Thursday, February 26, 2015

Don't Bring the Language Unless You Know What the Words Mean; What Would John Maynard Keynes Do?

Nobody ever reads this blog. I'm not complaining: I hardly ever post. I'm nowhere near as eager to talk about my ideas as I was when I started it way back when. I have nowhere near the following that Tim Morton, who I generally hold in very high esteem, does...and since many of the things I say here tend to be slightly if not totally derivative of his ideas these days--for a good reason: I think he talks a lot of sense--some of my stuff is really only good for different takes on what he or other OOO thinkers are already saying.


There are occasions when I have very developed ideas of my own: ideas that are backed up with a good deal of serious research. Occasionally, this means I get revolted at some of the sophomoric blather I hear quoted about certain theories and historic figures. Very rarely, this brings me into the position of having to refute things said by people I otherwise like. This is one of those times.

John Maynard Keynes was never a particularly influential or well-known economist, even in his heyday, when a beleaguered and otherwise quite pro-Fascist President Franklin Delano Roosevelt reluctantly but desperately adopted an actually rather anaemic, watered-down, cherry-picked selection of the remorselessly bold and iconoclastic economist's policies to stave off the economic cataclysm of the Great Depression in about 1937.

That cherry-picked and watered down list of economic policies almost got us out of the Great Depression. If things had carried on the way they were, the Roosevelt administration might have had to apply Keynes' policies more rigorously. Had that happened, the mainstream money-grabbing, quasi-Fascist theories and mystical mumbo-jumbo about the Invisible Hand of the Free Market put about by the Chicago School and other illustrious hives of American scum and villainy would perhaps be given a lot less credence than they are in administrative political circles today. Why? Because, I claim, such a robust adaptation of the Keynes formula, while it would not have necessarily eliminated poverty, would certainly have all but caused unemployment to vanish and resulted in much higher standards of economic welfare and industrial production than currently exist. We will never know for sure, GODDAMN IT, because before that could happen, a short, ugly little Austrian mysticism hobbyist in Germany with no talent for anything but romantic nationalistic pontification and his cadrĂ© of National Socialist (Nazi) gunsels were threatening to get their military ass kicked badly by Russia under Stalin...which was bad news for poor old FDR, who then had to pretend to join the Alliance against Hitler, whose economic policies the President favored highly, so that we could grab as much control over the planet's resources as possible before the Soviets got a hold of it.

It's questionable whether or not the administration knew about the concentration camps. It is easily available knowledge that the USA refused to allow the immigration of (I can't remember if it was three or four) huge shiploads of Jews attempting to escape from countries directly and clearly threatened by Nazi Judenrein (ethnic cleansing of Jews from communities). We sent them back to Europe.

That's not what this post is about. The reason I mention it is this: Anyone who thinks that FDR was any kind of "liberal" president, on any level, should try to imagine what that boat ride back across the Atlantic must have been like for those Jews. I think you will agree it had to be a pretty long trip. Their life expectancy on arrival? I wouldn't give much, though I don't know for sure.

But this is about economics. I'm not saying FDR hated Jews. There are politics, and there are economics, and sometimes they're not the same. One thing FDR liked--a lot--was right-wing economics of a particular kind. If I had walked up to him in 1935 and said, "Mr. President, with all due respect, sir, can't you see what dangerous people Hitler and Mussolini are, and the threat they pose to liberty in their own countries and around the world?!" his response would probably have been, "No, sir, as a matter of fact, I cannot, sir! Just what our own country needs, for that matter: big business running the country, and plenty of it! What's your fuckin' problem?"

But after a few years of trying to prop up his big buddies in business, totally convinced that it would rescue the disastrous national economy, the President grudgingly invited John Keynes to the Oval Office and allowed himself to be reprimanded as if the eagle on the carpet at his feet were a badly-cooked crow on his dinner plate.

"I told ye before, Mr. President," the already curmudgeonly 54-year old economist might have said, possibly shaking his cane at the former Rough Rider helpless in his presidential wheelchair, "ye been listening to the wrong people. Tax breaks only help the wealthy; they do about as much for industry as a dog turd in a can o' Shinola does for yer damned shoes. Ye can't keep on with this blah blah blah..."

The President, desperate to halt the economic miasma that not even the very wealthy could any longer ignore, and to get the irritating Keynes out of his office, was able to stop banging his head on the presidential desk long enough to listen to some of what the man was saying.

The government, among several other things too wordy to go into here, finally levied a 97% tax on the upper income bracket, using the resulting revenue to kickstart industry (literally paying work force straight out of the government coffers, and also footing the bill for product research and development) and fuel public works to build bridges, roads, schools, libraries...and prisons, unfortunately, but that's what we do in the USA. The next bracket down was taxed scarcely less than that, though I can't remember the exact number. The pump was primed. Things started to improve immediately. When the rich complained, threatening their former buddy in the White House politically, Roosevelt told them very politely and publicly to go fuck themselves. "How many votes can you get?" he smirked to the Wall Street tycoons, as a teary-eyed woman at the front of a cheering crowd recently saved from abject poverty held out her baby for the great man to kiss. The tycoons, besides knowing they were defeated, were human beings, and the Depression was so horrible for everyone that they didn't put up much of a fight. They just cried a bit. Can't blame them. Their mansions were being turned into hospitals.

Again, I say that we can't know what the country would be like today if things had continued that way. Enter the Second World War, and huge swaths of private industry were essentially drafted into the war effort. Our Alliance won, and the recent movie about Alan Turing deservedly credits the ill-fated mathematician with the immensely important cracking of the German Enigma code that cripplingly compromised Nazi military strategy...which sucked, Enigma aside. Whether or not the barbaric bombing of German civilian targets by America and Britain (much worse than anything similar the Germans had done to their foes in the earlier part of the war) made more of a difference than mathematics and the invention of the computer is a matter for argument.

Which is to say: FDR was no saint, and he certainly was no liberal. He did have courage, and the intestinal fortitude to admit when he was wrong and to finally do the right thing for the working class, no matter how Wall Street screamed and howled. For that, he deserves a lot of respect: I'd like to see the West Wing occupied by a President with half his guts today. But in my opinion, he is given way too much credit for helping the USA out of the Depression. How much credit does Keynes get for it?

None. Have you even heard of him? When people simplistically throw his name around in connection with President Obama's "liberal" (or according to some Republicans, "socialist") economic policies, or the Syriza party of Greece, or the quantitative easement proposed tepidly by the European Central Bank, do you even know what they're talking about? If not, I'm here to say that such ignorance is easily forgiven: these people don't know what they're talking about either. Keynes is little known, almost untaught in schools of economics, and when American economists do talk about him, he is usually reviled...for obvious reasons. Just look at who runs the country. Even Paul Krugman, canny left economist who writes for the New York Times, seems to mention him only once in a blue moon, and is very spare in his descriptions of Keynes' formula. Teachers at the Chicago School often sound like they'd love to bring him back from the dead just so they could hang him from a tree and set fire to him.

While QE (quantitative easement, essentially light national debt relief) is one component of the Keynesian formula (and kind of an obvious one if you just think about it for a minute), that's kind of like saying that paint is a component of a car. You can't just go around calling any piddly little debt relief "Keynesianism": it puts you in the same camp with reactionary right-wingers you probably wouldn't waste spit on if you passed them on the street. It's also a gift to the rampant anti-intellectualism virally infecting this country, where I have to essentially write comedic historical fiction to even have a chance of sneaking any economic knowledge into people's minds.

When we start taxing the shit out of the rich (and for the new rich of today, the top 0.01%, 97% income tax is way too light) and using the money to change our schools from a tragic joke to sleek, shining and well-equipped institutions with empowered teachers and brilliant, physically fit, artistically gifted and well-fed students, then say the name of Keynes. When an engineer wants to develop a machine that can make life better for people (say a renewable and safe energy generator of some kind) and a government office buys his stock in advance of production and gives him research and development money to boot, then say the name of Keynes. When the infrastructure that is now falling apart is updated to cutting-edge industry standards and gleams in the Detroit fucking Michigan, where not a soul goes without a job that pays them at least $15 an hour, then say the name of Keynes. When a cancer patient's medical bills are handled by taxes, the hospital is a former Vegas luxury hotel seized by the government, and the brilliant and peak-skilled oncologist drives home in a Beemer to tell his/her family that once again American medical technology--with more money than the Pentagon--has reached a point he/she can be proud of, then...

I'm not saying that JM Keynes himself would have gone that far. I'm just talking about the kind of modern policies that his formula might have influenced, if the country hadn't gone so crazy the way it has...and maybe went a little crazy the other way, for a change. But when you consider the amount of money that exists in this country--albeit in very few hands--the above visions are by no means far-fetched. You don't want Socialism? Fine. It's not even necessary! We have all the money we need, and taking it won't even hurt the very rich...except maybe their feelings. Their kids will still go to the best schools...and those schools will be better, because all of them will be. They'll still eat in the best restaurants, and the food will be better, because agriculture...

Sigh. I can't stand to talk about it anymore. I've been grinding my teeth for sixteen years, ever since I first grasped the implications of the possibility of Keynesianism applied according to present need and existing money. What I really can't stand is to hear suggestions that Obama's center-right, tepid little wimpy easements and blatantly unnecessary gifts to the rich are even anywhere on Keynes's radar screen.

And if you're someone who says they are, I hope he comes back from the dead and whacks you a good one upside the head with his cane.

Please read about John Maynard Keynes. Everyone should know about his ideas. Read also the ideas put forward by economists who have carried his ideas further, into the 21st Century...if you can find them. If you can't, become one of them, and run for office, and travel to Spain, and Greece, and Iceland, and everywhere else the working class cries for relief, and don't be afraid to suggest what you think may be impossible. It's not. The money's already there. The government just has to take it.