Thursday, February 26, 2009

"But of course this isn't a recession"

I've been having the same kind of fights with people for the last few months. It's almost always over politics or economics, and it's always with people who are very uneducated on either topic. I can always see them coming from a mile away. They are the kind of people who spout talking points like they are fact but have no idea of the history or theory used to create those talking points. They are the libertarians who have never read Adam Smith (or put him in historical context) but just like to repeat the "Taxes bad!" theme. They are the kind of people who believe their opinion is important simply because they have one, not because they are right. It usually ends with me screaming "For god's sake read a fucking book you moron!".

Political theory does not begin with the Daily Show and end with Colbert and just because you've ever held a dollar in your hand does not make you an expert on the financial crisis.

So I'm reading Jezebel this morning and I come across this cute little quote:

The banking crisis was touched off by the mortgage crisis and both contributed to the financial crisis that most economists had been predicting because of everyone's willingness to spend money they didn't actually have.
Oh for fucks sake, this crisis was not caused because people spend $3 at Starbucks everyday or own more pairs of shoes than they can wear and put it all on their credit cards. We spend less of a percentage of our incomes on food, clothing and electronics than we did 50 years ago. Consumer goods are cheaper than they used to be. We may have more of them, but we spend less money on them than our parents did. That's why poor people can afford to spend $200 every 5 years or so on a new TV but can't afford $1000 a month for health insurance.

We don't have savings now because we don't have the incomes to support them. Wages have been stagnant for damn near 30 years while inflation keeps going up. And inflation is greatest in housing, education and healthcare. So if wages are stagnant, people find ways to make up for the lack of income. They invest in something that is useful to them both now and in the future, like their homes. Homeownership and equity have been the only things making people able to live a middle class life since their wages aren't keeping up.

(As a kind of aside- isn't it funny that two of the major areas of inflation, health care and education, are things that the government could provide easily to everyone if we weren't afraid of the big bad socialist label. Universal health care and universal education from preschool to grad school would have gone a fuck of a long way towards mitigating the need pay for those things through housing equity).

But that's all local. People's desperate need to fill in the gaps between wages and cost of living did create the housing bubble. If you buy a house and want to keep the resale value up, you spend $40k on a new kitchen or replace all the floors with hardwood. Eventually it gets to the point where you have to keep improving your house because all your neighbors have and your home value will go down if you don't keep up with the Jones. Ergo- housing bubble.

But the housing bubble alone is not what caused the banking collapse. The banking collapse was caused by a combo of deregulation, Alan Greenspan's douchebaggery, and opaque bundling practices that left investors in the dark. None of those things are the fault of the individual home buyers who just wanted a piece of the American dream.

Anyways- now that I have ranted and raved for a bit, let me point you to 2 people who do know what they are talking about economically.

First- Niall Ferguson (who is responsible for the title of this post)

“There will be blood, in the sense that a crisis of this magnitude is bound to increase political as well as economic [conflict]. It is bound to destabilize some countries. It will cause civil wars to break out, that have been dormant. It will topple governments that were moderate and bring in governments that are extreme. These things are pretty predictable. The question is whether the general destabilization, the return of, if you like, political risk, ultimately leads to something really big in the realm of geopolitics.
And then Joseph Stiglitz on Democracy Now talking about how Obama has missed the mark on the stimulus and isn't actually fixing any of the problems that caused the depression.

Go forth and learn my little chickadees. And then feel free to punch any Republican or libertarian in the eye until they spend at least 5 minutes reading something factual.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The good and the bad

I'm uninspired to post lately. I'd rather look at interior design blogs than read about politics or economics or sexism or whatever else is just going to make me frown.

In the mean time, I work. And work is as ever, good and bad. I have the problem student, who for god only knows what reason took the CAD class this quarter when he doesn't seem to know the most basic things about computers (Q:Why is the image on my screen smaller than the image in real life? A: The same way things on your TV are smaller than they are in real life. Do you worry because they can fit whole shots of stadiums onto your TV that the stadium might be fake? Q:Why did the file that I saved on the guest login disappear? A: Because you've been told a thousand times that if you don't login under your own name that anything you erase will be deleted. Q: What do you mean "login"? A: No, seriously? WTF? How are you sitting in front of that LOGON screen being such a douche? You've been logging in under guest just fine. Q: Why won't this 3rd party website that is not in any way manner or shape connected to the school do what I want it to? A: Because the internet gods hate you.

I am frustrated with this student so badly that every time he walks in the lab I cringe. And then I just get angry. It's become pavlovian.

But there is good. I've spent the last 4 or 5 days trying to drill holes in my bedroom walls at home to hang up closet rods so the the Kid can have my closet. The walls are lathe and plaster. And a pain in the ass. I nearly blew out a drill (after I borrowed it from work). So in my frustration I've been asking for help (Thanks Uncle Jim!) and I asked my boss who lives in the same neighborhood. Instead of telling me what he thought I should do, he packed up his tools, came over and in less than 20 minutes I had 12 feel of closet hung. He also took a look at the shelf I had bought to go over them (only 8 feet long- oops) and took some measurements. He's making his students custom cut me proper shelves and is leaving them on my porch tonight. He said it's no big deal, I'm school family. After literally spending hours trying to do this myself, I could almost cry for the kindness.

(BTW- even with an entire wall taken up with my clothes, my room is looking pretty fab. Now I just have to do the same for the Kid. Which will be rough since the closet is maybe 8' by 8' with severely slanting walls and a door that is no more than 4' tall.)

Monday, February 23, 2009

Keynesian isn't enough

First- go read this. It's short, I promise.

Let's take this part as true:

And here’s the bottom line; despite what is said about Roosevelt, no government has tried to spend its way out of a recession the way Obama is intending to do, and the way Keynes recommended. We are watching a very grand experiment.

If we are getting Keynesian spending on a scale grander than the New Deal, then why do quite a few of us feel less than excited about this "very grand experiment"?

And I got an answer for that.

Because at it's heart, the stimulus plan and even the mortgage plan all work to maintain the systems that got us into this mess to begin with. And they don't address any of the fundamental causes of the economic collapse, just the symptoms.

The real issue is that free market capitalism is fundamentally flawed. It will ALWAYS lead to corruption and eventually collapse. The only way for a capitalist economy to remain healthy is with a good dose of regulation provided by a strong government. It is the government's job to make sure that wages are neither too low nor too high. It is the government's job to make sure that business is kept honest (and not allowed to sell you poisoned peanut butter). It is the government's job to provide the services that should not depend on profit, like education and health care, so that no one is denied a basic right because they are they low person on the totem pole. It is the government's job to regulate the economy so that it neither grows too fast or too slow. But for years (30 at least) the government has been doing none of that.

The crisis will end eventually. Sooner rather than later if Obama can help it. But if we don't do something right now to change the way this country works at it's core and instead patchwork another few years of life out of this broken system, then the problems will continue to worsen. And no amount of money printing will fix it. Instead we will have the inevitably high tax bill from the stimulus and tarp plans without any permanent fix.

Spending money is fine and dandy, but spend the political capital that comes with it. We need to make the changes to the system now, when it is weak.

Ain't no honor in it

So a dude cuts off his estranged wife's head. (Sorry, this may be triggering for some folks).

And the dude is brown, and Muslim. That must be the reason he did it, right. It's not the patriarchy. It's not the entire world view that women are inferior property to be owned by men and discarded as they see fit. Nope. He must have done it because of religion.

So of course the newsbunnies have run to claim this as some sort of terrible Islamic "honor" killing. Cause shit like that doesn't happen when good Christians are involved. Nope.

I mean, could a guy who loves Jesus soooo that he would get a tattoo like this ever treat a woman like a piece of property?

Surely he must have taken Jesus' message of turning the other cheek to heart. Right?

Except that tattoo is on the arm of another man famous for (among other things) beating the crap out of his girlfriend. Chris brown most certainly didn't assault his girlfriend because Jesus told him to. That would be silly.

But wait, he's also a brown dude. Good, white Christian men would never act that way. Right? I mean they found Matthew Denni in a church camp for Christ's sake. He not have really meant to blow her brains out.

Actually, the only constant I'm seeing here is religion. Maybe patriarchy based hierarchical religions that treat women as empty vessels to be owned by their husbands are part of the general problem, but hurting the woman you love own most certainly isn't an Islamic value.