thousand mile journey

The youth in the UK and the US have been relatively late to the year of disenchantment; Moreover, one of the accusations against them has been the lack of a program, or set of coherent demands. Yet people forget this is the generation of the class-less society, for the parents had been convinced to shed such categorizations, which in effect has mostly led to directionless reactions.

Since mass movements are akin to alchemy, in the absence of external support, it's difficult to see them before they run their curse. Marking the points along the way can be a useful, when honest, exercise. The first point, raised by Jeffrey Sachs, is followed by quasi-anonymous views that stand in for the vox populi.

Jeffrey Sachs presents his latest book, The Price of Civilization: Reawakening American Virtue and Prosperity, on Charlie Rose's Show. You may want to pay attention to two dimensions in Sachs' view, which resonate with prior views I expressed on this blog:
1) Structural problem, or a) the mismatch between our skills supply and the demand of an economy to support our lifestyles;
2) Values problem, e.g., the common view on taxation not as a condition for civilization, but symptom of free-riders and/or government waste.

Surely, from the height of one's ivory tower, the commoner hears little about institutions mistakenly, if not criminally, entrusted with our money supply that have become too big to fail, a Tobin tax on financial speculation, or a qualified statement about the need for investment in scientific and technical education--yup, not all education is created equal.  To place one close to Sachs, the discipline of economics should admit its limits and give up relax the status of dogma or ideology.

Couple Sachs' views with the following:



The price of arrogance
bennett "Mark"

Sachs basically wants to transform the US into Sweden. He
dresses up this call for social & economic transformation as a matter of
"morality" and "virtue". Over and over he makes his case
in an openly dishonest way. As of the United States had been Sweden in the
past, had somehow lost his way and needed to come back to that system. He
tells us that high taxation is equal to "good citizenship" and
"civilization". Or in other words that anyone who doesn't want a
country where half of national income is spent by the government is somehow a
selfish barbarian. Its the basic dishonesty of the man and his arguments as
presented in the book that makes it so bad. I could live with a book which
called for moving to a different economic system. But its a different matter
when a educated man confuses his own political desires with
"morality" and "virtue". When people start dressing up
their personal political goals as the sole embodiment of virtue, they have
crossed the line. If an author says "we should make the US look more
like Sweden", thats fine. But when that author tells us that any other
government model than that of Sweden is immoral, thats not acceptable.

Worst of all, Sachs is one of those people who believes in the paterialistic
saving of the "common man" by the rich. Normal people are simply
too stupid to know what is good for them. Therefore the rich should decide
for them and the rich should take up the cause of "fixing" America
in the name of the poor.

He tells us that throwing R&D is the magic solution to every problem. He
tells us, for example, that if we had just continued Jimmy Carter's energy
R&D, America's energy system today would look radically different. But
when you get beyond the empty phrases of "R&D" and look at what
Carter's program actually consisted of, its not so nice. Carter's program was
at its heart a program to shift the US to coal. And anyone who thinks that
transforming coal into liquid fuel or building coal slurry pipelines would
have been a step forward in American energy policy is crazy. And no amount of
"research" into solar power can overcome the basic problems of cost
and inconsistant power generation.

People like Sachs believe that science is "magic" and that throwing
money at R&D can change the laws of nature. But it is not so. We live in
a world that is resource interdependent. Jimmy Carter's energy programs were
based on the idea that science could make it 1950 again and deny the reality
that America was part of the world rather than a standalone fortress.
Carter's dream of an America run on coal was foolishness that was rightfully
abandoned. And its also worth pointing out that the so-called countries of
civilized virtue didn't themselves take it up in a way that led anywhere.

The only way to improve America is to fix the problems of America. Trying to
turn the United States into Sweden or Germany isn't a viable solution. What
that means is looking at the institutional problems of America and asking
hard questions about them. For example, that means asking WHY the costs of
higher education in the united states are going up rather than just throwing
more government money at the problem. That means asking WHY its impossible to
get health care outside of an insurance plan regardless of how much money a
person has. Why does it cost proportionally so much more today for simply
medical procedures (take a broken arm) than it used to? Why do those costs
seem to have nothing to do with the cost of the service delivered?

What people in the United States need to do is to stop talking about fixing
problems by throwing money at them and start fixing what is broken in
American institutions by asking hard questions. The sort of easy answers
(copy Sweden) that fill this book will ultimately lead nowhere.

An Eloquent Plea for

Tiger CK

In the Price of Civilization Jeffrey Sachs makes a
powerful call for significant changes in the way the U.S. government manages
the economy. According to Sachs, an economics professor at Columbia
University, Washington has not devised policies that meet the challenge of
globalization. Rather than investing in education and infrastructure, as many
Asian countries have during the last twenty years, they have resorted to
popular short-term stimulus measures such as cutting taxes and reducing interest
rates. These problems have been exacerbated by lobbyists whose influence over
Republicans and Democrats has made meaningful change impossible.

Sachs argues that the best solution for these problems is for Washington to
move toward a "mixed economy" in which a more effective government
plays a larger role in regulating businesses. He believes that the current
problems in the American economy are structural and not short-term. With the
Republicans and Democrats both seeking solutions that will prop up the economy
for a year or two rather than address the structural issues, the United
States is on the wrong course and not likely to return to the levels of
prosperity it previously enjoyed. These problems can only be solved if the
government makes a long-term commitment to investing in industry in part by
raising taxes on the wealthy and reducing the growing gap between the rich
and poor.

Sachs's bold argument is not likely to be welcome by either Democrats or
Republicans. One Republican congressman (Paul Ryan) has already published a
scathing review of the book in the Wall Street Journal more or less equating
Sachs's proposals with socialism. But I think Americans fed up with
Washington and its inability to solve the current crisis will find many of
Sachs's arguments very compelling. The majority of Americans do wish that the
government could be reclaimed form corporate lobbyists and the people
empowered and they recognize that politicians on boths ides of the spectrum
are part of the problem.

Is Sachs right? I don't agree with him on everything but I do think he makes
many valid points especially on the shortsightedness of our politicians and
the methods that they are now using to attack our economic problems. I am not
completely sold on Sachs's mixed economy solutions, however. I believe the
key to economic policy is not whether we lean toward laissez-fair or a mixed
economy. In fact, both of these have been successful in certain situations
and may be part of the solutions. The key is that our economic policy be
smart and farsighted. In this sense, Sachs's book is at least a step in the
right direction.


There is an abundance of jobs out there, the problem is, Americans can't fill them!

The rapid advance in technology that facilitates and enhances our everyday lives has also rapidly eliminated many job positions that are no longer needed, or can be accomplished by far fewer hands. It's the biggest irony of our time in that we both benefit from technology but at the same time we are hurt by it because we are not prepared for it.

Americans do not focus on the right things. What's generally important to Americans is not what's important to the new job market. The emphasis should be on math, science and technology, etc.. But instead too many of our students major in things that don't build anything; things that don't improve anything; things that don't result in inventions for the future, or forward our understanding of the world we live in.

We have a whole generation growing up motivated and inundated by crime shows/news 24/7. They would rather work in a crime lab than for NASA! They don't want to be astronauts or mathematicians, but instead CSI forensic examiners and ambulance chasing lawyers. I'm not trying to disparage these positions, but we've got enough people performing these tasks and we don't need more of them, we need less.

Living in a culture that emphasizes all the wrong things, I'm not hopeful of a change anytime soon. The only thing we can do is continue to draw talent from other parts of the world to fill positions that we at the moment are not capable of filling. Sad, because we have the potential, but our culture says something different.

To briefly return to our militant youth, they are a symptom many are looking to pin to a cause now.   However, from the above views, one can see there are no shortcuts.  Some day, in the future, it may be said that the thousand mile journey started with/in a blog.


fCh said...

Martha Shelley
Portland, Ore.

I went to Occupy Portland today and spoke with as many people as I could (around 5,000 attended the rally and march). Contrary to what is being published in the mainstream media, the protesters are very clear on their demands. These include, but are not limited to: 1) abrogate "free trade agreements" and bring the jobs home to America, 2) prosecute the Wall Street gangsters and CEOs who robbed us and return the stolen wealth to the people, 3) stop foreclosures and save our homes and communities, 4) end the wars that are bankrupting this country, and 5) invest in renewable energy instead of subsidizing corporations that are destroying the earth.

None of these proposals are arcane, and most aren't even that difficult to put into practice. For example, moratoriums on foreclosures lasted for years during the Great Depression. The only reason reporters have a hard time comprehending them is that these demands threaten the billionaires who own 99% of this country's wealth, its politicians, and the media outlets that employ those reporters. Or, as Upton Sinclair said, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it."


Hailey, ID

Here it is--a perfect description of the Occupy Wall St. protesters' major issues, from FDR speech accepting the Democratic nomination for a second term, June 27, 1936:


"For out of this modern civilization economic royalists carved new dynasties. New kingdoms were built upon concentration of control over material things. Through new uses of corporations, banks and securities...-all undreamed of by the fathers—the whole structure of modern life was impressed into this royal service. There was no place among this royalty for our many thousands of small business men and merchants who sought to make a worthy use of the American system of initiative and profit...

It was natural and perhaps human that the privileged princes of these new economic dynasties, thirsting for power, reached out for control over Government itself. They created a new despotism and wrapped it in the robes of legal sanction...

These economic royalists complain that we seek to overthrow the institutions of America. What they really complain of is that we seek to take away their power. Our allegiance to American institutions requires the overthrow of this kind of power. In vain they seek to hide behind the Flag and the Constitution. In their blindness they forget what the Flag and the Constitution stand for...

In this world of ours in other lands, there are some people, who, in times past, have lived and fought for freedom, and seem to have grown too weary to carry on the fight...

I believe in my heart that only our success can stir their ancient hope. They begin to know that here in America we are waging a great and successful war. It is..a war for the survival of democracy...

I am enlisted for the duration of the war."

fCh said...

Tim Kane
Mesa, Arizona

The framers gave our system 3 important aspects. 3 governing principles: Free contract for economics, personal freedom (the bill of rights) and democracy (political socialism).

The Bill of Rights ended cultural warfare. The evidence I experienced first hand: my grade school had equal portions of Protestants, Christians, Jews, and contained dozens of nationalities all living in peace and joy while in the lands where our ancestors came from still harbored grudges we could never even imagine. The Bill of Rights says, each person gets to do whatever they want. Like it or not, your rights end where mine begin and vice versa. The culture wars ended in 1791.

Free contract means perpetual class warfare. In such a system bargaining power is everything: what you earn is a function of your bargaining power. Everything that goes on around us, whether it's media advertising, personal grooming, or what goes on in the dens of iniquity on Wall Street and in Washington has to do with individuals or groups trying to enhance their bargaining power.

The danger of free contract is that bargaining power becomes concentrated on unlevel playing fields, creating concentrations of wealth. Concentration of wealth caused the collapse of Ancient Egypt's New Kingdom, Rome, Byzantium, Medieval Japan, Hapsburg Spain, Bourbon France, Romanov Russia, Coolidge/Hoover America, and Bush II America. The framers knew about Rome, thanks to Gibbons, Spain, were watching France unravel in their presence, and expected the same of Britain.

To prevent concentration of wealth/power they gave us the agencies of political socialism: Democracy. They didn't anticipate the limited liability corporation or that people would be duped by false culture wars, 'trickle down economics' idea that giving other people money is the best way to get ahead.

The people gathering in the streets are just using what bargaining power they have left available to them, by the framers: free speech and free assembly. High Time.

Anonymous said...

In Private, Wall St. Bankers Dismiss Protesters as Unsophisticated
Publicly, bankers say they understand the anger at Wall Street — but believe they are misunderstood by the protesters camped on their doorstep.

But when they speak privately, it is often a different story.

“Most people view it as a ragtag group looking for sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll,” said one top hedge fund manager.

“It’s not a middle-class uprising,” adds another veteran bank executive. “It’s fringe groups. It’s people who have the time to do this.”

As the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have grown and spread to other cities, an open question is: Do the bankers get it? Their different worldview speaks volumes about the wide chasms that have opened over who is to blame for the continuing economic malaise and what is best for the country.

Some on Wall Street viewed the protesters with disdain, and a degree of caution, as hundreds marched through the financial district on Friday. Others say they feel their pain, but are befuddled about what they are supposed to do to ease it. A few even feel personally attacked, and say the Occupy Wall Street protesters who have been in Zuccotti Park for weeks are just bitter about their own economic fate and looking for an easy target. If anything, they say, people should show some gratitude.

“Who do you think pays the taxes?” said one longtime money manager. “Financial services are one of the last things we do in this country and do it well. Let’s embrace it. If you want to keep having jobs outsourced, keep attacking financial services. This is just disgruntled people.”

He added that he was disappointed that members of Congress from New York, especially Senator Charles E. Schumer and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, had not come out swinging for an industry that donates heavily to their campaigns. “They need to understand who their constituency is,” he said.

Generally, bankers dismiss the protesters as gullible and unsophisticated. Not many are willing to say this out loud, for fear of drawing public ire — or the masses to their doorsteps. “Anybody who dismisses them publicly is putting a bull’s-eye on their back,” the hedge fund manager said.

John Paulson, the hedge fund titan who made billions in the financial crisis by betting against the subprime mortgage market, has been the exception. His Upper East Side home was picketed by demonstrators earlier this week, but Mr. Paulson offered a full-throated defense of the Street, even going so far as to defend the tiny sliver of top earners attacked by the Occupy Wall Street protesters — whose signs refer to themselves as “the other 99 percent.”

“The top 1 percent of New Yorkers pay over 40 percent of all income taxes, providing huge benefits to everyone in our city and state,” he said in a statement. “Paulson & Company and its employees have paid hundreds of millions in New York City and New York State taxes in recent years and have created over 100 high-paying jobs in New York City since its formation.”

Anonymous said...

“I don’t think we see ourselves as the target,” said Steve Bartlett, president of the Financial Services Roundtable, which represents the nation’s biggest banks and insurers in Washington. “I think they’re protesting about the economy. What’s lost is that the financial services sector has to be well capitalized and well financed for the economy to recover.”

Jamie Dimon, the chief executive of JPMorgan Chase & Company, typifies the conflicting messages coming from Wall Street. In a conference call with reporters after third-quarter earnings were announced Thursday, he stuck a sympathetic note. “I do vaguely remember the First Amendment that it is legal to demonstrate and it is completely fine,” he said. “You should listen and not just have a knee-jerk reaction.”

But in a later conference call with analysts, Mr. Dimon’s remarks were more offhand when asked about the protests and the negative perception of his industry. “Most of our clients like us,” he said. Besides, changing the industry’s image now is a tall order, he told the analysts, before adding, “If you have any great ideas on the phone you guys can write them up and send them to me. We’ll take them into consideration.” Without a coherent message, the crowds will ultimately thin out, Wall Street types insist — especially when the weather turns colder. They see the protesters as an entertaining sideshow, little more than flash mobs of slackers, seeking to lock arms with Kanye West or get a whiff of the antiestablishment politics that defined their parents’ generation.

“There is a view that it will be a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing,” said one financial industry official.

Most bankers were far more concerned this week about the business impact of the new Volcker Rule restrictions on speculative trading than they were about the demonstrations, this official added.

A smaller group of bank executives are taking the protests more seriously. They see them as a sign of the growing economic divide in this country — and are even monitoring the latest developments on Twitter. While peaceful so far, the demonstrations at Bank of America, Chase and Wells Fargo branches from San Francisco to Peoria are eerily similar to those routinely seen at Citibank outposts in Athens, Hong Kong, and in other overseas markets. Some believe it could be years before the swarms of protesters end their marches on bank branches.

A few outspoken members of the financial industry have broken ranks with their more skeptical brethren to say they understand a bit of the outrage of the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

“When I tell people I went down to research the protests, they’re shocked, they literally laugh,” said Michael Mayo, a veteran bank analyst at Crédit Agricole Securities. “It’s just not a location they frequent.”

Citigroup’s chief executive, Vikram S. Pandit, even said he would be happy to talk with the protesters any time they wanted to drop by. Mr. Pandit, onstage Wednesday at a Fortune magazine conference, said that the protesters’ “sentiments were completely understandable.”

“I would also corroborate that trust has been broken between financial institutions and the citizens of the U.S., and that it’s Wall Street’s job to reach out to Main Street and rebuild that trust,” Mr. Pandit said. The protesters should hold Citi and others “accountable for practicing responsible finance,” he said, “and keep asking us about how we’re doing.”

fCh said...

The Occupy Wall Street crowd is still far from a movement. Even defining success in such social enterprise, other than morphing into a movement, is not a trivial matter.

Dangers are many, e.g., co-optation by the establishment, dispersal, etc. As a system level, not having class consciousness and lacking a systemic approach towards problem solving (on this point, we have the Popperian US academe to thank for), solution(s) will be long coming.

fCh said... for the New York bankers, who said they could see beyond their noses? Clever bunch working on inside information, changing the rules during the game, or government handouts. The tragedy is that banksters are among the most intelligent...

We should realize that privatizing the money function has taken us down this road where the banksters can tax with impunity our addiction to money. Would a governmental option have worked better? Not always, not necessarily. However, when stuff like the 2008 Crisis happens, or before it happens, corrective action is necessary. In fact, anti-corrective actions had been undertaken since Clinton, Greenspan & Rubin's reign in the late '90s. BTW, the Frank-Dodd Bill doesn't count as a correction.

Anonymous said...


There isn't going to be a financial transactions tax (FTT) because too many countries have come out against it. The list includes: the US, Canada, Australia, Russia, India, China, Saudi Arabia, the UK, South Korea, Mexico, Singapore, Sweden, the Netherlands, Malta, Ireland, the Czech Republic, etc. etc. Any country that imposes the tax will see their financial industry pack up and move to Switzerland or Hong Kong or any other non-FTT jurisdiction.

From hard experience Sweden knows this tax will destroy their financial industry and they've made it clear they're not going to do it again. On September 16th, 2011, Anders Borg, the Swedish Finance Minister said, "We have substantial experience in Sweden...And from the Swedish perspective, we cannot foresee that we would introduce such a tax in our system again." The Dutch Finance Minister, Jan Kees de Jager, has said on several occasions that the Dutch won't support a financial transactions tax because it will drive investment capital out of the Netherlands. And Malta has made it clear they won't agree to any imposed taxes because it "considers taxation as a national issue." The Czech Financial Minister called the FTT "irrational."

The financial industry is 35% of Manhattan economy, 25% of Chicago's and over 10% of other large cities like San Francisco. There's no way the US is going drive one of the largest segments of our economy (and hundreds of thousands of jobs) to Switzerland and Hong Kong. FTT legislation will never get through Congress.

Anonymous said...

Robert S. Halper, a retired Wall Street trader, spends time each day in Zuccotti Park talking to protesters about politics and their thoughts on reforming the banking system.

But Mr. Halper, a 52-year-old Brooklyn native, never reveals two facts about himself: he is a former vice chairman of the New York Mercantile Exchange and the largest single donor to the nonprofit magazine that ignited the Occupy Wall Street movement.

“The whole thing is very surreal to me — the fact that I spent my whole career right across the street,” he said in an interview last week on a marble bench near the park. “It makes me a little anxious, to tell you the truth. It could go anywhere. I just pray that it ends peaceful.”

Mr. Halper said he first heard about the plan for protests in June when he visited Kalle Lasn, the editor in chief of Adbusters, a Canadian anticorporate magazine, in Vancouver. Over a steak dinner, the two longtime friends discussed Mr. Lasn’s project, a plan to fill Wall Street with protesters as a way to galvanize anger on the political left into a revolutionary movement resembling the Arab Spring.

“I rolled my eyes,” he said. “I was more interested in talking about health care.”

But Mr. Halper, who lives on the Upper West Side, had long been a supporter of the magazine, donating by his estimate $50,000 to $75,000 over the last 20 years since he was first attracted by the magazine’s spoofs on corporate logos and advertisements. So he wrote a check for $20,000 and returned to his life in New York.

A month later, the magazine sent an e-mail blitz to 90,000 readers and advocates calling for the occupation of Wall Street and setting the date for the first protesters to camp in downtown Manhattan.

“We sparked it,” said Mr. Lasn, 69, but “what they’ve done up until now — with a leaderless movement that is all-inclusive — that’s given them a kind of mystique that has launched a national conversation.”

The text of that initial call can still be found on the magazine’s Web site, which has been filled with photos and videos from the Occupy Wall Street protests. Mr. Lasn said the magazine’s circulation, now roughly 120,000, had expanded in the weeks since protesters took over Zuccotti Park on the Adbusters-selected date, Sept. 17.

Anonymous said...

The protest quickly grew beyond the influence of the magazine’s followers, as independent calls for similar protests in other cities began proliferating. The leaderless movement soon gained a measure of cohesion online from another unlikely place: Nebraska.

Two days after the start of the Occupy Wall Street protests, a pair of young Web designers, unable to travel to New York to take part in the demonstration, created a simple digital hub for the growing number of Facebook and Twitter pages dedicated to spreading the protest to new places.

“I thought, ‘Wow, it would be really great if there was a Web site that collected information about all of these,’ ” one of the designers, Ella, 25, said. (She spoke on the condition that she be referred to only by her first name to minimize the harassment she receives via e-mail.)

She and her fiancé threw together a page in “a few hours” and called it Occupy Together, and the design appears to have been emulated by others trying to organize in dozens of cities, including Boston, Seattle and Portland, Ore.

Mr. Halper, the Wall Street supporter of Adbusters, said he felt swept up in something larger but remained ambivalent about the protests. He does not claim any role in starting the movement, though he calls Zuccotti Park “the coolest place in New York.”

Mr. Halper was raised in East New York, Brooklyn, and Woodmere on Long Island, and his parents owned a liquor store on the Lower East Side. He began his career as a floor trader in 1983, swapping oil futures and living in Manhattan. Since retiring in 2007, he has focused on philanthropy, donating roughly $100,000 a year to a variety of causes, mostly related to health care and the arts.

He recently gave $2,500 to Mitt Romney’s campaign for president, after meeting him at a neighbor’s fund-raiser. “My giving is a little A.D.D. — like me,” he said, referring to what he described as his hyperactivity and wandering attention.

He readily admits to being a member of the so-called One Percent — the top slice of American earners, who have been vilified by the protesters. “The fact that I made a lot of money, things just worked out for me,” he said. “There’s some issues where we’re all in it together.”

Mr. Halper said his conversations with protesters had made him think a lot about what should be done. “If there’s pain, it should be shared,” he said. “The people who have money — they should pay something more, whether that’s in taxes or somewhere else.”

Jerry Frey, Columbus OH said...

An unscripted reality show, Occupy America is a populist movement in the tradtion of the nineteenth century Cross of Gold. Speculation (George Soros; hedge funds), long or short, oil futures, de-regulation, neo-liberalism, benefits the 1 percent connected class with no social benefit. Banks once organized and allocated capital in order to produce wealth, economic expansion, that benefited the many rather than the few. Globalists know no national loyalty and are detached from their nations.

Get the $oney out of politics. Campaign contributions are the nexus of corruption in the capitol. Reduce the amount of money involved in re-election, which really is the name of the game, by promulgating free air time during elections. Keep the current system for primaries.

Why does all this remind me of France in the 1780s and 1790s?

1) 1780s - The economy of France is in crisis. The civil population is poor and becoming poorer and they are starving.
2) 1789 - The storming of the Bastille - the revolution begins
3) 1791 - The King and Queen flee for their safety.
4) 1792 - The King and Queen are arrested.
5) 1793 - The guillotine - King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette are beheaded.
6) 1793 - 1794 - the Reign of Terror. Over 16,000 people are beheaded.

Our system of free enterprise is a corrupt oligarchy of the wealthy that drives more and more middle class Americans into poverty, even while the very rich get much richer. As happened over 200 years ago in France, the people will eventually rise up.

Anne Applebaum said...

the Wall Street protests are anti-democratic because of their “refusal to engage with existing democratic institutions.” In other words, it’s undemocratic to protest oligarchic rule; if these protesters truly believed in democracy, they would raise a few million dollars, hire lobbying firms filled with ex-political officials, purchase access to and influence over political leaders, and then use their financial clout to extract the outcomes they want. Instead, they’re attempting to persuade their fellow citizens that we live under oligarchy, that our democratic institutions are corrupted and broken, and that fundamental change is urgent — an activity which, according to Applebaum, will “simply weaken the [political system] further.”

Could someone please explain to her that this is precisely the point? Protesting a political system and attempting to achieve change outside of it is “anti-democratic” only when the political system is a healthy and functioning democracy. Oligarchies and plutocracies don’t qualify.

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