Rethink, Rebuild the Cities

“By the early 1980s, when both President Obama and I were in college, the anti-big-government, pro-privatization rhetoric of the Reagan years was catching on, and the entire notion of public spending, let alone spending on large public works projects, was becoming passé.

In many major cities this void was filled by private developers, who began refurbishing parks and old historic quarters. The result was sanitized versions of real cities organized around themed districts, convention centers and sports complexes. Meanwhile the roads, bridges and sewer systems that held these cities together were allowed to disintegrate.

At the same time Europe and Asia began to supplant America as places where visions of the future were being built. The European Union spent decades building one of the most efficient networks of high-speed trains in the world, a railway that has unified the continent while leading to the cultural revival of cities like Brussels and Lille. And environmental standards for new construction were not only encouraged, they became the law — and have been for more than a decade.”

Ouroussoff, Nicolai. 2009. “Reinventing America’s Cities: The Time is Now.” The New York Times, March 25.

Robert Frank on Happiness

Here is an article by Robert H. Frank on creating more happiness in a world without consumer excess.

Frank pioneered heterodox economic thought on “cost cascades”–how inequality leads to competitive social behavior that inflates the price of conspicuous necessary goods, such as houses and education, to the marked detriment of less-conspicuous necessary goods and services.

(This Frank article was published in the liberal American Prospect, which is hit or miss–not something I’d rely on for analysis, but occasionally offering up something thought-worthy. Kind of like liberalism.)

EU REACH program

The EU is launching REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances), a program to regulate toxic chemicals.

I was originally informed that REACH will provide an on-line database of products and their toxic chemo content; but we will see. That’s a big undertaking.

Amy Goodman (Truthdig. February 24, 2009.) heralds REACH as a resource for citizens around the world to get around chemical industry misinformation and secrecy.

Because the chemical industry in the US has for so long been successful at avoiding public accountability, it and chemo-dependent products unregulated in the US will be at a competitive disadvantage to European products, because anyone will be able to check out the REACH chemo database on-line. Further, such information could potentially provide a lever for the public to make even the US chemo industry responsive to social and environmental needs, instead of merely the profit imperative.

Why is Obama Spurning Liberal Economic Reform in Favor of Zombie Conservatism?

PAUL KRUGMAN: But yeah, ultimately, when you get the—when you get through the complexities and the salesmanship, this (public buyout of $1 trillion in bad private bank assets) is just a complicated way of having the government pay, having you and me pay, for buying these assets at more than any private investor is willing to pay for them.

AMY GOODMAN: Paul Krugman, what would a new system look like? What would you advocate?

PAUL KRUGMAN: I think, in the end, we’re going to have to go back to something that is kind of like the system that emerged from the New Deal, which was tightly regulated banks and financial institutions, limits on risk taking, fairly high taxes for high earners, which—it turns out that, you know, low tax rates create incentives, but the incentives are actually to play dangerous games with other people’s money. A lot of things need to be updated for the twenty-first century and information technology and so on, but basically, our grandfathers got this thing right. Our grandfathers understood that finance is useful but dangerous and needs to be very tightly hedged about with regulations.

(Excerpt from the March 23, 2009 interview in Democracy Now!)

Rudy Can’t Fail: AIG Execs Continue Looting

The US taxpayers have given AIG executive failures the bailouts ($180 billion and counting!) they have needed to siphon off $165 million in “bonuses” this year.

Depending on your class loyalties, these “bonuses” allow the executives either to keep being the socially-necessary geniuses they are, or to build upon their own personal feudal empires while the rest of the country goes down in economic flames. (Typically in corporate media articles, the former reason is cited, but you may want to use logic to select the appropriate explanatory framework.)

The US government claims that since AIG promised execs they would get the big bonus presents, the promises must be honored. (Contrast this to Geoghegan’s (“Infinite Debt.” Harper’s. April 2009) discussion of how Chapter 11 formalized capital’s ability to break any and all contracts with workers.)

For next year, the US government has politely asked AIG to reduce its executive looting by 30%. As drolly as possible: What a harsh mistress the political wing of the capitalist class is. Oh, do crack that feather boa.

Furthermore, though the public now owns 80% of AIG, AIG and the federal government were not allowing the public to have information about who AIG is transferring its bailout windfall to. That changed when the NYTimes started complaining about it. Nor is AIG letting stockholders set reasonable limits on executive compensation. The US Executive is reportedly irritated that Americans are making things inconvenient by trying to hold a few capitalists a little accountable for a moment.

The grand plan seems to be no more complicated than to saddle the everyday, poor American with all the country’s bad debt repayment burden, while the capitalist class makes off with all the wealth. Honest to god, we get more and more sympathetic with the French Republican response to this class of belligerent parasites.

If you’re not getting multi-million dollar “bonuses” for just being in the right social network, and you’re sticking around the US, presumably to help pay for the bonuses, good luck roasting rat meat in the tent city, my friend.