Posts Tagged ‘film’

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I haven’t read Fifty Shades of Grey nor have I seen the film. But at some point I may have to, given what others are writing about this particular phenomenon in popular culture.

According to Heather Havrilesky,

the story of Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey isn’t really about dominance or bondage or even sex or love, despite all the Harlequin Romance–worthy character names. No, what Fifty Shades of Grey offers is an extreme vision of late-capitalist deliverance, the American (wet) dream on performance-enhancing drugs. Just as magazines such asPenthouse, Playboy, Chic, and Oui (speaking of aspirational names) have effectively equated the moment of erotic indulgence with the ultimate consumer release, a totem of the final elevation into amoral privilege, James’s trilogy represents the latest installment in the commodified sex genre. The money shot is just that: the moment when our heroine realizes she’s been ushered into the hallowed realm of the 1 percent, once and for all.

Lynn Stuart Parramore offers a similar interpretation:

Author E.L. James has often insisted that Fifty Shades of Grey is wildly popular not because of its titillating trappings of transgression, but because it tells a simple love story for the ages. But this is a romance for a particular kind of age — a time of growing inequality. The social order is breaking up and leaving massive human wreckage in its wake. Dreams of love turn into fantasies of power – who has it and what they can do to those who don’t have it. . .

The film is the dispiriting denouement of this late stage of capitalism, where cruel conditions are accepted and you learn to suffer the whims of the rich — and pretend to like it.

Havrilesky and Parramore have succeeded in doing something I hadn’t expected: they’ve made me rethink my initial ignoring of Fifty Shades. . .

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The second part of That Film about Money is even better than the first.

That’s because it explores the connection between money and the crisis of 2007-08, including giving the working-class more debt instead of increasing wages (which is why, as you can see below, household debt service payments as a percent of disposable personal income rose so precipitously from the early-1990s onward, until the crash) and why the banks have recovered since the crash (by taking cheap money from the government and lending it back, to finance the deficit, at higher rates of interest).

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This is the first part of a two-part series on money, directed by James Schamus (best known as the producer of such films as Hulk and Brokeback Mountain). The films about money are part of We the Economy, 20 Short Films You Can’t Afford to Miss (from writer and director Morgan Spurlock and Microsoft cofounder Paul G. Allen).

That Film about Money does a good job challenging certain common myths about money and banks, especially the idea that currency and money are the same thing, and it introduces important ideas, such as debt as the basis of the expanding money supply.

I only wish, during the discussion of trust, Schamus and the people he interviews had introduced the notion (developed within Modern Monetary Theory) that the basis of our trust in fiat money is the fact that only specific monies—in the United States, the U.S. dollar, the national money of account—can be used to pay taxes. That places the state (and its sovereign authority to levy and collect taxes) at the center of the process of accepting and issuing a particular kind of fiat money.

We can conclude that taxes drive money. The government first creates a money of account (the Dollar, the Tenge), and then imposes tax obligations in that national money of account. In all modern nations, this is sufficient to ensure that many (indeed, most) debts, assets, and prices, will also be denominated in the national money of account.

(Note the asymmetry that is open to a sovereign: it imposes a liability on you so that you will accept its IOU. It is a nice trick—and you can do it too, if you are king of your own little castle.)

The government is then able to issue a currency that is also denominated in the same money of account, so long as it accepts that currency in tax payment. It is not necessary to “back” the currency with precious metal, nor is it necessary to enforce legal tender laws that require acceptance of the national currency. For example, rather than engraving the statement “This note is legal tender for all debts, public and private”, all the sovereign government needs to do is to promise “This note will be accepted in tax payment” in order to ensure general acceptability domestically and even abroad.

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Only in Britain

Posted: 24 January 2014 in Uncategorized
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Benefits Street is Britain’s latest contribution to poverty porn.

Fortunately, there’s also a parody: Tory Benefits Street.

And a much better tradition of representing the contradictions of life on the “dole” on the big screen, including my favorite: Ken Loach’s Ladybird, Ladybird.

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OK, the movie isn’t very good. (The Wolf of Wall Street is basically Goodfellas goes to Wall Street, with more cocaine and less violence, in which Scorcese focuses on the low-hanging fruit of penny-stock huckstering rather than on the real, much-more-powerful culprits behind the financial crisis.) But that doesn’t mean there aren’t wolves that need to be exposed: the academics who are bought and paid for by Wall Street.

Charles Ferguson, in the Inside Job, did a fine job shining light on some of the the better-known economists—R. Glenn Hubbard, Larry Summers, Frederic Mishkin, and so on—who have been willing to be paid to play in the debates surrounding financial deregulation.**

Around the same time, Reuters [pdf] conducted a study of academics who present themselves as disinterested experts at U.S. Congressional hearings but who have industry ties they don’t reveal. Thus, for example, roughly a third of the 82 academics who gave testimony to the Senate Banking Committee and the House Financial Services Committee between late 2008 and early 2010 (as lawmakers debated the biggest overhaul of financial regulation since the 1930s) did not reveal their financial affiliations in their testimony.

More recently, both The Nation and the New York Times have carried out similar studies—of academics who reap the rewards of defending one or another practice developed by Wall Street firms to manipulate financial markets for enormous gains.

As it turns out, it was Elizabeth Warner, the modern-day Leonard Horner, who sounded the alarm back in 2002 about the emerging market for scholarly data, “as journalists, lobbyists and legislators search for facts to pepper their public statements and better influence public opinion.” In her own area of bankruptcy law, she cites the example of the Credit Research Center located at Georgetown University that was taking money from the consumer credit industry to produce studies supporting the credit industry’s political positions. What happens is that the kind of studies issued by such centers acquire an academic legitimacy but the data they report are considered “proprietary,” belonging exclusively to the industry funders who decide what data are released and what data are held private.

Warren’s conclusion?

The market for data threatens the role that social science research can play in policymaking. When data become a commodity—purchased, packaged, and sold to a willing public under a university imprimatur by those who profit from its distribution—then empirical work becomes little more than cheap ad copy. When that happens, the value of every kind of research academics do declines sharply. Like it or not, our collective worth is on the line.

When that happens, all of us—inside and outside the academy—fall prey to the wolves of Wall Street.

 

*I reserve the right to change the title of this post, since I’m going to see David O. Russell’s American Hustle later today. If I do, I’ll disclose the fact that I knew Russell back when he was in college.

**Partly as a result of that negative exposure, the American Economics Association was forced to consider developing a code of conduct it has never had. Instead, it adopted a very limited disclosure policy [pdf], according to which the only rule is that “Every submitted article should state the sources of financial support for the particular research it describes.”

Follow-up. . .

As it turns out, I did go to see American Hustle, which is terrific—superior (in my humble opinion) to Scorcese’s film. Russell has managed to capture a nation of small-time con artists (not unlike the characters in such TV series as The Sopranos and The Wire), who both deserve our affection (in the earnest manner in which they reinvent themselves and try to “do the right thing”) and represent a distraction from the real culprits (the big-time con artists whose activities have actually put people out of work and driven them into poverty and have deprived them of much-needed social benefits, like food stamps and unemployment compensation).