it should be from economic, environmental and social justice points of view, or as my comrade Kevin says, "How does this effect working people?" That's my three cents worth.
C. T. Weber
Peace and Freedom Party of California
State Executive Committee/
Legislative Committee Chairperson"
Robin Hensel then sent a concluding remark:
"I suggest we phrase everything based on the 'public good.'"
I am a follower of Socrates and Aristotle in considering the common good, no quotations, the ethical center of political life. (see Democratic Individuality, ch. 1) For instance, in a democracy, each of us has a right to vote. Upholding that equal freedom is a common or public good. Depriving people of the right to vote is the center of the infamy of segregation and today of the John Roberts court, bizarre anti-voter legislation in North Carolina and "Republican" disenfranchisement of the poor, the young and many of the elderly [those who no longer have driver's licenses, for example] wherever they get a chance. "Republicans" defend not a common good in a democracy but the oligarchic power of the .0001% (modifying the excellent Occupy slogan).
I defend at some length the idea that humans can broadly answer the question: what is a decent life for most humans? and that there is at least limited moral objectivity. Oligarchy of the kind practiced in the United States, despite its parliamentary forms, is bad for most of the people who live here. It is also trivially bad, the graspingness of the elite unnecessary, working overtime to harm others.
The attack on the right to vote is what John Lewis, who, as a onetime leader of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and bearer of several concussions for his bravery on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma and elsewhere, spoke about recently to the Times (he will speak again at the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington - see here). We need many more such marches...
Here is Bob Herbert's farewell piece at the Times - emphasizing why each of us needs to fight American aggressions abroad and saying incisively "Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush." - which Alan Maki cites. The statistics here, too, are very valuable:
"Op-Ed Columnist New York Times
Losing Our Way
By BOB HERBERT
Published: March 25, 2011
So here we are pouring shiploads of cash into yet another war, this time in Libya, while simultaneously demolishing school budgets, closing libraries, laying off teachers and police officers, and generally letting the bottom fall out of the quality of life here at home.
Welcome to America in the second decade of the 21st century. An army of long-term unemployed workers is spread across the land, the human fallout from the Great Recession and long years of misguided economic policies. Optimism is in short supply. The few jobs now being created too often pay a pittance, not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living.
Arthur Miller, echoing the poet Archibald MacLeish, liked to say that the essence of America was its promises. That was a long time ago. Limitless greed, unrestrained corporate power and a ferocious addiction to foreign oil have led us to an era of perpetual war and economic decline. Young people today are staring at a future in which they will be less well off than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.
The U.S. has not just misplaced its priorities. When the most powerful country ever to inhabit the earth finds it so easy to plunge into the horror of warfare but almost impossible to find adequate work for its people or to properly educate its young, it has lost its way entirely.
Nearly 14 million Americans are jobless and the outlook for many of them is grim. Since there is just one job available for every five individuals looking for work, four of the five are out of luck. Instead of a land of opportunity, the U.S. is increasingly becoming a place of limited expectations. A college professor in Washington told me this week that graduates from his program were finding jobs, but they were not making very much money, certainly not enough to think about raising a family.
There is plenty of economic activity in the U.S., and plenty of wealth. But like greedy children, the folks at the top are seizing virtually all the marbles. Income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. As the Economic Policy Institute has reported, the richest 10 percent of Americans received an unconscionable 100 percent of the average income growth in the years 2000 to 2007, the most recent extended period of economic expansion.
Americans behave as if this is somehow normal or acceptable. It shouldn’t be, and didn’t used to be. Through much of the post-World War II era, income distribution was far more equitable, with the top 10 percent of families accounting for just a third of average income growth, and the bottom 90 percent receiving two-thirds. That seems like ancient history now.
The current maldistribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent.
This inequality, in which an enormous segment of the population struggles while the fortunate few ride the gravy train, is a world-class recipe for social unrest. Downward mobility is an ever-shortening fuse leading to profound consequences.
A stark example of the fundamental unfairness that is now so widespread was in The New York Times on Friday under the headline: “G.E.’s Strategies Let It Avoid Taxes Altogether.” Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year.
As The Times’s David Kocieniewski reported, “Its extraordinary success is based on an aggressive strategy that mixes fierce lobbying for tax breaks and innovative accounting that enables it to concentrate its profits offshore.”
G.E. is the nation’s largest corporation. Its chief executive, Jeffrey Immelt, is the leader of President Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. You can understand how ordinary workers might look at this cozy corporate-government arrangement and conclude that it is not fully committed to the best interests of working people.
Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income inevitably result in enormous imbalances of political power. So the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well. The employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.
New ideas and new leadership have seldom been more urgently needed.
This is my last column for The New York Times after an exhilarating, nearly 18-year run. I’m off to write a book and expand my efforts on behalf of working people, the poor and others who are struggling in our society. My thanks to all the readers who have been so kind to me over the years. I can be reached going forward at firstname.lastname@example.org"