Archive for August, 2009

Local food fights

Posted: 30 August 2009 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , ,

squirrel

One of the differences between Vermont and Chicago: while in Vermont the discussion is about hunting and eating squirrels, as they do on a regular basis in the South and in the UK [for: sw], in Chicago it’s about deep dish versus flat crust pizza [ht: ja].

My view: all 3 are delicious!

frontban - diane greene lent

Another Israeli academic—Anat Matar, a lecturer in Tel Aviv University’s Department of Philosophy—takes the plunge. . .

When the flag of academic freedom is raised, the oppressor and not the oppressed is usually the one who flies it. What is that academic freedom that so interests the academic community in Israel? When, for example, has it shown concern for the state of academic freedom in the occupied territories?

In contrast with the accepted impression, only few lecturers speak up decisively against the occupation, its effect and the increasingly bestial nature of the State of Israel.

The vast majority retains its freedom to be indifferent, up to the moment that someone begs the international community for rescue. Then the voices rise from right and left, the indifference disappears, and violence replaces it: Boycott Israeli universities? This strikes at the holy of holies, academic freedom!

kingfarm

Neoclassical economists are hell-bent on blaming workers and the government for the crisis—now and then. The latest is from UCLA economist Lee Ohanian, who has written a new paper, “Who—or What—Started the Great Depression?” (available on his web site). The latest is a follow-up to his previous  (with Harold L. Cole), “How Government Prolonged the Depression.”

Andrew Leonard writes about both papers—the first here, the second here—on Salon.com. In the new paper, Ohanian claims that Herbert Hoover’s call for “business leaders to be gentle to their workers” helped to cause the Great Depression. Brad DeLong explains why this claim does not hold up:

There is a germ of information buried in the pile: Hoover did urge business leaders to be gentle to their workers because, he assured them, the Great Depression would soon be over.

But Hoover’s interventions do not appear to have had much effect. If you take the degree of government-sponsored union power and wage rigidity in post-WWII Europe to be 100, then FDR’s New Deal counts as a 30 and Herbert Hoover’s “can’t we all just get along?” White House meetings count as a five. If Hoover’s inviting businessmen to the White House could push the unemployment rate up from 4% to 23%, simple extrapolation would then suggest that Roosevelt’s labor-market policies ought to have pushed unemployment up to 118%—and unemployment in post-WWII Europe ought to have averaged 384%.

But, it seems, that won’t stop neoclassical economists from teaching and arguing that free markets and “appropriate factor-market adjustments”—read: a fall in wages, a decrease in unit labor costs, and a rise in the rate of exploitation—constitute the only solution to the crisis. Now and then.

depression

Today’s Washington Post reports one “bright spot” in the current crisis: sales of antidepressants are up.

Helplessness, pessimism and persistent sadness—the main symptoms of depression—didn’t seem to abate as the economy crumbled. About 164 million antidepressant prescriptions were written in 2008, 4 million more than in 2007.

As it turns out, the business of depression is particularly lucrative. Whereas other costly conditions, such as heart conditions or cancer, tend to strike late in life, most people experience depression when they’re much younger, usually between the ages of 15 and 30. Besides setting in early, depressive episodes tend to recur.

Antidepressants are big business for BigPharma. They’re also big business for advertising agencies:

In the first quarter of 2009, as automotive ads—long the top advertising category in the Unites States—plummeted by 28 percent, according to Nielsen rankings, pharmaceutical companies’ ad spending was more consistent. It still dropped, but only by 11 percent. Drugmakers were the third-biggest spender of ad money in that period. Without those purchases, some media outlets already floundering in the thinned-out ad market would have been much worse off. Because most depression sufferers are women, female-targeted lifestyle magazines get a particular boost from companies pushing antidepressants.

The problem, of course, is that capitalist crises create depressed workers, which leads to “missed workdays and lost productivity.” And antidepressants are supposed to get them back to work and increase their productivity. Capitalism’s solution for a capitalist problem!

mental-health-therapy-780803

According to 2 recent studies [ht: ja], simply worrying about losing your job can cost you your health.

Based on how participants rated their own physical and mental health, we found that people who were persistently concerned about losing their jobs reported significantly worse overall health in both studies and were more depressed in one of the studies than those who had actually lost and regained their jobs recently. In fact, chronic job insecurity was a stronger predictor of poor health than either smoking or hypertension in one of the groups we studied.

If you’re feeling good about your job’s prospects, here’s one more thing to stress about: Other research has shown that the stress of a tough job—long hours and high pressure to perform—can also ruin your health.

So, losing your job can ruin your health, worrying about losing your job can ruin your health, and working hard so as not to lose your job can ruin your health. Let’s face it: being either in or out of the the capitalist job market can ruin your health.

megabanks

The big banks that brought us to the brink of disaster—the effects of which are still being felt by the majority of the population—are now even bigger. As reported in today’s Washington Post,

The crisis may be turning out very well for many of the behemoths that dominate U.S. finance. A series of federally arranged mergers safely landed troubled banks on the decks of more stable firms. And it allowed the survivors to emerge from the turmoil with strengthened market positions, giving them even greater control over consumer lending and more potential to profit.

J.P. Morgan Chase, an amalgam of some of Wall Street’s most storied institutions, now holds more than $1 of every $10 on deposit in this country. So does Bank of America, scarred by its acquisition of Merrill Lynch and partly government-owned as a result of the crisis, as does Wells Fargo, the biggest West Coast bank. Those three banks, plus government-rescued and -owned Citigroup, now issue one of every two mortgages and about two of every three credit cards, federal data show.

That’s the way capitalism solves its crises—on capitalist terms: through the concentration and centralization of capital, and the relative immiseration of the rest of us. That’s the “new normal” we’re supposed to accept. . .

health_care_reform

The U.S. Catholic bishops are at it again, in this case opposing health care reform. According to today’s NYT, some leaders of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops—such as Cardinal Justin Rigali and Bishop R. Walker Nickless of Sioux City, Iowa—are arguing that “no health care reform” is better than any of the current proposals. Here’s Nickless:

The Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care. Any legislation that undermines the vitality of the private sector is suspect.

Fortunately, there are other Catholic voices, at least in other countries. Here are excerpts from an editorial in the UK Tablet:

It is unfortunate that the one body that could turn out to be a decisive strategic force in his favour, the US Catholic bishops, have so far concentrated on a specifically Catholic issue – making sure state-funded health care does not include abortion – rather than the more general principle of the common good.

The opponents of change are largely funded by the operators of the health insurance industry, which, as in the early 1990s, sense a threat to their profits. They are the robber barons of their age. All the dark arts of media misrepresentation have been deployed to turn public opinion against Mr Obama’s policy. Through their greed and inefficiency, America spends something like double per head on health care compared with a country such as France, whose state-run health system is acknowledged as one of the world’s best. Even at the level of spin and sound bites, the bishops could make a difference. They could refute the constant slur of “socialised medicine” that opponents throw mindlessly around, simply by saying that health care for all is in fact “Catholic medicine”. Once they began to introduce reason and truth into the debate, they could also point out that what Mr Obama is proposing is in principle no different from extending Medicare – which brings affordable medical treatment to America’s elderly – to everyone.

When Britain’s National Health Service was set up in 1948, the Catholic hierarchy led by Cardinal Griffin was also preoccupied with its own Catholic agenda, not abortion but winning an opt-out for Catholic hospitals. So the birth of the National Health Service, one of the great forward strides for social justice, had no Catholic blessing. The bishops failed to put the promotion of social justice above their churchly priorities. It is a mistake the American bishops may be about to repeat.