Monday, February 28, 2011

Layer 450 . . . Class War, Economic Fundamentalists, The City's Mafiosi, Pambazuka, Changing the World and Blessed Unrest

It seemed strange to be blogging about the competing economic theories of Keynes and Friedman recently (Layer 447) - as if anyone's really interested? However, Michael Tomasky wrote this piece for the Guardian last week -

So this is the Tea Party's endgame. No government
In 1995 Clinton and Gingrich were always going to deal. But these economic fundamentalists don't want compromise
As the liberal commentator Jonathan Chait observed last year, America is in a new culture war, but "this culture war is not over social issues – it is over economic ones".
Over the last 30 years – during which time overall union membership has gone from about 25% of the workforce to barely 11% - the richest 1% have seen their pre-tax incomes nearly quadruple while median earners have stayed flat.
Were the Democrats cleverer and braver, citizens would broadly know these facts. But most Americans have no idea of the massive class war – stealing from the bottom and the middle and giving to the very top – that has been waged over the last three decades. Instead, they appear to know, or "know", that Barack Obama has governed from the hard left, that unions are piggy, and that an uprising of Tea Party patriots has been all that stands between the good old US of A and a kind of Muslim-Marxism state.
In such an atmosphere, the right can move with impunity.


Why omerta still suits the City's mafiosi
Banks will begin the process of reform when their employees aren't penalised for speaking out
by Nick Cohen

'Why are we so hated?" the City asks with increasing nervousness as it begins to realise that its gaudy allure is fading. "Because you wrecked our prosperity and then stole our taxes," is the short answer it will hear during the coming weeks as bankers pick up £6bn in bonuses.
The national consensus holds that the City is being "rewarded for failure" and, for once, the national consensus is right. Most understand, too, that in the cases of RBS, Halifax and the other bailed-out banks, the financiers are engaged in a theft of public money beyond the dreams of a mafia crime family. What we must grasp if there is to be serious reform is that the bonuses are rewards for cowards as well as for failures.
Inside Job opens this week and the title of Charles Ferguson's intelligent and quietly angry documentary on the causes of the crash hints at the destructive effects of fear and secrecy. The world does not experience a financial meltdown without insiders realising that the system is going haywire.
We need to break up a system that rewards those who bite their tongues because it suits their private interests and punishes those who speak their minds in the public interest. We need to recognise that we live in a half-free country, where we have freedom of speech at home but not at work; where people pride themselves on their freedom to criticise politicians, but dare not criticise their employers.
A minimum programme would include the outlawing of gagging clauses in redundancy settlements, the lifting of the limits on the compensation whistleblowers can receive from employment tribunals, a ban on financial institutions using the libel law, the appointment of compulsory worker-directors to corporate boards and the establishment of a statutory regulatory body that can punish bankers who fail to protest against misconduct.
The banks are as great a threat to our national security as a foreign enemy. We collect intelligence on hostile powers. Why should we not collect it on the hostile City?


Pambazuka News

Egypt and the revolution in our minds

by Nigel C. Gibson - activist and scholar

Egypt: How to overthrow a dictator

by Samir Amin


How to Change the World: Marx and Marxism 1840-2011 by Eric Hobsbawm

[Review in the LRB by Terry Eagleton]

How to Change the World is the work of a man who has reached an age at which most of us would be happy to be able to raise ourselves from our armchairs without the aid of three nurses and a hoist, let alone carry out historical research. It will surely not be the last volume we shall be granted by this indomitable spirit.

Eric Hobsbawm, who was born in the year of the Bolshevik revolution, remains broadly committed to the Marxist camp – a fact worth mentioning as it would be easy to read this book without realising it. This is because of its judiciousness, not its shiftiness. Its author has lived through so much of the political turbulence he portrays that it is easy to fantasise that History itself is speaking here, in its wry, all-seeing, dispassionate wisdom. It is hard to think of a critic of Marxism who can address his or her own beliefs with such honesty and equipoise.

You cannot speak of what free men and women are bound to do in certain circumstances, since if they are bound to do it they are not free. Capitalism may be teetering on the verge of ruin, but it may not be socialism that replaces it. It may be fascism, or barbarism. Hobsbawm reminds us of a small but significant phrase in The Communist Manifesto which has been well-nigh universally overlooked: capitalism, Marx writes ominously, might end ‘in the common ruin of the contending classes’. It is not out of the question that the only socialism we shall witness is one that we shall be forced into by material circumstance after a nuclear or ecological catastrophe. Like other 19th-century believers in progress, Marx did not foresee the possibility of the human race growing so technologically ingenious that it ends up wiping itself out. This is one of several ways in which socialism is not historically inevitable, and neither is anything else. Nor did Marx live to see how social democracy might buy off revolutionary passion.

Marx was an artist of sorts. It is often forgotten how staggeringly well read he was, and what painstaking labour he invested in the literary style of his works. He was eager, he remarked, to get shot of the ‘economic crap’ of Capital and get down to his big book on Balzac. Marxism is about leisure, not labour. It is a project that should be eagerly supported by all those who dislike having to work. It holds that the most precious activities are those done simply for the hell of it, and that art is in this sense the paradigm of authentic human activity. It also holds that the material resources that would make such a society possible already exist in principle, but are generated in a way that compels the great majority to work as hard as our Neolithic ancestors did. We have thus made astounding progress, and no progress at all.


Blessed Unrest


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