Alternative Visions – Environmental Activists Discuss Sunday, Sept. 21 Demonstration & What Next – 09/20/14

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Jack Rasmus welcomes environmental activists, Michael Rubin and Glenn Turner, to discuss tomorrow’s major environment movement event, the demonstration in New York City and elsewhere in the USA (and globally) advocating the need for reducing global green house gas emissions to avoid a coming global environmental catastrophe. Jack and guests discuss the significance and the demands of the Sept. 21 events. Jack challenges guests to clarify the demands and future strategic objectives of the USA environmental movement. What comes next, after Sunday? Will the many environmental groups continue to unify or continue after Sunday to lead their separate struggles, only occasionally coming together for demonstrations that make no specific demands for change on the system. Will they unite with other groups and forces outside the environmental community—i.e. unions, community and ethnic groups, student organizations, religious organizations, forming a ‘united front’ to confront the destruction of the environment and ultimately the economy as well? Listen to the lively discussion, as Jack plays ‘devils advocate’ challenging environmental activists to evolve to a higher level of political action.

The following is an excerpt from a longer article published in teleSUR English. (see the author’s website, kyklosproduction.com/articles.html for the longer version)

“Three global capitalist research institutes recently released reports documenting a growing ‘global jobs crisis’. The World Bank, the OECD, and the International Labor Organization (ILO) all came to the same conclusion. The Group of 20 nations’ employment ministers thereafter meeting in Australia issued a joint statement on the three institutes’ conclusion that “the world’s largest economies are failing to create enough jobs and too many of those that are being produced are of a low quality to generate a meaningful boost to global growth” (The Financial Times, September 10, 2014). As the World Bank’s senior director for jobs put it, “there is little doubt there is a global jobs crisis”.

All three reports identify converging trends across all the advanced economies (AEs) of Europe, North America, and Japan. Not only is total unemployment rising long term, but the percentage of youth employment and the chronically long term jobless are also growing. So too are part time and temp jobs rising sharply as a percent of the labor force in the AEs.

Dimensions of the Jobs Crisis Today

The percent of long term jobless to total unemployment has risen from around one-fifth before the 2008 crash, to about one third today. Since the long term jobless tend to be concentrated among those older than 50 years, the AE economies’ job markets therefore appears to be deteriorating at ‘both ends’ of their labor force spectrum, the young and the older. Youth unemployment is rising to record high levels everywhere in the AEs. At the same time, those in the middle, 24 to 55 years old, are finding that jobs that are available are ’low quality’ part time, temporary, and contract ‘contingent’ jobs that provide far less pay, few benefits, broad exclusion from protective labor laws, and little security of continued employment.

In the USA in particular, a still fourth major jobs problem is also taking place, a harbinger perhaps for the other AEs as well: about 8 million Americans have completely ‘dropped out’ of the US labor force since 2007. They aren’t even counted among the unemployed and underemployed in the USA, given the erroneous way the USA defines and calculates employment and unemployment.

Rising youth unemployment, rising long term duration of unemployed, rising proportion of contingent labor for those even able to find employment, and millions altogether giving up on formal work means something is clearly wrong in AE labor markets and economies, is worsening, and increasingly appears structural and chronic—i.e. the ‘new normal’ as they now say, where the ‘new normal’ means, in effect, ‘we (capitalist policy makers) can’t or won’t do anything about it, so just learn to live with it’.

It is important to note that the global jobs crisis now documented by the above three global reports is simultaneously a global wage crisis.

Capitalist 21st Century Wage Strategy

When one looks at today’s deterioration of wages in the AEs from a class perspective, and not just in the limited way governments report wages, the picture is indeed dire. Millions more jobless today mean zero wages for those millions that should be factored into the total wage decline data but isn’t reflected in government figures. Only wage trends for those still with jobs is reported, and even then only for those with full time jobs. Millions more partly employed, working in part time, temp and contract jobs receive lower pay, which further reduces total wages for the working classes.

Millions more dropping out of the formal workforce, with some perhaps working in the ‘shadow economy’ at reduced and occasional pay, means still lower total wages for the class.

Reducing retirement and healthcare benefits, and/or raising the cost for those benefits for those still employed, constitutes yet another form of ‘wage reduction’. Then there’s the growing trend of outright wage theft that is a growing problem, especially in service sector jobs in the USA where employers increasingly just cheat workers out of part of their wages by payroll accounting tricks.

Then there are policies that allow inflation to undermine the purchasing power of minimum wage laws. Minimum wage law adjustments become more infrequent and less generous.

But all that is still not the entire story. Allowing workers’ pension plans to collapse altogether, into which they diverted part of their wages for years as a contribution to their pensions, means all those wage contributions are wiped out. That represents a form of ‘deferred’ wage reduction.

And it doesn’t stop there either. With less wages and income, workers are forced to turn to more credit and debt in order to finance their basic expenses. That too leads to a wage decline, as rising debt and interest payments lay claim in the present to workers ‘future’ wages not yet paid. Banks and credit card companies thus steal wages that haven’t even been paid yet by overloading workers with debt and credit, for which workers have little alternative given their lack of other forms of wage reduction .

21st century global capital has thus evolved multiple ways to reduce wages today.

But the biggest contribution to wage-earnings reduction for working households, the biggest impact, derives from the chronic rise in the millions of unemployed, the growing percentage of ‘contingent’ (part time, temp, contract) and ‘low quality’ jobs, and the millions forced into the ‘shadow economy’ of intermittent, occasional work, still lower paid, or even worse.

The Terrible Triad: Jobs, Wages & Inequality

The global jobs crisis also leads, according to the three ILO, OECD and World Bank reports, to a corresponding decline in disposable income and consumer spending, which contributes significantly to rising income inequality trends. So the jobs crisis means not only wage reduction but the rise of inter-class income inequality as well.

In the USA alone, median working class family incomes have fallen in real terms (adjusted for inflation) by more than 8%. That includes a 4% drop during the so-called ‘recovery’ since 2009. As corporate profits surged to historic record levels after 2009, and the wealthiest 1% saw their share of total incomes rise to 22%, more than ever before in US history, working class families’ incomes continued to deteriorate in the recovery. And that deterioration is not limited to the post 2007 recession period. It was going on since 2000, and even before that to the early 1980s.

The triple problems of jobs destruction, wage decline, and income inequality have become so severe in the AEs in general, not just the USA, that the global capitalist press, and capitalists themselves, are showing signs lately of growing concern about the trends and problem.

Given that, now that it is ‘safe’ to discuss the triple crisis, mainstream economists have jumped on the ‘income inequality’ bandwagon and have begun writing feverishly about it as well.

But while identifying the data indicating income inequality, economists have little to say so far as to its fundamental causes—and even less to say about the ‘jobs crisis’ as the crux of the problem triad. They identify the magnitude of the problem, but provide little explanation of the fundamental, originating causes—especially the fundamental ‘class basis’ of the problem in its inability to create enough decent paying jobs. Instead they limit themselves to calls for token tax reform, when the tax system is not the cause but just an enabler of the income transfers from the corporations to their owners, stock & bond holders, and senior managers; or suggest ways to reduce senior corporate executives’ excess compensation; or ways to tweak the minimum wage which, while benefiting the lowest paid a little, still leaves out the jobs and wage decline crisis for hundreds of millions of remaining workers.

It is not surprising that mainstream AE economists have not been successful at proposing theoretical solutions to the current global economy’s inability to generate a sustained recovery on a general scale. Nor is it surprising that capitalist politicians and policy makers in governments and central banks have been unable to do so in fact. Neither economists nor politicians have addressed, or are about to address, the fundamental problem of the global jobs crisis today raised in the three reports: the crisis of the decline in both the quantity and quality of jobs.

Jack Rasmus
September 19, 2014

The following is a just published review of Jack Rasmus’s 2012 book, ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’, by John Hall, of Portland State University, that appears in the Autumn 2014 issue of ‘Review of Keynesian Economics’.

Review of Keynesian Economics, Vol. 2 No. 3, Autumn 2014, pp. 400-402

Jack Rasmus, ‘Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few’ (Pluto Press, London, UK 2012) 216 pp.

“Author Jack Rasmus tends to orient his research towards challenges facing the US economy. And in this recent title he carefully and skillfully delves into exploring what he regards as failures of the Obama administration’s policies, which can be justly summarized as ‘too little and too late.’ However, he stresses that the tepid recovery that began in 2009 did indeed generate one notable outcome, namely that the highest income earners in the United States increased their shares in national income, while the population at large suffered declines.

Rasmus describes the 2008 downturn as an ‘epic’ recession. He notes a Type I Epic Recession and a Type II Epic Recession, with the latter transitioning toward a depres¬sion. While he limits his book’s focus primarily to the US economy, Rasmus does call attention to the problems facing the European Union and the eurozone, which he attri-butes to the policy failures of uninspired leadership. In addition, with the once-impressive performances of the BRICS (especially China and Brazil) now cooling down, there is a real risk that failed leadership in the largest economies of the world could help to trigger a global depression. From this perspective, Rasmus sug¬gests that the 2008 downturn could be classified as a Type II Epic Recession.

In his ‘Introduction,’ Rasmus traces the spending of $11 trillion dollars in federal funds, then seeks to measure the outcomes. He notes three economic stimulus programs advanced by the Obama administration that cost about $3 trillion dollars. Then, more than $9 trillion were relied upon to support banks. After all of this spending, Rasmus fails to find any positive outcomes.

Although he does clarify that indicators of financial asset prices tended to recover from their 2008 levels, he stresses that non-financial indicators suggest only partial recovery of prior losses. While the groups that gained and lost are considered in more detail as the main topic of chapter 1, chapters 2 and 3 develop the idea that the Obama administration sought to deal with the downturn by shifting the emphasis away from an effective spending program and toward adjusting the system of taxation, and with the consequences of substantial job losses and rising unemployment that was not effectively addressed. Rasmus notes that direct and substantial aid to homeowners facing mortgage foreclosures were considered, but in the end, as Congress took control of TARP funds, direct assistance for Americans diminished. And then as much as $50 billion earmarked as foreclosure aid was channeled into the Home Affordability Modification Program (HAMP), which tended to provide funds for mortgage lenders dominated by large banks.

The lag between formulation of policy and implementation is considered in chapter 4, and is noted to have contributed toward the failure in offering a substantial stimulus to the US economy when it was needed.

Chapter 5 considers the 2010 Economic Recovery Program and notes that the administration sought to emphasize increasing exports instead of directly concentrating on restoring the 25 million jobs that were lost early on in the crisis.

Chapter 6 juxtaposes the midterm elections of 2010 with what Franklin Roosevelt and Jimmy Carter had to deal with at the time of their midterm elections. In particular, Rasmus offers details of Roosevelt’s National Industrial Recovery Act, or NIRA, as a way to offer contrasts between the two approaches. Rasmus emphasizes that the NIRA led toward a more comprehensive set of policies and programs and developed into what we appreciate as Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal,’ with programs that certainly helped citizens mitigate some of the difficulties associated with the Depression decade. With this as background, Rasmus critiques the tendencies of the Obama Administration to shift from an emphasis on a stimulus-driven recovery, to focusing upon deficit reduction.

This leads into the topic of chapter 7 and the relationships between deficit management and the likelihood of a second major contraction in 2013 taking place as a ‘double dip’ recession.

Chapter 8 offers details that suggest the US and world economy is indeed tending toward an economic depression. Rasmus considers several variables such as declines in consumption and investment spending, as well as government spending at the federal and state levels affecting, in particular, levels of public sector employment and the offering of public services such as education.

With its title,’ From Failed Recovery to Austerity Recession,’ chapter 9 details the opportunities missed through focusing upon budgetary austerity that have contributed toward an extended economic downturn.

Not giving over to a protracted lament on the hopelessness associated with the Obama administration’s politics and policies in this era of neoliberalism, Rasmus believes the US can avoid becoming mired in a depression. This is his expressed hope.

And with his chapter 10 he outlines a set of common-sense policies and creative institutional changes designed to promote short-term, medium-term, and long-term recovery. Rasmus’s proposed recovery program focuses on jobs, housing, and state and local government reforms. He includes detailed proposals for a fundamental restructuring of the tax, retirement, and banking systems. He offers proposals that, in my judgment, would help the US economy to achieve the kind of economic growth that would generate benefits for broad sectors of the population, including young people, those in their working years including the unemployed, and the elderly.

A lack of talent has never been a serious problem for America over its comparatively short history as an independent nation. In 2008 and 2012, President Obama demonstrated his ability to assemble a brilliant team to help get him elected. Why can he not do the same by bringing in a team of economic advisers with talents equal to the members of his core election team?
Reflecting back, it seems that over his two terms, President Bill Clinton certainly engaged some of the best talent in our economics profession. He not only brought in talent with well-honed analytical abilities and that communicated effectively with the public, he also brought in talent that remained loyal to his administration, and some to the very end of his 8-year term. Some decades earlier, President John Kennedy invited to Washington exemplary talent, and there were selected economists who rendered his Council of Economic Advisers as the hallmark of what we as talented American economists could offer our nation. Lamentably, our ‘Council of Economic Advisers’ got sidelined during the Bush era. Now we have a ‘National Economic Council’ that has been headed by leadership better credentialed in jurisprudence than in economics. Sadly, it seems to me that we shall likely remain locked-in with a status quo: not led, but rather managed by the cautious and uninspired.

Finding little reason for optimism related to improvements on the policy front during the remainder of the Obama administration, still I think this is a fine book that is both timely and crucial to digest, for the themes are fully pertinent to the current US political economy. The arguments are well founded and based upon empirical evidence that is carefully researched, selected, and presented. This book could serve advanced undergraduates and graduate students focused on the US macro economy, its challenges, and the failures – at least to date – of our political class to effectively address challenges related to the recent financial crisis and the failed policies that have not, so far, set the US economy on the road to a sustained recovery.

Alternative Visions Radio Show – 09/06/14

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Host, Jack Rasmus, discusses the origins and evolution of Corporate Strategy in the USA since the 1970s and explains how that has played a central role in gutting union membership, undermining collective bargaining, and all but negating effective union political action. Jack describes the collapse of union membership and the net loss of 20 million potential union members since 1980, how corporations transformed collective bargaining from a means for workers to improve wages and benefits to a tool for taking away wages and benefits, and how union labor political action has collapsed into a policy of little more than providing money handouts to Democrats.

Jack explains how the failure of union strategy for organizing, bargaining, and political action is in large part due to the corresponding successes of corporate strategies that originated and began in the 1970s. Union strategic failures thus cannot be separated from Corporate strategic successes; they are both sides of the same coin.

Rasmus describes in detail how Corporate America in the 1970s reorganized and restructured itself to enable new strategies that took on the building trades unions, the teamsters union, and manufacturing unions, gutted their membership ranks, and effectively destroyed their union national, regional, and pattern bargaining power within a decade—by multiple means including double breasted operations, NLRB rule changes, industry deregulation, free trade, corporate tax incentives promoting offshoring & runaway shops, rise of tens of millions of temp workers and independent contractors not allowed to unionize, intensified open shop drives, and today’s de-unionizing of public employment, and other measures. Today’s economic (and increasingly political) class war in America, Rasmus explains, has its roots in corporate strategies formed in the 1970s, that continue to evolve and gain momentum today.

Rasmus concludes new, more effective union strategies will have to be accompanied by fundamental reorganization and restructuring of American Unions—just as had occurred in US history before.

For further on this theme, listeners are encouraged to read Rasmus’s four part series of articles appearing in the new Latin America media outlet, ‘teleSUR English’ at http://www.telesurtv.net/english/section/opinion/index.html.

(The series is also available at http://zcomm.org/author/jackrasmus/ and on his website, http://www.kyklosproductions.com/articles.html.)


Dr. Jack Rasmus, Professor of Political Economy at St. Marys College, Moraga, CA, told Vestnik Kavkaza how the Western sanctions affect Russia and Russian counter-sanctions affect the West.

The President of the U.S. and the Chancellor of Germany believe that the U.S. and the EU should consider the possibility of launching additional sanctions against Russia due to the situation in Ukraine, according to the press service of the White House. Dr. Jack Rasmus, Professor of Political Economy at St. Marys College, Moraga, CA, told Vestnik Kavkaza how the Western sanctions affect Russia and Russian counter-sanctions affect the West.

Question- Do you believe that sanctions against Russia are successful?

Rasmus- I would not say against Russia, not the entire Russian economy. They have been very focused in the West on select companies: Russian state banks, military technology and so forth. Although they, EU and US, have announced the possibility of focusing Western sanctions on select industries, that is not really been implemented yet. And, even if they do, it will take some time to determine whether even industry-wide sanctions have been successful or not. If a deal, of course, occurs on Ukraine before the winter, which I believe it will, between the West, Western Europe and Russia, then the sanctions to date will have had very little effect. If you look at Russia’s stock market, sanctions on Russia so far have not had that much of an impact. So, clearly, if the stock market is an indicator, the effect has not been that great. And to the extent that Russia’s GDP and currency have softened in recent months, that weakness has not been any more than other emerging markets economies and their currencies and GDPs weakening due to effects of other events that have been occurring globally. So, in general I would say that the sanctions have not been that successful to date, because they are not really designed in the first place to create too big of an impact. Further sanctions will have little long term effect, if a deal is concluded on the Ukraine crisis. In the meantime, certain key sectors of the Russian economy, like oil and energy, where Exxon is pushing ahead in Russia with investments and so forth, have not been targeted or affected at all. In other words, I don’t see any real negative long term impact of sanctions on the Russian economy.

Question- Could they be counter effective? What the United States and the European Union risk confronting Russia economically in such way?

Rasmus- I think Western Europe has far more significant risks than the US from sanctions. The US economic relationships with Russia are not that significant given the size of the US economy, but, I think, Europe has some very big risk, particularly Eastern EU economies, central Europe and Germany. They have a big risk, because what we see now, obviously, is that the economy in the Eurozone is flat to negative, and, I think, they might have entered the third recession in as many years. The sanctions have played some role in this European economic decline. I would not say it is the whole cause the EU and Eurozone weakening, but the West’s sanctions have played some role in Europe’s current economic slide. Estimates are that German exports to Russia have declined by about 15 to 20 percent, and that is not counting German exports to Ukraine that have also collapsed. And, I think, for the year we probably are going to look at a decline in German exports to Russia in excess of 30 percent. Even though Germany’s exports to Russia account to only 3 percent of its total exports, it is still a significant impact on German exports and the German economy at a time when the German economy is already weakening significantly, as is France, Italy and other economies. I think, the negative impact on Western Europe has been and will be far more than on the US. The impact of sanctions is measurable not just in terms of quantitative export-import actual flows, but in money flows, investment opportunities, and in the psychological effect on investment in East Europe and Germany, which is more difficult to measure but is real nonetheless. The crisis in the Ukraine and the sanctions has also had a psychological effect on German and the East European business, which has to be considered in this total picture of the total impact of sanctions. So, Western Europe is really beginning to feel the bite from sanctions, and that is why, I believe, there will be a settlement in the Ukraine crisis before winter, when gas prices from Russian imports rise and the impact becomes even more severe.

Question- What are counter measures or leverages that Russia can use to apply pressure on the European Union or even the US?

Rasmus- The ability to put pressure on the European Union, of course, is reflected in the counter sanctions that Russia has introduced, which are still mostly agricultural and therefore still limited as well. Russia is going slow on expanding its counter sanctions just as Europeans are going slow on sanctions on Russia. The US wants to step it up, the US wants to put even more pressure, but the Europeans, especially Germany and Merkel, are trying to walk a tightrope between resisting pressure for more sanctions and yet acknowledging the US pressure and agreeing to some sanctions, but the Europeans so far have been very cleverly minimizing the sanctions. So, what can Russia do and what is Russia doing in turn is mostly focusing on relatively minor sanctions, targeting the Western European agricultural area, which is, by the way, probably having more impact on the Eastern European countries than it is on Germany and Western Europe. And then, of course, there is the potential targeting of Western banks by Russia counter sanctions. Eurozone banks are still kind of fragile; particularly those banks exposed to Ukraine and Russia, most of which are Austrian, in the Netherlands and in Italy. Russia can put more pressure on the banking side, perhaps, just as sanctions by the West have been imposed on selective Russian banks. Other Russian counter sanctions could be forthcoming in areas of autos, shipbuilding, airline overflights, aerospace joint projects with the US and the West. So, Russia still has some sanctions it can impose just as the Europeans have, but they both want to hold their fire so far, to see what kind of an outcome can be arranged in the Ukraine, which is also a disaster for Western Europe. As I have predicted earlier this year, last March, the Ukrainian economy was going to pretty much collapse this year, which it has. At least 50 billion [dollar] bailout will be needed for the Ukraine economy, not the 18 billion offered by the IMF so far. The IMF is not going to come up with more money and the US will not. The burden therefore is going to be on the Western Europe to continue to bailout the Ukraine, and they cannot afford it right now with their own economies in trouble. So, I think there will be a settlement by winter (I have always predicted that) on the Ukraine crisis, which will pretty much eliminate sanctions on both sides, and you will see the sanctions disappear quickly, and the pressure on the Russian economy will be even less longer term, even though it is not that significant now.

Question- Do you think that the sanctions can have a positive effect on the Russian economy? Maybe the Russians will buy more Russian made products, invest more into their own economy, develop closer ties with the former Soviet republics? For example, Azerbaijan has already said it is ready to provide the necessary agricultural produce to Russian markets.

Rasmus- Yes, I think, it has already begun to happen. Obviously, the huge energy deal with China is one example. I think that Russia has already begun to diversify its economy and its economic relations from dependency to the extent it is now on Western Europe. And you will see more of an effort to establish deeper free trade, common market kind of relationships with the countries to its south and east, and to China. Sanctions will also force Russia to trade more with BRICS and emerging markets, and even borrow more from those markets. It will stimulate Russian industry and technology, as Russia reorients its defense sector out of the Ukraine; and, of course, we have the BRICS bank that has just been developed, which will assist Russian economic diversification. I think, you are going to see more trading, as well, with the Yuan and other currencies by Russia. So, all of that are examples of how Russia will turn and is turning already to develop economic relationships with the rest of the world more, and reducing its dependency on Europe. The US policy in the long-term is very short-sighted economically. The US, obviously, exacerbated the situation in the Ukraine early last year for political reasons. I think, there is going to be longer term economic costs to the Europeans, and some to the US, as a result of that short-sighted political strategy. I think you will see Russia diversify more, and develop more common market, and more trade relations with other areas, more banking relationships, more currency relationships. In the long-term it is probably good for the Russian economy – any diversification is always good.

Alternative Visions Radio Show– Union Veterans Speak On What To Do About ‘Labor’s Strategic Impasse’ – 08/30/14

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Jack Rasmus invites back union veteran guests he has interviewed over the past year for a roundtable discussion of ‘what can be done’ by union labor to break out of its strategic impasse of organizing-membership decline, collective bargaining, and political action. Jack provides a brief recap of Unions’ decline in membership, bargaining ineffectiveness, and political results in recent decades, and then turns the discussion over to union veterans to share their views’ on specifics on what should be done to reverse the strategic dead end for union labor today. Jack welcomes union veterans, with more than four decades of experience each: Steve Early, of the Communications Workers of America, Greg Shotwell of the United Autoworkers, and Jerry Gordon, of the United Food & Commercial Workers. They join together in a lively discussion of how union labor might resurrect itself, starting at the grass roots, by engaging in new ways of organizing, of bargaining, and new initiatives in independent political action.

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Dr. Jack Rasmus reviews his predictions for the US and global economy made June 2013 in Z magazine, and makes new predictions for the US and global economy for the coming 12 months. Review of 2013-14 include forecasts for global economic crisis recessions, US Federal Reserve policy, US tax legislation, housing recovery, manufacturing, jobs and wages, Europe’s bank and debt crises, China GDP, global trade, Japan’s Abenomics policy introduction, the convergence of capitalist policy worldwide, and the Ukraine economy (made in early 2013). For the coming year: Federal Reserve interest rates, US tax cuts, US stock and junk bond markets, Europe’s Central Bank and QE, Euro banking instability, wage compression and austerity policy in Europe, China stimulus, currency and challenges to the USA, the future of Japan’s Abenomics and instability in Emerging Market economies


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