Category Archives: Economics

The Cheddar Path: Checking Accounts

Head over to the Path for some info on checking account options. Holla!

Xela Thoughts

xela1

I’ve been in Xela, Guatemala for about two weeks now, and just wanted to share some initial thoughts and observations. For one, the country is pretty materially poor. By that, I mean that a lot of the buildings are pretty old/damaged, the roads are pretty fucked up, the plumbing system can’t support toilet paper, the tap water isn’t suitable for drinking, etc. Basically, a lot of funds are not being put into infrastructure. I’ve learned that a lot of the challenges have to do with their being a pretty crazy oligarchy in place, in which the twenty richest families in the country run everything and the wealth isn’t really trickling down to the people. It’s also important to point out that nearly 75% of Guatemala’s population is descended from the indigenous people here, but those twenty families in power most definitely ain’t indigenous.

xela2

When I look at Guatemala, I can’t help but be reminded of a trip to Cuba I was blessed to be able to go on a couple of years ago, at least in terms of the material conditions. However, while Cuba is still a socialist country,  Guatemala is a “democracy.” So, while Cuba is pretty cut off and isolated from the rest of the world (ie, US corporate interests), Guatemala has McDonalds and Wal-Mart. But what has this gotten them? Even though Cuba is just as materially poor as Guatemala seems to be, at least the government there is providing the people with their basic necessities and then some (ie, food rations, education, healthcare, etc.). Here in Guatemala, a lot of the families that I’ve talked to are struggling to pay for groceries, medication perscriptions, education costs, etc. just like families are struggling to do so in the US.

All of this is just another reminder to question what the government or the media means when they say things like “Cuba needs to open itself up to democracy.” Is it really true democracy they’re talking about, or just the desire to put in Wal-Marts and Egg McMuffins?

xela4

(A local comadrona,”midwife,” shows us an herb garden they use here at a midwife clinic they have set up for pregnant women who can’t afford the high costs of going to a private hospital.)

At the same time, I’m very inspired by the people here in Guatemala. The school I’m studying at is engaged in some real dope social justice work, and I see many women who still dress in the traditional indigenous style of clothing. I think those small acts of resistance mean a lot in terms of trying to retain culture and also hold the government and people in power here accountable.

Peace,

KC

***

xela3

G20 Thoughts

saupload_09_04_01_g20_protest

The G20 convention took place recently, and SleptOn Magazine did a good job of providing some commentary and analysis. Basically, the G20 is the group of countries that rule the world and get together every now and then to discuss the global economy. What’s interesting now is how America’s role in causing the global financial crisis has emboldened some countries to be much more vocal with their criticisms of the US. I mean, damn, President Lula of Brazil straight up said: “This crisis was caused by the irrational behavior of white people with blue eyes, who before the crisis appeared to know everything and now demonstrate that they know nothing.” Gangsta!

There were a lot of anti-capitalist protests at the latest convention, and I appreciated one SleptOn article by radical economist Robin Hahnel, who states that contrary to what the mainstream might think, these protestors aren’t all just a bunch of granola eating potheads stirring up trouble and dancing around in their hemp clothes. In fact, there are a lot of very well-respected folks in academia, policy and organizing circles who have a very solid analysis of what’s wrong with the global economic system of today and how we might get to a better world.

Now, I’m pretty nerdy and have been trying to educate myself on economics a lot recently, but most of the current talk about “derivatives” and “toxic assets” goes way over my head. Even Hahnel starts to lose me at points throughout his article, but I appreciated what I felt like his main point was:

“Our slogan “a better world is possible” means that we reject the economics of competition and greed as a human necessity and embrace the possibility of an economics of equitable co-operation. These approaches to solving our economic problems are fundamentally different. One way motivates people through fear and greed and pretends that market competition can be relied on to bend egotistical behavior to serve the social interest, when too often it does not. The other way organizes people to arrange their own division of labor and negotiate how to share the efficiency gains from having done so equitably. This way motivates people to work at tasks that are not always pleasant, and to consume less than they sometimes wish, because they agreed to do so, secure in the knowledge that others are doing likewise. The driving force behind our economic world is participation and fairness, no longer fear and greed.

There is agreement among us that economic decisions should be made democratically, not by an elite or left to market forces. We would also give workers, consumers and localities more decision-making autonomy than traditional approaches to economic planning have allowed.”

Bam, I could definitely dig that. It was also dope to me that he doesn’t just make lofty hopes, but actually goes on to point to specific models being utilized in the world today that could move us towards a much more equitable economic system. Peep:

“More importantly, ideas on how to engage in equitable co-operation have been tested in various real-world experiments over the past few decades. Worker participation and partial ownership in capitalist firms, producer and consumer co-operatives, community-supported agriculture, participatory budgeting (pioneered in Kerala, India, and Porto, Alegre, Brazil), egalitarian and sustainable “intentional” communities, solidarity economics, alternative currency systems and other developments have been stimulated by networking at world and regional social forums, by friendly governments in several Latin American countries , and now by an economic crisis that has abandoned billions to fend for themselves. Most of this has gone unreported in the mainstream media, partly because it does not fit neatly into the framework for economic debate defined by the Cold War so badly, for so long.”

Add to this the fact that countries once forced into ridiculous debt through all the US-controlled global financial institutions have woken up and are resisting in very interesting ways, like the gangsta South Korean labor unions suing the IMF or Venezuela and Iran forming their own financial agreements to avoid having to deal with the IMF, World Bank, etc.

Pretty interesting times we’re living in, y’all. Who wants to start a co-op with me?

Cheddar Path Roundup 3.6.09

New Cheddar Path posts on nonprofit newspapers, muslim investing and more love for credit unions.

Holla!

Cranky Calhoun and the Dirty Business of College Hoops

University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun has been all over the headlines recently regarding his remarks during a press conference last Sunday. The story goes that a blogger named Ken Krayeske was able to get a press pass that allowed him entrance into the coach’s post-game session with the media. Krayeske started to ask Calhoun a question regarding the coach being the highest paid state employee with a salary of $1.6 million (and UConn being a public university) in the midst of a $2 billion Connecticut state budget deficit, before Coach Calhoun interrupted him and…basically wigged the fuck out. Peep the video below:

Okay so it wasn’t so much of a wig out as it was Calhoun making some bad arguments (“It’s got nothing to do with state funds!”–Uh, it’s a public university, Coach, meaning it’s got a little something to do with state funds) and arrogantly displaying his sense of entitlement in regards to his wealth.

And then things got heated.

Connecticut Governor M. Jodi Rell called Calhoun’s rant an “embarrasing display,” and some Connecticut lawmakers want him reprimanded.

Calhoun got his 800th career win the other night with UConn’s win over Marquette, but the Marquette fans were ruthless, chanting “How much money? Not a dime!” during the game and calling Calhoun a “Greedy scumbag!” and “Greedy piece of trash!”

Many mainstream media outlets of course have sided with the Coach (the rich have to look out for their own, right?), as I heard commentators on ESPN defending Calhoun, citing how the men’s basketball program does bring in over $12 million to the University and a ton of exposure.

My problem with this rationale is that it overlooks the larger issue at play here, sports as a business, and might even distort Calhoun’s real position in the whole thing.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending Calhoun. He clearly revealed himself to be the arrogant, cranky, old rich white guy that he is. But in the realm of sports economics, the college hoops coaches are like “mid-level managers.” Calhoun’s taking in a salary that he bargained for and that the University was willing to pay him. The University is the real “owner” or the “CEO” of the college hoops corporation (that is also totally in bed with the state government even if it isn’t a public school).

The real injustice here is that the players are the labor force and they don’t get to see any of the money they bring in! Not a penny for ticket sales, not a penny for jerseys sold with their names on them, not a penny for anything.

And please, let’s skip all the “it’s not about the money, it’s about the love of the game” arguments. It’s definitely about money. Coaches are trying to get paid; players are trying to go pro and make as much cheese as they can while they are in a position to do so and while their bodies are able to hold up to the extreme stress; and universities and state governments are trying to rake in as much bread as they can.

Now, I’m not saying that college athletes should get paid for everything. I just get sick of hearing these sweeping moral judgments that people like to throw at players (the majority “coincidentally” being young people of color), the workers/labor force, for “lacking character” today because they go pro before graduating from school and are “greedy” and “only chasing the money.” If you saw your coach making millions and driving around in an Escalade while you work your ass off and don’t see a dime of that dough, wouldn’t you be trying to go pro too? I know I would. You could always get your degree later. However, you won’t always have the opportunity to maximize your athletic earning potential, as an athlete is always one snapped ACL away from an ended career.

So yeah, Calhoun’s a cranky, rich fuck, but the College Hoops establishment can often be a dirty business all around, and he’s only one small part of a much larger beast. It always helps me to look at sports today as a labor struggle, and this incident highlights again how labor, in this case the players, are getting shafted by management.

Bad BofA (& the return of The Cheddar Path)

This post can also be found on my other blog, The Cheddar Path. Although I haven’t posted on the Path for awhile, I have started the new year off by doing so and will try to do so in a more regular fashion for the 3 people out there who actually read this blog and then are so nice as to read another blog by yours truly. I have added a focus on managing one’s personal finances to The Cheddar Path as well, because I have discovered and believe that managing one’s finances in a healthy way is connected to the struggle for truly empowered, self-reliant communities. I don’t claim to be any kind of financial expert, but personal finance from a progressive perspective is quickly becoming a big interest of mine, especially in recession 2009 America, and I simply wish to share any useful tips I pick up along the way with others. Holla!

BofA, the Employee Free Choice Act & Credit Unions

Recently, after receiving $25 billion in federal bailout funds, Bank of America hosted a meeting with members of the business community and conservative activists to discuss sending “large contributions” to groups trying to defeat the government’s proposed Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to join unions. So, Bank of America is using our tax dollars to stop a bill that would help grow the middle class and put more money in the pockets of hard working Americans? Sounds pretty shady to me.

Think what you want about labor unions, but the fact is that across the board, from industry to industry, union job wages are on average 15% higher than non union wages, as well as being beneficial for a host of other reasons.

It’s hearing about stories like these that really make me want to stop supporting the huge commercial banks. I currently bank with one of them, but am strongly considering moving my money into a credit union or community bank, which is much more beneficial to my local economy. MSN has a great article laying out all the benefits of going with a credit union.

Bailout (for some) Economics

(UPDATE: As of 12/19/08, the Bush Administration has approved a bailout for the auto industry, after an earlier bailout proposal was blocked by the Senate)

I’ve been slow with the posts lately, so I’ll try to play catch-up by giving some end of year thoughts on the economy.

In the words of Young Jeezy: “It’s a recession, everbody broke!”

Devastating numbers of people and families are losing their homes and jobs, and the outlook for the foreseeable future is not bright. I don’t want to sensationalize the situation more than the media already has, but I think we’re going to start seeing some really sad, ugly things happening to more and more people; things like having to choose between paying for food or paying for health care, and ultimately just scrapping the idea of receiving any medical attention at all. That lack of health care means people are going to die, and the Wall Street financial types and the politicians they’re in bed with are going to have a lot more blood on their hands.

The fact that the government is willing to give the Wall Street finance industry a $700 billion bailout with tax payer money but, as of yet, isn’t willing to give the US auto industry a $15 billion bailout I think is a blatant slap in the face to organized labor. The presence of labor unions in the auto industry is still strong, and if you listened to all the subtle and not so subtle anti-union rhetoric coming from the politicians amidst the auto industry bailout debate, it’s pretty clear that big business (who hates organized labor for a variety of reasons summarized here) owns the government and they want to seize on any opportunity they can to deal labor unions a crushing blow. And with that, more working families will continue to suffer. Disgusting.

Looking around at all this madness has made me an even stronger proponent of community-based economics. Folks like Michael Shuman have an idea of how we can strengthen our local economies to prevent some of the stuff that we are seeing now, and I think we owe it to ourselves to try to get educated about our own personal finances and our communities’ collective financial health.