Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 28, 2015

A coup in Greece?

I emailed Yanis Varoufakis last night and asked how he was holding up. To my surprise, he answered:

“[W]e certainly are facing a coup. The wall of lies is becoming absurdly tall.”

Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 12, 2015

Hillary’s announcement

Good lord, Hillary’s announcement video is appallingly banal. As someone said on my Facebook page, it’s like an old United Colors of Benetton ad. For perspective, here’s Carl Bernstein’s description of Bill’s first inauguration:

Every opportunity was exploited to contrast the egalitarian values and youth of the Clintons with the privileged era of Reagan and Bush, a plutocratic epoch that Hillary, more than Bill, believed was now in final retreat; and to proclaim a transparency in government that would extinguish all vestiges of Nixonian secrecy and paranoia in the White House. The tab for the week of celebration was fit for a pasha, running to more than $25 million, a record unsurpassed until George W. Bush’s $40 million extravaganza in 2000. Most of it was financed by the same kind of special interest and corporate back-scratching that had long paid the bills for Republican presidential campaigns and inaugurations. The new Democratic president seemed to justify it because of the “new direction” of his leadership. The explanation, with its attendant sense of entitlement, sounded positively Hillaryesque. Hillary thought the price in dollars was justified by the all-embracing message of every theme tent on the Mall, including Native American heritage, gay rights, country music, clog dancers, wood choppers, and unionized stevedores.

There was a marching band whose members were all physically disabled; there were 120 men and women carrying an oversized section of the AIDS memorial quilt; there was a float celebrating American family life that included a lesbian couple and two gay men; another featured an Elvis impersonator (and members of the King’s original band). As the twenty-two-unit Lesbian and Gay Bands of America passed the reviewing stand, the new president and vice president each held up three fingers — a sign-language salute to the marchers meaning “I love you.”

Posted by: Doug Henwood | April 2, 2015

Strike Debt & the Corinthian resisters

Someone asked me on Facebook yesterday what I’d written on Strike Debt and I posted some links from this site. One of the Strike Debt organizers, Astra Taylor, wrote me to complain how hard that was to read after all the work she and others have done organizing debt resistance at Corinthian College. She’s right, and I’m sorry to have brought all that up again.

I wrote those critiques of the debt buyback program, which seemed politically murky to me. But the Corinthian actions are totally admirable. Corinthian is a chain of crappy for-profit colleges that fleeced students for debt-financed tuition. It’s winding down now, under federal order. A group of 100 students, organized with the help of Strike Debt, is refusing to pay their federal loans, and are petitioning to have them forgiven because their degrees are worthless. They had a meeting with federal officials on Tuesday, who appear to be taking their position seriously, though we know how the bourgeois state sometimes pretends to listen and then does what it wants.

This is both good for the students and a good way to draw attention to these horrendous commercial colleges, which peddle worthless degrees financed with money borrowed from the government. Thanks to Strike Debt and the Corinthian 100 for getting it going, and I’m sorry I took so long to celebrate it.

Astra sent these links for more info:

Posted by: Doug Henwood | March 13, 2015

Fresh audio product

Now up in my radio archive:

March 12, 2015 Gene Nichol on North Carolina’s war on poor people and on academic freedom • Eilyanna Kaiser and Brendan Michael Conner, respectively co-editor and contributor to $pread: The Best of the Magazine that Illuminated the Sex Industry and Started a Media Revolution, on the perils and delights of running a magazine by and for sex workers

March 5, 2015 Mark Ames, author of this article, tells us who Boris Nemtsov, the dissident shot on the streets of Moscow last week, was • David Kotz, author of The Rise and Fall of Neoliberal Capitalism, talks about the history and structure of the beast

February 26, 2015 James Galbraith on Greece’s deal with its Euromasters • Kenzo Shibata of the Campaign for An Elected, Representative School Board on Rahm Emanuel and Chicago politics

February 19, 2015 Jane McAlevey, author of this article (and this book) on Bruce Rauner’s attack on public sector unions in Illinois and on how labor and the left need a theory of power

back after fundraising break—if you like these shows and want to keep them coming, please support KPFA

Posted by: Doug Henwood | February 9, 2015

The productivity slowdown: Is structural stagnation our fate?

In my widely overlooked book, After the New Economy, I initially took a very skeptical line towards the productivity acceleration of the late 1990s. I dismissed it as temporary and bubble-like, and an artifact of very imperfect measurement. When I wrote a new afterword for the paperback edition, though, I recanted my skepticism: the acceleration seemed to be going on long enough that, as painful as it was to admit, the bourgeois functionaries were right. Robert Solow’s famous 1987 quip, “You can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics,” had finally been repealed.

I should have stuck to my guns. The productivity acceleration was already losing air as the hardcover version of the book appeared, and was pretty much history by the time the paperback came out in late 2004. And now things look worse than they did during the infamous productivity slowdown of the 1970s and 1980s.

What happened? The consensus of the academic work on the acceleration was that while it took a while to have practical effect, the computer revolution was finally exerting its magic on economic life. The enthusiasm around high tech led to an acceleration in investment, investment that paid off in the form of the productivity acceleration. (It also gave rise to one of the great bubbles of all time, the mania, not to mention a lot of bunkum about the end of recessions and the birth of a new world of flatter hierarchies and meaningful work, but I’ll hold off on the mockery for now.) The unemployment rate got below 4%, and wages grew across the entire distribution, and within every demographic group—until it all came to an end with the bust of 2000–2001.

Here’s a graph that puts the productivity acceleration in perspective.


(The trend line is drawn using a statistical technique called a Hodrick–Prescott filter, which extracts the underlying trend from noisy short-term data.)

Note that during the economic Golden Age—roughly 1950–1973—trend productivity growth averaged 2.8% a year. That sank to 1.5% between 1974 and 1995, then rose to match that 2.8% figure between 1996 and 2005. At the end of last year, trend productivity growth was a dismal 0.6% a year, the worst since these modern numbers began.

What happened? For one, the rise in investment in equipment and software—much of that in information technology (IT)—that drove the late-1990s acceleration went into reverse, as the following graph shows.


The decline came in several phases—a sharp drop after the bubble burst in 2000, which was very partially reversed in the mid-2000s, only to collapse further during the Great Recession. Most of that recent collapse has been retraced, but it’s still below its 2007 peak, which itself was way below the 2000 peak. Recent levels are well below the long-term average shown by the dotted line.

But it’s not just about quantities. A qualitative explanation has just arrived from the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s frequently-interesting Economic Letter. In it, economist John Fernald and Bing Wang. Their analysis is that “the low-hanging fruit of IT-based innovation had been plucked.” (They’re economists, so they can be forgiven the use of that cliché.) Just as the acceleration of the late 1990s was driven by IT-using and heavy IT-using industrial sectors, the slowdown has been led by those sectors as well. In other words, the magic has gone out of IT.

Though they don’t endorse it explicitly, this sounds reminiscent of the analysis of economist Robert Gordon (as in this paper), who argues that we’ve exhausted the great innovations in info tech, which themselves were rather minor when compared to the achievements of earlier industrial revolutions like the steam engine and the railroad.

Why does this all matter? Productivity growth puts an upper bound on economy-wide income growth. Politics and institutions determine how that growth is distributed—for the last few decades in the U.S., most of those gains have gone to the top tiers. That need not be, if politics and institutions change. Stronger unions, better labor law, and a more civilized welfare state could change how income is distributed. But if productivity growth remains this slow, or picks up to the 1% range that Gordon foresees, then there’s a lot less to (re)distribute. And if this is so, then structural stagnation will long be with us.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 30, 2015

Support KPFA! Get Best of Behind the News, vers 6.0!

As I’ve said many times before, I wouldn’t be doing my radio show were it not on KPFA. So if you like Behind the News, support KPFA. And there’s a lot of great stuff on the station during the other 167 hours of the week, too.

You can get a collection of 77 interviews I call the Best of Behind the News, vers 6.0. It includes all 16 of the interviews I’ve done with Yanis Varoufakis. Yeah, of course these are all on the web, but here they are collected in one place, with the added bonus of supporting KPFA. Yours for a contribution of $120.

Here are the interviews, along with the date of original broadcast:

Best of Behind the News, version 6
interviews with Doug Henwood, 2002–2014
* new to BtN 6

 1 Gilbert Achcar (7/11/13)           Egypt's uprisings
 2 Amiri Baraka (1/11/07)             poetry in New Jersey, politics in Newark
 3 Moustafa Bayoumi (8/14/08)         being Arab in the US
 4 Max Blumenthal (11/7/13)           repression and daily life in Israel
 5 Mark Blyth (5/2/13)                austerity: history of a dangerous idea
 6 Ian Bone (3/15/07)                 anarchist organizing and the hideousness of the rich
 7 Dennis Brutus (12/31/09)           poet and activist on South Africa
 8 Darius Charney (8/22/13)           the NYPD's odious stop & frisk policy
 9 George Ciccariello-Maher (3/14/13) Venezuela under Chavez
10 Alexander Cockburn (8/27/11)       on the media and the devolution of politics
11 Stephanie Coontz (1/16/14)         why men need feminism
12 Hamid Dabashi (4/12/07)            history and culture of Iran
13 Jodi Dean (12/18/10)               the political psychology of blogging
14 Mark Dery (5/26/12)                perspectives on pop culture and beheading
15 Mark Dery (6/20/13)                Bowie, glam rock, male sexuality
16 Robert Fatton (1/21/10)            on the history and politics of Haiti
17 Cordelia Fine (11/27/10)           the questionable science of gender
18 Alan Finlayson (6/13/13)           Bonoism
19 Robert Fitch (2/9/06)              corruption and ossification in American unions
20 Adolfo Gilly (3/13/08)             Mexican history, revolutionary pessimism
21 *Dana Goldstein (9/11/14)          the history of education politics in the U.S.
22 Melissa Gira Grant (3/6/14)        sex work as work
23 David Graeber (8/13/11)            money and debt
24 Greg Grandin (3/6/14)              the history behind Melville's Benito Cereno
25 *Kevin Alexander Gray (10/30/14)   racist police and vigilante violence
26 *Margaret Gray (6/19/14)           the exploited workers behind the local food movement
27 Ursula Huws (10/2/03)              work today
28 David Cay Johnston (9/3/11)        how the rich don't pay taxes
29 Terry Kupers (3/28/13)             the psychology of imprisonment
30 Rachel Kushner (6/27/13)           politics, motorcycles, and her novel The Flamethrowers
31 Carrie Lane (4/9/11)               how unemployed tech workers see themselves
32 Anatol Lieven (3/20/14)            Ukraine & Russia
33 Catherine Liu (1/28/12)            education and the bogus politics of “anti-elitism”
34 James Livingston (4/28/12)         the consumer culture as a liberatory thing
35 Kate Losse (4/4/13)                Facebook and Sheryl Sandberg
36 Mariana Mazzucato (8/29/13)        the economic role of the state
37 Terry Moe (5/28/11)                right-wing school “reformer”
38 Bethany Moreton (6/6/09)           religion and Walmart
39 *Naomi Murakawa (8/28/14)          the liberal contribution to mass incarceration
40 Christian Parenti (7/2/11)         climate change, state collapse, war
41 Christian Parenti (1/23/14)        nature, capital, state
42 William Pepper (1/23/03)           MLK assassination
43 Frances Fox Piven (11/19/11)       OWS in the context of social movements
44 Diane Ravitch (4/8/10)             the monstrosities of education reform
45 Sanjay Reddy (9/12/13)             Indian economy
46 Adolph Reed (4/9/11)               politics and race
47 Adolph Reed (2/27/14)              the long sad decline of the American left
48 Corey Robin (10/1/11)              the conservative mind
49 Kshama Sawant (4/24/14)            $15 minimum, how to make radical politics practical
50 Richard Seymour (4/11/13)          Margaret Thatcher
51 Gary Shteyngart (9/23/10)          on his novel Super Sad True Love Story, and American decline
52 Jennifer Silva (11/21/13)          the consciousness of younger working class adults
53 Joseph Stiglitz (8/15/02)          U.S. economy, IMF
54 *Sarah Stillman (6/26/14)          for-profit probation and "offender-funded justice"
55 Matt Taibbi (4/23/11)              where all that Fed bailout money went
56 *Matt Taibbi (5/22/14)             criminalizing the poor while letting bankers run free
57 Gore Vidal (5/16/02)               war on terror
58 *Alex Vitale (8/14/14)             the theory and practice of broken-windows policing
59 Richard Walker (11/13/10)          the wreckage of California
60 Richard Walker (2/20/14)           California's physical and social geography, history, economy, ecology
61 Kathi Weeks (7/18/13)              the problem with work

Yanis Varoufakis package (all new to BtN 6)

    1 12/11/08                        the Greek riots and Greek neoliberalism
    2 10/8/09                         Greek elections and the economy's growing troubles
    3 3/4/10                          the Greek economic crisis (and Germany’s designs)
    4 9/9/10                          fact-checking Michael Lewis on Greece
    5 10/23/10                        the Greek and broader eurozone crises
    6 11/20/10                        a better way to to a Euro-bailout
    7 6/4/11                          updating the crises
    8 8/20/11                         another update as the crises spread westwards
    9 11/12/11                        yet another crisis update
   10 3/3/12                          the Greek debt deal and economic collapse
   11 6/21/12                         the Greek election, German Sturheit
   12 7/5/12                          the economics of gaming
   13 12/27/12                        the perpetual Eurocrisis
   14 3/21/13                         Australia and Cyprus, as well as Greece
   15 5/29/14                         the European elections
   16 11/20/14                        crises—and what Syriza would do with the debt
Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 30, 2015

Varoufakis: “be prepared to blow the whole thing up”

The radio show I just posted consists of excerpts from five interviews I’ve done since 2008 with the Greek economist Yanis Varoufakis, who is now the country’s finance minister. Anyone interested in the strategy that Greece might pursue in negotiations with its creditors should listen.

The show concludes with Varoufakis describing an aggressive negotiating strategy:

[T]o negotiate, to be taken seriously, you have to have a credible threat. You have to be prepared to blow the whole thing up, simply by being intransigent if you’re not taken seriously. So this is my recommendation. Prepare for a very tough, very painful, potentially explosive negotiation.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 30, 2015

Fresh audio product

Freshly posted to my radio archive, after too long an interval:

January 29, 2015 Yanis Varoufakis, the Greek economist who’s appeared on this show 16 times since 2008 discussing mainly the Eurocrisis, is now the finance minister of Greece. Here are excerpts from 5 of those interviews. At the very end of this episode, he discusses what Greece’s strategy towards its creditors should be. Tough words, worth checking out. [See next post for an incendiary excerpt.]

January 22, 2015 Priyamvada Gopal, author of this article, on the curious relationship of freedom and unfreedom in Western words and deeds • Maya Schenwar, author of Locked Down, Locked Out, on imprisonment.

January 15, 2015 Lily Geismer, author of Don’t Blame Usdiscusses the evolution of suburban liberalism • Art Goldhammer on French satire and politics in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo massacre

January 8, 2015 Stan Collender on the budget melodramas facing us in Washington this year • David Kotz, author of this article, on about the Russian economic crisis

January 1, 2015 (partial return after fundraising and holiday hiatus) encore presentation of two interviews on policing and prisons:  Alex Vitale on broken windows and the militarization of policing • Naomi Murakawa, author of The First Civil Right, on the underestimated contributions of liberals to mass incarceration (both first broadcast in August)

Note that KPFA is in a fundraiser for the next couple of weeks. I probably won’t be posting a show next week. But if you like Behind the News and want to keep it coming, please contribute! You can get a USB thumb drive with 77 interviews, The Best of Behind the News 6.0, for a pledge of $120. Any amount welcome, of course. Please mention Behind the News if you do contribute.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 28, 2015

Yanis Varoufakis: on BtN 16 times!

The new Greek finance minister Yanis Varoufakis has appeared on my radio show 16 times since 2008. Here are links to those appearances, in reverse chronological order:

November 20, 2014 Yanis Varoufakis on the eurocrisis • Howie Hawkins, Green candidate for NYS governor, on the party’s future
May 29, 2014 Yanis Varoufakis on the European elections • Mohamad Elmasry on Egypt
March 21, 2013 Yanis Varoufakis on the economies of Australia, Cyprus, and Greece • Jonathan Westin of Fast Food Forward on organizing fast food workers in NYC
December 27, 2012 Michael Dorsey on the Doha climate conference • Yanis Varoufakison the perpetual Eurocrisis, with an emphasis on Greece
July 5, 2012 Adolph Reed, author of one of the pieces on this Nation thread, on the crisis in labor • Yanis Varoufakis, now economist in residence at Valve Software, talks about the economics of gaming, and the anarcho-syndicalist organization of the firm
June 21, 2012 Yanis Varoufakis, now economist in residence at Valve Software, on the Greek elections and the reasons for German Sturheit • Amber Hollibaugh, co-director of Queers for Economic Justice, and Kenyon Farrow, former director of QEJ, on the New Queer Agenda


March 3, 2012 Trudy Lieberman on health care reform so far • Yanis Varoufakis on the Greek debt deal and economic collapse
November 12, 2011 Yanis Varoufakis on the latest developments in the Eurocrisis • Ramsey Kanaan, co-founder of PM Press, on the theory and practice of anarchism


August 20, 2011 Max Ajl, the Jewbonics blogger, on why Israelis are in the streets and how talk of the Occupation is not welcome • Yanis Varoufakis updates the eurocrisis as it spreads westwards


June 4, 2011 Another Hoover interview: Morris Fiorina on American public opinion and the nonexistence of the “culture war” • And in non-Hoover content, Yanis Varoufakisupdates the Greek and EU crises


November 20, 2010 Monica Potts, author of this article, on (the lack of) green jobs • Yanis Varoufakis, author of this article, on a better way to do a eurozone bailout


October 23, 2010 (KPFA only) Michael Tafton the Irish crisis • Yanis Varoufakis on the Greek and broader eurozone crises


September 9, 2010 Liz McNichol of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities on the fiscal crisis of the states • Yanis Varoufakis of the University of Athens fact-checks Michael Lewis Vanity Fair article on Greece
March 4, 2010David Cay Johnston on the Austin IRS suicide pilot and how the rich have largely given up on paying taxes • Yanis Varoufakis on the Greek economic crisis (and Germany’s designs)
October 8, 2009 Yanis Varoufakis on the Greek elections and the economy’s troubles • Greg Grandin on the coup in Honduras
December 11, 2008 Charlie Komanoff on a plan to make NYC transit nearly free (by soaking cars) • Yanis Varoufakis on the Greek riots and Greek neoliberalism


Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 28, 2015

A reader writes…

From the mailbag: a reader reacts to my last post on unions:

I have some feedback for you on your article,”Why Bosses Hate Unions.”

I found it just a really poor piece of journalism.  It was incredibly one-sided, pandering, and missed several key issues.  Yes, union workers make more money than their counterparts, but that is not the only reason bosses (or more accurately shareholders) hate unions.  Unions also:

– Decrease innovation
– Increase Administration cost
– Force non-related political issues into the workplace
– Increase costs of employment – union wages
– Reduce the ability to promote, demote and fire employees based on performance

This is one of MANY reasons why unions have fallen out of favor in our society. This is the main reason that public unions are increasing, vs private ones have shrunken – the feedback loop to results in the public sector is much smaller. (See hundreds of NY teachers being paid to do nothing)

Why didn’t you address this issues?  Why didn’t you address the issues of increase competition due to globalization/technology?  Why didn’t you further discuss the downsides of unionization and how many American’s perceive them to be out-of-date?

You didn’t because you are biased and a bad reporter.

Be less obtuse,

Posted by: Doug Henwood | January 23, 2015

Union density erodes again—and why bosses hate unions

The Bureau of Labor Statistics is just out with its figures on union membership in 2014. Overall membership, aka density, fell to 11.1% of the workforce, from 11.3% in 2013. The decline was more than entirely the result of slippage in the private sector, down from 6.7% to 6.6%. Public sector density, perhaps surprisingly, rose, from 35.3% to 35.7%. Since private sector employment is more than five times that of the public sector, the private sector decline dominated the public sector’s rise, producing the overall drop.

Here’s a graph of union density over time. Current private sector density is half what it was in 1930, just before the great surge in membership during the Depression. Its rate of decline has slowed over the last decade, but there’s no sign of a turnaround. And despite the uptick in public sector density last year, the line has been essentially flat for 30 years.


By age group, union membership rose only among the youngest (16-24) and oldest (65+) cohorts. The decline was sharper for adult men (-0.3 point) than women (-0.1). By race/ethnicity, density declined among whites (-0.2), blacks (-0.4), and Hispanics (-0.2), but rose a full percentage point for Asians.

Density declined for most occupational and industry groups, with some interesting exceptions. By occupation, management, law, healthcare practitioners, and sales all bucked the downward trend; by industry, broadcasting/telecommunications; arts, entertainment, and recreation; accommodations; and bars and restaurants all rose (though the last just barely). The lists of gainers are at odds with the traditional image of unions. Efforts to organize retail showed little payoff, as density fell 0.2 point. Within the public sector, union membership rose at the federal and local levels, and declined at the state level—it looks like that’s where the effort to destroy public sector unionism is having its effect.

Union status matters for wages: overall, unionized workers earned 27% more than nonunion (measured by median weekly earnings for full-time workers). The effect was especially pronounced for weaker, more discriminated-against demographic groups. The youngest group, aged 16–24, enjoyed a 28% union premium; the advantage declined with each successive cohort, down to 12% for the 65+ set. Women aged 25 and older enjoyed a 27% premium, compared to 15% for men. White men (16 and over) had a 20% union advantage, compared with 32% for white women; for black men, the premium was 29%, compared to 34% for black women; and for Hispanics, it was 44% for men and 46% for women. Asian men were a notable exception, with the unionized earning 5% less than the non-unionized—but Asian women showed a 14% union premium.

It’s no wonder employers hate unions so much. As profoundly flawed as American unions are, they can vastly improve the wages and working conditions of their members.

[Technical note: all the figures above refer to union members; they don’t include the 1.2% of the workforce that is represented by unions without being members. If you include them, all the trends are almost identical to what’s outlined above.]

Posted by: Doug Henwood | December 24, 2014

That john a. powell talk…

The excerpts from the talk by Berkeley law prof john a. powell [sic] that Adolph Reed and I discuss on my December 25 radio show can be found here.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | December 4, 2014

Fresh audio product

Just added to my radio archive:

December 4, 2014 Anatol Lieven of Georgetown U–Qatar (and author of this) on Hillary the Hawk • Alex Vitale, author of City of Disorder, on Ferguson in the context of American policing

November 27, 2014 Lucia Green-Weiskel on the U.S.–China climate quasi-deal • Steven Teles talks about Hillary, kludgeocracy, and neoliberalism.

November 20, 2014 Yanis Varoufakis on the eurocrisis • Howie Hawkins, Green candidate for NYS governor, on the party’s future

November 13, 2014 Detroit bankruptcy exit special: Shea Howell of Detroiters Resisting Emergency Management, offers an activist perspective, and Wallace Turbeville (see writings here) runs the numbers

Posted by: Doug Henwood | November 10, 2014

Fresh audio product, in quantity

Catching up on a major backlog of fresh audio product, just posted to my radio archives:

September 18, 2014 Gilbert Achcar on the Middle Eastern landscape

September 25, 2014 Mark Blyth on the Scottish independence referendum • Laleh Khalili on the theory and practice of counterinsurgency.

October 23, 2014 [back after fundraising hiatus]  Ryan Grim (author of this article) on Gary Webb, crack, and the CIA • Jake Blumgart (author of this article) on a mini-Detroit on the outskirts of Philadelphia

October 30, 2014  Kevin Alexander Gray, co-editor of Killing Trayvonson racist police and vigilante violence • Trudy Lieberman on the snares of Obamacare

November 6, 2014 Heather Boushey, director of the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, on inequality • George Joseph, author of this article, on Teach for America

Note the fundraising gap. If you like these shows and want to keep them coming, please contribute to KPFA—and mention Behind the News if you do.

Posted by: Doug Henwood | November 10, 2014

More Hillary

Me on CNN, interviewed by Andrew Cuomo’s brother, of all people.

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