Monday, April 20, 2009

new henwood 

From his talk at Left Forum this weekend:

let me return to my original political point, which is that President HopeNChange has pretty much turned the federal government into a wholly owned subsidiary of Wall Street. It’s fashionable in some circles, even around these halls, to attribute this to misunderstanding, or some sort of Clintonian hijacking of a phantasmic transformative agenda, or even imagine this to be some clever feint before a New New Deal is announced. Ha. There’s a reason that hedge fund ubermensch Paul Tudor Jones threw Obama a fundraiser in April 2007, only two months after he announced his candidacy. He knows an ally when he sees one. Obama is a very intelligent fellow, and a masterful politician. He knows exactly what he’s doing. He didn’t appoint Summers and Geithner out of naivete or sloppiness.


Just a reminder of what a New New Deal might sound like. Here’s FDR, in his October 1936 speech announcing the Second New Deal (which, it doesn’t hurt to remember, came just months before the return to fiscal and monetary orthodoxy that launched the second Great Depression in 1937):

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism [what’s wrong with that, exactly? - DH], sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me–and I welcome their hatred.

You just can’t imagine Obama saying anything like that, can you?


It seems more promising to me to talk about things that we can almost imagine doing, at our present level of political development. Rather than taking over the banks, let’s use some of that bailout money to create new financial institutions. (There’s that “us” problem again, but let’s bracket that for now.) Cooperatives, nonprofits, community development groups. Here in New York City, it would be wonderful to create some sort of economic alternative to the Wall Street-dominated economy, like small-scale, specialized, environmentally friendly manufacturing or food processing; we’d need some sort of planning mechanism with a financing operation at the center to make that happen. I wish I could say there’s someone working on this sort of thing, an all they need are some fresh funds and encouragement, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Or, instead of foreclosing on a few million houses, we could create some sort of public corporation or corporations that would take title to the houses and create new ownership structures, like limited equity co-ops, or LECs. In an LEC, people buy their dwellings from the co-op, but can only sell them back to the co-op (and not on the open market), at a price reflecting only inflation and property improvements. This would satisfy the apparent mass need for homeownership, the appeal of which I have to say eludes me, at the same time it would take housing, one of life’s essentials, out of speculative markets forever. Such a scheme would probably work best where the properties are concentrated in a single geographical area, as they are here in southern Queens and central Brooklyn; not so well in exurban Nevada or Florida.

In other words, all I can do is stand here and call for what used to be known as “creeping socialism.” That’s rhetorically and politically very disappointing. I’m even disappointing myself. But these creeping interventions would change material relations and consciousness to at least some degree. Sad to say, though, even this compromised creepy agenda looks heroic under the current configuration.


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