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.

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

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.


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?


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.)


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

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.”


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.


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

Gwendolyn Hallsmith


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 ( 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 (, 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



Public Banking Institute

Bank of North Dakota

Germany’s Public Banking

Reach Care Bank, Montpelier

Onion River Exchange, Montpelier

Creating Wealth: Growing Local Economies with Local Currencies

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.


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.



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.”


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.”


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.


For further reading on:

Sanders and the Fed

The Fed’s Profits

The New York Federal Reserve Bank and Open Market Operations

Ellen Brown’s Web of Debt

Wright Patman

Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance

Photos of the Fed

A friend sent me this news link from The Center for Media and Democracy and it’s pretty astonishing. Ever heard of ALEC? No? That’s because you’re not invited.

ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, meets with state legislators behind closed doors and, together and cozy, they vote on state legislation the corporations present—legislation on privatizing education, influencing election laws, nullifying state torte law. Corporations get to vote and state legislators don’t have to do all that hard, hard work, writing their own bills.

Wait—how can corporations vote? And didn’t state politicians get elected to vote with the public, not corporations,  in mind? Ah, but now the Supreme Court says corporations have a voice and Fox News says, really, corporations ARE we the people—you know, the job-creating people. Next I expect we’ll see corporations running for office and, who knows, maybe getting elected.

So who funds these state Councils, which always meet at luxurious locales? The Koch Brothers! And who do you think got the first Adam Smith Awards made by the American Legislative Exchange Council—the Koch Brothers! See how nicely this works? See how they’re at work in your state at this link.

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.

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. Long commutes to centralized shopping and work required maintaining not one car, but two.

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.

An economics professor at Florida A&M University, Shirley Burggraf, proposed a social security dividend for parents. You can still get her book.

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) 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.

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).

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.

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.

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.

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.

.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, 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.

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.

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, 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

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.