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Theater Review: “Sweat” Written by Lynn Nottage and Directed at the Dallas Theater Center by Tim Bond. Run ends Feb 10

When jobs disappear, do we disappear too?

My theater buddy and I couldn’t stop talking about “Sweat” after we saw it. The play covers a handful of workers who socialized together through the period 2000-2008. If you’re old enough to remember, those were hard times for factory workers who had made a decent living previously.

The background is layoffs. For these workers, and for millions of Americans, the layoffs and cutbacks seemed as meaningless as they were devastating. Lots of people were hit, hardly anybody knew why. Usually, we talk about these things with statistics and graphs, but this play talks about it in terms of people.

Layoffs and cutoffs created desperation, and desperation brought alienation. Alienation created hate. Many of us have seen it up close. It takes many forms such as: wife abuse, jealousy, divorce, estrangement, substance abuse, and all the ugly forms of chauvinism.

With a handful of friends, “Sweat” demonstrates several of the tragedies. Multiply it by millions and you’ll have America’s working class.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON’s “Workers Beat” radio program at 9 AM every Saturday Central Time. They podcast it on Itunes. If you are curious about what I really think, see my personal web site

Book Review:

Galbraith, James K “The End of Normal. The Great Crisis and the Future of Growth.” Simon & Schuster, New York, 2014. Dallas library 330.90511 G148E 2014

Some economists, and certainly those dominating the thinking in the labor movement, believe that the period 1945-1973 was “normal” and that our subsequent problems came about because of bad policies. Most notably, we blame Reagan, Reaganomics, and “trickle down” economics. Our intentions are the best, but our economic analysis is way wrong according to the last few economics books I’ve read, especially this one.

The postwar boom was not normal. It was an extremely unusual period of capitalist history during which the United States dominated the economic world. Capitalists reluctantly shared some of their largesse with a powerful and demanding labor movement. By 1973, it was pretty well over. What happened before and what is now happening afterward is normal capitalism: slow growth, rising inequality, international competition, and inevitable crises.

Some economists treat their discipline like a religion. In religion, God has a purpose for everything. He/She tends to restore balance in a world that makes sense. When things seem to go terribly wrong, God is just moving a few things around with balance and purpose His/Her ultimate goal. Religious people think that the universe has some kind of stasis, and everything within it has a natural balance that we will understand someday after we’re dead. “Farther along, we’ll know all about it. Farther along, we’ll understand why” as the song says.

This religious commitment to balance and purpose is contradicted by everything that happens. The universe has no balance: some stars collide with others, planets come and go. Our lives have no balance: we may be growing cancer cells right alongside the healthy ones.

Things aren’t balanced and purposeful. In fact, things aren’t even whatever we think they are. Everything is changing from one type of thing to another. The only “normal” is change. That’s true of economic systems as well. It’s not a religion, and there is no balance and purpose to be “restored.”

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Galbraith seems to know that, and he lashes the many conventional economists whose conclusions are tailored to suit the desires of their employers. You really have to appreciate Galbraith for that.

The author teaches at UT Austin. He’s a wonderful writer. Whether or not he’s a great economist, I suppose, will be revealed over the next few years because, unlike most, he does not believe that America will ever return to the growth period from around 1945 to the 1970s. He recommends that we adjust our policies for an extended period of slow growth. His recommendations are a lot like those of Bernie Sanders.

I wonder what he said two weeks ago when President Trump announced that growth in the 2nd quarter of 2018 had exceeded 4%? If they are able to sustain that kind of growth, then Galbraith was simply wrong, but that one quarter could easily be a fluke. I wrote him an email to ask.

Some of his more contemporary remarks, from January 2018, are on-line:

https://www.marketwatch.com/story/economist-james-k-galbraith-isnt-celebrating-dow-25000-2018-01-08 He correctly predicted that corporations would not invest their ill-gotten gains from the December, 2017 tax giveaway. He says they will just buy back their own stock and drive up stock prices, and that is certainly what happened over the next 8 months.

This is a good book well worth reading.

OTHER REVIEWS:

https://marxandphilosophy.org.uk/reviews/7923_the-end-of-normal-review-by-hans-g-despain/

Reviewed by Hans G Despainent

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James K Galbraith’s The End of Normal, recently published, is a spectacular achievement in political economy generally, as a philosophical critique of the practice of economics and public policy in particular, and for its comprehensive and totalizing explanation of global monopoly-finance capitalism.

…Galbraith contends that not only does financialization generate massive inequality and instability (see Galbraith 2012), but generates opportunities for colossal fraud. Galbraith contends we must “stipulate that the Great Financial Crisis was rooted in a vast scheme of financial fraud”

https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18144111-the-end-of-normal

Today, four factors impede a return to normal. They are the rising costs of real resources, the now-evident futility of military power, the labor-saving consequences of the digital revolution, and the breakdown of law and ethics in the financial sector.

 

MY NOTES:

Pg10: That bastard Richard Fisher

17 He begins his tale in 1945

21 Effect of communism. At the last chapter, he gives an interesting summary of the economic collapse of the Soviet Union from being a great power to being a total bust

57 Financialization

64 Economists are like monks in a monastery. He handles metaphors very adeptly

67 Capitalism = perfection

68 Stochastic – it means “random”

99 Could this be an error? He says that no gain results from variable costs. Does he think profit comes from fixed costs?

100: Does he think surplus value is produced from energy? Business cycles are caused by technology. Tractors basically caused the great depression by supplanting all the farmers, mules, and horses. Anyway, he thinks resource costs are a big problem. He thinks technology is not going to save us.

164 Explaining the Great Recession: “…fraud took over the financial system because it was expedient to allow it.” The basis for growth ended in the 1970s.

Somewhere in here, he mentions that nobody cares if people move from California to Colorado. I think he’s pointing out that immigration within the Economic Union is a really big problem, but it’s easy within the United States.

222 Cutting Social Security would not help the economy, as they are just transfer payments redistributing wealth but not creating or destroying any

238 There are four obstacles to achieving high growth and full employment:

  1. Energy markets remain high cost and uncertain (this was 2014)
  2. World economy is no longer under the effective financial and military control of the United States and its allies.
  3. Digital technology replaces a lot more jobs than it creates
  4. The private financial sector has ceased to serve as a motor of growth

Pg 241: Why not live in a “no growth” world? He says that our store of capital would not get replenished so productivity would fall continuously

The Soviets were a great powerhouse by the 1960s, but they did not rebuild and replenish their productive abilities and, eventually, lost the technology race. Their production got more and more costly and less and less quality. After the government collapses, the economy really went to hell. GNP dropped by half, life expectancy dropped from 72 down to 58 (pg 259).

He doesn’t think cutting the working hours would be as good as just letting people retire earlier.

The main players in today’s economy aren’t “rational men” as assumed in classical economics. They are “sociopathic men.” It’s the first and most important lesson.

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What crippled economics as a science was its separation, in the late 19th century, from other disciplines, especially politics. At the same time, it was decided that economies work because “rational men” (sorry ladies) cause the supply and demand for commodities to balance out at a fair market price.

It’s like the Holy Bible of economics: nobody actually believes it but everybody quotes it.

If we still studied politics and economics together, as we did before economist Alfred Marshall, we would see that it isn’t rationality that makes the world go around, it’s antagonism. Our economy is vastly different from their economy.

Bad Is Good

All these “rational men” do not have identical interests. In fact, our interests are extremely disparate. While ordinary working people like you and me want high employment, good wages, and low prices; our employers usually want the opposite. What is good for us, especially high wages, is bad for them.

Back in Alfred Marshall’s time, this opposition may not have seemed so important to people studying single economic data in a single market. But two great changes have occurred since then that make oppositional understanding vital: world war and governmental economic policy.

National “Good” is International “Bad”

Nations exploit one another. The First World War was fought to determine which industrialized nations were going to do the exploiting. That wasn’t a decision made by rational men within a single economy. “War is politics by other means,” as we say. Politicians made the decisions to carry out world wars, and the winners reaped the benefit. War determined international economics, but it certainly wasn’t because of rational men.

“Whose Economy” Depends on “Whose Government”

Capitalism has a built-in propensity for crisis. Early in the 20th century, and especially during the Great Depression, governments began to take affirmative action to save capitalism from itself. They recognized that monetary policy and fiscal policy could be used to heat up or cool down an economy to some extent.

The biggest problem was oppositional interests. Governments generally interceded in the economy on behalf of the richest capitalists and not for the majority.

But another big problem was created by all this government intervention. Instruments of debt and other purely financial instruments were floating around everywhere, and they became an obsession. A major part of economics was no longer concerned with commodities at all.

Government tried to regulate financial institutions, but they gave that up in 1999 when Texas Senator Phil Gramm got the “Financial Services Modernization Act” passed.

Without regulation, banks and other financial institutions began to use the tremendous resources that they could mobilize in high-stakes gambling. They particularly liked bundles of low-quality mortgage debt and its various crazy derivatives. The bust that followed was called the “Great Recession.” After that, the government re-regulated to some extent, but they are presently disassembling regulations again for the same reason — amazing profits for the very rich.

It’s not in the interest of the people, and it’s not rational. That’s the first lesson.

–Gene Lantz

I’m on KNON radio at 9 AM Central Time every Saturday. Podcasts can be found from the “events” tab on their website. If you are curious about what I really think, check out my personal web site.