Complications of leaderlessness

From a piece in today’s Financial Times by their Middle East editor, Roula Khalaf: Well beyond the scene of bloodshed, the mood of Cairo was transformed, from euphoria to frustration. The memories of that glorious February moment in Egyptian history were fading as people were stuck back in the grind of daily life, finding that little had changed. In Tahrir Square, I looked for a monument to the revolution and its martyrs, but could find none, as if the upheaval has not reached its conclusion. The youth movements that mesmerised the Arab world… Read More

OWS: rising to discursive hegemony!

Well, maybe not exactly. But here’s the cover of the October 24 New Yorker:       Yeah, it’s funny. Caricatured elites protesting to defend privilege. But Occupying Wall Street is setting the agenda. Bourgeois organs have to respond, if only ironically. Bush’s speechwriter Matthew Dowd used to say that if you oppose us while still using our language, we’re winning. Looks like someone different is winning, at least for now.

Keynes on bizmen as “domestic animals”

This is from a February 1938 letter by John Maynard Keynes to Franklin Roosevelt, expressing his alarm at the return to slump in 1937–38, and offering suggestions on how to reverse it. I’ve cleaned up a few marks and jacked up the contrast to make it more legible. The whole letter is really worth reading; it’s full of sentences like “The handling of the housing problem has been really wicked.” The bourgeoisie doesn’t make them like these two anymore. (Click on the graphic to enlarge it.)   Thanks for the pointer, Mike Konczal.

Taking the measure of OWS

Pollster Doug Schoen, who’s worked for Bill Clinton and Michael Bloomberg, sent a researcher into Zuccotti Park on October 10 and 11 to take the measure of the Occupiers. Schoen wrote up his conclusions from this effort in a now-discredited op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: Our research shows clearly that the movement doesn’t represent unemployed America and is not ideologically diverse. Rather, it comprises an unrepresentative segment of the electorate that believes in radical redistribution of wealth, civil disobedience and, in some instances, violence. As several writers have pointed out, notably Azi Paybarah, Schoen… Read More

OWS: it never stops!

Edited version of my October 22 radio commentary. Sorry for repeating myself on Occupy Wall Street, but it seems pretty important. An acquaintance in Australia posted this to a discussion group the other day: This is I truly hope the very beginning of the reconstruction and the rediscovery of an American Left. I keep banging on about this, but American comrades must understand how this is galvanising the world. If the Left in America re-emerges as an historical agent, then a lot will become possible. All this, from what started as a small encampment in… Read More

OWS takes a walk uptown

No doubt you’ve all heard and read about the huge and wonderful Occupy Wall Street satellite rally in Times Square this afternoon. This crowd was anything but the shiftless hippies of Ann Coulter’s imagining. I bet a lot of them were Democrats, which means that the process of productive disillusionment I’d hoped for in the summer of 2008 is finally kicking into gear, after a long delay: Enough critique; the dialectic demands something constructive to induce some forward motion. There’s no doubt that Obamalust does embody some phantasmic longing for a better world—more… Read More

On the Fed (from my book Wall Street

This is the section on the Federal Reserve from my book Wall Street: How It Works and for Whom (Verso, 1997). The complete text can be downloaded here. It’s a little out of date—the Fed is more open now than it was 15 years ago, at least superficially—but it’s still fundamentally right. Two quick updates: 1) The Fed now releases summaries of its policy decisions right after the FOMC meeting. They’re somewhat sanitized, but still informative. 2) The annual profit it turns over to the Treasury has more recently been around $25 billion. Last… Read More

On OWS and the Fed

[I haven’t been posting my radio commentaries here in a while. Here’s some of October 8’s.] Rethinking OWS Turning to larger issues, not only does Occupy Wall Street continue, it’s grown in numbers and prominence—several major unions marched in solidarity earlier this week in Lower Manhattan—and it’s spreading around the country. It’s focusing attention on issues of inequality and exploitation in a way we haven’t seen in ages. And Democratic politicians are looking pressured to say sympathetic things—though I suspect they’re just looking to take advantage of the thing for their own… Read More

The Wall Street worldview

Wall Street’s favorite economist, Ed Hyman, likes to annotate headlines and news snippets. In today’s morning report, he groups some under “depressing” and others under “encouraging.” Depressing Unions Join Wall St Protest (NYT) Senate Democrats proposed a 5% surtax on incomes over $1m (WSJ) Encouraging Merkel Ready to Aid Banks (IBD) The BoE expanded its bond-purchase plan to $420b from $300b (Bloomberg) IMF Considers Plan to Purchase European Bonds (WSJ) Gotta love that state when it supports The Market, eh?

Ideological notes

I know this will prompt more rebukes for trying to impose an anachronistic old left on the spontaneously new, but someone’s got to do it. I read this quote in the New York Times the other day. I know that that may not be the go-to medium for reports on Occupy Wall Street, but it’s not unrepresentative of some of the things I’ve seen and heard first hand from that quarter: “This is not about left versus right,” said the photographer, Christopher Walsh, 25, from Bushwick, Brooklyn. “It’s about hierarchy versus autonomy.” Autonomy in… Read More

The Occupy Wall Street non-agenda

I’m not here to disparage Occupy Wall Street; I admire the tenacity and nerve of the occupiers, and hope it grows. But I’m both curious and frustrated by the inability of the organizers, whoever they are exactly, or the participants, an endlessly shifting population, to say clearly and succinctly why they’re there. Yes, I know that certain liberals are using that to malign the protesters. I’m not. I desperately hope that something comes of this. But there’s a serious problem with this speechlessness. Certainly the location of the protest is a statement,… Read More

1930s phantasms from the right: how to make up stories with numbers

Economists Harold Cole and Lee Ohanian have a piece in the Wall Street Journal that deserves a prize for the devious use of statistics. They want to argue that fiscal stimulus is bad, and the New Deal only made the Depression worse. This is a familiar argument on the right—and I even heard it once from a Marxist economist—but it’s just not true. Here’s the prize-eligible statement: But boosting aggregate demand did not end the Great Depression. After the initial stock market crash of 1929 and subsequent economic plunge, a recovery began… Read More

Was there a housing boom? Yes.

Matt Yglesias, striking that contrarian tone beloved of bloggers (something you’d never find here, of course!), declares that there was no housing boom. Or, more precisely, though there was a boom in house prices, there was no boom in construction. To make this point, Yglesias uses one on those ubiquitous St. Louis Fed graphs, this one of the history of housing starts since 1970. Sure enough, it sorta supports his point. But this is only a very partial view. Here’s a fuller one. First of all, the boom wasn’t just about new houses—there… Read More

Obama’s “progressive base”

I just read this in a magazine: “Obama will also need a push from the progressive base that elected him in 2008….” Wow. Sad. Give it up, guys. He’s just not that into you.

Quoted by the John Birch Society!

Yesterday, Noam Chomsky. Today, the John Birch Society! My post about the SF Fed study on how less than 3% of U.S. consumer spending is on Chinese-made products got picked up by the JBS’s The New American: Everything’s Made in China? Not Quite. Who knew they still existed? Actually, I did, but it’s kind of easy to forget sometimes.