Well, somebody’s gotta do it.
I’m kidding, of course. Well, half kidding anyway. I’ve been making proposals all along, really, that have half serious components like offing the Secretary of the Treasury if he acts in bad faith. I hope people don’t get carried away. That’s part of the point, of course.
But let’s review.
The “financial crisis” is really a “rule of law” crisis and as such it is a crisis of civilization itself. It’s not like nothing works, and for that we should be grateful: the trains run more or less on time, there is food in the grocery stores. People shopped and bought this Christmas. Things could be worse.
Of course, they’ll get worse if something isn’t done. And they are far worse than they appear, at least to people whose information on events in the wider world comes from officially approved sources.
The year 2011 saw the first major manifestation of what is an increasingly brutal reality underneath it all: the so-called “occupy” movement. This movement is an early and relatively benign form of civil unrest. Such movements rarely remain benign when they continue.
That’s one problem.
At this writing the occupiers have been rousted by the powers that be from their downtown tent cities that cropped up in major urban areas all over the United States. But they have not disappeared.
A year or so ago I set up one of those “google alerts” to get news sent to my email box containing the words “protesters-arrested-eviction-foreclosure”. The reason was a specific and relatively obscure news story I wanted to follow. A single news story.
Months went by with nary a missive. But in the last few months, since the occupy thing began, I have been receiving multiple emails every day from that google alert. I suppose it’s not a coincidence that I was interested in one specific story with those terms, but even so I did not anticipate that within a few months I would be getting dozens or hundreds of such stories.
The stories are just there, and while they are still to a large degree suppressed in the media so that they do not acquire too large a presence in the general consciousness, people are becoming aware anyway. That’s another reason the occupy movement has sprung up. Many people have seen neighbors get sick or lose their jobs and wind up homeless. Along with their families. Such as children.
“Children” in the collective sense are so often used as political footballs that to bring this up invites a cynical response, or maybe a yawn out of contempt for the tiresomeness of it all. But still. This is what we are talking about, and we have to face it. When you evict a family from their home, many of the evictees are children, who did not lend money or borrow money or make any of the mistakes that have led to the hardship that has befallen them. They are innocent in this mess their elders have created, but the harshest consequences will be visited upon many of them, even as those who are the most responsible – the public officials, the Wall Street bankers – are personally untouched.
So no wonder that at long last large groups of people – more than 30,000 at one point in New York City, rivaling protests earlier seen in the middle east and larger than post election angry protests in Moscow – are pushing back. It is evidence that there remains some residual decency in the public at large, quite in contrast to the political and economic leadership, for whom that basic human quality has long since vanished. It is also evidence that the underlying problems have grown big enough that they have affected many people personally: a friend, a neighbor, a relative. When it hits close to home people act. It’s too bad they don’t act sooner, perhaps. But we’re human, and we’re flawed.
The question is: how flawed?
The 20th century repeatedly provided depressing answers to that question. The world wars alone, with their vast destruction and violence and death, might reasonably lead some to despairing of the human condition and the human race. Yet in the midst of all that there was such progress, too. Technological. Economic.
I refuse to believe we are mindlessly going to make 40 million people homeless in the USA alone for no good reason, as if the 21st century is just going to feature an economic version of the great military disasters of the 20th. As avoidable as all of the death and destruction of the last century was, this result is even more avoidable now.
But to avoid it you have to face it, and do something about it.
Mental and moral sloth, especially among public officials – and among them especially among judges – is the capital sin of the hour. It is mentally easier in the short term to go into denial, stop reporting the news or suppress it, let things play out slowly enough that cause and effect become attenuated and obscured, and pretend that the civil unrest that is already changing the country you live in is a passable oddity of the moment.
But reality will assert itself at some point. Dislocation on the scale we are already experiencing it, whether the result of war, natural disaster, or perverse economics is profoundly destabilizing.
When I first proposed on these pages a universal debt jubilee, nearly a year ago, it wasn’t a new idea for me. My interest in the obscure subject of monetary theory began in 1996. Conceptually it’s a difficult area, at least for me but I suspect also for other people. In any case, an understanding of monetary theory and its application to contemporary monetary economic reality will not fail to lead to the conclusion that a universal debt jubilee has become necessary. And I mean that in the proper sense: it’s going to happen, one way or the other, no matter what anybody does at this point, for the simple reason that no other result is possible. As Michael Hudson says: debt that cannot be repaid, won’t be.
The only question is how the jubilee is going to take place – formally or de facto – and who is going to suffer and how much. Left to it own devices, the economy will “clear” the unpayable debt in the worst possible way: it will take many, many years and the most devastating consequences will be visited upon the weak. The “strong” will pretty much sail through until the bitter end when, if they haven’t left the country they will be rounded up and beheaded, figuratively or literally. Take your pick.
Yet even Micahel Hudson has not yet, to my knowledge, explicitly proposed a formal, legal and intentional debt jubilee, though that is the upshot of almost everything he writes and says.
Steve Keen recently uttered the “J” word in an interview with the BBC; he’s another person who has been at least flirting with the idea for quite some time. And he finally just came right out and said it.
Keen and Hudson are perhaps outside the mainstream, while remaining just far enough inside the fold that they can keep their jobs at their respective universities. Yes, this is what it boils down to: this is an unclothed emperor situation. No one’s going to love you for noticing.
It’s not that I blame people for recoiling at first. I certainly did that, even as I thought of it myself. But when reasoning takes you somewhere you don’t really want to go – well, that’s when you’re really onto something. The only question then is whether you’re going to follow the dictates of your mind and conscience without fear, or lapse into complacency, diffidence and even sloth. And a lot depends on the decision you make at that point, for yourself and others.
In any case, I posted a draft constitutional amendment mostly for fun, and included half serious proposals like summarily executing the Secretary of the Treasury if he wasn’t honest in implementing the amendment’s provisions. I was primarily hoping I’d get some much needed feedback from knowledgeable individuals that stumbled upon the posts, but for the most part that never materialized.
What little substantive feedback I have gotten, however, has been useful and resulted in some revised thinking on my part. The biggest change along these lines is that whereas before I was quite convinced that government run central banks should not exist, I now think I could live with one. I’d still prefer the opposite, but even so, at least in the near term, I can see a legitimate use for a government run central bank.
But this change has led to other changes, as changes will. And what has emerged from this little thought experiment is something quite different than what I initially came up with. I’m not going to draft another amendment – yet – rather, I’m just going to outline the major aspects of what is to be done by law.
This is a work in progress and should be regarded as such. And remember: I don’t run the world; the most I can do is try to save it. Or help to do that, in whatever small way is open to me.