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The Future of Life on Earth and Capitalism: Are they compatible?
12.23.2013
10:09 am

Topics:
Current Events
Economy
Environment

Tags:
overpopulation


 
Scientist and Canadian broadcaster David Suzuki’s environmental non-profit foundation works to “design a vision of Earth in which humans live within the planet’s productive capacity.” He’s got a very direct and simple way of explaining what that means, particularly in relation to exponential population growth in a 2010 video that’s only just started to be discovered and passed around.

If you understand the concept of how “compound interest” works, and have even slightly more than half a brain in your head, be prepared to have a deflating “Oh shit…” moment when he gets to the not so amusing punchline.

No matter what your political persuasion might be, there is nothing to gloat over here, I can assure you. Nothing at all!
 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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Wal-Mart’s Walton family are parasites and moral pariahs and should be treated that way


 
The Winchester House, a sprawling Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion in San Jose, CA with no apparent rhyme or reason is a bizarre architectural manifestation of the guilty conscience (if not acute schizophrenia) of Sarah Winchester, widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester and one of the richest women in American history.

After the death of her baby daughter, and later her husband, Sarah Winchester came to believe that her family were haunted by the ghosts of people who had died by Winchester rifles, and that only by continuously building the spirits a home could she appease the ghosts (Through a medium her husband was alleged to have told her that the house must never be finished.)

I could not help but to think of Sarah Winchester when I read an item this morning on Business Insider that tells of how a Cleveland, Ohio-based Wal-Mart store is holding a food drive — for the very people who work there…

A sign in the store reads: “Please donate food items so associates in need can enjoy Thanksgiving dinner.”

Breathtaking isn’t it? This is America’s largest employer. THIS is how low things have gotten.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer quoted Norma Mills, a Wal-Mart customer complaining “That Wal-Mart would have the audacity to ask low-wage workers to donate food to other low-wage workers — to me, it is a moral outrage.”

Kory Lundberg, a Walmart spokesman, said the food drive is proof that employees care about each other.

“It is for associates who have had some hardships come up,” he said. “Maybe their spouse lost a job.

“This is part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships,” he said.

Extreme hardships like working at fucking Wal-Mart!?!?

Wouldn’t it be awesome if when someone told a lie, they’d just spontaneously combust? I would love that…

But what does any of this have to do with Sarah Winchester’s guilty conscience, you ask? At least she had one. Sarah Winchester acutely felt the wages of death that made her so rich and it ruined her life.

As everyone should know by now, but it still bears repeating, the Walton family is the richest family in the world and they collectively own over 50% of Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer and second largest corporation. The family is worth a combined total of $150 billion as of August 2013 and the six most prominent members of the family have approximately the same net worth as the bottom 30% of American families combined.

They didn’t do a goddamn thing to earn this money. Nothing. They inherited every cent of their billions.

Every item that is purchased at a Wal-Mart has a tax built in for the Walton family. The supply chain that reaches to factories in Chinese and Indian slums? There is a tariff at each stop along the way that goes, ultimately, into the Waltons’ bank accounts. Think about it for two seconds, that is what’s happening.

If it was a sea of faceless shareholders, well, that’s harder to personify, but this is ONE family.

Wal-Mart is America’s #1 private employer.

And they don’t pay a living wage.

The Waltons live like pharaohs and their workforce can’t afford the necessities of life. In a very real sense they and Wal-Mart are beginning to personify everything that’s wrong with capitalism. A single family owning the equivalent of the collective wealth of the poorest third of the country? Could even Karl Marx have predicted THAT? It’s preposterous and yet… it’s the way things are.

If the Waltons wanted to change the fundamental fabric of American life for the better, they could raise their associates up to $20 an hour and set a powerful example for other companies to treat the people who DO ALL THE WORK with actual human dignity. If they did that—and studies have shown it wouldn’t hurt their bottom line much at all, and even if it did, I think they can take the hit—well, it’s a whole new America. It really would be.

But to hold back on improving the lives of so many people, that is one of the single most obscene things I can contemplate.

Up to the Waltons, of course, for now at least, but when the revolution comes—and it will eventually—it’s their heads that are going to be on the ends of sharp sticks…
 

 

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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How to say ‘NO’: Whitey’s perfect reply to a TV company who wanted to use his music for free
11.06.2013
11:12 am

Topics:
Economy
Media
Music
Television

Tags:
Whitey


 
Amidst the ongoing discussions about the value of music, British alt/rock/tronica artist Whitey has had enough of being asked to donate his music for free to large companies who, by rights, can and should be paying him. After receiving one such email from a company called Betty TV, Whitey, aka NJ White, wrote this caustic response:

I am sick to death of your hollow schtick, of the inevitable line “unfortunately there’s no budget for music”, as if some fixed Law Of The Universe handed you down a sad but immutable financial verdict preventing you from budgeting to pay for music. Your company set out the budget. so you have chosen to allocate no money for music. I get begging letters like this every week - from a booming, allfuent global media industry.

Why is this? Let’s look at who we both are.

I am a professional musician, who lives form his music. It me half a lifetime to learn the skills, years to claw my way up the structure, to the point where a stranger like you will write to me. This music is my hard earned property. I;ve licensed music to some of the biggest shows, brands, games and TV production companies on Earth; form Breaking Bad to the Sopranos, from Coca Cola to Visa, HBO to Rockstar Games.

Ask yourself - would you approach a Creative or a Director with a resume like that - and in one flippant sentence ask them to work for nothing? Of course not. Because your industry has a precedent of paying these people, of valuing their work.

Or would you walk into someone’s home, eat from their bowl, and walk out smiling, saying “So sorry, I’ve no budget for food”? Of course you would not. Because, culturally, we classify that as theft.

Yet the culturally ingrained disdain for the musician that riddles your profession, leads you to fleece the music angle whenever possible. You will without question pay everyone connected to a shoot - from the caterer to the grip to the extra- even the cleaner who mopped your set and scrubbed the toilets after the shoot will get paid. The musician? Give him nothing.

Now lets look at you. A quick glance at your website reveals a variety of well known, internationally syndicated reality programmes, You are a successful, financially solvent and globally recognised company with a string of hit shows. Working on multiple series in close co-operation with Channel 4, from a West London office, with a string of awards under your belt. You have real money, to pretend otherwise is an insult.

Yet you send me this shabby request - give me your property for free… Just give us what you own, we want it.

The answer is a resounding, and permanent NO.

I will now post this on my sites, forward this to several key online music sources and blogs, encourage people to re-blog this. I want to see a public discussion begin about this kind of industry abuse of musicians… this was one email too far for me. Enough. I’m sick of you.

FUCK and indeed YES.

You can see the original screen grab of this email on Whitey’s Facebook page. As Whitey is at pains to point out, he has no problem donating his music for free to companies who literally cannot afford to pay him. He told me this via email earlier today:

I don’t want payment for everything. I don’t even care that much about money, I give away my music all the time. You and I live in a society where filesharing is the norm. I’m fine with that.

But i don’t give my music away to large, affluent companies who wish to use it to make themselves more money. Who can afford to pay, but who smell the filesharing buffet and want to grab themselves a free plate. That is a different scenario.

So what do you think? I completely agree, but I’m sure there’s DM readers who don’t. Are artists and musicians simply behind the times to ask that their music be paid for by large companies? What do you think Whitey’s music IS worth?
 

Posted by Niall O'Conghaile | Discussion
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Slavoj Žižek: Ayn Rand’s ‘John Galts’ are the idiots who crashed the economy & they’ll do it again


 
I had to laugh at the way Slavoj Žižek so masterfully ended his Guardian op ed piece, “Who is responsible for the US shutdown? The same idiots responsible for the 2008 meltdown.”

Žižek’s subtitle is “In opposing Obamacare, the radical-populist right exposes its own twisted ideology” and in the essay, he poses a provocative question that I’ve been wondering about a lot myself recently: “Barack Obama is accused of dividing the American people instead of bringing them together. But what if this, precisely, is what is good about Obama?”

I’d like to read Žižek—or Jonathan Chait, Brian Beutler, Alex Pareene, Michael Tomasky, Charles Hugh Smith, Frank Rich or the great Charles P. Pierce—taking on this topic in further detail once the dust has cleared.

The conclusion Žižek draws at the close, though, is simply sublime:

One of the weird consequences of the 2008 financial meltdown and the measures taken to counteract it (enormous sums of money to help banks) was the revival of the work of Ayn Rand, the closest one can get to an ideologist of the “greed is good” radical capitalism. The sales of her opus Atlas Shrugged exploded. According to some reports, there are already signs that the scenario described in Atlas Shrugged – the creative capitalists themselves going on strike – is coming to pass in the form of a populist right. However, this misreads the situation: what is effectively taking place today is almost the exact opposite. Most of the bailout money is going precisely to the Randian “titans”, the bankers who failed in their “creative” schemes and thereby brought about the financial meltdown. It is not the “creative geniuses” who are now helping ordinary people, it is the ordinary people who are helping the failed “creative geniuses.”

John Galt, the central character in Atlas Shrugged, is not named until near the end of the novel. Before his identity is revealed, the question is repeatedly asked, “Who is John Galt?” Now we know precisely who he is: John Galt is the idiot responsible for the 2008 financial meltdown, and for the ongoing federal government shutdown in the US.

Standing ovation!

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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BRUTAL Time magazine cover eloquently states the obvious about the Republican shutdown


 
If at first you don’t succeed—or the first 42 times, whatever—burn the entire country down, eh GOP?

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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CAPITALISM EXPOSED (on CNBC of all places): ‘There’s only a little bit of poison in the food’
09.30.2013
12:08 pm

Topics:
Economy
Television

Tags:
CNBC
Alex Pareene


 
If you’re impatient with the hypocrisy of politicians and media figures and you’re not reading Salon’s Alex Pareene, well, you really should be. Having specialized of late in a distinctive,no-holds-barred, high-octane brand of takedown of those who most need taking down, he may be the only writer at Salon worth reading. (The topic’s lost interest, of course, but you can get a big taste of his sensibility in his Rude Guide to Mitt, released during the 2012 campaign.)

So it was quite a thrill to learn that Pareene paid the studios of CNBC a visit last Friday. I avoid CNBC due their insufferably warped and platitudinous self-regard, all of which would be quite well and good if they weren’t such blatant shills for the New Gilded Age and everything connected with it. One of the most objectionable things about the Wall St. mentality, quite apart from the occasional bouts of economy-destroying greed and dishonesty, is the smug assurance that they and they alone understand how the world works and that every other yardstick available can easily be shown to be wanting by reference to the massive piles of cash in the vicinity.

Pareene is precisely the person from whom the likes of CNBC most needs to hear—not that they are actually capable of hearing him. His visit was a masterpiece of unintentional black comedy—I would compare it to Sasha Baron Cohen, but Pareene scarcely had to say anything to elicit oodles of ill-considered, self-justificatory blather. Just a few intimations to the effect that Jamie Dimon, having admitting that the company of which he is CEO, JPMorgan Chase, will probably have to pay untold billions of dollars in fines, has likely demonstrated himself to be unfit to run such an important firm, and the other panelists, Dimon apologists all, could hardly restrain themselves from blustering that clearly Pareene didn’t understand anything and look at all the money JPMorgan Chase is generating and don’t stockholders all like that sort of thing?

There’s no better or more economical way of witnessing “the divide between the finance media bubble and the normals,” as Kevin Roose tweeted, than by watching the video below. The interview started with the following exchange and just got better and better once they let some Fortune employee named Duff McDonald open his yap.

Maria Bartiromo: Alex, to you first. Legal problems aside, JP Morgan remains one of the best, if not the best performing major bank in the world today. You believe the leader of that bank should step down?

Alex Pareene: I think that any time you’re looking at the greatest fine in the history of Wall Street regulation, it’s really worth asking should this guy stay in his job. In any other industry — I can’t think of another industry. If you managed a restaurant, and it got the biggest health department fine in the history of restaurants, no one would say “Yeah, but the restaurant’s making a lot of money. There’s only a little bit of poison in the food.”

The best thing about the clip is that Pareene has the good sense not to be bothered by the inanity of his co-panelists—he just smiles and brushes it off.

Two more quick observations and then I’ll leave you to enjoy this masterpiece of satire-in-action. First, after McDonald hears the above exchange, he instantly sneers that Pareene “obviously got attention with this article,” as if Pareene is some opportunistic stringer looking to make his name—uh, Duff, who the fuck do you think you’re talking about? Alex Pareene writes brilliantly scathing (and very difficult to controvert) articles about all sorts of people in the media and political worlds—that’s just what he does, and he’s damn good at it.

Second: there’s something rather touching about Maria Bartiromo’s snorts of contempt directed at The New York Times about halfway through: The poor woman actually thinks that she works for a news organization!
 

 
via Felix Salmon

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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More evidence that the rich are vile: AIG CEO thinks anger over exec bonuses is as bad as lynching
09.24.2013
11:00 am

Topics:
Economy
Politics

Tags:
AIG
Robert Benmosche

Robert Benmosche
 
Oh, boy. In another sign that we live in a country of “Two Americas” in which there’s just no way in hell we’re ever going to get on the same page, the CEO of AIG, a man named Robert Benmosche, stated that the widespread irritation over bonuses.
 

was intended to stir public anger, to get everybody out there with their pitchforks and their hangman nooses, and all that—sort of like what we did in the Deep South [decades ago]. And I think it was just as bad and just as wrong.

 
Hilariously, the Wall Street Journal‘s headline for the article that contained this nugget of wisdom is “At AIG, Benmosche Steers a Steady Course.” Ooooookay. Did you guys read the article?

It’s almost useless to get into any details of how shockingly wrong and entitled this is. But let’s start with this: Benmosche is a very powerful person! He’s the boss at one of the largest financial concerns in the United States. It is to be taken for granted that he counts among his friends and acquaintances many powerful people in the worlds of commerce and politics. If Benmosche wants something to happen in order to aid his company, there’s a very good chance that it will happen, because he can exert his will over the social polis far more than other people can.

The true crime here is the unfair playing field that benefits men like Benmosche so lavishly—in a democracy, it is the right of the people to complain about precisely such things. There have been no reports of CEOs being lynched, beaten, denied their civil rights. None of those things ever happened. It wouldn’t take a conspiracy nut to point out that almost all of the people who committed the vast financial crimes of the 2004-2008 period were never dealt with by the courts for the systematic fraud they perpetrated.

How much time studying the civil rights movement would it take before a person realized how wrongheaded this analogy is? Ten minutes? Two minutes? There’s no part of the civil rights story that would strike any reasonable person as being somehow fertile ground for metaphors about how mistreated Wall St. CEOs are. The whole point of the civil rights story is that African Americans in many southern states were systematically oppressed by what amounts to a police state. It wasn’t simply that the Klan was active; it was that the Klan was operating with the approval of the local constabulary.

If you don’t know this, then you are disqualified from making observations about the meaning of the civil rights era. If you do know this and you do venture to compare the lot of highly compesated Wall St. titans to the systematic deprivations African Americans experienced on a daily basis in the South before about 1970—and to some extent still to this day, and not just in the South—well, then you’re a horrible human being, pure and simple.

Ezra Klein’s report in the Washington Post blog Wonkblog does the service of reminding us of a few further outrages uttered by powerful Wall St. figures since the crash of 2008.

For example, widely loathed Gristedes owner and recent NYC mayoral candidate John Catsimatidis said last year, “New York is for everybody; it’s for the poor, it’s for the middle-class, it’s for the wealthy. We can’t punish any one group and chase them away. We–I mean, Hitler punished the Jews. We can’t have punishing the ‘2% group’ right now.”

Or this, from The Daily Beast:
 

“It’s a war,” [Blackstone Group CEO] Schwarzman said of the struggle with the administration over increasing taxes on private-equity firms. “It’s like when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939.”

 
Klein had some illuminating insights about how such language makes it into the public sphere:

I was in an off-the-record meeting with top Wall Street folks where similar comparisons to Nazi Germany were tossed around. It really was a meme on Wall Street that the singling out of the wealthy for criticism — and, more to the point, taxation — had a direct historical precedent in Nazi Germany, where the Jews were first demonized, then taxed, and then, well, you know. The sense was that the rich in general, and Wall Street in particular, weren’t just being criticized, but that they were being turned into a dangerously despised minority.

That’s the context of Benmosche’s comment. I would bet he’s made the same point a number of times in private rooms to appreciative nods. When you say and hear that kind of thing often enough, however, you forget how insane and offensive it is — and then you say it to the Wall Street Journal.

The sad thing is, I could almost understand it if such utterances were cold and calculating attempts to sway public opinion (which would be very ill advised, if such they are). No, what’s even more disheartening is that they really seem to believe the bullshit they say.

Posted by Martin Schneider | Discussion
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Want to see what’s ahead for America’s young? Pay attention to what’s already happened in Japan
08.28.2013
01:15 pm

Topics:
Class War
Economy
Thinkers

Tags:
Japan
Charles Hugh Smith


 
This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Social recession is my term for the social and cultural consequences of a permanently recessionary economy such as that of Japan—and now, Europe and the U.S.

Forget Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of expansion (“growth”) or recession—what really matters is the social recession, which continues to deepen in America.

The term social recession has two distinct meanings: around 2000, the term was used to describe the erosion of social cohesion via the decline of institutions such as marriage and the rise of social problems such as teen pregnancy.

Many commentators pinned the responsibility for this erosion of social constraints and bonds on rampant individualism and overstimulated consumerism, while others pointed to urbanization, the commodification of child care, women entering the workforce en masse and similar trends. Poverty was explicitly rejected as a causal factor, hence the term “social recession.”

This notion of social recession was aptly described by Robert E. Lane, author of the 2001 book The Loss of Happiness in Market Democracies:

There is a kind of famine of warm interpersonal relations, of easy-to-reach neighbors, of encircling, inclusive memberships, and of solidary family life… For people lacking in social support of this kind, unemployment has more serious effects, illnesses are more deadly, disappointment with one’s children is harder to bear, bouts of depression last longer, and frustration and failed expectations of all kinds are more traumatic.

(For more on the subject, please see “The Social Recession” (The American Prospect.)

I use the term social recession to describe a very different phenomenon, the social and cultural consequences of permanently recessionary economies such as Japan, and now Europe and the U.S.

I have defined and used social recession in this way since 2010:

The Non-Financial Cost of Stagnation: “Social Recession” and Japan’s “Lost Generations”
(August 9, 2010)

Here are the conditions that characterize social recession:

1. High expectations of endless rising prosperity have been instilled in generations of citizens as a birthright.

2. Part-time and unemployed people are marginalized, not just financially but socially.

3. Widening income/wealth disparity as those in the top 10% pull away from the shrinking middle class.

4. A systemic decline in social/economic mobility as it becomes increasingly difficult to move from dependence on the state (welfare) or parents to the middle class.

5. A widening disconnect between higher education and employment: a college/university degree no longer guarantees a stable, good-paying job.

6. A failure in the status quo institutions and mainstream media to recognize social recession as a reality.

7. A systemic failure of imagination within state and private-sector institutions on how to address social recession issues.

8. The abandonment of middle class aspirations by the generations ensnared by the social recession: young people no longer aspire to (or cannot afford) consumerist status symbols such as autos.

9. A generational abandonment of marriage, families and independent households as these are no longer affordable to those with part-time or unstable employment, i.e. the “end of work”.

10. A loss of hope in the young generations as a result of the above conditions.

I have described the “end to (paying) work” many times:

End of Work, End of Affluence   (December 5, 2008)

End of Work, End of Affluence II: Cascading Job Losses (December 8, 2008)

End of Work, End of Affluence III: The Rise of Informal Businesses (December 10, 2008

Endgame 3: The End of (Paying) Work   (January 21, 2009)

Demographics and the End of the Savior State   (May 17, 2010)

What happens to the social fabric of an advanced-economy nation after a decade or more of economic stagnation?

For an answer, we can turn to Japan. The second-largest economy in the world has stagnated in just this fashion for almost twenty years, and the consequences for the “lost generations” which have come of age in the “lost decades” have been dire. In many ways, the social conventions of Japan are fraying or unraveling under the relentless pressure of an economy in seemingly permanent decline.

While the world sees Japan as the home of consumer technology juggernauts such as Sony and Toshiba and high-tech “bullet trains” (shinkansen), beneath the bright lights of Tokyo and the evident wealth generated by decades of hard work and the massive global export machine of “Japan, Inc,” lies a different reality: increasing poverty and decreasing opportunity for the nation’s youth.

The gap between extremes of income at the top and bottom of society—measured by the Gini coefficient—has been growing in Japan for years; to the surprise of many
outsiders, once-egalitarian Japan is becoming a nation of haves and have-nots.

The media in Japan have popularized the phrase “kakusa shakai,” literally meaning “gap society.” As the elite slice of society prospers and younger workers are increasingly marginalized, the media has focused on the shrinking middle class. For example, a bestselling book offers tips on how to get by on an annual income of less than three million yen ($30,770). Two million yen ($20,500) has become the de-facto poverty line for millions of Japanese, especially outside high-cost Tokyo.

More than one-third of the workforce is part-time as companies have shed the famed Japanese lifetime employment system, nudged along by government legislation which abolished restrictions on flexible hiring a few years ago. Temp agencies have expanded to fill the need for contract jobs, as permanent job opportunities have dwindled.

Many fear that as the generation of salaried Baby Boomers dies out, the country’s economic slide might accelerate. Japan’s share of the global economy has fallen below 10 percent from a peak of 18 percent in 1994. Were this decline to continue, income disparities would widen and threaten to pull this once-stable society apart.

Young Japanese, their expectations permanently downsized, are increasingly opting out of the rigid social systems on which Japan, Inc. was built.

The term “Freeter” is a hybrid word that originated in the late 1980s, just as the Japanese property and stock market bubbles reached their zenith.  It combines the English “free” and the German “arbeiter,” or worker, and describes a lifestyle which is radically different from the buttoned-down rigidity of the permanent-employment economy: freedom to move between jobs.

This absence of loyalty to a company is totally alien to previous generations of driven Japanese “salarymen” who were expected to uncomplainingly turn in 70-hour work weeks at the same company for decades, all in exchange for lifetime employment.

Many young people have come to mistrust big corporations, having seen their fathers or uncles eased out of “lifetime” jobs in the relentless downsizing of the past twenty years. From the point of view of the younger generations, the loyalty their parents unstintingly offered to companies was wasted.

They have also come to see diminishing value in the grueling study and tortuous examinations required to compete for the elite jobs in academia, industry and government; with opportunities fading, long years of study are perceived as pointless.

In contrast, the “freeter” lifestyle is one of hopping between short-term jobs and devoting energy and time to foreign travel, hobbies or other interests.

As long ago as 2001, The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare estimates that 50 percent of high school graduates and 30 percent of college graduates now quit their jobs within three years of leaving school.

The downside is permanently downsized income and prospects. Many of the four million “freeters” survive on part-time work and either live at home or in a tiny flat with no bath.  A typical “freeter” wage is 1,000 yen ($10.25) an hour.

Japan’s slump has lasted so long, that a “New Lost Generation” is coming of age, joining Japan’s first “Lost Generation” which graduated into the bleak job market of the 1990s.

These trends have led to an ironic moniker for the Freeter lifestyle: 
Dame-Ren (No Good People).
The Dame-Ren get by on odd jobs, low-cost living and drastically diminished expectations.

The decline of permanent employment has led to the unraveling of social mores and conventions.  Many young men now reject the macho work ethic and related values of their fathers. These “herbivores” also reject the traditional Samurai ideal of masculinity.

Derisively called “herbivores” or “grass-eaters,” these young men are uncompetitive and uncommitted to work, evidence of their deep disillusionment with Japan’s troubled economy.

A bestselling book titled The Herbivorous Ladylike Men Who Are Changing Japan by Megumi Ushikubo, president of Tokyo marketing firm Infinity, claims that about two-thirds of all Japanese men aged 20-34 are now partial or total grass-eaters. “People who grew up in the bubble era (of the 1980s) really feel like they were let down. They worked so hard and it all came to nothing,” says Ms Ushikubo. “So the men who came after them have changed.”

This has spawned a disconnect between genders so pervasive that
Japan is experiencing a “social recession” in marriage, births, and even sex,
all of which are declining.

With a wealth and income divide widening along generational lines, many young Japanese are attaching themselves to their parents, the generation that accumulated home and savings during the boom years of the 1970’s and 1980’s. Surveys indicate that roughly two-thirds of freeters live at home.

Freeters “who have no children, no dreams, hope or job skills could become a major burden on society, as they contribute to the decline in the birthrate and in social insurance contributions,” Masahiro Yamada, a sociology professor wrote in a magazine essay titled, Parasite Singles Feed on Family System.

This trend of never leaving home has sparked an almost tragicomic counter-trend of Japanese parents who actively seek mates to marry off their “parasite single” offspring as the only way to get them out of the house.

An even more extreme social disorder is Hikikomori, or “acute social withdrawal,” a condition in which the young live-at-home person will virtually wall themselves off from the world by never leaving their room.

What we’re seeing in Japan is the confluence of three dynamics: definancialization, the demise of growth-positive demographics and the devolution of the consumerist model of endless “demand” and “growth.”

Japan is the leading-edge of the crumbling model of advanced neoliberal capitalism: that consumerist excess creates wealth, prosperity and happiness.

What consumerist excess actually creates is alienation, social atomization, narcissism,and a profound contradiction at the heart of the consumerist-dependent model of “growth”: the narcissism that powers consumerist lust and identity is at odds with the demands of the workplace that generates the income needed to consume.

Japan and the Exhaustion of Consumerism

The Hidden Cost of the “New Economy”: New-Type Depression

The Future of America Is Japan:  Stagnation

The Future of America Is Japan: Runaway Deficits, Runaway Debts

The younger generation of workers raised in a consumerist “paradise” are facing an economic stagnation that reduces opportunities to earn the high income needed to fulfill the consumerist demands for status symbols. Given the hopelessness of earning enough to afford the consumerist lifestyle, they have abandoned traditional status symbols such as luxury autos and taken up fashion and media as expressions of consumerism.

But the narcissism bred by consumerism has nurtured a kind of emotional isolation and immaturity, what might be called permanent adolescence, which leaves many young people without the tools needed to handle criticism, collaboration and the pressures of the workplace.

Narcissism is the result of the consumerist society’s relentless focus on the essential project of consumerism, which is “the only self that is real is the self that is purchased and projected.”

Narcissism, Consumerism and the End of Growth  (October 19, 2012)

In my analysis, this is the direct consequence of the supremacy of a consumerism that is dependent on financialization: an economy dependent on debt-fueled consumption to power its “endless growth” is one that will necessarily implode from its internal contradictions: debt and leverage eventually exceed the carrying capacity of the collateral and the national income, and the narcissism of consumerism leads to social recession, a crippling state of “suspended animation” adolescence and great personal frustration and unhappiness.

The ultimate contradiction in this debt-consumption version of capitalism is this: how can an economy have “endless expansion and growth” when pay and opportunities for secure, high-paying jobs are both relentlessly declining? It cannot. Financialization, consumerist narcissism and the end of growth are inextricably linked.

This leads to a dispiriting no exit:It’s as if there is a split in the road and no third way: some young people make it onto the traditional corporate or government career path, and everyone else is left in part-time suspended animation with few options for adult expression or development.

We need a third way that offers people work, resilience and authentic meaning. In my view, that cannot come from the Central State or the global corporate workplace: it can only come from a relocalized economy in revitalized communities.

For more on this topic:

Generational Wealth and Upward Mobility
(October 24, 2012)

Priced Out of the Middle Class
(June 28, 2012)

Do We Have What It Takes To Get From Here To There? Part 1: Japan
(November 8, 2012)

Degrowth, Anti-Consumerism and Peak Consumption
(May 9, 2013)

Tune In, Turn On, Opt Out
(May 17, 2013)

Will Crushing Student Loans and Worthless College Degrees
Politicize the Millennial Generation?
(May 31, 2013)

The Recession That Never Ended: 2008 -2013 (and Counting)
(August 26, 2013)

This is a guest post from Charles Hugh Smith. His newest book is Why Things Are Falling Apart and What We Can Do About It

Posted by Richard Metzger | Discussion
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America is awash in money, yet poverty grows: We need a Basic Income Guarantee


 
This is a guest editorial by Allan Sheahen, the author of the new book Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security (Palgrave/MacMillan, NYC). A previous essay from Mr. Sheahen, “Jobs are not the answer: The BIG idea that libertarians and socialists alike can agree on?” was published at Dangerous Minds last week and proved to be very popular.

America is awash with money.

Yet poverty continues to grow.

Does anybody care?

The latest government figures show that 46 million Americans live in poverty, more than at any other time in our nation’s history. That’s 15.1 percent of our population. One in five children live below the poverty line of $22,314 for a family of four, compared to one in twelve in France and one in 38 in Sweden.

Yet whenever elected officials ask their constituents what issues are most important to them, poverty isn’t even on the list. The economy, jobs, Afghanistan, the environment, health care, and education always show up. But not poverty.

Accordingly, Congress is now debating not whether to cut food stamps for the poorest Americans, but by how much.  The Senate is proposing $4 billion in cuts. The House wants to cut $20 billion. Many Democrats are supporting the Senate version.

More than a half-million people are homeless in America. Food banks and homeless shelters are serving more people now than a year ago.  Unemployment is at 7.6 percent.

The problem is that all the private charities in America can’t end hunger and poverty. Ending poverty demands government programs, such as Social Security, unemployment compensation, Medicare, welfare, food stamps, child care, and more.

The 1996 Welfare Reform Act was sold to us as a way to get people off welfare, and it did.  Welfare rolls in the United States are down more than 50 percent.  But it didn’t reduce poverty. That’s because welfare reform dumped many recipients into low-paying jobs—with no benefits or ability to move up.

Does anybody care?

Maybe we care, but we don’t know what to do about it. So we shrug, say the poor will always be with us, and forget about it.

In 1969, a Presidential Commission recommended we establish a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) at the poverty level for all Americans.

On that Commission, the chairmen of IBM, Westinghouse, and Rand, former California Gov. Edmund G. (Pat) Brown and 17 others unanimously agreed with economist Milton Friedman that: “We should replace the ragbag of welfare programs with a single, comprehensive program of income suplements in cash—a negative income tax.  It would provide an assured minimum to all persons in need, regardless of the reasons for their need.”

Fast-forward 44 years, and we find that welfare has failed because it has destroyed people’s ability to take control of their own lives and make their own decisions. We assume the poor are incapable of making sound decisions; that they can’t be trusted with cash and have to be protected from themselves. It’s as if your employer thought you so irresponsible that he sent part of your paycheck to your landlord, another part to your grocer, another to the bank that provided your car loan, another to your doctor.

There are more than 300 income-tested social programs costing more than $400 billion a year. Much of that money goes for administrative expenses, not to the needy.

Charles Murray, whose 1984 book Losing Ground claimed that welfare was doing more harm than good, now agrees with the BIG approach.

“America’s population is wealthier than any in history,” Murray writes in his new book, In Our Hands.  “Every year, the American government redistributes more than a trillion dollars of that wealth to provide for retirements, health care, and the alleviation of poverty. We still have millions of people without comfortable retirements, without adequate health care, and living in poverty. Only a government can spend so much money so ineffectually. The solution is to give the money to the people.”

Murray calls for giving an annual cash grant of $10,000—with no work requirements—to every adult over age 21.

Indeed, the U.S. is a wealthy nation. Our 2011 Gross Domestic Product was $14.4 trillion. That’s an average of $46,000 for each man, woman and child in the country. It’s an average of $61,000 per adult. It’s more than enough to end poverty.

Poverty is wrong. A Basic Income Guarantee would establish economic security as a universal right. It gives each of us the assurance that, no matter what happens, we won’t go hungry.

Allan Sheahen is the author of the new book: Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security (Palgrave/MacMillan, NYC).  For more information, go to www.basicincomeguarantee.com

Below, footage of FDR’s so-called “Second Bill of Rights” speech which was filmed right after he had finished his State of the Union Address on radio on January 11, 1944.
 

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Jobs are not the answer: The BIG idea that libertarians and socialists alike can agree on?


 
I was thrilled to see Allan Sheahen’s important essay on the BIG idea of the “Basic Income Guarantee” concept make it to the front page of Huffington Post recently, and I am pleased to be able to share it here with Allan’s blessing. I’ve long been a fan of the “Basic Income Guarantee” concept (which I was introduced to by Robert Anton Wilson) and this is as succinct an explanation of it as I have read anywhere. No surprise that it was shared so many times by Huffington Post readers.

As Mr. Sheahen explains below, the “Basic Income Guarantee” is a common sense solution to poverty that the likes of Libertarian economist Milton Friedman (overstating Friedman’s place of primacy in conservative economic orthodoxy would be difficult to do), liberal icon Senator George McGovern, Dr. Martin Luther King and even welfare critic Charles Murray could all agree upon.

That’s really saying somethin’, but I’ll let Allan explain…

Jobs Are Not the Answer

The current unemployment rate of 7.5 percent means close to 20 million Americans remain unemployed or underemployed.

Nobody states the obvious truth: that the marketplace has changed and there will never again be enough jobs for everyone who wants one—no matter who is in the White House or in Congress.

Fifty years ago, economists predicted that automation and technology would displace thousands of workers a year. Now we even have robots doing human work.

Job losses will only get worse as the 21st century progresses. Global capital will continue to move jobs to places on the planet that have the lowest labor costs. Technology will continue to improve, eliminating countless jobs.

There is no evidence to back up the claim that we can create jobs for everyone who wants one. To rely on jobs and economic growth does not work. We have to get rid of the myth that “welfare-to-work” will solve the problems of unemployment, poverty, and homelessness.

“Work” and jobs are not the answer to ending poverty. This has been the hardest concept for us to understand. It’s the hardest concept to sell to citizens and policy makers. To end poverty and to achieve true economic freedom, we need to break the link between work and income.

Job creation is a completely wrong approach because the world doesn’t need everyone to have a job in order to produce what is needed for us to live a decent, comfortable life.

We need to re-think the whole concept of having a job.

When we say we need more jobs, what we really mean is we need is more money to live on.
 

 
Basic Income Guarantee

One answer is to establish a basic income guarantee (BIG), enough at least to get by on—just above the poverty level—for everyone. Each of us could then try to find work to earn more.

A basic income would provide economic freedom and income security to everyone. We’d have the freedom to work less if we wanted to, or work the same amount and save or spend that money.

It would provide a direct stimulus to the economy, which would help create more jobs.

In 1972, Democratic presidential candidate and Senator George McGovern knew the economy was changing. He proposed a $1000 annual “demogrant” for every American. The grant would act as a kind of cushion against the loss of a job or other misfortune.

We could pay for a Basic Income Guarantee by eliminating most of the 20th-century programs like unemployment insurance, welfare, Social Security, Section 8 housing, etc., and by having the wealthy pay their fair share in taxes.

Billionaire Warren Buffett admits he pays a lower tax rate than his secretary. Mitt Romney said he paid only 13.9 percent in federal income tax in 2010, despite earning $22 million. Average-income Americans pay about 20 percent.

A BIG would be cheaper than a jobs program. President Obama’s 2009 stimulus plan promised to create 3 to 4 million jobs at a cost of $862 billion. That’s over $200,000 per job.

Such a basic income would recognize that with productivity as high as it is today, too many workers get in each other’s way. Those who don’t have to work shouldn’t be required to do so. Instead, they can create, do volunteer service, or work at low-paying jobs which are still socially needed, such as teaching or the arts.

Think of it as the opposite of trickle-down economics, where we give huge tax breaks to the rich in the false hope that something will trickle down to the rest of us.
 

Try telling a conservative blow-hard that their hero Milton Friedman was the architect of the most successful social welfare program in US history and they’ll often simply refuse to believe you! When offered proof, it seems to infuriate them.

Not a New Idea

Basic income is not a new idea. It’s been debated among policymakers in several nations since the 1970s. Economist Milton Friedman said: “We should replace the ragbag of specific welfare programs with a single comprehensive program of income supplements in cash—a negative income tax.”

The Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., said: “I am convinced that the simplest solution to poverty is to abolish it directly by a guaranteed income.”

BIG’s most recent American advocate is welfare critic Charles Murray. In his book: In Our Hands, Murray agrees with Friedman and King, and proposes a $10,000 yearly grant paid to every adult. Murray and others argue it would save money. There would be no bureaucracy to support and no red tape to manage.

Opponents claim we shouldn’t pay people not to work. But the duty to pursue work is based on the mistaken assumption that there is work to be had.

In the post-industrial age, the USA will provide ever fewer opportunities for low-skilled workers. Policies in pursuit of full employment make no sense.
 

 
Basic Income Can Work

In 1982, the state of Alaska began distributing money from state oil revenues to every resident. The Alaska Permanent Fund gives about $1000 to $2000 each year to every man, woman, and child in the state. In 2012, the amount fell to $878. There are no work requirements. The grant has reduced poverty and the inequality of income in Alaska.

A 10-year, 7800-family, U.S. government test of a basic income in the 1970s found that most people would continue to work, even when their incomes were guaranteed. A test in Manitoba, Canada produced similar results.

In 2005, Brazil created a basic income for the most needy. When fully implemented, the plan will ensure that all Brazilians, regardless of their origin, race, sex, age, social or economic status, will have a monetary income enough to meet their basic needs.

A two-year, basic income pilot program just concluded in Otjivero, Namibia. Each of 930 villagers received 1000 Namibian dollars (US$12.40) each month. Malnutritition rates of children under five fell from 42 percent to zero. Droupout rates at the school fell from 40 percent to almost zero. It led to an increase in small businesses.

Most Americans are six months from poverty. Middle-class people who worked all their lives, then lost their jobs and saw their unemployment benefits expire, are now sleeping in parks and under bridges.

America hasn’t seen full employment in decades. Even a full-time job at the minimum wage can’t lift a family of three from poverty. Millions of Americans—children, the aged, the disabled—are unable to work.

A basic income guarantee would be like an insurance policy. It would give each of us the assurance that, no matter what happened, we and our families wouldn’t starve.
 

 
This has been a guest editorial courtesy of Allan Sheahen, committee member of the U.S. Basic Income Guarantee Network (USBIG) and author of the recently published book Basic Income Guarantee: Your Right to Economic Security .

Below, Allan Sheahen discusses the guaranteed income bill with Mark Crumpton on Bloomberg Television’s Bottom Line.

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