“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Humean reflections

There were a couple posts at the Long Sunday blog this week making the case for Hume being a precursor of postmodernism. The term “postmodernism” brings out LI’s virtuoso middle aged sighing – as a veteran of the 80s, I can’t countenance a thing that was surely fossilized by 1990, and whose reappearance has all the appeal of a remake of the Friday the 13th series.

However, in making critical comments about this view of Hume, I re-read Hume’s famous essay, That Politics May be Reduced to a Science and found the essay pretty surprising. Surprising, that is, if you have a view of the Enlightenment in which that phrase in the Declaration of Independence, “the pursuit of happiness,” plays a central role. I think that anyone looking at the political nature of the Atlantic revolutions – in North America, France and Haiti – has to take that phrase seriously. Which is why we were rather shocked that Hume introduces this disjunction between what you might call the aggregate level of virtue among a people and the level of virtue of the state:

“The ages of greatest public spirit are not always most eminent for private virtue. Good laws may beget order and moderation in the government, where the manners and customs have instilled little humanity or justice into the tempers of men. The most illustrious period of the ROMAN history, considered in a political view, is that between the beginning of the first and end of the last PUNIC war; the due balance between the nobility and the people being then fixed by the contests of the tribunes, and not being yet lost by the extent of conquests. Yet at this very time, the horrid practice of poisoning was so common, that, during part of a season, a Prætor punished capitally for this crime above three thousand*25 persons in a part of ITALY; and found informations of this nature still multiplying upon him. There is a similar, or rather a worse instance,*26 in the more early times of the commonwealth. So depraved in private life were that people, whom in their histories we so much admire. I doubt not but they were really more virtuous during the time of the two Triumvirates; when they were tearing their common country to pieces, and spreading slaughter and desolation over the face of the earth, merely for the choice of tyrants.”

I found this a surprising dissent from the usual Enlightenment idea that the government is a mirror of the people -- in fact, Hume's remark edges towards the Sadean. An Enlightenment ideal of representative government is one that most people today – including LI – would take for granted -- and similarly, that the benefit of such a government is that it establishes a virtual space for happiness in which all good things flourish, the lion lies down with the lamb, etc. -- an Edward Hicksian picture of the world as it should be. After all, the revolution to establish a state that would preserve an order making the pursuit of happiness possible for every citizen presumes that the most appealing of those pursuits will not consist of slipping arsenic to your neighbors or husband.

So LI wondered if there was any instance in which one could say that public virtue increased while private disorder decreased. And what immediately came to mind was the sixties. Surely, in many ways, the most virtuous epoch in American history since the eighteen sixties – the first serious effort to eliminate apartheid – it was also, to use Hume’s measure, a time when homicide made dramatic leaps, taking over from Monopoly as the favored past-time of the sons and daughters of the peaceful booboisie, become all hitchhiking serial killers or victims. And the nineties were the reverse: at a time when the Federal government was stripping the poor of the pitiful amount the republic grudgingly devoted to them, while allowing the rich to enjoy the splendor of the deregulatory anarchy that would eventuate in Enron, the homicide rate dropped considerable. In fact, I do remember, when Clinton was signing off on putting the pistol to the pauper’s head and pulling the trigger, thinking how absurd it was that this was happening in a decade that was rolling in dough. It was as if the whole Enlightenment assumption that the people were vested with certain inherent virtues that would express themselves in a democracy was being mocked.

On the other hand, we don’t think Hume’s index for defining both private vice and public “spirit” is sufficient. Besides being based on the dubious proposition that murders were less when the Triumvirates were tearing the Republic apart, we also think that it is misleading to label the successes of the state – its survival, its ability to enforce order – as virtues. Hume is overclever here, and thus dims his otherwise very ponderable point: that the assumption that the government and the people are reflections of one another rests on very ad hoc grounds. That the best form of government might be installed to administer a society in the midst of dissolution is, theoretically, a possibility, and one that I think is connected to the dark side of populism: the longing for the open expression of the latent violence that maintains the social order. The long, long reaction to the official dismantling of racism is a case in point – here the longing for the chthonic age of the old slave auction block, and the fear that any loosening of the chains would lead to some unimaginable riot, has become a reliable predictor in Southern elections: coded and not so coded racism wins almost every time. This is the longing not only for tyranny, but for a tyranny erected on the lynch mob. I’m being obscure; what I mean is, the popular feeling that the people – if it includes all of the people, even them, the unspeakable autrui - don’t deserve a form of government that mirrors their situations, but one that punishes their differences.

turning in clusters

It is nice to begin the weekend on a note of Ionesco like absurdity, which is why I am grateful to Judy Miller’s attorney for adding a new twist to the 1th amendment in the form of the codicil that Ms. Miller was fighting for her freedom not to report her story at all. Not content with acquiring a special security clearance from the Pentagon, Miller also seemed to think she was entitled to a special get out of jail card simply for being employed by the Times. Luckily, Miller’s mind didn’t drift to knocking over convenience food stores, which is also apparently covered by the 1st amendment. That’s some amazing amendment.

However, there is some life at the Times suddenly. One of LI’s commentators remarked last week that the much maligned Maureen Dowd was obviously restive about the Times inexplicable bondage to one reporter. Today, Dowd’s column was a little shot across the bow:

“The Times's story and Judy's own first-person account had the unfortunate effect of raising more questions. As Bill said yesterday in an e-mail note to the staff, Judy seemed to have ''misled'' the Washington bureau chief, Phil Taubman, about the extent of her involvement in the Valerie Plame leak case.
She casually revealed that she had agreed to identify her source, Scooter Libby, Dick Cheney's chief of staff, as a ''former Hill staffer'' because he had once worked on Capitol Hill. The implication was that this bit of deception was a common practice for reporters. It isn't.

She said that she had wanted to write about the Wilson-Plame matter, but that her editor would not allow it. But Managing Editor Jill Abramson, then the Washington bureau chief, denied this, saying that Judy had never broached the subject with her.

It also doesn't seem credible that Judy wouldn't remember a Marvel comics name like ''Valerie Flame.'' Nor does it seem credible that she doesn't know how the name got into her notebook and that, as she wrote, she ''did not believe the name came from Mr. Libby.''’

And, unlike Dowd’s usual endings, which take the sting out of her stinging, this one is pretty straightforward:

“Judy told The Times that she plans to write a book and intends to return to the newsroom, hoping to cover ''the same thing I've always covered -- threats to our country.'' If that were to happen, the institution most in danger would be the newspaper in your hands.”

That Maureen Dowd gets it and that the editorial management at the Times publicly doesn’t – that Dowd actually has pierced the veil enough to understand that the Times is ruining its credibility with its audience on a principled stand that doesn’t make sense – might just mean that revolt is in the air.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Notes on fundraising

This week so far LI's received six pledges. Yesterday, I was going to put up a link to the Cafe Press shop, to direct pledgers, but Harry told me my original idea of taking the pledges, going to the shop, ordering the shirts and shipping them to the pledgees would be wasteful. Anyway, the link will soon be up.

Remember as you toss your coins into that blind beggar's cup today, hurrying out of your office building into your limo, to toss LI various currencies, too. Or, if you are the blind beggar in this situation, cull us out some of the ready tonight, as you are going through your day's take.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

not that deep

“J. T. Battenberg III, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer, Delphi Corporation, USA, said corporate governance has changed. Boards tended to be less attentive in the past, but they are now paying very close attention to financial reports and probing deeply into the organization. "I have to force myself to really guard my time accordingly,"he remarked. CEOs need to maintain focus on the entrepreneurial, risk-taking spirit necessary for growth.

Battenberg also said the board must have an intimate relationship with the CEO. He finds "few boards do a good job establishing a relationship with the CEO or even among themselves." He is working on ways to improve relationships among members of the boards on which he serves, but finds peer evaluations "difficult for old friends." -- from the World Economic Forum, "Do Ceos earn their keep?"
....................

George Will has never been shy about his contempt for the working class, or his advocacy for the wealthy. So we read his column in the Washington Post with some amusement, the other day. His eagle eye has been attracted to the robbery of the UAW pension fund by General Motors, and of course he approves:

“GM has been forced to allow product development, pricing and other decisions to be driven by the need to keep sufficient revenue flowing in so it can flow out in fulfillment of GM's function as a welfare state. GM provides $5.2 billion in health care annually -- more than Harley-Davidson's revenue -- to 1.1 million workers, retirees and dependents. Retirees outnumber current U.S. employees 2.5 to 1. The $4 billion that goes annually to retirees does not go into developing products people want to buy.

Concessions by the United Auto Workers will provide GM with annual savings of $1 billion in health care costs. But GM's hourly workers, who pay no health care deductibles and only nominal co-payments, will still enjoy coverage better than most Americans have. Since 2000, the percentage of American businesses offering any health insurance to workers has declined from 69 to 60.”

That the workers have a good health insurance plan is such a shock that Will would probably approve of bringing the old ones into police stations, tasaring them, and throwing them in the slammer. Alas, by some oversight, health care for people who have actually worked all their lives hasn’t yet been ruled illegal. This is one of those occasions when I long for a time machine. Oh, to put Will’s column in it and set the dial for 1980! Remember 1980, all those Democrats-for-Reagan, voting to slit their throats because 400 hostages in Iraq weren’t rescued quick enough for their taste? (Reagan, of course, learned from that fiasco, and when some 260 embassy employees and marines went up in smoke in Beirut, later on, he did not agonize about surrender – he just did it, thus preserving his popularity unscathed. A lesson for us all… but I digress).

The year of the great Social Security Reform has turned into the year America pays its first tab on the high labor cost of CEOs. The papers are full of gloating reporters laughing over Delphi’s bankruptcy and the consequent ruin of the retirement of its work force. My, the gaiety in the business pages. Well, we know that is what the proletariat gets since they have ceased to allow themselves to be sold by the pound on the auctioneer’s block.

Funny, all that talk about pension costs and no talk about the cost of, well, that superb management group that led Delphi before CEO Miller, that much quoted man. We looked up previous CEO J.T. Battenberg III’s compensation package, and found it, as well as Delphi’s v.p., D.L. Runkle, for the 1999-2002 period. It was shockingly low. Why, Mr. Battenberg made a mere 13.4 million in that period. Mr. Runkle made peanuts, really. 6.4 million. Packages like that, why, a man gets ashamed to even show his face at the corner grocery store. Somehow, though, LI doubts seriously that you are going to read any stories about Delphi that mention Mr. Battenberg (such a kind hearted soul – peer evaluations being so difficult among friends, a lot of times it is best to just elevate them silently on the stock options, don’t you know?), although no doubt fully insured business journalists swilling liquor on their lunch hours with war criminals from the vice presidents office will assure us that the Delphi work force was being treated like royalty, and had it coming.

Well, it is turning out that there is a cost to paying top dollar for your top 5 percentile, even in America. If we are going to continue to pay CEOs 190 to 400 times the wage of the average worker, we are just going to have to cut down on the average worker’s benefits. The conventional wisdom is happily starting to gel.

We do wonder, though, how that wisdom is going to play out. The contradictions of the guarantor state are gathering. One dimension of the tension is starting to pound its way into a few conservative heads: Dwarves don’t guarantee giants. Or, to be less fancy pants about it, it is impossible for the private sector to extend its credit on the scale that would match the “ownership society” model without that risk being guaranteed by a third party – the state – of sufficient size to make the guarantor credible. And the size of the state is not a theoretic property – it will have to swallow some enormous failures. This lesson was brought home in the late eighties by the government takeover of S &L assets. It was a lesson that was surely not going to be lost on any man named “Bush”.

However, that contradiction barely breaks the surface. The conflict that is coming is predictable: just as we see with GM, just as we see in the gloating tones of the upper class flunky, Will, you cannot rely on the private sector to maintain welfare services. The reason for that is simple: the governing class in this country will, when the chips are down, rob the working class. In broad daylight. And the media will serve, not as a watchdog, but as an accomplice and jester for the occasion. You can’t afford everything. If we want to entertain ourselves with the lifestyles of the rich and famous at the current rate, we are going to have to start stripping out goods and services such as education and retirement and healthcare. And, even so, the rich and the famous depend on the great consumer class willingness to continue, year after year, with no net savings.

The competition to strip workers of their wealth retrospectively is just beginning. The movement to strip the upper management of its wealth retrospectively has not yet been started. It doesn’t have a party, it doesn’t have a leader, and it certainly doesn’t have a press. But it might just be the case that this robbery is a bit too much for the American people – our Deep Throat nation -- to swallow.

No. 2

In 1998, at a time when her country was mired in hyperinflation, Valya Chervenyashka left her rural Bulgarian village and went to work as a nurse in Benghazi, Libya, for $250 a month, to pay for her daughters' college education.

Today, Ms. Chervenyashka and four other Bulgarian nurses, as well as a Palestinian doctor whose family moved to Libya in 1967, are under a death sentence in a Libyan jail and facing a firing squad, accused of intentionally infecting more than 400 hospitalized Libyan children with the AIDS virus, in order, according to the initial indictment, to undermine Libyan state security.
They were also charged with working for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service.

"Nurses from little towns in Bulgaria acting as agents of Mossad?" said Antoanetta Ouzounova, 28, one of Ms. Chervenyashka's daughters. "It all sounds funny and absurd until you realize your mother could die for it."

Although the motive of subversion has since been dropped, the death sentence stands. The nurses' final appeal is scheduled to be heard by the Libyan Supreme Court on Nov. 15. – NYT, October 17, 2005.


A few weeks ago, when Christopher Hitchens was rallying the troops about all the good things achieved by the Iraq war, he listed as no. 2 “the … capitulation of Qaddafi's Libya in point of weapons of mass destruction--a capitulation that was offered not to Kofi Annan or the E.U. but to Blair and Bush.” Interestingly, that capitulation has been a win-win proposition for Blair.

In August, there was a story in the Australian about the no. 2 good thing to come out of the Iraq war. It explains Qaddafi’s political roots:

“Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the eccentric Libyan dictator and former pariah of the West, has described how he drew his early inspiration from Lord Baden-Powell, one of the most famous heroes of the British empire and founder of the worldwide Scout movement.
According to Colonel Gaddafi's memoirs, to be published next month, Baden-Powell's 1908 book Scouting for Boys influenced his mother to enrol him in the Scouts.

He spent seven years in a troop while he was at school in the Libyan coastal town of Sirte in the 1950s.

Colonel Gaddafi claims that his bedouin mother, who travelled between encampments with the family's herds of camels, goats and rams, took the step because she wanted him to "understand the complexities of Western society ... rather than to leave him forever with the soul of a shepherd".

The book, My Vision, runs to 263 pages and was largely dictated by Colonel Gaddafi to Edmond Jouve, an Africa specialist at Rene Descartes University in Paris. It also reproduces the colonel's Green Book of political theories.

Now, according to sources close to the book, negotiations are under way between the Libyan authorities, the British Government and John Blake, Colonel Gaddafi's publisher, for the leader to mount a promotional tour in Britain, possibly as early as September this year.”

I mention all things Qaddafi because time is running out for the five Bulgarian nurses that have been condemned to death where the present inheritor of Lord Baden-Powell’s spirit holds sway. In an interesting bit of synchronicity, Tony Blair (who was sent to earth so that Americans can have some political figure in the West with whom they can favorably compare George Bush) is signing off on shipping Libyans to certain death in their own country, finishing up his multy-culty blasphemy bill to send anybody to the slammer for seven years who has a bad word to say about anybody else’s religion (or as his mover in the House of Lord’s puts it, "the bill will not have the impact on freedom of speech which opponents say it will. Incitement to religious hatred represents a gap in the criminal law and it is right that it be filled." – a gap in the law! call out the cops! this, of course, gives a soft authoritarian like Tony shivers in the night) and the execution of the nurses is coming up as a thing to be diplomatically condemned as contracts are being signed.

The good news just keeps on coming. On September 17, Libya investment sent out a press release that is brimming with the fruits of Hitchens No. 2:
“Officials said the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair invited Libya to the first major Western arms exhibition since the easing of defense sanctions by the European Union in 2004. They said major British contractors have been briefing Libya's delegation at the Defence Systems & Equipment International, or DSei exhibition, which ends on Sept 16. "I believe that Britain, as a major importer and exporter, is well placed to understand the interests and concerns of other trading countries," British Secretary of State for Defence John Reid said. "We aim to champion the case for more open defense markets."

Open defense markets for democratic intervention – why, it’s the name of a movement! As LI pointed out in 2002, the chief thing wrong with the argument about WMD was – before anything else – the definition of WMD. The true weapons of mass destruction in this century have been the bullet, the grenade, the garden variety bomb. WMD is defined by the West in such a way that it shapes up nicely with the 100 billion dollar arms market, which runs money to... the West! From Socialist Sweden to the hills of Tennessee. And in ten years, who knows, we might look back on DSEI’s welcoming embrace of Qaddafi, the man who has run the mass murder business in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Chad, Mauritania, and any other place he casts his glance, as a bit of a mistake.
...

Hey, I've now had six pledges. Is that cool or what? Anyway, later today we will be putting up a link to the Cafe Press site.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

excerpt three

I'm running behind on everything. I meant to put this excerpt up this Sunday, but indignatio gnawed at my bones: this happens when I read the Sunday NYT.

Anyway, here's the next excerpt from my novel in progress:

Jealous God – Chapter 8

Pike Sterling -- a square jaw, a broad brow, pepper and salt hair at forty – the man was prematurely graying. But his evenly tan skin was robust, was youthful, he bounced along, he always walked down polished halls swiftly, the corridors of power where the colored janitors are keeping the tiles clean or the dusty little passages to the records rooms of old creaky courthouses, he was always proud of his energy, he always kept a watch on his waistline, and he was proud, too, that he wasn’t just finicky about eating, he could eat, his intake of grease in a week, of fries, burgers, when he was on the road, steaks, potatoes, butter, he preferred nice things but he could eat with both the high and the low and had to in his job, but the thing is he didn’t put those calories and fats into sitting for hours on a barstool, slouching in the recliner before the boob tube at home. He was outside, or he was on the dance floor, or he was playing a game of touch football with his pals, he organized that, on crisp autumn Sundays in the park, past his twenties, in his mid thirties, or he was encouraging his little girl, his princess, to keep her kite in the air, or he had on a hard hat and he was striding purposefully towards an oil derrick in a field in Manitoba, the engineer next to him having to keep up, reciting a stream of facts and figures. And he had a horror of sloppiness, of slouching, of bad grooming habits. When he came home he might slip into his nice leather slippers, sometimes he’d walk around in his terrycloth bathrobe, but at the table he’d still be wearing his tie.

If Pike took a lot of trips, if Charlotte and Sunny and Hutch, kindergarten age, ate their dinners on trays in front of the tv, Charlotte looking at Dragnet through the amber fluid in her glass, first of two highballs for the night, well he had to rise in the world, he had to work hard, it was dog eat dog, he had to keep a sharp eye out for his company. He didn’t find opportunities, they found him. And you knew he was organizing something, teasing someone, looking unruffled and like he already knew, the broad brow and straight eyes and the smile that would creep up at the corners of his mouth, the amusement he took in life’s rich pageant in the eyes that could just gaze so coolly and in those blue depths who knew what you looked like, how you appeared? If you were a woman, you knew that you wanted to look your best down there, in that blue light. They were like putty in his hands, even the old biddies at court houses guarding old plats that he had to look up sometimes. And it was known that he’d call, that he’d tell Charlotte, baby, how the ignorance he dealt with made you wonder, how the bullshit you had to listen to sometimes made you feel like socking somebody in the jaw, how the weather was in Tacoma or Billings or Dallas. How he was hot for his hottie, was she hot for him, was she wet? These things were so known, the energy, the family, the love, the rising through the ranks at his company that you could take them to the bank. The houses got bigger, Sunny and Hutch went from kindergarten to private day schools, Pike and Charlotte spent fifteen thousand in 1965 on golf and club memberships.

Joan Malcolm picked up a copy of “Hutch’s Progress: a Texas lawman rediscovers the religious foundations of our Republic” from a display table dedicated to Holly and Hutch Sterling in a Houston Borders. It was a busy weekend as the crowd flowed up and down a mall that Joan remembered being much more novel in 1976, when it had gone up with two anchor stores that were parts of a chain long bankrupt. Joan had come in to look at the Holly’s Folly – it was Holly Sterling’s first store. After she had talked to the manager and found that she had only been there a year – she had nourished the wish that, by some offchance, she would stumble upon some platinum blonde veteran from Holly’s golden era straightening the French maid undies -- she had drifted past the food court and the fountain and the running kids and the noise from the arcade and come upon the two story book store and wandered in. It surprised Joan how many different Sterling books there already were – not only Hutch’s rediscovery of the religious foundations of the Republic, but an unauthorized account of the rise of Holly’s Folly, an 200 page pasquinade, “The Many Births of Hutch Sterling,” by Honey Babo, a liberal writer for a Dallas newspaper, and a new book consisting mostly of photos of Holly with a sensationalized, typo ridden account of her life tucked into the spaces on the page that the pictures left blank. Joan had met Babo – referred to by Hutch’s supporters, inevitably, as ‘Baboon” – at various literary and political events, knowing her enough to call her Honey when she sat next to her at a dinner. Knowing her enough to recognize the strong traces of the two packs a day that Honey had not been smoking now for ten iron willed years in the spasms of painful coughing that would rack her after she laughed. Honey had a huge, inclusive laugh, and she liked to use it. Honey called Joan “dear”, which is how she dealt with not remembering Joan’s name. Joan put Hutch’s book in her purse and walked out of the store without paying for it.

about sewage...

Yesterday, a friend of mine from my salad days in grad school pledged – so LI is up to two pledges, now, approximately 100 bucks! This friend, he witnessed my self damaging narcissistic flameout from the corridors of the good, the true and the beautiful. As any Freudian will tell you, masochistic narcissists are the worst: St. Sebastians demanding a mirror. Anyway, D., I want to thank you. I’ll email you with a few questions about the t shirt later today.

I have been thinking of other enticing goodies besides t shirts, by the way. I think that LI will collect some of the series posts – the posts about the invasion of Iraq, the posts about James Fitzjames Stevens, the posts about Libya, etc. – and create a little series archive, where they would be accessible, and put in order.

Enough of that.


As we all know, Judy Miller, a St. Sebastian with a mirror if there ever was one, is all about press freedom. Is all about leaking in the name of press freedom. Is all about stripping dissenters of any shred of dignity they have left, and destroying their families. She is a first amendment goddess.

But for those who think Scooter Libby makes an odd whistleblower, go this maddening, maddening article in the WPost today. In it, you will find the saga of a remarkable woman, Bunnatine Hayes Greenhouse . Greenhouse is not the kind of person that the NYT would touch, in terms of top secret info and access, access, accexx. That’s because she is concerned about a powerful, connected company doing a crappy job and overcharging for it like a serial check forger. The name of the company is Haliburton, of course. The cause is Cheney’s company’s contracts in Iraq, which Greenhouse thought were absurd. Already one can see the Millers at the NYT making the characteristic moue. Those Haliburtan fixators, coming from the conspiracy swamp. Can't deal with those people. In fact, best not to report on them at all. Which is the new policy at Bill Keller's NYT, with the motto, you want the news, go to the fucking Washington Post.

Greenhouse works for the Corps of Engineers. She is also black – something that the Corps of Engineers good old boys don’t like. During good King Clinton’s time, the visceral dislike of black skin didn’t get encouraged at the Corps of Engineers. But when Bush was elected, the dike went down here – as it has done in other places since. Taking potshots on a black executive was just the tonic for those D.C. boys. And the thrill of the thing –oh, so wonderfully reminiscent of the lynching that used to enliven our beautiful South – is that she could be reprimanded for not getting along with her subordinates. Yes, good old boys who called her nigger would then complain about her unfair treatment of them. And since the Corps knows all about sewage treatment, they treated Greenhouse to the endproduct of that sewage.

Finally, however, Greenhouse went to far. She told a Senate committee made up only of Democrats – Republicans being, apparently, uninterested in billions of dollars being fraudulently charged to the U.S. – about the insanity of the contracts being awarded to Cheney’s company. For this act of patriotism, it was don’t let the door hit you on the ass on the way out.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

The Guarantor State

Last week, I wrote two posts about the two mysteries embedded in our current social order. For the convenience of the reader, I am going to repost them after this post.


The mask under which the American social order has changed, in the last twenty-five years, is that of the scale of government. It is either in the favoring the bigness or the littleness of the state that conservatives are supposedly divided from liberals. This mask disguises the very contours of what really happened, but in that it has served its purpose. The end of the old, Keynesian order in the seventies did not arise from the extraordinary size of the state. Rather, it arose from a very traditional capitalist crisis, one which the economists had thought to have managed away: the falling rate of profit. To use just one index: the New York Stock market, which peaked for the decade at the beginning of 1973. By the end of 1974, the Dow Jones Industrial average was 30% lower than it had been in 1964. It wasn’t until 1980 that the market finally recaptured its 1973 peak. The period was marked by the fear that wage gains had outstripped productivity gains – hence the period’s salient, and to Keynesian eyes, weird combination of inflation and unemployment.

There is an interesting French economist, Michel Aglietta – he is a member of what is called the Regulation school of economists. Aglietta’s roots are in Marxist economics, but since 1980 he has been tunneling through a whole different tradition – one that includes Gabriel Tarde, Rene Girard, and Georg Simmel. Aglietta has been trying to move the center of gravity of the economic vision of money, and that includes Marx’s vision, which he believes to be insufficient. Here’s how he describes his latest book with his frequent collaborator, Andre Orlean:

“Neither commodity nor State nor contract, but trust” . Such is the most concise résumé of the monetary conception put forth in La monnaie entre violence et confiance [Money between violence and trust]. This work maintains that money is ultimately based on the social faith that makes it unanimously accepted by a community because each of its members anticipate that all the others desire it—in other words, what has been called its ‘liquidity’. Such an approach is opposed (in various forms and to different degrees) to the metallist, chartalist and contractualist conceptions
which situate the origins of money, respectively, in its nature as commodity, in the State or in the contract.
Although our analysis remains a minority view among economists, it is not without precedents; indeed, it belongs to a long albeit neglected tradition honoured by the names of Marcel Mauss, François Simiand and Georg Simmel.”

I like Aglietta’s idea because it embeds economic processes in what I think of as the existential situation of politics, which is negotiating the social meaning of what it is like to be a particular person in a particular setting. If we take the crises that preceded Reaganomics in these terms, as a crisis of trust and desire, it makes it easier to see that what happened, under Reagan, was not the dissolution of the welfare state per se. In fact, the web of middle class entitlements expanded, correlative to the increase of taxes on the middle class – for instance, for social security – to pay for them. Rather, under Reagan the long term foundations of the welfare state were structurally weakened. This weakening was the effect of creating a rivalry between two previously harmonized parts of the economics of state intervention: the state as guarantor, and the state as provider. And that in turn came as a response to a crisis in the international order – our second mystery, which is how rich states have protected their wealth from poor states within a system that should have theoretically shifted wealth, or at least the system of production that produces wealth, to those poor states.

The rudiments of the guarantor state go back to the end of WWII, when the federal government used the idea that the soldiers were socially “owed” to set up housing and education guarantees. These guarantees were not directly provided – rather, they were structured to use private means as instruments of a social welfare function. It was the genius of the system, up until the late seventies, that direct provision of welfare by the state (such as the programs launched by LBJ) and the indirect guarantee of economic goods and services by the state did not essentially conflict. However, underneath that harmony there was always the possibility that these modalities would conflict. The crises of trust in the seventies brought that latent possibility to the surface. The poor, under Reagan, served as a symbolic scapegoat, even though the real amount of state money going to the poor, as opposed to middle class entitlement programs, was inconsiderable.

At the same time, the state expanded in an odd way that can only be captured by Aglietta’s notion of trust. The state allowed private financial institutions to greatly expand their ability to lend, and to lend to a much larger clientele, in order to finance its response to the falling rate of profit. It is odd, when you think about it – why would lending increase as wages stagnated and the protection of domestic manufacture progressively dissolved? It seems counter-intuitive, but it was actually rather brilliant. In order to keep afloat, middle class families quickly (in historical terms) injected other earners into the job market. The single earner, father dominated family became very expensive to maintain, especially as there was a retrenchment of direct state provision – for instance, of childcare. What took the place of the state was the enormous expansion of credit guaranteed by the state.

The response to the guarantor state by the part of the old liberal orthodoxy was one of bafflement. That bafflement continues to this day – we have tomes telling us that the denizens of Kansas are too dumb to vote for their economic interest, when in fact their economic interest is being systematically misread by the liberal orthodoxy.

The guarantor state has another odd effect – the mobilization of savings. It is this which, in the long term, undermines the persisting dimension of social welfare – of middle class entitlement. It makes it seem like we are getting poorer and poorer – less able to afford social goods – as we are getting richer and richer.

But enough, basta! For today.

PS -- ON THE FUNDRAISING FRONT: Well, yesterday LI did receive one pledge. But hey, we are in this for the long haul. We are about to set up our t shirt shop, but we would really like to do it with some idea of whether we are actually going to GET any contributions. Futility is such a pain in the ass. Please contribute to LI's continuing existence!

ductus of the zeitgeist -- 2

“If you people wouldn’t have drunk it,” Dalitz said thickly, “ I wouldn’t have bootlegged it.” Moe Dalitz before the Kefauver Commission on organized crime, explaining why he sold liquor during the prohibition. From “The Money and the Power” by Sally Denton and Roger Morris.


The second mystery – see my Thursday post -- to which I want to point my showman’s cane (see it tremble in my palsied grip) is that of the developmental lag. I think this mystery complicates any simple conclusions we can make from the first mystery, which, if you will remember, is the mystery of how, as we become richer, we become collectively poorer. If there were only one mystery here, then the answer would be pretty simple. We’d just look to the tradition of class conflict for our answers. Unfortunately, the answer isn’t that simple. Instead, our two mysteries are enjambed, intertwined like two dogs in heat. They form a matrix. It would be nice for me to be able to say, well, Reagan was just an upper class stooge, and that’s how the investor class became dominant in America. Alas, it isn’t that simple. In fact, only by looking at both of the mysteries does one understand the brilliance, albeit limited brilliance, of the American response to the crisis of capitalism in the 1980s, and how that has played out to this day. Those mysteries explain a certain unexpected movement in the conservative revolution. Unlike conservatism in the past, this revolution was not wrapped about savings. Just the opposite. This revolution was about creating an economic culture in which the inclination to saving was systematically dissolved.

The mystery I am talking about is at the heart of globalization and the transformation of the welfare state into the guarantor state.

When I try to figure out how to put this in a simple post, I feel rather like I am trying to spoon out the water in pond with a net: the instrument is wrong and the goal is futile. But of course, this is what we do here at LI.

So-- lets get one thing straight right away. The difference between the economist and the non-economist is that the economist can think in terms of parts and aggregates, but never thinks of values in terms of emergent wholes. To put this in terms of an example: an economist can explain why the efficiencies gained by transferring manufacturing to low paying areas from high paying areas – for instance, from Michigan to the Mexican border – make up for the cost of increased unemployment in Michigan. The economist would have an easy time showing this by a sectorial analysis of the U.S. economy. What the economist does not include in the calculus at all are the intangible values in the blue collar culture of Michigan. It has no instrument to quantify that culture, and what economists can’t quantify, they can’t see. They are equipped with visual sensoria as delicate and peculiar as a fly’s – but they aren’t human. Similarly, the culture the emerges around low paying maquilladoras in Juarez is available, to the economist, only in terms of human capital, and not in terms of such emergent wholes that we can look down at the face of another slaughtered girl on the outskirts of Juarez and understand what is happening here (“ You've been with the professors/ And they’ve all liked your looks/ With great lawyers you have discussed lepers and crooks”).The quality of life, that phrase as tasteless as bubble gum foil, the culture that emerges around long term low pay labor intense areas can’t really be analyzed by the economist, even if they can make attempts to distinguish a frontier from a metropolis. But the culture does have an economic impact. In fact, economics, ideally, serves the culture. Marx thought the fact that the culture had come to serve economics was part of the systematic inversion of values in 19th capitalism that had to be inverted in its turn. Be that as it may, to approach the second mystery, one has to have some respect for the constraints under which these mysteries are communicated.



In 1996, Mancur Olson gave a lecture on the stubborn difference between developed and less developed economies entitled “Big Bills Left on the Sidewalk: Why Some Nations are Rich, and Others Poor.” Olson pushed an institutionalist view of economics. To make his case, he first attempts to take apart the neo-classical view – and its newest additions, via Robert Lucas, that the famous “residual” to which Solow attributed the major role in growth consists of knowledge which, for various reasons, is not a public good. At the end of Olson’s overview, he writes:

“If the countries of the world were on the frontiers of neoclassical production functions, the marginal product of capital would therefore be many times higher in the low-income than in the high-income countries. Robert Lucas (1990) has calculated, albeit in a somewhat different framework,[11] the marginal product of capital that should be expected in the United States and in India. Lucas estimated that if an Indian worker and an American worker supplied the same quantity and quality of labor, the marginal product of capital in India should be 58 times as great as in the United States. Even when Lucas assumed that it took five Indian workers to supply as much labor as one U.S. worker, the predicted return to capital in India would still be a multiple of the return in the United States.”

That paragraph is a little gritty – but I think that is says something that Balzac put, in the form of a metaphor and a parable, a long time before, in Pere Goriot, when Rastignac is pondering an offer he has had from another character in the book, Vautrin. Vautrin, you’ll recall, wants Rastignac to marry an heiress and turn over part of the fortune to Vautrin. In turn, Vautrin will murder the heiress’ brother – an unknown figure, to Rastignac – so that the heiress will inherit all her father’s fortune.

− Where did you get that serious look? the medical student asked him as he took his arm to go walking on the quad.
− I am tormented by evil ideas.
− Of what type? You know, you can be healed of ideas.
− How ?
− By surrendering to them.
− Ah, you are laughing without knowing what this is about. Have you read Rousseau?
− Yeah.
− Remember that passage where he asks his reader what he would do given a case in which he could enrich himself in killing a Chinaman by a simple act of will, an old mandarin, without budging from Paris
− Yes.
− Well ?
− Bah ! I’m already on my thirty first mandarin!
− This isn ‘t a joking matter. Go on. Let’s say you were convinced it were possible and that all you had to do was nod your head. What would you do?
− Is this mandarin of yours an old man? But hell, young or an old paralytic or in health, my goodness! ... Well, no.
− You are a good boy, Bianchet. But if you love a woman enough to turn your soul inside out, and it was absolutely necessary to get money for her toilette, for her carriage, to cut a long story short, for all of her fantasies?

Olson, like many economists, makes the case that the superior political institutions in the West are what gave rise to the enormous wealth here. The other side of that coin is, possibly, that those superior political institutions are oriented to positively hold down 58 Indian workers and 31 mandarins. And that this held true for the era of the great boom in this country – from 1945 to 1980. In fact, Keynes worked, at Bretton Woods, to assure a place for the possibility that a nation could take autonomous economic action in order to make sure that those who were leading the pack – especially the British – would be able to retain the lead in the face of frontiers of neoclassical production functions. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. didn’t see things this way – in fact, one of the goals of the U.S. negotiators was to make sure that the British were never again able to set up a “sterling zone”, as they did in the thirties, blocking U.S. exports.

Mandarins and Indian workers, in the meantime, kept multiplying, and knowledge kept lowering transaction costs. Eventually, the law of comparative advantage was going to erode the institutions of the welfare state in countries that relied upon manufacturing goods that could be more cheaply manufactured elsewhere and, given the dissolution of trade barriers, shipped back to the richest consumer markets which had accumulated wealth precisely in the era in which their production functions were protected.

This mystery requires another post. Which I’ll put up next week.

the ductus of the zeitgeist

Every social order depends on a social mystery. The conservative wants to preserve that mystery. The Marxist wants to expose it. The liberal, like me, wants to palpate it a bit.

There are two mysteries in the current social order. One mystery is rather obvious bunk. The mystery goes like this: although Western economies are getting wealthier and wealthier, in comparison to, say, the economies of the 1950s, we are told that we are too poor to maintain the social welfare programs that we once took for granted. We are, in other words, getting richer and richer only to be collectively poorer and poorer. Now, one doesn’t have to be an ardent Marxist to question this story. Instead, one might ponder how we expect to maintain a social system in which the multiple of greater wealth taken home by upper management versus the average worker has zoomed from 12 times to about 400 times in the U.S. The increase in collective poverty is, of course, relative. Since this mystery has a readily understandable social cause, we should expect that the apologists of the social order – those who would like to see the wealth differential increased – will do their traditional work. Their traditional work is to blame the natural order. In this way, one can keep an exploitative system going … to the dogs. So, it turns out that demographics are the thing to blame for liquidating private and public pension plans, for zooming medical entitlement costs that are locked into a for profit medical and drug system, and so on.

The other mystery is different, but relates to the whole economic system of the West. Why is it that economic power hasn’t transferred much more rapidly and much more completely to the Third World? We will write about that mystery, with reference to Mancur Olson, in tomorrow’s post.

….

The WSJ article about the looming default of Delphi’s pension plan is a sort of map to the way the chattering classes give cover to the investment class’s big lie: the lie of our increasing collective poverty. The beginning is classic bizspeak:

“Delphi Corp.'s Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing represents more than just another Midwest metal-bender facing harsh reality. It marks a true reckoning for the traditional auto industry and the end of a 75-year-old way of life in America: that of the highly paid but unskilled worker. It was a noble concept, established largely by the United Auto Workers union in the 1930s. But it cannot withstand a global economy that has ended the UAW's labor monopoly in the auto industry, and a consumer body that won't pay more to subsidize costly employee benefits that most consumers themselves don't have.”

This is almost too brazen. In a world in which we’ve gotten used to CEOs taking home hundreds of millions of dollars in stock options, we’ve also gotten use to most consumers operating without a safety net. What this means is: ta ta, more consumers should be operating without a safety net. The logic here is superb.

For the past thirty years, our social order – or at least the economic dimension – has depended on reversing the ductus of the zeitgeist. Where we once read from right to left, from new deal to the social welfare state, we now read from left to right, from the social welfare state to gilded age levels of inequality. In April, LI was saying that the Bush administration’s attempt to loot social security with bogus stats about a crisis in the fund was a diversion from the true pension crisis, which was private. Since then, United has completed its robbery of its workers, Delta is working on a similar plan, and the CEO of Delphi, R.S. "Steve" Miller, is getting huge amounts of love in the business press because he has made tons of money taking companies into bankruptcy and dumping their pension obligations. Every once in a while, the oracles speak, and they reveal the ugly little truth that capitalism is class warfare. Warfare, of course, doesn’t have to be total. In the Keynesian order that lasted until the eighties, the truce that obtained allowed the investment class to accrue an advantage, but a smaller advantage, in the economy. This truce has been destroyed piecemeal since, but the price of that destruction has been delayed. We are going to be seeing what it means at a narrower distance to our own flesh in the coming decade, since the devil’s deal of the Reagan era is essentially unworkable: you cannot make a system in which the top one percent of households own 38 percent of the wealth and expect to continue to provide services based on a time when that upper one percent owned around fifteen percent. Obviously, the upper class knows this, and so its heroes are the innovators who draw the logical conclusion: let the dead bury their own dead, or: we can dump the costs of pensions for the workers on the workers and get away with it, cause nobody is going to call for some kind of giveback of upper management’s compensation packages, circa 1970 – 2000. Miller is a hero among business journalists because he’s up front about his thievery. The job, now, is to translate that thievery into inevitability. That, after all, is why we have a business section in the newspaper.

If I were to pick one image that typifies the ethics of the order that came after Reagan, I think the photo op of Bush, in Parkersburg West Virginia at the Bureau of Public Debt would do. That was the photo op in which he pointed to the “IOU”s accumulated by the Government by borrowing against the Social Security fund and laughingly remarked that they were merely paper. Since this paper had been borrowed against to finance his entire economic policy for the last four years, and since that economic policy consisted of throwing money at Big Pharma, war profiteers, and oil companies, this was a remarkable moment. A moment of truth, even. It told us who made money, how the machinery was designed for them to make money, and how criminally irresponsible that governing class was. It was a deeply moving moment, actually, like a frat house prank in a veteran's graveyard. One must consider the historic resonance: after all, the designers of the Reagan order were all in at the origin of that pile of IOUs, present at the creation, so to speak: Alan Greenspan, Reagan himself, the supply siders, all of them signing off in 1983. But a mere trillion to two trillion dollar rip off is not indicative of the whole splendor of this reactionary era’s deeper sicknesses. One has to really sift among the news of the private pension rip off and the way it is being managed as a p.r. coup to see the deeply sick bent of this order.

Here is the WSJ, making with the saliva about those lucky ducky auto workers:

For starters, the UAW's very success at obtaining job security and healthy pay for its members has put both achievements in mortal danger. Consider the benefits package, now worth some $40 an hour on top of wages, for workers at Delphi, GM and other Detroit car companies.

“The gold-plated medical benefits provide free choice of treatment with virtually no co-pays or deductibles. Retirees also get defined, and generous, pension payments for as long as they live, instead of the 401(k) accounts more typical nowadays. And workers can collect full pensions after 30 years on the job. Thus they can retire around age 50 and collect medical and pension benefits for more years than they actually worked. The contract forbids factory closings, and requires that laid-off workers get close to full pay and benefits while waiting in the "jobs bank" for real work. Delphi is paying out $100 million per quarter to 4,000 idled workers, Mr. Miller says. No wonder it was good while it lasted.”

And here’s something that is still good, and will last as long as the Bush culture can support it. From Money magazine, in 2003 (meaning that the compensation figures are a little short – CEOs get more now):

“While many Americans are cashing their final unemployment checks and wondering how they’ll pay next month’s bills, the top brass at our nation’s biggest companies could hardly pick a better time to be laid off.

Chief executives leaving S&P 500 companies pocketed a cool $16.5 million on average in the past two years on the way out the door. And there's little sign yet that the going rate for executive departure has come down.

That $16.5 million doesn’t even count juicy perks like gold-plated pension plans, rich stock option grants, health benefits, or use of corporate jets and company secretaries. These goodies can bump up the value of the typical executive severance package by an additional 50%. “

Monday, October 17, 2005

FUNDRAISING

Fund Raising Week, Month, Whatever

Okay, ladies and germs. LI’s official fundraising week is kicking off.

Harry has pretty much told me how to put together LI’s product line and what the contribution thresholds should be. The man has bowled me over with his web canniness.

Here's how this is going to work. I am setting up an account with Cafe Press. I'll put the link to that account up this week. So it will be possible to go directly to the Cafe Press and simply choose your items. Or you can go through me, telling me what you want and where you want your item shipped.

So, here’s the list:

We are offering, to those who fork over 50 bucks, the organic t shirt here:


To those who fork over 30 bucks, the regular t shirt shown on our stunning model, here:


Of course, those who want multiple t shirts for Halloween, Christmas, The feast of the platypus messiah day, etc. – all your favorite Christian, Jewish, Islamic and Sex positive holidays – should tell me.

Those who want the Dopamine Cowboys Movement Logo emblazoned on the back, please send me emails.

If you want to contribute to LI directly, you can either press the handy Paypal button you will find on the sidebar (looking at this page on your internet explorer browser). Or you can mail checks, piggybanks, or whatever to our address:

Roger Gathman
615 Upson, #203
Austin, Texas 78703

The essence of fundraising is to find that discrete equilibrium point between being obnoxious and being too obnoxious and to stand on it with spiked shoes. On a blog, I think that means: I will be putting up please contribute to LI posts, or otherwise adding that to posts, until we are all heartily sick of it and we see if anything comes of it.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

sell or smoke dope, get out of jail free

LI’s recommended read: In the LAT today, there is a piece by the ex police chief of Seattle Washington, Norm Stamper, that lays out the case for legalizing drugs. Not just pot – heroin, meth, etc. Cops aren’t usually this sensible. But occasionally a man comes forward who can add and subtract.

“As a cop, I bore witness to the multiple lunacies of the "war on drugs." Lasting far longer than any other of our national conflicts, the drug war has been prosecuted with equal vigor by Republican and Democratic administrations, with one president after another — Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush — delivering sanctimonious sermons, squandering vast sums of taxpayer money and cheerleading law enforcers from the safety of the sidelines.

It's not a stretch to conclude that our draconian approach to drug use is the most injurious domestic policy since slavery. Want to cut back on prison overcrowding and save a bundle on the construction of new facilities? Open the doors, let the nonviolent drug offenders go. The huge increases in federal and state prison populations during the 1980s and '90s (from 139 per 100,000 residents in 1980 to 482 per 100,000 in 2003) were mainly for drug convictions. In 1980, 580,900 Americans were arrested on drug charges. By 2003, that figure had ballooned to 1,678,200. We're making more arrests for drug offenses than for murder, manslaughter, forcible rape and aggravated assault combined. Feel safer?”


One of the reasons for LI's sporadic crusade to dig the moderate wing of the Republican party out of the grave in which lies buried deep is that there are issues on which moderate Republicans can act as unique brokers. Between Hillary Clinton's It takes a village to jail your ass for vices we don't like and the moral majority Republican party's lets execute drug dealers, a logical drug policy doesn't stand a chance. Only some combination of libertarian thinking and concern about the incredible gulag the U.S. has burdened itself with is going to work, here.