Saturday, July 26, 2008

From my Barber to Barack

So I went to the barber earlier this week. I hadn’t been since the turn of the year, in a sort of obscure mourning ceremony. As it was, my dreadlocks were beginning to sprout dreadlocks, and it was time for a shearing. But my barber, who does men’s hair but primarily is a female hair stylist, told me that I wasn’t alone, and many of his customers were delaying their visits. Regulars who came in every five weeks were now coming in every seven or eight weeks—the economy being what it is, it cost too much to be that stylish. Another friend of mine tells me that their main income, selling Christmas CDs of tasteful guitar arrangements of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and “The Twelve Days of Christmas” and the like (they record and produce their own CDs) is way off. People aren’t going to Christmas shows this year. Too many grinches.

The economy is falling and flailing. Someone asked me today, is it 1929 again? I said, I don’t know, but if Obama is elected, it should be 1933. This will be the best chance in over seventy years to fundamentally rethink the relation between the government and the economy. Capitalism is getting a bad reputation again. The limitations of the Fed, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other government institutions are becoming increasingly apparent. Bailout after bailout gives the lie to the notion of the free market. No one is asking me, but this is what I think Obama should do in his hundred days:

1) The quasi-governmental entities, such as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, should either become purely private or drop the “quasi.” Conservatives want the former; Obama should advocate the latter; the policy of socialization of losses and not profits needs to end; if taxpayers are paying for it, they need to be able to call the shots.
2) The SEC needs to be given greatly expanded powers to regulate all forms of financial transactions.
3) If not in its original form, some aspect of the Glass-Steagel Act needs to be restored. There needs to be some differentiation between investment banking and commercial banking; we need to start the de-securitization of the economy. The general trend in the economy in recent years has been to take down barriers, what is sometimes called disintermediation. We need to start rebuilding walls, between nations, between economic sectors, and between types of financial transactions. Forget globalization, that bulldozer of economic difference. We need to embrace the world, economically and politically, but good walls make good neighbors.
4) The modern equivalent of the CCC and the WPA should be the push for building mass transit and looking for new energy sources. Let Obama make building the 2nd avenue subway one of his top priorities.
5) We need to replace the ownership society with the cooperative society; and support the creation of housing cooperatives and every other type of cooperative. If the government will provide a general political and economic framework for cooperatives, cooperatives will all exist independently. Big government will only work if it tends to create and support the proliferation of numerous small independent cooperatives. We need to re-create intermediate structures, in between the individual household and the government that have vanished in recent decades.
6) There will be no or at best very limited progress towards racial and other forms of equality in this country if economic inequality continues to grow expotentially. Obama needs to make as a core tenet of his economic philosophy decreasing the gap between the rich and the poor, and between rich and poor neighborhoods. Without it, every attempt to address this problem by other means, such as no child left behind, is doomed to fail.

If you’re interested, Barack, there’s a lot more where this came from.

1 comment:

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