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This editorial first appeared in the 2014 Holiday (Nov-Dec) issue of Vermont Woman.

by Linda Tarr-Whelan

 

Before my husband and I relocated to Burlington, Vermont a few years ago, I was deeply involved in national and international efforts to ensure that the experiences, skills and ideas of women do not go untapped. I have written and spoken globally about the benefits of balanced leadership, when a critical mass of women sits at power tables.

Internationally, the lesson that gender matters has been taken to heart. There is a growing movement to invest in empowering girls and women to increase growth and well-being. It is led by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, financial giants like Goldman Sachs with its 10,000 Women Initiative, governments across the globe (including our own), major foundations and many corporations.

As one example, the United Nations Women’s Empowerment Principles have now been adopted by almost 1,000 corporate CEOs who have personally endorsed the seven-point program to advance their companies by focusing on gender equality. In this country, investors – particularly large pension funds and sustainable investment mutual funds – are pressing the companies they invest in to join the effort. Extensive business research shows that gender equality is a smart bottom-line business strategy.

Local Surprises

So when we moved to Vermont, I expected that this state would be in the vanguard of efforts to promote economic development by making sure that all our home-grown talent has a chance to thrive. We were drawn to retire in Vermont for many reasons: the beauty everywhere, the great people, the local fresh food, the lively arts and college scene, and the state’s strong reputation as a progressive national leader. I’ve had a few surprises, and as a New Englander it wasn’t the long, cold winter.

What really set me back was reading the recent Enough Said report released by Vermont Works for Women. The study was based on focus groups and interviews with girls and young women from every corner of Vermont. It told a story of missed opportunities – for women and girls today, but also for Vermont’s future.

The statewide Task Force on Women and the Vermont Economy, which was formed to respond to the report, made solid recommendations for correcting the deficiencies that young women saw. Calling our report Change the Story, each member of the 29-person Task Force made an individual commitment to action, underscoring that moving the needle depends on all of us.

Here is what young women of Vermont stated that they needed to succeed—and felt was missing. First, career exploration and guidance was needed for them to move into non-traditional fields like STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). One student’s comment has stayed with me. She wondered how she could think about becoming an engineer or a mechanic if she had never used any tools.

In addition, the participants reported a deficit of personal finance skills to navigate the landscape of adult life including budgets, student loan debt and credit cards. And, last, the young women called for adult support to deal with rampant peer aggression and not push it under the rug as a teenage rite of passage. I asked our 16-year-old granddaughter who lives in Florida about peer aggression and she said, “Nana, that’s why most of my friends are boys, because there is no drama.”

Chilly Stat

I believe that the factors they identified are critical pivot points lying behind this cold statistic: Vermont women, across all ages and education levels, are more likely than men to live in poverty; they are a disproportionate share of our poor.

We know from the research why this is true. Recently, the Federal Reserve of Boston published an article that Tiffany Bluemle, executive director of Vermont Works for Women, and I co-wrote about investing in women and girls for economic growth in New England. Our article identified key reasons for this gender gap, such as limited assistance to help families balance family and work, including paid sick leave; minimum wages that have not kept up with inflation while two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women; and occupational segregation that clusters working women in just 20 percent of available careers.

I’ve been working with others on one aspect of changing the story to answer one important question raised by young Vermont women (also true for our young men): “How did I leave high school without understanding the basics around handling money?”

Champlain College’s Center on Financial Literacy has taken the lead on next steps to provide answers. Their national survey of 50 states last year gave Vermont a “D” on its financial literacy preparation for grades K-12.

Only seven of more than 60 high schools in the state require proficiency in personal finance for graduation. A committee of talented educators and experts is laying out a roadmap for the way forward, so stay tuned for the formal report which will be released by the end of this year.

Take Part

There are many ways for every woman to be part of the solution: to help and/or mentor girls and young women to have a better future and, at the same time, improve the potential for economic growth and stability in Vermont:

Check out the Vermont Works for Women website at http://www.vtworksforwomen.org to read the reports, sign up for peer aggression workshops, and learn practical ways to make a difference.

Parents and educators should ask school and supervisory union administrators what financial skills students will have when they graduate, and push for proficiency requirements.

Make sure the girls you know have a wide variety of career exposure experiences like the Women Can Do! annual conference, which last year drew 500 young women from across Vermont to meet with women in non-traditional careers.

For many years, the Ms. Foundation had a national “Take our Daughters to Work” campaign. Any business or community could make this real in Vermont and provide girls with a window into various options.

Make sure career nights at your school have lots of women role models—particularly in areas where women are under-represented—and that as many colleges and tech centers are present as possible.

Gender matters. Let’s work together for a healthy future for girls and young women and improve Vermont’s economy at the same time.

 

Linda Tarr-Whelan is the author of Women Lead the Way: Your Guide to Stepping Up to Leadership and Changing the World and is the former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women and Chair of the Task Force on Young Women and the Vermont Economy.

by Rickey Gard Diamond
This post first appeared in Vermont Woman, (Holiday, Nov/Dec) 2014. 

I remember when I decided I had to get my college degree: A working mom with three kids at the time, when I graduated I would owe about $8000, or in 1980, the equivalent of what I might pay for a car. I decided to invest in me, knowing the degree would open doors that would stay shut otherwise.
Remarried, about five years later I got bad news; my husband’s job was eliminated. We contacted all our creditors and arranged partial payment plans while he looked for employment. Everyone was understanding and nice—except one.
The ironically named People’s State Bank that held my student loans was nasty. I had faithfully all but repaid, but in response to my story, their man refused any half-measures and threatened penalties, or else. We paid them somehow the next few months.
And I still remember the satisfaction I felt, placing my last check payment inside an envelope I addressed to: The People’s State Bloodsuckers. Ever since, we’ve made it our practice to use local, community banks and credit unions.

How Much, Too Much
People’s State Bank became Pinnacle Bank became Civitas Bank became Citizens Bank of MidAmerica and is now the absurdly named Fifth Third Bank. Our era has given us overly complex bank upheavals.
And student bank loans have gotten much bigger and been used by an increasing number of students. A recent Senate hearing heard testimony that about eight banks dominate that market—shades of too-big-to-fail? Student debt nationwide now outranks our nation’s credit card debt for the first time, at over $1.2 trillion. A trillion is a thousand billions, each billion a thousand millions.
With universities running themselves like profit-seeking corporations, and more importantly with the nation’s state governments encouraging the trend by reducing state education funds, college costs for students have skyrocketed. The national college boards publish tuition trends at their website, and from 1990-91 until 2013-14, national tuition costs on average more than doubled. Family incomes did not.
Here in Vermont, 63 percent of our students now need loans. Part of that might have to do with UVM’s ranking seventh in the top ten most expensive state schools (U.S. News & World Report, Oct. 28, 2014). This year’s in-state tuition costs $16,226. (University of Pittsburgh came in first at $17,772.) Board members at UVM and your local legislator need to drive some back roads in Vermont and look around.
This year’s average Vermont student debt is $28,299. We rank #13 in debt amount nationally, and not all students finish. The Project on Student Debt says the national average debt of graduates is $29,400, and from 2008 to 2012, average debt of combined government and private loans grew by 6 percent a year. Since Vermont’s tuition is relatively high, we should assume future state grads will be looking at considerably more, not less, than the state average most recently reported.

Loan Zombies
The mean fellow I met at People’s Bank years ago might have gone on to work in Washington, D.C., because by 2005 the bankers’ lobby had successfully changed the bankruptcy law to make banks’ student loans “non-dischargeable.” Bankruptcy, the last-ditch chance that people have when bad things happen—when their health fails, or the economy crashes—goes back to ancient times and literal slavery or “jubilee,” the forgiving of debt. In modern times, debtor’s prison was replaced by a court of law that could find debts impossible to repay. But since 2005, declaring bankruptcy in court will not free you from student loans: Not even your death will free your poor co-signers from your debt obligation.
I think maybe this explains the appeal of all those zombie movies. You can’t kill these loans. You can’t buy a home or start a business with these loans. They turn you into the walking dead.

Equal Output
The American Association of University Women (AAUW) came out with a new study in July, adding new light to the issue for women, saying: “Although women and men pay the same tuition for higher education—and tend to take out the same amount in loans—women are more burdened by their student loan debt after graduation. Just one year after graduation, women are paid on average 82 cents for every dollar their male counterparts are paid,” an 18 percent wage gap.
Even controlling for factors like chosen major, type of job, number of hours worked each week, AAUW still found a 7 percent wage gap, no matter the field. They invited Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) to their study’s press conference, and she called it “a one-two punch…. Women take on big debts to go to college, but they have less money to pay off those debts.” http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2014/06/04/Female-senators-tie-college-loan-push-to-equal-pay/2071401890697/

That’s not even mentioning what happens later, should a female graduate be foolish enough to want to start a family. Without paid family leave or help with childcare costs, she’ll be a debtor further handicapped.

A Different Approach
But if we’ve been persuaded that banks lending money is the only way forward for education, then at least let it be the lending of our own money, set at an interest rate with terms we can control.
The only bank in the country now capitalized by its own state tax revenues, (and aimed at supporting local banks and employment) The Bank of North Dakota began offering state students a refinance rate of 5.34 percent fixed, or 1.73 percent variable (with interest not varying more than 1 percent a year). For students locked in at higher rates, refinance was a godsend.
But BND also sponsors and talks freely about four loan deferment programs, including for economic hardship and unemployment, and three loan forgiveness programs, the latter encouraging debt-reduced careers in teaching and STEM.
They offer scholarships awarded to the top fifth of their high school students who qualify and choose to attend school in North Dakota. Comparatively speaking, North Dakota’s tuitions are a bargain at $7,265 in 2014—at least partly because the BND returns dividends to the state’s general fund.
Quick. Somebody tell AAUW and Elizabeth Warren. Student debt is a woman’s issue—and public banking gives states a chance to revive education and a future. Local legislators should look to this state solution.

Rickey Gard Diamond is editor of Vermont Woman and is on the board of The Public Banking Institute.

Eros was Gaia's sexy counterpoint in the beginning, not baby Cupid. Gaia created the earth, said the Greeks.

Eros was Gaia’s sexy counterpoint in the beginning, not baby Cupid. Gaia created the earth, said the Greeks.

I’ll  be presenting my Eros theory of the economy at the Gross National Happiness Conference at UVM in Burlington, Vermont, on May 29 & 30. I’m one of many dozens of presenters, and it looks like two (or four) great days focused on creating a movement. Learn about economics for passionate people and the planet. And then visit the Discover Jazz Festival in Burlington, a short walk away.

My workshop aims to empower those intimidated by economics. I devised a basic primer during my work with adult students as a professor of liberal studies at Vermont College; while my training is in writing and literature, I was concerned about language that shapes our thinking about economics, while mystifying it.

Literature’s powerful stories are often entwined with changing perceptions of value and money. As a journalist I have frequently written about economic policies and the persistent poverty of women; I’ve published a novel, Second Sight that examines the uses of violence, including economic violence, to control us. Women in particular tend to be intimidated and avoid economics. Yet few of either gender relishes admitting to what isn’t understood in a climate of experts’ mystifying language.

Gross National Happiness as a counter to the Gross National Product had long been part of my presentations at colleges and conferences. I’m excited about Genuine Progress Indicators recently being added to Vermont’s measures of how we’re doing, and the development of public banking. There’s much to celebrate when you understand what’s at stake and how many are already proposing new paths to a happier future.

Using images,  I’ll show blind spots in male-dominated economic thinking, especially one big omission—biology—ours and the earth’s. I love to deconstruct economics, and have fun unlocking the subject through language and story.

For instance, the earliest creation story of the Greeks said the goddess Gaia created the earth and its life. And next came Eros whose ability to inspire passion and love assured life would continue.  The ecological Gaia theory is now widely recognized: we have “green economists.” But  I argue that Eros must not be forgotten as Gaia’s counterpart.

Eros is defined in the dictionary as sexual and creative drive, but also as “the sum of all instincts for self-preservation.” What might Eros mean to Gaia and our monetary economy? How might we reshape conversations about the economic realm? Is the economy really a war? Or, like our planet Gaia, a complex, self-regulating organism engaged in many sexy exchanges—our actual lives the real bottom line?

Check out the schedule for a two full days of learning–and have fun doing it. Come help build a movement, along with other terrifically happy and inventive, passionate people who care about our planet and all of its lifek–including yours! Here’s the link to what’s happening–register and please pass the news along.

http://www.gnh2014.com

Vermont Woman won its first national award for Rickey Gard Diamond’s investigative series.

The National Newspaper Association, the nation’s largest press association, established in 1885, conducts annual contests for U.S. newspapers’ best writing. Writing is judged by a panel of experienced newspaper editors and journalism professors. This year, for the first time, Vermont Woman was recognized out of a field of 2349 entries; only 135 newspapers in 36 states won awards, and Vermont Woman is honored to be among them. Here’s what judges said:

Vermont Woman, South Hero, VT

3rd place, Best Investigative or InDepth Story or Series, Nondaily Division, circulation 10,000 or more.

Making the Economy Our Own—Measuring a Successful Economy by WellBeing not Wealth, Rickey Gard Diamond. Judges’ Comments: “This series of articles, written for a specific community of readers, considers an alternative approach to our nation’s economic indicator reporting and to the overall structure of our economy. It is notable for its breadth and for its use of atypical sources.”

Contributing editor, Rickey Gard Diamond, wrote the series and began serving as the paper’s editor in Dec. 2011. She wishes to thank her sources, especially economist Stephanie Seguino, Ellen Brown of the Public Banking Institute, GNH-USA, author Gwen Hallsmith, and former-editor Margaret Michniewicz for her support, and also Suzanne Gillis, the paper’s publisher, and Jan Doerler, whose production team always takes such great care with its writers.

Diamond says, “Atypical sources, in this case, means women—who are often omitted from economic thinking, along with Mother Nature. To receive this kind of award for writing about this difficult subject—and to have made the economy a little more understandable for women and anyone who seeks new solutions—is very encouraging.” Here are links to her six award-winning articles:

(Nov/Dec 2010) Making the Economy Our Own (Part I):

The Most Important Thing Women Need to Know

http://www.vermontwoman.com/articles/1110/economy.shtml

(Feb/March 2011) Making the Economy Our Own (Part 2):

Measuring Well-Being, not Wealth

https://gaiaeros.com/2012/08/13/making-the-economy-our-own-part-2-counting-mother-nature-and-your-momma-in-the-economy/

(April/May 2011) Making the Economy Our Own (Part 3):

The Growing Care Crisis

http://www.vermontwoman.com/articles/0411/economy.shtml

(June, July, Aug 2011) Making the Economy Our Own (Part 4):

Dollars, Dollars, Everywhere and Not a Cent to Spare

http://www.vermontwoman.com/articles/0611/money.shtml

(Sept/Oct. 2011) Making the Economy Our Own (Part 5):

The Federal Reserve and Dollars on the Make

https://gaiaeros.com/2012/08/13/making-the-economy-our-own-the-federal-reserve-and-dollars-on-the-make/

(Nov/Dec. 2011) Making the Economy Our Own (Part 6)

Avoiding Another Jackass Monetary Crisis: http://www.vermontwoman.com/articles/1111/monetary.shtml

This article first appeared in Vermont Woman, Feb/March 2011.

Editor’s note: Last month we examined the growing inequality of income in our country and the world and some of the reasons for it. This month, we look more closely at new national and state measures that could make a difference in how we think about economic “progress.”

Linda Wheatley of Montpelier and Ginny Sassaman, from Maple Corner in Calais, live in comfortable middle-class homes in small, closely connected communities—and in a state less affected by the Great Recession than most of the rest of the country.  So why do these two Vermont women, both mothers and self-taught economic thinkers, want to help transform the heart of our current economy?

“We literally ‘bumped’ into each other, out running,” explains Ginny about their initial accidental meeting. Linda, who had directed leadership programs with Vermont’s Snelling Center for Government, and Ginny, a trained mediator, found they were reading similar books; they had similar “weird” interests. Both had learned of Bhutan, a tiny country in the Himalayas, whose young king had declared in 1972 that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product.”  More used to the U.S. economy’s depressions and recessions, they were excited to wonder.  Was there another path?

What exactly was the Gross National Product? It seemed important they learn. The two women formed a small study group that met weekly in Ginny’s kitchen. Within a year, they and a small group of like-minded recruits had named themselves Gross National Happiness-USA and organized an international conference held at Burlington College in Sept. of 2010.

Attended by 120 people interested in similar questions, the conference was sponsored by diverse players, including Vermont’s Peace Academy, the Vermont Community Foundation, the Gund Institute for Environmental Economics , Winooski Hydro. National Life Insurance, the Peace and Justice Center and the Morrell Family Foundation. With help from Tom Barefoot of Universal Microsystems in Waitsfield, another kitchen-table economist, they created a new webpage to make connections with others interested in a happier economic system. http://www.gnhusa.org/

The organization’s name, Gross National Happiness (GNH-USA), both echoes and challenges our country’s main economic measurement. Not only Linda and Ginny, but a growing number of economists worldwide, have come to believe the national accounting system has badly misled us. While numbers grow exponentially without limit, the earth’s resources remain finite. “For me, it’s urgent,” said Ginny. The present economic system is chewing up the environment….our children and grandchildren will pay a big price if we don’t find something that can resonate with people. People intuitively respond to the idea of happiness.”

Yet the necessity of “growth” to work an economy is at the heart of the GNP’s economic assumptions. It is a heart one might rightfully call black, because GNP counts nothing but money. And it counts money not at all in the way you might in your own checkbook. Eric Zencey, of Montpelier, a history and politics professor with Empire State, also took part in that Calais kitchen group and now serves on the board of GNH. At the fall conference, he explained the Gross National Product (GNP) literally adds up every dollar spent in the U.S., even the ones most of us would count as a debit.

If it costs someone money, then it counts as a plus in GNP. By contrast, work done out of integrity or love, as a caring family member, or a community volunteer, doesn’t count. The GNP cares only about money and it never ever subtracts. For example, cleaning up Katrina’s disaster, rebuilding, expending emergency help, rescuing, all counted as a boon to the GNP. Likewise, the high U.S. prison-incarceration rate raises GNP, though most Americans would tend to believe the cost of the highest incarceration rate among advanced industrial nations indicates some sort of social dysfunction. Shouldn’t it be a debit?

“Imagine doing this with your checkbook,” said Zencey at the organization’s first conference in Burlington last fall:  “Your paycheck is a deposit; but so is your mortgage bill and your electric bill—just add it all up like they’re all a plus. That’s what GDP does. It measures the commotion of money.”

That in itself is crazy. But wait a minute. Did Zencey just say G-D-P? What happened to GNP?

They’re related. GDP stands for Gross Domestic Product, another term used in national accounting systems, and used much more commonly than GNP since the 1990s. Nobel-prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz explained the change from GNP to GDP to an audience in NYC in 2008. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUaJMNtW6GA

I’ll paraphrase: While GNP measures the incomes of the people of any nation, GDP more neatly measures the nation’s aggregate product. It leaves out the details of income disparities between the rich and the poor. In the 1990s it became clear economic activity in a nation didn’t necessarily stay in a nation. GDP became the more favored number. In some cases, the GDP of a nation can go up, while the incomes of most people go down.

Here in the U.S. since 1980, the GDP per capita income has gone up 67%, but the median income has gone up only 15%.  Most of our aggregate gains have gone to the wealthiest 10% of Americans, and the same is true of China, now the second largest economy, with a median income ranking 62nd . So there is a political edge to these national accounting issues. It doesn’t pay to remain ignorant of them.

IN THE RED

Linda and Ginny and their kitchen cabinet set out to discover how an economy in the black works. But more importantly, they also wanted to learn how economies can operate in the red—meaning not the red of accounting books’ debits, not the red of yours and my checkbooks—but the living red color of human hearts. What is an economy for, after all, if not for people’s well-being?

They learned they were not alone in asking this question. Economic thinkers all over the world are arguing a large change in our point of view is needed. They found themselves in alliance not only with the King of Bhutan, who has created a whole government department for measuring his country’s happiness, but with the conservative President of France, Nicholas Sarkozy. Sarkozy appointed two Nobel-prize-winning economists, Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen, to devise new measurement methods this year, a report published in December of 2010. http://www.stiglitz-sen-fitoussi.fr/en/index.htm

Interestingly, the commission included recognition of the suspicion of “official statistics” for many of us:

[T]here often seems to be a marked distance between standard measures of important socio economic variables like economic growth, inflation, unemployment, etc. and widespread perceptions. The standard measures may suggest, for instance, that there is less inflation or more growth than individuals perceive to be the case, and the gap is so large and so universal that it cannot be explained by reference to money illusion or to human psychology. In some countries, this gap has undermined confidence in official statistics (for example, in France and in the United Kingdom. only one third of citizens trust official figures, and these countries are not exceptions), with a clear impact on the way in which public discourse about the conditions of the economy and necessary policies takes place.

GDP’s reports of “growth” in the face of continued job loss, dropping home values and shrinking retirement funds turns citizens into cynics.  Stiglitz commented on why expansion of national measurements and greater transparency would make a difference shortly before he headed up the French commission, saying: “The reason I’m interested in this subject is that accounting affects behavior. In the 1990s, we had bad accounting and as a result we had bad behavior. Information affects behavior. It affects what we strive for.”

Similarly Ginny and Linda talked about the ways we can’t see, until we start measuring. Linda said it neatly, “What you measure is what you get,” and Ginny illustrated what she meant in personal terms. “When gas prices went up, all of a sudden, we were all interested in seeing what cars got better gas mileage. We looked at the stickers on cars. When I go on a diet, I start looking at calories and the labels on food packages measure how well I am doing.  That can help guide my decisions.”

Different data gathering could help state and national decision-making.  GNH-USA has adopted “four pillars” of commitment, similar to Bhutan’s. These are: equitable and sustainable socio-economic development; the preservation and promotion of cultural values; the conservation of the natural environment; and good governance. Some data is already being gathered in these areas, but thinking more systematically about cooperation and a goal of happiness for Vermonters could expand that data base and give a fuller picture to apply to state and national policy-making. (See sidebar for how Vermont and others are already gathering data.)

For now, GNH is organizing working groups, aimed at sharing what they’ve learned. They also would welcome facilitating what they’re calling, “Happiness Circles,” aimed at simply getting people together to talk about what it means for them. “We’d love for people to get in touch with us, and be involved however they can,” said Linda. “We’re hoping that this path into economics will appeal to women, too.”

“One of the things I find personally rewarding,” admitted Ginny, “is just thinking more about happiness. I’m not so sure we know that much about it.”

Perhaps we haven’t been encouraged or reminded to think about it often. We take for granted Thomas Jefferson’s bold argument for our American right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  The last important American politician to bring GNP’s absurdity to Americans’ attention for change was Robert Kennedy in 1968.  Kennedy spoke at the University of Kansas, saying:

“[For too long] we seem to have surrendered community excellence and community values to the mere accumulation of material things. Our gross national product—if we should judge America by that—counts air pollution and cigarette advertising, and ambulances to clear our highways of carnage. It counts special locks for our doors and the jails for those who break them. It counts the destruction of our redwoods and the loss of our natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts napalm and the cost of a nuclear warhead, and armored cars for police who fight riots in our streets. It counts Whitman’s rifle and Speck’s knife*, and the television programs which glorify violence in order to sell toys to our children. (*note: Charles Whitman, a student at the University of Texas killed 16 people from a tower on campus in 1966; that same year Richard Speck murdered eight nurses.)

“Yet the gross national product does not allow for the health of our children, the quality of their education, or the joy of their play. It does not include the beauty of our poetry or the strength of our marriages; the intelligence of our public debate or the integrity of our public officials. It measures neither our wit nor our courage; neither our wisdom nor our learning; neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country: it measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it tells us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans.”

Without much media attention, the state of Maryland recently adopted new accounting measures called the GPI, or Genuine Progress Index. They will gather wider data on the well-being of its citizens and natural resources and their measures will include women’s and men’s non-monetized work now impossible to see and value.

“Women have willingly gone the uneconomic path,” mused Ginny as our interview closed, “because taking care of people, children, the elderly, is emotionally such satisfying work.”

“Women traditionally live longer, too,” answered Linda. “I wonder what we might find about correlations between longevity and happiness?”

In other words, GNH-USA hopes to see Vermont join Maryland in asking some interesting questions, and lead our nation in a more inspired, creative and happy economic direction.

Contributing editor, Rickey Gard Diamond, lives and writes in Montpelier. In 2008, she presented on economic language at NOW’s Conference for Women’s Economic Empowerment in Atlanta. 

Want to find out more?

Bhutan has made happiness its economic goal since 1972. The Centre for Bhutan Studies has made the country’s statistical methodologies available at conferences and a website. This link discusses indicators, or how information can be gathered to reveal changes over time.  http://www.grossnationalhappiness.com/screeningTools/screeningTools.aspx

Our neighbor Canada has become a leader in the west for gathering a wider range of economic data. Not bold enough to hope for happiness, they have created a database they call the Canadian Index of Wellbeing; “Measuring What Matters.” Visit their web page to see the areas of data-gathering they’re examining; Britain begins a project this year.  http://www.ciw.ca/en/WellbeingAroundTheWorld.aspx

The Gund Institute at UVM, under the leadership of Robert Constanza, has already conducted a study of Burlington and Chittenden Country (from 1950-2000) and estimated its status using the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI), the methodology which Maryland adopted in 2010. It was published in 2004 in Ecological Economics to demonstrate the feasibility of such analysis even at a local level.  http://www.uvm.edu/giee/

The state of Maryland is the first state to adopt the Genuine Progress Index (GPI) as an additional measure to augment GDP. Here’s how it works.  http://www.green.maryland.gov/mdgpi/whatisthegpi.asp

In December Britain’s conservative Prime Minister David Cameron charged the Office of National Statistics to begin collecting data on well-being. The New Economics Foundation, based in Britain, has long urged this, and twice compiled reports they call The Happy Planet Index, examining 143 countries and 99% of the world’s population.  As Time Magazine reported: “How does the U.S. fare in HPI terms? Not so good. It sits pretty far down the list at 114. The U.K. is 74, behind Germany, Italy and France. Topping the chart is Costa Rica, which has long life expectancy, high life satisfaction, and a per capita ecological footprint one-fourth the size of the U.S.”

Read more: http://www.time.com/time/business/article/0,8599,1957746,00.html#ixzz19nv11RVo

Or go directly to the source:  http://www.happyplanetindex.org/

The U. S. has funded new statistics as well, though its politics raise questions. On page 562 of Obama’s Healthcare bill is a provision for Congress to oversee development of 300 “key national indicators.”  On Dec. 16, Congress appointed an 8-member commission with backgrounds ranging from conservative politics to preventative medicine. The commission will collaborate with the Academy of Sciences in a “public-private partnership,” using $70 million of our tax-dollars, yet only one woman, Marta Tienda, a sociology professor from Princeton, will serve and they’ll use private funds as well. Called The State of the USA, this not-exactly grass roots or woman-populated effort is expected to post indicators this summer.  http://www.stateoftheusa.org/  Will they include Mother Nature and Your Momma?

(This article first appeared in Vermont Woman, Sept/Oct 2011)

My education about money began with my high school trip to Washington, D.C., where I learned that the U.S. Mint stamps our coins and the Bureau of Engraving prints big sheets of our government’s money. But who places the order for printing those dollars? Who tells them how many to print?

If you look more closely at George Washington in your own wallet, you’ll find the explanation. You’ll also learn why there’s never enough. Your dollar bill is labeled a Federal Reserve Note. Who, or what, is the Federal Reserve?

The Fed is the U.S. central bank in charge of our monetary policy. Created by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, the Fed is actually our third central bank; our currency was the subject of much debate until the 20th century. The Federal Reserve System now works hand in glove with the U.S. Treasury. Think of the Federal Reserve as our nation’s banker. It’s where we, the people, represented by our Treasury, deposit our tax payments to the government, and where the Treasury writes out checks to pay for government business. Simple enough.

NOT.

SIDEBAR: What does the U.S. Treasury do?

The Department of the Treasury manages federal finances, currency and coins; collects monies due to the U.S. and pays all its bills; manages Government accounts and the public debt; supervises national banks and thrift institutions; advises on domestic and international trade and tax, financial, monetary and economic policy; enforces Federal finance and tax laws; investigates and prosecutes tax evaders, counterfeiters and forgers.

Our Treasury hasn’t always worked in tandem with a central bank. Presidents Jefferson and Jackson believed a private central bank was dangerous and worked to end them. Abraham Lincoln wanted a central bank, but issued Greenbacks directly from the Treasury to win the Civil war. Greenbackers lost later elections to supporters of the Federal Reserve Act. John F. Kennedy was the last President to issue a currency directly from the Treasury – in the form of silver certificates.

The Board of the Federal Reserve, five Governors in all, is appointed by the President for terms of 14 years. Its current chairman is Ben Bernanke. But the Federal Reserve is far more than one bank, or one board. It is a system of 12 regional banks, all privately owned, overseeing other private banks. This system serves as your bank’s banker, too.

The most powerful regional bank is the New York Federal Reserve. When the 2008 bailout was proposed late in George W. Bush’s term of office, Tim Geithner at the New York Fed sat next to then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson when those deals were cut to save Wall Street banks. Now Geithner has moved over one seat and taken Paulson’s place, while the man at his side, William Dudley, took Geithner’s place. All three men worked first with Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank often nicknamed “Government Sachs.” They call this “continuity.”

 (Editor’s note: In 2008, Stephen Friedman, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, was given a waiver to chair the board of the New York Fed without giving up his job at another investment company. He was forced to resign when he made $3 million on his Goldman shares with a single insider phone call.)

 The Federal Reserve describes itself as “an independent entity within the government, having both public purposes and private aspects.” It is supposed to keep bank meltdowns from happening, setting the interest rate for all the nation’s banks. It also makes money available to banks at a discount when needed. Despite its official-sounding name, the Fed’s purpose is to create a profit for its banks’ shareholders. They are in business, not government, interested in profit, not public service.

In 1997, the largest shareholders of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York were Chase Manhattan Bank, Citibank and Morgan Guaranty Trust Company. Citibank belongs to the Rockefellers, and the Morgan fortune has run Wall Street since the turn of the 20th century. J.P. Morgan is the gentleman caricatured in your Monopoly game with a mustache and monocle. Monopoly gaming continues on Wall Street. In 2000 Morgan and Chase merged into mega-big Morgan Chase. In 2008, Citibank was bought by Bank of America, growing even larger, and in 2009, another Morgan arm, Morgan Stanley, bought up Smith Barney. These are all global investment brokerage banks.

That word global matters. The New York Fed’s board works to deliver profits – most often in developing countries, not here. Yet the New York Fed enjoys a particularly close relationship with the U.S. Treasury. By contrast, the government is not a shareholder in the Federal Reserve System. The system’s complexities mask an insider setup for enhancing private fortunes. At the end of 2010, the Fed’s 12 reserve banks held $2.4 trillion in government debt, mortgage-backed securities and other investments, according to a combined financial statement it published in March 2011.

 A BANK BY ANY OTHER NAME REMAINS A BANK

The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury print money only after the Fed first conducts “open market operations.” This means it auctions government “securities,” a broad name for Treasury bills, notes and bonds. These are all names for “loans” of varying lengths of time, but unlike loans, bonds can be traded worldwide, a global commodity.

The Fed’s own website acknowledges the New York Fed plays “a unique role.” All the “open market operations” – the buying and selling of U.S. government securities to influence money and credit conditions in the global economy – are carried out by the New York Fed. When the U.S. Treasury decides to “intervene in the foreign exchange market, it is the New York Fed that carries out the intervention.” (Foreign exchange markets and the dollar’s devaluation was the subject of the previous article in this Vermont Woman series.)

The New York Fed conducts daily conference calls with “primary dealers” (think Goldman Sachs), after which they call in the Treasury in Washington. Then, depending on who wins the daily 10-minute auction, the Fed credits the accounts of its commercial member banks, and our Treasury agrees to pay them interest on the bonds, or money they have lent us.

Your dollar bills are literally “bills,” created as “credit.” The back side of credit is debt. Our dollars come into circulation through a global credit card minus the plastic.

“Purchasing bonds” is a fancy way of saying those “primary dealers” just arranged to broker our debt, sold to the highest bidder; in the old days, Goldman Sachs might have received a certificate of the “bond,” or an agreement that “binds” the debtor. (The word “bondage,” a form of indentured slavery, grows from the same root.) So our Treasury is held by its bonds, purchased by the highest bidder and then traded around the world. Only then can dollars be printed as “notes.” A note is another word for debt.

Am I sure about this? When I first learned about this currency sleight of hand, I didn’t believe it could be true. I would fact-check and discover in what way it was wrong. But all the economists I read, and the Federal Reserve itself, confirmed that we live with this indebted system of money creation. Money created out of debt can only be paid by expanding the economy in future, further exploiting Mother Nature on a global scale, and laboring ever more to pay back the principal, plus interest added on.

No wonder there is never “enough.”

MAYBE MONEY DOES GROW ON TREES

My initial disbelief found credibility in a similar reaction from a Texas Representative elected in 1929, the year of the Great Crash. For 40 years, Wright Patman chaired the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Banking and Currency, and for 20 of those years, he sought to repeal the Federal Reserve System. The Congressional Record of the House of Representatives (pages 7582-7583) records his September 29, 1941 speech. Compare his plain-spoken words to the mysterious mumblings of Allan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke at the Fed.

When our Federal Government, that has the exclusive power to create money, creates that money and then goes into the open market and borrows it and pays interest for the use of its own money, it occurs to me that that is going too far. I have never yet had anyone who could, through the use of logic and reason, justify the Federal Government borrowing the use of its own money… I am saying to you in all sincerity, and with all the earnestness that I possess, it is absolutely wrong for the Government to issue interest-bearing obligations. It is not only wrong: it is extravagant. It is not only extravagant, it is wasteful. It is absolutely unnecessary… I believe the time will come when people will demand that this be changed. I believe the time will come in this country when they will actually blame you and me and everyone else connected with this Congress for sitting idly by and permitting such an idiotic system to continue. I make that statement after years of study.

All of this feels shocking, but here’s something even more amazing. The money, which our banks loan out, doesn’t actually exist in a vault somewhere, as you might have assumed from the name Federal Reserve. Instead it is created on the accounting books, as a “fiat” currency. Fiat means something like Captain Picard’s command on Star Trek: “Make it so” – although banks possess no holodeck, only the power Congress has given them.

A booklet published by the Chicago Federal Reserve in the1960s, “Modern Money Mechanics,” puts it simply: “The actual process of money creation takes place primarily in banks… Banks do not really pay out loans from the money they receive as deposits. If they did this, no additional money would be created.”

Ellen Brown explains, in her wonderfully readable book Web of Debt, that contrary to popular belief, loans become deposits, rather than the reverse. You might feel like Alice in Wonderland reading this, going through the looking glass where everything is backwards. But the Fed’s own booklet says it too: “Banks can build up deposits by increasing loans… so long as they keep enough currency on hand to redeem whatever amounts the holders of deposits want to convert into currency. This unique attribute of the banking business was discovered many centuries ago. It started with goldsmiths…”

Europeans traded in gold and silver coins, Brown reveals. These were hard to transport and could be stolen unless locked up. So goldsmiths offered safes and provided paper receipts for the stored gold. These eventually came to be traded, easier to handle than cartloads of bullion. Over time, goldsmiths noticed only a few people at any one time came back to get their gold. So they began loaning it out many times over, though it wasn’t theirs, by keeping only a fraction on reserve for those who might come for it. Naturally, they got rich pretty quickly. They also got used to loaning out what wasn’t really there.

Wealthy goldsmiths soon gained legal sanction for their “fractional reserves,” becoming bankers. Bankers gained not only the right to charge interest for their issues of paper receipts for more gold than they had, but eventually a monopoly on issuing national currencies, as first happened in England in 1694.

If you’re wondering why a nation needs to “borrow” its currency, why it can’t just issue the money it needs, you’re not the first. You have, in fact, hit on a long-standing historical argument in the U.S., beginning with the Revolution, Shay’s Rebellion and the abolishment of two central banks. In the shadow of the Great Depression, just 16 years after the Federal Reserve System was installed to prevent banking crashes—unsuccessfully—Wright Patman called out a Governor of the Federal Reserve Board, Marinner Eccles. He asked him to explain how the Federal Reserve got its money.

“We created it,” Eccles answered.

“Out of what?”

“Out of the right to issue credit money…That is what our money system is. If there were no debts in our money system, there wouldn’t be any money.”

This helps throw light on that debt ceiling argument in Congress. Private fortunes and other central banks lend us “their” money and charge us interest for using our own dollars. Web of Debt author Brown explains that the federal debt hasn’t been paid off since the presidency of Andrew Jackson nearly two centuries ago. Since the Treasury no longer issues certificates backed by silver or gold or even interest-free greenbacks, our debt is really just another name for our country’s money supply. I hate saying it, but Dick Cheney may have been right when he said the federal debt doesn’t really matter – though surely it matters what we choose to go into hock for, and to whom we are bonded and owe added interest.

SIDEBAR: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been at the forefront of demanding more accountability from the Federal Reserve. He helped win the recent move to audit the Fed, and thanks to an amendment he added to the recent Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Protection Act, the Fed is now required to be less secretive in its “interventions,” which are handled exclusively by the New York Fed. In April, under the new rule, Sanders discovered they had bailed out the Bank of Libya: a troubling revelation in the face of our military conflict there. He said, “It is incomprehensible to me that while creditworthy small businesses in Vermont and throughout the country could not receive affordable loans, the Federal Reserve was providing tens of billions of dollars in credit to a bank that is substantially owned by the Central Bank of Libya.”

NEW IDEAS WITH OLD VALUES

Despite what my high school visit to Washington taught me, most of our currency is never printed; it’s electronically entered in banks’ accounting books. Even post-2008, few Americans understand that the Federal Reserve System is only backed by private accounting numbers and our indebtedness. Vermont’s Senator, Bernie Sanders, has begun to unveil the secrecy of this system, by demanding an audit by the Government Accountability Office; in late July, the GAO found not only the $700 billion bailout we heard about on the news, but behind the scenes what Sanders called “a jaw-breaking $16 trillion in financial assistance to some of the biggest financial institutions and corporations in the world.”

A growing number of reformists on the left and the right hold this present monetary system at least partly responsible for the upward sweep of money to a very privileged clique at the top of that economic pyramid on your dollar bill. With a currency created out of debt to the richest global fortunes, consider that eyeball looking at you as “truth in lending.” Only a pyramid scheme could create a national currency out of everlasting debt and a misnamed façade to give the public false impressions. It’s still hard to believe, I know, so go ahead and do your own fact-checking.

We’ll never know what would have happened if Wall Street had been left to fend for itself in 2008. In history, the wealthiest banks and its patrons have generally been protected by nations. A fascinating recent book, The Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed, brings to life those global central bankers behind events we generally think of as political. It shows how the Great Depression grew out of World War I reparations, negotiated by financial elites in Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. These men knew each other well and often worked together, though more often they each sought to come out as the nation on top.

This biographical account of macroeconomics shows a privileged and exclusive male world where private fortunes finance nations, and where “meltdowns” and failures can bring nations to their knees with resulting violence. Its history is littered with frauds, scandals, and suicides over fortunes lost, and it becomes clear Hitler’s rhetoric could only enter the mainstream of Germany when its middle class had been decimated by punishing payments of debts too high to pay. The cost of the urge to come out “on top” did not accrue to nations’ central bankers, but to their nations’ people, who suffered hardships and the viciousness of hatred and war.

Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke’s tight relationship with Wall Street must help in those daily market operations with “primary dealers,” now grown bigger than ever with taxpayer help. We can’t know, of course, because minutes of meetings at the Fed are still not public. Until recently, Americans paid little attention, put to sleep by the mumbling drone of the Fed’s evasions. There are signs of more Americans waking up – including women with new dollar dreams to tell us about.

NEXT TIME: TAKING BACK OUR DOLLARS HERE IN VERMONT

For further reading on:

Sanders and the Fed

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-bernie-sanders/a-real-jaw-dropper-at-the_b_791091.html

The Fed’s Profits

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/business/economy/23fed.html?_r=2&ref=business

The New York Federal Reserve Bank and Open Market Operations

http://www.newyorkfed.org/aboutthefed/fedpoint/fed32.html

Ellen Brown’s Web of Debt

http://www.webofdebt.com/

Wright Patman

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_Patman

The Great Seal on Your Dollar

Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance

http://www.economist.com/node/12884939?story_id=12884939

Photos of the Fed http://www.federalreserve.gov/generalinfo/virtualtour/photos.cfm?WhichSlide=1

The National Coalition for Men projects its fears on imaginary women.

This editorial first appeared in Vermont Woman, Summer 2012 (Vol.5, No.7/8)

Vermonters fresh out of winter hibernation feel a natural inclination to smell the flowers and have some fun. And given the joys of this summer issue of Vermont Woman—we’re going to Paris, and out on the Waterfront, and biking in the mountains—I so hoped to leave behind the hoary frosts of my heart. But Republicans keep appearing in my nightmares—I, who have voted Republican in the past, when Republicans included the likes of Jim Jeffords. Republicans were formerly our allies, when the Violence Against Women Act first became law in 1994, and when it was reauthorized twice in the past. But somehow this year VAWA became “controversial.”

The bill passed the U.S. Senate with important new provisions to protect immigrant women, Native American women and LGBT victims; Republican women voted for it and helped the bill pass. Meanwhile, Concerned Women of America, a far-right religious lobby founded by Beverly LaHaye, expressed grave concern over the dangers of what it called, “Leahy’s bill.” CWA pointed out that our state’s senior senator had been behind many of the inclusive changes—which made me proud of Leahy, and of us for electing him.

Wrong Worries

Apparently CWA feared that any provision that acknowledged the right of a lesbian to be as safe as a hetero would somehow undermine the sacred bond of marriage, especially when you were an immigrant woman, or a Native American woman married to a white man. It’s hard to see the connections, until you remember denial, and notice that Phyllis Schlafley’s Eagle Forum brought out its arguments, too, smelling of moth balls and crocheted doilies.

Did these ultraconservative women mention violent men who stomp on “sacred,” and an American culture that glamorizes violence? No, I don’t think so, but they did claim that the bill the Senate passed would strengthen “the feminist power structure,” by which I suppose they mean women who refuse to be doormats.

When the bill reached the U.S. House, Republican leadership stripped it of Leahy’s inclusionary improvements, and passed a new version that Democrats such as veteran U.S. Rep. John Conyers called, “a flat-out attack on women.” By this, he meant not only the women who are victims of violence, but a generation of volunteer and professional women who have sheltered and counseled them.

Conyers said in The Hill, “The truth is that this could have been a bipartisan bill, just as it has been in two prior reauthorizations. For nearly a year, we conferred with our Republican and Democratic colleagues in the House and Senate. This bipartisan group worked with survivors, advocates, and law enforcement officers from across the country and identified what programs were working and what could be improved. However, the Republican House Leadership decided to introduce a measure that ignored nearly all of these negotiations and turned their back on hundreds of organizations.”

Wrong Organizations

The Republicans chose to embrace other organizations, however, and women should know about them. In addition to CWA and the Eagle Forum, the National Coalition of Men had demanded “gender-inclusive language” for the law, despite VAWA’s name and its intended mission. Apparently the coalition found that a bill focused on women, and stopping violence against them, went too far. It demanded “accountability measures” in response to “fraud and abuse,” though it presented no evidence or testimony to support its call for “needed reform.”

When I went to NCM’s website, curious about it, I discovered its lead article for that day praised Dominique Strauss-Kahn. He is suing for damages for all he “suffered” when charged by New York officials with attempted rape of a maid who had cleaned his hotel room. Strauss-Kahn, former head of the International Monetary Fund, and a potential candidate for the presidency of France, faced disgrace when other charges by other women in France came in. But, said the author of the NCM article, Strauss-Kahn was making a comeback, and “It’s about time!”

Author Eric Ross, “Ph.D.,” celebrated Strauss-Kahn’s courage, but mostly his having the money to pursue a court case, which most similarly abused men cannot afford, you see. The long article is accompanied by a cartoon illustration of four shapely and crafty-looking models with the headline, “Women of Golddigger.” The frequency of false accusations by women underlies the article’s assumptions, as does the natural proclivity of women—especially immigrant women of color—to enrich themselves at men’s expense.

http://ncfm.org/2012/05/action/ncfm-acting-new-york-president-eric-ross-ph-d-article-dsk-sues-for-false-allegations-its-about-time-somebody-did/

Here is a quote from the article, which also manages to defame Catherine MacKinnon, the legal scholar who first made it possible for women to sue for sexual harassment on the job. Ross doesn’t bother to spell her name correctly, and then he misquotes her.

Ross claims: “We simply may not, cannot have false allegations of rape in America, because our most esteemed legal scholars, such as Katharine A. MacKinnon [sic], have told our lawmakers ‘any heterosexual sex is rape of a woman.’ So, evidence does not count, as long as the woman says it is rape….”

Stay Posted

The petulant horror of this allegation, so sophomoric in its methods and tone, hardly seems to warrant an adult response—until you realize Republicans in our elected Congress just gave this organization and its claims legislative credence.  To take women out of the Violence Against Women Act in the name of “equity” requires that you minimize men’s real and criminal violence, documented in crime reports, and that you discount identification with women’s lives and their accounts.

One of the rejected amendments to the House version sought inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in its provisions.  A 2010 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, had found nearly 45 percent of LGBT domestic violence survivors were turned away by a shelter and 54 percent of LGBT survivors seeking an order of protection were denied help. The final bill left them out—along with immigrant and Native American women.

NCM trumpeted its victory with a news release: “House Approves Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the version that really can help all people and put the lid on corruption.”  The question is just which “all people” do Republicans mean to help? And whose “corruption” should we voters question? Stay posted for developments as a still male-dominated Congress hammers out a law and threats of more budget cuts.

This editorial first appeared in Vermont Woman, April/May 2012 (Vol. 8 No. 5/6 ).

Loretta Preska, a Bush-appointed federal judge, will have a special place in hell. I speak of the place that former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reserved for a woman who didn’t help other women.

Justice Preska in late 2011 ruled against “family work-life balance” in a class action suit against Bloomberg, L.P., the financial media giant owned by New York’s mayor. Nevermind plaintiffs weren’t asking for that; they just wanted fair pay for equal work. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission  had found discrimination as pure and simple as Lilly Ledbetter’s case against Goodrich in 2007. Oh, but come to think of it,  Lilly lost her sex discrimination case, too, thanks to other Bush appointees on the U.S. Supreme Court.

The plaintiffs at Bloomberg deposed lots of evidence. The EEOC documented how Michael Bloomberg compared maternity leave to giving guys time off to practice their golf swing. When told by a female employee that she was pregnant, Bloomberg told her what to do: “Kill it,” he said. His Human Resources manager openly remarked that a mother’s place was at home, while another manager accused women, who took maternity leave and then chose not to come back, of stealing from Bloomberg’s wallet. “They ought to be arrested,” he exclaimed, while still another asked rhetorically, “Who would want to work in an office full of women?”

The charming details of women’s work life at Bloomberg didn’t get the same media play as Sandra Fluke’s treatment,  possibly because Justice Preska set aside the devil in those details—and don’t forget that in this case the devil owned a huge media company.

Instead Preska reframed the Bloomberg case in a way that reminds me of how women’s access to birth control through Obamacare somehow got recast as Catholic bishops’ freedom of conscience and the rights of individual conscience to reject government mandates like—you guessed it—Obamacare.  Perhaps those who feel strongly enough should have to the right to abstain from purchasing auto insurance to drive, too. Did Jesus ever buy insurance?  If the Occupy movement were arguing this stuff, Fox News would be screaming anarchy.

Reframing Bias

Judge Preska, like a Dr. Frankenstein, had to resuscitate a dead court rule to accomplish her ruling. A decade ago, discrimination lawsuits were stymied because of no suitable “comparator” to mothers—namely a pregnant man. Over time, courts sensibly gave up their search for a comparator in these cases, instead allowing plaintiffs to prove discrimination by introducing evidence of stereotyping—say, like comments about moms belonging at home.

But Preska not only insisted on comparator evidence as the basis of the case, but rejected the obvious comparison between those who took maternity leave and those who did not. Instead, she compared the women plaintiffs’ salary growth to that of other employees who took similarly long leaves; and voila! Compared to men who were seriously ill or disabled, the salary disparity found by the EEOC disappeared.

“The law does not mandate ‘work-life balance,’” Judge Preska wrote, and you can almost hear her self-righteousness lecturing us:  “It does not require companies to ignore employees’ work-family tradeoffs—and they are tradeoffs—when deciding about employee pay and promotions.”  In other words, because Bloomberg’s male employees hardly ever “decided” to get pregnant, it’s only natural they were paid more. See?

Joan Williams, in a blog on Moms-Rising, wrote about Preska’s abandonment of anti-discrimination law rooted in the 1970s, saying it’s “a really, really devastating setback for women. It’s open season on mothers….Studies show what dooms women economically in the United States is not being a woman—it’s being a mother.”

The latest such study appeared in  The Hastings Law Journal.  “The Motherhood Penalty” (Correll, Benard and Paik) opens this way: “If you give people identical resumes, one a mother and the other not, the mother is 79 percent less likely to be hired, 100 percent less likely to be promoted, offered an average of $11,000 less in salary, and held to higher performance and punctuality standards.”

An old mother like me says, Now you tell me! We should legally contest discrimination like that.  But I also argue for actively creating a wiser family-work balance, and Preska be damned. For that we need new laws to set policy for a saner, happier and reproductively sustainable world. For that we need a far more far-sighted vision of the world our progeny will inherit. That old vision the guys at Bloomberg want to carry to full term?  Kill it.

This issue of Vermont Woman is as full of pregnant and formerly pregnant women as the world is. There are women business owners with young children, women helping other women give birth, history-making moms at the statehouse and grandmothers passing the bar exam. Without women willing to be mothers, our economy would collapse. Not having a dependable supply of young, healthy, well-socialized workers would be bad for Mr. Bloomberg on Wall Street, and worse for our communities on Main Street.  It isn’t enough to demand American women pay for their own pills and aspirins. Mothers—and dads—both at home and at work—should expect something better of the economy in return.

Meanwhile population growth outstrips the world’s natural resources. You’d never know that to listen to U.S. political theater and mainstream media chatter this season. Nor do you hear of the penalty mothers suffer economically, whatever their decisions.

Read more at:www.momsrising.org/blog/bloomberg-case-open-season-to-discriminate-against-mothers/#ixzz1q2obJvw7

Kunin has run out of patience and it's good

This pre-publication review first appeared in Vermont Woman, WINTER Feb-March, 2012.

I began reporting on Madeleine Kunin soon after she first became Lt. Governor of Vermont  in 1978.  I was then editing a newspaper committed to poverty issues for Community Action. I remember my first time interviewing her on these subjects, finally turning off the tape recorder to remove my reporting hat. I had no intention of being objective when I told her how much her election had personally meant to me as a young woman. I was inspired.

In 1985, a year after Kunin became the first woman governor of Vermont, Sue Gillis began a new newspaper for Vermont women; I became its editor and aimed at women’s empowerment. Governor Kunin was right there for us, supporting the effort with a personal letter that still hangs in my office.

This past week I read the galleys of Kunin’s third book, expected to be out in book stores early in May. We’re the first to report on it—thank you, Chelsea Green Publishers—because, again, I am inspired.  I want every young parent and every grandparent to read it. Look for A New Feminist Agenda: Defining the Next Revolution for Women, Work and Familyas soon as spring arrives.

http://www.chelseagreen.com/bookstore/item/the_new_feminist_agenda:hardcover#

 

Here is why the book matters:

After serving as governor, Kunin became Deputy Director of the U.S. Education Dept. and was later appointed ambassador to her native Switzerland. When Hitler had risen to power, her widowed mother had brought Madeleine and her brother to the U.S. for safety; they were Jewish. Kunin writes frankly of her mother’s doing piecework at home to make ends meet, and of her gratitude for public schools and colleges that made her education possible.

Kunin’s first two books, one the memoir of her time as governor (Living a Political Life) and the next her account of U.S. women’s political history (Pearls, Politics and Power) are both solid reads that every young woman and every library ought to own. But I confess neither of these were page-turners and in places disappointed me. I was angry for her when I wished for more outspokenness. I thought maybe it was just our different upbringings. She was from a better neighborhood in Switzerland, while I was raised in a working-class Italian home. Maybe that accounted for my wanting more passion and a few more zealous hand jabs.

Cutting to the Chase

This third time out, however, the Governor delivers. She remains an elegant and cool ambassador; never once does she use that old label, sexism. But she gets in some good zingers. And she minces no words for what is needed: revolution. This time she emotes and argues and chats and gossips and asks frank and thoughtful questions of a surprising range of eloquent women and men. They grant us memorable answers and some very smart strategies. Her work brings us a life-time of research and experience.

Now 78, Kunin perhaps grows aware she hasn’t that much more time to make changes she sees must be accomplished. Perhaps she had stronger support in her second spouse, credited in her dedication: “For John, my first reader, editor, constant supporter—and a feminist.” However you account for it, Kunin gets off some sharp comments, completely keeping in style. She remains the grand dame of politics for the benefit of women and families; a believer in government by and of and for all of the people—half of them female and nearly a quarter of them children.

Families and U.S. economic competitiveness is her topic.  She has run out of patience. Early in the introduction she writes about the unprecedented pressures that make family and work an easily-tipped balancing act for American parents.

“Marches, Tweets, letters, lobbyists—every possible means has to be employed to convince the country that these issues are not only “women’s” issues, not only “children’s” issues, which can easily be dismissed with a gentle pat on the head. These are gut economic issues.” Yes, the lady said gut. Yes, she means bucks.

Kunin says this to a nation she describes competing in a global marketplace against workers in over a 150 other nations with strong work support programs: job flexibility, family leave insurance, early education excellence and affordable childcare. She examines the diversity of those other nations’ governments and businesses, their solutions and their problems, always in the context of possibilities here. Our working families run a handicapped race, she argues, forced to pass their children back and forth like balls in play, convinced by our culture that they are in this economic race alone.

This is good neither for workers nor business and certainly not good for developing human capital, our children, and our economic future. Investing in struggling families would not only increase the available talent pool for American business, it would enable women to participate more widely in leadership. She cites numerous studies and numerous financial allies who gained greater economic success with more diversity. This isn’t fantasy: companies lose money and needed skills when they fail to see and support their employees’ whole lives.

Kunin draws on many business leaders, as well as academics and international experts. She believes how well we address these issues today, both through government and private action, “will determine how well we do as a nation tomorrow.”  Some surprises in this included the details of funding what American women have been told is unaffordable. She goes behind the political action of small American successes in California, Washington and New Jersey to discover methods for winning what I would have believed unwinnable.

Building coalitions of more than the usual suspects, her sources inform. She aims at bipartisan support and even bridges the divide between conservative evangelicals and feminists. Her approach doggedly seeks knowledge of what has worked and of what might possibly succeed.

Some Surprises

Early on, she writes this. “Caution: You cannot be too angry.” For instance, she reveals American corporations which operate in other countries must provide family benefits befitting a host-nation’s legal standards. In other words, they grant foreign employees extended paid parental leave, remaining quite profitable, while at the same time they exclude their own American workers. Here whenever a baby is born, parents are forced to punt, out of their own savings, and get back to work as soon as possible, baby be damned.

Babies are our future, she says—and by that she doesn’t mean only our personal babies, our personal future–but the nation’s babies, which equal the nation’s future. We know more now than ever about the crucial significance of those early years’ learning and brain development. Undervalued children become expensive adults. She cites a 2008 Dept. of Defense study of 17-24 year-olds in Mississippi. The study found that 75 percent of them would not be fit to serve as privates in the Army. The three most common reasons for their unfitness was failure to graduate from high school, a criminal record, and physical unfitness, most often obesity.

By contrast, exactly the kind of quality childcare services most American families cannot find—especially at affordable rates—are already being provided to 300,000 lucky American children and their families. The Department of Defense again, seeking an advantage for attracting volunteer soldiers, has quietly been building exactly the sort of licensed childcare support system that American parents would die for—but should they SET ITAL have END ITAL to, literally?

Theirs is an excellent model, Kunin reports, providing a “gold standard” for what is possible. Twenty years ago, 70 percent of their facilities were cited for fire and safety hazards. Today a full 98 percent are top-rate licensed education centers for children six-weeks-old to 12. This licensure rate (with a raft of standards) compares to 8 percent for private daycare. The centers also provide good-paying jobs, not minimum wage ones, with benefits for educators well-trained in child development. Good jobs for early childcare educators not only assure job-readiness for an important workforce, but better assure a smart and ready future. It would make equally good economic sense for other sectors in our country.

One of the most important things Kunin did when she was governor was to appoint women to key cabinet positions, even when their resumes didn’t look the way they were supposed to. SET ITAL Vermont Woman END ITAL got noticed when we first noticed that story, missed by other media. Women worked differently, we said, and Kunin demonstrated this in her priorities, not only naming an unprecedented number of women, but expecting her whole team to collaborate, more than jockey for power, as she coordinated government departments in new ways. Kunin discusses this candidly in her book. For her, politics was not the same old warfare, but something more inclusive and systemic. We thought this a female trait.

But Kunin says now that women alone can never create the needed change. She remembers her own political mentor, the surprising Emory Hebard, a conservative Republican who first gave her a chance. And in that same spirit, she calls on young fathers and grandparents, business owners, financiers, churchgoers and governors to become more conscious and join in a similar collaboration—giving another kind of chance. This one is for young American families and their potential for productive, innovative work. All of us have a country and an economy at stake in this book.

The great feminist Andrea Dworkin put it this way in 1981. “Money speaks,” she said, “but it speaks in a male voice.” We know this better than ever since 2008. As the financial fog begins to lift on the fraud and gobbledygook of economic Wall Street and Washington, it feels a little like walking in uninvited on a jack-ass frat party. Eeee-ooooh. You actually do that?! How can anyone be so stupid??!!

Feminists aren’t the only ones to notice how male-dominated this crisis has been. Ken Hirschhorn, a trader at Long-Term Capital Management, a prominent hedge fund whose collapse in 2000 foreshadowed 2008’s melt-down, told Sheelah Kolhatkar of New York Magazine, “I don’t think greed is gender specific. But if you ask me whether Long-Term Capital Management would have blown up if there were more women involved in the decision-making process? A woman might have said, ‘Let’s not assume we’ll never be wrong.’ ”

Kolhatkar also talked to Joe Herbert, a neuroscientist who studies finance at Cambridge University. He said, “The banking crisis was caused by doing what no society ever allows, permitting young males to behave in an unregulated way. Anyone who studied neurobiology would have predicted disaster.”

The question is what to do about the reeking mess left behind. How do we prevent another monetary jack-ass crisis? Growing numbers of critics agree we cannot continue to do more of the same. But how can women make a difference?

NO GIRLS ALLOWED!

Financial headlines in September sounded an alarm about the small ranks of women in high places shrinking even further. When Sallie Krawcheck, CFO at Bank of America, left without explanation, Nathaniel Hopper at The Los Angeles Times, wrote: “Krawcheck joins a string of other top female bankers to leave the upper echelons of financial companies in recent years. Other notable exits include Heidi Miller, who in June stepped down as one of two women serving on JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s operating committee…Citigroup Inc.’s Terri Dial last year stepped down as head of the company’s consumer banking operations; former Morgan Stanley co-President Zoe Cruz resigned from the investment bank in 2007; and Lehman Brothers Chief Financial Officer Erin Callan was pushed out just before the firm collapsed.” In another corporate story in September, New Yahoo CEO, the respected and outspoken Carol Bartz, got an unprecedented surprise, fired by her board on the phone. Bartz responded to reporters with rare candor: “These people f***ed me over,” she said.

Nor do Washington women fare better. In a late-September interview with Terry Gross on Fresh Air, author of Confidence Men, Ron Suskind of The Washington Post, reported a “hostile environment for women” in Obama’s White House and “not just on economic matters.” Christina Romer, who stepped down as chair of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in August of 2010, told Suskind there were alternative views (like hers), not listened to. Elizabeth Warren, head of FDIC who expected to be placed at the head of the new consumer protection agency she designed, instead got run out of town. She’s now running for the Senate from Massachusetts.

 

Overly influenced by a testosterone-ruled Wall Street, Washington appears too polarized to work and too moneyed to represent most women. Last year’s Supreme Court “United Citizens” ruling monetized speech in our political process; that’s as good an explanation as any for Occupy Wall Street’s move to give the 99 percent a voice. It is hard to discover how many women number among the protestors, but clearly many are reaching for change. (See Occupy sidebar.)

TWO WOMEN ADDRESS MONEY CREATION

While protests happen, real economic solutions for preventing another crisis are being offered by two unlikely women, neither of them economists: lawyer Ellen Brown of California and city planner Gwendolyn Hallsmith of Montpelier, Vermont. Both women propose creative and local solutions, which are exactly the kind of economics that women can most easily access. Their ideas promise a common meeting place closer to home, and big economic changes that could provide greater security and a role for revitalizing state democracies.

To introduce Brown and Hallsmith’s ideas, it’s important to understand that both women critique our current method of creating money. You may not have realized it, but none of the world’s governments now directly issues its own currency—including our U.S. dollars. Instead, a global system of central banks (like our privately owned Federal Reserve) trade in government bonds with global investment banks. (For more on this, see the September/October issue of Vermont Woman for “Dollars on the Make,” or www.gaiaeros.com/2011/10/17/the-federal-reserve-and-dollars-on-the-make/)

Government bonds create loans to our nation’s Treasury. The Treasury then authorizes the issue of Federal Reserve notes, essentially IOUs, or the dollars in your wallet. Banks also create dollars when they loan to businesses, mortgagees, states or municipalities. Dollars are created by banks and backed by the Fed – but only through debt.

The Fed would argue this is a good thing. They call it “the multiplier effect.” A bank need only hold cash (or Federal Reserve deposits) equal to about 10 percent of its total customer deposits; the rest can be loaned. Thus, each dollar soon becomes $9. However, as Charles Eisenstein recently wrote in Reality Sandwich, “[I]n the last decade various kinds of non-bank lending have skirted the margin reserve requirement through the alphabet soup of financial instruments you’ve been hearing about in the news. The result is that each dollar of original equity has been leveraged not to nine times its original value, as in traditional banking, but to 70 times or even more.”

Both Brown and Hallsmith argue this financial gaming has little to do with the real economy where you and I live. Money based on leveraged air creates a currency and financial debt-products, essentially a pile of IOUs. Everyone must pay the principal and somehow find added interest. This demands the economy constantly grow until it collapses. Periodic crashes are inevitable with this kind of scheme. Numbers grow exponentially without limit, yet the planet and human beings cannot. As Hallsmith said to me recently, “The trouble with this system is that it requires some people to lose.”

BROWN’S PUBLIC PARTNERSHIP BANKING

Ellen Brown had written a number of books about health before she wrote about our money system. Confronting a corporate healthcare industry seeking profits introduced her to economic realities here in the U.S. “There can’t be anything more inefficient,” she said in a recent interview. “You’re going to private hospitals, private doctors, using profit-seeking drug corporations, and they all have a vested interest in sickness.”

Brown’s most recent book, Web of Debt: The Shocking Truth about our Money System and How We Can Break Free,makes money an understandable subject. Her protagonist is a young girl we all know, Dorothy from Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz. Brown’s illustrations from Oz help to make monetary history and theory both readable and inspiring.

While Brown knows the history of the Federal Reserve System’s behind-closed-doors secrecy, and while she outlines long-term reforms, she is after efficiency. She envisions a more immediate way to circumvent debt. In 2011, she founded the Public Banking Institute. Its goal is to persuade states to better utilize the existing banking system for the public good.

During her research, Brown had discovered a surprising exception to the rule of Wall Street. The nation has only one state-owned bank, the Bank of North Dakota (BND), founded in 1919, about the time when the Wizard of Oz and monetary issues were both popular. BND’s existence has made all the difference to North Dakotans.

What difference exactly? The only state in the union to maintain a continuous budget surplus since the 2008 Wall Street crisis is North Dakota. While other states like Minnesota and California suffer near-bankrupt crises, and 48 states, including Vermont, suffer shortfalls, profits from BND have contributed more than $300 million to North Dakota’s state coffers during the past ten years. That’s a sizeable amount for a state with only 25,000 more people than Vermont.

Brown reported recently in The Huffington Post, “[North Dakota’s] balance sheet is so strong that it recently reduced individual income taxes and property taxes by a combined $400 million and is debating further cuts. It also has the lowest unemployment rate, lowest foreclosure rate and lowest credit card default rate in the country, and it hasn’t had a bank failure in at least the last decade.” North Dakota does produce oil, but she says a study done by the Center for State Innovation, from 2007 to 2009, revealed the BND added nearly as much money to the state’s general fund as oil and gas tax revenues did.

Brown says, “North Dakota is a conservative red state, not the sort you would expect to be engaging in government enterprise. But the conservative justification for a state-owned bank is that it preserves state sovereignty, allowing the state to be independent of Wall Street and the Feds. The BND is not a business competitor of the local banks but partners with them, helping with capital and liquidity requirements. It participates in loans, provides guarantees, and acts as a sort of mini-Fed for the state.”

Not only does the BND return its profits to the state’s general fund, it helps to build the state’s tax base by funding local businesses and the infrastructure that attracts and supports them. Brown explains. “Among other resources, it has a loan program called Flex PACE that allows a local community to provide assistance to borrowers in areas of jobs retention, technology creation, retail, small business, and essential community services. The BND also furnishes a credit line to the state itself, one that is effectively interest-free, since the state owns the bank.”

Typically, credit lines get extended in times of emergency or whenever state department budgets or municipalities face unforeseen circumstances. Vermont’s recent budget deficit and the flooding due to Hurricane Irene would be good examples. Having a credit line to the state’s own bank allows state and local governments to avoid exorbitant rates on Wall Street and answers pressures to privatize or reduce services in order to avoid downgrades from rating agencies.

STRENGTH IN LOCAL DIVERSITY

Brown’s vision is to help establish a network of state and local publicly owned banks, which can create affordable credit and provide a sustainable alternative to the current high-risk centralized private banking system on Wall Street. Such a network, she says, would act in the public interest to stabilize credit crises like our current one. It would also resist asset devaluations, build infrastructure, and fund expansion of critical industrial-productivity capacity – most importantly, education and local jobs, which could be adopted as bank mandates.

Her most recent research examines a network of state and municipal public banks in Germany. These were created in the shadow of post-World War II economic devastation and are credited with helping Germany make its remarkable recovery. In 2010, while the rest of Europe staggered, Germany reported a 3.6 percent increase in its economic growth. Its exports led the world until 2009, when China (population 1.3 billion) narrowly overtook Germany (population 82 million.) How was Germany able to do this?

Brown writes, “One overlooked key to the country’s economic dynamism is its strong public banking system, which focuses on serving the public interest rather than on maximizing private profits. After the Second World War, it was the publicly owned Landesbanks that helped family-run provincial companies get a foothold in world markets.” Municipal banks administered by state banks are all part of this system.

Thanks to growing interest in public banking, Brown’s own state of California just passed a bill to study the feasibility of a state-owned bank like North Dakota’s. California’s economy is the largest in the nation and surpasses all but eight countries. A California State Bank in the public interest would have huge influence nationally. Governor Jerry Brown vetoed the bill, preferring to use the existing legislative committees on banking, rather than establish another “blue ribbon” commission. About this Brown says, “I think it’s a good thing. Commissions are where ideas go to die. We don’t need a study, we need a public bank.”

Fourteen other states have submitted bills to create banks similar to North Dakota’s, and Brown monitors them all. You can learn more about public banking and legislative developments, and imagine its potential for the people of Vermont, at www.publicbankinginstitute.org/.

Gwendolyn Hallsmith

HALLSMITH’S NEW CURRENCIES AND LOCAL MUTUAL CREDIT

Gwendolyn Hallsmith of Montpelier has worked on environmental and sustainability issues for more than 20 years. Working with citizen-action groups and Greenpeace, she began to realize protesting wasn’t enough. “We had to have a concrete, alternative way to do things,” she said to me recently. Her books, The Key to Sustainable Cities: Meeting Human Needs, Transforming Community Systems and the workbook Taking Action for Sustainability, draw on substantial local and international work experience. At their core is the idea that systems can either integrate or disintegrate communities unaware of their power.

Hallsmith had long struggled to understand economics in her sustainability work. She came to see it as a global system only recently, while living and working overseas. “I actually lived through the currency crash in Kazakhstan,” she says. “I was still getting paid in U.S. dollars, so it didn’t have the same effect on me as it had on my neighbors. We were working closely in neighborhoods and the woman next door saw her pension – which had been enough to cover her rent and her heat and her food – become enough for a loaf of bread. It was devastating.”

Hallsmith’s most recent book, Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies, tackles economics more directly. She met her co-author for this work, the Belgian economist who helped create the Euro, Bernard Lietaer, when organizing a national sustainability conference. Lietaer objected to an imposition of a 20-minute time-limit on his talk; it would take him much longer to explain why our monetary system cannot help but undermine sustainability. Hallsmith later asked if he would explain it to her. “He paused, and I could hear him sigh,” she recalls with a laugh. Then he proposed she commit to monthly hour-long phone conversations for at least six months. She agreed.

Lietaer recently told me he believes women will be key actors in redesigning a more livable economy. “Right now the economic structure is hypermasculine,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean it has to remain that way. Women can change it.”

It was during those mentoring sessions with Lietaer that Gwen learned about money creation. “Debt-money” is their name for the dollars we take for granted as national currency. In their book, Hallsmith and Lietaer propose several currencies that could work in partnership with dollars, depending on a community’s needs. Wealth, they explain, can be created locally by developing and supporting real resources, such as small business systems, energy systems and food systems in communities, by setting up asset exchanges, electronically tracked.

One currency they discussed at a recent presentation at Montpelier’s City Hall is called a Commercial Credit Circuit, or “C3.” It confronts small business owners’ most pressing problem, cash flow. Small businesses invest in products or services, yet when a sale occurs, payment from a vendor may not come for 90 days. C3s utilize invoices, insured and tracked by a bank, as cash. The invoices can be converted to dollars whenever needed, but a supply chain paid by this currency need not wait for payment. This creates money without debt, rewarding small business initiatives. Uruguay and Brazil are already successfully using C3s; recently Uruguay even moved to accept C3s as payment of taxes.

Another business currency they discuss is the 75-year-old Swiss WIR, which means “we” in German. The WIR enables businesses to freely exchange goods and services, helping each other to thrive, instead of only competing. In 2008, the value of WIR trades among its 65,000 members amounted to $1.58 billion.

 

Creating Wealth is not an easy read from cover to cover, but its ideas can be sampled depending on your interests. Each area seems well supported by real community endeavors put into practice by Hallsmith and others. This isn’t so much economic theory as application in action. The authors discuss food currencies to support local food production and farmers, an arts currency to underwrite creative endeavors and even an educational exchange that enables young students to gain money for college tuition through tutoring younger students.

Hallsmith’s work in Montpelier has already helped to create two time banks—dollar-free exchange systems in which services are measured according to the time they take to render. The Onion River Exchange in Washington County (www.orexchange.org/) has more than 400 participants who have traded 6,000 hours of service in 75 different categories. Coordinator Allison Underhill said she couldn’t easily translate those hours into dollar amounts because the services range so widely, from legal advice to sewing, from house-painting to childcare.

The other time bank is more specific: the REACH Care Bank (www.reachvt.org/contact-us/), administered by the Coalition of Vermont Elders (COVE), allows for the exchange of eldercare services. Hallsmith, whose father is an enthusiastic new member, points out that time currencies supply difficult-to-value human connections that people need to be healthy and happy. One member’s testimonial reads, “I gained not just the hours I banked, but I also met two wonderful people.”

The underlying philosophy here counts people as assets and assumes everyone has something to offer. It redefines caring work as beyond price and still values reciprocity. Hallsmith has succeeded by valuing networks and helping others to understand systems.

Most recently she has put together a monetary policy group for Vermont intended to develop concrete recommendations for Governor Shumlin and the legislature. The committee, which includes a legislator and well-known business leaders, will explore state banking in the public interest; complementary currencies that Vermont communities might be wise to develop; the possibility of moving deposits to local Vermont banks; and financial innovations successfully used in other strapped states. Monetary reform of the Federal Reserve is another of the committee’s concerns.

Hallsmith takes the crisis in our monetary system seriously. While she values a diversity of approaches, she also works with a sharp sense of humor: “I’ve got a set of metaphors that describes different monetary strategies: Moving your money from Wall Street to a local credit union is a little like rearranging the deck chairs on the Titantic. Public banking is a way of cashing in on a portion of the Titantic’s ticket-sales, but creating local Vermont currencies? That’s like making ourselves life-rafts.”

First published by Vermont Woman, Nov-Dec 2011

See http://www.vermontwoman.com/articles/1111/monetary.shtml

LINKS TO LEARN MORE

Public Banking Institute http://publicbankinginstitute.org/

Bank of North Dakota http://www.banknd.nd.gov/

Germany’s Public Banking

http://www.opednews.com/articles/THE-PUBLIC-OPTION-IN-BANKI-by-Ellen-Brown-111014-55.html

Reach Care Bank, Montpelier http://reachvt.org/about-us/

Onion River Exchange, Montpelier www.orexchange.org/

Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies

http://www.newsociety.com/Contributors/H/Hallsmith-Gwendolyn/

My education about money began with my high school trip to Washington, D.C., where I learned that the U.S. Mint stamps our coins and the Bureau of Engraving prints big sheets of our government’s money. But who places the order for printing those dollars? Who tells them how many to print?

If you look more closely at George Washington in your own wallet, you’ll find the explanation. You’ll also learn why there’s never enough. Your dollar bill is labeled a Federal Reserve Note. Who, or what, is the Federal Reserve?

The Fed is the U.S. central bank in charge of our monetary policy. Created by the Federal Reserve Act of 1913, the Fed is actually our third central bank; our currency was the subject of much debate until the 20th century. The Federal Reserve System now works hand in glove with the U.S. Treasury. Think of the Federal Reserve as our nation’s banker. It’s where we, the people, represented by our Treasury, deposit our tax payments to the government, and where the Treasury writes out checks to pay for government business. Simple enough.

NOT.

SIDEBAR: What does the U.S. Treasury do?

The Department of the Treasury manages federal finances, currency and coins; collects monies due to the U.S. and pays all its bills; manages Government accounts and the public debt; supervises national banks and thrift institutions; advises on domestic and international trade and tax, financial, monetary and economic policy; enforces Federal finance and tax laws; investigates  and prosecutes tax evaders, counterfeiters and forgers.

Our Treasury hasn’t always worked in tandem with a central bank. Presidents Jefferson and Jackson believed a private central bank was dangerous and worked to end them. Abraham Lincoln wanted a central bank, but issued Greenbacks directly from the Treasury to win the Civil war. Greenbackers lost later elections to supporters of the Federal Reserve Act. John F. Kennedy was the last President to issue a currency directly from the Treasury – in the form of silver certificates.

The Board of the Federal Reserve, five Governors in all, is appointed by the President for terms of 14 years. Its current chairman is Ben Bernanke. But the Federal Reserve is far more than one bank, or one board. It is a system of 12 regional banks, all privately owned, overseeing other private banks. This system serves as your bank’s banker, too.

The most powerful regional bank is the New York Federal Reserve. When the 2008 bailout was proposed late in George W. Bush’s term of office, Tim Geithner at the New York Fed sat next to then-Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson when those deals were cut to save Wall Street banks. Now Geithner has moved over one seat and taken Paulson’s place, while the man at his side, William Dudley, took Geithner’s place. All three men worked first with Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment bank often nicknamed “Government Sachs.” They call this “continuity.”

(Editor’s note: In 2008, Stephen Friedman, former chairman of Goldman Sachs, was given a waiver to chair the board of the New York Fed without giving up his job at another investment company. He was forced to resign when he made $3 million on his Goldman shares with a single insider phone call.)

The Federal Reserve describes itself as “an independent entity within the government, having both public purposes and private aspects.” It is supposed to keep bank meltdowns from happening, setting the interest rate for all the nation’s banks. It also makes money available to banks at a discount when needed. Despite its official-sounding name, the Fed’s purpose is to create a profit for its banks’ shareholders. They are in business, not government, interested in profit, not public service.

In 1997, the largest shareholders of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York were Chase Manhattan Bank, Citibank and Morgan Guaranty Trust Company. Citibank belongs to the Rockefellers, and the Morgan fortune has run Wall Street since the turn of the 20th century. J.P. Morgan is the gentleman caricatured in your Monopoly game with a mustache and monocle. Monopoly gaming continues on Wall Street. In 2000 Morgan and Chase merged into mega-big Morgan Chase. In 2008, Citibank was bought by Bank of America, growing even larger, and in 2009, another Morgan arm, Morgan Stanley, bought up Smith Barney. These are all global investment brokerage banks.

That word global matters. The New York Fed’s board works to deliver profits – most often in developing countries, not here. Yet the New York Fed enjoys a particularly close relationship with the U.S. Treasury. By contrast, the government is not a shareholder in the Federal Reserve System. The system’s complexities mask an insider setup for enhancing private fortunes. At the end of 2010, the Fed’s 12 reserve banks held $2.4 trillion in government debt, mortgage-backed securities and other investments, according to a combined financial statement it published in March 2011.

 

A BANK BY ANY OTHER NAME REMAINS A BANK

The Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury print money only after the Fed first conducts “open market operations.” This means it auctions government “securities,” a broad name for Treasury bills, notes and bonds. These are all names for “loans” of varying lengths of time, but unlike loans, bonds can be traded worldwide, a global commodity.

The Fed’s own website acknowledges the New York Fed plays “a unique role.” All the “open market operations” – the buying and selling of U.S. government securities to influence money and credit conditions in the global economy – are carried out by the New York Fed. When the U.S. Treasury decides to “intervene in the foreign exchange market, it is the New York Fed that carries out the intervention.” (Foreign exchange markets and the dollar’s devaluation was the subject of the previous article in this Vermont Woman series.)

The New York Fed conducts daily conference calls with “primary dealers” (think Goldman Sachs), after which they call in the Treasury in Washington. Then, depending on who wins the daily 10-minute auction, the Fed credits the accounts of its commercial member banks, and our Treasury agrees to pay them interest on the bonds, or money they have lent us.

Your dollar bills are literally “bills,” created as “credit.” The back side of credit is debt. Our dollars come into circulation through a global credit card minus the plastic.

“Purchasing bonds” is a fancy way of saying those “primary dealers” just arranged to broker our debt, sold to the highest bidder; in the old days, Goldman Sachs might have received a certificate of the “bond,” or an agreement that “binds” the debtor. (The word “bondage,” a form of indentured slavery, grows from the same root.) So our Treasury is held by its bonds, purchased by the highest bidder and then traded around the world. Only then can dollars be printed as “notes.” A note is another word for debt.

Am I sure about this? When I first learned about this currency sleight of hand, I didn’t believe it could be true. I would fact-check and discover in what way it was wrong. But all the economists I read, and the Federal Reserve itself, confirmed that we live with this indebted system of money creation. Money created out of debt can only be paid by expanding the economy in future, further exploiting Mother Nature on a global scale, and laboring ever more to pay back the principal, plus interest added on.

No wonder there is never “enough.”

MAYBE MONEY DOES GROW ON TREES

My initial disbelief found credibility in a similar reaction from a Texas Representative elected in 1929, the year of the Great Crash. For 40 years, Wright Patman chaired the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Banking and Currency, and for 20 of those years, he sought to repeal the Federal Reserve System. The Congressional Record of the House of Representatives (pages 7582-7583) records his September 29, 1941 speech. Compare his plain-spoken words to the mysterious mumblings of Allan Greenspan and Ben Bernanke at the Fed.

When our Federal Government, that has the exclusive power to create money, creates that money and then goes into the open market and borrows it and pays interest for the use of its own money, it occurs to me that that is going too far. I have never yet had anyone who could, through the use of logic and reason, justify the Federal Government borrowing the use of its own money… I am saying to you in all sincerity, and with all the earnestness that I possess, it is absolutely wrong for the Government to issue interest-bearing obligations. It is not only wrong: it is extravagant. It is not only extravagant, it is wasteful. It is absolutely unnecessary… I believe the time will come when people will demand that this be changed. I believe the time will come in this country when they will actually blame you and me and everyone else connected with this Congress for sitting idly by and permitting such an idiotic system to continue. I make that statement after years of study.

All of this feels shocking, but here’s something even more amazing. The money, which our banks loan out, doesn’t actually exist in a vault somewhere, as you might have assumed from the name Federal Reserve. Instead it is created on the accounting books, as a “fiat” currency. Fiat means something like Captain Picard’s command on Star Trek: “Make it so” – although banks possess no holodeck, only the power Congress has given them.

A booklet published by the Chicago Federal Reserve in the1960s, “Modern Money Mechanics,” puts it simply: “The actual process of money creation takes place primarily in banks… Banks do not really pay out loans from the money they receive as deposits. If they did this, no additional money would be created.”

Ellen Brown explains, in her wonderfully readable book Web of Debt, that contrary to popular belief, loans become deposits, rather than the reverse. You might feel like Alice in Wonderland reading this, going through the looking glass where everything is backwards. But the Fed’s own booklet says it too: “Banks can build up deposits by increasing loans… so long as they keep enough currency on hand to redeem whatever amounts the holders of deposits want to convert into currency. This unique attribute of the banking business was discovered many centuries ago. It started with goldsmiths…”

Europeans traded in gold and silver coins, Brown reveals. These were hard to transport and could be stolen unless locked up. So goldsmiths offered safes and provided paper receipts for the stored gold. These eventually came to be traded, easier to handle than cartloads of bullion. Over time, goldsmiths noticed only a few people at any one time came back to get their gold. So they began loaning it out many times over, though it wasn’t theirs, by keeping only a fraction on reserve for those who might come for it. Naturally, they got rich pretty quickly. They also got used to loaning out what wasn’t really there.

Wealthy goldsmiths soon gained legal sanction for their “fractional reserves,” becoming bankers. Bankers gained not only the right to charge interest for their issues of paper receipts for more gold than they had, but eventually a monopoly on issuing national currencies, as first happened in England in 1694.

If you’re wondering why a nation needs to “borrow” its currency, why it can’t just issue the money it needs, you’re not the first. You have, in fact, hit on a long-standing historical argument in the U.S., beginning with the Revolution, Shay’s Rebellion and the abolishment of two central banks. In the shadow of the Great Depression, just 16 years after the Federal Reserve System was installed to prevent banking crashes—unsuccessfully—Wright Patman called out a Governor of the Federal Reserve Board, Marinner Eccles. He asked him to explain how the Federal Reserve got its money.

“We created it,” Eccles answered.

“Out of what?”

“Out of the right to issue credit money…That is what our money system is. If there were no debts in our money system, there wouldn’t be any money.”

This helps throw light on that debt ceiling argument in Congress. Private fortunes and other central banks lend us “their” money and charge us interest for using our own dollars. Web of Debt author Brownexplains that the federal debt hasn’t been paid off since the presidency of Andrew Jackson nearly two centuries ago. Since the Treasury no longer issues certificates backed by silver or gold or even interest-free greenbacks, our debt is really just another name for our country’s money supply. I hate saying it, but Dick Cheney may have been right when he said the federal debt doesn’t really matter – though surely it matters what we choose to go into hock for, and to whom we are bonded and owe added interest.

SIDEBAR: Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has been at the forefront of demanding more accountability from the Federal Reserve. He helped win the recent move to audit the Fed, and thanks to an amendment he added to the recent Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Protection Act, the Fed is now required to be less secretive in its “interventions,” which are handled exclusively by the New York Fed. In April, under the new rule, Sanders discovered they had bailed out the Bank of Libya: a troubling revelation in the face of our military conflict there. He said, “It is incomprehensible to me that while creditworthy small businesses in Vermont and throughout the country could not receive affordable loans, the Federal Reserve was providing tens of billions of dollars in credit to a bank that is substantially owned by the Central Bank of Libya.”

NEW IDEAS WITH OLD VALUES

Despite what my high school visit to Washington taught me, most of our currency is never printed; it’s electronically entered in banks’ accounting books. Even post-2008, few Americans understand that the Federal Reserve System is only backed by private accounting numbers and our indebtedness. Vermont’s Senator, Bernie Sanders, has begun to unveil the secrecy of this system, by demanding an audit by the Government Accountability Office; in late July, the GAO found not only the $700 billion bailout we heard about on the news, but behind the scenes what Sanders called “a jaw-breaking $16 trillion in financial assistance to some of the biggest financial institutions and corporations in the world.”

A growing number of reformists on the left and the right hold this present monetary system at least partly responsible for the upward sweep of money to a very privileged clique at the top of that economic pyramid on your dollar bill. With a currency created out of debt to the richest global fortunes, consider that eyeball looking at you as “truth in lending.” Only a pyramid scheme could create a national currency out of everlasting debt and a misnamed façade to give the public false impressions. It’s still hard to believe, I know, so go ahead and do your own fact-checking.

We’ll never know what would have happened if Wall Street had been left to fend for itself in 2008. In history, the wealthiest banks and its patrons have generally been protected by nations. A fascinating recent book, The Lords of Finance by Liaquat Ahamed, brings to life those global central bankers behind events we generally think of as political. It shows how the Great Depression grew out of World War I reparations, negotiated by financial elites in Britain, France, Germany and the U.S. These men knew each other well and often worked together, though more often they each sought to come out as the nation on top.

This biographical account of macroeconomics shows a privileged and exclusive male world where private fortunes finance nations, and where “meltdowns” and failures can bring nations to their knees with resulting violence. Its history is littered with frauds, scandals, and suicides over fortunes lost, and it becomes clear Hitler’s rhetoric could only enter the mainstream of Germany when its middle class had been decimated by punishing payments of debts too high to pay. The cost of the urge to come out “on top” did not accrue to nations’ central bankers, but to their nations’ people, who suffered hardships and the viciousness of hatred and war.

Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke’s tight relationship with Wall Street must help in those daily market operations with “primary dealers,” now grown bigger than ever with taxpayer help. We can’t know, of course, because minutes of meetings at the Fed are still not public. Until recently, Americans paid little attention, put to sleep by the mumbling drone of the Fed’s evasions. There are signs of more Americans waking up – including women with new dollar dreams to tell us about.

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN VERMONT WOMAN SEPT/OCTOBER 2011. 

For further reading on:

Sanders and the Fed

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rep-bernie-sanders/a-real-jaw-dropper-at-the_b_791091.html

The Fed’s Profits

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/23/business/economy/23fed.html?_r=2&ref=business

The New York Federal Reserve Bank and Open Market Operations

http://www.newyorkfed.org/aboutthefed/fedpoint/fed32.html

Ellen Brown’s Web of Debt

http://www.webofdebt.com/

Wright Patman

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wright_Patman

Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance

http://www.economist.com/node/12884939?story_id=12884939

Photos of the Fed http://www.federalreserve.gov/generalinfo/virtualtour/photos.cfm?WhichSlide=1

Lately I’ve been ignoring the news, which has been way too full of reports about the “recovering” economy and Wall Street rebounding, while jobs continue to be lost. Here I was, hoping this economy might end up being murdered with an axe. But it appears an unrepentant U.S. capitalism remains here to stay, thanks to Bernanke, Geithner, and the same old privileged male players. So now I’m thinking, if you can’t beat’em, then maybe we’d best join them. America, we need to further commodify our children! This idea may be the secret to families at last gaining a little ground in a capitalist nation.

Our current economic system maintains an old 19th century myth. It continues to separate the private realm from the public realm, as if there should be a wall between them. What do I mean?  This economy faithfully separates our sacred families from the profanity of commerce, the better to avoid sullying the one thing remaining holy: our families and homes. (You know, the same American homes that were sold around the world in derivatives because our financial system was betting against them.)

Victorians of the 19th century held that men were a better fit for the profane and “public sphere” of politics and commerce. Only the fittest could survive there. Regardless of what Darwin had said about what the “fittest” actually meant, Victorian businessmen interpreted it as only “natural” to dominate by whatever ruthless measures were needed. Economic victories went to the strongest and the meanest.

Women, on the other hand, were the weaker sex and needed to be kept out of danger in the “domestic sphere.”  Too much thought in her pretty little head, and all her blood would go to her brain, instead of her womb, leading to hysteria. Doctors diagnosed any woman’s nervous condition the result of a starved uterus. Created by God to be mothers and home-makers, women might be oft-pregnant nurturers (birth control would land you in jail), yet she must remain morally impregnable. Far removed from the vile economy, women provided a safe haven for the harried worker whenever he came home. Here the children could receive proper moral guidance and social enrichment.

Thus the Victorian woman, though officially “dependent” and penniless, was persuaded, despite all appearances, that it was really her hand, not his, that rocked the world by rocking the cradle. And if you believe that, I have a big nuclear warhead I’d like to sell you—and by the way, honey, what’s for dinner?

Women’s liberation has meant so far that women have made some inroads into the male commercial sphere. Yet the domestic sphere of the USA remains stolidly separate from the commercial realm, operated by pure-hearted volunteerism. So today many middle-class homes sit largely unoccupied–except as a place to go after work or school to microwave and watch television.

Ever since the 1970s, Mom has been slaving away on the job market, same as hubby. Was it we feminists who accomplished this hideous undermining of American family life? Some claim so, but statistics clarify a larger reality. Most women went to work to keep the family nose above water. Katha Pollitt reports from A Woman’s Nation Changes Everything (the Shriver report from the Center for American Progress):

For the first time in our history, women are now 50% of the paid workforce…Four in ten moms are primary breadwinners… 80% of moms contribute a major chunk of family income.”

That’s because, since the 1970s, men and women workers as a whole have barely remained afloat in a leaky boat. Wages have not kept up with cost-of-living expenses and two workers and 80 hours of labor are now needed to cover a single mortgage payment. Elizabeth Warren reported this week in The Huffington Post what is now common knowledge. Yet what to do?  Since 1970, male wages have been static, and the working class has lost ground. About this, says Warren:

But core expenses kept going up. By the early 2000s, families were spending twice as much (adjusted for inflation) on mortgages than they did a generation ago — for a house that was, on average, only ten percent bigger and 25 years older. They also had to pay twice as much to hang on to their health insurance.

To cope, millions of families put a second parent into the workforce. But higher housing and medical costs combined with new expenses for child care, the costs of a second car to get to work and higher taxes combined to squeeze families even harder. Even with two incomes, they tightened their belts. Families today spend less than they did a generation ago on food, clothing, furniture, appliances, and other flexible purchases — but it hasn’t been enough to save them. Today’s families have spent all their income, have spent all their savings, and have gone into debt to pay for college, to cover serious medical problems, and just to stay afloat a little while longer. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/elizabeth-warren/america-without-a-middle_b_377829.html

Meanwhile, a sensible 32-hour work week standard, passed by the Senate in 1939 when unions had some say, died and was deeply buried, along with big unions. To many economists, including John Maynard Keynes, shorter work weeks had seemed a logical way to address technology’s elimination of man-hours needed to produce what we need. In fact, a glut of material goods on the market had helped deepen the Depression.

Instead, technology’s dividend went to the wealthy, not to the working class. Instead, workers traded in wages for consuming, sold on technology’s wonders at home (the before-mentioned television and microwave). With wages going lower and jobs going overseas, families had to find a third service job or get a college education or increase their work hours, and that still didn’t help with disappearing health insurance benefits. Sometimes people got sick, and in the USA, we like to pretend we never were children in need of care, and will never get old. The best-managed American health insurance celebrates its “low utilization rates.”

Health maintenance became increasingly unaffordable for the middle and working class, both in time and money. Exercise, physical labor and home-cooked meals get sacrificed to fast-food and big-box consuming. http://healthyamericans.org/reports/obesity2009/ Long commutes to centralized shopping and work required maintaining not one car, but two. http://financialplan.about.com/cs/cars/a/101Car.htm

The mythical wall between private and public has contributed to our families’ impoverishment in time, health and money. “Separate spheres,” maintaining that wall betwen public and private, was a sexist  idea that was never true and today seems only truly ridiculous. Radio and TV beam into our homes with commercial messages around the clock. Everyone is already twittering and blogging and being our friend on facebook, 24/7. If we ended the old prudish division between that old commercial sphere and the even older family sphere, women (and children) might at last become more visible players in the world economy.

So let’s face it like capitalists:  Without our economically impoverished private family sphere, none of the public economic sphere could happen. The hand that rocks the cradle does rock the world—it just doesn’t follow that such a high mission should never sully itself with financial reward. By that reasoning, doctors, nuclear physicists and CEOs should also eschew high salaries.

Therefore, I propose that when anyone comes of age to get a job—or signs up in the armed services to put their lives on the line for our economic freedom and more global consuming—the parents who invested their time and their money into that individual’s healthy and socialized upbringing should get a dividend. The worker should get wages for his or her time, yes, but the worker’s family ALSO should get a dividend as a return on their long-term investment in the economy.

I didn’t come up with this idea all on my own. Marilyn Waring first noticed the skewed accounting of nations as a minister of Parliament in New Zealand and wrote about time and money in If Women Counted. http://www.amazon.com/If-Women-Counted-Feminist-Economics/dp/0062509403

An economics professor at Florida A&M University, Shirley Burggraf, proposed a social security dividend for parents. You can still get her book. http://search.barnesandnoble.com/The-Feminine-Economy-and-Economic-Man/Shirley-P-Burggraf/e/9780201479614

Other countries have a much more public discussion about public/private home issues. The Brits have openly exposed this false division between “spheres,? though I haven’t seen them connect it to 19th century dualism.  James Robertson says we need a “SHE” economy (A Sane & Healthy Economy) http://www.jamesrobertson.com/neweconomics.htm and All Work and No Pay; Women, Housework, and the Wages Due, edited by Wendy Edmond and Suzie Fleming, makes a similar case. Check out Nora Castaneda and the Women’s Development Bank of Venezuela, too. http://www.inmotionmagazine.com/global/nc_wdb_int.html

Who would pay for this Family Investment dividend? All of us Americans should. We all benefit from every healthy worker’s contributions of time and attention to the economy. Family time invested in future workers could be figured as a percentage of the GDP. Likewise, that time’s returned dividend could be calculated as a 20-year bond investment in the future GDP. It goes like this: Whenever a family member raises kids to adulthood, they loan the country their time, money and hope in the future economy.

Whenever they loan time and comfort to retired or ill workers past their prime and on their way out, they’re also investing in the economy. In a capitalist country, hospitals and funerals contribute significant economic activity—and none of it would be possible without old, sick and dying workers.

Now, if your kid winds up in a crack house, naturally, the cost of curing him or sending him to prison would have to offset your parental dividend, but as soon as he was up and working on the job again, your dividend could come back, along with his wages. Your dividend could also be used to set aside against your future aging and eventual demise. Traditionally this has always been the arrangement between generations: you invest in me, your kid, and I’ll take care of you when you’re old. This was an economic activity long before there were dollars..

If your kid arrives on the job market with an MBA or a law degree, so much the better.  A bigger dividend should reflect your larger investment in the American economy’s future well-being. Women and/or men who decide to invest time in families and America’s little future workers might also get tax breaks, same as they do now—only more on the level that companies do who come into town and provide a community with jobs. Yes, that kind of tax-break: property tax relief, assistance with operative set-up, abeyance of municipal charges.

What are jobs anyway? Only places where a worker’s time is invested in making products—consumed and used by whom? More of us workers! The economy is one huge sphere of workers and worker production, not two separate walled-off ones—not two at all!

If our government “of the people” had a mind to do it, Americans collectively might even match the expected parental time and financial investment, while the kid is growing up. We do this to some extent now with property tax investments in our public schools. The U.S. is the only major industrialized country not to provide some public funds for maternity leave. Other countries even invest in public health care, public childcare or flexible hours for working parents.

Misnamed, “socialism,” these capitalist investment policies recognize the financial importance of healthy youngsters, who grow up into healthy workers and managers and entrepreneurs tomorrow. Taxes on corporations and the owners of production could help pay for our collective investments in family, since they’re the ones who will benefit most financially from utilizing tomorrow’s responsible and healthy employees.

But if this doesn’t appeal to you, then consider the Tobin Tax, an idea put forward by Nobel-prize winning Yale economist, James Tobin, in the 1970s. His idea was buried and discredited by “free-market” bullies. But as nation after nation went bust, the dangers of currency game-playing kept resurfacing. If global speculators, gaming national currency systems and markets like a  casino, endangered national livelihoods—why not discourage recklessness by taxing international transactions? Paul Krugman just reiterated the idea again in The New York Times (Nov. 27, 09). http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/27/opinion/27krugman.html

According to South African economist, Margaret Legum, in her book, It Doesn’t have to be Like This, the Tobin tax would be impossible to evade and at a modest 0.25% would generate $250 billion on the now current $2 trillion in transactions. That’s $250 billion every year. That might fund our investing in our families—at least so long as we don’t allow yet another open-ended war to be declared. (War, it turns out, is profitable for everyone but the people involved.)

Yes, okay, the result of all this parental and shared community investment in our families would mean literally selling our kids’ into eventual wage-slavery. But we capitalists live with that reality already. Parents just don’t get a return on their investment. The Tobin tax could mean more public investment in this parental dividend; it could mean working class kids could get an education without putting their life on the line. Wars could not be waged without boys and girls desperate for money and meaning for their lives. Monetized caring could gain enough respect that more could decide to afford it more often.

Only because we’ve mentally kept the family sphere separate from the commercial sphere, do parents, especially moms,  get little but blame and expenses for their parental time, or for caring for their own parents when they’re past their prime. So tear down the last fragments of that old 19th century wall dividing private and public spheres! Freedom! More capitalism for all!

Not separate at all, two spheres separated by a man-made wall has always been a convenient lie. For the families who continue to make this economy work, it’s been an expensive lie. We live as wage-slaves on the job and come home to a second shift of unpaid slavery. And for what? Capitalism! Our families need more of it!

Did this subject make the headlines in YOUR favorite paper?  Were people talking about this at the water cooler where you work? I wish they were!

In late September, the G20 got together in Pittsburgh—pretty dull so far, huh?  In itself this expanded economic gathering marks a shift in power to China and India and the Southern hemisphere’s “developing” nations. But on the way there, the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who is considered a conservative among the foundational G8, made a “passionate plea” for a broader vision of the economy.

Sarkozy has created a special commission to revamp France’s national statistics-gathering. A new study by economists Joseph Stiglitz and Amartya Sen has argued that calculating the Gross Domestic Product as a measure of the economy gives nations a skewed policy picture. I was jumping up and down, I was so happy hearing this!

Why? Because I love freedom-fries?  Freedom-Fries--Other-Stupidity-Well-Have-ToBecause French workers get 36 vacation days and a 35-hour work week, not to mention national healthcare?  Yes, yes, all that—but no, I was most excited because this is something Marilyn Waring, a young New Zealand Minister of Parliament, said 30 years ago!

She published a great book titled If Women Counted. Waring toured the world, talking about the way the GDP and its statistics left earth’s and women’s foundational contributions economically invisible. As a result, she said, our mother earth and family/social life didn’t “count” in our economic measures, and she showed the damaging results in the environment, food systems and our quality of life. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marilyn_Waring

We are still living with those GDP results now.  This story from Joe Wisenthal, a business writer here in the U.S., calls the GDP a “crappy” measurement. See the details of why The Business Insider published this here.

http://www.businessinsider.com/sarkozy-is-right-gdp-measures-suck-2009-9

As an American, you might also be interested in this story on Sarkozy, the GDP, and Canada’s positioning compared to the U.S.  in The Star in Toronto. By Martin Regg Cohn, it’s titled “How to measure Gross National Happiness,” something Bhutan is already doing.

http://www.thestar.com/comment/article/695624

As I’ve often argued on this blog, biology gets left out of the “economy” all together with GDP measurements. All the garbage gets externalized to Gaia. Passionate parents and lovers of all kinds get lumped together and misnamed the “informal economy.” The informal economy only cares and sacrifices and enjoys and supplies the gifts of life and makes an economy socially possible. Our juiciest, most valuable times, the reasons we work at all, should be renamed the “essential economy,” the “foundational economy.”  I call it our Eros economy because, without our deepest passions valued,  we’re dead without knowing it.

Eros’ love economy can be made visible. Some countries, like Canada and Britain, are already shaping policy around more holistic time and movement accounts. Without these measurements, our lives and the earth’s will remain the unnamed starving elephant in the room. A few will make out like bandits and leave the rest of us footing the bill. The GDP enables this description of the economy as warfare, something Waring also pointed out.

The GDP was originally designed by John Maynard Keynes, to help England rationalize and finance World War II. Later adopted by the U.N., the GDP’s measurement system has reliably helped world leaders view and sell war as something good for the economy.

Duh. No wonder. It conveniently leaves uncounted any debits that come from war, including environmental destruction, or damage to women and children and families and social functioning. And here’s the bonus. According to the GDP, the more expensive the war machinery, the more profit we get to add to our Gross Domestic Product! So corporations can count on fat national contracts—and citizens get to pay for it. Click here to see how much we’ve spent already on the two most recent wars. http://costofwar.com/

.The GDP is not only skewed and crappy, it is destructive.

Shadow BankingIf you’d like an informed woman’s view of Wall Street history and culture, but can’t stand to read all their blather, I urge you to visit Eva Chrysanthe’s website, PimpMyAdamSmith.com. Just click on the link to her site, listed to your left. I love all of her work for its serious economic fun.

My Life in Shadow Banking tells Eva’s personal New York encounter with the repeal of Glass-Steagall, a bill established post-Great Depression to separate the contradictory aims of banking for protection and the stock market’s risk-taking. Mixing the two had led to the 1929 Crash and Glass-Steagall ended the temptation of a bank’s overselling certain worthless securities because of “compensation.”

That bill was skirted by the Federal Reserve under the leadership of Alan Greenspan, who had been a director for J.P. Morgan just before he got on board at the Fed in 1987.

Banking lobbies had failed at getting Congress to repeal Glass-Steagall, but after two years under our Uncle Alan, the Fed’s board narrowly decided to double the original limit on revenues banks could earn selling securities. Neatly done—and without pesky legislation. In 1990, J.P. Morgan became the first bank granted permission to underwrite securities, so long as it didn’t exceed 10% of revenues. Coincidence, huh?  The door was opened. The pigs came into the kitchen. You can see all their shit on Frontline, which names names, if you’ve the stomach for it.

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/gsearch.html?q=wall+street&x=0&y=0

But first go to Eva’s site for a mean laugh at our naivete and Clinton’s. Whether it’s Endless Desire, her brief history of luxury, or her sassy accounts of Adam Smith and Milton Friedman, you’ll get some relief from economic dyspepsia. For instance, about Godfather Poppa Friedman and his era of “Greed is good,” (a view shared by Uncle Alan), she says:

Like the biblical fall of man in reverse, Milton Friedman allowed us to bid our shame goodbye because, as we learned from Friedman and the Chicago School of Economics, the pursuit of our own wealth could be good for our fellow man. It was like finding out that french fries were “slenderizing.

www.pimpmyadamsmith.com/WhoWasSmith.html

Adam Smith, of course, is the most important demi-god of economics. He wrote The Wealth of Nations the same year the Declaration of Independence was signed by our founding fathers. But as Eva reminds us, he was no god, but a man who lived with his mother. She says few who quote him today have read his 620-page mind-numbing tome. Milton Friedman, Reagan and Bush’s economic advisor, who resuscitated Smith’s “invisible hand,” left a lot of his other parts dead and buried. His contemporaries thought he was dangerously liberal. Smith believed in government regulation.

Eva Chrysanthe is an accomplished artist and writer at work on a graphic novel whose working title is Adam Smith: An Economist Falls in Love with the Universe.

I can’t get excited anymore by the bizarre mixture of bad news and Wall Street’s opportunism, up and down.  I noted the dog-and-pony show Ben Bernanke put on The News Hour, defending the Federal Reserve’s right to call itself Federal, while refusing to end its secrecy. This secrecy, the Fed says, is necessary. We cannot name names. Any woman sexually abused or threatened will recognize this line.

A group of international, private bankers got Congress to put the U.S. Treasury and us taxpayers in bed with the Fed, but if you’re like me, you’ve begun to suspect it’s an abusive relationship. It’s all beginning to sound like blah, blah, blah, when I know damned well women citizens and taxpayers had better not trust them.

Gloria Steinem, in a talk to about 500 Vermont Woman readers, there for the newspaper’s 5th anniversary, http://www.vermontwoman.com/articles/0609/pubmessage.shtml added a short note of caution to a celebration of what women have wrought in a generation’s time. She asked us to remember what we’d learned from the domestic violence movement. The most dangerous time for any woman in a violent relationship comes when she’s ready to leave.

Take a look at women’s “economic” relationship with the U.S. We continue to be the majority of the poor. Our pay in the job market continues to lag behind men’s, particularly if we are mothers. Clustered in the lower income rates, we get fewer tax advantages, and see half our tax money spent for guns and weapons at the Pentagon. When viewed closely, this economy seems essentially rooted in violence, not only buying and selling weapons to wage war—a very profitable business—but with public policies that arm the rich all over the world—and rob and exploit women and our planet.

red powercontrol

Worldwide, whether the war is economic or literal war, women get overrun, disregarded, or when hurt or killed, counted as “collateral” damage, if at all. Victims, women get blamed and discounted, whether for giving birth, or giving birth to the wrong gender—or as, here, for  not demanding higher salaries, or for being hurt and misshapen by a multi-million dollar advertising industry that “targets” us.

Try drawing a few parallels between physical violence and economic violence, as you look at the Wheel. Male Privilege prevails on Wall Street.  Using Coercion and Threats—that was Paulson’s method for getting TARP money, and now Bernanke is trying to Isolate us,  refusing us information we have a right to know.  You could say Blue Dog Democrats (almost exclusively white males) are Using the Children, calling a public healthcare plan “unaffordable.” These are methods many men will recognize, too. It’s not how healthy relationships or healthy economies function. It is anything but a democracy.

As women grow more economically and politically “independent,” watch out for danger and backlash. Women are much more than victims. We’re survivors and remarkably resilient, in a better position than ever to begin to make a difference in how our economy shapes up in future. Obama has put together a more diverse team in Washington than usual, but we women who aren’t economic wonks also need to put our heads together and do some safety-planning. We may need to build some economic shelters of our own.

For some bad but honest news about the economic perps, see Max Keiser’s July 28, 2009 article

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/max-keiser/the-shadow-banking-pyrami_b_245988.html

For hopeful policing, see Rep. Bernie Sanders’ letter to the Fed’s Ben Bernanke and his bedfellow, Timothy Geithner. The Fed has made 2.2 TRILLION available to international financial firms since Bears & Stern and Bernie wants to know—to whom did it go?  He suspects Goldman & Sachs paid back its TARP funds so it could give out outlandish bonuses—in other words, The Fed may have made money available to them under the Fed table, to pay bonuses to the guys who hit us with the latest crash.

http://sanders.senate.gov/files/letter-071509.pdf

I love Obama, yet it’s disappointing to hear about his new economic plan—namely putting some regulation back in place to protect the status quo for the biggies. Okay, he is creating a new agency for protecting financial “consumers,” which I suppose is a nicer term than “debtors.” Still, why not call it a Citizen Protection Agency?

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105718039

Worse, he now seeks more responsibility be given to the Federal Reserve. Hey, wasn’t the Fed and its board busy meeting behind closed doors the whole time our economy “approached the brink?” For years?

For those millions of Americans losing their jobs, the economy has already gone over the brink and down a dark hole. Economist Paul Krugman, who seems controversial because he’s at least aware of this, told PBS NewsHour June 17 he wanted a stronger plan, especially on financial compensation schemes. He was countered, in the ping-pong style that often poses as “objectivity,” by a banking lobbyist.  Yet as writer Cynthia Kouril at FireDogLake points out, they agreed on one item, something I noticed, too:

Ms. Casey-Landry [the lobbyist] repeatedly made the point that major features of the financial crisis were not caused by regular banks or savings and loans, but rather by unregulated mortgage companies, or what she called “shadow banks,” and by the role of players like AIG, and by what she called “systemically significant institutions” (which I took to mean anybody deemed “too big to fail”).

See Cynthia Kouril’s article and links at http://firedoglake.com/2009/06/18/financial-re-regulation-grades-are-in-and-obamas-plan-gets-a-d/

It’s “systemically significant institutions” closely tied to the Fed to worry about. This system weighs most of us and the nation with debt impossible to pay. Who will regulate the biggest boys, who still bet on and play volatile games with currency values in international hedge funds?  They “systemically” bring nations to their knees, only “normally” it’s been other nations. (If those are any example, hyperinflation will come next.)

Kouril thinks millionaire Democrat and Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, is right. We need a big investigation. Now that S.386 has passed, write to your elected representatives and help make them do it right. http://www.speaker.gov/newsroom/legislation?id=0306

While you’re at it, check out bill H.R. 1207, The Federal Reserve Transparency Act, first proposed by Ron Paul, a Republican millionaire on the far right.  http://www.govtrack.us/congress/bill.xpd?bill=h111-1207

I’ve yet to see how Paul’s retro ideas about re-establishing a gold standard for money-creation would help women “consumer” citizens, who are now being urged in TV ads to cash in their gold jewelry to pay bills. But holding the Fed accountable is a first step toward a financial housecleaning we badly need to have.

The Fed board now needn’t report out to the public what they decide at their board meetings or even who they loan billions to—given they are not really a government agency, but a system of private banks, posing as one. They create money as debt notes out of thin air. Paul wants audits at least.

On that note, William Grieder, a courageous writer, one who makes economics readable, has been critiquing a financial aristocracy for decades. He says he’s felt like “a bag lady out on the street corner, waving a placard to passing crowds.” So, hey, he relates. But now he has a new book—out from Rodale, not a NY publishing house. He believes this may be the crisis to wake us up from our slumber. If you find yourself feeling cynical and hopeless, William Grieder feels your pain, but says, Get up off your butt!

We’d better, before the thieves go on to the next robbery. Read an excerpt here and then go get Come Home, America. http://williamgreider.com/comehomeamerica

Thanks to my daughter, Kris, for this Mother’s Day article for investors in The Wall Street Journal. In it, columnist Jason Zweig advises men to share the reins to their investment portfolios with their wives. He opens with:

“Fess up, fellows: The masters of the universe have turned out to be masters of disaster. No matter which aspect of the financial crisis you consider, there is a man behind it.”

His article shows women investors tend to take fewer risks, trade less often and stick with their investments, leveraging less. He quotes psychologists who claim men are more likely to react to crises like our current one with anger, while women react with fear. That’s one way to put it, I guess.

http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB124181915279001967-lMyQjAxMDI5NDExMTgxMTE5Wj.html

I think it more likely women understand their investments are only part of the universe. They’re well aware of how little trust should be put in arrogant men more interested in using money for self-aggrandizing sport, than in an honest return for smart investments in a future worth living. Acting with caution should only be called sensible—exactly Zweig’s point.

Warren Buffett, our country’s most famous investor, buffetts-warcalled last fall’s bank meltdown “an economic Pearl Harbor.” CNBC’s Becky Quick reminded him of this and asked him where we were, May 1st. Buffett looks like the Good-Humor Man with bodyguards, here, rattling his sword for stockholders, stating:

At that point, you could have lost the war. And there was a strike at the heart of the American system, the financial system…We got past that. Some of the right decisions were made then, so I give people great credit for doing that. The war isn’t over, though.”

Metaphors help explain what’s going on—but who exactly is the invader? Who is warring with whom? The last 30 years have seen a shameless increase in billionaires with hedge-funds, most of them “true-blue” American white males who employ CEOs. Meanwhile American wages and jobs have gone down or out of the country.

Game-players on Wall Street may love war. Winners get rich and become king of the mountain. But why should anyone fight for any king’s mountains of paper and electronic blips? Americans gave up kings when the Constitution was signed. I thought “the heart of the American system” was democracy, not “the financial system” Buffett here cites.

I am underpaid and overworked, aware of the growth in poverty around the world and among kids here at home. My adult children need 80 hours of labor to support their households, not the 40 hours my parents’ needed. Give me growing, living metaphors for any system you expect me to swallow.

Warren, make love, not war! Grow us money on trees! Dig out the cut-worms of debt. Weed out Wall Street’s witch-grass, choking out the flowering of our buzzing, living lives. I won’t rally round the flag for bogus war-mongering. I prefer what Pogo would have said about the economy last September and now:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

newwayfoward-protest1This is one of the posters being distributed by A New Way Forward, an organization calling for a national day of protest against CEO and Bank Bailouts on April 11th. Their website will help you discover what is happening in your area. Go out into the streets with your pitchforks and rolling pins!

http://anewwayforward.org/demonstrations/

I chose this poster,  designed by Eva Chrysanthe, because it’s so rare to see a female figure in the Investment Banking Bailout scandal.  Her No and  Section 382 refers to a tax law that was illegally overthrown last year by then-Treasurer Paulson, in a memo providing a tax windfall for his banking buddies who were already getting $700 billion from TARP.

I love the poster’s aside, commenting on women’s disadvantage: “Paulson played Defensive Lineman at Dartmouth, 1967. You: Did not.” Women aren’t at the top of the insider-clubhouse of the nation’s nine biggest banks, or at AIG and their ranks  on Wall Street are shrinking. http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/01/business/01wall.html

It’s easy to decide the crisis has little to do with us. So why then do women always get the short end of the financial stick? (or is that dick?)

If women educated themselves about the Wall Street Meltdown and the finance culture of male one-up-manship, we might get the structural reform on Wall Street and in Washington we so badly need. Without women’s voices pressing for big change,  Obama won’t have what he needs to accomplish it.

A recent Bill Moyer interview, which I very much recommend,  presented a lawyer-banking regulator who worked on the Savings and Loan debacle back in the 80s, William K. Black. Black said the nation needs a high-profile Congressional Investigation, as happened after the Great Depression–ideally one headed by an elected woman, he added.

http://www.pbs.org/moyers/journal/04032009/profile.html

Another recent radio interview of the author of House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street, William Cohan, asked this former Bears and Stearn investment banker, Did he think this would have happened if some intelligent women had been part of their management team? (I missed the male interviewer’s name, but loved his asking.)  Cohan laughed and houseofcardsanswered the culture was definitely one of Alpha males gone wild.

What if a million women asked the Fed and the Treasury and all their Wall Street game-playing line-men–what on earth were you thinking? Get real!

Thanks to one of my readers who sent me these great links, in response to my groaning about our “Crisis of Credit & Stuff.” How many more bailouts and cars, American or otherwise, I asked, can our nation and Gaia withstand?

But here’s some good news on that front, an exciting new French design being tested in India, an air-powered auto, reported by BBC. Have you seen this on U.S. news?

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=2228669770213573581

Another Japanese prototype runs on water-even leftover tea.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CrxfMz2eDME

When did we last see an ingenious idea come out of Detroit? Let’s see. The SUV, which propped up the American working man’s self-image over the past 20 years, while manufacturing jobs got shipped overseas. It was a brilliant compensation. He didn’t notice the irony of making his trucks and cars bigger, while his paycheck was shrinking, not for decades.

Oh, but these two new ecological designs would only make cars and fuel less harmful, more affordable-and where is the profit in that? How would THAT help our present GDP, a national system of accounting where disasters add up for the economy, and health doesn’t count.

So, naturally (or unnaturally, actually) both of these companies are having trouble finding financing. Duhhhhhh, as my friend put it.

credit-crisis1

My son Keith sent me a link to a great video by Jonathan Jarvis. It helps explain in plain English why many of our mortgages are now called toxic, worldwide. He naturally has an interest, living in Las Vegas, where the real-estate market has bottomed out-or maybe it hasn’t yet.

As you’ll see, the whole credit system needs an antidote, as some international investment bankers’ “packaging” of risk (actually an exploitation of our nation’s housing) is poisoning the economic system with an overload of debt, the dark side of credit. Who are the “investors” this video talks about, who bank at international investment banks? To whom do they answer?

Crisis of Credit

http://crisisofcredit.com/

Not to us. Our nation’s leaders are quick to rescue the “big players” by our nation’s enslavement to still more debt, just as they are now moving to rescue the American dream in our car industry. Yet GM’s Rick Wagoner leaves the company with $20 million in retirement (according to ABC) after having doled out more American jobs to robots or to countries where labor is not organized to defend itself. GM now plans to cut 49,000 employees by the end of 2009. Who does Wagoner and GM’s board answer to? The same international investors Obama and Geithner answer to at The Treasury and the Federal Reserve.

The film Roger and Me explains what has long been big autos’ direction for American workers, driven by the same international investors. Some are rightly asking, who exactly will buy autos if workers, even here in the U.S., cannot afford cars? Others ask, what will happen to earth’s climate if our world fills up with more cars?

story-of-stuffSee a funny short history, Annie Leonard’s The Story of Stuff, for a clear picture of why the same economic system that doesn’t work for mortgages or us, doesn’t work for the commonwealth of our nation, or for any nation really.  It undermines Eros, the energy that charges human hearts, and it surely hurts Gaia, a healthy planet. This economy has worked, up to now, for “international investors” to whom everyone, from international corporations to nations worldwide, owes yet more borrowed and bogus paper money.

The Story of Stuff

http://www.storyofstuff.com/

One of my favorite readers wrote to pose this excellent question. Where does our money come from? Who owns the dollar? We the People-or those Chinese we keep hearing about?  Few of us really understand our dollar isn’t just issued by our government and then printed at the U.S. Mint. It is financed as a debt by the Federal Reserve System, a Banking system, and when you learn about its function and its history, you can hardly believe it. So I’ve created a new page on the subject.

In the meantime, though, take a look at your dollar bill. What does it say? Issued by the U.S. Mint? Nope. It is signed by the Treasurer of the United States, not to be confused with the second signature, the Secretary of the Treasury. Huh?  My page on the Federal Reserve explains this.

dollar-bill

Note the dollar is labeled a Federal Reserve Note. The Treasury goes to the Federal Reserve and says, hey, we need this much money to pay the nation’s bills. The Federal Reserve then writes a check whose account is never reconciled, like yours and mine, and prints up these debt-notes. Every dollar we use costs Americans a dollar plus interest, the reason for inflation and rising prices.

We pay a growing percentage of interest each year in the federal budget-and to whom? To private financiers, including some nations’ banks, who “buy” U.S. bonds, auctioned off internationally by the Federal Reserve. Like many financial terms, the “buy” part of this is misleading. These buyers are actually “loaning” us money, at an interest price determined by the Fed, a private banking system in touch with world bond and currency “markets.” How much will the market bear? How long will the Fed keep writing us checks and running up the Treasury’s credit card?

If big money, behind even Central National Banks and the IMF, is buying anything, it’s buying a piece of us. Americans are being sold into debt-slavery, similarly to other nations’ citizens who have been auctioned off before us. (See Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine.) What fascinates me today about currency and monetary issues is the way only the far edges of our political spectrum, both left and right, have picked it up. I can’t believe my page on the Federal Reserve recommends you watch a lecture delivered to the John Birch Society! I’m a leftie!

But in this political climate, with this media framing the issues, we must not stay confused. To Americans any “socialism” is bad, except when the rich owners of corporations or banks benefit. Yet some on both sides of the aisle are talking about the same systemic problems, however different their approaches.  Shouldn’t American women citizens understand this conversation?

Meanwhile, mainstream politics continues to leave the Federal Reserve issue completely alone. Why? Maybe because potentially, it’s incendiary.

We women, who have been encouraged not to worry our pretty little heads about the nation’s budget and big finance, are the very ones who might bridge this political gap between the far left and the far right and promote public education about the usury that threatens to bankrupt the nation. All the candidates for President in the last election were millionaires, with the exception of one, which might explain why this present system doesn’t seem to bother too many of them.

Do you know the one non-millionaire who ran?  The answer is in the middle of my new page, About the Federal Reserve. Check it out!

Thanks to my student, Elizabeth Johnson, for writing so vividly about the film by this title. I decided to view it, and then had to link it here. Falling food gets transformed in this hour-long video, from plastic food packages dropped on war-torn barren ground from an airlift, to dozens of varieties of fruit overhead in a wild garden designed by Bill Mollison. www.permaculturecairns.com/billmollisonpermaculturevideos.html

Mollison is the New Zealander who coined the word permaculture. A former logger, who noticed that none of the loggers could afford to build a house from the lumber they were felling, withdrew to a remote forest and, like Thoreau, observed nature closely. He wrote about what he discovered of inter-related ecosystems. He said the paradigm of war on nature in present-day factory farming destroyed natural relationships, endangering bio-diversity and health. When he brought his ideas forward, they caught fire. He began to design plots of land to produce foods easily with regional nature in mind. Most importantly, perhaps, his designs can even work to enliven cities and suburbs. Here’s a link to the organization rooted in his ideas. http://www.permaculture.org/nm/index.php/site/index/mollison

Mollison doesn’t say this, but he communed with Gaia and Eros. He’s a lover and shunned war-making. His passionate commitment to Gaia’s innate wisdom, a little crazy and persistent with a sexy power, overcame conventional opposition. His words woke us up to our crucial need to rediscover devotion and attention to life in all its forms–quick, before it’s too late.

My good friend, Paul Baicich, sent me this  link to a great episode on This American Life on National Public Radio. The piece  explains what’s happening to Citibank and other giants our government is bailing out with billions. It will make the hair on your arms stand on end, because you’ll UNDERSTAND it. Yikes. Thanks to TAL and writers Alex Blumberg and Adam Davidson for this – and other articles at this link.

Listening to this for 59 minutes is very much worthwhile.  Just click “full episode.”
http://www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=375

I will share this link with my seminar on Money in Literature – the same day I show the film of Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice. Maybe I’ll throw in a little Jimmy Stewart, as George Bailey doing battle with Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life-a lovable piece of propaganda.

Ain't it wonderful?

Ain't it wonderful?

But NPR’s brave reporters didn’t touch the most blatant lie – that our network of insolvent banks borrow money from the Federal Reserve routinely – and that the Federal Reserve is itself a private network that poses as a government entity, while creating money out of thin air. Banks’ “assets,” which most assume are our deposits used to loan out, represent “liabilities” to the bank, while mortgages that create “credit” on the books (debt to YOU) are kept in motion by more air moola from the Fed. This bogus money creates debt systemically impossible to pay off. It represents 95% of the money in our economy-with only 5% issued by our government at the U.S. Mint.

The Fed also brokers our national deficit by selling t-bills that supposedly can’t go wrong, since we taxpayers will be left holding the interest-bag. The bag grew exponentially under Republicans Reagan and Bush. But even Clinton’s “balanced budget” never paid down a nickel of the principal owed-it only managed to pay the interest. So who benefits from keeping nations in debt? What are their names? That’s the sort of thing I’d like to see at Blumberg and Davidson’s blog, Planet Money.  http://www.npr.org/blogs/money/

I won’t hold my breath, not with Charles Schwab advertising on the front page. Still Planet Money is another valuable link for understanding what’s going on. Just remember what side their bread is buttered on.

Bankers like calling debt the “credit” industry and, like going through Alice’s Looking glass, it gets curiouser and curiouser in their balance sheets. But even investment banks with big players who finance nations aren’t where the real action is anymore: it’s in currency trading, where nations get regularly busted and citizens lose the value even of their currency savings-which to the banks, remember, are liabilities anyway. With a currency devalued, a whole nation can be had for a bargain.

I am a subscriber to British green-economist James Robertson’s newsletter. His clear writing about the cross-purposes of “national” financing, namely the creation of money, not by governments (only 5% in Britain and the U.S.), but by private, commercial banks as “credit,” or rather debt, clarified for me the pickle we’re continually in.

Robertson’s work in Creating New Money: Monetary Reform for the Information Age http://www.jamesrobertson.com/book/creatingnewmoney.pdf led me to American writers Tom Greco (Money), http://www.reinventingmoney.com/ Global Research http://www.globalresearch.ca/, one of their writers, Richard Cook, http://www.richardccook.com/articles.php and Ellen Brown (Web of Debt), http://www.webofdebt.com/

All of them make it clear that the Federal Reserve System is not the governmental one we all assume. Its privately owned banks are in close alliance with private firms like Citibank and Goldman Sachs, who manipulate the market to suit the purposes of those who own most of our wealth. Any doubts I had about this were removed when the first “bailout” happened, the good old boys of banking in intimate contact, helping themselves to the Treasury-with no one accountable for where the money went.

Belgian ex-banker, Bernard Lietaer, http://www.transaction.net/money/bio/lietaer.html who helped create the Euro, says roughly this about the present means of money creation: if banks create “credit” out of thin air, as they do with Federal Reserve exchanges, mortgages and business loans, where then do we the people come up with the additional money always due for their interest? Where does that additional money come from? Systemically, such a scheme must lead to ruthless competition and what Riane Eisler (The Real Wealth of Nations) http://www.rianeeisler.com/rwon.htm calls the “dominator” paradigm. Who will be king of the mountain? Who must be pushed off to win?

Now Robertson, called the grandfather of “Green Economics,” is taking some hope from the enlarging of the usual G7 or G8 meeting of nations (for the top kings) to a G20 meeting, involving more nations than any time since Bretton Woods. He has put forward monetary reform as the first order of business-nationally first, and internationally second. His ideas may still seem radical-but only because most remain ignorant of how money currently gets created. For insights into new directions we might take for a more democratic future, check out Robertson’s clearly written recommendations.

If you haven’t read about monetary reform before this, stand by to say, huh? You mean this isn’t how money gets made now? Write to your congressional delegation. Write to Obama’s economic team!

http://www.jamesrobertson.com/article/nationalandinternationalfinancialarchitecture.pdf

The lyrics from Dire Straits came to mind when I read an article about peak oil by James Howard Kunstler.  Kunstler wrote The Long Emergency and other great books  http://www.kunstler.com/and says this about American delusional thinking in the latest issue of Population Press (Fall/Winter 2008):

Years ago, U.S. negotiators at a United Nations environmental conference told their interlocutors that the American lifestyle is “not up for negotiation.” This stance is, unfortunately, related to two pernicious beliefs that have become common in the United States in recent decades. The first is the idea that when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true. (Oprah Winfrey advanced this notion last year with her promotion of a pop book called The Secret, which said, in effect, that if you wish hard enough for something, it will come to you.) One of the basic differences between a child and an adult is the ability to know the difference between wishing for things and actually making them happen through earnest effort.

The companion belief to “wishing on a star” is the idea that one can get something for nothing. This derives from America’s new favorite religion: not evangelical Christianity but the worship of unearned riches. (The holy shrine to this tragic belief is Las Vegas.) When you combine these two beliefs, the result is the notion that when you wish upon a star, you’ll get something for nothing. This is what underlies our current fantasy, as well as our inability to respond intelligently to the energy crisis.

While Kunstler is talking about energy needs, his ideas can be applied to financial realms, where “wishing on a star” and “something for nothing” are cornerstones on Wall Street and on Main Street, where bank “credit” is created out of air to become money. See Ellen Brown http://webofdebt.wordpress.com/monetary-proposal/

Kunstler and other formidable writers (including Lester Brown and Al Gore) are featured in Volume 14, Number 4, which is not yet up on the Population Press website, but it is worth a visit to see past issues as well as a scary ticker that shows population growth and the contrasting figure of arable land, which remains  static. Ouch!  http://www.populationpress.org/

President-Elect Obama’s “Remarks on American Recovery and Reinvestment” on Jan. 8, 2009, emphasized refitting America with job creation in the private sector ( public jobs like teachers, cops and firefighters mentioned briefly), along with investments in three areas: clean energy, high-tech upgrading of schools, labs and libraries, and the rebuilding of schools, roads and broadband networks. He also calls for $1000 in tax cuts for middle-class “working families.”

http://www.usatoday.com/money/economy/2009-01-08-obama-economy_N.htm

I’m most closely connected to education and so noticed his leaving out  Pell grants for college students and ignoring data that shows education and testing improves when teacher: student ratios are kept low. Instead, he proposes technology will “upgrade schools.” Yet technology, to be effective, requires more education–but education of a particular kind. We need to teach students how to think and solve problems, not merely to purchase and test out the newest money-making tools for corporations, or to entrench our dependence on finding more money to buy more technology-the same old rat trap.

We need the “vision thing,” missing since JFK and his brother Bobby-unless you want to count Reagan’s “It’s Morning in America” wishful thinking. Are Obama’s “high-tech, high-wage jobs” and competing against kids in Beijing really the best our future generation can hope for? The wind and solar power he mentions may be smarter technologies, but we have larger human questions to face about what we do with our inventions and how we measure their impacts.

As the foundation of this megalithic global economy crumbles around us, so do its unsustainable assumptions of inducing debt as the only way to grow capital. It is debt repaid by an overproduction of goods and exhaustion of our natural resources, which is also unsustainable.  We need new paradigms for reframing economic thinking and addressing our overload of debt, both our nation’s and our private ones, on a planet clearly in trouble. Monetary reform and revamping our relationship with the private Federal Reserve bank should be on the table, along with a concrete food-basket standard for stabilizing global currencies. Education for women, daycare support, and changing international birth control policy, might also help “competition.”

Most importantly, we need to make visible the economy of EROS, our human exchanges with each other and the earth. Competition can be dramatic, even fun in the short-term, but cooperation, collaboration and “paying” sustained attention is more economical in the long-term. These activities tend not to “count” in competition. Labor continues to be discounted in Obama’s economic thinking-and the “free labor” of maintaining life, including yours and your kids at home, remains invisible. Maybe Obama has a staff and Michelle to watch over such details-but most of us don’t and his $1000 tax cut splurge on the nation’s credit card won’t purchase much help.

by Jim Pavlidis

Image by Jim Pavlidis

I just lost my mother, and so have been thinking about our American way of death. You may know of a book by that title, written by muckraker Jessica Mitford in 1963, and revisited in a recent updated version. Mitford once joked about her journalistic style, “Objectivity? I always have an objective in mind.” Mitford exposed the high cost of death and the funeral business (and in other books, shamed other American businesses, like prisons).

http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200610u/jessica-mitford

Her angle on the “biz” still fits our zeitgeist. We Americans pay little public attention to mourning and grief. It’s practically un-American not to have a nice day. I googled “death statistics,” hoping to find some indicators of the economic cost to business or government for providing leaves for a death in the family. In the U.S., is this typically paid or unpaid leave? What are the economic costs for depression associated with mourning? How many Americans have trouble taking time off from work for funerals or finding needed time for settling estates? Could we cut costs by more actively engaging in this common and necessary human process?

I couldn’t find much about the topic. Imagine the size of our silence about this. Nearly two-and-a half million people die each year, (2,425,900 in 2006, says the National Center for Health Statistics).

http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/pressroom/08newsreleases/mortality2006.htm

The NCHS press release is happy about our life expectancy rates, up from last year, now age 78, but I’m saying, what about the family impact of those 2.5 million deaths? How do we the living deal with it? Who is measuring our “private” costs? Many of those 2.5 million are not only grieved and mourned, but estates must be settled by family members or appointed others, and their deaths cost Americans a good lot of money, particularly when travel costs for today’s far-flung families get included. What is the emotional cost when that time or travel isn’t affordable?

I found the U.K. and Canada talked more openly about death, calling it “bereavement,” and apparently they’re more generous in accounting for real costs. The Department of Work and Pensions benefits pays 2000 British Pounds immediately, or $2960 in today’s currency market, to help pay for immediate bereavement expenses. Social Security pays out $500 and calls it a “death benefit.”

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd1/bb/bb_statistics_sept04.asp

This review of SHOCK DOCTRINE originally appeared in the April 2008 issue of Vermont Woman under my byline  At the end of my review here, you’ll find links to Naomi Klein and her views on economics since publication, and a video of her if you haven’t got time to read her astonishing book.naomikleinpaperbackweb

Canadian writer Naomi Klein strikes lightening at dark corners of contemporary U.S. history with her new book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism. Her work, while not easy to read, brings cathartic relief. She makes terrible sense of the worst pictures of recent America: the Twin Towers, Abu Ghraib and New Orleans’ Katrina. She lights images flashed world-wide over the past generation, ranging from the fall of East Germany’s wall to Tiananmen Square, from Walesa’s solidarity vault over a fence in Poland to the overthrow of Russia’s “White House,” from the end of apartheid in South Africa to Africa’s impoverishment.

All have economic bullying in common, an element seldom reported. Klein connects the dots between “free-market” economics and a foreign policy underpinned by the CIA and outsourced military forces, both of which exploit poverty to guard global financial interests, joining terror with yet more terror.

If this begins to sound like a conspiracy theory-it is. But it’s one the perps themselves acknowledge. These are the men who manage international trade, leverage currencies and develop economic policies of governments world-wide. They meet in the cabinet backrooms of presidencies and dictatorships around the world and apply pressure from The International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to enforce private takeovers world-wide. Klein follows this fraternity’s mind-meld, dancing in their macro-economic circles.

Klein’s tale reads like a mystery, linking two influential thinkers: the first an American psychiatrist, and the other, an economist, both with grandiose views of humanity’s need for their radical makeovers. Both were “professionals,” who used remarkably ruthless means.

Klein begins the tale with a cold war scenario close to Vermont. Former president of the American Psychiatric Association, Ewen Cameron, began experiments in the late 1950s. His institute, associated with McGill University in Montreal, sought to remake human personality, wiping the slate clean to recreate a new, improved person. An epigraph from Orwell’s 1984 aptly describes his aim, which was funded by the CIA. “We shall squeeze you empty, and then we shall fill you with ourselves.”

Cameron used electric shock methods, but far more intensely than his peers. He combined this with sensory deprivation to prevent patients from knowing time or space, as well as hallucinatory drugs, disruption of sleep patterns, messages played over and over, loud noises or padded silences. Patients were stripped of clothing or any reminders of identity and memory.

They and their families had no idea Cameron was experimenting on them. His patients “regressed” to a dependent and malleable state, transformed into frightened children. They suffered terrible long-term harm and trauma-induced physical symptoms. By the 1970s, patients and their families had exposed Cameron’s secret and brought a lawsuit against the CIA. News in the Canadian press, this case was aided by the Canadian government and finally settled by the CIA, quietly, in 1988.

The CIA got their money’s worth. Cameron’s methods became part of the agency’s KuBark manual for interrogation, which is still in use. It ultimately found its way to military training facilities and to Abu Ghraib. Wherever KuBark went, electrical wires and psychological shocks showed up.

Meanwhile in another realm, a “free-market” economist named Milton Friedman, sought to wipe more slates clean, this time to remake economics.  Friedman preached one idea for over 30 years: “Only a crisis-actual or perceived-produces real change.”  He called his economic strategies “shock treatments.”

Friedman’s methods also called for quick jolts, rapid-fire transformation: tax cuts, no-holds-barred “free trade” for international corporations, privatized contracts to replace government functions, cuts to social spending, deregulation, and increases in military budgets. The last was essential. A charismatic teacher, Friedman ultimately headed the economics department of the University of Chicago and charmed an elite male following. His students included Donald Rumsfeld, who twice became Secretary of Defense, both times under Presidents Bush. Rumsfeld called his strategy for the Iraq war, “Shock and Awe.”

Friedman’s followers called themselves “The Chicago Boys.” Like Cameron and the CIA, Friedmanites were comfortable with erasing identities, even national ones, to remake the world in their image. Economic shocks administered by governments they counseled commonly roused terror in the public, resulting in a regression similar to the patients in Cameron’s care. Strip a nation of business-as-usual, its currency, its livable livelihoods, and people regress, becoming fearful, more malleable.

Klein doesn’t say this, but I was struck by their nickname for themselves in the context of coming to power in the 1970s. The Chicago Boys seems an affectionate nickname, until you remember women’s protests of the good-old-boys-network in those days and the male-only clubiness that patronized women-as-children. Collectively American women were making grown-up demands. They wanted to be involved in economic decisions that affected their lives. They wanted a social safety net, child care and maternity leave, and government involvement in alleviating women’s poverty.

The leading economist back then, the one Friedman eventually displaced, John Kenneth Galbraith, was a Keynesian mixed-economist, who thought government should take an active role in the economy. Galbraith encouraged Marilyn Waring’s important economic critique: Who Counts: Economics as if Women Mattered. She argued reproductive and caring work of family and community, as well as Mother earth’s work reproducing clean water and air, needed to be included in our GNP (Gross National Product). It wasn’t. It still isn’t.  Macro-economists use a national accounting system that counts weapons-making an economic plus, while weapons-use and war’s destruction never counts as a minus. Wasn’t this insane, Waring asked?

The Chicago Boy’s economic methods eschewed all such questions. Weapons contracts and weapons-use became the baseline of their operations. When Friedman had his first opportunity to apply his economic shock treatments in 1975, it was no accident it happened  in Latin America, where mixed economies had been thriving, though resisting U.S. control  Who was Friedman’s first client? A military dictator named Pinochet, who had overthrown the elected President.

Friedman’s work in Chile erased economic protections and compounded the misery of Pinochet’s prisons. Yet Klein notes this first project of his was barely mentioned in any of the obituaries lauding his reputation when Friedman died in 2006. More Latin American writers understood Friedman’s “Chicago Revolution” went  hand-in-glove with the torture of protesters and their “disappearances,” and administered first in Chile, then in Argentina, Bolivia, Uruguay, Brazil and Guatemala. As Claudia Acuna, an Argentine journalist, told Klein, “Their human rights violations were so outrageous, so incredible, that stopping them became the priority. But while we were able to destroy the secret torture centers, what we couldn’t destroy was the economic program the military started and continues to this day.”

Thirty years later, Iraq would fall to a similar two-pronged shock, military and economic. I won’t attempt to describe here those more recent events but instead urge you to read the economic details yourself.

Friedman ultimately led Reaganomics’ trickle-down theories. His free-market ideology was revered by both Bush presidencies and influenced Bill Clinton in between. It’s worse than ironic that Friedman won the Nobel Prize in economics the same year that Amnesty International won it for their work with growing numbers of the tortured.  Only a few witness-writers linked the economic violence of The Chicago Boys with government killing and jailing, but the result was a “free” market enjoyed by only a few, coupled with terror for the many.

“Torture is sickening,” Klein admits, wishing she hadn’t found this connection. “It is often a highly rational way to achieve a specific goal; indeed, it may be the only way to achieve it,” the reason robbers carry guns, she remarks. Klein’s shocking claims are made the more shocking by her careful documentation.

For the Chicago Boys, elections serve as useful distractions, whatever the political theater, wherever the country, as long as economic decisions about peoples’ fates get decided by their decidedly small group. That group continues to be dominant in the global economy, having evolved to become “The Washington Consensus.” Friedman’s free-market ideologues refined their method of moving in quickly on crises and human misery, finding opportunities for shock treatments and radical change. Simply translated, their methods transferred enormous national treasuries, and the decisions about it, from the many to the few.

Near the end of his life, when Katrina had wiped out New Orleans’ infrastructure, Friedman quickly proposed (and George W. Bush quickly funded) millions of dollars be used to replace the city’s public schools with privately run “charter schools.” To Friedman, a state-run school system reeked of socialism and its overthrow was a good thing. It is highly doubtful, however, such a clean wipe of the slate for New Orleans’ schools would ever have happened in any open, democratic debate. Shocks, like Katrina and a FEMA that showed up too late, and too little, overwhelmed state and local governments to compliancy.

The Chicago Boys’ record, the Washington Consensus and its record, the global policies of the IMF and the World Bank and its statistics, all show us a world where growing numbers grow poorer and a very few grow very rich. Yet Klein ultimately ends her book on a positive note. World-wide, there’s growing resistance to the free-market’s shocks, a reason for us to hope for a better future-but only if we hold American bully-boys accountable, and only if we educate ourselves about our nation’s budget and policies.

http://www.naomiklein.org/shock-doctrine

Stocks fell again when Paulson changed the plan for that $700 billion of our tax dollars AGAIN. Market analysts say it’s the uncertainty of the Treasury “script,” this one the third change of direction.

Other federal officials just turned down a bank request to forgive 40% of credit card debt for borrowers unlikely to be able to pay. For banks, getting 60% would be better than zero. Instead Paulson urges them to give us yet more credit (translate: debt).

What’s a poor investment bank to do? Here’s a quote from an accessible overview from The Columbus Dispatch in Ohio:

Earlier yesterday, federal bank regulators issued a joint statement jawboning banks to start lending money to consumers. But Alex Merk, president of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Merk Investments, a mutual-fund firm, said that there are many factors that are making banks hoard capital.

“They don’t trust their own balance sheets, and why lend to consumers when the consumer sector is going down the drain?” he commented.

www.columbusdispatch.com/live/content/national_world/stories/2008/11/13/economy_story.ART_ART_11u-13-08_A1_C1BSD01:html?sid+101

Everywhere Paulson and his peers look, nothing appears as it seems.  People who have been trying to manage more with less have lived with this reality for a while. For the past decade, while expenses went up and jobs lost ground, I’ve wondered if the news reported was about the same economy I knew. Paulson’s meeting up with insecurity somehow seems a comfort. What exactly SHOULD we trust about an economic system that creates 98% of its currency by private bank debt? Since no one creates the added interest money that bank loans demand, someone is always left in the hole.

Most people believe our government creates our money and that the Federal Reserve, that oversees it, is a government agency.  Wrong on both counts. Surprised? I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, reading Attorney Ellen Hodgson Brown’s substantive and well-documented book, Web of Debt. Its history and its grasp of current events makes it comprehensive, and, even better, Brown makes it readable.  You’ll learn about the Populist roots of that Frank Baum story we all thought we knew so well. It turns out the yellow-brick road was the gold bullion of bankers at the turn of the century and Dorothy’s slippers weren’t ruby slippers; they were populist silver. Technicolor made them red for Judy Garland removing the meaning of what William Jennings Bryan and his followers campaigned for.

Brown thinks it is time we finish the work they began to bring justice to national monetary policy.  Her book’s subtitle hints at solutions: The Shocking Truth about Our Money System and How We Can Break Free. The book delivers on this.  Credit, which sounds so nice, only creates more debt, but our government could create debt-free money just the way people now believe it does.  Brown also has a blog.

http://www.webofdebt.com/

Another blog with an informed view of economics you’ll recognize:

http://www.dollarsandsense.org/blog/2008

If AIG’s latest request for more bailout billions wasn’t the frosting on the cake, I’ll take the cake and eat it too. I’m referring here to Hazel Henderson’s famous economic cake that clarifies what now gets left out of the economy. You and me and our mother earth.

My pages about Gaia and Eros parallel what Hazel calls the “non-monetized” half of the economy, her two bottom layers. Without them, whatever you call them, Eros or the Love Economy, Gaia or Earth, we’d all be pretty flat. You’ll also see the monetized filling, the “underground economy,” so necessary to the addictions Barbara Brandt talks about in Whole Life Economics. What tops our present economic cake, of course, is that “private sector,” the folks who get all the frosting. Lately they’ve been helping themselves to the “public sector’s” bowl of batter too. But neither sector could sweeten a thing without the non-monetized work “the rest of us” do.

Henderson says we’ve outgrown this hierarchical paradigm. A futurist, Hazel Henderson now travels the world, speaking about a new transformative information age. http://hazelhenderson.com

totalproductivesystemindustrialsociety2

Now that the bailout is jumping out of the cake, buck-naked, (see more on this below) let’s hope this overblown economic party is close to being over. What we need is a designated driver.

Plus all of us should get a lick from that frosting spoon.
http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/11/11/business/11aig.php

We’ve been upset the past few weeks by Treasury Sec’y Paulson’s dashed-off request to Congress for $700 Billion to bailout investment banks “too big to fail.” But as an article in the International Herald recently pointed out, we hear no discussion by either Presidential candidate of the  $700 Billion forked over to the Pentagon year after year, to maintain its humongous global operations. Any Democrat’s mention of any cuts to their bloated budget leads to accusations of being unpatriotic or even not-real.

Excuse me, but $700 Billion here, $700 Billion there, it begins to add up. Can we really afford to police the world? Should we?  Money can’t make up for smarts and frequent reality-checks.

Americans didn’t die for the privilege of taking on the role of policeman.  Freedom and democracy go hand-in-hand with peace-making and enabling others’ empowerment. This is a legacy we can all celebrate, especially our soldiers–but not without the support of courageous and skillful diplomacy. We need an adequate State Department budget and the political will to use it, as Ed Carroll points out–and also checks and balances on those secret budgets of the CIA, which Carroll doesn’t mention here.

www.iht.com/articles/2008/10/06/opinion/edcarroll.php

Over the past 30 years, we’ve seen a huge movement of women and mothers into the job market worldwide. Two wage-earners were always needed in American working-class families, but you’d expect our middle-class families to be more solid as a result of this new demographic shift. Instead we’ve seen an increase in bankruptcies; we’ve seen stagnant wages failing to keep up with rising costs. I hope you’re asking, why? (More on this later.)

In just about every economic category, women come up with the short end of the stick. Their reproductive and emotional work costs them in real time and expenses, as they rear the next generation’s workforce and maintain family and community connections foundational to a working economy. Yet this work continues to be unpaid at home or underpaid when out in the job market. The crucial work of childcare and homemaking and maintaining community doesn’t even register as “economic,” though clearly it is. We wouldn’t have an economy without it. It’s time to ask ourselves, what’s this economy for anyway?

www.timeday.org/economyconference/

This problem of invisible but essential work isn’t a “women’s issue.” It affects women and men and the families from which every human has benefited. We all need care at the beginning and end of our lives–and sometimes in between. This family care would be easier if the marketplace paid women fairly. The Institute for Women’s Policy Research reports that equal pay for the average woman would contribute $5710 to her household. Imagine. Over a 35-year working life, she would gain $210,000. Would this be a bad thing for your family? www.iwpr.org/pdf/payequityrelease.pdf

By now you’ve probably heard about The Washington Post story on a University of Florida study that appears to demonstrate male chauvinists with traditional ideas about women get paid $8500 more a year than you wussy men with fair-minded views. But not so fast! Bonnie Erbe Scripps, with Howard News Service, makes this observation (among others):

“Allow me, dear reader, to step back for a moment and agree that perhaps one of the study’s conclusions is correct: Egalitarian men face pay discrimination in the same way women, whether traditional or not, apparently face it. But perhaps that can be explained away because egalitarian men, like many of their egalitarian female counterparts, don’t want to put in 80-hour weeks. Perhaps they, too, want time to fully participate in the rearing of their children? Heaven forfend: Could that explain the pay gap these authors claim to have found?”  findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qn4188/is_ai_n28117313

I once complained to my husband, when I couldn’t find a pair of matched sox for work, “I need a wife!” He was very sympathetic, answering, “I know! I need one too!” We’re living in a wifeless world. Are you?

Most of us are bored by economics, or scared of it. Our eyes glaze over at the abstract language. When we can’t understand, we feel stupid. We turn away or get angry.

Getting angry may be the healthier response. Americans have gotten angry lately, learning about mortgage frauds and the financial wizards who sold these around the world with obscure language no one was sure they understood. Who benefits form complex financial schemes? Not you and me. We just got stuck with another $700 billion bailout for investment banks, demanded by the same Wall Streeters whose political party rails against “socialism.”

Here’s some enlightening graphs that show the phenomenal increase in the net worth of millionaires and billionaires since 1983, about the time when conservative economist Milton Friedman first influenced “neo-liberalism” worldwide. Pay special attention to the long blue bar on the right.

http:www.theglobaleducationproject.org/earth/wealth.php

The weathiest 2% now own nearly half the world’s wealth, thanks to a so-called free market that favors the “redistribution” of money upward. Friedman’s ideas influenced Reaganomics here over 20 years ago. In the days of kings, neo-liberalism used to be called laissez-faire economics. Both reject regulation and interference with the rich. However, now that the richest banks are in trouble, these same neo-liberals run to us taxpayers. Those of us who believe in a more democratic economy (like Paul Krugman, I hope) think this is a good idea–but not with a continued sense of royal privilege for CEOs and speculative investors.

Here’s a link to a quote from John Maynard Keynes, an early 20th century economist whose ideas were overthrown by Friedman: “Words ought to be a little wild, for they are the assaults of thoughts on the unthinking.”

http://krugman.blogs.nytimes.com/?8dpc

The sexiest, most lovable statistician ever.

The sexiest, most lovable statistician ever.

http://www.ted.com/talks/hans_rosling_reveals_new_insights_on_poverty#t-854723

You have to see this to believe it! Statistics, in the hands of Hans, tell a remarkable story, relevant to grandmothers and mothers! He shows in this video the difference between the means of “development” and the goal of development. Not money! He helps us see how the world’s peoples are not so different and can work for a better future. If you’re not into the subject, you might get bored–but stick it out to the end for a GRAND FINALE. Hosling is amazing, brave, funny and wise. This is only one of his many presentations that tell us remarkable stories about ourselves. Using data.

The Robin Hood Tax

Here’s good news. The Nation and Alternet report a majority of European countries are in favor of The Tobin Tax, also popularly known as the Robin Hood Tax. First proposed by a Nobel Prize economist back in the 70s, it would tax economic transactions a tiny amount and accomplish two important things. First, it would discourage the frenetic micro-second transactions we see today that undermines the stability of hedge funds and stock markets. And second, it would be a tax difficult to avoid and provide a needed source of revenue for programs for the well-being of the 99 percent. You know, the ones we’re always told we can’t afford.

England’s prime minister  is resisting, defending their huge financial sector from such horrors as a tiny tax–but even the courts think it is reasonable and legal–and most think it badly needed. They’re moving forward on it.

Alas, looking at our Congress and the influence of libertarian nutcase legislation, it seems unlikely to catch on here in the U.S. But hey, talk about it–and let’s see.

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