Tag: Austerity

Aug 10

ACM: On attacks on women’s reproductive rights: budgets, no choices, and eugenics, oh my!

By NY Brit Expat

An incident at dinner in Italy during my vacation there and the subsequent discussion has driven me to prioritise this piece. Following a wonderful dinner at a local restaurant, one man decided that it was time for us to listen to his misogyny on women’s reproductive rights. I knew he was saying offensive things as the two English speakers at the table refused to translate what he was saying. Upon my insistence, he tried to speak in English, but what he was saying was so offensive I refused to believe he was saying it. I turned to my husband and the other English speaking friend and they shook their heads yes, that is what he was saying. This man argued that women have to the right to choice but if they get pregnant with a child they do not want, they must be forced to carry the child to term and to give it up for adoption. Those that know me would not be surprised at my angry response in which I spoke of women having the right of property in their own body, spoke of bodily autonomy and reminded him that we were not incubators, but human beings. I concluded by calling him a misogynist and telling him that this was not an opinion but hate speech.

Abortion has been legal in Italy since 1978 when Law 194 was passed. While not a perfect law, it was won after intense struggle by the women’s movement. This law not only guaranteed access to abortion, but access  to reproductive health care, contraception, and a whole range of rights for women and these were tied into public health provision. Like in the US (and this has been a failing in both countries), the conscientious objector clause has led to a decrease in the numbers of medical professionals willing to carry out the procedure on religious grounds (and in the US due to pressure from anti-abortion activists). So to hear someone (who is not religious) babbling this crap at me following dinner was way too much. So, who ruined dinner? Was it him or me?

This incident highlighted something that has become extremely obvious and this applies both to women’s rights and to racism. The days when someone who held these offensive positions knew to keep their mouths shut is long gone; instead they pose hate speech as opinion and demand their right to preach it.  Our response must be swift and strong so that these troglodytes are driven back to the primordial soup from which they have barely crawled out from.

In a follow-up discussion on the way to the car park, I told my English speaking friend what just passed the British parliament as part of the Welfare Bill. I told him that the Tories are changing the nature of the social welfare state which covered all women (child-tax credits, child benefits) to only cover the poor and working class. And then I told him about the limits to benefits only to 2 children in the future. I explained that the former made it easier to eliminate benefits totally (why should taxpayers take care of the working class – employed and unemployed — after all?). I explained the latter policy was a form of eugenics and was a neo-Malthusian policy. While he agreed with the former (he is a mainstream neoclassical after all), he was horrified at the latter (maybe because he has 5 children and has benefited from receiving benefits in several countries to help with covering the costs for all his children).

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When women talk about reproductive rights and justice they are not only speaking about women’s rights to not have children. This is an essential part of reproductive rights: the right to choose not to have children, to have access to birth contraceptives abortion and voluntary sterilisation. But we are also speaking of the right of women to have children and to determine when and how many. This right has been most often denied to working class women, disabled women and to women of colour. Sterilisation abuse and forced usage of birth control against working class women, disabled women and women of colour is part of a long-term agenda of eugenics and neo-Malthusianism.

Wealthier white women fought for the right to not have children and to choose when they had them and to demand sterilisation without the consent of their husbands. Eugenics law that promoted the “betterment of the human race” by forcing wealthier white women to have children also led to laws that demanded the use of birth control to access welfare benefits and forced sterilisation for working class women. These laws have been the tools of choice against working class women, women of colour and disabled women and have been used to prevent their choosing to have children and to limit the numbers that they had. In the US, to this day, eugenics laws are still on the books to be used against disabled women; Buck vs Bell (1927) in which the Supreme Court ruled that compulsory sterilisation of the unfit did not violate the Due Process Clause of the US constitution.  This endorsement of negative eugenics has not been repealed and still stands as US law. So to say that to leave things of the past in the past doesn’t really hold up as these things of the past tend to revive. After all, patriarchy is still strong and these arguments are not only a position of patriarchy but of the bourgeoisie that does not feel the need to humour women in their bizarre beliefs that they, not the family, not the church and not the state control their own bodies.

Jul 13

Eating Worms

All that is left for Greece is to eat worms and it still would not satisfy Kaiser Merkel. #ThisIsACoup

A list of draconian new austerity demands handed to the Greek government in Brussels Sunday ignited a global backlash against Germany, German Prime Minister Angela Merkel and finance minister, Wolfgang Schaeuble.

#ThisIsACoup became the top trending hashtag on Twitter worldwide – and is #1 in Germany and Greece.

The tag was attached to tens of thousands of angry comments denouncing Germany’s aggressive demands that the Greek parliament pass new severe austerity laws within days to raise taxes, privatize public assets and cut back on pensions. [..]

Here are the EU proposals that outraged many around the globe:

1. Streamlining the VAT

2. Broadening the tax base

3. Sustainability of pension system

4. Adopt a code of civil procedure

5. Safeguarding of legal independence of ELSAT – the statistic office

6. Full implementation of spending cuts

7. Meet bank recovery and resolution directive

8. Privatize electricity transmission grid

9. Take decisive action on non-performing loans

10. Ensure independence of privatization body TAIPED

11. De-Politicize the Greek administration

12. Return of the Troika t0 Athens (the paper calls them the institutions)

Those are the demands that must be approved by Wednesday. The only thing they forgot to ask for is resignation of the prime minister, his cabinet and the Greek parliament.

From Ian Welsh

Basically the Greeks offered the EU everything they had asked for before and then some, but the EU won’t take it, they want their pound of flesh for being embarrassed by the referendum.

I get that Syriza and some Greeks don’t want Grexit, and will do virtually anything to avoid it, but I’m hoping (probably vainly) that there might be some depths to which they will not sink, some abasement they will not endure, some calamity they will not inflict upon the weakest and poorest in their own society.

Probably not. Not quite sure why I still have faith in humanity to ever do the right thing when any other option exists.

“OK, now that you’re crawling, down on your belly!”

Worms.

Jul 07

Greek Voters Say NO to Austerity

On Sunday Greek voters went to the polls to vote on a simple referendum on a bail out deal proposed by the country’s international creditors, which demanded new austerity measures in return for emergency funds. A simple yes or no. The voters gave a resounding NO to the deal.

The win for the “no” camp constituted a major victory for Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tspiras, who had campaigned heavily against the deal put forward by the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission. But it also raised uncertainty about the country’s financial future and its place in the eurozone.

“Even in the most difficult circumstances, democracy can’t be blackmailed — it is a dominant value and the way forward,” Tsipras tweeted on Sunday night, adding that Greece intends to restart negotiations with Europe next week.

A final tally of votes indicated that 61.31 percent of voters decided against the bailout deal. More than 60 percent of Greeks participated in the vote, well over the 40 percent turnout needed for the referendum to be valid.

Needless to say the responses to the vote and PM Tspiras’ decision to attempt to negotiate better terms cams fast and furious. First, Greece’s radical and outspoken Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis resigned, stating that he had been made aware that his “style” was considered disruptive:

Mr. Varoufakis, an academic with no political experience before he joined the leftist Tsipras government, had consistently argued that Greece desperately needed debt relief more than anything else. While that view was shared by many economists, he quickly became a lightning rod among Greece’s creditors for his aggressive negotiating style and heated language. Before the referendum vote, he had publicly accused the creditors of “terrorism” against his country.

With Mr. Varoufakis gone, Greece’s eurozone creditors may be more willing to continue negotiations on a further aid package. His departure, apparently at the urging of Mr. Tsipras, could be seen as a concession to the sensibilities of other eurozone leaders. But the next few days could determine whether the gulf between Greece and its creditors is now too wide to bridge.

You can read his resignation statement here. He has been replaced by Euclid Tsakalotos, another academic economist, but not as vocal as Mr. Varoufakis and, apparently, more acceptable to Eurogroup participants.

Next came the markets’ reactions, not drastic but not good, either:

Global stock markets mostly dropped on Monday but did not plunge, as investors reacted with muted dismay to the results of the Greek referendum and showed nervousness about steep declines in China’s stock market over the past three weeks. [..]

At midday in New York, stocks were just below break-even. The Dow Jones industrial average was down 0.2 percent, while the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index was off 0.3 percent.

The euro ticked down 0.4 percent to $1.1033.

Oil prices also fell on Monday, as traders placed bets that recent events could lead to slower global economic activity and weaker demand. [..]

In Asia on Monday, the Shanghai market jumped sharply in early trading as the Chinese government poured money into brokerage firms to help them and their customers buy shares. The market leapt 7.8 percent at the start, but it surrendered half of those gains in the first 10 minutes of trading and closed 2.4 percent higher. The smaller Shenzhen stock market also started strongly but fell 2.7 percent by the end of trading.

And the vote has only served to harden German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s stand:

The German government signaled a tough line towards Greece on Monday, saying it saw no basis for new bailout negotiations and insisting it was up to Athens to move swiftly if it wanted to preserve its place in the euro zone.

With opinion towards Greece hardening in Germany’s ruling coalition following the landslide rejection of European bailout terms in a Sunday referendum, the government indirectly raised the prospect of a Greek exit from the currency bloc.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman said it was up to Athens to act so that it could remain in the currency bloc, and Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel went further by saying the Greek government needed to improve on its previous proposals. [..]

Pressed on what concessions Berlin might be willing to make to Tsipras, a finance ministry spokesman dismissed the idea of a debt restructuring sought by Athens and favored by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Economic and political pundits responded as well:

Thomas Piketty: Germany Shouldn’t Be Telling Greece To Repay Debt

Thomas Piketty isn’t mincing words when it comes to the Greek debt crisis.

In an interview with German newspaper Die Ziet last month (and translated recently by business analyst Gavin Schalliol), the leading French economist pummeled Germany for its hypocrisy in demanding debt repayment from Greece. [..]

Greece on Sunday voted a resounding “no” on a bailout plan proposed by its creditors, making its continued membership in the eurozone more tenuous. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande will hold an emergency summit on Tuesday to discuss the crisis.

But Piketty, who penned the blockbuster 2013 book on income inequality Capital in the Twenty-First Century, slammed conservatives who favor the economic austerity measures Germany and France are demanding of Greece, saying they demonstrate a “shocking ignorance” of European history.

“Look at the history of national debt: Great Britain, Germany, and France were all once in the situation of today’s Greece, and in fact had been far more indebted,” Piketty said. “The first lesson that we can take from the history of government debt is that we are not facing a brand new problem.”

Germany, Piketty continued, has “no standing” to lecture other nations about debt repayment, having never paid back its own debts after both World Wars (pdf).

Nobel Prize winning economist and New York Times columnist, Paul Krugman, also “cheered” the vote:

The truth is that Europe’s self-styled technocrats are like medieval doctors who insisted on bleeding their patients – and when their treatment made the patients sicker, demanded even more bleeding. A “yes” vote in Greece would have condemned the country to years more of suffering under policies that haven’t worked and in fact, given the arithmetic, can’t work: austerity probably shrinks the economy faster than it reduces debt, so that all the suffering serves no purpose. The landslide victory of the “no” side offers at least a chance for an escape from this trap.

Renowned dissident Noam Chomsky spoke with [Democracy Now! ]’s Amy Goodman back in March aboutGreece and Spain the “savage response” to taking on austerity calling it a “class war.”

The “what next” is still very unknown. From Yves Smith at naked capitalism

After the momentous “No” vote in support of the Greek ruling coalition Greece’s lenders and most important, the Eurozone leaders of the countries that have made 60% of Greece’s outstanding loans, are officially still figuring out what to do. Merkel is going to Paris to confer with Hollande today. The Eurogroup has set a meeting for tomorrow at 1:00 PM

However, despite the responses of media outlets and many pundits that the Eurocrats will have to beeat a retreat and offer Greece concessions, it’s not clear that this event strengthens the Greek government’s hand with its counterparties. Remember, Tsipras enjoyed popularity ratings of as high as 80% and has always retained majority support in polls. And it’s all too easy to forget that “the creditors” are not Merkel, Hollande, Lagarde and Draghi. The biggest group of “creditors” are taxpayers of the 18 other countries of the Eurozone. The ugly design of the Eurozone means that the sort of relief that Greece wants most, a reduction in the face amount of its debt (as opposed to the sort of reduction they’ve gotten, which is in economic value, via reductions in interest rates and extensions of maturities) puts the interest of those voters directly at odds with those in Greece. Our understanding is that a reduction in principal amount, under the perverse budgetary and accounting rules of the Eurozone, would result in those losses showing up as losses for budget purposes, now. They would need to be funded by increased taxes. Thus a reduction in austerity for Greece, via a debt writeoff, simply transfers austerity from Greece to other countries. It’s not hard to see why they won’t go for that. And Eurozone rules require unanimous decisions.

Even though the ruling coalition had said it wanted to restart negotiations immediately upon getting a “no” vote, the lenders have asked Greece to send a new proposal, apparently deeming the one it submitted on June 30 to be out of date. It’s doubtful anything will happen before the Eurogroup meeting tomorrow.

Feb 01

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: The Mouse Has Roared – Greece post-Elections by NY Brit Expat

The Greeks have said enough! Hope has defeated fear and SYRIZA has won the election and have beaten New Democracy and the fear-mongers, as expected.  This is a major victory for anti-austerity forces which could change the economic and political landscapes.

However, they did not win an outright majority (they were short 2 seats) and were forced into coalition with a right-wing, nationalist (pro-Greek Orthodox) anti-austerity party, the Independent Greeks (referred to as ANEL from now on).  

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Irrespective of this, we do have quite a lot to celebrate! The election of SYRIZA is a shot directly across the bow of neoliberalism and its flagship of ideas, aka as the austerity project. The European ruling class (which includes mainstream political leaders) are a wee bit shaken especially Germany.  Whether or not the Troika is forced to negotiate the debt successfully, this is a victory and it is forcing the ruling class in Europe to take stock over whether austerity (and destroying the working class) is more important than the EU project. The stakes are literally that high!  

May 04

A-C Meetup: For May Day – Capitalism, Charity, Food Banks and Workers’ Rights by NY Brit Expat

Most probably people have heard of the bizarre investigative journalism by The Mail on Sunday in an article which appeared on Easter Sunday (of all days in the year). The Mail on Sunday sent in a reporter, a wannabe Jimmy Olsen, to investigate provision of food by food-banks in Britain and that reporter literally took food out of the mouths of the hungry in order to prove some point. This provoked a backlash on social media that demonstrated that the neoliberal agenda seems to not have sunk too deeply in the hearts and minds of the British people. That is a relief and quite honestly more than I expected, given the constant barrage in the newspapers and on the news on telly that has never questioned the logic (forget the morality) of welfare caps and cuts to welfare benefits.

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ht: my sister Mia for comments and editing on this piece

Apr 06

Anti-Capitalist Meetup: IWD in Cardiff, Wales – a talk on Austerity and Women by NY Brit Expat

This year, I was invited to speak at an international women’s day event by the sisters of the Cardiff Feminist Network as part of a series of actions which included a Take Back the Night march, a pro-choice rally and then an event in a park in which there was poetry and various speakers addressing a number of topics including feminism, violence against women, the oppression of Palestinian women, and my talk on the impact of austerity on women in Britain. There was food, a wonderful audience of committed feminists taking place in a public park where in effect since there was no license or permission, the group had taken use of public land to have a celebration of International Women’s Day. My talk was kindly taped by a friend and comrade, Nick Hughes, who then posted it on facebook and on then youtube.

The talk was long, not because it was planned that way; but one person who was supposed to speak was late and the food was not ready to be served. So, since I carry around so much information with me when I am planning to speak, I was able to talk for almost a half hour.

So today’s anti-capitalist meetup will actually be like a meetup. That is, we will have a speaker (me), my talk (minus the spontaneous bad jokes and righteous anger) will be here to read. Then we can actually have a discussion on the topic, since the speaker is right here. This was supposed to go up on the 16th of March, but was preempted by the deaths of Bob Crow and Tony Benn which needed to be commemorated. The issues addressed in my piece, unfortunately, are still extremely relevant.

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Dec 13

The 2 Year Budget Deal In 90 Seconds

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

A two year budget deal was reached yesterday with congressional leaders announcing the deal that would to replace $63 billion in sequester cuts, a very small part of the $180 billion in cuts that will occur over the next two years. The deal will restore defense cuts by funding from a tax on airline travel and cuts to federal pensions. The budget does not include extension of unemployment funds to the millions of workers who are about to lose their benefits the end of December. There will be no changes to Medicare or Social Security but none of the tax loop holes were closed.

As Ezra Klein puts it:

Whether this deal can be a model for future deals is an open question. The core principle of this deal is that Democrats didn’t have to touch entitlements and Republicans didn’t have to touch taxes. But a lot of the policies that made that possible got used up in this deal. It’s not clear that another deal like this would work in 2016.

DSWright at FDL News Desk notes:

The Republicans got everything they wanted. They get more cuts while none of their friends in the defense industry get hurt – actually they even got to do some damage to the federal pension system. All that while avoiding another shutdown that killed their poll numbers before the 2014 elections. Christmas came early for the GOP.

The Democratic Party, on the other hand, sold out its own base to help Republicans maintain power. Why? Who knows? The only thing that is clear is this is an awful deal for majority of Americans.

Once again, the majority of Americans get screwed by their elected representatives.  

Jul 07

AC Meetup: Undermining Our Past & Our Future aka Austerity is an Attack on Women by NY Brit Expat

This piece is a summary of a paper that I presented at the Left Forum in a panel organised by Geminijen. If you want to see a copy of the longer paper (which is being edited for English and clarity), send me a personal message here with your email and I will send it to you. Fran Luck who is the producer of the radio series “Joy of Resistance: Largest Minority” on WBAI was in the audience and asked us to appear on her show. If you would like to listen to Geminijen, Diana Zevala (who has written for the ACM on education), Barbara Garson and me, please click here: http://archive.wbai.org/files/mp3/wbai_130703_210001wed9pm10pm.mp3).

While in no way denying the impact of the introduction of austerity upon the working class, the disabled and the poor as a whole, there is no question that the impact of austerity on women is far greater. This is due to the job losses in the state sector where women’s labour is predominant, our historically lower wages due to the undervaluation of traditional women’s labour in a capitalist labour market leading to greater dependence upon the social welfare state, and our overwhelming responsibility for reproduction of the working class and how that impacts on our working lives.  The failure of the state to provide completely for social reproduction especially in childcare and care for the infirm and disabled has resulted in women having: 1) discontinuous working lives; 2) and the predominance of our labour in part-time employment.

With incomes falling in the advanced capitalist world as part of general economic policy, women face greater threats than men due to our responsibility as primary caretakers of children, the disabled and the elderly. Women are facing lower incomes, lower pensions, and an increasing reluctance for the state to support women in the workplace through provision of child-care and after-school programmes and shouldering carer responsibilities for the elderly and infirm. Given the transformations in general employment possibilities towards increasingly underemployed and part-time labour, we will begin to face competition from men for the jobs we have normally held while benefits are increasingly run down.

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We face increasing economic insecurity without sufficient state assistance to ensure that our children and families can have a decent standard of living provided through employment. Women can no longer depend upon the fact that our labour is of sufficient value to capitalists as men also face increasing precariousness in their employment, and in the absence of a strong labour movement or left-wing movements, can serve the same role of an easily intimidated low-paid work force.

The destruction of the public sector enabling the weakening of the last bastion of trade union organisation to force through even lower wages and a reduction in social subsistence levels of wages along with a further deterioration in working conditions on the basis of non-competition with emerging and peripheral economies is nothing less than a race to the bottom and women will be the first, but not the last, victims of neoliberal economics in the advanced capitalist world.

This piece will be divided into 3 parts. The first is composed of some general statements on austerity. The second part will discuss the women’s labour market in Britain and the impact of austerity. The third part addresses the attack on the universal social welfare state in Britain and its impact upon women.

Jul 06

More Jobs Than Expected But Don’t Get Optimistic

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The June employment report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the US added 195,000 jobs but the unemployment rate remained at 7.6%. This better than expected number, along with upward revisions of the April and May jobs numbers led to some speculation by Wall Street analysts to speculate that the Federal Reserve would start to back away from part of its stimulus program.

But hold your horses on the optimism. The reality is that this an anaemic recovery with flat growth and low productivity, as Dean Baker points out in his article:

First, it is important to remember the size of the hole the economy is in. We are down roughly 8.5 million jobs from our trend growth path. We also need close to 100,000 jobs a month to keep pace with the underlying growth rate of the labor market. This means that even with the relatively good growth of the last few months, we were only closing the gap at the rate of 96,000 a month. At this pace, it will take up more than seven years to fill the jobs gap.

It is easy to miss the size of the jobs gap since the current 7.6% unemployment rate doesn’t seem that high. However, the main reason that the unemployment rate has fallen from its peak of 10% in the fall of 2009 is that millions of people have dropped out of the labor force and stopped looking for jobs. These people are no longer counted as being unemployed. [..]

This gets to the type of jobs that have been created in the upturn. Over the last three months, three sectors – restaurants, retail trade, and temporary help – have accounted for more than half of the jobs created. These sectors offer the lowest-paying jobs, with few benefits and little job security. [..]

Workers take these jobs when there are no better alternatives available.

There is also the impact of sequestration that has yet to have its full impact on the economy and Congress seems content to leave in place with one side blaming the other. There is little chance that a budget or any significant legislation will get through this Congress:

Do you see the problem here? The president’s adversaries lament his lack of warmth and his remote intellectualism; his supporters see the same quality as an analytical and cool-headed virtue. This could be a cute “the president is from Mars, Republicans are from Venus” thing – if it weren’t for the fact that several important issues this summer, including the budget and food-stamp funding, hinge on whether these two crazy kids will ever figure it out. At the base of their problem is an absence of mutual respect and a lack of legislative sportsmanship.

Until the players figure this out – and there’s no sign they ever will – we’re going to be stuck in an endless loop of revisiting these unhelpful battles that drag on for years. This summer is the last chance for any legislation to get through. Starting in the fall, the campaigns for the 2014 midterm elections are going to start, and the window for serious legislative action will have closed – at which point you can kiss any progress on major bills goodbye. [..]

the sequestration cuts are not a question of “one side” winning or losing. They’re a question of the nation, the economy and the American people losing. They’re a question of poor people losing: Meals on Wheels will suffer, as will those living in federal housing.

No one, so far, is winning at all. Even more concerning, it’s not abundantly clear that anyone in Washington knows how to play the game anymore.

Voters need to start making greater demands on their congress critters and start threatening to throw them out for ones who will represent the people and not Wall Street and their own self-interests.

May 22

John T. Harvey: Austerity Leads To… Austerity!

In the real world and the reality based community, there is talk about austerity from people who understand the nuances of it and macroeconomic accounting identities. They point out the undeniable fact that there is austerity in the UK, the Eurozone, and yes, the United States. This interactive chart will show this, though I can’t embed it here. So instead, I will add a small snapshot of some of the data.

Net spending in the United States has steadily declined since it rose from 2008 to 2009 when the inadequate stimulus(only $500 billion of direct spending at about 1.5 percent of GDP) was passed. Stimulus packages don’t exist in a vacuum, and you have to count all government spending, which basically shows how exactly the numbers, including the stimulus as this does, didn’t close the output gap. And since the numbers didn’t, that is actually austerity. After all, spending went up in the UK and Eurozone from 2008 to 2009 as well, and since then, their spending has declined. Even though it is on a higher level, it is being cut at an even more alarming rate with its fate set to go below our miserable level by 2017.

I have pointed this out before. Sometimes I get frustrated, and point this out harshly, because some pride themselves on denying this established data to support whatever a politician in their party says or does. I don’t know why. Denying reality is not going to give resources to people who need them. There is a reason my last diary has been cited by the reality based Post Keynesian MMT community, in which I am truly grateful for and humbled by; it is the truth.

The real economy of jobs and wages continues to go nowhere thanks to the lack of deficit spending and an illogical debate in DC about how much austerity we need to appease the invisible bond vigilantes and confidence fairies. It is neoliberal deficit terrorist economic insanity based on lies. And on that note, it is my pleasure to republish a piece by someone in the reality based economic community whom I can now proudly say is a friend of mine, Post Keynesian MMT economist John T. Harvey. He, once again, brings clarity to these matters in a way that only he can.  

May 14

Austerity Still An Issue. Why?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Austerity was thoroughly trounced by a couple of university grad students who discovered major omissions in the much touted study by a couple of Pete Peterson’s paid cronies. So why are we still even talking about it? Good question that no one so far has asked our fearless leader in Washington.

Up host Steve Kornacki discussed whether the elite consensus on austerity has started to shift and if there is any effect on the opinions in Washington. His guests Josh Barro, Columnist, Bloomberg View; Jared Bernsein, former economic adviser to V.P. Joe biden; Lori Montgomery, Economic Policy Reporter, The Washington Post; and Heather McGhee, Vice President, Demos; examine the lessons that can be learned from Europe’s austerity experience and what the US economy will look like if it continues on the austerity path. The panel also discussed how conservative have backed away from cuts to Social Security shifting their focus to tax reform, controlling spending through cost efficient measures and the roadblocks to getting it done.

May 01

The Rich Get Richer, The Poor Get Poorer

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Paul Krugman wrote about the human tragedy of the economic policy failures of the Obama administration which has prioritized deficit reduction over putting people back to work. The impact of those failures can be seen in New York City where, as reported in the New York Times, the racial wealth gap has widen since the recession:

The Urban Institute study found that the racial wealth gap yawned during the recession, even as the income gap between white Americans and nonwhite Americans remained stable. As of 2010, white families, on average, earned about $2 for every $1 that black and Hispanic families earned, a ratio that has remained roughly constant for the last 30 years. But when it comes to wealth – as measured by assets, like cash savings, homes and retirement accounts, minus debts, like mortgages and credit card balances – white families have far outpaced black and Hispanic ones. Before the recession, non-Hispanic white families, on average, were about four times as wealthy as nonwhite families, according to the Urban Institute’s analysis of Federal Reserve data. By 2010, whites were about six times as wealthy.

   The dollar value of that gap has grown, as well. By the most recent data, the average white family had about $632,000 in wealth, versus $98,000 for black families and $110,000 for Hispanic families.

The two factors that contributed to the gap were the housing downturn and loss of retirement savings that hit black families the hardest due a number of elements: predatory lending in minority neighborhoods; a higher proportion of their wealth invested in the home; higher unemployment rates and lower incomes among blacks; and the need to borrow out of retirement finds in a depressed market, “leaving them out in the cold as the market recovered.”

An article written by the editors of The Nation pointed out this chilling fact:

Here is New York in 2013: a city of dazzling resurrection and official neglect, remarkable wealth and even more remarkable inequality. Despite the popular narrative of a city reborn-after the fiscal crisis of the ’70s, the crack epidemic of the ’80s, the terrorist attack of 2001, the superstorm of 2012-the extraordinary triumph of New York’s existence is tempered by the outrage of that inequality. Here, one of the country’s poorest congressional districts, primarily in the South Bronx, sits less than a mile from one of its wealthiest, which includes Manhattan’s Upper East Side. And here, a billionaire mayor presides over a homelessness crisis so massive that 50,000 men, women and children sleep in shelters each night. More New Yorkers are homeless these days than at any time since the Great Depression.

The numbers tell the story. Between 2000 and 2010, the median income of the city’s eight wealthiest neighborhoods jumped 55 percent, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute. Meanwhile, as the cushy precincts got even cushier, median income dipped 3 percent in middle-income areas and 0.2 percent in the poorest neighborhoods. [..]

The money pouring in at the top of the income brackets has simply pooled there, without trickling down to the bottom or even the middle. This great pooling has occurred as median wages have fallen, the cost of living has increased, and the poverty rate has risen to 21 percent-as high as it was in 1980. As a result, America’s most iconic city now has the same inequality index as Swaziland.

The article goes on to say that this isn’t entirely NYC’s fault with the economic shift over the last thirty years to finance but it also pointed out that Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s policies were a largely contributed to the problem.

[..]  the stewards of New York City-its mayor, legislators and other influencers-could have made choices to counter this trend: “New York City’s government is significant enough in its breadth…that the policy tools exist and the wherewithal exists to do something at the margins to lessen inequality.” The choices, however, that might have corrected some of the skew-within education, economic development, labor rights, poverty policy, budgeting-have largely been ignored in favor of creating a very different model of metropolis. [..]

Bloomberg himself expressed this vision in a March 2012 piece in the Financial Times bearing the title “Cities Must Be Cool, Creative and In Control,” in which he wrote:

For cities to have sustained success, they must compete for the grand prize: intellectual capital and talent.

I have long believed that talent attracts capital far more effectively and consistently than capital attracts talent. The most creative individuals want to live in places that protect personal freedoms, prize diversity and offer an abundance of cultural opportunities.

Then he added, “Economists may not say it this way but the truth of the matter is: being cool counts.” [..]

In essence, Bloomberg’s is a vision of the city forged primarily around the care and feeding of thought leaders, professionals and strivers-with little concern, and sometimes active contempt, for the ones who do the care and feeding. (In 2011, 400,000 New York workers, many of whom toil in service sector jobs, were not paid enough to hoist themselves out of poverty.) This is a fundamentally two-tier style of urbanism, one in which a cool, creative and well-managed metropolis glitters like something lovely, its radiance drawing attention away from the dimmed surroundings.

Yves Smith at naked capitalism observes:

But you can see more signs of stress even in the more insulated parts of New York City. Retail vacancies are up, even on the well-trafficked shopping streets, the worst since the post-2009 period. More restaurants seem to be taking a hit too, which suggests that non-expense-account diners are cutting back. And if ZIRP-supported NYC is looking a bit less robust, how well can the rest of the country be faring?

h/t to Yves for the video

The rich get richer and the poor get poorer, but ain’t we got fun?

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