Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Western liberal values

Financial Times:

According to Inderjit Singh Jaijee, a Chandigarh-based human-rights activist and former state legislator, up to 40,000 farmers have taken their lives in the past 20 years. Many of their families are left destitute, receiving no state support.

“We’ve been projecting this problem of rural suicide since 1988, but there’s been no response from the government -- even to accept the fact of suicide,” said Mr Jaijee.

If only the Indian government, the banks, developers, etc. did a better job educating the newly landless on the point that violence is never the answer!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Discretionary income

Wall Street Journal:

[S]hortly after the bill's passage last week, insurers contended the law didn't require them to accept sick children until 2014.

The insurance industry's lobby, America's Health Insurance Plans, said the law meant only that they needed to cover treatments for sick children who already were customers.

You see, from the private insurer's perspective, covering treatments for sick children who are already customers requires a law.

The empire strikes back

Wall Street Journal:

"They are simply beasts," [Russian President Dmitry Medvedev] said of those who organized the attacks. "We will find and destroy them all."

Because anything less would be uncivilized!

Monday, March 29, 2010

A moveable sandwich

Justin Fox, Financial Times:

It can no longer be argued with a straight face that markets will, on their own, arrive at something close to an economically optimal result -- a belief that helped drive deregulation over the past few decades. Yet it is not as if anyone else would do a better job than markets at setting prices and allocating capital. They would probably do worse.

In that case, it's doubly important that we never try!

Just imagine if someone came up with "a good idea" that addressed material needs in a rational way. Like, if people didn't have enough food, you could give them some. In other words, food that was originally in one location -- for example, behind a wall, or "down the street" -- could be moved nearer to one hungry person's stomach -- deposited into their hands, for example.

This wouldn't be accomplished through a market mechanism so much as on the basis that hungry people exist, food exists -- and you are trying to bridge that physical boundary between the two. In this respect, it is not unlike the "astronaut" and "space" in the engineering challenges it poses to the best of human minds.

In the longer term, you might try to set up some kind of "system" in which people grow their own food, and then eat the very same food after the fact, so they aren't always dependent on somebody else for this kind of "eating technology." Eating, widely regarded as the best remedy for not eating, would then become accepted as something everyone does on a daily basis.

Naturally, if someone came up with an idea that sophisticated, they would probably fare badly. For one thing, they might want for lack of an exchange system primed on the preferences of those with plenty of food, who might say unkind things, or be otherwise unsupportive. "When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist," in the words of just such a soul, who left the CSR luncheon with hurt feelings.

Most important, however, is the lesson that in trying we sometimes fail, whereas in failing, and failing on a daily basis, it becomes normal not to try. And that is what we must keep doing as best we can, if we never want to come up with a good idea.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tonight's specials

Financial Times:

“Everything they put on the table helps the banks disproportionately compared with homeowners,” said Dean Baker, co-director of the Center for Economic & Policy Research, a left-leaning think-tank. “Because the Federal Housing Administration will be guaranteeing these loans, when they go bad it’s the taxpayer out of that money, not the banks.”

Everything they put on the table helps the banks, the insurance companies, the employers, and so on, disproportionately compared with the homeowners, patients, employees, etc.  This they call "reform": bribing the powerful in order to induce marginal improvements for the weak.  Of course, when so little consideration is given to human welfare in the first place, small improvements can have enormous effects -- as when one is employed vs. unemployed, for example; or has health insurance vs. none, a roof over their head, etc.   

But the metaphor of the table is very useful.  Let us remember that what is put on the table is always a function of whatever interests are at the table in the first place.  If ordinary people spend most of their days chasing after the aspirations of their employers first, and families second; or otherwise fail in the task of distinguishing between the two, then they are not at the table of national deliberation at all.  Other interests have assumed this role, because it has been made available, and they can afford to be there.

Eventually, Americans will have to recognize the injury that is done when our best energies are directed toward ends that, in the bigger picture, have never been our own.  Always remember Nietzche: if we give away that amount of reason, earnestness, will, self-mastery, which constitute our real selves, for one thing, we don't have it for another.  Naturally, many comforts are lost in pursuit of this truth; but what we give away for comfort we don't have for other things.  These are not easy questions.

Returning to our metaphor of the table.  There is an excellent quote which if you have followed this blog long enough you may recognize, and which I first learned from a corporate manager quoted in the Financial Times: If you don't have a seat at the table, you'll end up on the menu.

Friday, March 26, 2010

This means us: The spectacle of the steeping tea

It's probably worth saying a word about the right-wing response to liberal health reform, which has been animated, and which has produced even greater animations.

Tea-baggery in the United States is to my mind a popular expression of discontent that is sanctioned and directed by capital (and just for clarity, by "capital" I mean the class interests of those large investors and executive managers who control the productive wealth of the country, as well as that bureaucratic caste in their cultural and political employ -- politicians, editors, etc.).

This popular discontent is sanctioned to the degree it can be dovetailed into capital's perennial fear that "big government" will be used for any purpose other than its own -- e.g., the welfare of the general population.

The class conflict between capital and, say, those rural communities who have seen their manufacturing jobs evaporate is obscured in a direct appeal by capital to the population that big government is trampling on everybody's rights. Ordinary people know their rights are being trampled, and capital supplies a slick PR spectacle to illustrate how, in Jeffersonian terms, big government is doing it.

Capital then plays the spectacle back to liberal audiences, highlighting the unwashed and uninformed qualities of the tea-baggers themselves. The prejudices of the aspiring professional are played against those of the beleaguered hourly; this sums up the civil strife implicit in our two-party politics nicely, while the differences between elites are smoothed over in the service of capital.

In consideration of all things Tea & Bag™, it is worth remembering which portion of the spectacle is meant to appeal to our own prejudices, and to weigh our judgments not solely against how the spectacle is received by others.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

This white man's burden

Max Boot, Wall Street Journal:

[W]hat happens if the U.S. switches spending from defense to social welfare? Who will protect what used to be known as the "Free World"? Who will police the sea lanes, stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, combat terrorism, respond to genocide and other unconscionable human rights violations, and deter rogue states from aggression? Those are all responsibilities currently performed by America.

I won't presume to speak for the world, but I suspect that if you asked it, quite a lot of what is described here as an American responsibility might be counterposed as an international responsibility.

However, as is customary in the human bogarting of power, those closest to a monopoly will dispute that anyone else is up to the task, while everyone else will resent them for it, eliciting hostility where with greater cooperation there might have been none -- not to mention editorials detailing the noble obligations of power in concentrate.

The upshot is that we manage to spend huge sums of money on servicing this delicate state of affairs for the mutual benefit of none!

The propriety of the spectacle

Guardian UK:

[L]ook more closely and you'll find that the man identified in the report as Britain's third most influential "pro-Islamic" blogger is actually an atheist based in the United States.

Isn't it funny when you watch a movie like The Bourne Identity and the intelligence services are depicted as menacingly competent, outfitted with technologies that Apple hasn't even come out with yet?

A friend tells me that many of the "CSI"s, as well as something called an "Anderson Cooper 360," utilize many of these same unexplained innovations in their regular broadcasts.

Thanks to The Angry Arab News Service

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Social Security and You: Friends Till the End

New York Times:

Now that landmark legislation overhauling the health insurance system is about to become law, addressing Social Security’s solvency could well become the next big thing for President Obama and Congressional Democrats.

I like to think of Social Security as being solvent until 2044. I pick this date randomly, based on nothing more than what the Congressional Budget Office expects.

Anybody concerned about the solvency of Social Security after this date, when it will still pay out three-quarters of projected benefits, has one of two choices: 1) divert money to Social Security anytime between now and 2044; 2) accept that Social Security is doomed and there is nothing anybody can do about it except raise the retirement age and slash benefits.

Granted, if your government is spending lots of money in other areas, it may be hard to find money to support a program like Social Security. But there is probably money somewhere. Can you think of something that the United States is spending a lot of money on these days that is more important to you than your quality of life after a lifetime of work? Just think if your government stopped doing something really expensive and used that money to make your retirement even nicer, earlier, or both! That might make good fiscal sense, from your point of view.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Gross domestic products

Financial Times:

One of the more remarkable facts about recent history is that, for all the exuberance of stock and property markets, the last seven years were a rather thin time for the American economy.

From the trough of the 2002 recession – as measured by the National Bureau of Economic Research – to that in 2009, real US gross domestic product grew on average only 1.7 per cent a year. The Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta calculates that only straight after the second world war, when the economy shrank in real terms, has growth been weaker in any trough-to-trough period since 1933.

Remember when times were good and you could maintain your standard of living by playing the introductory APR of one credit card off another? Those were the days!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Health reform

Health reform, as I am reading it, consolidates the political power of the for-profit health industry by forcing everyone to buy their product, designed as it is for the purposes of profit, not care. So there is a real problem with the product, which always wants to cut corners on people's needs in order to direct resources away from care.

The legislation we are looking at does nothing to address this fundamentally, so we are still faced with an extremely expensive system that will surely dedicate its new, nationally mandated revenue stream toward fighting whatever proponents think is "the next step" on the path of reform, having achieved their "foothold." The government will now guarantee the market of the very lobby which obstructs meaningful health care reform; it is hard to see this as a stepping stone to anything but a much bigger fight.

From the perspective of the most vulnerable, the uninsured, there is a moral imperative to getting people on some kind of insurance, one way or the other. But that hardly makes one excited to see women's rights and other serious political considerations go right out the window.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

We, the large institutional investors and our corporate clients

John C. Bogle, BusinessWeek:

[O]ur corporations are no longer controlled by "persons" (i.e., individual shareholders). Some 70% of the shares of big publicly held corporations are held by "agents" -- the institutional investors who manage our mutual funds, pension funds, insurance and trust companies, and endowment funds.

These agents -- who together hold working control of Corporate America -- have all too often failed to honor their responsibilities of corporate stewardship, and they actively vote their proxies far too rarely. The record, as far as I know, is bereft of a single proxy proposal submitted by a mutual fund or pension fund investor in opposition to a corporation's management. The temptation for agents to take advantage of their agency position for their own benefit is too great. Large institutional investors, for instance, routinely manage the retirement plans and thrift plan portfolios of the very corporations whose shares they own. As the saying goes: "There are only two types of clients we do not want to offend: actual and potential."

Most institutional money managers today are owned by giant U.S. and global financial conglomerates with their own shareholders. Of America's 40 largest, 23 are owned by conglomerates, 8 are publicly held, and only 9 remain privately owned.

Whoever said class power can't be completely convoluted without being entirely straightforward?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Every landmark, a trademark

Rob Long, Wall Street Journal:

[T]hat's the problem with public art: It's almost always a nuisance. Your idea of a challenging and provocative sculpture is my idea of a rusty slab of metal. You want to eat lunch on a sunny day on a plaza that I want to fill with tiny, dwarf-like replicas of Marshal Tito. The problem with public space is that it's public, and if there's one thing the public won't easily accept, it's when someone -- usually the government, or some nonprofit -- sticks some art somewhere irritating, i.e., somewhere not in a museum.

Oh, yes: when it comes to sticking something irritating in my public space, the first culprit that comes to my mind is the power-hungry art curator.

American beauty

6th or 7th:

In our society, when it snows...what do we do? Do we take it as a sign that we should slow down and appreciate that something beautiful has happened? Of course not. We don't even take the time to play in it and enjoy it. We immediately coat it in salt and chemicals to turn it into a sludgy, disgusting brown slush, and plow it to the sides of the road (without regard to whether this blocks walking routes), to enable ourselves to risk our lives by going out in it in our cars and rushing off to our jobs. Most of my coworkers react with puzzled horror when I say I like snow. You have to clean it off your car, they say, and then you have to drive in it to get to work. Yes, I say, but it's beautiful.

Wholly dependent on employment for life, we are intolerant when life intrudes on our relationship with employers. Whether it comes in the form of precipitation, commuters, colleagues, the intransigence of a child, the death of a friend, or a summons to serve on a jury of our peers; everything authentic about being alive is regarded with scorn or alarm, because this is how our bosses see it. In the words of Proudhon, we are watchful for their prejudices even more than their orders.

Capital, as Marx points out, is money in motion. When money stops moving -- whether by snow or by strike -- that civilization premised on its accumulation falls to pieces. The obstruction becomes an obsession, both for the beneficiaries of capital as for their dependents.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Where no man has gone before without a packed lunch

Financial Times:

Just as the 19th-century American pioneers believed it was their “manifest destiny” to push west to the Pacific Ocean, Nasa was founded partly on the faith that human destiny calls us to move beyond Earth, first to the moon and then into the solar system and eventually through the galaxy.

I have faith that my human destiny calls me to move beyond Earth -- first to the moon, then into the solar system, and eventually through the galaxy; but whether or not I will ever have enough vacation days to fulfill my destiny is the subject of some doubt.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The global factory

John Bolton, Wall Street Journal:

... Obama is different. He is our first post-American president. He looks beyond American exceptionalism and believes that our role on the world stage should be merely one nation among many.

That our role on the world stage should be merely one nation among many, after all, is an attitude best suited to our employers.

The wages of sin is breadth

Thomas Frank, Wall Street Journal:

Back in January, for instance, [the Texas State Board of Education] struck the author of "Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?" from a list of people for third-graders to study because it got him confused with the similarly named author of "Ethical Marxism," a book that, according to board member Pat Hardy, makes "very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system."


Tuesday, March 16, 2010

More special interests

Financial Times:

The criticism ... strikes at the heart of his presidency, raising the question of whether a White House that has vowed to make bold changes will be able to accomplish such change while lawmakers on Capitol Hill rely on corporations, unions and other special interests to finance their election campaigns.

Corporations, unions, indigenous peoples, the air we breathe, and so on -- every one of them a "special interest."

Example: Those special interests really muck up the legislative process, boy!

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reasons of state

Financial Times:

Combating the disaffection that has fuelled the Taliban’s resurgence in Kandahar will be one of the west’s hardest tasks. “You have to get people to believe that government by crypto-warlord syndicate is not necessarily inevitable or permanent,” the US official said.

In nation building, as in life, knowing what you stand for is much better than thinking you know what you stand for, if only for reasons of knowing.

Friday, March 12, 2010


New York Times:

[I]t is still difficult to explain to outsiders why the Greek government has identified at least 580 job categories deemed to be hazardous enough to merit retiring early — at age 50 for women and 55 for men.

Greeks retire too early -- and Americans retire too early, too! Whatever age you are currently eligible to retire at, you should really start thinking about why it is unreasonable. If you need an expert with a chart to help explain this to you, that is no problem.

In a democracy, the retirement age of a society, or for particular categories of workers, is something that the society would figure out; it is an expenditure to be weighed against all other expenditures, in this way evaluated on the basis of importance.

However, the New York Times would like to emphasize that this doesn't take into account the feelings of "outsiders" -- those helpful folks who provide financing for your long-term goals, you know, because "they got the cash." It just happens that when you can't pay back your good friends in finance, their preferences become very important! Suddenly, your friends have a lot of advice to give with regard to how you run your life, and how it might not meet their expectations. Far be it from good friends to contrive just such a scenario with their own interests in mind!

A sane society might recognize the conflict of interest between the power-aspirations of a money-lending class and the public welfare -- doubtless the inspiration behind Jefferson's warning that banks are "more dangerous to liberty than standing armies." It is a very good question why matters of public finance should remain within the private sphere at all, even if this is beyond the scope of any one nation to resolve.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Capital ideas

Financial Times:

Since Mr Bajnai’s technocratic government took power last April, Hungary has abolished the so-called 13-month pension and from 2012 the retirement age will start rising from 62 to 65. Pensions have been indexed to inflation with increases conditional on strong economic growth. The state has also cut child support benefits for stay-at-home parents, abolished an interest-rate subsidy for home buyers and tightened criteria for other benefits.
[T]hese efforts have been geared towards incentivising Hungarians to rejoin the workforce.

Anytime there's money to be made from employing people at a lesser cost than the value of what they produce, how quickly do independent notions like "parenting" and "retirement" become interwoven with "the need to work."

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Special interests

Wall Street Journal:

Some of the largest U.S. business groups announced a multimillion-dollar television advertising campaign aimed at defeating the Democrats' pending health-care legislation, as both backers and opponents of the initiative sought to target wavering lawmakers in what is expected to be the final phase of the legislative process.

The business coalition, Employers for a Healthy Economy, said it would run between $4 million and $10 million of ads targeting the districts of several dozen Democratic lawmakers, carrying the message that the bill would cause job losses. The ads are being funded by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other trade associations that represent a broad swath of industry.


Several big labor unions and progressive organizations are running $70,000 in TV ads in Washington through an organization called Health Care for America Now. The ads tell Congress to "listen to us, not the insurance companies. Pass health-care reform now."

A notable custom in the business-run society is to chalk democratic dysfunction up to the prevalence of "special interests" in politics. This category includes not only those interests which own and control the productive wealth of society, but also those concerns which have developed in direct response to this monopoly power, and whose financing springs forth only from its crumbs. Thus we bear witness to the perennial construction "Corporations, unions..." as it is used in actual sentences by actual human beings who actually believe it has some meaning.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Friday, March 05, 2010

My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard 2

Like the relations between all people, the relations between men and women are social relations: they have at their core a creative process which governs their possibilities. Circumstances which are friendly to the development of these creative abilities are likely to yield a diversity of outcomes, but surely offer the best hope in securing that kind fellowship between men and women which seems "naturally" inspired, if broadly elusive among contemporary social relations. Conversely, we can expect that circumstances which are hostile to the creative impulse between people will produce a corresponding hostility within their relations, as they inhibit that creative impulse required to overcome social problems in a collaborative way.

As related in the previous post, the tendency toward subservience and dehumanization in the act of creating (i.e., production) has wide-ranging implications within a totalizing system. Furthermore, the fact that "freedom" is only really experienced in the acts of consumption and exchange will naturally lend psychological reinforcement to these acts as compared to others. In other words, within a consumer society, power is experienced as autonomy in the marketplace, and slavery within production. Let us remember that this is not lost on the human psyche as it engages other realms of experience.

Power obviously enters into the human sexual experience in profound ways, with sexuality being one of the sharpest fault lines existing between (in this case, heterosexual) men and women. Introducing patriarchy into our analysis colors in the location of men and women within the productive/consumptive hierarchy -- in other words, men and women assume different degrees of authority both as producers and consumers, with men enjoying distributive advantages overall. These advantages are evident both within production and within the marketplace, as men are overrepresented as bosses, and commodities are often designed by men for consumption by both men and women (or just men).

In a "dictatorship of production" largely run by men for their needs, which is additionally ever-expanding into new realms of human experience, the commodification of female sexuality is plain to see, not only in the strict sense of pornography, but in the pornographic forms in which women, presented as "finished products," are distributed within the mainstream. This "consumer-oriented" approach to women is very deeply held by men, reinforced by that personal liberty which is the exclusive domain of market relations, and which men do not experience anywhere else. That creative capacity which men naturally possess remains unreferenced; it is not used at work, and it is not applicable in the market. It lies undeveloped to a significant degree.

It is important to emphasize the extent to which the creative impotence which men experience through a subjugated work experience is mutually reinforced by the power-urge men experience as consumers, where their creative abilities don't apply. The very social relation which men most desire but struggle to navigate has been commodified into an object which must now compete with others of its kind for mens' approval. Men have been transformed through market relations from objects of production into gods which the female-sexual-commodity is designed to serve. Suffice it to say, after a long day at work, this must be "nice!"

This regularly contributes to a sort of two-facedness amongst men in their personal relationships with women. This can manifest itself as the maintenance of one "face" amongst their girlfriends -- deferential, considerate, etc. -- while revealing a very different face, the face of consumption and exchange, which is shared between men in relation to women. Alternately, men will attempt to keep their relations to women-as-commodities a secret from everyone, not admitting any relation to pornography, for example, despite the fact that they can be more "invested" in this mode of sexuality than they are with the women in their lives. As a point of practicality, it is always easier to consume commodities than it is to create social relations, which under capitalism are mediated by commodities, and therefore frustrated, at each turn.

Investigating the relations between men and women from the point at which Marxism and feminism converge is useful because it suggests that the obstacles to a genuine fellowship basically implicate us all, and so make it that much harder to browbeat men in a simplistic, moralizing way. Men should go much further in listening to women, which is at least one creative act most people can summon for lack of anything else, not to mention the most basic kind of courtesy. However, what men are up against is all around them, constructed by their kind and set in motion, but not always with their consent or even full understanding of what is happening to them or how it affects their relations with others. Needless to say, women can unwittingly play into their own subjugation as well.

Patriarchal consumer culture effectively exploits the vulnerabilities of the male sex drive, which is visual and immediate, and plays them against the kind of subjugation which men frequently experience at work, and the creative impotence they experience generally within social relations as they are shaped by capitalism. It makes relating to women as objects easy, and heightens the reward in a way that many of us, as men, have never experienced in an analogous, self-directed way.

My Marxist feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard 1

Last week we discussed how every commodity, or "product," is the outcome of a process which is completed before it enters the marketplace. It is, in other words, a "finished product," with no dynamic social role to play except as an object of consumption, or an object of exchange. For Marx, its social characteristics are that of "congealed labor": whatever creative process went into making the commodity is now embedded within the object, and beyond our reach as consumers, except at the abstract level of value.

One of the big points Marx wants to make about capitalism is that it is a totalizing system. In other words, insofar as capital is accumulated in certain ways, a system based on capital accumulation will want to pursue these means endlessly, into every corner of human experience. Whatever is not already "commodified" -- reduced to an object of consumption or exchange -- will come under assault by the unfolding logic of that process by which capital is produced.

Because one of the characteristics of capitalism is a "dictatorship within production," to use my unwieldy description, the people who make things generally don't have much control, either over "the making" or over the finished product they have made. As you may have observed in your everyday experience, this can make "work" one of the more unpleasant experiences in life. Whatever else work may be -- challenging, rewarding, etc. -- it is mostly something you don't have a lot of control over one way or the other.

This changes when we enter the marketplace, and take on the role of consumers. Divorced from the act of creation, we are now invited into acts of consumption and exchange. As Guy Debord points out in The Society of the Spectacle, this is hugely significant at the level of psychology: we have spent our working day disempowered and tread upon; suddenly, we are given the power to make our own choices and to value our own judgment within the world of commodities.

The implications of this are especially thought-provoking when we consider just how far consumer culture has been assimilated into "culture." Last week I brought up consumer culture in its "political" form: we look at politics not as a social process of interacting with and influencing other people, but as a marketplace of competing commodities which we consume as an expression of our savvy judgment or as a reflection of our "values." Consider also nationalism and patriotism, which are often expressed as "finished products" which you either accept or reject, rather than as social processes which people contribute to; "if you are going to criticize this country, go live somewhere else," etc.

The issue I wanted to focus on today, however, relates to the conflict between men and women as it is informed by the sexual commodification of women.

Part 2

Thursday, March 04, 2010

US politics from a Marxist perspective

From a Marxist perspective, liberalism and conservatism are categories that contain different class interests. If we want to understand US politics from a class perspective, then we have to begin by identifying these horizontal divisions, concealed as they are behind official appeals to "right" and "left."

Seeking to incorporate disparate class interests, liberalism and conservatism reflect both popular and elite concerns. In their popular expressions, liberalism argues that the government should do what its citizens want, while conservatism argues that the government shouldn't do what its citizens don't want. Taken strictly from the popular vantage point, it is easy to see that what is proposed as an intractable conflict is really just a restatement of the same principle: the government should conform to the expectations of its citizens.

The elite concerns embedded within the liberal/conservative paradigm are mutually reinforcing in the same way. A liberalism beholden to capital will use "big government" to further the aims and purposes of capital, as we have seen in the case of financial bailout, for example. Elite conservatism will then complete the circle by screaming "socialism" and demanding that "big government" be drastically reduced in all areas not subordinated to capital. In this way, the parties seek to present themselves in opposition, when in fact they argue two sides of the same position: the government must service the needs of capital, irrespective of other considerations.

For these reasons, it may be helpful to approach liberal and conservative categories not as coherent antagonists, but rather as incoherent categories best understood through the lens of class conflict. The upshot is that we cannot fully understand "liberal" and "conservative" appeals independent of their class implications. In other words, we cannot take for granted that these terms mean any one thing if we accept that they are comprised intrinsically of competing elements.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Someone else's retirement is yours to plan

Financial Times:

The White House on Friday announced plans to help protect workers' retirement savings accounts, which have been severely hit during the financial crisis, by imposing new regulations on the financial advice given to employees.

The regulations, unveiled by vice-president Joe Biden as part of the annual report of his middle class taskforce, are aimed at preventing conflicts of interest when employees consult financial advisers on their 401(k) and individual retirement account (IRA) plans.

The new rules would require retirement investment advisers and money managers to either base their advice on computer models that have been certified as independent, or they would prohibit them from suggesting workers to invest in funds with which they are affiliated or from which they receive commissions.

Personally, I'd love to "prevent conflicts of interest" when it comes to investing my retirement savings in the stock market. One big conflict I would like to prevent, for example, concerns depositing my retirement savings into what is by the standards of recent history a very bad place to deposit it, unless you are a very altruistic person, content to make your finances available for someone else to "retire" with.

But like so many important life decisions, I am left with no viable alternative, and so must remain grateful for my economic freedoms.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Partners in prosperity

Foreign Affairs:

In 2008, Goldman Sachs launched one of the private sector's most ambitious initiatives: a $100 million commitment to provide 10,000 women in emerging economies, such as India and Nigeria, with a business education. The firm is not motivated by altruism alone: when Goldman's CEO and chair, Lloyd Blankfein, speaks about the program, he never fails to mention that the company's own research has shown that educating women leads to greater labor-force participation, higher productivity, and higher returns on investment. Put simply, directing resources to women is good for business.

"[T]he combination of female education and pervasive wage discrimination can create a pool of well-skilled but inexpensive female labor. In itself, this may lead to more investment in industries dominated by female labor. Higher returns to industries that fed on female-intensive light manufacturing played a role in the rapid growth rates seen in Southeast Asia."

-- Goldman Sachs, Global Economics Paper No: 164