Monday, July 2, 2018

Two Books I'm Reading

I just finished reading Michael Hudson's Killing the Host: how financial parasites and debt bondage destroy the global economy. It's from 2015 so it leaves out some important European developments though it does include the beginnings of Syriza's capitulation to the European troika.

My complaints: Hudson says the FIRE sector (finance, insurance, real-estate) produces nothing of real value for the economy. I would think that's excessive. Surely when insurance is working properly it helps to subsidize some degree of necessary risk-taking? Sometimes he differentiates between speculative "investment" banking and ordinary retail banking. But at other times he says its all fraudulent rent-taking. This might be true but I would prefer if Hudson had done more than just assert this. If he went into the claims bankers would make for their "services" and systematically prove that they produce nothing of net value. Finally, some of the "wealth creation" of the financial sector (the enormous froth of speculation) has produced some degree of computerized assets that have leaked into the real world through conspicuous consumption. If financial speculators bid up the prices of their own assets, they have, in some way, "created wealth" that did not rely on squeezing the real economy.  It might still be a net negative, but Hudson merely asserts it.

The book is repetitive. It's fun at first to read one insult against bankers after another. But eventually you realize that it's probably added about a fifth of the book's length.

Still, the book has shit-loads of useful information about the insidious expansion of the financial sector and how it tries to foist debt upon everyone and everything. Tax-cuts create debt. Higher tuition creates higher debt levels. Higher home prices create higher debt levels. Banks' high interest-rates and deficits are a drag upon the real economy says Hudson, and eventually the economy slows down, and people can't pay their debts. What has been happening up until now is that the banking sector has brainwashed policy-makers through neo-liberal economic theory which treats all income as earned (including the parasitical activities of the financial sector). To do this, they first had to eliminate neo-classical economic theory which differentiated between earned and unearned income. Unearned income is the passive growth in the value of one's property as a result of the economic development of the surrounding community. It was the rents paid to feudal landowners. Now it is debts owed to bankers.

Eventually, Hudson repeatedly says, it becomes obvious that the debt can't be repaid and won't be repaid. But up until that last second, the FIRE sector will push for every policy they can to drag the charade out as long as possible, regardless of the continuing damage that is done to the real economy. In North America, it was the taxpayers bailing-out the Wall Street banksters and the Federal Reserve flooding the financial sector with money via Quantitative Easing. In Ireland, it was the government accepting to paying the debts owed to the foreign-owned banks and swallowing the fall-out from the bursting of the real-estate bubble that they'd caused. In Greece it is the total destruction of a society. The destruction of living standards. The forced emigration of young people seeking work abroad as there is no work in the country of their birth. The sell-off of national assets to foreigners. The addition of user-fees to all public services either to service the debt or to profit the rent-seekers who now own the privatized state assets.

Hudson spends a lot of time lamenting the way neo-liberals have shortsightedly destroyed the idea of a united Europe. In the 1990s, the rising European FIRE sector and their quislings in politics pushed repeatedly for a neo-liberal European constitution. The people of Europe voted against this over and over but these financial sector parasites just kept hammering away and wore-out the opposition and now the European Union is a banker's union. The people of Europe have no say over monetary or fiscal policy and the sad results we see today.

Throughout the book Hudson also provides a great deal of detailed, specific examples that show that the masters of society know exactly what they're doing. They deliberately pursue actions that benefit themselves even while damaging the economies that play host to their parasitical behaviour. Timothy Geitner comes across as particularly sleazy.

In the end, it's a book that makes me angry.

I've also just finished Vol. 2 of Blanche Wiesen Cook's three-volume biography of Eleanor Roosevelt. It's the only volume I've got. It was given to me back when I was a TA in graduate school. I was pressed for time back then and I'd only read the one chapter I had to to be able to mark the first-year assignments I'd been given. I finally got around to reading the whole thing 15 years later.

This photo was considered "controversial" by racists at the time. That the First Lady of the United States was socializing with a Black girl. By 1938 70% of US-Americans admired Eleanor Roosevelt. The 30% that didn't are the same shit-head 30% who today vote for Doug Ford or Stephen Harper or Donald Trump. Most people aren't stupid idiots.
First of all; now I want to read the other two volumes.

Second of all; marrying Eleanor was one of the things that makes me partially admire Franklin Delano Roosevelt. She was a remarkable woman who played a large role in making FDR's administration the greatest Democratic administration there ever was. (You also get a sense of how difficult the ruling-class minority made it for any sort of progressive legislation to appear in the USA. The fanatical shrieking of racists and "Liberty League" scumbags at times almost drowned out the cries for relief from the victims of the Great Depression.)

Several times throughout the book, tears came to my eyes as the author describes how ER and a community of forward thinking women (and some men) tried to stand up for justice, peace and human dignity.

I'll share the last such anecdote and then have to call it a morning for blogging. It was at something called the Southern Conference on Human Welfare in Birmingham, Alabama. It was convened by decent people, white and Black, in the South who wanted to challenge the racist, growth-retarding social-political structure there. Eleanor Roosevelt was an invited guest.

The Southern Conference on Human Welfare determined to change the South and challenge segregation. Fifteen hundred delegates, black and white, sat anywhere they wanted Sunday night, 21 November 1938, in the city auditorium of downtown Birmingham. According to Virginia Durr: "Oh it was a love feast ... Southern meetings always included a lot of preaching and praying and hymn singing ... The whole meeting was just full of love and hope. It was thrilling." Frank Graham was elected chair, set a beautiful tone, "and we all went away ... that night just full of love and gratitude. The whole South was coming together to make a new day." 
Somebody reported the integrated seating at the opening-night gala, and the next morning the auditorium was surrounded by black Marias. Every police van in the city and country was there. Policemen were everywhere, inside and out. And there was Eugene "Bull Connor "saying anybody who broke the segregation law of Alabama would be arrested." Tensions escalated; violence was in the air. The delgates complied and arranged themselves into separate sections.  
ER, Mary Macleod Bethune, and Aubrey Williams arrived late that day, out of breath. ER "was ushered in with great applause," looked at the segregated audience - and took her seat on the black side. One of Bull Connor's police officers tapped ER on the shoulder and told her to move. ER noted in her memoirs: "At once the police appeared to remind us of the rules and regulations on segregation." 
As if to announce fascism would not triumph here, ER refused to "give in" and placed her chair between the white and black sections. Pauli Murray recalled that ER's demonstration of defiance and courage meant everything to the young people of the South, who now knew they were not alone. Although the national press did not report ER's brave action, the weekly Afro-American editorialized: "If the people of the south do not grasp this gesture, we must. Sometimes actions speak louder than words." 
ER was given a little folding chair and sat in the middle of whatever meeting hall or church she atteneded for the rest of the four-day meeting. She said she refused to be segregated and carried the folding chair with her wherever she went. According to Durr: "Policemen followed us everywhere to make sure the segregation laws were observed but they didn't arrest Mrs. Roosevelt."

Inspiring stuff.

No comments: