Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Will time make men more wise?

(I don't know if Churchill ever said that, and I kinda doubt it, but it's something we all should be saying whenever they talk about cuts to things that make life better.)

Every day I read the news, and every day I read things that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago. It used to be that when you thought about reading things in the news that would have seemed impossible 20 years ago, you were talking about progress - about some nifty new invention that made life easier - a sewing machine, a dishwasher - or some expansion of the virtues of civilization. And maybe someday we'd all have jetpacks, or teleporters. Maybe we would have racial harmony, maybe even with the plant-people from some planet you never heard of. But most days I feel like the Martians have invaded and they didn't just catch colds and die.

"Set Up To Fail" is an interview with Michael Hudson that you can read, stream, or download as an .mp3:

Keynes had this idea that when there is unemployment, somehow the government spending has to come in and revive employment. That's called Keynesianism. There are a lot of simple Keynesians - even Paul Krugman is that kind of Keynesian. Post Keynesians go beyond that - basically, if there is anyone we look to be beyond Keynes it's Hyman Minsky, but also Randall Wray and myself. And we say that government normally has to not only run a deficit in order to revive the economy, it has to aim at raising living standards and wage levels, not increasing the economy just by printing money and giving it to the banks, which is what the Federal Reserve in America does and what the European Central Bank does. So, we put the real economy first, not the financial sector and the banks.


Plato explained this many years ago. He said that there is an eternal triangle law: democracies turn into oligarchies and within the oligarchies, the oligarchy makes itself hereditary and turns into an aristocracy, and then the aristocrats fight amongst themselves and some of them try to take the people into their camp and become democrats and the whole thing begins all over again. So we're in a stage of western civilization where we're turning from democracy into oligarchy.

Ian Walsh's "The problem of resistance to the oligarchy" is one of the most depressing things I've ever read, and I wish I could believe he is wrong, but I can't find an argument.
Ian's recent appearance on Virtually Speaking with Jay Ackroyd, wasn't quite as depressing. Or maybe it was, I'm not sure I can tell.

Hunter at DKos: "The nation sleeps a dreamless sleep [...] Were we that wrong, before? The Dream may have been dubious, but the void seems worse. Worse than promises of a shared national identity that would come to pass for only some is the new promise that the great heap of everyone will get nothing, and like it; there will be no jobs, save for the grace of the barons; there will be no pensions, because those were the dreams of a too-socialist era (itself fighting communism tooth and nail, perhaps, only to themselves fall to the disgrace of making promises to the working class, a flaw that we must remedy lest communism take the American rust belt one tired pensioner at a time). There will be no big government projects because the new dream says there will be none, and we will like it. Forget the old laws, because businesses have now transcended them. Forget the old duties of government, because the notion that government has duties is itself a petty fabrication."

Sam Seder interview on The Majority Report, David J. Blacker: The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame. "Professor David J. Blacker of the University of Delaware author of the new book The Falling Rate of Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame explains the roots of modern primary education in the United States, why changes in capitalist production drive education policy, what is the falling rate of profit? Why being exploited under capitalism is better than being disposed of, what neo-liberalism is a symptom of, why universal education is longer needed for modern capitalism and why we are moving towards an economy of eliminationism."

Gaius Publius has posted the Moyers segment where he talks to Yves Smith and Dean Baker, calling it "an excellent, listenable primer on what TPP is and why it spells death to democracy (literally) and breathes even more life into the predator 1% of the 1%."

From The Hill, "Democrats plead with Obama to abandon Social Security cut." Note that this story is cast entirely in terms of the politics, rather than the effect of the policy on, you know, the country.

"Supreme Court Denies Family Farmers the Right to Self-Defense From Monsanto Lawsuits: The U.S. Supreme Court today issued a decision in the landmark federal lawsuit, Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) et al v. Monsanto. Farmers were denied the right to argue their case in court and gain protection from potential abuse by the agrochemical and genetic engineering giant, Monsanto. Additionally, the high court decision dashes the hopes of family farmers who sought the opportunity to prove in court Monsanto's genetically engineered seed patents are invalid. [...] 'This high court which gave corporations the ability to patent life forms in 1980, and under Citizens United in 2010 gave corporations the power to buy their way to election victories, has now in 2014 denied farmers the basic right of protecting themselves from the notorious patent bully Monsanto,' said Gerritsen. "

Randall Wray on The Greatest Myth Propagated About The FED: Central Bank Independence is worth reading for clarification. There's also an interesting little parenthetical at the end: "(To be clear, we have 4500 honest banks. We have a half dozen huge banks that are run as control frauds. Our financial system's main problems can be found among those SDIs - systemically dangerous institutions. We will not get back our economy or our government until we close them.)"

"7 Reasons Why You Should Stop Bitching About People On Benefits" - They left out the best reason, though: We're talking about people who have to spend their money, which creates demand, which creates jobs. That's a lot more productive use of your money than most of the ones politicians come up with.

Yes, the only thing missing from the Christie saga was... The Boss. (I laughed out loud.)

Ted Rall: "War is a Force That Gives Us Meaninglessness"

Racist enough?

A really touching use of photoshop

Mississippi John Hurt & Skip James

Live Yardbirds, Jimmy Page edition.


  1. I get tons of email from Kos, etc. about the latest petition to sign, get on the phone to my congresscritters about this issue or was only yesterday that I finally saw something about the TPP. From Mike Lux at American Family Voices.

  2. You have the Ted Rall link following the Springsteen link -- Rall's cartoon is a great illustration of what I think is one of the great anti-war lyrics:
    Had a brother at Khe Sahn, fighting off the Viet Cong.
    They're still there. He's all gone.

  3. Avedon quotes Michael Hudson:

    [QUOTE]>>>>>Plato explained this many years ago. He said that there is an eternal triangle law: democracies turn into oligarchies and within the oligarchies, the oligarchy makes itself hereditary and turns into an aristocracy, and then the aristocrats fight amongst themselves and some of them try to take the people into their camp and become democrats and the whole thing begins all over again. So we're in a stage of western civilization where we're turning from democracy into oligarchy<<<<<[END QUOTE]

    Plato, heavy hitter. For those of us who recognize that name as belonging to a Hall of Famer but don't know what his exact stats were, after a quick glance around Wikipedia I see that he did a lot more than author a prequel to The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. In fact, it's in that same book if you were to stick with it that Plato gets all poli-sci opining that democracies are susceptible to being manipulated by demagogues right up until one of them puts an end to that form of government by becoming a tyrant. At that point the polis, or society, has really degenerated to rock bottom and he leaves the story there with no route back to a reigning aristocracy or as Benjamin Jowett put it in the Introduction to his celebrated translation:

    [QUOTE]>>>>> We are thus led on to the conception of a higher State, in which 'no man calls anything his own,' and in which there is neither 'marrying nor giving in marriage,' and 'kings are philosophers' and 'philosophers are kings;' and there is another and higher education, intellectual as well as moral and religious, of science as well as of art, and not of youth only but of the whole of life. Such a State is hardly to be realized in this world and quickly degenerates.

    To the perfect ideal succeeds the government of the soldier and the lover of honour, this again declining into democracy, and democracy into tyranny, in an imaginary but regular order having not much resemblance to the actual facts. When 'the wheel has come full circle' we do not begin again with a new period of human life; but we have passed from the best to the worst, and there we end.

    The subject is then changed and the old quarrel of poetry and philosophy which had been more lightly treated in the earlier books of the Republic is now resumed and fought out to a conclusion. Poetry is discovered to be an imitation thrice removed from the truth, and Homer, as well as the dramatic poets, having been condemned as an imitator, is sent into banishment along with them. And the idea of the State is supplemented by the revelation of a future life.... <<<<<[END QUOTE]

    In The Laws Plato does seem to indicate that the practical way to set up good government is for a philosopher/legislator to be put in charge of setting up the government of a new colony by the autocrat who controls it.

    Aristotle describes two forms of government in addition to tyranny as marking a failed state but he does not suggest there was any particular next stop to be anticipated when society is being ruled by one of these end stage governments. Aristotle warns the arcs of government are for royalty to degenerate into tyranny, aristocracy (rule of the best) to degenerate into oligarchy (rule of the rich), and constitutional government (based on law with separated state powers assigned to various classes within society) to degenerate into raw democracy.

    Now I'm sure Michael Hudson knows all this better than I do, so I think he's adding weight to his argument by pulling a fast one here and crediting this view to Plato.

    1. The scholar who did come up with the theory of a repeating cycle of different forms of government to which Hudson refers was -let me look it up, I know I saw it recently- Polybius who was born around 200 B.C. and had a little more Greek history and philosophy to draw upon when he cogitated than did Aristotle who died in 322 B.C., or Plato who died in 347 B.C. Polybius also benefited from observing for himself the breaking-of-the-mold example of the rising Roman Empire.

      Speaking of which, here's a sneaky curve ball Hudson is in the habit of throwing when he cites the lessons of the Roman Empire:

      [QUOTE]>>>>>Down the cliff! This is where the revolting right-wing Roman senators drove the followers of the Gracchi brothers on the Senate hill, in an exercise of political violence that prevented Rome from granting debt relief toward the end of the second century BC. Livy, [d. 17 A.D.] Diodorus [d. 30 B.C.?], Plutarch [d. 120 A.D.] and other historians of the epoch attributed the prospective fall of the Roman Empire to its harsh creditor-oriented debt laws. But today, historians publish books speculating that perhaps the problem was lead piping or lead goblets for their wine, or disease, or imperial overreaching, or superstition – anything but the cause to which the Roman historians themselves pointed.

      We are still living with the consequences of Rome’s oligarchic revolution. That is what makes this week’s Congressional hearings on the $700 billion giveaway so important. First with military force and then via debt bondage and serfdom, Rome bequeathed to Europe a property-based, creditor-oriented body of law. But since the 13th century, country after country has shifted the balance back to favor debtors – to save them from literal debt bondage, from debtor’s prisons, from permanent indebtedness, to give them Clean Slates on an individual level.<<<<<[END QUOTE]

      "[H]istorians of the epoch attributed the prospective fall of the Roman Empire to its harsh creditor-oriented debt laws," Hudson says. That may well be but do make sure you caught the "prospective" in that "the prospective fall." The last of the two Grachhi brothers was a suicide around 120 B.C.. The last Roman emperor in the west wasn't deposed until after 450 A.D., that's 570 plus years later. And actually, around 285 A.D. the Roman Empire set up a second capital in its richer eastern lands. It was first located near and then finally along the Bosphorus at Byzantium whereupon that city got a name change. Sure, we are in the habit of referring to Constantinople as the seat of the Byzantine Empire but the people living under its hegemony always thought of it as the Roman Empire and it lasted until 1453 A.D., that's to a point in time more than 15 centuries after the Roman oligarchy violently shut down the Grachhi led bid for land reform and debt relief in the late 2nd century B.C.

    2. Granted, there's a lot to be learned from studying the history of ancient Greece and Rome about how we, the products of Western Civ, see ourselves as individuals and how our political, religious, and economic structures have evolved. But let's keep in mind that today we find ourselves at a unique moment in the history of all of civilization, even after taking note of Jared Diamond's work, as the result of a transformation brought on by just two hundred years of modern industrial capitalism.

      To close, I'll leave two links to blog posts [LINK] [LINK] by someone whom Michael Hudson named as one of those economists whom he numbers among the "simple Keynesians" he referred to in that interview Avedon cited. At the first one of the links Paul Krugman passes along someone else's interesting apologia for the oligarchy of the Roman Republic and in the second Krugman leaves some somewhat contra-Hudsonian advice:

      [QUOTE]>>>>>[S]ome of the comments on my post... illustrate a favorite observation of mine: the extent to which people who demand that we learn the lessons of history tend to rely on historical episodes in which we have very little idea of what really happened....

      [I]sn’t it odd that people prefer the largely undocumented distant past to the far better documented recent past? Why? My guess is that it’s precisely the vagueness that attracts them, because it’s so much easier to project your prejudices onto the scattered information available.<<<<<[END QUOTE]

  4. All black males are suspect ... where I attended university.

    There are a lot of foreign tourists in SE Asia worthy of a little rat poison in their mojitos but I don't think any of them are young women.

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  6. I don't agree with J. H. Kunstler's claim "that public education is failing so desperately" but I do think his perspectives on K-9 education, as they relate to that "Learning and the Neoliberal Endgame" theory Avedon links to, are worth looking at.



  7. I found Ian Walsh's article comforting as he has come to the same conclusion that I had. I see now that what I thought of as my own troubled biases was merely me being right.

    David Simon agrees: "So how does it get better? In 1932, it got better because they dealt the cards again and there was a
    communal logic that said nobody's going to get left behind. We're going to figure this out. We're going to get the banks open.
    From the depths of that depression a social compact was made between worker, between labour and capital that actually
    allowed people to have some hope.

    We're either going to do that in some practical way when things get bad enough or we're going to keep going the way we're
    going, at which point there's going to be enough people standing on the outside of this mess that somebody's going to pick
    up a brick, because you know when people get to the end there's always the brick."

  8. That old canard about Banksters jumping from skyscrapers is just that: a canard. They didn't jump. They were thrown. Rightfully so.

    Not just Banksters.

    No fear.