Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/

History Debunked Demolishes The Black Curriculum

This is another fascinating and well-argued video by Simon Webb of History Debunked. This time he takes aim at The Black Curriculum, the group behind the demands that the teaching of Black History should not just be for a month, but all through the year.

Black History Not Inclusive, Solely for Black Minority

Webb starts his video by stating that, demographically, only three per cent of this country’s population are African or Caribbean. This is a problem for those groups desperate to show that Blacks have made a major contribution to British society. There are other, larger ethnic groups. Indians comprise 8 per cent, and we could also reasonably ask why there also shouldn’t be an Asian history month, or Chinese, Polish or Irish. But the demand is specifically for history that concentrates exclusively on Blacks. He returns to the same point at the end of the video.

The Black Curriculum

He then moves on to Black Curriculum group themselves, who have been favourably mentioned by the Beeb, the Groaniad and other newspapers. Their website, to which he provides a link, contains template letters for people to use to send to government ministers. They also produce educational videos which they distribute free. One of these is about Mary Seacole, the Afro-Caribbean who supposedly nursed British squaddies during the Crimean War, and whom Black activists have claimed was a rival to Florence Nightingale. Webb describes it with the Russian term disinformazia, which means deceitful propaganda. He wonders whether this is a bit a harsh, as they might actually believe it. The Black Curriculum also runs workshops for schools and want to have their video widely adopted. He then proceeds to demolish their video on Seacole.

Lies and Bad History in Seacole Video

It starts by claiming that she came to England to nurse British soldiers because she’d heard that conditions were so bad. Not true. She came to England, leaving her restaurant in Panama, because she’d invested in mines in Grenada, and wanted to know why her shares weren’t doing well. She felt they should have been sold on the British stock exchange. It goes on to claim that she applied to be a nurse, but her application was refused. Wrong again. Those applying to be nurses had to send a written application accompanied by references. She didn’t do that, but lobbied one or two people but never made a formal application. It also claims that she opened a hotel for sick and wounded officers. But it was simply a bar and restaurant. There was no accommodation there at all. He backs this up with a contemporary picture of the ‘hospital’, which shows exactly that it wasn’t one.

He notes that there are other problems with the video, but says that these will do for now, though he might say more in a later video about it and The Black Curriculum. He offers two explanations why they made a video as terrible as this. The first is that they knew nothing about Mary Seacole, and hadn’t read her autobiography. The other possibility is that whoever made the video knew the facts, and set out deliberately to deceive adults and children, which is quite malicious. Someone like that – either ignorant or malicious – should definitely not be in charge of what is taught in the curriculum.

Important Mainstream Subjects that Might Have to Be Dropped to Make Room for the Black Curriculum

Webb also wonders how the issues demanded by the Black Curriculum could be fitted into the present curriculum, as it is packed as it is. There is already enough struggle fitting the present material in. He looks at some of the material the Black Curriculum is already putting forward, and what important subjects in history might have to be dumped to make room for it. This, Webb suggests, might be the Magna Carta, or the Bill of Rights, or perhaps the Holocaust. He then looks at the modules The Black Curriculum suggest on their website. This is material aimed at 7-8 year olds, in other words, kids at Key Stage 2. It’s a time when children are learning basic literacy, arithmetic, science, art and PE. It’s very intensive and there’s a lot of work there. Well, reading and writing might have to be cut back to make room for ‘Collectivism and Solidarity’. A few maths lessons could be dropped in favour of ‘Cultural Resistance’ and ‘Food Inequality’. Science is obviously not as important to children as ‘Activism’, ‘Colonialism’ or ‘Systemic Racism’. He describes this proposed curriculum as ‘largely agitprop’. It’s political propaganda.

He then sums up the problems of the Black Curriculum. There are three.

  1. It’s concerned mainly with Black people. If it was geared to broaden the cultural understanding of the average child he might be in favour of it. He states that he homeschooled his daughter, and as result they visited various different cultures. These included a Black evangelical church, a mosque, synagogue, Hindu temple and Sikh gurdwara. If the proposed syllabus included these as well, he might be in favour of it. But it is not.
  2. It seems prepared by the ignorant or malicious. And that’s an insurmountable object to adopting material of this kind.
  3. And if you’re considering cutting material from the national curriculum, then as many groups as possible should be consulted. Like Indians and Bengalis, Chinese, the Jewish community, which has a long history in this country. If you want to broaden the cultural horizons of British children, which is a noble enough enterprise, it shouldn’t be restricted to just three per cent of the population. It needs to be much broader entirely.

Here’s the video.

Now it’s clear that Webb is a man of the right, but I think he makes valid points, and his remark about trying to broaden children’s horizon is both fair and shows he’s not a racist.

I admit I found myself reacting against the demand to have Black African civilisations taught as part of the national curriculum. It undoubtedly would benefit Black children, or at least, those of African descent. David Garmston interviewed several Black schoolchildren about it in an item in the local news programme for the Bristol area, Points West. One of them was an African lad, Suhaim, who said he had had very low self-esteem and felt suicidal. But this was raising his spirits. You can’t want anyone, of whatever race or culture, to suffer like that. I’ve been interested in African history and its civilisations since studying the continent as part of the ‘A’ level Geography course, at which I got spectacularly bad marks. It’s a fascinating continent, and I encourage anyone to learn about it. But I think I objected to the proposal because it seems that what should be a voluntary pleasure and a joy was being foisted on British schoolchildren for the benefit of foreigners or a minority of people, who find it unable to assimilate and identify with the host culture. I know how unpleasant this sounds, but this is how I feel. I also think that activism like this creates more division, by presenting Blacks as an ‘other’ with a completely different history and culture, who need to be treated specially and differently from Whites and other ethnic groups.

Black people have contributed to British, American and European civilisation and not just through slavery and the riches they produced for planters and industrialists. But until the late 19th century, the continent of Africa was effectively closed to westerners through a mixture of the tropical diseases around the malaria-infested swamps of the coast and strong African states that kept European traders confined to ghettos. Hence Europe and Africa have little shared history until the European conquests of the 1870s, except in some areas like the slave forts of the Gold Coast, and Sierra Leone, founded in the late 18th century as a colony for freed slaves. Liberia was also founded as such a colony, but by the Americans.

Webb’s description of the overall syllabus proposed by The Black Curriculum as disinformazia and agitprop is also fair. It looks like propaganda and political indoctrination, and that’s dangerous. I realise that I should agree with its hidden curriculum of anti-colonial resistance, solidarity and exposure of food inequality, but I really can’t. I believe that teachers have to be balanced and objective as far as possible. This is what is demanded by law. I don’t want children indoctrinated with Tory rubbish about how Britain never did anything wrong and the British Empire was wonderful. Far from it. Topics like those recommended by the Black Curriculum are fine for universities, which should be centres of debate where students are exposed to different views. But it’s not suitable for schools. Our mother was a teacher in a junior school here in Bristol She states that teachers are required to keep their personal opinions out of what they teach their students. If this in unavoidable, such as if a child asks them what they personally believe, then they have to reply that it is just their personal belief, not objective fact.

The Black Curriculum, therefore, certainly does seem to be peddling mendacious pseudo-history and should not be allowed near schools. But I fear there will be so much pressure from well-meaning activists to include them, that they will have their way.

Miserable numbers

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 31/07/2020 - 8:50am in

Even non-connoisseurs are reeling from the miserable second quarter GDP numbers released this morning. Between the first and second quarters of this year, GDP was off 33% after adjustment for inflation. That’s by far the biggest decline since quarterly numbers begin in 1947.

That 33% figure is at an annualized rate, meaning GDP would be off by a third if it declined at the second-quarter rate for a full year. The US is unusual in annualizing the data; most other countries report the quarter-to-quarter change without annualizing it. If we did that, it would have been off a mere 9.5%. But no matter how you slice it, it’s awful: more than three times as bad as the previous record, the first quarter of 1958 (a recession that helped elect JFK), and four times as bad as the worst quarter of the 2008–2009 recession, the fourth of 2008.

If you average the first two quarters of this year and compare them to the first two of last year, as the graph below does, you get by far the worst number since 1946, when the US was demobilizing after World War II. Aside from that, you’d have to go back to the Great Depression for bigger negative numbers.

GDP yty

As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, we never really recovered from the 2008 recession. Quoting that to save some keystrokes:

Had the economy continued to grow in line with its 1970–2007 trend, GDP would be about 20% higher than it is now. GDP is a deeply flawed measure; it says little about distribution or quality of life, but it is what the capitalist system runs on. Listen to any pundit or propagandist, and growth is what the whole set-up is all about. And by this most conventional of measures, American capitalism is failing badly on its own terms.

But that 20% shortfall was based on first quarter numbers; the second quarter took it close to 30%, as the graph below shows.

GDP vs trend

A near-30% shortfall works out to just over $18,000 per person. That’s an aggregate number; it doesn’t mean that we’d each be $18,000 richer had growth held to the old trend. There are things in GDP like investment and government spending that don’t translate into personal income—and since the rich have hogged most GDP growth over the last several decades, the average person would see little of that $18,000. But it is a measure of how much poorer we are as a society because of the economic troubles of the last decade.

Of the 33% annualized decline in GDP, 25 points came from personal consumption, three times the previous worst quarter (the fourth of 1950). That decline in spending came despite the huge boost to personal income provided by the $1,200 stimulus checks and expanded unemployment benefits; it looks like those who could saved their money out of fear it would soon be in very short supply. As the graph below shows, spending on recreation led the way down, off 94%; close behind were transportation, off 84%, and food services and accommodation, off 81%. Spending on clothing & footwear and gasoline & energy were also down hard. Amazingly, spending on health care was down 63%, as people postponed routine care out of fear of catching the virus.

PCE by category 2020Q2

The third quarter is unlikely to be this dire. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York’s GDP tracker, the third quarter is likely to see a sharp rebound—though that’s based largely on early July data. Things look to have slowed as the month progressed—and with the $600 supplemental unemployment benefits gone, at least for now, we could just flatline for a few months. Even if we see some recovery, the long-term damage—people disemployed, businesses shuttered, confidence hammered—will be substantial and lingering.

What a terrible time to be governed by callous morons.

Reflections on the current disorder

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 29/07/2020 - 7:19am in

[This is the edited text of a talk I gave via Zoom, like everything else these days, sponsored by the North Brooklyn chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. It reprises and updates several things I’ve written recently, but it’s hard to be original these days. Video will be posted, but who wants to look at me? The Q&A was quite good though.]

Before I get into the body of my talk, I want to celebrate our electoral victories and say how proud I am to be a member of DSA. If you’re not a member, please join. As someone who was a socialist throughout the dark days of the 80s, 90s, and 00s, let me say how great it is to see socialists in Congress and legislative bodies around the country, not to mention vast uprisings across the country. Onward to state power and social transformation!

Long ago I was a right-winger, fervently but briefly, and the title of this little talk, “Reflections on the current disorder,” was one that the dreadful old reactionary William F. Buckley used as his all-purpose evergreen when he was asked what he was going to talk about. Just a tasteless joke, sorry.

cyclical history

This is not your typical recession. Back in the old days, meaning three or four decades after the end of WW2, there was a textbook pattern to the business cycle. After a few years, an expansion would mature, the stock market would get exuberant and frothy, labor markets would tighten (meaning wages would start to rise more rapidly than the employing and owning class liked, because tight labor markets increase workers’ power), inflation would pick up, and the Federal Reserve would raise interest rates to provoke a recession. Stocks would decline, the overall pace of business would slow, unemployment would rise, and wage and price pressures would ebb. The employing and owning class would then feel better about the balance of forces, the Federal Reserve would lower interest rates, and recession would turn into recovery and expansion.

All that began to change with the onset of the neoliberal era forty years ago. The deep recession of the early 1980s crushed labor and led to a massive onslaught on unions and deep cuts in social spending. Wall Street went wild with takeovers and restructurings that led to job cuts, wage cuts, and speedup. The capitalist class, firmly in the driver’s seat, demanded higher profits and higher stock prices above all other priorities.

This has undoubtedly been a great time to be rich. But things haven’t been so great for everyone else. And the whole system got more unstable. Instead of the neat boom and bust cycle I described earlier, we had insane bubbles, reckless speculative manias that would end in crashes. The first was as the leveraging mania 1980s turned into the 1990s; the second, as the mania of the 1990s turned into the 2000s, and the third as the housing mania of the early 2000s ended in the 2008 crash. Each recovery from those crashes got weaker and weirder, with the very upper brackets making out like bandits and much of the rest of the population feeling like the previous recession had never ended.

The point of this compressed history is that the US economy was getting sicker for a long time. Neoliberalism, by which I mean the belief that markets should be insulated from any political influence and capitalists should be free to do as they please with little restriction, had seriously undermined the system’s integrity. (When I say insulation from political influence I mean of the humane sort. Intervention to make the rich richer, or bail them out when they hit a wall, was perfectly ok—encouraged in fact.) The competence of the state, military and police functions aside, were consciously eroded. Public investment was squeezed, and our physical and social infrastructure left to rot. Class and racial disparities in health widened along with income inequality and economic precarity. Debt levels kept rising, and the cult of maximizing stock prices meant corporations didn’t invest or hire. Many borrowed money just to buy their own stock to raise its price, leaving them in weak financial shape when this crisis hit.

systemic rot

This economic crisis is different from both sorts I’ve been describing. It’s not the garden-variety recession of the post-World War II decades, nor is it like the financial crises of the neoliberal era. It’s the result of mass illness disrupting normal economic life, making it impossible for people to work (though of course many were forced to at great peril) or shop or do all the things that keep the wheels of consumption and production spinning.

But this crisis hit a system that had been structurally weakened because of the systemic rot—the erosion of state capacity, declining health among a lot of the population, increasing financial fragility, inequality, precarity, and the rest. Fragility and precarity are widespread even in what are nominally “good” times.

According to an annual survey of economic well-being by the Federal Reserve—an institution that ironically shows more interest in the topic than most others in US society— done last October, when the unemployment rate was under 4%:

• 16% of adults were unable to pay their monthly bills in full, and another 12% said they couldn’t pay if they were hit with an unexpected $400 expense

• Over a third couldn’t meet an unexpected $400 expense either out of savings or using a credit card they’d pay off at the end of the month. The rest would either carry a credit card balance or throw up their hands in despair.

• One in four skipped medical or dental care because they couldn’t pay

• Almost one in five had unpaid medical debt.

These are averages. It will not surprise you to learn that white people did better than average, and black and Latino people did worse. For example, almost four in five white people were doing ok or living comfortably, compared with about two in three black and Latino people. You could turn that around, though: even in a relatively good year, one in five white people were barely getting by. Almost four in five straight people (yes, I was surprised the Fed asked this question) were doing at least ok, compared with two in three identifying as lesbian, gay, or bisexual.

dimensions of crisis

So that was the situation going into this hellscape. In June, the official unemployment rate was over 11%, three times what it was when the Fed took that survey last year. Unemployment had come down from a peak of almost 15% in April, as people were recalled to work, but that 11% is higher than any month between May 1941 and April of this year. It never got that high during the deep recessions of 1982 and 2008–2009. Under this definition of unemployment, you have to have looked for work in the previous month. If you broaden the definition to include people who’ve given up the job search as hopeless and those who are working part-time but want full-time, it was 18%. Though down from April’s peak, it’s still higher than at any point during the Great Recession of a decade ago.

And it looks like the late spring recovery has run out of steam. Well over a million people a week are still applying for unemployment insurance, and over 30 million are collecting benefits. Not quite half those beneficiaries are on the rolls because of expansion of eligibility to freelancers and other who would not have been eligible under traditional programs.

That expansion of unemployment insurance eligibility was part of the first pandemic relief package, the so-called CARES Act. The CARES Act also included a $600 weekly benefit on top of the normal state benefits. Benefits vary widely by state, ranging from $550 a week in Massachusetts to $215 in Mississippi. (Most southern states pay well under $300.) The national average pre-supplement was $342. So that $600 supplement made a huge difference to millions of people. It has now expired.

As I wrote last week in Jacobin, the unemployment insurance provisions of the CARES Act were the most generous welfare state measures in our ungenerous history. Job losses from late March onward resulted in steep declines in wage and salary income—almost twice as bad as the declines after the 2008 financial crisis and exceeded only by the onset of the Great Depression in the early 1930s. But those declines were more than offset by the huge increases in unemployment insurance benefits, along with the $1,200 checks. These payments were so large that personal income actually rose overall despite the giant hit to wage and salary income.

Personal consumption spending collapsed in late March and early April but stabilized almost the very day the CARES Act passed and began rising when the payments started flowing. According to near-real-time tracking of debit and credit card spending compiled by the Opportunity Insights project, led by the extremely energetic economist Raj Chetty, spending nearly recovered to pre-crisis levels by mid-June. (The graph below is updated from the one in Jacobin. Opportunity Insights is now reporting weekly, not daily, data.) Since then, they’ve begun to slip—and now that the $600 emergency payments have stopped, we can expect them to fall sharply.

Opportunity Insights spending 7-12

These numbers are, of course, aggregates. Lots of people almost certainly haven’t been so lucky. Many reported huge difficulties in filing for unemployment insurance because our systems are so antiquated. Bloomberg—the news service, not the billionaire ex-mayor—was out with a story earlier today that estimated that as much as a quarter of benefits went unpaid because of bottlenecks.

Despite the payments, food banks have been doing record business. According to a new experimental weekly survey from the Census Bureau, there’s been a decline of over 30 million people in the number reporting that they’re getting enough of the food they want. Most, 25 million, say they’re getting enough food, just not what they want, and the rest, almost 5 million, don’t have enough to eat at least some of the time.

no relief

Still, there’s no question the supplemental benefits helped a lot. But no longer.

There will probably be a second covid relief bill, but the two parties are far apart on details and the Republicans are divided among themselves. Dems are looking for a $4 trillion package; Republicans, a quarter that. The GOP is leaning towards another round of $1,200 checks, $200 in supplemental unemployment benefits and a cap at 70% of previous wages (something many states say would take them weeks to calculate), job retention tax credits, and liability shields to protect employers against suits from employees forced back to work. They’re also trying to slip the Pentagon almost $4 billion to replace money shifted from its normal budget to build Trump’s border wall. Trump himself wants almost $2 billion to fund a new FBI building on its current site, rather than one out in the suburbs as had previously planned. The reasons for Trump’s concerns, which he expressed right on taking office, are not fully clear, but may involve assuring that nothing could be built on the current site that would compete with his hotel down the block. The Dems want aid for busted state and local governments and school districts; Republicans don’t. The bickering is likely to drag well into August, which means lots of seriously broke people for weeks on end.

And why do the Republicans want to put a tight lid on unemployment benefits? Because, as Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said, “We’re going to make sure that we don’t pay people more money to stay home than go to work.”

That attitude isn’t stopping Mnuchin for looking to forgive loans extended to businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program, or PPP. Businesses who took the loans were supposed to keep employees on payroll; if they did, the loans would be forgiven. It’s not clear how many did keep employees on the payroll, or how many gamed the system by laying off and then recalling workers before the deadline, but Mnuchin wants to forgive the loans without knowing auditing what happened.

That whole program was a disaster. Much of the money went to areas least affected by either the virus or unemployment. It was administered through banks rather than public authorities, and their decisions were often opaque, arbitrary, and slow. ProPublica reportedthat temp firms got PPP money to “retain” employees that they were renting out to their clients, meaning they got paid twice for the same work. The contrast with European job preservation schemes is striking. They paid employers promptly to keep workers on the job and they did. European unemployment rates have risen only slightly, and their economies look mostly to be recovering. Ours is a wreck.

The recovery in employment is also running out of steam. That same weekly Census Bureau survey reports a 5% decline in employment between mid-June and mid-July, almost 7 million people in numerical terms. As spending slips because the expanded unemployment benefits have expired, it’s hard to see how those employment numbers could do anything but decline further. Add to that the increasing covid toll in the South and West and we have a serious problem on our hands.

How long could this recession last? A long time, I’d say. Not only is a recovery dependent on getting the virus numbers seriously down, there’s a lot of damage to the real economy. As I said at the beginning, this is not merely not a conventional old textbook recession, a story of what the mainstream calls overheating followed by an imposed cooling followed by a normal recovery nor a financial crisis recession, where recovery is inhibited by a huge debt overhang. It’s one caused by immense damage to the real sector—supply chains broken, workers kept off the job by sickness and death (and the fear of sickness and death), firms bankrupted by months of closure who may never reopen and rehire. The Fed can pump money into the markets and the federal government can deficit spend on a previously unimaginable scale, but these problems will take time to heal.

And we haven’t really recovered from the 2008 crisis either. That led to serious long-term economic damage. Had the economy continued to grow in line with its 1970–2007 trend, GDP would be about 20% higher than it is now. GDP is a deeply flawed measure; it says little about distribution or quality of life, but it is what the capitalist system runs on. Listen to any pundit or propagandist, and growth is what the whole set-up is all about. And by this most conventional of measures, American capitalism is failing badly on its own terms.

With all this gloom, why has the stock market been doing so well? I see at least four reasons.

One, the financial markets’ reputation for rationality is thoroughly unearned. The markets are populated by traders with the emotional volatility of fourteen-year-old boys. (Actually, I have a fourteen-year-old son and he’s far more stable than a stock trader.)

Second, the markets have been convinced the virus is going to go away and everything will be better very soon. That bounceback was supposed to begin in the second half of the year; we’re a month into the second half of the year and it’s not here yet. (A major reason to worry: Trump economic advisor Larry Kudlow, who is almost always wrong about everything, says we’re going to see 20% GDP growth in the third and fourth quarters of this year. The US has never seen 20% growth over two quarters since the end of World War II; the closest we came was not quite 15% during the Korean War buildup of 1950. I’m tempted to put a negative sign in front of whatever Kudlow predicts.)

Third, the Federal Reserve has been pumping trillions into the markets for months; that’s potent fuel for a speculative fire.

And fourth, most of the market’s gains are concentrated in five big tech stocks, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Google. They’re up 35% since the beginning of 2020; the rest of the market, as measured by the S&P 500 index, is down 5%. (See graph below, lifted from that Financial Times article.) A 5% decline is not big, given the damage to the real economy, but it tells a much different story from the tech biggies.

Tech stox


So, to ask Lenin’s classic question, what is to be done? Most urgently, people need serious income support, at least $2,000 a month for at least six months. We need eviction and foreclosure moratoriums to prevent what looks like an inevitable wave of mass homelessness as people find it impossible to pay their rent and mortgages. State and local governments and school systems need big support; if they don’t get it there will be massive job and service cuts that will generate misery and deeper depression. Schools can’t reopen safely without a major infusion of resources.

Longer term never has the Green New Deal seemed so practical, Nancy Pelosi’s “green dream or whatever” to the contrary. It has everything we need: the massive public investment program to repair our rotting infrastructure, and the kinds of social spending we need to make the poor not poor and the working and middle classes comfortable and secure.

For decades, civilian public investment net of depreciation has hovered just above 0, meaning that we’re doing little better to replacing things as they decay. (See graph below.) This economic statistic can easily be confirmed just by walking around anywhere in the US outside our richest neighborhoods. We need massive investment in public infrastructure on the model of the New Deal, both to fight the slump and to make this country habitable for the bottom 80–90% of the population. That infrastructure investment must not simply be more of the same—not airports and highways but clean energy and high-speed rail. The investment program needs to be part of a conversion of an economy based on exploitation of workers and nature into something humane and sustainable. The New Deal also subsidized artists and writers, and the projects it created were often beautiful—not driven by the mean, philistine view of life that we usually associate with the public sector.

Net public investment 2020

As an example of the new kind of investment we need, we could put now-unemployed auto workers back to work building vehicles that don’t threaten life on earth. A model to think about was the (sadly unsuccessful) proposal to transform a plant in Ontario GM closed into something earth- and worker-friendly.

We also need to think about industries we don’t want to see recover. The airline industry is in dire shape. It’s also ecologically destructive and we need to imagine a world in which we all continue to fly much less. The cruise industry is filthy and wrecks the towns where those giant ships dock, and it should be euthanized. This would be a propitious time to nationalize the oil and gas sector, undertaken with the idea of putting them out of business. We must move as quickly as possible to stop the use of fossil fuels, and as long as these entities exist, the political and economic obstacles to that necessity are nearly impossible to overcome. Big Oil could be Because the price of oil has fallen so dramatically, the value of the major carbon producers has cratered. The five biggest US-based oil companies (Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Phillips 66, and Valero) have a combined market capitalization of about $400 billion, which is equal to about an eighth of JPMorgan Chase’s total assets and less than 2% of GDP. Shareholders will whine, but as the financial world wakes up to the inevitability of carbon’s obsolescence, the value of their investments will tend towards 0 anyway. In all cases, workers should be protected, not displaced, but the underlying businesses should be wound down or severely shrunk.

The banking system is in decent shape now, surprisingly perhaps, but should the recession continue, as I think it will, this will change as more people and businesses find themselves unable to service their debts. Nationalize several of the largest banks—and unlike the nationalizations in Sweden in the 1990s and the UK a decade ago, they should not be undertaken with the idea of returning them to private ownership as quickly as possible, after the government eats the losses. They should be run on entirely different principles—something like a financial utility, that provides basic services like checking and savings accounts, but not incomprehensible financial products.

There’s no reason the nationalized banks couldn’t be run to finance the Green New Deal. Some of the GND will have to be financed with traditional tax- and bond-financed public spending, but there’s no reason these socialized banks couldn’t participate.

Along with the nationalized banks, we should create something on the model of the Reconstruction Finance Corporation, to finance the GND. It would be a publicly capitalized bank that would evaluate and fund projects like clean energy generation and new models of food production.

At the same time, we should severely rein in with an eye to abolishing, the shadow banking sector of private equity (PE) and hedge funds. PE has saddled companies with crippling levels of debt, which enrich their investors but put them at great risk of failure even in relatively good times. (A subset of PE, venture capital, can play a more constructive economic role, but it’s quite small: there was less than $10 billion in early-stage financing from the sector last year.) Hedge funds do little but destabilize markets and serve no useful purpose.

And never has the need for Medicare for All been so clear. And the reason for that isn’t only the need of freeing people from the anxiety of not being able to pay for essential care, but also because there is little in the way of planning for the distribution of health care resources beyond what The Market demands. A major part of the reason the US is so unprepared to handle the coronavirus crisis is that hospitals are built and outfitted according to where the money is, not where the needs are. Hospitals in both cities and rural areas are broke and closing in the middle of a health emergency. They need to be built where they can serve people who need them.

A lot of this may seem pie in the sky, but who ever thought there’d be a socialist caucus in the New York State legislature? The right still has political power but it’s widely discredited, and mainstream Democrats are out of ideas. We’re deep in a massive economic and social crisis and we’ve got the energy and ideas and they don’t. Now is not the time to be shy!

“Chemically Imbalanced”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 30/06/2020 - 9:00am in

A leading sociologist examines how Americans think about medication and everyday suffering.

COVID-19, Social Distancing, and Intimacy

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 25/06/2020 - 3:55am in

Social-distancing rules cast a spotlight on our normal use of social spaces and point to the key role of distances in regulating social interactions.

Philosophical Counseling And ‘Mental Illness’

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 15/06/2020 - 11:54pm in

Are philosophical counselors counselors qualified to ‘treat’ the ‘mentally ill’? The short answer to that is ‘no’ (associated with the query, ‘depends on what you mean by mental illness’.) A slightly more considered answer, which I attempt to provide here, makes note of the particular competences and constraints of the philosophical counselor.

First, a note about philosophical counseling practice and its interaction with traditional modalities of counseling and therapy. Its place is, and should be, similar to the relationship current modalities of talk therapy enjoy with psychiatry. That is, a philosophical counselor typically works with a psychiatrist for referrals–a psychiatrist might recommend that someone seek counseling as a supplement to the modalities of medication and psychiatric treatment (for talk therapy is often paired with pharmaceuticals to address both biological and cognitive aspects of ‘mental illness’), and conversely, a philosophical counselor might recommend that a prospective client should seek psychiatric, medical, pharmaceutical help as a supplement or exclusively. (Traditional psychotherapists often recommend some clients consider medication as a way of making their talk therapy sessions more efficacious; this allows moving past distracting behavioral symptoms to concentrate on more fundamental cognitive issues.) This arrangement requires good faith assessments of client requests for help: when should a prospective client be directed to an alternative modality of treatment?

My assessment during the initial free consultation I offer my clients is quite simple: May I engage in directed, interactive, conversation with the person who has come to me seeking help? If not, I will not attempt to counsel the person. If a person is afflicted with a ‘serious mental health disorder’ of some kind then they might not be the ones seeking help; rather, someone might make such a call on their behalf. In those circumstances, the default option is to seek psychiatric help. In one recent instance, I was consulted by a woman seeking assistance for her father, possibly suffering from borderline personality disorder; I referred the family to several psychiatrists practicing in the city, and offered supplementary ‘talk therapy’ if psychiatric treatment had commenced. As a supplement, and not as a primary modality; such ‘talking through’ as noted, is often paired with psychiatric treatment.

To emphasize: if a client comes to me seeking help, my initial consultation offers opportunities: a) for the client to investigate and determine whether I’m suitable for them and b) for me to assess whether this is a case that I can take on. Any doubts about the ‘fit’ of counseling into the ‘mental health space’ rest on this inquiry: Is a philosophical counselor competent enough to decide whether he should be taking on a case? Will the counselor err on the side of over-inclusion and take on cases that he should not be? Will he refer and ‘treat’ the right ones? The most serious risk is that I will ‘treat’ someone who is ‘mentally ill’ and do ‘harm’ of some varietal. This risk is tempered by my professional caution, my prudence over the possibility of committing malpractice, and my professional competence at assessing my capacity to be able to aid someone through the tools at my disposal: my philosophical knowledge and my personal and professional experience.

There are risks present in the world of psychiatry, counseling, and psychotherapy: that clients are over-diagnosed with mental illness on the basis of the conceptually incoherent DSM, that pharmaceutical medications are over-prescribed, that cognitive solutions to ‘mental problems’ are overlooked in favor of biological and neurobiological ones that ignore social context and personal history. (Should people with ‘life problems’ always seek medical help? No. They run the risk of being over-diagnosed and over-medicated. Are all ‘life problems’ evidence of mental illness? No. Are some folks incapacitated sufficiently by their particular ‘mental disorder’ that they require some form of pharmaceutical treatment? Yes.) Philosophical counseling is an intervention in this fraught space; it aims to provide an alternative, constrained by a guiding ethical principle that calls for modesty and prudence and humility. While claiming that many of the problems that take people into a therapist’s office can be resolved without recourse to medication, it acknowledges its limitations (and those of other therapeutic disciplines) and notes that often, when treating those whose minds are ‘disordered’ or ‘disturbed’ or ‘ill,’ we are seeking to minimize harm to them and their loved ones, that we are seeking to make them socially functional and competent, and that in those cases, a medication that provides such basic cover might be the best treatment possible.

The philosophical counselor is a professional bound by a code of ethics similar to the medical one: first, do no harm. My primary duty is to the person presenting to me, and my desire to ‘help’ is tempered by a knowledge of my limitations. Because of the risks involved, my guiding professional principle is to seek advice when required; my personal interests, capacity, and competence, dictate that I only take on some kinds of cases. A variety of issues–such as relationship crises or depression–underwrite the vast majority of cases that bring people into some form of counseling and therapy. It is here, in this domain, I seek to ‘practice.’ My ‘methods’ are inadequate for some cases; my initial consultation is designed to help me make such determinations when required.

The philosophical counselor does what he can, and no more. He is modest, yet not reticent, about philosophy and philosophical counseling’s ability to bring ‘relief’ to the most common of all afflictions: seeking answers on how to live our lives.

Life During COVID-19

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 03/06/2020 - 4:43pm in

The word “quarantine” comes from the Italian term for 40 days because that was the longest time that people were believed to be able to withstand lockdown before they started to lose it. Now we are starting to see why. Is it really life if you can’t live it?

While We Were Social Distancing

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 30/05/2020 - 5:23am in

For most of Donald Trump’s presidency, it seems that the news has come at us like a firehose, spraying information, disinformation and quotable tweets. And that was before the pandemic. Now with more than 100,000 dead, presidential spectacles and unemployment … Continue reading

The post While We Were Social Distancing appeared first on

‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’. The question is which one will we take?

Man standing in a wood at a fork where paths divergePhoto by Vladislav Babienko on Unsplash

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’ are the opening words of a poem by the celebrated poet Robert Frost. Whilst he was writing about his own personal life’s journey, they are words that could not be more appropriate to the situation that not just the UK, but the planet, finds itself in. The COVID-19 pandemic which has brought world economies to a standstill and threatens a deep recession is uppermost in our minds, particularly those people who have been directly affected by the disease or by loss of their employment. But those immediate threats, devastating enough as they are proving to be with no immediate solutions and a government anxious to get the economy going again regardless of the potential human consequences, are overshadowed by another peril. Climate change remains the biggest challenge of all, risking as it does the very survival of the planet’s ecosystems and by implication human existence.

Our daily routines have until now imposed a false sense of permanence. The illusion that despite the cyclical economic instability which capitalist societies are prone to, everything always, eventually, returns to ‘normal’. Even when normal has patently shifted. We have accepted this as part and parcel of how things are, even when it hurts people. But the severity of the pandemic is challenging that view. We are finding that in addition to the risky nature of life which COVID-19 has revealed, danger also comes from the fact that our economic system has been built on shaky ground indeed – one might say quicksand. The rolling death toll and the degradation of our public services is a daily reminder.

As the country moves towards a lifting of lockdown and a return to semi-normality, we are seeing more cars on the road, beaches crowded with day-trippers, people travelling hundreds of miles to visit beauty spots, the prospect of schools re-opening amidst huge controversy and airlines proposing to recommence flights, the question hangs in the air about what sort of future lies ahead. Whether we can indeed continue along the perilous path of growth we have been travelling along without some sort of future reckoning. And if not, what should our world look like?

COVID-19 and its associated threats have revealed in the starkest way possible that the economic system which prevailed for the last forty years and more has left the world unable to meet the challenges so cruelly posed by the pandemic. All as a result of a toxic neoliberal ideology which has left our public and social infrastructure in ruins, impoverished people as a direct consequence of a globalised world which has kept wages and living standards down and focused on the primacy of the individual over collective action. Politicians have listened to the so-called economic gurus and put their faith in a mystical market as if somehow it alone can direct the orchestra from the celestial podium. Letting it rip to find that non-existent perfect equilibrium by serving global corporations through legislative means, promoting the lie of trickle-down, and claiming that the public infrastructure depends on so-called ‘wealth creators’.

We have paid a heavy price and we are indeed at a fork in the road. Where we go from here is not clear. And yet the choices we make next will make all the difference.

Earlier this week, the President of the World Bank said that ‘the pandemic and shutdown of advanced economies could push as many as 60 million people into extreme poverty’. The Chancellor of the Exchequer in the same week warned that Britain was facing a ‘severe recession the likes of which we haven’t seen’ which would cause severe damage to the UK’s economy. He also went back on earlier predictions of an ‘immediate bounce back’ as the lockdown was lifted and said that there would be more hardship to come.

This came as the Treasury confirmed that around eight million UK workers have now been furloughed and two million are expected to receive support from the government. The government’s spending has risen massively to support those affected and keep businesses ticking over until such time as a recovery is underway.

Although there has been some talk of more austerity to pay for this spending, even the most hawkish of commentators from neoliberal institutions like the Adam Smith Institute recognise that the last thing we need now is to worsen the prospect of a full-scale depression, even if those observations are still couched in household budget terms. Borrowing whilst interest rates are low or growing the economy to improve tax revenues are the oft-repeated caveats to that spending. Clearly, this is not closing the door to such false household budget narratives.

It is politically expedient to accept the need for spending to stop the economy from collapsing and causing infinite damage to the business infrastructure and profits much as the Labour government did in 2008 when it bailed out the banks. But in time, those narratives will likely be given a fresh breath of life at least in terms of continuing to deliver a political agenda.

It will likely bring the next instalment of austerity for public services and their employees’ wages and carrying on along the well-trodden path which favours corporations by delivering a legislative framework not just at national level but international level through the pursuit of free trade deals.

The state with its power of the public purse being used, not for the public purpose, but for quite a different estate – the corporations and a few wealthy elites. Indeed, this week the media, economists, politicians and political commentators have been priming the public for the acceptance of more austerity by reinforcing the message that governments have to borrow or that government has to collect money from tax revenue or other charges before it can spend.

Both the Huffington Post and the BBC ran articles this week discussing how governments pay for the government’s increase in spending through bond issuance. Peter Hitchens tweeted that Rishi Sunak’s furlough billions were just giant payday loan that the country will have to pay back with interest (at some future date). And Boris Johnson when challenged about the decision to continue charging health and care workers to use the NHS (before the decision to rescind the charge) suggested that the money was needed to run the NHS. Indeed, Captain Tom has been knighted for his work in raising money for the NHS as if the institution was a charity and not a publicly funded organisation which does not require tax or other contributions to fund it.

The narrative being reinforced in in the public’s mind is that at some time down the track it will all have to be paid for through more austerity or increased tax. It is worth repeating here that a sovereign currency-issuing government does not need to borrow in order to spend. Indeed, logically speaking how could it borrow money unless it had been spent by the government first? What looks like borrowing isn’t and bond issuance has quite another role. It is instead a smoke and mirrors exercise designed to give the appearance of borrowing and continue the narrative that governments are beholden to money lenders in private markets or that the markets call the tunes.

Dispelling the myths about how governments spend is a priority if we are to give ourselves half a chance to make a different and better world. As was indicated at the beginning of this blog COVID-19 and recession are just part of this picture. The talk about ‘getting back to normal’ overshadows the biggest threat that we still face – climate change and what our response should be. The false narrative of the burden of debt and paying it back will, if allowed to persist, persuade people that action to deal with any of those threats whether unemployment caused by a COVID-19 induced recession or climate change is unaffordable in the long term. That there is always a financial price to pay.

The reality is that the price will not be monetary, it will be in the lives of people who are unemployed, and a trashed planet not fit to live on. We will be rulers of a dead planet, poisoned by our own hand.

There is an alternative. It starts with knowing about how money works and being able to challenge the current narrative that success is to be judged by how well our politicians managed the public accounts.

Contrary to Mrs Thatcher’s oft-repeated slogan ‘there is no alternative’; there is one.

This is the moment to think about a permanent Job Guarantee to manage both the catastrophic effects of COVID-19 on people’s lives and the economy in terms of stabilising it through ending involuntary unemployment and facilitating the transition towards a green and sustainable world. So much potential but will our government act?

Maybe that time is coming; only time will tell. The political discourse has so far been dedicated to a return to normality, growth and rising GDP.

Fiona Harvey, the environment correspondent in the Guardian began an article this week with a stark warning:

‘Global leaders must heed the lessons of the financial crisis of 2008 when they look to repair the damage from the coronavirus pandemic, leading experts have warned, to avoid entrenching disastrous social, health and environmental inequalities and hastening climate breakdown.

The stakes are high.

Earlier this month the Oxford Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment published its paper ‘Will COVID-19 fiscal recovery packages accelerate or retard progress on climate change?

In its introduction, it noted that the crisis had demonstrated that governments can intervene decisively once the scale of an emergency is clear and public support is present. It went on to say that:

‘The climate emergency is like the COVID-19 emergency, just in slow motion and much graver. Both involve market failures, externalities, international cooperation, complex science, questions of system resilience, political leadership, and action that hinges on public support. Decisive state interventions are also required to stabilise the climate, by tipping energy and industrial systems towards newer, cleaner, and ultimately cheaper modes of production that become impossible to outcompete’

Its recommendations for contributing to achieving economic and climate goals were:

  • clean physical infrastructure investment
  • building efficiency retrofits
  • investment in education and training to address immediate unemployment from COVID-19 and structural unemployment from decarbonisation, — natural capital investment for ecosystem resilience and regeneration
  • clean R&D investment.

A state-run Job Guarantee implemented to serve both national and local community objectives offers the perfect vehicle to deliver a green-led recovery and reduce the inequality of past decades. Retrofitting existing buildings, creating cities which are cyclist and pedestrian-friendly, digging trenches for broadband connections, planting trees or putting in networks for charging electric-powered vehicles are just a few examples of the work that Job Guarantee participants could accomplish. Our imagination can determine the rest. Serving the public purpose must be the quest.

A Job Guarantee provides an immediate solution to the problem of rising unemployment to stabilise the economy, an opportunity for training the workforce and, out of the catastrophe of pandemic, also provides the perfect opportunity to start along the path towards a more equitable, greener and sustainable world.

We as a nation may also want to consider what sort of future we want in terms of public infrastructure to serve the public purpose. Do we want more state provision – a publicly provided and paid for infrastructure and employment to ensure that we can meet whatever the future holds? If the current situation is anything to go by, there are lessons to be learnt. Or do we prefer to continue as we are and move into a Mad Max dystopian type world where corporate profit is the guiding light and government is its servant?

Brian O’Callaghan, a co-author of the paper said that it was ‘this is the single biggest opportunity for the government to shape the future decade…’ which indeed it is.

Robert Frost ended his poem:

‘Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.’

Therein lies the challenge. Not directly a personal one in this case but one which involves us all. Do we continue as we are or choose another path for the sake of the future and those that will inherit it?


Join our mailing list

If you would like GIMMS to let you know about news and events, please click to sign up here

Support us

The Gower Initiative for Money Studies is run by volunteers and relies on donations to continue its work. If you would like to donate, please see our donations page here









Viber icon

The post ‘Two roads diverged in a yellow wood’. The question is which one will we take? appeared first on The Gower Initiative for Modern Money Studies.

How We Can Grow During the Pandemic

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 20/05/2020 - 8:51pm in



We're experiencing life-altering situations that will likely become the new normal. Here are some easy ways we can grow during the pandemic.