on December 18, 2012
Michael Hudson may be a familiar figure to those of you who are either baffled or infuriated by the ongoing financial crisis. He can be found on his website, or sometimes on Max Keiser's show, denouncing the current economic mess. He always comes across as slightly exasperated, like a man who has been stuck in a traffic jam all day, and no wonder. Hudson talks sense in a world gone mad. This book is an excellent tirade against the follies of mainstream policy and economic theory. It's a lengthy book: its very badly proofread and unnecessarily repetitive, but sheds plenty of light on the financial crisis, and will help the reader to read between the lines of what is said in the mainstream media.
Central to Hudson's argument is that modern economic theory has abolished the distinction between productive and unproductive wealth, ie. tangible wealth and wealth extracted via rent, monopoly and capital gains. This is extremely important, since it renders the rentier class (who one never hears of anymore- I wonder why) as invisible (Hudson paraphrases Baudelaire, who wrote that the biggest trick the devil ever played was to convince the world that he didn't exist).
You may think that there is no such thing as a free lunch, but there is, and Hudson explains in detail why this is so. The tax system is structured in favour of property, finance and insurance (the suitably titled FIRE sector), and weighted against industry. The result is disaster: instead of `creating wealth,' the financial sector simply issues credit which is used to push up asset prices (mainly property), raising the cost of living, increasing the debt burden (as people borrow more to buy a home). This leads to what he calls `debt deflation': people paying down debts instead of buying goods and services. The upshot is that instead of paying taxes to the government, you are simply paying the banks instead. And you can't vote for banks.
There is no way out of this impasse, except to write off the debts: which is a fundamentally political decision, not an economic one, as mainstream thinking tells us. Do we continue to ruin the economy by insisting on paying down unpayable debts, or do we save the economy at the expense of the creditor class? That is the question facing us, and the consequences could be dire. Hudson takes a broad historical view, and reminds us that the Roman Empire fell as a consequence of the creditor class refusing to write off debts owed.
There are excellent chapters here on the complex history of economic thought, the woeful limitations of macroeconomic theory, and the insane Alice in Wonderland world of finance and equity funds. If you like Hudson, but want to know more detail, then the book is worth reading. The only let-down is the lack of proofreading. There is no index or bibliography either (which perhaps says more about the current state of the publishing industry). The book is very repetitive, as each chapter was written as a separate essay, and tends to repeat some of the main points over and over again. This is a shame, because Hudson writes well, and has a learned, gently sardonic way of expressing his anger at the unnecessary misery caused by austerity. More seriously, Hudson has a very important message for all of us: austerity need not, and should not happen. This should be the rallying call of the 99% in the face of the cynicism of the TINAs (There Is No Alternative).
on August 26, 2012
Amazon is not showing it, but this book is now available on Kindle. Apparently Dr Hudson became aware of the "expense" complaints and thought getting it on kindle was a good idea.
He has a good summary on his blog where you can see the contents page which is an excellent summary by itself.
Dr Hudson's writings were initially hard for me to understand, but in taking the time to parse, absorb, and consider his facts and reasoning, he has filled a wide gap for me that existed between common sense and wrong-headed modern economics. I have long been suspicious of a lot modern economic ideas but did not have the expertise needed to clearly identify and logically discount the hogwash. By simply bringing common sense to economics Dr Hudson has blown my mind. I present this as praise for Dr Hudson, but it is really an indictment on the rest of the economics community that such a lone voice should rescue the "dismal science" from a sea of loonies. I have always thought classical economics was neat and interesting (if not overly simplistic and obvious) and that a lot of modern economics was being made overly complicated in non-productive ways (at best).
Those reviewers giving 3 stars seem to agree this book deserves 5 stars if the review were based on content. The price is 3 times less than college textbooks and places economics textbooks into proper perspective.
Dr Hudson is an economics and history geek who has been able to understand the ugly details of today's junk economics. He describes ideal economics by showing where junk economics is messing things up. He shows the big problem these days is that we are not writing down debts and printing money for main street or infrastructure. He cites a few authors who agree with him that Rome's collapse into an extended dark age is possibly primarily the result of not letting debtors off the hook. He explains there has been a long, intelligent, and currently-ignored economic thinking that a loan should be a partnership seeking success in a productive venture, not an unforgivable claim and interest rate on collateral that only drives up the cost of assets without improving life.
This book is a fantastic summary of this thoughts (much better than trying put together a picture from his extensive blog) and it focuses on today's pressing problems. His writing is often redundant, covering the same ideas, but it's nice to have the same things said in many different ways, bringing in different references to history and today's world. At the same time, some of his sentences are intensively compact. Economics, voters, and government are interacting so that changing one aspect affects every other aspect. Reductionism is difficult because it's a reactive, thinking system. After reading this book, you should be able to understand when the following simplistic statements are right and when they are wrong. You will not catch Dr Hudson making any of these statements nor their converse. "Free trade is good", "government is bad", "credit is good", "debt deflation is bad", "inflation is bad", "money printing is bad", "tariffs are bad".
It would be hard and painful to extract the teeth of my words below that belong exclusively to Dr Hudson. But I spend an hour of thinking for every hour of reading, so I do not know where his thoughts end and mine begin. Apology out of the way, here goes...
== Missing Progress ==
Between the lines of this book and his blog, I can see why technology and energy have increased so much since I was a child and yet life does not seem any better. Working together, we should have already had the ability to control this world to an extent we can't imagine. We are using 100 times more technology (in some vague sense) to direct 10 times more energy per person than our great (great) grandparents had access to only 100 years ago. If we can multiply these 2 factors to estimate an expected improvement in lifestyle, then our useful wealth divided by our undesired work hours should have improved by a factor of 1,000, although some of it is lost due to having to deal with negative aspects of overpopulation. I estimate our actual improvements in housing, food, health, education, and all other aspects of our "true wealth" are 3 times better than 100 years ago, and that we work 1/4 as many hours per person, so we have experienced only a 12 times improvement, leaving a factor of 1,000/12 = 83 in improvements that are missing. Dr Hudson shows that what's missing is an intelligent governing of economics.
== Need for 3rd Party ==
Dr Hudson blames politicians, bankers, and lobbies. This may add to his appeal. But I blame voters. We all seek profit, so why shouldn't lobbies, banks, and politicians? If republicans and democrats are working together to keep us divided against ourselves through our emotional push-buttons for their mutual benefit, then we should be smart enough to see it and correct it. Maybe we became too wealthy to remain vigilant about how our politics guides our economics. Creating a 3rd party seems to be the only answer. We need to remove money from politics (lobbies and private campaign funding) and take back the gifts to the banks (12 years worth of our future income taxes, $13 trillion, according to Dr Hudson, and 27 years according to his colleague Dr Randall Ray).
== Overpopulation ==
I cannot find in his books or blog where he made any comments about overpopulation or tragedy of the commons other than saying Malthus was wrong. He points out financial control of the real economy can lead to a stripping of the environment, but he does not address overpopulation, which I believe causes problems even when democracy and economics are functioning correctly. Voters and consumers worldwide do not want the biosphere destroyed, and yet we continue to do it. This is a problem for government and economics and yet Dr Hudson does not provide any guidance. We are 200 years after Malthus and in that time we created one of the 7 great extinction episodes the Earth has seen in the past 4 billion years. But Dr Hudson writes "As matters turned out, Malthus was wrong. When incomes RISE, population grows more slowly, not faster." But he also says population grows more slowly when financialization REDUCES incomes. Which is it? If incomes fall due to the negatives of overpopulation and/or financialization, will population increase even faster?
Even without overpopulation, I believe stressed work conditions enable more production per worker, and that this is eventually exported. If trade barriers are put in place to balance trade with slave-wage countries, the underpopulated, low-stress countries trying to maintain healthy and happy work environments become technologically behind. Dr Hudson does not address this. The only solution appears to be world government that allows all people to work towards increased happiness per person with some type of agreed-upon and pleasant population control instead of dog-eat-dog to death via stress.
== Computers present a new challenge ==
The need for widespread physical labor decreased with the assembly line and fossil fuels which some say started the great depression. The welfare state has been said to be the transition that got us out of it. Likewise, the computer revolution's goal is to replace human thinkers. It is not near completion even as secretaries, draftsmen, engineers, and even doctors are being replaced by computers. This increases efficiency, but if the economic system does not need human physical or mental labor but mainly consumers, what is the eventual outcome? Utopia seems possible, but economics does not seem to show us how to strive for it. How do we decide where wealth goes when only 10% of us do the useful work? Only 6% of Americans work in manufacturing, mining, and farming. Could the financialization Dr Hudson exposes be the outcome we got because we have not been able to answer this question? We promoted excess housing (3 times what we had per person in 1970) not merely because of financialization as Dr Hudson describes, but because construction has not had any improvements in productivity and requires a lot of heavy materials that are produced in the U.S. So the wasteful housing bubble was somewhat intelligent because workers needed to find employment SOMEWHERE in response to increases in productivity in other industries. But certainly we should have been able to find better use of computer programmers, mathematicians, and physicists than the financial and health insurance "industries" which do nothing to improve the median quality of life. At least the construction workers have given us more living space per person.
== Concerning the Boom and Bust ==
Like an overly large military, construction was "welfare" from the government masquerading as needed activity. Dr Hudson points out it came from mortgage tax deductions, capital gains roll-over, low interest rates, and insufficient land-value tax. These "added" government regulations are a REMOVAL of progressive tax regulations for the benefit of the wealthy, banking, and unneeded construction. They undermine the free market and RAISE net taxes on the middle class, pretending to be deductions, as Dr Hudson discusses. It raised the cost per square foot and created a bubble, along with urban sprawl that makes us more dependent on expensive cars and oil. The free market was going to correct most of the problem with a collapse. The "rich" with large houses would have lost more equity. The poor and middle class would have defaulted, destroying the finance sector which no longer provides capital for useful production. The poor and middle class would then have had a glut of inexpensive housing because no one would have been able to get loans to keep the prices inflated. This would have freed income for the rest of the economy and forced those in construction and finance to get jobs that we need. The structural changes would have been (will be) painful, but are necessary because we allowed our useful jobs to be exported. The government stepped in and is buying the toxic assets from the criminal institutions, keeping housing "expensive" despite the glut because it is now the government that is on the hook. The debt deflation is bad enough that the money printing has not yet caused inflation (M2 since 2009 is stable). But these actions will eventually destroy the dollar and government spending, hurting everyone's real income and keeping unemployment high. Voters will not realize this is the result of giving 12 to 27 years worth of income tax revenue to the banks. The government must continue printing money for the benefit of the banks instead of the economy so that the toxic assets the government now owns do not decrease in terms of "dollars". The government must keep housing expensive, decreasing the ability of the poor and middle class to spend money on the real economy.
== Democracy as a Check on the Free Market ==
Better worldwide governing is needed so that we can agree to work towards mutual self-fulfillment rather than allowing a "dog-eat-dog" evolution-based marketplace that has no way to prevent a decreasing happiness per person. Honest transactions for mutual benefit at the individual level solves the "prisoner's dilemma" at each marketplace transaction, but the entire "prison" population can increasingly suffer if these mutually-agreeable transactions lead to efficient but miserable workers. "Externalities", "tragedy of the commons", monopolies, and lobbies are known free market problems government is needed to solve, but I think the free market by itself without these problems would still lead to an efficient outcome where everyone except the 1% are working too hard for too little. So democracy is needed at a deeper level than simply fixing obvious errors in the free market. It is needed to create the middle class. Democracy leaves it up to the intelligence of the average voter which was greatly increased by books, making democracy more viable. Cheap and abundant commodities resulting from and promoting a stronger middle class is a positive feedback loop that laid a foundation of strength and wealth that overthrew older economic and governmental systems. The most successful do not "deserve" all the wealth they obtain. They are mostly riding a foundation and wave created by history and society, not by their own super-human intelligence and effort.
We should work together as intelligent kinfolk because we are. Stress and social isolation is how the marketplace has stopped unchecked breeding in the western world. Market turmoil is stopping cheap food in the 3rd world. A mere doubling in food costs will soon mean 1/4 of the world will go without. So stress and starvation is how the marketplace is enforcing blind evolution. Only votes to turn blind evolution into directed evolution can stop these subtle and unconscious "wars" that lead to death and unwanted and unpleasurable breeding controls. In Japan, 30 year olds are still living with their parents and never having had an intimate partner. South Korea has the world's largest teenage suicide rate (and other indicators) from stressful living. These are fantastically technologically advanced societies, even more advanced than the U.S. and Europe, and yet this does not seem to be an improvement in the quality of life, especially since (humor warning) they are being "forced" to living longer under these psychologically terrible conditions. My grandfather had a financially difficult life, growing up in the great depression with no education, but my family talks about how everyone seemed to be a lot happier with so little. To trade what poverty-stricken people of the old south had compared to today's super-advanced Japan and South Korea would be insane. Teenagers did not commit suicide for crying out loud. People were able to know the comforting touch of the opposite gender. Who cares if they died 15 years younger?
== Economics and Government as A.I. ==
People should realize our economics/government system is a thinking machine that follows the rules of physics and artificial intelligence (see Eric Drexler's Agoric papers). Dr Hudson's Ph.D. thesis (turned into "America's Protectionist Takeoff") is a lot about how political economy is a real science that can be used to guide the efficient (economical) use of physical resources to achieve goals (politics). This makes it a science except that science does not dictate the goals. If we don't define the goals, evolution will decide them for us. The winning economic system only wants to replace other systems. That is why the biosphere is being replaced despite our wishes. A.I. requires a "governing" entity at the top to set the goals, measure progress, and to adjust the marketplace rules for maximum system-wide profit. Designing an economic system to maximize benefits to society as a whole is not a simple problem. A governing system is needed to define and monitor a proper "GDP" per person and adjust the marketplace transaction rules to maximize it. "GDP" should measure increased happiness per person, not the FIRE sector, military spending, or excess construction. Money should be issued (and thereby allow the economy to expand) only when happiness per median person increases, and the printed money (aka government spending) should occur in places that intelligently increase happiness per median person. When an economy is causing happiness per median person to decrease, then the money should be restricted (taxed away) from the areas that are causing the unhappiness or the increase in population. World government should prevent miserable populations from economically dominating happy populations through brutally-free trade.
A free market algorithm guided by basic rule of law with zero taxation is a great efficiency-seeking mechanism that has no desire for human happiness or even economic expansion except at the individual transactions. System-wide intelligence, growth, or happiness does not "emerge". The most efficient solution is for a single winner to take all, and who's most profitable choice is to not spend any of his gains, shrinking the economy zero, even though no market participent wants this outcome. At the other extreme, equal-weight voting and taxation governing the free market could mean every person profiting and reproducing, leading to environmental collapse. So I can't declare a feudal system is without value: it prevented destruction of the biosphere by preventing overpopulation. Isn't democracy and the free market leading us full steam ahead off a cliff? We have to go beyond what Dr. Hudson discusses, and govern accordingly.
Perfection of the economy and government as Dr Hudson describes would give us a "perfection of means" but we would still have a "confusion of aims" which Einstein called "our main problem".
on August 28, 2012
What makes the present financial crisis so unusual is best illustrated by the following quote from the book:
Discussing the 1857 financial crisis, Marx showed how unthinkable anything like 2008-09 Bush-Obama bailout of financial speculators appeared in his day. "The entire artificial system of forced expansion of reproduction process cannot, of course, be remedied by having some bank, like the Bank of England, give to all the swindlers the deficient capital by means of its paper and having it buy up all the depreciated commodities at their old nominated values." Marx wrote this reductio ad absurdum not dreaming that it would come true in autumn of 2008 as the U.S. Treasury paid off all of A.I.G.'s gambles and other counterparty "casino capitalist" losses at taxpayer expense, followed by the Federal Reserve buying junk mortgage packages at par.
on August 1, 2012
If you hate the price, first consider the following:
This book is likely Print on Demand at the Vendor Level. Sales of 500-1000 books are a reasonable expectation. Production costs are probably around $15 per book.
If you do the math, you'll realize that it is unlikely that Dr. Hudson will even make enough money to pay for his time.
on January 28, 2014
The Bubble and Beyond by Michael Hudson
In Thomas Hardy's greatest novel Tess of the D'urberville's, the farm maid, Tess Durbeyville is seduced by the aristocrat Alec D'urberville. The tragedy begins when Tess believes that she is related to the great house of D'urbervilles. She is, but in fact it is the modern D'urbervilles who are the imposters, having assumed the name of an extinguished line of aristocrats. (Beware of what you believe about the world for it may become your destiny.) It is thus her naive belief that opens Tess to a fall, leading to her love for the moralistic Angel Clare.
As I read Michael Hudson's The Bubble and Beyond I kept thinking of Tess.
Tess lived during The Enclosure Acts, those which had impoverished all the English Crofters during her time. These Acts were, in a sense, the first move of 1% against the 99%--- removing land that had been available for centuries to any tiller of the soil and softening-up the Yeoman for their coming disinheritance by the industrialists, who would soon exploit their labor in London's “Satanic Mills.” Tess of the D'urberville's is in some ways a moral parable of the Industrial Revolution.“A Pure Woman”---who only wishes to live and love---is confounded by forces she cannot understand, powers which resound in Hardy's concluding irony: “Justice” was done, and the President of the Immortals (in Aeschylean phrase) had ended his sport with
Tess. And the d’Urberville knights and dames slept on in their tombs unknowing.”
Land is the original store of all wealth, thus a tax upon the ultimate store of wealth is the traditional resolution of the inequity at the root of every economic order---the relative scarcity or plenty of arable land. Each stage of Western history has recognized this tradition by distinguishing productive labor (that which creates a tangible product) (such as wool or food) from interest or debt-service, which produces only money, not value. From ancient Babylon to Egypt, to Greece and Rome and through the Middle Ages the distinction between the creation of debt by Usury (an abstraction) has been opposed to the creation of (concrete wealth) through human ingenuity. Such wealth is not created as money to pay creditors for the privilege of credit. Nor does the distinction fade in modernity. The French Physiocrats recognized it, as did the now maligned American Economists of the nineteenth century: Carey, Bennett and Posthlethwayt, George. Karl Marx, the greatest critic of western economics, as well as Adam Smith, the father of Economics, both recognize that debt is the opposite of industrial development. Smith defines the payment of debt-service as “a perversion of some portion of the annual produce which had before been destined for the maintenance of productive labor towards that of unproductive labor.” Marx in Das Capital is equally clear: “Those who say that debt is merely the lack of a means of payment, have either the owners of bona-fide securities alone in view, or they are fools who believe it is the duty and power of Banks to transform all bankrupt swindlers into solvent Capitalists by means of pieces of paper.”
How on earth did we lose the distinction between productive and extractive wealth?
Michael Hudson answers without equivocation: deliberate propaganda. It turns out that all you need to accomplish that disappearance is something called “The Chicago School of Economics”, control of the major economic journals, the dignity of political recognition; the rise of mathematical economics with its self-justifying equations, the removal of taxes on Capital-gains, the taxing of labor as opposed to Corporations, the lowering of wages and boosting of interest-rates; and Voila!: you have the entrenchment Finance, which leads to the degradation of public services, followed by the private capture of whatever remains of infrastructure, social goods and government. At that point enough debt has been likely created to restrain society for generations--- by withdrawing the very economic activity essential to the payment of any level of debt. But the Banks, the Insurance, Real-Estate and Financial firms, seem far less interested today in actually having their debts paid, than they are in keeping what Marx called their “Fictitious Capital” at the fore-front of society. Without that exacerbation, Finance would return to being a drag, but perhaps not an impediment to progress. But like the ancient house of the D'urbervilles--occupied by the false ghosts of out-lived class-distinctions, finance is no longer satisfied with secret influence; it now vies for open rule.
The Americans cannot claim that they were not warned. Time and again the Founders enjoined us against the folly of delegating to any private non-democratic entity, the exclusive power to create credit. Jefferson writing to John Adams in 1814 states: “I do not remember the conversation between us which you mention in yours of November 15th, on your proposition to vest in Congress the exclusive power of establishing banks. My opposition to it must have been grounded, not on taking the power from the States, but on leaving any vestige of it in existence, even in the hands of Congress; because it would only have been a change of the organ of abuse. I have ever been the enemy of banks, not of those discounting for cash, but of those foisting their own paper into circulation, and thus banishing our cash. My zeal against those institutions was so warm and open at the establishment of the Bank of the United States, that I was derided as a maniac by the tribe of bank-mongers, who were seeking to filch from the public their swindling and barren gains. But the errors of that day cannot be recalled. The evils they have engendered are now upon us, and the question is how we are to get out of them? Shall we build an altar to the old paper money of the Revolution, which ruined individuals but saved the republic, and burn on that---all the bank charters, present and future, and their notes with them ? For these are to ruin both republic and individuals. This cannot be done. The mania is too strong. It has seized, by its delusions and corruptions, all the members of our governments, general, special and individual.”
By emphasizing that his opposition to the Banks was the“the foisting of their own paper into circulation” Jefferson decried the usury implied in the preference of a private bank-note as opposed to an American dollar. When he further states that the notes have created a “mania” impossible to resist, we grasp the relevance of his warning, since all promissory paper is only as valuable (as we have recently learned) as the inevitable speculation it is created to underwrite. Perhaps it is not without significance that the modern era begins in the fifteenth century with the whittling away of the Catholic ban on Usury, itself precisely contemporaneous
with the inception of modern slavery and the theft of the New World's gold.
Jefferson makes himself even more explicit in a letter written in 1816 to John Taylor:
“On this view of the import of the term republic, instead of saying, as has been said, "that it may mean anything or nothing," we may say with truth and meaning, that governments are more or less republican as they have more or less of the element of popular election and control in their composition; and believing, as I do, that the mass of the citizens is the safest depository of their own rights, and especially, that the evils flowing from the dupers of the people, are less injurious than those from the egoism of their agents, I am a friend to that composition of government which has in it the most of this ingredient. And I sincerely believe, with you, that banking establishments are more dangerous than standing armies; and that the principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale. I salute you with constant friendship and respect. Thomas Jefferson.”
But we do not need to swindle “futurity” when we can swindle, by reference to the abstraction of a so-called deficit, the very concreteness of the present, stripping those living of their right to live and work. It is the old trick in a new guise---and it will suffice only when men remain credulous enough to believe themselves unlucky ghosts, as some traumatized debtors do.
So here we are again, where we have been before. The centuries pass, and we learn nothing. Generations come and go and no one has a clue why this servitude to the moneylenders goes on. Do we believe them possessed of supernatural powers? I for one, believe we do. It is the only credible explanation for voluntary servitude. Are we mad, or simply infinitely gullible? Some people talk of the danger of inflation, yet Mr. Hudson shoots down that bird with one sentence: “Every hyper-inflation in the history has been caused by international payments deficits.”
Yet no matter how many times Americans have been warned against the erection of institutions, which by their very freedom from democratic control---must, and will always eventually subvert the interests of the majority of the citizenry--- we continue to succumb to the idea of earning money without work, which is the core temptation of Finance and Usury. As Mr. Hudson puts it: “It is claimed that a hallmark of democracy is to make the central bank independent of elected government. In reality, this is the opposite of democracy. Finance is the crux of the economic system. If it is not regulated democratically by the people then it is “free” to captured by special interests”.
The author is not sanguine about our prospects. In a recent radio interview he stated: “We're headed toward a De-urbanization of Europe and many other countries...a move back to the self-sufficiency of the land...essentially a retrogression to a Medieval subsistence economy throughout all of the western world. That is the neo-liberal model. Once you strip the Capital away, once you strip the money away, once you impose debt-peonage on an economy...you're left with a subsistence economy---and as trends are going that's our future.”
The return to The Middle Ages is interesting leitmotiv of the last forty years. The historian William Irwin Thompson founded a community in 1973 whose purpose was, in his words, “protect culture from a coming Dark-age.” When I first visited his “Lindisfarne” (named for the famous medieval monastery) in 1974 I learned first-hand that he was quite serious. And those who joined him in his endeavor included some of the most eminent scientists of the twentieth century, from Gregory Bateson to Carl Sagan. It makes you wonder.
A recent film-trailer I saw while sitting in a computer shop detailed the extravagant version of this “return” to a simpler past. Society is eventually so far divided between rich and poor that the rich create a kind of doughnut-shaped satellite in low-space orbit. “We never even go down there---” says one of the characters, peering down on the garbage-heap of earth, now entirely given-over to the desperate and warring poor. (Beware what you believe about yourself: lest you unwittingly make it true) A homelier version, probably not yet shot, would probably look something like The Grapes of Wrath, minus that film's brotherhood and spirit; with only the hollowed-out-eyes.
If a medieval subsistence economy is what lies before us--- perhaps we should pause to consider some of the more charming features to which we will be returning. I found a number of these recounted in H.S. Bennett's 1937 book: Life On the English Manor It is worth recalling, that in spite of occasional “Peasant Revolts” the humble and naturally spiritual serfs of the Middle Ages, much like their humble and naturally spiritual black brothers in the American South, remained in unchanged physical and psychic circumstances for eight or nine centuries, or roughly twenty generations.
Here are some of the things Serfs must not do on pain of punishment or fine. 1. The Manorial Oven: No Serf may cook his own bread in is own hut on pain of fine, but must bring his dough to the kiln of the Lord, whom he he will pay for the privilege. 2. Tallage At Will: It is the right of the Lord to extract tallages (money) at anytime, in any amount, from his Serfs. 3. Forced Hospitality: A Serf must provision, feed, provide provender, or provide any other item or service “at the will of the Lord”. 4. Multure: A Serf will render to his Lord some portion of his grain at every harvest. 5. Forbidden to the Serf: without his Lord's leave: To trap the fish in his Lord's rivers, the game in his Lord's woods, or his Lord's doves. 6. Heriot: Upon his death the Serf will pay his Lord his Heriot, generally his best beast or chattel. “In March of 1347, on the death of a Serf, the Lord seized his horse, cart, sheep, and two pigs worth twelve shillings. The Serf's widow was allowed to buy the pigs back for this sum, and given to August to find the cash” (Bennett page 145) 7. Mortuary: And of course God's suzerains on earth , the priests, must also have their part in seeing the dead Serf safely to heaven: so they claim the departed's second-best beast! Bennett consoles us by writing: “Harsh as these exactions seem to us, they were less outrageous than the ruthless provisions of many continental customs.” I'll just bet they were.
After-all, hasn't the great machine of modern Capital liberated even conservative Russia? Hudson writes:
“Russia lost a greater number of its population through the Neo-liberalization that began in 1990 than the nation lost in World War II---between five and ten million people after 1990. Unlike military warfare, financial conquest does not kill people directly. It is much more genteel.
Rome was the first major society in history not to cancel its debts. It took from the First Century (133-29BC) to the Fourth Century A.D to decentralize and revert to self-sufficient estates. But in the end Rome's creditor-oriented economy collapsed into the Dark Age.”
Yves Smith and other observers have called for Banking to become a social good by becoming a public service, national, dependable, well-regulated and not-for-profit. This is the right course and the only permanent solution. It is the only certain course to reform. But because we ignored Jefferson's timely warnings, we now face a wily, well-entrenched power, one who has stacked the deck. Defeating this dragon will not be easy.
Let the battle ensue; by tarrying we delay the inevitable reckoning.
But what if we don't understand economics and would rather sleep down by the lily pond? There we can lounge away our days meditating on Compound Interest. It wasn't long ago that we saw only one pad on the water, but thereafter that pod and all its descendants doubled once a day. By the thirtieth day the pond is covered completely by lily pods, which can grow no more. Now we must ask: “On which day was the pond half-full and half-empty? Answer: the twenty-ninth day.”
For the precision of his scholarship, for his ecumenical breath, for his candor, for his lifting of the word rentier from the obscurity of Henry George to modern relevance, we are all indebted to Michael Hudson's brilliant work; but since he does not ask us for payment, nor interest, the charge is on ourselves to realize a better world.
Will Morgan April 1, 2013
on December 4, 2012
Dr Hudson's insight is spot on. He gives a well thought-out analysis to the history of credit and reasons for our current situation. This book covers all the basics of different schools of Economic thought, Modern Monetary Thinking, Savings/Debt, Financialization of Industry, Privatization, Dynamic between Money and Politics. It encapsulates a range of topics that might be covered in 20 other books. It really is an amazing synthesis of these topics into one logical story.
I truly feel that my understanding of credit markets and economics is on a totally different level after reading this book. I now look at any media story or economic policy announcement and can mentally reach in to Dr. Hudson's book and pull out a tool or analysis that describes what I'm seeing: "Ahh, that's a company loading themselves up with debt to prioritize debt over equity and improve their EPS", Or "That's a taxation policy designed to shift the burden of tax from Capital to Labor". No other book has given me such powerful tools for seeing through the smoke and mirrors of today's financial world.
Now, the book does have some downsides. It is extremely poorly proof-read. The book is full of spelling errors, words stuck together and whole paragraphs that are repeated word for word. The reader will find themselves often asking: "Huh, didn't I just read that?!" If you can get over this fact and give a little tolerance, it'll save you getting annoyed.
The other downside is the shear length of the text and the huge amount of historical detail. I have had to force myself to open the book each day and work through it. It's absolutely worth it in the end, but it's like running a marathon - you'll need your stamina.
on February 16, 2013
Michael Hudson is an independent research analyst based at the University of Missouri, Kansas City.
His latest publication represents a collection of essays that have formed the backbone of his thinking over many years. Taken together they offer a hefty rebuke to the flawed political economic practices issuing from the Federal Reserve and the neo-liberal camp that has so emphatically decriminalised fraudulent behaviour in the financial sector.
The book opens with Michael taking us back through the nineteenth century to give us `Two Traditions of Financial Doctrine' that led us to our present impasse; Finance Capital (which has regressed into todays FIRE sector - Finance, Insurance, Real Estate) - and Industrial Capital, which represents the manufacturing, labour sector. It is the dichotomy between these two traditions and their present offspring that drives the narrative; the `scorched earth' practices of debt magnified through compound interest and the `free lunch' tax subsidies of the FIRE sector, versus the `circular flow' of the real economy between the producer/consumer of Industrial Capital.
There is much else besides of course, ancient civilizations are discussed to show how societies debts were written off as a means of reviving the economy (hence `clean slate'), while those that didn't (the Roman Empire) become mired in debt, rebellion and bankruptcy.
Michael also draws our attention to the principle of Fraudulent Conveyance; the paragraph is worth quoting in full . . .
"The basic principle of Fraudulent Conveyance is that loans which cannot be paid under normal conditions were made irresponsibly at best, and with predatory intentions at worst. In either case they should be written down. The ethical principle is that the debtor suffers less than the creditor, especially in a world where international credit is now created electronically on computer keyboards - while repayment of such credit polarises and impoverishes debtor economies."
This is a rambling, repetitive narrative full of great insight and quotable paragraphs on every one of its 481 pages. There are useful diagrams and graphs and a fabulous interview with Michael on YouTube conducted by Lauren Lyster back in 2010 is a good introduction to Michael's vigorous arguments.
As if `The Bubble' wasn't bad enough, the real threat is not only to . . . "industrial capitalism and national self-determination but beyond that, the Enlightenment ideology of economic freedom and democracy". . . "All this threatens to turn the final stage of finance capitalism into debt-ridden austerity. That is what a neo - rentier economy means. Once entered into, it cannot be escaped from except by a violent political clash. The end game of finance capitalism will not be a pretty sight".
on August 25, 2013
I am sorry to say this isn't a good book. But it is a necessary book, a book that every literate American ought to force himself to read, because until a significant number of people understand the lessons of this book nothing good is going to happen in America.
Hudson understands economics as almost nobody does who bothers to write about it. He isn't part of any toadying establishment, academic or otherwise, and he tells the truth, all of it, no punches pulled. It has taken me over forty years to understand money and economics, and Hudson gives you everything you could possibly want to know for about $30 bucks. Does he repeat himself endlessly, garble sentences, tenses, just about anything that can be garbled? Yes, he does. Maybe he wrote the book in a hurry. Maybe his typist and proofreader didn't pay attention. So what? The book is important, necessary and dead on.
For your own good and the good of the Country, read it!
on October 27, 2012
Absolutely eye-opening. Michael Hudson is able to articulate complex and draconian economic theories from a historical perspective that gives the reader an understanding that goes beyond flat ideological slogans. This book makes economic theory three-dimensional in a way gives you perspective on what politicians and economists talk about daily.
If you want to get a good idea of what this book is like, read Michael Hudson's essay THE LANGUAGE OF LOOTING, which can be found on his website, [...] The essay provides the same explanation of economic jargon and theory inside the context of history, and how the ideas and theories arose.
Read this book! It may be the most important and helpful book anyone can read during these economic times.
on October 28, 2012
Michael Hudson's "The Bubble and Beyond" is a collection of essays which attempt to make clear the nature of the crisis facing the global economy today.
Unlike other economiconomists, Professor Hudson is refreshingly low on the apparently legislated dose of obfuscation required by the profession. A major thread found throughout the work is the distinction made between positive productive capital formation for identifiable tangible assets and goods (i.e. a factory, goods for sale, etc) and negative financial capital formation. The predominant startegy of the latter is to ever and always seek to strip productive capital from the economy in the form of debt service and then "re-invest" the same in the form of yet more debt.
By the time the good professor is finished with you, debt deflation, rentier economy, the "magic" of compound interest, debt deflation and a variety of other subjects will be made more clear. You will understand why the proposal(s) (public bail outs of bad debts) for remedy of our ailing economy bandied about will not only fail to work but will likely deepen the crisis.
It's not necessarily what I would call an enjoyable read but I would call it a necessary read.