Friday, July 29, 2016

The Meaning Of "Growth"


Economists are obsessed with growth. Unfortunately, Jim Stanford writes, they define the term much too narrowly -- because they assume that good growth is inextricably linked to profit. Progressives should be fighting this idea. Growth means much more than profit. It really means "work:"

"Growth" has to be correctly defined and measured, and we must always be crystal clear that lifting living, social and environmental standards -- not "growth" for its own sake -- is our goal. In this context, I prefer to discuss "work" rather than "growth," since after all human productive activity ("work," broadly defined) is the only thing that adds value to the natural resources we harvest (hopefully in a sustainable fashion) from the environment. It is obvious that there is plenty of work to be done out there (caring for ourselves, our communities and the environment), and millions of underutilized people with the desire and ability to do it.

There is so much work to do. And that work is important for reasons other than profit:

In terms of its impact on living standards, the effects of growth depend totally on how new GDP is produced and what it is used for. If higher GDP is associated with higher profit margins, which in turn are accumulated in undistributed corporate cash hoards or paid out in fat dividends to well-off investors, then growth may accomplish nothing. And if higher GDP is generated through extensive resource exploitation, sucking more value out of a non-renewable resource base and ignoring the need for conservation and amelioration, then it will certainly be associated with continued environmental degradation.

On the other hand, there are many other ways in which an economy can "grow," and a country's real GDP increase. It could happen, for example, through a major expansion in human services delivery (e.g., child care, elder care, education and culture). Proper programs in these areas would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, tens of billions of dollars in new incomes, and many billions in revenues for government -- not to mention delivering services that are valuable and life-enhancing in their own regard. GDP might also grow because of huge investments in public capital and physical infrastructure -- things like utilities, affordable housing, education and cultural facilities, and parks.

For nearly fifty years now, the world economy has been operating on a narrow definition of growth.The benefits of that narrowly defined growth have gone mainly to those at the top of the economic pyramid.  The powers that be have told us that growth, so defined, is a scientific law -- like Newton's Law of Gravity.

Put simply, that's hogwash. And, in the places most devoted to that narrow conception of growth -- like the U.S. and the UK -- the natives are getting restless.

Image: globalgoals.org

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Inside The Tent


Bernie Sanders' revolution has had a profound effect on the Democratic Party.  Once upon a time, that party didn't cower to Wall Street. Linda McQuaig writes:

In the midst of the 1930s Depression, Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt showed backbone, championing unions, bringing in universal pensions, taxing the rich and restraining Wall Street with the Glass-Steagall Act. Addressing a wildly cheering crowd at Madison Square Gardens in 1936, Roosevelt vowed to defy the enraged bankers and financial tycoons lined up against him. “They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred!”

Roosevelt’s New Deal ushered in a postwar era in which workers made impressive economic gains as a rising middle class while the wealthy elite lost ground.

But, beginning in the 1970's, the party lost its nerve:

Indeed, the Democratic Party had soon virtually abandoned working people, realigning itself with Wall Street and voting with Republicans for financial deregulation and dramatically lower taxes on the rich.
All this only encouraged the financial elite to become more grasping and assertive. When President Obama took the minimal step of trying to close a notorious tax loophole favouring hedge fund managers, Wall Street billionaire Stephen Schwarzman. “It’s war,” he declared. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

Republicans sided with Schwarzman and other angry billionaires. Even though the Democrats initially had control of the White House and both houses of Congress, they capitulated, thereby maintaining a tax loophole that delivers billions of dollars in tax savings to some of the least needy people on the planet.

Not content to protect their own tax breaks, the Wall Street barons, including American Express CEO Harvey Golub, went on the offensive, demanding an end to tax breaks that helped low-income Americans — a group dubbed “lucky duckies” by the Wall Street Journal for their low-tax status.

And then came Bernie -- who calls himself a socialist, but who really is a New Dealer. He and his folks are not going away:

The youthful Sanders crowd, which threatened to derail the convention on opening day, isn’t likely to go away. It’s determined to shape the Democratic Party of the future, believing that the only way to respond to the class war being waged by an aggressive billionaire class is with backbone — a body part that’s been noticeably missing from Democrats in recent decades.

Hillary owes Bernie big time. If she's wise, she'll give him a prominent position in her administration. As LBJ once said of J. Edgar Hoover, it's better to have him "inside the tent pissing out than outside the tent pissing in."

Image: thegatewaypundit.com

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Into The Halls Of Mythology



The Chilcot Report has been made public. Yet Tony Blair And George W. -- who claimed to stand for truth, justice and the American Way -- are enjoying their retirements. Gerry Caplan writes:

The invasion of Iraq never was about Saddam or his fictional weapons of mass destruction. Saddam had nothing whatever to do with 9/11 or al-Qaeda and had no WMDs. Look, if I knew that, how could Mr. Bush and Mr. Blair not have known?

What did they want, those two BFFs? Mr. Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney and the neocons, as far as anyone can figure, mostly wanted to show the world that America could not be disrespected by a two-bit Middle East despot like Saddam. That refusal to abide America being humiliated was at the very heart of neoconservatism. For his part, Mr. Blair was consumed with being America’s most faithful lapdog. He needed Mr. Bush to know he could always be counted on, no questions asked. “I will be with you, whatever,” Mr. Blair wrote Mr. Bush.

In  their names, crimes were committed:

In the hierarchy of the world’s international crimes, the top three are genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. It’s hardly in question that the Americans and British committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in Iraq. So what penalties are their leaders paying?

Why, the same penalty all Western leaders pay for their villainy. As Henry Kissinger did for his many crimes against humanity, from Chile to Indonesia to Bangladesh. He’s now a mentor on world affairs to Hillary Clinton – the non-reckless presidential candidate. Or Ronald Reagan, who backed sadistic terrorist groups across Central America and worked closely with the apartheid regime in South Africa. He’s now totally mythologized, the revered hero of the Republican Party.

Bush and Blair will never see the interior of the International Criminal Court. But they're hoping to enter the Halls of Mythology. 

Image: salon.com

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Pierre Would Be Appalled



Sometimes silence isn't golden. June 21st marked the anniversary of the passage of Bill C-51. When Justin Trudeau's party voted to pass the bill, they did so saying they would change it substantially once they were elected. Michael Harris writes:

C-51 handed Canada’s spy service grotesque new powers that are unconstitutional, indefensible and unnecessary. Short of killing or sexually assaulting ‘persons of interest’ in its quest to disrupt activities deemed to be ‘dangerous’ to national security, CSIS was handed carte blanche by the Harper government. Not a good situation when, at the time, Canada — unlike the United States, Great Britain, Australia and New Zealand — had no parliamentary oversight of the activities of the country’s spies.

 As far as civilian oversight went, Harper starved the Security and Intelligence Review Committee of funding and never even bothered to fill a vacancy (the committee only has five members to begin with). Harper didn’t want oversight — he wanted a rubber stamp and zombie appointees. And if Arthur Porter hadn’t been accused in a kickback scheme in a Montreal hospital project, Harper’s personal choice to head up SIRC would have continued his oversight of SIRC. (As it happened, he died a fugitive from Canadian justice in a Panamanian jail.)

More importantly, the bill bore the marks of the Harperites' utter contempt for the Charter of Rights and  Freedoms:

Basic civil rights went on the chopping block when the bill received Royal Assent in June 2015. The spy service could infringe on free speech because “promoting” terrorism was now a jailing offence. CSIS could make more arrests without warrants, even in cases where all the authorities had was the suspicion that an individual “may” carry out a terrorist act. The spy agency was no longer restricted to simply gathering intelligence, but now had the power to “disrupt” suspected terror plots. CSIS could even siphon personal information about an individual from 100 government departments, including the Canada Revenue Agency and Health Canada. And if the spooks planned to break the law or violate the Constitution, they could go before a judge in secret to get pre-approval of their illegal acts.

The Liberals said that they would hold public meetings to get input on how the bill should be changed.  So far there have been no meetings.

Pierre Trudeau would be appalled.

Image: huffingtonpost.ca


Monday, July 25, 2016

It's Not Easy Being Hillary


The action shifts to Philadelphia this week. And Hillary Clinton will be its epicenter. Doubts follow her there. Why? Tom Walkom writes:

The Clintons’ time in the White House was marked by a series of so-called scandals with names like Whitewater and Travelgate that, for most people, have long vanished into the mists of time.

An independent prosecutor later concluded that Hillary Clinton had done nothing wrong in any of these.
Nonetheless, they damaged her. Critics were unable to pierce Bill Clinton’s glad-handing popularity. 

But Hillary was easier prey. By the time the Clintons left the White House, a notion — not entirely without merit — had taken root in the public mind that she sometimes skirted the truth.

And let's be frank. She's a woman. For Republicans, she fits into a "sub-catagory." And they claim that she's corrupt:

On the face of it, the email scandal should have appealed only to IT aficionados. Her stated and very plausible motive for using a private cellphone on government business was that she didn’t want to carry two mobile devices.

However, this was Hillary Clinton. Once again, an investigation was launched. Once again, she was cleared of criminal wrongdoing (although not of bad judgment) — this time by the FBI.

A House investigation into another soi-disant Clinton scandal — her role in the 2012 attack on a U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans — found no evidence of negligence on her part.
But both contretemps served to reawaken the old doubts. In May, one pollster interviewed Americans with a negative view of Clinton. It found, to no one’s surprise, that 50 per cent of Republicans polled found her untrustworthy.

More alarmingly for the Democratic presidential candidate, it found that 39 per cent of Democrats polled held the same view.

Donald Trump -- who operates on the assumption that small phrases entertain small minds -- has taken to calling her "crooked Hillary."  Meanwhile, he's doing his best to throw a cone of silence around his own business practices.

It's not easy being Hillary.

Image: ilovemyfreedom.org

Sunday, July 24, 2016

It Hasn't


Conrad Black lives on another planet than the rest of us. He is untroubled by the anxieties of those of us who are mere mortals. That's why he believes that we've misunderstood Donald Trump. In Friday's National Post he opined:

Even in the week that he is nominated by the Republican party for the presidency of the United States, intelligent people fail in droves to understand what Donald Trump has accomplished. It was disappointing to read the editorial in this newspaper on Tuesday that “a Trump presidency would be a descent into the uncertainties of anger, bitterness, and division … a recipe for disaster.” This is a widespread view, but it is bunk. 

Lord Black believes that Trump has been grievously maligned:

These parrots of gloom should be celebrating the fact that one of the only moderates among the Republican candidates won. Senator Ted Cruz pitched his campaign to the Bible-thumping corn-cobbers with M16 rifles in the rear windows of their pickup trucks and announced that God had told him to run. Trump and Sanders are the only candidates who favour universal health care, and Trump, contrary to a great deal of unfounded over-reactive comment about him, never said anything remotely antagonistic about women, gays, African-Americans or Latinos who came to the U.S. legally.

And, he predicts, Trump will move to the centre and radiate peace, order and good government:

Now that Trump is the nominee, having come from the political wilderness and paid for his own campaign, he will drastically scale back the stylistic infelicities (which are as disagreeable to me as to most serious people, but are just part of his shtick). He is not ideological and will make the system work — he is, as he never tires of telling us, a deal-maker. In foreign policy, he will be neither trigger-happy like George W., nor an other-worldly pacifist like Obama. He will spend a billion dollars of the Republican party’s money reminding the country that legally and ethically, Hillary is carrying more dead weight cargo than the Queen Mary. He and Hillary will now both campaign toward the centre, but whoever wins, this is the last stand of moderation. One more debacle like the past four or five presidential terms, and the animals will be released. The paint-ball parks, the shooting ranges, and the teeming ghettos (scores of millions of Americans unnoticed by Norman Rockwell, Grandma Moses and Walt Disney) will not be gulled again by a limousine liberal in a neon pantsuit or a pseudo-blue-collar billionaire.

The animals have already been released. And they're furious at people like Lord Black. One would have hoped that his stay in a Florida prison would have acquainted  Black with the earthly existence of mere mortals. Obviously, it hasn't.

Image: theglobeandmail.com

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Lessons From Weimar



In the wake of the Republican Convention, Charles Dermer writes that there are three lessons progressives should remember about the failure of Weimar Germany:

First, the German Left splintered and failed to create strong coalitions. The Social Democrats and the German Communist Party -- both large parties of Labor -- made little efforts to work together or to organize and coordinate closely with many of the remarkably progressive Weimar urban feminist, gay and civil rights movements. Much of the blame falls on the Communists, who decided to take their marching orders from Stalin, believing that the collapse of the German economy would lead to a Communist revolution. But the Social Democrats were also responsible, aligning themselves with conservative parties and aristocratic landed elites -- and supporting repression of Far Left movements while failing to reach out to and make concessions to either the Communists or the movements.

Had the Social Democrats and Communists formed a common bloc, working in a strong coalition with progressive urban cultural movements, they would have controlled the majority of Parliament and might have kept power. The lesson here is that we must wrestle with the potential ways in which the Democratic Party, the Sanders supporters and our major social justice movements might work together, building a coalitional front that can push back against the dangers posed by Trump, promote the aims of the Sanders "revolution," and help unite or "universalize" Left grassroots movements in a long-term effort to create a systemic transformation of militarized, racialized, patriarchal capitalism.

Second, to build a united front, all types of progressives must grapple with the real threat of a Trump victory and of a broader right-wing populist ascendancy, with or without a Trump victory. The German Left -- as well as the German corporate and landed gentry Establishment -- never took Hitler seriously, dismissing Far Right movements and believing Hitler had no large popular base. Likewise, many US progressives cannot imagine that Americans would embrace Far Right populism and elect an overtly racist demagogue such as Trump.

The Weimar Left and the German Establishment wildly underestimated the Far Right and Hitler's resonance during a massive economic crisis with a public with authoritarian tendencies. They lost touch with the working and lower middle class, especially the rural or small town population, who felt they were losing not just their jobs but their country and culture. They also never believed Hitler could gain so much support in his pursuit of genocide.

This leads to a third lesson: the need for a massive shift in the Democratic Party and a resurgence of progressive movements to solve the economic crisis and address the sense of national decline perpetrated by the Establishment itself. The Weimar Left, especially the Social Democratic Party, largely disconnected from grassroots urban progressive cultural movements, had no transformative vision or energy. It was an exhausted, reformist party offering no economic or social solutions. The Communists didn't even try, as they promoted collapse.

The inconvenient truth is that the Democrats have bought into neo-liberalism with almost the same fervor as the Republicans:

The Democratic Party in the age of Clintons, disconnected from social movements, has aligned with the corporate and military establishment. While Bernie Sanders resonated far and wide because of his urgent message of "political revolution" and democratic socialism, Hillary Clinton has only begun to -- at least in rhetoric -- embrace the importance of structural change. But to win, she has to take Sanders more seriously and respond not only to his demands but also to the demands of the civil rights, Black liberation, peace and environmental movements.

Germans made the mistake of believing that Hitler was simply a nutbar who would self destruct. That's what he eventually did. But what he left in his wake was utter devastation.

Image: www.slideshare.net