Tags: banks, cartoon, debt, environment, fishing, graduation, inequality, students, trickle down, Wall Street
Tags: austerity, class, economics, Europe, Keynes, neoclassical, United States
Not so well, eh?
Not when, as Eurostat [pdf] announced earlier today, Gross Domestic Product fell by 0.2 percent in the euro area (EA17) and by 0.1 percent in the larger EU27 during the first quarter of 2013. Even the United States, four years into the “recovery,” grew by a paltry 0.6 percent compared with the previous quarter (and, when compared with the same quarter of the previous year, GDP rose by only 1.8 percent).
Not when, as Paul Krugman explains, the two major studies invoked by economists and politicians to justify austerity measures have been thoroughly discredited.
So, the question remains, why do many members of the elite in both the United States and in Western Europe continue to impose the Draconian measures that, together, represent economic austerity?
While the “psychology answer”—that deficits represent some kind of moral question—might work in terms of selling austerity (it certainly works on my students), it doesn’t explain why those at the top continue to believe in the need for austerity.* What we need, instead, is a class analysis of the different ways capitalism is configured and reconfigured according to both neoclassical austerity and Keynesian stimulus policies.
To his credit, Krugman does take some initial steps in that direction for the specific case of austerity:
As many observers have noted, the turn away from fiscal and monetary stimulus can be interpreted, if you like, as giving creditors priority over workers. Inflation and low interest rates are bad for creditors even if they promote job creation; slashing government deficits in the face of mass unemployment may deepen a depression, but it increases the certainty of bondholders that they’ll be repaid in full. I don’t think someone like Trichet was consciously, cynically serving class interests at the expense of overall welfare; but it certainly didn’t hurt that his sense of economic morality dovetailed so perfectly with the priorities of creditors.
But that’s just the beginning. We need to do much more in terms of analyzing the class effects of the policies on both sides of the mainstream debate.
And, of course, of what a class alternative looks like—since we know that that austerity stuff is certainly not working out for most of us.
*I also don’t buy the idea that the opposite of austerity, Keynesian stimulus, is any less a morality play. The idea that “your spending is my income,” and thus we’re all in this together, is no more technical an idea than cutting deficits as a path to economic growth. Both ideas represent a combination of technique and morality, of how “technical malfunctions” emerge and can be solved and what society can and should look like.
Tags: architecture, Bangladesh, capitalism, capitalists, economics, heterodox, Indiana, Marx, neoclassical, United States
I often invoke Columbus, Indiana in my lectures.
One reason is to suggest to my students that they might shed their prejudices about Indiana and explore some of what the state has to offer—instead of staying on campus and complaining there’s nothing to do except attend football games.
The other reason is to encourage them to question what it is that capitalists actually do. When I ask them, the usual response—consistent with the neoclassical theory that has been presented to them as the only economic theory worth considering—is: “capitalists maximize profits.” (That’s equivalent to the neoclassical rule concerning consumers, that they “maximize utility.”)*
Well, no: capitalists do lots of different things. They do make profits (at least sometimes, but over what timeframe are they supposedly maximizing those profits?). But they don’t follow any single rule. They also seek to grow their enterprises and destroy the competition and maintain good public relations and buy government officials and reward their CEOs and squeeze workers and lower costs and build factories that collapse and. . .well, you get the idea. In other words, they appropriate and distribute surplus-value in all kinds of ways depending on the particular conditions and struggles that take place over the shape and direction of their enterprises.
And Cummins Engine Company is a good example, since it has distributed a good chunk of the surplus it’s managed to appropriate over the years to subsidize the design of gems by a litany of important American architects: I. M. Pei, Harry Weese, Robert A. M. Stern, Richard Meier, Kevin Roche, Robert Venturi, Cesar Pelli and others. In Columbus, Indiana of all places!
My point to the students is not that Cummins is an example of a “good capitalist” as against other “bad capitalists.” No, the idea is that capitalists—whether in the United States or Bangladesh—do lots of different things, and presuming they follow a simple rule means missing out on the complex, contradictory dynamics of capitalist enterprises and therefore of capitalism itself.
*It’s also equivalent to what one hears from many so-called radical economists, that “capitalists accumulate capital.” Again, no. Accumulating capital (that is, purchasing new elements of constant and variable capital) is only one of the many possible forms in which capitalists distribute the surplus-value they appropriate from their workers. Sometimes they accumulate capital, and other times they don’t. The presumption that they always seek to accumulate capital is the heroic story proffered by classical economists (so that, in their view, capitalist growth would take place), much as neoclassical economists today presume that capitalists maximize profits (so that, in their view, an efficient allocation of resources will result). Marxists presume neither that capitalists maximize profits nor that they always and everywhere accumulate capital.
Tags: chart, debt, student debt, United States
The New York Fed reports that, for the first quarter of 2013, outstanding household debt decreased by $110 billion, or 1.0 percent, driven largely by declines in housing and credit card balances.
However, debt associated with auto loans and student loans continued to increase, by $11 billion and $20 billion, respectively.
Outstanding student loan balances, now the largest component of nonhousing debt, increased to a total of $986 billion as of 31 March 2013. That leaves an average of $24,810 of student debt per borrower in the United States.
Tags: Bangladesh, cartoon, disaster, education, factory, IRS, students, Tea Party, workers
Tags: academy, class, debt, economics, inequality, literature, sciences, sociology, students
It should come as no surprise that, as reported in the Chronicle of Higher Education [paywall], students on college campuses are struggling over the issue of class.
The situation is particularly difficult for first-generation college students (as I was back in the day), who are cast as subjects of “socioeconomic diversity” within institutions of higher education that are increasingly targeting the sons and daughters of the wealthy in order to increase revenues and move up in the rankings.
The class problem in relation to higher education, of course, is an old one, as Thorstein Veblen discussed in the Theory of the Leisure Class:
Ritualistic survivals and reversions come out in fullest vigor and with the freest air of spontaneity among those seminaries of learning which have to do primarily with the education of the priestly and leisure classes. Accordingly it should appear, and it does pretty plainly appear, on a survey of recent developments in college and university life, that wherever schools founded for the instruction of the lower classes in the immediately useful branches of knowledge grow into institutions of the higher learning, the growth of ritualistic ceremonial and paraphernalia and of elaborate scholastic “functions” goes hand in hand with the transition of the schools in question from the field of homely practicality into the higher, classical sphere. The initial purpose of these schools, and the work with which they have chiefly had to do at the earlier of these two stages of their evolution, has been that of fitting the young of the industrious classes for work. On the higher, classical plane of learning to which they commonly tend, their dominant aim becomes the preparation of the youth of the priestly and the leisure classes—or of an incipient leisure class—for the consumption of goods, material and immaterial, according to a conventionally accepted, reputable scope and method. This happy issue has commonly been the fate of schools founded by “friends of the people” for the aid of struggling young men, and where this transition is made in good form there is commonly, if not invariably, a coincident change to a more ritualistic life in the schools.
And, of course, it’s become much sharper in recent years, with growing inequality in the wider society and soaring debt for those students who are trying to follow the American Dream.
While I’m certainly not against the “dialogues” featured in the Chronicle article, what students in fact need is a clear and rigorous discussion of how class works—in the economy and in the wider society. They need academic courses—in economics and sociology but also in literature and the sciences—that explicitly treat the issue of class, which given students the concepts and methods to understand how class works and how it shapes their lives, before, during, and after their studies.
Otherwise, all we’re doing is participating in the “growth of ritualistic ceremonial and paraphernalia and of elaborate scholastic ‘functions’” and watching students struggle, outside the classroom, with the issue of class.