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Showing posts from September 30, 2012

Zona and the Ponzi scheme

   -New Masses.                                                                                                               I have a tendency to relapse into simple minded Marxist explanations, a habit that has served me well as the Great Recession mangles on. One of Marx's contentions was that capitalism tends to immiserate the proles. This is an often laughed at contention - what ho, all the prosperity generated in the freemarket West lo these many years! And in fact much prosperity was generated when there was a strong union factor able to swing the government - naturally, the ally of the rich - into using its countervailing power. But as we look at the facts and figures that stream in about the Great Moderation over the last coupla decades, one thing is striking: the average household in America owes as much as it owns. Or in other words - in practical accounting terms, Marx scores! The great moderation is so called because the condition under which the regime in which cr

On the death of character

On June 18, 1944, a detachment of prisoners from Auschwitz were unloaded at Kaufering, five kilometers from Landsberg   Germany, and collected into a concentration camp there. The prisoners were set to work building large underground bunkers that were intended to protect an airplane parts factory. According to a secret account kept by one of the prisoners, a priest, Jules Jost, about 28,838 Jewish prisoners were kept there, including 4200 women and 850 children. At the same time, an army doctor named Gottfried Benn was stationed in Landsberg. Benn is of course one of Germany’s most famous twentieth century poets. In 1933, he had sided with Hitler, and written a famous letter addressed to emigrés writers – and really to Klaus Mann – in which he wrote that their complaints were besides the point. When they called Hitlerism “barbaric”, Benn wrote, they were betraying their own intellectual inadequacy and obsolescence: “… this is my counter-question, how do you imagine history move

myths of american capitalism

Myths of American Capitalism Inspired by Joseph Stiglitz discovery that the American Dream is a “myth” – which would seem tautological to me, but I’m not an economist – I have been thinking about current myths in American capitalism. It seems to me that the top one, at the moment, has to do with upper management. It goes like this: upper management in American companies are paid top dollar because, like athletes, they have certain irreplaceable skills that make them worth it. This idea is hauled out every time a company has a good couple of years. GE makes fifty billion dollars in profit over four or five years, and Jack Welch is hosannahed as a genius. There are two parts to this myth. The first part is that upper management and professional athletes are in the same category. The best answer to this is: nobody ever bought a gadget from Microsoft because they had seen Steve Jobs manage the product from R and D to the market.  Athletes and movie stars aren’t paid f

Life without resistance

Watching Hollande move to Sarkozy-lite policies, and his economics minister, Moscovici, respond to a question about Keynesian politics as though Keynes were the new devil (poor Marx, downgraded to second devil status!), one … lurches between disbelief and the sense that this was all pre-ordained. Both the Left and the Right in Europe accepted the neo-liberal straight-jacket long ago. It has worked out well – for the upper tier of bureaucrats in both the public and private sectors. The social distance between this tier and the man I came upon, yesterday, sleeping in the street before the post office on the Rue des Archives, yawns as wide as ever the distance between the 18 th century aristocracy and the peasantry. Chamfort, one of my favorite dark writers, tells an anecdote in his Maxims and Portraits about one of the daughters of one of the Princesses, that is, one of the granddaughters of   Louis XV. She was playing with one of the maid servants and she looked at the maid’s hand,