Capitalist No More: The New American Economy

I attended a local forum group yesterday at my local library, the topic was “The Economy under a Trump Presidency.”  The panel consisted of three men of varying backgrounds, all from the area:  an economics professor, a former Tea Party member, and the county Democratic Chair.  Of the three two of them touted the idea of de-regulation and a ‘Free Market.’

It struck me as I listened to them that we have to redefine what a free market actually means.  We no longer live in the nostalgic time of simple capitalism/consumerism kind of system wherein companies are focused on manufacturing a good and selling it for the best possible price.  Ostensibly, this type of free market economy encourages innovation and creativity and allows the ‘invisible hand’ to guide supply and demand.

The problem with that perception is that companies and corporations no longer focus on actual product manufacturing and profits.   Today’s financialized economy is now run from the boardroom and only shareholder interests matter.   The manufacturing and actual productivity are a side note.

So what does a ‘free market’ mean to a financialized economy?   It means deregulation so that markets can be manipulated with sketchy things like derivative trading, which created the housing bubble that sent us into a major recession.   It means no accountability with regard to public safety – think EPA rollbacks.  It means curbing the federal government’s roll in our system and replacing it with corporate legislation designed only for the benefit of the elite.   This is the new ‘free market’ with which we must wrestle.

In an interview with Salon magazine, economist Gerald Epstein discusses a recent paper he published concerning this ‘free market’ and ‘Trumponomics’.  Here is his perception:

The one that I’m most familiar with is getting rid of Dodd-Frank, and deregulating finance. We know that this is likely to generate, at least in the short run, a lot of profits to the Goldman Sachs friends of Trump by letting them do whatever they want to do with borrowed money. We’ve seen this picture before, and we know that it’s not going to end well. We know that it could lead to more financial instability and maybe even another economic crisis, and then the government will be placed in the same kind of bind it was before.

Capitalism works, and worked well enough for the US so that we could claim ourselves as the most affluent nation on earth.   But we are no longer a capitalist nation, we are a financialized nation and the idea of a ‘free market’ means something entirely different in this world.



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Koch Bliss: Donald is Their Dream Distraction

It was telling to me that the Koch brothers declined to support or endorse a Donald Trump candidacy, on a couple of levels.

The first is trivial, I confess, yet it’s an indicator. It piqued my curiosity that the Koch brothers wouldn’t hobnob with Donald.That is to say, like hangs with like, and the elite tend to hang out in very tight circles. So it’s a measure of Donald’s ‘likability’, to some extent, that the two brothers didn’t/don’t embrace him in a social and political manner.  Take a step further, and I thought, who does hang out with the President-elect? Too few, he had very little popular endorsement and struggled to get performances for his inauguration (I had to laugh/cry at this reality considering this piece I wrote over a year ago, when a Trump presidency seemed wholly unlikely.)

The second issue that raised my concern to alarming level was that their  resources (money) were instead being funneled into the state races, effecting a sweep of the congress and in many state governor races. Especially when we consider Article V of the constitution which allows for amending by two thirds congressional consent OR a three-fourths governor’s consent, something Texas governor Greg Abbott is considering himself.

Bottom line: the Koch brothers have subversively and effectively managed to turn the political tide in our nation enough to perhaps amend our only protective document and we’ve given more notice to Donald Trump’s twitter storms, ‘locker room’ talk, and other vulgarities. We forgot about the real races, the ones that mattered, the ones to which the Koch brothers were attending. True, the same conservatives that voted for Trump would most likely have voted a straight Republican ticket and we now know which demographic constituted that vote, but it was Koch dollars that provided commercials and nurtured the anti-liberal frenzy.

We begin the a new year with an inauguration of a con-man to the highest office of our nation. He’ll continue his dog and pony show because it feeds the attention ogre.

While he does, I can’t help but think that somewhere this New Year’s Day, the two brothers are toasting their good fortune at having the perfect distraction for their ploy of changing the political landscape of our nation as we know it.

May change our focus to meet their mettle.






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Thanks Obama! Now It’s Your Turn Donald…

Perhaps, one measure of a President can be seen in the way he leaves his nation’s economic health to his successor.

If so, let’s use this article from the Financial Times to gauge where Donald and the US will be in four, or gods forbid, eight years.  Oh, the writ also brings  up some important points about financialization.

The Times writes: “An analysis of economic metrics paints a picture of an economy finding solid footing after the financial crisis. Unemployment stands at a nine-year low, the S&P 500 continues to break records, and home sales hit their highest rate since 2007,” (there are some spiffy charts in the article to check out, don’t miss them).

Unemployment numbers are slippery fish and must be taken with a shot of soy sauce, but the overall downward trend of unemployment is commendable and encouraging, especially considering where we were eight years ago.    The stock market is an even  more dodgy animal than unemployment and should always be considered with a shot of whiskey or gin, but there’s no doubt that Wall Street has flourished under Obama’s tenure, and in the end, it’s health does translate to a sense of economic security, both individually and nationally.   (Incidentally, one of the red flags the incoming president has illicited is his ability to drastically move the market with just a tweet – will the market tire from his shenanigans and learn not to react?  or will it continue to swing in concert with Donald’s unhinged short sentences?   This particular dynamic and relationship will be important to watch.)  As for housing sales, this is good news; it means people are able to get credit again, prices are more affordable, and interest rates are healthier.  Excellent.

It’s also  good news, as the article points out, that inflation is holding at a fair rate and this motivates the ever mysterious ‘fed’ to raise interest rates.   Inflation driven economics is an interesting notion -as opposed to employment driven economics (See G. Epstein’s paper, Financialization, Rentier Interests, and Central Bank Policy).  The jury is out as to whether an inflation-policy vs. full-employment policy is better, but Epstein does recognize the convenience of an inflation drive policy for our oligarchy, “…inflation targeting and central bank independence makes the central bank less accountable to the government, and more accountable to financial markets and those who operate them.”  It will be important, on the financialization front, to look for the long term affects of inflation driven economic policy.  Stay tuned.

There’s a discussion about our national debt in the Times piece. Unsurprisingly – we have had to pay for two wars – our debt level is at the highest its ever been (High consumer and government debt are both symptomatic of the financialization of our economy, by the way.)  A Donald presidency will only increase that, the Times says.  It’s not rocket science to figure out that, eventually, this debt will become the elephant in the living room.

To finish up, the Times highlights some of the problems Donald will have, despite inheriting a fairly decent economy.  “Growth has stagnated in both the developed world and in emerging markets. Manufacturing employment, of course, remains much lower today than it was four decades ago.” Stagnate economic growth is a harbinger of financialization.  The reason ‘manufacturing employment’ is low is because corporations focus more on stocks and shares as profit margins instead of products and services.   Growth is therefore encouraged at the market level, not at the productivity level, stagnation is a direct result of that.

President Obama has been productive when it comes to reinvigorating an economy mired in one of the two worst financial debacles to strangle this country.  He’s left a fairly decent inheritance for any incoming person.  Now, let’s see what ‘that person’ will do with such a gift.  Serious thanks to President Obama, now,  it’s your turn Donald.




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Realities of Religion and Propaganda

With the revelations that fake news sites had a hand in deciding the election, the industry itself is struggling to figure out how to best handle an ‘anything goes’ kind of world.

While journalists ponder the issue, I think we need to understand a couple of things about fake news:  it’s always gonna be around and those who are programmed to question nothing will consume the saccharine stories the way Santa overindulges in cookies.

The church, or Christianity, or religion if ya wanna get right down to it, can only thrive if it keeps a closeted, cloistered community.  This means instilling the literal fear of god into anyone who might question the bible, its authenticity, or its credibility.   Simply put, those tied up in religion aren’t accustom to dubious thinking: it’s forbidden, it’s certainly not encouraged, and it’s hell damning.

It should come as no surprise, then, that fake news and propaganda gained the strong foothold it did during this past election cycle.   With a large population programmed to just eat whatever comes along the conveyor belt without taking into account the ingredients, the chef, or the restaurant serving the dish, many of America’s voters were ripe for picking  by a not-so-smooth talking showman.

That same showman takes up the mantle of ‘I can fix everything’ and wraps it in a god-like presence that disavows anything which contends with it (something, something, “I am a jealous god” comes to mind).  With a goodly portion of our citizenship still clinging to the idea that a single entity has the cures for all mankind, they have no problem conceiving that one man, who claims he’s all that and a bag of chips, can fix our government and rule with the same totalitarian hand as their ‘heavenly father’ – and that folks, is how we ended up with a Trump presidency.

Fake news won’t go away, unfortunately, because fortunately we live in a nation whose founding document guarantees free speech.   One would hope that education would help bring balance, however when religious tenets such as accepting anything and everything without question are still quite prevalent, then fake news will always have it’s sycophants.

There is hope:   So far, ‘God’ has stayed silent for a few thousand years, and that mystique has kept his followers in suspense, just waiting for a word that will prove his omniscience. Our newly elected government ‘god’ can’t seem to keep his own mouth (or twitter account) shut however, and his actions are utterly at odds with his promises, so at least there are some who are coming to understand that not everything can or should be believed – this is the real blow to fake news.




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When COC is CEO: Political Projection

With all the scuffle going on about Donald refusing daily intelligence briefings (because busy!) we might as well figure out that this is what we’re in for when the roles of CEO and COC are mingled.

We didn’t elect a politician, we elected a businessman, so of course Donald isn’t exhibiting any sort of “Commander in Chief” behavior such as attending to daily intelligence briefings.   If ‘presidenting’ was actually a priority, then he would expend the energy and resources necessary to be successful in the role.  Instead, our current president-elect seems content to pass off the discipline and be alerted only if ‘something changes’.

Such delegation is smart time management by any Chief Executive Officer, but a Commander in Chief can’t afford the same luxury.  There is valuable information that Donald may be missing in daily briefings – the most minute change in an intelligence report detail can be an opportunity for peace somewhere, or an alert to danger elsewhere, and daily monitoring allows for personal observation of trends.  But a more troubling matter arises with the issue:  Donald puts the flow of information to the most powerful man in the world with access to the most powerful military in the world in utter control of those who serve him.  He can’t expect a full picture with this type of setup (then again maybe that’s why he relies so heavily upon his daughter, which is disconcerting in it’s own right). Furthermore, being in the dark allows for ‘plausible deniability’ later down the road, if the need to invoke the phrase should ever arise.

Donald’s refusal to give intelligence reports attention and his indifference to the separation of business from office demonstrate where his interests really lie. We shouldn’t be surprised that we aren’t seeing any ‘Commander in Chief’ Donald Trump, for better or for worse, I suspect we will only see him in the one role he understands: ‘Chief Executive Officer’.



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Oligarchy: Full Steam Ahead

The Koch brothers tentacles reach deep within the neuro-network of our nation and if you haven’t read ‘Dark Money’ by Jane Mayer yet you should click on over and order that writ.

While you are waiting for your delivery, check out this recent development from  Texas wherein our constitution as we currently know it is blatantly at risk.  Koch sycophant Governor Greg Abbott released a plan to amend our constitution not with the typical two-thirds congress vote, but with the atypical act of convening a governors’ vote.

The development bears some attention.  In the realm of financialization, where the elite make policy and hold sway in government decisions, the process has largely been subversive ( Mayer), but a convening of the states to amend the constitution after a Koch brother fashion puts the process front and center.  The bill being introduced is disconcerting in its language.   It seeks ‘to impose fiscal restraints on the federal government, to limit the power and jurisdiction of the federal government.’  One could conclude this to mean that states get more power, and to a degree it is.  I assert that there’s more to it.

Limiting the government on the fiscal level most probably means less power to tax, at least at the corporate and one percent level.    Who picks up that slack?   The middle class, which has decreased noticeably the past two decades,  will necessarily be tapped for this revenue.  It follows that limiting federal fiscal power will include the small percentage of social services that the middle class depends upon to survive:  food assistance, medical insurance, a (still somewhat) decent education.   When considered a bit further, if federal fiscal spending is limited then presumably federal funds to state causes will be strangled, affecting an infrastructure that begs for attention as it is.  With less federal monies contributing to state coffers, states will be forced to raise their taxes as well:  at the point-of-sale level, at the small business level, at the property tax rate level.   It’s a triple punch to most of America:  a likely increase in federal income tax, a probable decrease in social services, and varying tax increases at the local level.

Let’s consider the prospect of limiting the power of the federal government.  Again, we can presumably conclude that this would work in favor of individual states.  But what if limiting government really means rolling back the few regulations already in place that keep corporate powers in check?  What if limiting federal power means that corporations step up to fill the void instead of the states, via carefully placed beholden puppets such as Greg Abbott?

Such predictions seem as if I’m proclaiming a ‘sky is falling’ sort of scenario.    Maybe it’s a good thing for the states to have more power (?).  However, I make my contentions based on the cornerstones of the process of financialization – this potential effort to change the constitution comes not for the benefit of the people, nor does it originate from the desire* of the people, it is absolutely  fabricated in favor of corporate interests and by corporate interests, manifested through politicians bought by corporate money.   This is American Oligarchy – Full Steam Ahead.




  • Jane Mayer does an excellent job connecting the dots with the Koch’s undercurrent of blaming government for the nation’s failings, when in fact our problems are largely due to the process of financialization which innately increases public and private debt, creates unstable economies, and depletes the all-important middle class. So the idea of limiting government sounds really good to a populace who thinks that the government is to blame when its actually an already limited government that enables the private industry to economically pillage the nation.
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Payback Problem

Top Democrats are planning to block some of Trump’s cabinet nominees, or at least make the process a living hell.

The writing was on the wall for this one, but it bears some deeper inspection.

Of course the dems can break out the whole “But you’ve done it for eight years!” when republicans get all up and antsy about blocking governmental processes – these last two terms, the republican cabal has demonstrated it’s utter unwillingness to put country before politics and created an environment on capitol hill that is both disrespectful and defiant to our governing processes.

But here’s the sticking point as we move forward:   Where the republicans obstructed the workings of the political machine simply out of rebellion and stubbornness for not getting ‘their man’ in office (and for having an intellectual, African-American in office), the democrats are (and must) be poised to obstruct on the basis that some things are entirely unhealthy for our nation, unconstitutional, or completely oligarchical.

So while democrats can claim they’re only doing what the republicans have done, they also need to proclaim the distinction that the reasoning is wholly different.    Republicans were (are still?) motivated by a disdain of anything progressive, forward thinking, or productive for the middle class.  Democrats, seemingly, are so far motivated by keeping the democracy from becoming an outright plutocracy; and if Donald’s tweets, cabinet picks, and continued refusal to heed political protocol are an indication, chances are the party will have to dig it’s heels in steadfastly to save some semblance of America as we’ve known it the past two hundred fifty years.

The Warrens and Sanders and Cardins and Feinsteins of the party will have to be wise in this strategy though.  They’ll need to choose their battles carefully, in other words.   The past eight years have worn out the populace, (We shouldn’t be surprised that half our fellow citizens didn’t vote last month.  I understand, somewhat, how they have given up.) so taking every thing to the floor would be a mistake.

We are in for a long, tiring, trying, and contentious four years.   Here’s to wisdom, the ability to focus on the bigger picture, and the constitution.



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