Posts Tagged ‘economic crisis’
by stuartbramhall in The Global Economic Crisis
The mainstream media makes out like the economic collapse is just something that happened to us. Some greedy banksters gambled with trillions of dollars of our money and in the process, also committed embezzlement, fraud and theft. Now the money is gone, and we just have to live with it. Millions of Americans lose their jobs, homes, savings and pensions. But instead of sending the banksters responsible to jail, the government gives Wall Street trillions of dollars of TARP bail-outs and the CEOs responsible get billions of dollars in golden parachutes and pensions.
Then the government turns around and tells working people they have to tighten their belts – in addition to paying more sales tax, they have to accept pay cuts, longer working hours, loss of public services (such as teachers, libraries, police, street lighting, road and bridge repair, and health clinics). Because there’s no money left to keep the economy going. That’s just how it is.
Now, in the last week, they’re feeding us a new line about a so-called “double dip” recession. In other words, over the next few months we should expect things to get even worse – there will be even more job losses and wage and social service cuts. We might even need to cut Social Security and Medicare. Meanwhile corporate America is once again making out like bandits. Corporate profits are shooting up again, and CEO bonuses are growing handsomely.
The “Economic Crisis” is Really an Attack on American Workers
I just don’t buy it. Any of it. In fact, I believe there is overwhelming evidence that Wall Street and Washington are simply using the global economic crisis to justify a massive attack on the working class. I think there is a clear agenda to cut labor costs by reducing US workers to Third World status in terms of wages, working conditions and social services. Obviously this is much more expedient than continually closing down factories and moving them to Mexico and Asia.
Fortunately I am no longer alone in seeing the “economic crisis” for what it is: an attack on working Americans. It’s also gratifying to see workers beginning to organize to fight back – and to acknowledge the need for intensive cross-class, cross-gender, cross-cultural organizing not seen in the US since the 1930s recession (which, in many ways, was also a systematic attack on workers).
Specific examples of 1930s style organizing include:
1. The employed and unemployed are recognizing they have a common enemy (Wall Street corporations) and are organizing together. The Unemployed Union launched by the International Association of Machinists in January is taking off in a big way. You don’t have to be a former union member or even like unions to join. If you are one of 31 million Americans without a paid job, this website is for you:
2. People who still have homes are organizing to support people who are being foreclosed on. This is mainly happening in Florida but definitely needs to spread to other states. The majority of working people in the US are living pay check to pay check. If you organize to stop your neighbour from being evicted, there will be organized resistance to help you if you lose your job and can’t pay your own rent or mortgage.
3. The fundamental role of the “welfare committee” in progressive organizing is being revived. Building organized resistance requires some of us to focus full time on movement building. The powerful grassroots organizing that built the progressive and union movement at the beginning of the twentieth century didn’t rely on “foundation” funding to pay their organizers. (See my page at www.stuartbramhall.com about the role of left “gatekeeper” foundations in ensuring that grassroots organizations don’t become too radical – also my July 26 post “Who Did Obama Work For in Chicago?”). In the thirties, unions and community groups formed their own “welfare committees” to look after the basic needs of organizers and their families.
The Most Revolutionary Act on radio:
(click on link)
Chris and I discuss how I was first targeted, following my decision to support the occupation (of an abandoned school) that led to the formation of Seattle’s first African American Heritage Museum – as an alternative to the crack cocaine epidemic among the city’s African American teenagers. We also talk about my research into HIV AIDS, my hospitalization and the Veterans Administration psychologist I worked with who also helped GIs illegally stationed in Cambodia in the sixties and seventies (and terrorized into keeping quiet about it).
(click on link – show is syndicated – fast forward the music to hear interview)
Rob and I discuss the phone harassment, break-ins, attempts to run me down – and my psychiatric hospitalization. We also talk about the political activities that seemed to lead the government to target me – including my research into HIV AIDS – and my inability to get help from the Seattle police. Then we cover the whole area of conspiracies in general, which are more accurately called State Crimes Against Democracy (SCADS)
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
In The ABCs of the Economic Crisis, contemporary Marxists Magdoff and Yates also express the view that capitalism is on its last legs. They, like Strachey, propose “socialism” as the solution to a failed capitalist system. However they are even less prescriptive than he is as to what this should look like and exactly how it ought to come about.
At the end their book they simply suggest that Americans come together to decide if our current system is worth fighting for (which is after all why we are at war in the Middle East). They then itemize some of the human costs of our current way of life:
- increasing exploitation at work (all the lay-offs mean workers who remain are doing the work of 1.5 – 2 people)
- increased stress accompanied by poorer health
- rising consumption that has polluted our planet and filled our homes with junk, impelling us to move into ever bigger houses, fuelling the growth of suburbs and exurbs that waste gasoline, power and water and destroy our natural habitat
They then offer some alternative priorities that are worth fighting for: adequate food, decent housing, full employment, quality education, adequate income in old age for everyone; true universal health care, enhanced public transportation, a commitment to a sustainable environment, progressive taxation which reverses the process of taxing the middle class and poor to enrich a wealthy elite, a non-imperialist government and labor- and environment- friendly trade.
End of Capitalism Theory
In laying out End of Capitalism Theory on his website www.endofcapitalism.com, Alex Knight is the most specific of the doomsayers in describing what the alternative to capitalism should look like. He also stresses the need to begin working to build this new form of social organization now – and gives examples (in my view the most exciting section of his website) of hundreds of community efforts around the US that have already begun.
Knight lists five guideposts he considers essential to bringing about real change: freedom, democracy, justice, sustainability and love. The essence of his vision lies in how he defines these terms.
- Freedom – in the sense of self-determination, ordinary people controlling their own destinies instead of huge corporations and corrupt politicians. He advocates strongly for local communities to guarantee their residents access to land and food security and indicates some have begun to do so.
- Democracy – in the sense of “participatory democracy.” At present this takes the form of non-violent civil disobedience – taking back rights we should have but don’t. Knight gives the example of Taking Back the Land, which supports the homeless in squatting in foreclosed homes in Miami.
- Justice – eliminating systems of oppression that benefit one group, like whites, at the expense of another group and guaranteeing everyone access to resources like food, housing, education, health care, transportation, clean water and air, and a decent livelihood.
- Sustainability – learning to meet human needs without sacrificing the ecosystem. Knight indicates this is where the most progress has been made, with the boom in organic agriculture, permaculture and the renewal energy industry.
- Love – learning to value life over profit and money, recognizing the immense emotional isolation the current system has imposed on all of us and the healing (learning to love ourselves) that must occur. Knight stresses that capitalism, after all is system founded on and centered in abuse – and war.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
Implications for the Future
In general, Marxists believe the economic laws that govern capitalism make it inherently flawed – dooming it to eventual failure. They also see a grave risk that the collapse of capitalism will bring down civilization with it. Which is why they argue for workers to hasten its demise and prepare to replace it with some other form of social organization.
Many of the predictions John Strachey made in 1933 in The Coming Struggle for Power have come to pass: the consolidation of multinational corporations into ever bigger monopolies; the merging of banking and productive monopolies; the export of jobs to the Third World; the growth of fascism, and our current perpetual state over world resources.
Obviously his prediction that capitalism would collapse by 1950 didn’t come to pass. However I think Strachey can be forgiven for his inability to anticipate the immense boost World War II would give the global economy; the rise of Communist China; the end of the Soviet Union or the massive financialization of the US (and ultimately the global) economy.
How Workers Take Over Society: Strachey’s View
As a Marxist, he understandably advocates for the end of class society – and for workers to run their own government and own the companies where they work. Moreover he makes some general statements how this should come about. Many, I believe, still have relevance in 2010.
First he argues that the workers’ “revolution” cannot be worked out on paper in advance. In his later life, Strachey believed this was the great historical mistake of Marx and Lenin, and ultimately the Soviet experiment. They were too prescriptive in creating an enlightened “vanguard” to work out all the details of the Revolution on behalf of working people. As history shows, this vanguard only served to replace the capitalist elite it overthrew (not only in the USSR, but in China, North Korea and Cuba), producing some of the most despotic totalitarian regimes in history.
Will the Revolution Be Violent?
Secondly Strachey makes it clear that dismantling class society, enabling workers to genuinely take over government and their work sites, is unlikely to be peaceful. As with the great revolutions that made capitalism possible, the violence doesn’t originate with the reformers but with the old elite that refuses to give up power. Like Marx and Lenin, Strachey believes workers’ most powerful tool is their ability to organize and bring society to a standstill by withdrawing their labor (a general strike, like recent ones in Greece and currently in South Africa). However in most capitalist countries (including the US), this is unlikely to be accepted by capitalist elites without violent retaliation. In other words, it’s very likely to get leaders and many workers who participate in these actions killed or imprisoned.
Thirdly Strachey also stresses that any violence associated with workers taking over society is unlikely to kill as many people as the continual unremitting violence capitalism imposes on the world. In the last decade our current capitalistic system has caused millions of deaths in the Middle East alone – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Palestine – to say nothing of the other counterinsurgency wars (employing US troops, CIA mercenaries or the troops of proxy dictatorships that we fund) in Columbia, the Philippines, Latin American and Africa. Or the millions that have died from floods, droughts, famines and other climate change related extreme weather events.
To be continued, with predictions from contemporary Marxists and End of Capitalism Theory
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
In The Coming Struggle for Power, Strachey also writes about the important role of fascism associated with end stage capitalism. He explains how declining profits and growth will result in reduced wages, poorer working conditions and a claw back of social welfare benefits enacted during more productive periods. This, in turn, leads to more conflict between workers and capitalists, at the same time that capitalist controlled governments are experiencing increasing conflict with foreign capitalist controlled governments.
According to Strachey, ensuring that production continues during a period of heavy stagnation necessitates the rise of fascism – in which the capitalists themselves organize workers to install governments which enact laws unfavorable to working people.
Where Did the Tea Party Come From?
The Astroturf (fake grassroots) origin of the reactionary Tea Party is an excellent example of corporate elites organizing working people around a right wing political agenda harmful to their own economic interests (for example, that opposes minimum wage increases, extensions of unemployment benefits and regulations enforcing workplace health and safety). I did several blogs in June exploring why blue collar workers are susceptible to this type of psychological manipulation. See my posts on The Mass Psychology of Fascism at http://tinyurl.com/2vftjrh
Paul Krugman explores the origin of the Tea Party in the April 12, 2009 New York Times. He points out that the public was deceived by the media spin that early Tea Party events occurred as were spontaneous popular uprisings. They were actually organized and paid for by Freedom Works, a group organized by former Republican majority leader Richard Armey, with generous support from right wing billionaires. (See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/13/opinion/13krugman.html).
In The Coming Struggle for Power, Strachey shows how these so-called “populist” mass organizations are used to justify a stricter, more totalitarian government regime that suppresses worker freedoms and dissent (for example, authorizing warrantless searches, covert break-ins, wiretaps and electronic eavesdropping and suppressing habeas corpus and freedom of the press – sound familiar?). In his view fascism is always a transitional state, as right wing popular movements are unpredictable and difficult to manage. He asserts that reactionary forces either use fascism to create totalitarian dictatorships (as occurred in Nazi Germany), or the fascist movement dissolves as economic conditions improve.
What is Fascism?
There is a lot of disagreement over the precise definition of fascism. The Italian fascist dictator Mussolini defined it as a merging of corporate and government power. Strachey defines it as a political environment where workers no longer sell their labor as free agents – but are physically (as opposed to economically) compelled to work.
I’m not totally comfortable with Strachey’s definition. I question whether it’s humanly possible to force someone to work. I’m aware that third world dictators sometimes “terrorize” people into working by assassinating and disappearing union leaders and workers who complain about wages and working conditions. However, especially in the case of skilled work, it’s virtually impossible to get someone to put out high quality work at satisfactory rate – if he or she is determined not to do so.
In fact I believe innate stubbornness, a nearly universal human trait, may be the root cause of the collapse of the totalitarian Soviet regime. “Free market” capitalism and state capitalism (which Marx and Lenin view as a necessary transition between free market capitalism and true communism) only operate effectively if workers are satisfied that two basic requirements are met: 1) that working will enable them to meet their families’ fundamental needs and 2) that their government might skim a little off the top but will ultimately act in their best interest.
Otherwise people have absolutely no reason to go to turn up everyday to a job they hate that pays them a little less than they need to live on.
In the 1980s the Soviet people lost faith, deciding they were prepared to risk their jobs and live out of garbage cans, rather than continuing to put out for political system that was totally indifferent to their needs and promised no future for themselves and their families. Productivity (quantity and quality of work) dropped to the point the Soviet economy ceased to be sustainable, leading to the collapse of the entire political infrastructure.
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
Why Capitalism Didn’t Fold in 1933
In 1966 Paul Sweezy, founding editor of the Monthly Review, and economist Paul Baran first set out what they describe as “stagnation theory” in their book Monopoly Capital. In later writings, Swezey describes how the massive “financialization” of the US economy, which started in the 1970s, served as a partial antidote to the stagnation that is inevitable under monopoly capitalism.
According to Sweezy (and many others) it was only the massive economic boost of World War II military spending that saved capitalism in the thirties and forties. There was a brief post war boom in the fifties and sixties, as consumers rushed to buy goods that were unavailable during the war. When the sixties ended, stagnation set in again, accompanied by a marked slowing of profits and growth. Neither declined to 1930s levels, according to Sweezy, thanks to the “financialization” of the American economy.
A Giant Ponzi Scheme
“Financialization” describes the process of creating profits without actually producing a profit or service. In the US it injected massive amounts of money (the nice word is credit, but it’s really debt) into the economy in three ways: massive government spending and indebtedness (to private financial interests), a massive increase in consumer indebtedness and an explosion of the financial industry itself.
From 1980 to the 2008 crash, the banking, insurance and investment sector became the largest growth sector of the US economy. Beyond financing unprecedented levels of consumer, business and government debt, it also involved a lot of outright speculation. In addition to commodities and derivatives trading, it also included leveraged buy-outs of productive sector companies with borrowed money, loading them with more debt and reselling them at a profit. Former Wall Street economist Michael Hudson points out that the takeover of health care by private insurance companies was part of this massive ballooning of the financial sector.
As Sweezy describes, the enormous “wealth” created by the financial sector helped to drive the “real” or productive economy. However he also warns – as far back as 1982 – that it’s basically a Ponzi scheme. That it can only continue so long as the economy continues to grow – if allowed to go on too long the speculative bubble will burst, resulting in a collapse as bad or worse than the Great Depression.
The ABCs of the Economic Crisis
Political economists Fred Magdoff and Michael Yates elaborate on Sweezy’s analysis in their 2009 book The ABCs of the Economic Crisis. They point out that stagnation continued during the 1980s and 1990s, despite the life support provided by “financialization.” GDP growth dropped from 4.4 to 3.3 percent in the 1970s, with a further decline to 3.1 percent in the eighties and nineties, with a further decline to 2.2 percent in 2000.
They use the example of the auto industry to describe why stagnation is inevitable under end stage monopoly capitalism. Immediately after World War II, consumers bought a lot of cars and trucks, which were unavailable between 1941 and 1945. However by 1970 all Americans who wanted cars or trucks, and the world’s poorer nations didn’t have a mass market large enough to take the excess of cars being produced. And as consumer buying slowed, so did profits and GDP growth. Obviously the same was true of other durable goods (refrigerators, washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, etc)
They argue that major social service cuts occurred under Reagan, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II – not because these men were more conservative than the presidents who preceded them – but because a steady downward trend in growth and profits meant the US no longer had the resources to support generous social programs enacted during the boom years of the fifties and sixties.
In Yiddish It’s Called Chutzpah
They also point the significant drop in inflation adjusted wages and purchasing power that accompanied the decline in profits and growth. That to keep workers consuming, the corporate sector compensated by giving them credit cards instead – lending them the money at 18-20% interest that they were no longer paying in wages.
To be continued
by stuartbramhall in End of Capitalism, The Global Economic Crisis
The long taboo topic of the end of capitalism seems to be in fashion recently – a consequence of the deepening economic crisis that shows no signs of going away. In fact there’s even a website now www.endofcapitalism.com. I distinctly recall talk of the federal government “nationalizing” Wall Street when the major banks came to the taxpayers in 2008 to bail them out. There has been so much secrecy about exactly how much TARP money we have doled out (is it $5 or $10 trillion?), as well as exactly where the money disappears to. I’m not sure if we have “nationalized” or “partially nationalized” any of the corporations that we agreed to finance. Is it possible to “nationalize” corporate CEOs? Because it’s my sense most of the money has gone into private pockets.
This isn’t the first time economists have declared that capitalism was on its last legs. Many, in fact, saw the Great Depression as symptomatic of its impending failure. British parliamentarian John Strachey was clearly the most articulate in his 1933 The Coming Struggle for Power. Moreover he makes some surprisingly prophetic predictions regarding the future of post-industrial capitalism. I find interesting parallels between Strachey’s analysis and those of Paul Swezey (who first articulated “stagnation theory” in the 1960s) and Fred Magdoff and Michael Yates in 2009. All four are strikingly non-judgmental in their approach. There is no castigation of criminal banksters, sleazy corporate lobbyists or crooked politicians.
Instead they quietly point out that neither Great Depression nor our current economic crisis is the fault of any particular individuals or groups. Basing their observations on the premise that there are natural laws of capitalist economics, just as there a natural laws of physics, they argue that our current economic difficulties are caused by fundamental flaws in capitalistic economic systems.
From a somewhat different perspective Alex Knight, who edits www.endofcapitalism.com, promotes End of Capitalism Theory. This argues that capitalism is breaking down owing to ecological and social limits to the continual growth that’s essential for a capitalist economy to continue to operate.
How Capitalism Developed
Of the five, Strachey has always been my favorite. As a long serving Member of Parliament, he has a knack for bringing complex concepts down to the level of ordinary men and women who lack formal training in economic or political theory. In fact my favourite part of The Coming Struggle for Power is where he carefully traces the transition all human economies underwent from feudalism to mercantilism (large scale trading) and from mercantilism to capitalism. He emphasizes this transformation was extremely violent, citing the Rebellion of 1640 (during which Charles I was executed) and the Revolution of 1688 (in which James II was overthrown). Strachey goes on to describe the violence that accompanied the Enclosure Act one hundred years later, which denied farmers the ability to continue subsistence farming by throwing them off their communal lands. Finally he stresses that neither the French Revolution nor the American Revolution was really about political freedom or equality. That the primary purpose, and effect, of both wars was to end old feudal relationships that interfered with the right of the new capitalist class to freely produce, buy and sell things.
Strachey’s Crystal Ball
As he writes in 1933, Strachey is of the definite opinion that the Great Depression is symptomatic that capitalism has reached its final stage of monopoly capitalism. It isn’t quite dead yet, but clearly dying. He quotes from Lenin (who had nearly 50 more years experience with capitalist boom and bust cycles than Marx did) about “monopolistic” capitalism being the last stage of capitalism – when begins to “decay.” Lenin (and Strachey) describe specific political/economic transformations that characterize end stage capitalize. (owing to an inevitable decline in profits and growth). I find it uncanny that they describe our current economic predicament so perfectly:
- The monopolistic corporations that control finance capital (the commercial and investment banks) essentially merge with the monopolistic corporations that control production and manufacturing (which they have done, due to massive buy outs and takeovers and interlocking boards)
- There is increasing focus on exporting capital (which is what happens when a company shuts down a factory in the U.S. and re-opens it in southeast Asia)
- National governments, which are essentially controlled by their monopolies, are constantly in conflict with one another over who will control the resources, markets and cheap labor of the Third World.
The fact remains that Strachey was mistaken in predicting capitalism’s imminent demise. Capitalism didn’t die in the 1930s. According to Sweezy, Magdoff and Yates, the massive “financialization” of the US economy served as an 80 year life support system to keep it going a little longer. Unfortunately this strategy no longer seems to be working that well. So what do we do now?
To be continued
by stuartbramhall in Challenging the Corporate Media, The Global Economic Crisis
The “D” Word
I am in the process of launching a new 12 step program (along the lines of Alcoholics Anonymous) called Deflation Anonymous. The aim of the program is to help Wall Street analysts and mainstream journalists overcome their terror of the word “deflation” – and their denial that the US economy has entered a deflationary spiral.
During the first 12 months of the economic downturn, the mainstream media refused to use the word at all. In the last 8-9 months, they have had no choice, especially since major corporations – such as Kroger foods, Costco, and Walmart have publicly blamed “deflation” for a drop in corporate earnings last year.
In the last 24 hours I have heard the “D” word four times – in reference to a 2% decline in New Zealand grocery prices (over one year), “deflation” in the Chinese real estate market, “deflation worries” causing yesterday’s 1% drop in the Dow Jones and now a split in the Federal Reserve on whether we actually have “deflation” or are only “verging” on it. The latter really surprised me. It seems the Fed should have anticipated they would create deflation when they reduced the money supply by 9.6% (with ten percent less money in circulation, people have ten percent less money to spend and retailers have to reduce prices to move their products).
The US media still studiously avoids the word without qualifying it. They hedge by referring to “deflation worries,” a “deflation threat,” or “verging on deflation.”
My absolute favorite, though, is “deflation recognition phase,” which Internet commentators have used a lot this week. This makes me very optimistic the condition can be cured – thus my new 12 step program.
Why is Wall Street So Terrified of Deflation?
In essence deflation is negative inflation, a steady decline in retail and producer prices (oh yes, both the producer price index and the consumer price index have fallen every month for three months). The term deflationary spiral refers to a chain reaction in which lower prices and profits force employers to lay off workers and reduce wages, which further reduces consumer demand because people have no money, which leads to even more layoffs and wage cuts.
Economists who advocate aggressive anti-deflation measures usually point to the Great Depression and to Japan. Many theorists blame the Great Depression on ten percent overall contraction in prices and wages. And people might be surprised to learn that Japan – the world’s second largest economy – has been in a deflationary spiral for thirty years.
Deflation has resulted in a lower standard of living for most Japanese. Most workers have experienced wage cuts. However the government of Japan has pursued a deliberate policy of keeping unemployment low. Everyone works and earns lower wages. However their money keeps earning more because of falling prices (in many cases the price remains constant but the size of the soda can or candy bar keeps getting bigger).
The Problem of Massive Corporate Indebtedness
Based on the Japanese experience, I have the impression that deflation will be moderately painful for average Americans. Where the real suffering will occur is in banks and other corporations (and individuals) which are massively in debt. The dollar amount of a one million dollar debt remains constant, even though that million dollars is much harder to come by (owing to decreased revenues, profits and access to credit) and even though the relative value of that million dollars has substantially more buying power.
I have a feeling individual Americans will simply walk away from their debts when they become unemployed or their wages drop substantially (as they walked away from their subprime mortgages when the value of their homes plummeted). It is much harder for corporations. And after decades of cheap credit increased the wealth and stock prices of corporate America, many companies carry massive debts they can only repay with a US dollar that continually declines in value owing to inflation.
In a deflationary spiral, many of these companies will either go bankrupt – or come to the federal government for more bail-outs.
by stuartbramhall in Medical Censorship
Clinical Depression: More than Chemical Imbalance
The incidence of both acute and chronic depression has been steadily increasing for as long as I have been a psychiatrist (32 years). With the recent economic downturn (and associated unemployment, bankruptcies, foreclosures and homelessness) clinical depression and – tragically – suicide are reaching epidemic proportions.
Big Pharma Invents Serotonin Deficiency
Over the last 20 years our giant pharmaceutical industry has very successfully marketed clinical depression as a deficiency of a brain neurotransmitter called serotonin – to justify a line of enormously profitable drugs called serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). And it’s true that some depressed patients (about half) are helped by SSRIs and related drugs. However there are still an embarrassing number of double blind studies in which the improvement in SSRI treated patients, compared to the placebo treated patients, is not statistically significant.
For awhile it looked as if a new psychotherapeutic approach, called cognitive behavior therapy, enhanced patients’ response to SSRIs. However more recent outcome studies challenge whether these benefits are sustained over the long term.
The Role of Poverty and the Corporatization of Food
As a psychiatrist, I feel somewhat of a failure being unable to help half the patients who come to me for depression. However as a social activist, I am also increasingly aware of the role social factors play in depressive disorders. I would rank nutritional deficiencies – stemming both from poverty and our dysfunctional system of food production, marketing and supply – as number one on the list of social factors leading to depression. The link between omega 3 deficiency (as opposed to so-called serotonin deficiency) and depression has been clearly established. Numerous studies show that cultures which consume a minimum three to five servings of fish per week experience miniscule rates of depression. There are also demonstrated links between depression and vitamin B, folic acid and various phytonutient (newly discovered plant based “vitamins”) deficiencies, as well as increasing evidence for the role of Vitamin D and specific mineral deficiencies (mainly calcium and magnesium) in mood regulation. Except for Vitamin D (derived from sunlight and Vitamin D enriched dairy products) and Vitamin B12 (derived mainly from meat), the best source of these other nutrients is fresh broccoli and leafy green vegetables.
Owing to recent skyrocketing food costs, I feel a little silly advising low income depressives to eat more oily fish and fresh vegetables – it’s simply not an option. I also find it hard to suppress feelings of disgust for our government’s corporate driven health policy – whereby Medicaid and insurance companies are happy to pay for a prescription for Prozac (to help out their friends at Big Pharma) but not to subsidize fresh, organically grown food for low income patients with obvious nutritional deficiencies.
The Demise of Civic Engagement: Possible Links to Depression
Unfortunately less than half the depression I encounter in clinical practice is nutritionally based and responsive to improved diet. In fact over the past decade, I find myself looking more and more to the absence of “civic engagement” as a cause for depression. It is a subject that both Robert Putnam (Bowling Alone 2000) and Ralph Nader have written about extensively. Their work has mostly focused on the negative effect declining civic engagement has had on overall quality of life in American communities. Whereas I am seeing increasing evidence of links between our withdrawal from community life and the growing epidemic of clinical depression. To be continued . . .
by stuartbramhall in China Watch, Sustainability, The Global Economic Crisis
My initial reaction to Winning the Oil Endgame (reviewed in a prior blog) was wild enthusiasm. Here at last was a practical blue print for cheaply and painlessly ending our reliance on foreign oil with existing technology. The elegance of author Amory Lovins’ proposal is that it simultaneously ends our need for military domination (and unwinnable wars against Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan) of Middle East oil fields and solves the issue of the US carbon debt. I have never been a big fan of the automobile – relying for most of my life on my bicycle and public transportation. However I am aware that most Americans love their cars and that women with young children and people in rural and disadvantaged communities with poor public transportation simply can’t get by without them.
What’s Wrong With This Picture?
Unfortunately my positive feelings didn’t last long. As I performed an Internet search for to identify car makers embracing carbon fiber technology, my initial excitement was replaced by confusion as I realized nearly all the action is happening in China, India, Japan and Germany. The confusion morphed into anger, followed by dismay as the usual questions popped into mind. Why is Obama throwing three trillion dollars at the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and five trillion dollars at the banks when for an investment of $180 billion (over 10 years – all recoverable) he could – in one fell swoop – totally end our reliance on foreign oil, withdraw our troops from the Middle East, restore US competitiveness with foreign automakers and eliminate both our sovereign and carbon debt?
Why isn’t this stuff front page news? And why does the mainstream “climate change” movement try to reduce carbon emissions by guilt tripping individual Americans into changing their lightbulbs and turning their thermostats down? While the majority of Americans can take these admonitions in stride (most simply ignore them by denying that climate change is occurring), psychiatrists and psychologists are seeing a lot of really anxious people who sit in cold apartments during the winter because they’re afraid of destroying the planet.
How Much Will It Cost?
In Winning the Oil Endgame Lovins points out that while $180 billion is a substantial amount, the US spends $7 billion a year – with zero return at home – for every $1 increase in the cost of a barrel of oil. He estimates $90 billion would be needed to retool current auto plants and $90 on investment in new fuel sources – all money that would remain in the US. He has a particular interest in the development of cellulose to ethanol conversion. He cites new technology using woody plans like switchgrass and poplar that yield twice as much as current corn-to-ethanol processes – yet cost less in both capital and energy investment and pose no threat to world food supplies. He is also a big advocate of electric cars – which immediately become much more feasible and cost effective (they require smaller batteries and can be used for longer distances) when they are made out of lightweight carbon fiber. He believes most electric cars will eventually be powered by hydrogen cells produced from wind energy and natural gas surpluses (resulting from more efficient electricity generation and use).
Who Will Pay for It?
He also envisions that most of this $180 billion will come from the private sector (owing to the obvious profit potential) – with government merely rearranging some of their current priorities that favor (with tariffs, direct subsidies and tax rebates) oil companies and current biofuel producers like Archer Daniels Midland.
Instead he is proposing some low cost “jumpstart” policies from federal, state and local government (the carbon fiber car industry receives major government support in China, India, Japan and Germany). He argues that the US can ill afford a costly, chaotic, 100 year transition to carbon fiber technology driven by wars, shortages and other awful events – when with modest support this could be a profitable, orderly transition on our own terms.
Among those Lovins proposes are
- “Feebates” for new cars and light trucks. These would combine increased license fees on inefficient vehicles with rebates on efficient ones.
- Temporary federal loan guarantees to encourage automakers to retool (and to encourage the airline industry to mass produce carbon fiber planes)
- Commitment by federal, state and local governments to replace obsolete vehicle fleets with carbon fiber cars.
- Increased Pentagon (the people who brought you the Internet and GPS) funding to develop carbon fiber technologies.
by stuartbramhall in Feminism, The Global Economic Crisis
Not surprisingly there was considerable backlash against Norway’s 2003 law mandating that women make up 40 percent of corporate boards (see April 19 blog “Addressing Corporate Fraud: Norway’s 40% Solution”). The most common objection was that there were insufficient qualified women in Norway. In fact one male executive complained that boards would have to recruit “escorts” to meet the quota. There were also dire predictions that replacing male board members with females would cause boards to lose their expertise, that shareholder confidence would plummet and that overseas investors would withdraw their holdings from Norway and take them elsewhere.
Is the Experiment Working?
Obviously none of the dire predictions for Norwegian corporations came to pass. Norwegian business women responded to the new law by creating a plethora of women-focused executive search firms and training, mentoring and networking programs. Moreover most of the 300 women who have taken seats on Norway’s are better educated and qualified than the men they replaced.
It’s too early to measure the effect of these changes on financial and other performance indicators. Results of a study investigating the effects of Norway’s new gender quota should be available by 2012. Results from other studies demonstrate clear positive outcomes from including women in the boardroom. One study last year by the influential New York think-tank Catalyst, which ranked hundreds of Fortune-500 companies by the percentage of women on their boards, found the top quarter outperformed those in the bottom quarter with a 53% higher return on equity. A second 2007 report, by the international management consultants McKinsey, looked at 89 top European companies and found those where women were most strongly represented on both the board and at senior-management level outperformed others in their sector in return on equity and stock-price growth.
Women Have Different Patterns of Communication
Despite the lack of empirical data, anecdotal feedback and qualitative data from Norwegian CEOs about the addition of women to their boards has been extremely position. Executives are pleased and surprised that women (unlike many of the men) do their homework and read management reports prior to coming to board meetings. In general, they are better at working as part of a team. This may relate to different communication patterns, which have been studied in other contexts. Although there is a lot of individual variability, social psychologists find that women tend to be invested in ensuring everyone has a chance to speak – whereas men tend to be invested in advancing their own position. Women also appear to be more sensitive to divided interests in boardrooms and to ethical issues (also known as fraud).
According to (Mr.) Kjell Erik Oie, the country’s state secretary for equality and children. “There’s no going back. We’ve realised it’s good for business.” Elin Hurveness, founder of Norway’s Professional Board Forum, which helps place women on corporate boards, compares the quota to the smoking ban in public buildings. “At first most people were opposed. With time they coped and acclimated, and now they can’t imagine having it any other way.”
Norway Isn’t Alone
In 2007 Spain passed a law requiring that 40 percent of corporate board members be female. Germany and Netherlands are following a similar course, commencing with voluntary agreement companies can sign committing to improving diversity. At present France is debating a law that would make gender equity quotas on corporate boards mandatory.