November 9, 2010

Price Check

November 9, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Psychology Today:

“Johnny” is 18, and he can’t remember the last book he read. He stopped watching TV recently because it “sucked.” He dropped out of school because it’s “boring.” His mother got him a job at a local sandwich shop, but he stopped showing up after three days because “it got to be too much.” But ask Johnny about the latest sequel to the video game Call of Duty and he’s on a five-minute tirade about the pros and cons of the game’s so-called improvements. He should know, after all, with as many at 80 hours a week spent playing video games on his computer, his Xbox 360, his Wii, or one of his 2 Playstation 3s. (He got a second when the first started “acting up” and he was worried he wouldn’t be able to finish Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots.)

The American Medical Association’s 2007 study found that as many as five million Johnnys (American kids 8-18) might be video game addicts. 40% of gamers are female, so there’s surely some “Janes” too.

But video game addiction? C’mon, that’s a made-up thing, many claim. The current DSM doesn’t even recognize video game addiction as a legitimate addiction.

Let’s examine what’s happening with Johnny a bit more closely to see what’s what.

1) Johnny craves more game time, no matter how much he’s already played.

2) He suffers from chronic dry eyes.

3) His friends have stopped calling and coming by to hang out.

4) He sometimes doesn’t shower or change clothes for days.

5) He gets extremely upset if someone suggests he might have a problem with video games.

6) He rarely leaves the house because he feels like he’s missing out on something that might be happening in the games.

7) He spends his entire allowance on video game hardware and software.

8) He lies to his parents about how often he plays.

9) He sometimes skips doing his chores to keep gaming.

10) When he’s not at the computer, he’s irritable and snappy…

Read it all.

Der Spiegel:

In an interview with SPIEGEL, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, 68, criticizes US calls for Germany to reduce exports, outlines his plans for an insolvency framework for indebted European nations and the emphasizes the significance of the German-French axis for Europe.

SPIEGEL: Minister Schäuble, how well do you get along with your American counterpart, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner?

Schäuble: Mr. Geithner is an excellent minister. We have a good personal relationship.

SPIEGEL: Nevertheless, he constantly criticizes government officials in countries that are achieving high export surpluses and not doing enough to stimulate their domestic economies. He’s referring to you, isn’t he?

Schäuble: It would appear that way. That’s why I tell him again and again that I think his point of view is incorrect in this regard.

SPIEGEL: All the same, the value of goods Germany sold to the United States exceeded imports from that country by almost €14 billion ($19.8 billion) last year. Can’t you understand that the American treasury secretary is concerned about this?

Schäuble: No, because since we introduced the euro in Europe, the determining factor is no longer US trade with Germany, but US trade with the totality of countries in the euro zone. And in that respect the balance of trade tends to be even. So what’s the problem? After all, we don’t complain about the export successes of individual American states.

SPIEGEL: But the German economy benefits from the fact that German industry has focused primarily on foreign markets and wages have hardly gone up in years. The Americans see this as unfair.

Schäuble: The German export successes are not the result of some sort of currency manipulation, but of the increased competitiveness of companies. The American growth model, on the other hand, is in a deep crisis. The United States lived on borrowed money for too long, inflating its financial sector unnecessarily and neglecting its small and mid-sized industrial companies. There are many reasons for America’s problems, but they don’t include German export surpluses.

SPIEGEL: The US government sees it differently. It wants to see German exports to the United States curtailed in the future once they reach a certain threshold. Will you give in to the pressure?

Schäuble: The proposal is not acceptable for Germany under any circumstances. If we were to introduce such measures, we would be restricting international competition. But for years we, together with the Americans, have believed that world trade needs to be opened up further. We should stick to that approach and, for example, press ahead with the Doha round to promote world trade. This would stimulate global growth far more effectively than a bilateral agreement on quotas.

SPIEGEL: Last week, the US Federal Reserve Bank decided to flood the economy with $600 billion in new money. Will this stimulate the economy as hoped?

Schäuble: I seriously doubt that it makes sense to pump unlimited amounts of money into the markets. There is no lack of liquidity in the US economy, which is why I don’t recognize the economic argument behind this measure.

SPIEGEL: The US wants to depress the value of the dollar in this way, so that it can sell its products abroad more easily. In light of the ailing US economy, isn’t that a completely reasonable strategy?

Schäuble: No. The Fed’s decisions bring more uncertainty to the global economy. They make it more difficult to achieve a reasonable balance between industrialized and emerging economies, and they undermine the US’s credibility when it comes to fiscal policy. It’s inconsistent for the Americans to accuse the Chinese of manipulating exchange rates and then to artificially depress the dollar exchange rate by printing money.

SPIEGEL: The G-20 nations will meet in South Korea this week to discuss the condition of the world economy two years after the deepest financial and economic crisis since the war. When the crisis erupted, the international community reacted with astonishing unanimity. But now many countries are trying to achieve advantages by influencing their exchange rates. Are you worried about a worldwide currency war?

Schäuble: I don’t believe in such belligerent terms, but it’s obvious that the global economy is in a tough situation. This is due to the enormous national debts many countries have taken on while fighting the crisis. Reducing these deficits is the primary objective, as the G-20 countries decided at their most recent summit in Toronto, where everyone, including the United States, agreed to cut their deficits by half by 2013. We should stick to these decisions, and if we do we will be able to curb unrest in the markets.

SPIEGEL: But the United States isn’t the only country that’s responsible for unrest in the markets. The euro crisis also continues to smolder. The risk premiums for government bonds from the crisis-plagued countries Ireland and Greece have gone up again. How much longer will it take before Europe has to issue new state guarantees?

Schäuble: I’m not that pessimistic in this regard. Although the Irish have accumulated huge debts to bail out their banks, they are making good progress in cleaning up their economy. And I also have great respect for the Greek government’s resolve. A few months ago, hardly anyone would have believed that the Greeks would manage to implement such a drastic austerity program. They’re moving in the right direction now.

SPIEGEL: Conditions in Europe are not as orderly as you describe. Just two weeks ago, the European Council (the EU body in Brussels that includes the heads of state and government of the membber states) decided to introduce a new crisis mechanism for over-indebted euro nations. Are you satisfied with the result?

Schäuble: The Council’s decisions are a great success. Only a few weeks ago, many predicted that France would never support Germany in its commitment to a European crisis mechanism. And that the French would be willing to change the European treaties to do so was seen as completely out of the question. But then Chancellor (Angela) Merkel and President (Nicolas) Sarkozy met in Deauville and achieved a historic breakthrough on both issues. It’s completely in line with the approach we Germans have always supported.

SPIEGEL: You can’t possibly believe what you’re saying. Until recently, Germany was demanding automatic penalties for countries that violated the debt rules of the euro zone. That demand is now off the table.


Schäuble: In Europe, it just so happens that you don’t always get everything you wish for. The overwhelming majority of EU members have made it clear that they would not accept automatic sanctions. Our response was: Instead of fighting for something you can’t have, we’ll try to achieve what’s feasible.

SPIEGEL: That sounds like supreme statesmanship. But now there will be no change to the situation on the European Council, where the offenders and the watchdogs remain identical, as former constitutional judge Paul Kirchhof has said. The countries that don’t have their budgets under control are helping to decide what penalties will be imposed for that. This isn’t the way to come up with effective, prompt sanctions.

Schäuble: I disagree. It will be much easier in the future to enforce sanctions against deficit sinners. We will also be able to take preventive action earlier in the game. Besides, it didn’t exactly advance the German position when the red-green government (the former center-left coalition of Social Democratic Party and Green Party that governed from 1998 until 2005), together with the French government, did serious, lasting damage to the Stability and Growth Pact by saying: The pact applies to everyone, just not to the two largest member states…

Read it all.

Le Monde Diplomatique:

A new strand of rightwing populists in the US, represented by talk show host Glenn Beck and his Tea Party followers, fear al-Qaida less than they do socialism. But in particular all Tea Partiers despise the Republican rich and the elites.

Over the summer two stars of the American right had a friendly argument about who poses the greatest threat to the United States. Fox News host Bill O’Reilly went with the conventional wisdom: al-Qaida. During the Bush administration, it was the clash of cultures that organised the way American conservatives saw the world. When they worried about issues like illegal immigration, what they were afraid of was al-Qaida operatives mingling among the future valet parkers of Chicago and meatpackers of Iowa. But O’Reilly’s new colleague and ratings rival, Glenn Beck (1), had a more surprising answer: it’s not the jihadists who are trying to destroy our country, it’s the communists. When Beck and the Tea Party, the rightwing populists most closely tied to him, express their deepest worries, it’s not terrorism they fear, it’s socialism.

What’s surprising is that worrying about communists was more characteristic of the Eisenhower years than of post-9/11. Even more surprising is that Beck is a generation younger than O’Reilly. He hadn’t even been born in 1963 when Eisenhower’s secretary of agriculture, Ezra Taft Benson, gave the speech about Krushchev’s promise to keep “feeding us socialism” mouthful by mouthful until one day (today, according to Beck, who cites this speech frequently) we wake up and realise we’ve “already got communism”.

Most surprising of all is that this reinvention of the cold war is working. Tea Partiers rush to expose the communists in the Democratic Party; on Amazon’s bestseller lists, the highest ranking political book is FA Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, and even the celebrated radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh has started worrying about the “communist” spies “who work for Vladimir Putin” (2).

Why communism? And why now? Islamophobia at least has some pretext based in reality: jihadists really did kill thousands of Americans. But not only were there no communists on the planes that hit the World Trade Centre, today there are virtually no communists anywhere in the US, and precious few in the former USSR. Indeed, if there’s one thing Vladimir Putin and Barack Obama can agree on, it’s their enthusiasm for what Putin (at Davos!) called “the spirit of free enterprise”. And yet, like anti-semitism without Jews, anti-communism without communists has come to play a significant political role on the right, especially on what we might call the anti-neoliberal right.

Beck’s own biography suggests how this has happened. His parents divorced in response to stress caused (as his biographer tells it) by the recession of the late 1970s; his early success in radio was a product of the ratings wars set off by the deregulation of the radio industry begun in 1982; and his successes and failures have been in a broadcasting industry increasingly fragmented and driven by the demands of the deregulated market. Before politics became central to his performance, he was known primarily as a master of marketing, and many believe his current political views aren’t deeply held: they’re just another marketing device.

But, if we’ve learned anything from the last 30 years, it’s that marketing is itself a kind of politics. Beck is a pure neoliberal baby, coming of age with the disappearance of communism and now – confronted with the Great Recession – making his career through its reappearance. To him and his millions of viewers, it cannot be the triumph of capitalism that has produced our problems, so it must be the return of communism. And it’s the “immigrants and socialists” – not Saudis on planes but Mexicans on foot – who have spearheaded that return.

Angry Tea Partiers

You can see this structure in the stories that both Democrats (Barack Obama) and Republicans (Congressman Bob Inglis) have told about angry Tea Partiers denouncing what they take to be Obamacare’s socialising of medicine while demanding that the government “keep its hands off Medicare.” Inglis says: “I had to politely explain that ‘Actually, sir, your health care is being provided by the government’, but he wasn’t having any of it” (3). The reason is he can see that Medicare and even Social Security have been put in jeopardy; what he can’t see is that it’s the drive to privatisation that has put them there. What he and his comrades really want is to be rescued from neoliberalism (they don’t want to lose Medicare), but what they think they want is to be rescued from socialism (Obamacare).

In reality, there’s nothing the slightest bit socialist about Obamacare, much less about immigration. In fact, unlike the Tea Party, Chicago-school economists identify open borders with free markets and argue that it’s not immigration but “immigration controls” that are “a form of socialist central planning”. Even more to the point, there’s nothing communist about illegal immigration which, from an economic standpoint, is preferable to legal immigration because it “responds to market forces in ways that legal immigration does not” and thus “benefits both the undocumented workers who desire to work… in the US and employers who want flexible, low-cost labour” (4). So when Beck, speaking for all the Tea Partiers, pronounces his judgment – “Immigration good; illegal immigration bad” – he may think he’s opposing communism, but what he’s actually opposing is neoliberalism in its purest form. The thing the Tea Party regards as the greatest threat to capitalism is capitalism itself.

Which is not to say that anyone supports illegal immigration as a principle. That would be a contradiction in terms – why not just defend the legality of open borders? But what doesn’t make sense as a principle has made very good sense as a policy: it was the policy of the Bush administration and the Obama administration too, until the Tea Party began to call its bluff. For what the policy has done is allow both Democrats and Republicans to encourage a massive increase in the supply of very cheap labour, while at the same time condemning that labour for the very thing (its illegality) that makes it so cheap…

Read it all.


November 9, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.

Glad It’s Over

November 9, 2010

This image has been posted with express written permission. This cartoon was originally published at Town Hall.


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