Thursday, May 22, 2014

A self-described Marxist reviews Piketty

Marxist Charles Andrews reviews Piketty.  Mostly on what a good book it is, but he says the book lacks the deep Marxist analysis that reform--while good and needed now--will never be completed or sustained under Capitalism.  The capitalist mode of production must ultimately be overthrown--that's what Piketty tries as hard as an American Liberal to deny.  But what Piketty does provide is impressive data which may lead others, who were not trained to hate state capitalism aka Communism as he was, to see how necessary reform, and ultimately overthrow, are.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

David Barsamian Alternative Radio

More great radio!  Where have I been?

I've known David Barsamian because he's the interviewer on a large number of Chomsky interviews I've heard.  Little did I think that all along these interviews of Chomsky were actually radio programs on Alternative Radio, which could have been (though never in my locales, it would appear) radio programs on Public Radio affiliates or other noncommercial stations.  Alternative Radio is a one hour weekly program with great speakers like Chomsky, Scahill, and Alperowitz.

The website immediately brings you to the page where you can purchase past programs.  Dig a bit deeper and you can get find a fairly large number of free programs, often featuring David Barsamian himself.  Then you can find the Affiliate Stations.  One of those I can just barely get over the air (need better antenna anyway).  And it occurs to me that I might be able to get many of them over internet radio.

The problem is not so much that great radio isn't available.  People sometimes talk about The Media in that sort of sense.  The problem is that you have to dig just a little to find the good stuff, and most people don't.  They expect to be able to hear all they need by just turning on their radio to the loudest station (likely Fox), or if their taste is a bit more refined, NPR.  Often NPR is hailed as "the liberal voice" when in reality it has been at least as much controlled by Republicans as Democrats, and simply doesn't present leftist views at all (though it gives much attention to right wing views…).  NPR only goes so far to the left, maybe 1pm on the clock face.  It's just slightly better than the others, on which even centrist views are forbidden.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Oswald doesn't matter, the Empire does

Lee Harvey Oswald was not a Castro fan.  His pro-Castro stuff is fake stuff.  Oswald's assignment was to create anti-Castro sentiment by making it look as if a pro-Castro partisan was attempting to assassinate the US President.  He had a poor enough rifle that he couldn't actually harm the President.  That wasn't his assignment or his intent.  He was anti-Communist, not especially anti-Constitution.  He had been a CIA asset.  But his assigners weren't telling him the full story.  That's how it's done.

Who assigned him this task?  Likely the same mega rich oil and war bucks men, mafia dons, CIA assets, former and off duty agents of several kinds (CIA, FBI), and a few on-lines, likely stringing all the way back to J Edgar Hoover (who managed the coverup perfectly--pure genius), who were responsible for actually killing Kennedy, and including GHW Bush, LB Johnson, Gerald Ford, probably Nixon too.  It was not an official CIA Finding signed by the Kennedy that led through directly through chain of command to his own murder…  But there may be a whole community of partisans of war through the on and off duty ranks, and reaching into the aforementioned parts of society, including secret societies we may not even know about.  The ultimate promoters of the need for Cold War and crushing Communism, who have ruled the USA ever since, actually ever since FDR, and overlapping with those who wanted to topple FDR, but asked the wrong muscle to do so.

If there is such a conspiracy, or anything close to it, does it matter who actually fired the fatal shot?  Not much now, for all the conspirators bear as much if not more responsibility than the shooter.  The greatest responsibility might even be assigned the perpetrators of the coverup.  It's the conspiracy or not that is the first big question, then who it involved.  And the single bullet theory makes no sense, and there had to be a conspiracy (so Congress itself resolved in the 1970's).  Recently I've been looking at the stuff by William Dankebar, who has all the angles, plus, ultimately, for what it's worth, the shooter, James Files.

And should this be seen, then, as an internal coup by insiders?  Yes!  And there only might have been a change in national history…if Kennedy had lived.  That was the problem, Kennedy was growing weaker and weaker on empire, and that couldn't be tolerated.  What was needed was someone to keep the Cold War going, full tilt, as it had been since…the day FDR died, and Truman was persuaded to play the Superpower bully his backers wanted (see Oliver Stone's Untold History of the USA).

So really all that we see here is the hope, that Empire would have been rolled back a bit…and maybe a slightly better future built, though Kennedy wasn't having much luck then with his actual future building, and a Republican would probably have won in 1964, so there could only have been a brief springtime for freedom.  There's just a glimmer of a hope, say, if Kennedy had survived a shooting…he might have won re-election too.  Then there might have been a lot of differences.  Kennedy had been expected to be a good Empire man, he campaigned on the phony "missile gap"--always good to call for more guns, he started his assignments from the secret super imperialist Eisenhower, but backed down on Cuba, and now it was appearing he was doing the same on Vietnam, those were two of Eisenhower's most important continuing projects, given uncertainty over Indonesia and elsewhere.

Even the chance of a chance of empire ending, or a temporary erosion, couldn't be tolerated.  Plus there were some with axes already being ground.  Like the oil men who might have lost the depletion allowance had Kennedy lived.  Including H.L. Hunt, who lived near Dallas, who figures in many theories, and certainly the Bush family would have been hit hard by the end of the depletion allowance too, and many other such.   Meanwhile, rich oil men who were pacifists, and could have figured it all out, may have been disappearing.

Only in the public imagination was there a rollback during or after Vietnam.  The Vietnam War was known to US planners to be unnecessary after Suharto crushed Indonesian leftists.  The dominos thusly fortified, Vietnam was a paperweight.  But it was personal, Lyndon Johnson didn't want to lose a war on his watch, and Nixon wanted to show Republicans were better.  But it was all personal face saving for the '63 coup leaders.  The real empire stuff was going on in Chile and other places south of the US border.  And in the middle east.  That never wavered, and Carter stepped up to the plate funding the mujahadeen in Afghanistan, militarily challenging and ultimately defeating the Soviet Union's efforts there.

So there was no break, and has been no break, in Empire.  It goes on under Obama (Obombem), with wars, major military attacks, backing right wing thug take overs (e.g. Ukraine) which assemble themselves into West subservient governments remarkably quickly, and drone bombing multiple generations down to the kids.  Imperialists have no reason to complain about Obama, but with a Democratic President, they always do, and often under Republicans too.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Galbraith on Piketty, Cambridge was right

I learned that James Galbraith had written a review of Piketty on Krugman's Blog. Krugman brushed it aside as another Hangup of the Heterodox, "a fairly desperate attempt to …somehow prove that Joan Robinson and Nicholas Kaldor were right in the Cambridge controversies of the 1960's."

Now Galbraith is one of my favorite economists, so I had to have a look.  I very much like Galbraith's critique of Piketty!  I posted the following comment to Krugman's blog.

Galbraith's critique of Piketty seems right on to me, and it's not just about the Cambridge Controversy. Surely a global wealth tax is impossible, but a strong estate tax and unions are not. Reading Galbraith, I'm inclined to believe him on Cambridge also. According to Wikipedia, it's US economists who are the outliers who pretend it didn't happen. That figures too.
Now one way of looking at the Cambridge Controversy was that it was about the definition of Capital. The old fashioned idea was it was exclusively things like industrial machinery, stuff used to make stuff, which doesn't change rapidly (even wars don't usually diminish it much), but may fluctuate rapidly in price depending on the outlook of the economy and the availability of funds.  But those fluctuations in price don't represent the capital itself.

American economists want to make Capital equivalent to financial investment, which does fluctuate rapidly, and further includes a lot of crap, like toxic MBS's in the late 2000's.  This is not unlike the way that GDP (invented by Keynes as a part of understanding a wartime economy--and explicitly not as a measure of economic health) has come to be used, over the dead body of it's creator, a measure of economic health.  And GDP also includes a lot of crap which we might be better off not doing.

Though French, Piketty falls into the trap of the American economists.  And so the part of his story which includes huge "capital destruction" at various times in history, is made of this bogosity also.

Piketty is right on only with regards to inequality.  He tells that story well.  But according to Galbraith, his findings based on income tax returns, while impressive and useful, is not original, and merely confirms what has previously been shown by others, like Galbraith himself, from other measures.

Update: Now, mind you, despite Galbraith's critique, I find Piketty very impressive and timely.  Most of what he says is right on.  We need progressive income taxes.  (As well as carbon taxes and the like.)  We need strong estate tax on super wealthy estates (I'm fine with a $10M exemption, adjusted for inflation, but inescapable 50% rate above that and 80% above $1B).  An international weath tax is likely impossible, but it it were not, it would be a fine idea too.  Capitalism steals the wealth of society for the wealthy, and ultimately (in advanced Capitalism, where we are now) locks it up beyond productive use.

It's the dismissal of Marxism, and the failure to emphase the need for strong labor unions.  I call for universal unionization, all working people should have collective bargaining on their behalf.  The very reason why "the wealth" are able to increase the return to themselves is organization.  A capitalist system enables and subsides the organization of Capital.  Labor needs a corresponding force.  Everywhere and Always.

Krugman rightly, in many ways, praises Piketty.  But his Hangups of the Heterodox post linked above is one of Krugman's worst (in the ideas it expresses…not with regards to being an opening for debate…it's an outstanding opening for debate…Bravo Krugman!).  And it does reveal the fundamental limitation of Krugman's writing.  I should emphasize first, however, that we are most lucky to have Krugman!  Long Live Krugman!  Krugman is great and wonderful in almost everything he says at the NYTimes, on his modern classes, tours, and seminars.  In this, I fault Steve Keen for not emphasizing enough (or claiming otherwise).

Krugman just has one particular weakness, and it's easy to see how it comes about.  Krugman is NOT representative of the "field" of Economics.  Krugman is an outlier.  He is far better than almost everyone in mainstream Economics, or even what he calls Keynesian Economics (what I would call Hicksian and Samuelsonian).  Krugman is far better than almost all professional economists precisely because he has an intuitive sense of economics which goes far deeper than the near useless models of neoclassical economics, though Samuelsonian economics relies on them.  Krugman uses his deeper intuitive sense to know which models to apply and when.  And thus he can claim to be a modern Keynesian, as he defines it, when he really isn't fundamentally so.  He just puts on that clothing where it actually works.

But meanwhile, to maintain his credibility, his acceptability to Capitalist media, he must insist that he is the representative of the continuing grand tradition of Capitalist Economics.  He is not a Marxist!  And he does so by having his anti-Heterodox flag, fighting the rear guard on the Marxians, Cambridgians, even the truest Keynesians (who are the Post Keynesians, don't you know, and I would like to be considered Marxian Post Keynesian).

Cambridge was right!  And you should know that. Regardless of what Krugman, who is right about nearly everything else, says.

Dean Baker also denies he follows the Cambridgeans, but then, he dismisses the American side of the Cambridge controversy without explicitly saying he is doing that.  A kind of pox on both houses. Take a look at the fine comment by Sandwichman, who also sees Krugman's Hangups piece as a rear guard action defending economic orthodoxy, but also refuses to come to the defense of Cambridge as I fearlessly do.