Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Jamie Galbraith's Call to Arms

Jamie Galbraith rallies the faithful: "Sorry to be defeatist - it’s the way I feel. Prove me wrong."

Seventy-six years ago a Senator from Alabama — yes, Jamie, Alabama — proposed a solution to an earlier unemployment crisis. And you know what? The Senate approved it 53-30. But the Big Boys objected and we got the NRA instead. "It will be remembered," wrote brain truster Rexford Tugwell, "that one of the reasons why NRA was sponsored by Roosevelt, and why the act was passed in the special session of spring, was the threat of a thirty-hour law being pushed by Senator Hugo Black." Tugwell was wrong. It has not been remembered. It is forgotten that Roosevelt only acted in the face of a more radical mobilization.

The problem with the solutions you propose, Jamie, is that they are the kind of moderate, respectable responses that might be forthcoming from an Obama administration if (and only if) there was momentum building for a more radical response to the jobs crisis.

There is a 240-year arc to this crisis, a 60-year arc and a 30-year arc. The 240-year arc is "capitalism". The 60-year arc is "the cold war" and the 30-year arc is "neo-liberalism". Until enough people understand how those three arcs relate to each other, there’s not going to be any resolution of this crisis. Moving beyond the neo-liberalism of the last 30 years cannot mean restoring some solution from a more distant past. What is most frightening about the present crisis is that its resolution has the potential for a previously inconceivable degree of emancipation. It is precisely the THREAT of freedom that is evoking such great resistance.

"Civilization has to defend itself against the specter of a world which could be free. If society cannot use its growing productivity for reducing repression (because such usage would upset the hierarchy of the status quo), productivity must be turned against the individuals; it becomes itself an instrument of universal control."


Brenda Rosser said...

Jamie Galbraith writes: "the United States is plainly unable to cope with the economic crisis in a serious way. The barriers are philosophical, procedural, and constitutional....There could have been open-ended fiscal assistance to stop the budget hemorrhage of the states and cities. There could have been a jobs program and effective foreclosure relief. There could have been a payroll tax holiday. There could have been a strategy for sustained massive effort on infrastructure, energy and climate. There could have been prompt corrective action to resolve, instead of coddle, the worst of the banks.....

Walker (is that what we call you today?)

I don't see an either/or situation here. I agree with both of you. Our great productivity must be used in a liberating way but our present crisis needs as many workers as possible to produce a "massive effort on infrastructure, energy and climate".

I see a shortage of supply - of a whole range of 'quality' in things. a 'safe' environment, 'Clean food', 'clean energy', 'clean' water 'recyclable' products, 'safe' products, 'organic' farms 'meaningful' lives.

We are outright short on food, land and TIME right now.

At this point in history we have a planetary EMERGENCY on climate change. A few years only to turn things around. This requires a massive transformation of the way we do things...across the board. There's no time right now for a 20 hour week. All hands on deck. EVERY job needs to contribute to the transformation needed.

AFTER the climate and the biosphere is stabilised let's talk freedom from labour for the sake of superfluous productivity.

Anonymous said...

The best thing we can do for the biosphere and climate is REDUCE activity. That would be the massive transformation needed.

Being busy beavers redeveloping the world is what got into these problems the first time.

A 20-hour workweek and a fair distribution of existing wealth would give everyone a fair break and allow the planet to heal.

We could use the spare time to do research, organize local efforts, and figuring out what works and what doesn't

What we don't need is some 21st century Manhattan Project promising what it can never deliver.

Walker said...


No, you DO see an either/or situation. You DON'T "agree with both" of us. You just would like to think there is no necessity for making a hard decision, so then you go right ahead make an easy one: "AFTER the climate and the biosphere is stabilised let's talk freedom..."

Fine. You've made your choice. Just don't go telling me you agree with both of us and it's not an either/or situation.

Anonymous said...

It is this whining by JG and DeLong that makes me certain we are getting close. The post-war concensus is dead - killed by Chinese imports.

Brenda: Walker is right: This is one fence you can't sit on. You will have to choose growth or the environment.

Barkley Rosser said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Walker said...

Any comments on my postings that serve no other purpose than hurling insults will be deleted. Period.

Brenda Rosser said...

Tom Walker,
I don't get time to sit on the fence because I'm busy (attempting to) build stone walls, grow food, provide alternatives for superfluous consumer items (such as a range of paper products in particular).

Perhaps my expression left something to be desired. Sure, cut the working week for those involved in the production of unnecessary, trivial, superfluous, dangerous or out-of date technologies/services/goods.

But I can't see a drop in the actual number of hours worked in general. Home labour time will simply increase.

For those that have the skills and ability to build the new technologies to address climate change; well how viable is a shorter week there? It depends on how ready the supply is of these skilled individuals.

Things are not so straightforward for all contexts and all times.

Walker said...


I agree with your clarified position. When I get off my 24-hour a week job I spend another 30 to 40 hours on what I consider the more urgent, non-GDP enhancing work of "sparing the planet", as Anders Hayden put it. I would be surprised, though, if Jamie has the same attitude. From what he wrote, he is clearly advocating expansion of the formal economy of money transactions.

I would argue that there are structural barriers to the amount of "green" work that can be monetized as a proportion of what needs to be done. So we need to reduce the amount of paid work we do precisely so we can increase the time devoted to unpaid work (which needs to be autonomous and 'joyous'). There are only so many hours in a day.

I would also point out that "technology" is not just tools and machines. Skills and knowledge are vital parts of a technology as are institutions. Wage labor is an institution that is poorly suited to the kinds of work and learning that need to be done. The core principle of wage labor is social domination. That is, the employer pays the employee to do what the employer tells him or her to do. Such social domination is predicated on a model of the domination/exploitation of nature.

You can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear. And you can't use social domination to undo nature domination. We have more than two centuries of evidence that it can't be done. The burden of proof falls on those who claim "this time will be different."

Barkley Rosser said...

I've been deleted by a blog admin.?
Oh well.

Anon. Can you pick a moniker, please? I don't care what it is, but if you are going to regularly show up with Walker, please get a consistent ID.

Brenda Rosser said...

That sounds reasonable. "you can't use social domination to undo nature domination." I have my doubts about whether this claim is true, however. People attempt to dominate. At all levels of society. When they do it doesn't happen in the context of enlightened self interest most/a-lot of the time.

Related to this, Jamie Galbraith paints a picture of our imminent future:

"...local farming works in the Vermont woods if you have a good freezer to get the vegetables through the winter. The Cubans have tried it too, and they’ve gotten back the calories they gave up when their Soviet markets collapsed. From this follows a larger lesson: when the oil-and-coal economy ends, some of us will get along fine, eating local potatoes and cheese. Incomes will diminish, but happiness need not.

It’s a beautiful tale, but it can’t be altogether right. The climate collapse—which may bring the flooding of New York, Boston, London, Calcutta, and Shanghai—will be a calamity next to which the end of the Soviet Union will seem very small. Long industrial chains, for jet aircraft, automobiles, telecommunications, electricity, and much else, will crumble, as they did in the USSR and Yugoslavia, particularly if new interior boundaries form and countries break up. And interior boundaries will form, as those on the high ground seek to defend it. The demographic effects will be similarly dire: Older, urban males (like me) with no survival skills will die. Rural New England will turn into a deforested exurban slum.

This brings us back to ...public policy. The function of the government, in principle, is to foresee these dangers, and avert them. The powers of the government exist to permit the mobilization of resources required. And only government can hope to do the job....

July 17, 2007
"Government Will Have To Be Rebuilt"

I can grow vegetables till the cows come home but there is no way that I can find the resources to ensure the giant agribusiness forestry infernos that burn here every year will finally stop; will ever stop in time to prevent climate 'collapse'.

From a spaceship view of the earth it is possible to see that most of the earth's surface is 'managed' by absentee corporations whose legal charter is to (effectively) profit at all costs. Even a significant reduction in working hours will not suffice to stop the continued commercial rape. These businesses are an efficient machine; primed to operate with little or no manpower.

We're on automatic destruct.

Walker said...

Brenda quoted Jamie Galbraith,

"The function of the government, in principle, is to foresee these dangers, and avert them."

This is the old paradigm that the government is the only institution that can protect us from (inevitable) market failure. Elinor Ostrom has argued otherwise.

"We're on automatic destruct."

Perhaps -- if we keep telling ourselves that somehow the government will, against all odds, magically transform itself into an instrument of popular will and salvation.

Brenda Rosser said...

I thought it was James Galbraith that wrote about the 'Predator State'?

I didn't see the word 'only' in reference to the State in his article.

Walker said...

Brenda wrote: "I didn't see the word 'only' in reference to the State in his article"

Then, Brenda, you need to read before you quote something: "And only government can hope to do the job...." See the word 'only' now? It's the second word in the sentence.

Barkley Rosser said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Walker said...

Look, Barkley, if you have something to say to someone, say it. If you only have something derogatory or ad hominem to say about someone, STFU. Your post will be deleted. tout suite.

Barkley Rosser said...


Tell your friend "Anonymous" to get a moniker. He is embarrassing you by using your exact language almost every time he posts.

You like to dish it out, but you cannot take it, a remark that will probably earn yet another of your self-righteous deletions, even though nobody has deleted anything you have posted to the best of my knowledge, certainly not me.

Walker said...


Boring and pointless. Don't you have anything worthwhile to do? I'm sad for you.