These are the times that try men's souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph.
Here is what I have queued up on the ole iPaper:
• Swift action can prevent bubbles from reoccurring (Irish Times)
• Critical Analysis of Buffett’s Annual Letter (Aleph Blog)
• The Myth of Japan’s ‘Lost Decades’ (The Atlantic)
• The Madoff Tapes (NY Mag)
• Tax Breaks to Take Before They Go (NYT)
• State by State Housing Market Infographic (Coldwell Banker)
• Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin Is Really About (MoJo/Kevin Drum)
• The Man Who Wasn’t Darwin (National Geographic)
• The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (NYRB)
• Melting Snow and Ice Warm Northern Hemisphere (NASA)
What are you reading?
By Lynn Parramore, Media Fellow at the Roosevelt Institute. Cross posted from New Deal 2.0.
Busting unions gave Calvin Coolidge the White House, but it gave America the Great Depression.
For years, American workers’ wages have stagnated even as they produced more. Since 2008, they have been socked with staggering new bills for bank bailouts and hammered by a Great Recession brought on by the very same banks. Now public sector workers are confronted by a new crop of Republican governors who want to put an end to unions. Union workers in Wisconsin have already conceded all of Governor Walker’s draconian demands. But they want to hold on to their right to bargain so that they won’t be at the mercy of the whims of political appointees or rogue school boards. Tens of thousands have swarmed Madison to show their support for the working people of Wisconsin.
Conservatives are tasked with coming up with a narrative that makes villains out of these working folks and heroes out of the powerful people who aim to squeeze them for what’s left of their economic security.
This is not easy. And you have to admire their ingenuity. Amity Shlaes, ever the eager revisionist, has whipped up a widely parroted narrative that contains just enough truth to give it the ring of plausibility. It goes like this: Governor Scott Walker is a paragon of virtue who will soon be embraced by the American public, just like his union-crushing predecessors Calvin Coolidge and Ronald Reagan. According to Shlaes’s account, Coolidge, then governor of Massachusetts, stood boldly against badly abused Boston policemen who walked off the job in 1919 and left the city unprotected against looters. After firing the policemen, Coolidge became a national hero and was promptly swept into the Vice President’s office on a wave of popular admiration. When President Warren Harding died, Coolidge took office and it was suddenly Morning in America. As Shlaes tells it:
“Boston Police’ remained American code for the principle that union causes do not trump others. The concern that the U.S. might succumb to European-style revolutions lifted. Strikes abated. Wages rose without unions in Motor City. Private-sector union membership declined. Joblessness dropped. Companies poured cash, which they otherwise would have spent on union relations, into innovation.
Let us fill in some finer detail, shall we?
As Shlaes admits, the Boston police force had been grossly abused with long hours and horrific conditions. And it was true that there was some disorder when they walked off the job, though she somewhat overstates the case. It is also true that Coolidge’s response made his reputation as a Republican politician.
But it was not exactly popular enthusiasm that wafted Coolidge into the White House. Actually, there was a huge orchestrated effort to push Coolidge by powerful financial interests. He ended up on the ticket with Warren Harding not so much because of his overwhelming appeal to the American public – he was known for being taciturn, unsociable, and downright weird (Alice Roosevelt Longworth wondered if he had been “weaned on a pickle”). Rather, it was his overwhelming appeal to American bankers.
They knew a good thing when they saw it.
Young Coolidge, you see, had gone to Amherst College, where he had hardly any friends except Dwight Morrow, who became his bosom buddy. Coolidge went on to become a small town Massachusetts attorney representing banks, while Morrow became a senior partner in House of Morgan. When Morrow saw his pal Coolidge attracting attention in the Boston Police Strike, he wrote to everyone he knew and launched a national campaign to make a legend out of the uncharismatic Coolidge. Morrow and fellow Morgan partner Thomas Cochran lobbied tirelessly for Coolidge at the Chicago Republican Convention in 1920, and their lobbying paid off. Coolidge, first as vice president and then as president in 1923 when Harding died, became a valuable partner for the House of Morgan. Famously declaring that “the business of America is business,” Coolidge stocked his administration with enough Morgan men to fill a banking convention. Historian Murray N. Rothbard notes that
the year 1924 indeed saw the House of Morgan at the pinnacle of political power in the United States. President Calvin Coolidge, friend and protégé of Morgan partner Dwight Morrow, was deeply admired by J.P. “Jack” Morgan, Jr. Jack Morgan saw the president, perhaps uniquely, as a rare blend of deep thinker and moralist. Morgan wrote a friend: ‘I have never seen any president who gives me just the feeling of confidence in the country and its institutions, and the working out of our problems, that Mr. Coolidge does.’
Coolidge got to the White House for crushing unions, where he slept ten hours a day and hopped on and off a mechanical horse in his underpants and a cowboy hat.
Here’s what America got: the Great Depression.
Coolidge’s real legacy was a huge upward shift of income during the “roaring twenties” away from ordinary people to the rich and powerful, who got even richer and more powerful thanks to his regulatory and policy inactivity. The best Average Joe could hope for under Coolidge was for his income to hold steady. The profits from that wondrous innovation and growth that send Shlaes into rhapsodies went to fatcats who turned the country into a casino and smashed the economy.
Reagan’s history is better known – or so you would think. His firing of 13,000 striking workers was, as Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson put it, “an unambiguous signal that employers need feel little or no obligation to their workers.” After Reagan, employers were emboldened to illegally ditch workers who sought to unionize, replace permanent employees who could collect benefits with temps, and ship factories and jobs abroad. Ever-smiling with his friendly cowboy image, Reagan tried to lower the minimum wage for younger workers, weaken child labor, job safety and anti-sweatshop laws, and do away with training programs for the jobless. He also did his best to replace thousands of federal employees with temps without civil service or union protections. Under his watch, the share of the nation’s wealth held by the richest 1 percent of Americans went up 5 percent richer. Guess whose declined?
At the time, Americans were supportive, by slim margins, of Reagan’s stance against the air traffic controllers, who went on strike to win benefit concessions from the federal government. However, the comparison with Wisconsin workers is not exactly apples to apples. These workers have agreed to concessions, and only fight to maintain their right to collective bargaining. Intuiting correctly that the public may not be on their side in this battle, conservatives have relentlessly pushed the deceptive idea that public employees enjoy higher salaries and better benefits than their private-sector counterparts. But this has been widely debunked. Careful research has shown that when you adjust for skill levels, public sector workers are not overpaid relative to private sector pay scales.
After the Great Crash, Coolidge’s bank-friendly, union-bashing policies didn’t seem like such a great gift to America. And just like in the twenties, Reagan’s signal that it was open season on unions energized a much bolder effort to hold down wages by corporate America: Over the next few years, workers by the thousands were let go, found their pay slashed, and turned into poorly paid part time employees. US income inequality reached Himalayan levels as people’s share of the benefits from increased productivity took a sharp nosedive. Today, after the Great Recession, Reagan’s anti-union attitude and enthusiasm for deregulation has also proven to be a dubious legacy.
Governor Walker says he’s fighting for ordinary Americans. So why does he want to require unions to re-certify every year, but we don’t hear a peep about corporations being required to renew their charters every year? Why does he want to control the salaries of public employees, but doesn’t have any interest in controlling the salaries of grossly overcompensated corporate CEOs? Why does he call for sacrifices from hard-working people who have been screwed by the economy through no fault of their own, and none from the financiers who caused the crisis?
Maybe it’s because he has quite a bit in common with Coolidge and Reagan after all. In Reagan’s case, as in Coolidge’s, union-busting led to some of the biggest peacetime income re-distributions in modern history. Democracy got weaker, oligopolies got stronger, the rich got richer, and the rest of us got left behind.
The real lesson from Coolidge and Reagan is this: If Governor Walker and his Republican friends are allowed to crush the public unions, you ain’t seen nothing yet
Quick update on SlopeFest III. The official dates are Saturday and Sunday, May 14 and 15, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
I was unable to get any deal from Bally's. Seems that unless there is a 30 room guarantee, no dice. So you are on your own with room accommodations. Tim and I will be staying at Bally's. Suggestions for meeting(s) are open. Think maybe dinner on Saturday night. Will give updates on that as we get closer to the event.
SPY Guessing Contest
In a tradition established last year with Slopefest I, there will be a contest open to ALL Slopers. Active participants as well as "lurkers." Some rules a bit different this time. It will be based on the S and P 500 ETF, the SPY, this year. Since Tim is now going long as well as short, it will be closest to the closing number regardless if under OR over.
1. Your guesstimate will be for the CASH close (4 pm EST) of the SPY on Friday, May 6, 2011.
2. All entries must be sent PRIOR to 4 pm (EST) on Friday March 4, 2011. No entries will be accepted after that date or time.
3. In the event of a tie, the winners will be based on time and date the guesstimate was received so get your entry in early!
1. First place: two circulated US Morgan Silver Dollars (common date).
2. Second place: one circulated US Morgan silver Dollar (common date).
3. Third Place: a nice selection of crisp, uncirculated German Not Geld. For those unfamiliar, here is a site to get acquainted. http://www.notgeld.com/
There will be a special prize awarded to the Sloper with the closest guesstimate in physical attendance at Slopefest. Think gold!
I will not, of course, participate in the contest. I will email all entries to Tim also for verification.
Email all entries to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Best of luck to all and I look forward to meeting a LOT of you in Vegas for Slopefest III. Going to be a blast! Be there or be square!-Market Sniper
PS..please include your Slope handle, should you have one, in your email.
Jim Rogers joins Zero Hedge in being highly skeptical about just how credible Saudi's call for a 1MM + boost in its oil supply is: "Saudi Arabia has been lying about the reserves for decades. Saudi Arabia the last two times said they are going to increase production and they couldn't increase production. Don't fall for that. The reason oil is going up is the world is running out of known reserves of oil." Of course, then there is the question of does one trust the Quantum fund creator who retired at 37, or does one go with the sellside lemming brigade of monkeys with typewriters who will groupthink anything and everything to death, just to get paid another completely unwarranted bonus. As to those who are concerned that the commodity "bubble" is about to pop, Rogers says: "It's still years away." And some reinforcement for the gold and silver bulls: "Gold will certainly go over $2,000 by the end of the decade, and silver will pass $50." And as a hedge to his great commodity bull market call, Rogers continues to be short Nasdaq stocks. His thesis: "If the economy gets better I am going to make money in commodities, if it doesn't get better, I am going to make money in commodities cause they are going to print huge amounts of money." Call it the adjusted Tepper call. Rogers is also holding a contrarian all on the dollar: "I own some dollars now because there was a huge drop in the dollar. I do sometimes like to buy things when they collapse, and sometimes I don't. Sometimes I lose money." We assume this is merely a short-term revulsion trade as all the near-record USD shorts get flushed out as we highlighted in the latest Committment of Traders update.
We are live at Project Syndicate: http://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/delong111/English
BERKELEY – Three times in my life (so far), I have concluded that my understanding of the world was substantially wrong. The first time was after the passage in 1994 of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), when the flow of finance to Mexico to build factories to export to the largest consumer market in the world was overwhelmed by the flow of capital headed to the United States in search of a friendlier investment climate. The result was the Mexican peso crisis of later that year (which I, as US Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, had to help contain).
My second epiphany came in the fall and winter of 2008, when it became clear that large banks had no control over either their leverage or their derivatives books, and that the world’s central banks had neither the power nor the will to maintain aggregate demand in the face of a large financial crisis.
The third moment is now. Today, we face a nominal demand shortfall of 8% relative to the pre-recession trend, no signs of gathering inflation, and unemployment rates in the North Atlantic region that are at least three percentage points higher than any credible estimate of the sustainable rate. And yet, even though politicians who fail to safeguard economic growth and high employment tend to lose the next election, leaders in Europe and the US are clamoring to enact policies that would reduce output and employment in the short run.
Am I missing something here?
I had thought that the fundamental issues in macroeconomics were settled in 1829. Back then, even Jean-Baptiste Say no longer believed in Say’s Law of business-cycle frequencies. He knew very well that a financial panic and excessive demand for financial assets could produce deficient demand for currently-produced commodities and for labor, and that while such a short-run breakdown of Say’s Law might be temporary, it was nonetheless highly destructive.
Armed with that insight, the disease of the business cycle should be addressed in one or more of three ways.
Don’t go there in the first place. Avoid whatever it is – whether an external drain under the gold standard or a collapse of long-term wealth as with the collapse of the dot-com bubble or a panicked flight to safety as in 2007-2008 – that creates a shortage of, and excess demand for, financial assets.
If you fail to avoid the problem, then have the government step in and spend on currently produced goods and services in order to keep employment at its normal levels to offset private-sector spending cuts.
If you fail to avoid the problem, then have the government create and provide the financial assets that the private sector wants to hold in order to get the private sector to resume its spending on currently produced goods and services.
There are a great many subtleties to how a government should attempt to pursue each of these policy options. Attempts to carry out one of the three may exclude or interfere with attempts to carry out the others. And, if inflationary expectations become embedded in an economy, it may be impossible for any of the three cures to work. But that is not our situation today.
Likewise, if the perceived creditworthiness of the government is shaken, then intervention from some outside lender of last resort might be essential for either the second or third cure to work. But that, too, is not the situation today in the core economies of the North Atlantic.
Yet, somehow, all three of these cures are now off the table. There is no likelihood of reforms of Wall Street and Canary Wharf aimed at diminishing the likelihood and severity of any future financial panic, and no likelihood of government intervention to restore the normal flow of risky finance through the banking system. Nor is there any political pressure to expand or even extend the anemic government stimulus measures that have been undertaken.
Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is actively looking for ways to shrink the supply of financial assets that it provides to the private sector, and the US Federal Reserve is under pressure to do the same. In both cases, it is claimed that further expansionary asset-provision policies run the risk of igniting inflation.
Yet no likelihood of inflation can be seen when tracking price indexes or financial-market readings of forecast expectations. And no approaching government debt crisis in the core economies can be seen when tracking government interest rates.
Nevertheless, when you listen to the speeches of policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, you hear presidents and prime ministers say things like: “Just as families and companies have had to be cautious about spending, government must tighten its belt as well.”
And here we reach the limits of my mental horizons as a neoliberal, as a technocrat, and as a mainstream neoclassical economist. Right now, the global economy is suffering a grand mal seizure of slack demand and high unemployment. We know the cures. Yet we seem determined to inflict further suffering on the patient.
Guest Post: “The Financial Industry Has Become So Politically Powerful That It Is Able To Inhibit the Normal Process of Justice And Law Enforcement”
In his acceptance speech for winner for best documentary at the Oscars, director Craig Ferguson said:
Three years after our horrific financial crisis caused by financial fraud, not a single financial executive has gone to jail, and that’s wrong.
Ferguson told Reuters:
“The biggest surprise to me personally and biggest disappointment was that nobody in the Obama administration would speak with me even off the record — including people that I’ve known for many, many years,” Ferguson said backstage.
He believes Americans, who lost homes and jobs in the millions because of shady mortgage lending and bank collapses, are disappointed that “nothing has been done.”
“Unfortunately, I think that the reason is predominantly that the financial industry has become so politically powerful that it is able to inhibit the normal process of justice and law enforcement,” said Ferguson.
For background on the subversion of justice to the powers that be, see this.
Even Bernie Madoff tells New York Magazine:
“I realized from a very early stage that the market is a whole rigged job. There’s no chance that investors have in this market.”
“The SEC,” he says, “looks terrible in this thing.” And he doesn’t see himself as the only guilty party on Wall Street. “It’s unbelievable, Goldman … no one has any criminal convictions. The whole new regulatory reform is a joke. The whole government is a Ponzi scheme.”
The economy cannot stabilize unless fraud is prosecuted. But the folks in D.C. seem determined to turn a blind eye to Wall Street shenanigans, and is now moving to defund the enforcement agencies like the SEC and CFTC.
And yet the large corporate media never covers this issue. An October 2009 Pew Research Center study on the coverage of the financial crisis found that the media has largely parroted what the White House and Wall Street were saying. (The mainstream media is also pro-war.)
In fact, the financial industry has become so politically powerful that it is able to inhibit the normal process of justice and law enforcement, and the American press.