Hawking Up Hairballs

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

A Jobless Recovery

It seems to be widely agreed among those who should know that we are in for a jobless recovery. I love that terminology. It's just another way of saying that we're going to have a recovery for the affluent, but the same old economic distress for the rest of us. There's only one way this can play out and that's in a stratification of society like that in so-called Third World countries. There will be very small clique of the very rich at the top, a small managerial middle class, and the great teeming and increasingly impoverished masses below them.

This has happened so far without much open rebellion at all. I think it's because there are a lot of people out there who still believe that, no matter how bad things may have gotten, this is just a cyclical thing and things will eventually improve. There has been an increase in class warfare though, in the form of crime. There have been a number of high-profile armed robberies of Georgia Tech students, and a recent such incident at Emory University. These are elite universities and the robbers apparently think that's where the money is. There have also been a rash of smash-and-grab robberies here in Atlanta in recent months. These sorts of crimes are a manifestation of class warfare, albeit of an ineffectual and unfortunate sort.

A time will come though when it will be widely accepted that nothing even approximating the good times will be coming back for a very long time, if at all. Then the shit will really hit the fan, and it won't be pretty. Given that there is no real, vital Left in the United States, I expect that the first thing we'll see will be increased right-wing militancy. There will probably will be shootouts with the police, and perhaps even with the army. A lot of these guys joined the Army to get training, so they'll know how to fight. Don't think it can happen? And what makes the United States so special? It's happened elsewhere. It can happen here. Hell, it's already happened here. Remember that little dust-up called the Civil War?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

For The Greater Good

You know, I sometimes wonder how the rich sleep at night. They just keep right on plundering the world's economies, sending the overwhelming majority of the rest of us into ever more misery, and they scarcely even miss a wink. Are they all a bunch of psychopaths who just plain don't give a damn? Maybe some of them are, but I'm inclined to believe that most of them are just like everyone else. They have their reasons for behaving the way that they do. They just don't bother telling the rest of us what those reasons are, perhaps for fear that we would call them out.

Well, along comes one Lord Griffiths in Olde England. That's right, it's "Lord" Griffiths, like I'd ever call the man "Lord" if I came face to face with him. Anyway, this Griffiths, who is vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs International and former advisor to the Dragon Lady, Margaret Thatcher, told the Guardian newspaper that, when it came to the outrageous bonuses paid to Goldman executives, the British public should "tolerate the inequality to achieve greater prosperity for all."

The "good" Lord goes on to explain that if such bonuses weren't paid to bank executives in Great Britain, the banks would relocate and everyone would be worse off. I've heard that one before. Back in the Sixties, I recall a Harvard economist trotting it out to explain that a certain amount of poverty was necessary in order to ensure the greatest common good. I may not be brandishing the fashionable little red book of Mao anymore, but I still don't buy that argument. It was specious then, and it's specious now, in particular when it comes to the financial industry. That particular industry, and especially its trading sector, does nothing to create wealth or value, but continually tries to come up with ways to scam money from those who do.

Maybe it's time for a little old-fashioned class violence. Look what the deaths of some fifteen hundred French aristocrats did for the people of that country. It still has a tradition of economic egalitarianism, at least relative to the US. Yes, it would be a shame if some of the Wall Street boys ended uphanging from lamp posts, the hangman's noose being the American populist version of the guillotine, but it's like Griffiths said, sometimes one should tolerate a bit of suffering to ensure the greater good in the long run. You see, that kind of argument cuts both ways.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Italy and the Taliban

Ah, the Italians. You've gotta love them. The Times of London reports that they paid off the Taliban in 2008, so that they would have peace in the area of Afghanistan that is patrolled by their soldiers. What an eminently practical idea. There's no real sentiment among the Italians for the war in Afghanistan, yet the Italian government probably feels compelled to participate. No doubt the US government has bullied them into that position, so they have responded in a thoroughly reasonable fashion.

What else can you expect though? This is the land of the Medicis, the land where double-entry bookkeeping was invented. They understand they value of money, and though corruption is everywhere, the Italians seem to have made an art of it. One may not approve of such corruption, but what the hell? We Americans are as bad. We're just damned hypocrites is all. I will never forget a 60 Minutes segment from the 1980's. I don't recall the topic that was being addressed, but it involved corruption in Washington DC. They reported that a Japanese diplomat said that doing business in the United States was like doing business in Indonesia. You just had to know who to pay off and how much. The politicians interviewed by the 60 Minutes folks were outraged by that remark and it probably seemed controversial to a lot of folks back then. Subsequent history though, it's been a bitch. The proof of that statement can't be doubted by anyone who observes politics in the United States with a clear eye.

Italy may be the land of the payoff and the 18-year-old girl friend. (That's right, Prime Minister Berlusconi who would qualify for Medicare in the US, has an 18-year-old girl friend.) However, the US is the land of the deluded prig. I watched this documentary called The American Ruling Class. It was pretty tame and I don't particulary recommend it. However, in the course of the film, they interviewed James Baker. He sat there with a straight face and said the world was better off with the US as the dominant military power, a power that our government wasn't afraid to use. In other words, he was saying that we are the good guys and, when we engage in military action, it's because it's the right thing to do. It is to our misfortune that a very large segment of the US population agrees with that opinion.

So, what to do about Afghanistan? I certainly wouldn't like to see the people there abandoned to fanatics like the Taliban. On the other hand, I sure as hell wouldn't want to see their fate in the hands of the puppet Karzai and the American military. Unfortunately, it would seem to be the case that, no matter what happens, those folks are well and truly fucked.