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We need more fermenting … much more

Its that time of the year …

As in the past the number of candles on the cake represent a complex non-linear function of my age.

I decided to celebrate it by writing less and taking time to read my new present – Kevin McCloud’s43 Principles of Home. He is the Grand Design person. I won’t link to the commercial site that sells the book but you can find it easily. It is a lovely production which focuses on how to live better – more sustainable, with more craft and more comfort. I especially like the section of what not to do with your house and what to do. We are renovating our house at present and the book has very functional advice.


Here are some snippets of the 43 Principles:

On big walk-in fridges: Unless you are a gamekeeper who needs to chill a quartered stag every other week, I can’t understand why any family truly needs one.

On bad lighting: The enemy of friendship is the halogen down-light. They were invented to display goods. Don’t fill your house with them unless you plan to open a bakery. People look awful and haggard.

On garden lighting: Forget it. Gardens need very little lighting.

On spending: Don’t use credit cards. Do not even think about taking out store credit cards.

On design: Avoid being seduced by the trinkets and gadgets of domestic life. A glass and steel balustrade may seem exciting but a good plaster-boarded, simple low wall is cheaper and more of a piece with the building.

On making homes: Homes need autobiographical clutter. A home is not a furniture showroom or shop.

On taste: There is no such thing as good taste or bad taste, just good design and poor design.

A lovely present anyway!

On the theme of living better I reflected on some documents I read over the weekend today.

The inaptly named Republican Study Committee (study requires skills and understandings that this lot seem to lack if their public pronouncements are anything to go by) – are trying to get a bill through the US Congress which they call the Spending Reduction Act of 2011 (for a summary).

It proposes to cut 2.5 trillion in federal spending over the next decade and:

The bill will specifically hold FY 2011 non-security discretionary spending to FY 08 levels, hold non-defense discretionary spending to FY 06 levels thereafter for the rest of the ten-year budget window (the same level as in effect during the last year of GOP control of the Congress), and include more than 100 other program eliminations or savings proposals …

Quite apart from the totally damaging macroeconomic impacts that such spending reductions will have at a time when the US economy is delicately poised on the cusp of recovery but still with a foot or so in recession, if you examine some of the programs that are being cut all Americans should be very worried.

I actually liked this New York Times article (November 10, 2010) – $25 Billion in Cuts, if the Math Worked – which found some of the programs proposed for elimination by the RSC were already gone – as they 10 x 0 = 0!

But there are serious cuts proposed which will stifle economic growth and development and undermine any nascent recovery in the labour market. The pleading to the contrary by the conservatives that the private sector will more or less immediately fill the spending losses is a straight out lie.

But beyond these narrow (but not unimportant) economic impacts the cuts will severely hurt the cultural fabric of the US and elsewhere.

In this article (March 1, 2011) – Art for Our Sake: Lessons From Hull-House Poets, artists, writers help us imagine solidarity and re-make the world – we learn that the RSC plan will:

… cut federal funding for the arts down to zero. This plan would eliminate both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, two of the major funding sources for artists and intellectuals in our country.

The Art for Our Sake article recounts the founding of the Progressive Party in the US in August 1912 which was founded on the principle of:

… ending the domination of our nation’s politics by business interests …

Their full platform A Contract with the People – is worth reading as it would be apposite today except for some slip ups on macroeconomics which I will forgive them for.

The sections of the contract – Social and Industrial Justice, Business and Conservation all contain very good principles for a sophisticated and sharing society. The US looks nothing like this “expansive vision” (quoted term from the Art for Our Sake article).

Art for Our Sake article says that some of the demands in the “Contract”:

… now seem self-evident parts of any democracy, while others are still considered radical almost a century later. This reminds us why it is critical to remember that challenging the status quo and injustice takes not only courage and conviction, but also creativity. Envisioning a different and more just world is an act of cultural creation, of beauty and wonder.

You won’t find a lot of that in the platforms of the major political parties anywhere these days so riddled are they with neo-liberal economics and ridiculous notions of “efficiency”. Anything that hasn’t a clear money value is eschewed in this framework although mostly only private costs and benefits are considered.

The concept of ethereal emotions, feelings etc are absent and not worthy of resource allocation.

Under the Progressive Party’s platform, citizens sought to transform society through:

… creative and innovative thinking that took place, for the most part, not on Capitol Hill, but in the free press, through grassroots organizing, via popular education and on cultural fronts-sports, literature, poetry, art and music. These were the spaces where dissent was encouraged, where innovative thinking and playful experimentation flourished, and where peoples’ imaginations and dreams were allowed to foment.

The Art for Our Sake article recounts how the “Hull-House Settlement in Chicago” was an important advocate for economic and labour reform (“organizing unions”, “fighting … for the eight-hour workday and immigration rights”), but it also “produced avant-garde dramatic plays and sponsored basketball teams for boys and girls. The Settlement offered literature and language classes that reflected a commitment to internationalism, as well as a plethora of education opportunities including art and music lessons, cooking classes and home economics workshops”.

So broad social and collective activities aiming to enrich our lives and promote inclusion and equity.

These are activities and capacities that are essential “to the building of the foundation of a democratic nation”. You cannot have democracy without widespread participation, without challenge to accepted ways, without a critical discourse.

In that context you see how dangerous the conservative push (or should I say putsch) is in the United States and beyond. They want to limit the sense of participation and keep the debate under their control. They do not like dissidence because it threatens their power base.

Clearly, and I have said this often, if all citizens came to understood that the deficts are bad, debt is worse arguments are pure lies then the conservatives would have no “authority” upon which to base their claims to decimating arts funding and keeping millions unemployed. They would have to come clean and admit what the true reason for their behaviour is.

I think an educated, culturally aware and artistically creative society would tear them apart – probably in a rhetorical sense and the conservatives would lose their sway. They operate at present – to maintain their power base – by mixing lies with fears with phobias. The more literate and creative and free thinking people are the less that sort of approach to control will be possible.

They know that. That is why they hate the arts.

This article (February 23, 2009) – Why Do Republicans Hate Artists and Writers So Much? – is worth reading.

The writer comments on the conservative dislike for the arts:

What on earth do Republicans in Congress have against painting and writing and dancing and teaching art in the schools? What it is about us artists that gets their panties all in a twist? What would Philip Levine himself say to Mitch McConnell or John Boehner or any of our other Public Servants, for that matter any of the men and women who nurse at the public tit but don’t want a penny of public money going to anyone else?

There’s a visible sneer in their faces and an audible sneer in their voices whenever the word “art” is mentioned. As though it were dirty or nasty or somehow something we should talk about only behind closed doors and only with intimate family members but not, somehow, in public, for God’s sake. Reading? Fuggedaboudit. Museums? Oh, yeah, those are places where kids go on field trips that are no longer in the budget. Dancing? That’s for sissies. Classical music? Isn’t that something The Wife makes you go to once a year?

Many progressives try to counter attacks on the arts by claiming they promote economic development. See for example this New York Times article (February 15, 2009) – Saving Federal Arts Funds: Selling Culture as an Economic Force – which is a standard approach by the Arts industry in defence of its budgets.

The claim is that:

An employed dancer is as important as an employed construction worker. His or her family has many needs, owns a home, buys a car and makes an impact on the economy … This is the sort of argument many arts groups say they failed to make strongly enough in the weeks leading up to the first House and Senate votes on the stimulus bill. In debates on the measure some legislators dismissed the arts as a highbrow, left-wing luxury unworthy of scarce taxpayer dollars. Such arguments evoked the ideological battles of the 1990s, when some politicians denounced certain projects financed by the Endowment as un-American.

Clearly, spending equals income whether it be on arts or construction. But that doesn’t really make a case in favour of arts funding. Rather it makes a case for federal spending per se in the face of unused capacity.

I have always thought that progressives lose the battle when they restrict the argument to narrow economic concerns. Why should progressives try to counter all the conservative attacks on cultural richness by trying to reduce the argument back into economic terms? I know why but the reasoning just demonstrates a lack of leadership.


We should promote the Arts because they are fun, interesting, make us happy, thrill us, enliven us, reduce us to tears of sadness and tears of joy and force us to question everything including conservative shibboleths.

That is what the conservatives really hate about the creative arts – they cannot control the sometimes anarchic thoughts, concepts, constructs that emerge from those with less stake in the perpetuation of the corrupt financial system. Many radical ideas emanate from artists which ferment revolutionary movements.

We need more fermenting. Much more.

I think that is a nice thing to think about on one’s birthday.

The Art for Our Sake article says that:

Poets, artists, writers and other cultural workers create the engines for our imaginations and build the framework for our dissent. They provide new ways for us to communicate across lines of difference. They help us find creative ways to imagine solidarity and to re-make the world.

Progressives today should learn from the progressives of yesterday. More art! More poetry!

And I leave you today with this – on March 7, 1917, the first jazz record titled Dixie Jass Band One Step was recorded by the Nick LaRocca Original Dixieland Jass Band in Camden, New Jersey (the spelling Jazz was a few years off yet). There was some controversy over it because it sounded in parts like an earlier ragtime composition. Here is the original recording. I think March 7 had good omens since then!

So … that is enough for today!

This Post Has 23 Comments

  1. Happy birthday and thanks, Bill.
    We would go further and say that it is the same creative process which underlies progress in all fields. Whether it is breakthroughs in science, great new ideas in business, new social forms (such as we are now seeing in the social media), or, of course, developments in the arts, in each case someone has had to have had a new insight or inspiration – a moment of true creativity.

    Fostering that capacity, of which we are all capable, is key. And that is a less well noted aspect of unemployment – apart from the loss of output in GDP percentage terms, there is the loss of all those new ideas never realised.

  2. Happy Birthday, Bill! Thanks for sharing your gift. I miss not being able to watch Grand Designs here in the US!

  3. Off topic. Unreal article in NYT by Tyler Cowen:

    “We are fooling ourselves most of all. United States government debt in public hands is now more than $9 trillion, but most people still don’t realize what it will take to pay that off.

    Here’s an example: Say that you have $20,000 in Treasury bills. You probably believe that you own $20,000 in wealth. This will encourage you to spend and come up with ambitious plans. Yet someone – quite possibly you – will be taxed in the future to pay off the government debt. The $20,000 may be needed in order to do that.”

    There are literally ZERO voices in the US to counter stuff like this. And the NYT is a HUGE pulpit to write this stuff from. Most “progressive” Americans completely agree with this thinking.


  4. Happy Birthday, Bill!

    I and my already two-year-old German Sheppard – both MMT enthusiasts 🙂 – celebrated ours the day before.

    March is definitely an MMT month!

  5. Happy Birthday Bill!

    Thanks you for your blog and work on MMT.

    I have heard that the first recorded insturment was a tenor banjo, becasue of its sharp, clear sound. It must have been a jazz piece because that was what the tenor banjo was all about.


  6. Happy Birthday Bill.

    This is a good day for me to express my gratitude for billyblog and how it has clarified and reformed my thinking about matters macroeconomic. I’m retired and spend a lot of time reading things on the web and I can say that your blog is consistently the most valuable thing I read.

    I wonder if one of the obstacles to acceptance of MMT is a kind of fear of success, an unwillingness of societies to take responsibility for their own futures. It may be a scary prospect for Congress to realize that there are so few financial constraints on choosing the kind of society we want to build. For example, the US could use MMT to be a happy, fulfilled, and secure society. a society unparalleled in history, if it had the will. The means (except political) are clearly there. I say this even having an acute appreciation of the huge objective obstacles facing all of us in the next century, such as resource depletion, global warming, and overpopulation. Of course another huge obstacle is human greed, taking the form of libertarianism and neo-liberalism. But accept MMT and the usual rules and guides and changed immensely. One walks into an unknown where political decisions are limited by many fewer constraints. This is scary, unknown territory.

    While MMT is not a theory of morals, one of the things I appreciate about your work is how the possibilities opened by the technical insights of MMT can contribute to transforming the world toward more universal prosperity and human fulfillment. In this, I see you not only as an economist, but also as a prophet, calling humanity to be its best. You exceed even Marx in this. I don’t think there is any work in the world that is more important than what you are doing.

    Thank you.

    David Clay

  7. Happy Birthday, Bill!

    I can only echo the admiring comments from above. Thank you for the paradigm changing work that you have been writing.

    Maybe everyone who regularly reads this blog would send in a happy birthday and we can get an idea of what kind of following there is?

  8. Happy Birthday, Bill.
    I believe that sanity will be restored in macroeconomics the only question is how much it has to cost all of us to complete the current experiment with insanity.

  9. Happy Birthday Bill,

    After making “full” use of last years present, they probably decided you needed something more leisurely.

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