The term ‘debtors’ prison’ immediately conjures images of the mid-nineteenth century, when both men and women were locked in prisons until their families could afford to pay off their debt. For some, it will bring up images of a city like Dubai, where a form of debtors prison exists today. Overall, the idea of being arrested because of debt — or having your property seized –is quite unfathomable to most Americans, and yet it is happening around the world on a daily basis.
Art is in crisis – again. No, it’s not a fight between alter-modernism and post-modernism or any other art world tussle. This time it’s all about the money.
Governments across Europe are threatening to slash arts funding in response to the recession, most notably in Britain and Ireland where culture has always been subject to a strange use-value equation. Continue reading
“The worst is over,” said Minister of Finance Brian Lenihan on 9 December on the presentation of the 2010 Budget. It is actually truly astounding that the Irish Government believes that the worst of the recession is over. The number of people signing on the Live Register of the Unemployed is still increasing. The number of people living in poverty is rising. The number of people unable to pay their bills is rising. The Society of Saint Vincent de Paul has reported a fourfold increase in people applying for food assistance. The worst is certainly not over. Continue reading
The global economy seems to have climbed down off the ledge where it was perched for the last part of 2008 and beginning of 2009, teetering precariously on the verge of falling. Newspapers trumpet increases in productivity and GDP growth, and the banks are giving record bonuses.
Yet unemployment numbers in the United States reached 10.2 percent officially and unofficially are closer to 17 or 18 percent, it’s no longer time to talk about jobless recovery. It’s time to realize that without jobs there is no recovery.
And yet, what is a job? What does it mean, to work? The labor movement, since its inception, has many times redefined work, moving from mostly industrial workers toward service employees and other low-wage workers, organizing janitors and security guards and nurses and teachers.
The self declared visionary Joe Coleman has been making waves in Irish religious circles for the past few weeks. He claims that that the Virgin Mary speaks to him on a regular basis, specifically since he died on an operating table in 1986. Until recently, Mr Coleman was a spiritual healer who claimed to cure cancer by laying his hands on people with the disease. Now he devotes himself entirely to “our Blessed Mother.” A humble man from Ballyfermot in Dublin is now our channel for love and a channel for God.
There is strong opposition from church fathers. Dr Michael Neary, Archbishop of Tuam, stated that
“It is not healthy, does not give glory to God and certainly is not good witness to the faith to be looking for extraordinary phenomena. The apparition of 1879 was neither sought nor expected by the humble, honest people who were its astonished witnesses . . . Unfortunately, recent events at the Shrine obscure this essential message. They risk misleading God’s people and undermining faith. For this reason such events are to be regretted rather than encouraged.”
Of course, there are those who would see these words as evidence of corruption in a Catholic church that has lost touch with the times and the people. The old chestnut of prophets not being appreciated in their own time is being trotted out on a regular basis. While this may be true, there is a kind of desperation in the willingness of people to believe regardless of common sense or logic.
I’ve seen a focus in the United States on mass political action in the past year like nothing I’ve seen in my lifetime. From the huge crowds at Barack Obama’s campaign rallies and the unprecedented amount of donors and volunteers that helped elect the man President to the recent cynical discovery of organized dissent by the Republican party, we’ve watched groups large and small take to the streets.
Whether this is a sign of a newly energized, engaged American body politic will take some time to say. After all, some demonstrations still receive more attention than others, with the right-wing media machine led by FOX News trumpeting the success and inflating the numbers of tea party protests while decrying protests from the left, and the purported liberal media spending a good chunk of time arguing those numbers and attempting to root out the funders behind the right-wing actions—often while genuine grassroots action goes on under their noses, ignored or even punished by those in charge.
Almost completely ignored this week was the one-day general strike in Puerto Rico following the attempted imposition of shock-therapy-style economic reforms by the new governor. Chief among those reforms was a decision to lay off more than 20,000 public employees. The layoffs would drive Puerto Rico’s already-astounding 15 percent unemployment rate to over 17 percent.
In his new book, Life, Inc., Douglas Rushkoff lays bare the history of corporations and how our society became shaped in their image. He theorizes that corporatism has such a hold on us that we tend to live our entire lives like miniature corporations, thinking only of the short-term value of things and even seeing other people solely as assets to be managed.
Rushkoff took some time to talk to Sarah Jaffe of GlobalComment about his book and the problems and solutions that he sees for our society at this moment of crisis.
Sarah Jaffe: One of the things that I thought was very interesting about Life, Inc. was that it was a very nonpartisan solution to current problems, instead of a left or right political argument.
Douglas Rushkoff: I was trying to show how either one can fall into the same trap of centralization. Both left and right seem almost equally susceptible to the corporatist thinking.
It seems to be a problem of scale. You wouldn’t need labor unions if you didn’t have giant corporations. You can have a union of six, but if you have six people in a company, you should be able to negotiate in an open and straightforward way. You need a union when you’ve got Henry Ford and 6,000 employees and that giant corporate industry going on. But then you end up with a labor union that is a corporate-style entity.
S: The larger anything gets, the less contact it has with the people—whether it’s the people it’s supposed to protect, as in the unions, or with the corporate shareholders.
Susan Feiner, PhD is a professor of economics and director of the Women’s and Gender Studies at the University of Southern Maine. In addition to her academic work, she writes for Dollars & Sense, Women’s Enews, and the Women’s Review of Books, as well as her own blog, Economics, She Wrote. She brings a no-nonsense progressive critique to discussions of economic issues, from microcredit to the bank bailouts, and took time to chat with GlobalComment’s Sarah Jaffe about the economic crisis and the way we think about it.
GlobalComment: I wanted to talk about why women’s groups seem to avoid talking about labor issues, and how specifically the Employee Free Choice Act, and, more generally, how economic policy decisions are women’s issues.
Susan Feiner: I don’t want to speculate about why women’s groups avoid these issues. It probably has to do with the way economic news is dominated by business news, or else by huge numbers going up and down , so that it seems unrelated to women as women.
I want to go back to FDR’s 1944 inaugural address where he outlines a Second Bill of Rights, or Economic Bill of Rights. And talk about how these rights (to housing, jobs, health care, and education) are all vital to women.
GC: More specifically, I’d love to get your view on how unions play a part in real economic recovery and creating real wealth.
In his press conference Tuesday night, Barack Obama took pains to emphasize that comprehensive solutions were needed to the economic crisis, and that working families were suffering and needed help to create real wealth.
Congress has before it a bill that would help lessen the inequality in America and support those working families by helping workers organize into unions. That bill is the Employee Free Choice Act, H.R. 1409, introduced on March 10 by George Miller of California, with a who’s who of congresspeople as cosponsors.
Economist Mark Price of the Keystone Research Center in Pennsylvania says,
“Unions make sure that as productivity rises the wealth which this increased productivity creates shows up in the paychecks of workers. Unions do this because they give workers more bargaining power and that bargaining power translates into higher wages.”
Price also notes that a stronger labor movement is key in creating a sustainable economy once the crisis is stabilized. “Like the need for increased financial regulation, a stronger union movement is critical to making sure that when the economy does recover that recovery produces widely shared gains.”
EFCA, as it is known, is shaping up to be the biggest battle over organized labor since 1947, and big business is pouring millions into advertising and lobbying against the bill—including Citigroup and other bailed-out businesses. The irony of using taxpayer dollars from working people to defeat a bill that aims to help working people is not lost on EFCA supporters. Continue reading
Zombie banks, voodoo economics—these are just some of the horror-movie terms being tossed around right now that lend an even spookier air to discussion of the economic crisis. But there’s a scarier word being proposed—scarier, at least, to religious devotees of free-market capitalism. That word is “nationalization.”
A USA Today/Gallup poll published in February found that when Americans were asked if they favored the government temporarily taking over troubled banks in order to stabilize them, 54% favored that solution, but when the question was phrased as “temporarily nationalizing” the banks in danger of failing, 57% opposed that plan and only 37% favored it. Nationalization, in other words, is the spookiest word of all in our current debate. So why is that?
Just what is meant by “nationalization” of the troubled banks depends on who you ask. Economist Felix Salmon of Portfolio explained it as, “a situation where the government controls the bank: the easiest criterion to use, I think, is to ask whether the government can appoint a majority of the board of directors. That’s entirely consistent with the government owning less than 100% of the equity in the bank, of course, which might be considered ‘complete nationalization’.” Continue reading