Archive for October, 2008

J.K. Galbraith(Oct.15,1908–Apr.29,2006) – a man for our time?

October 15, 2008

Stephen Dunn, whose The Economics of John Kenneth Galbraith will be published by Cambridge University Press next year, has an essay in The Guardian today  in which he reminds the reader that the 100 anniversary on Galbraith’s birth is not a bad time to remind ourselves that the great man would not have been surprised about what gas been happening to the capitalist economy recently, or by the radical  measures various governments have had to restore some semblance of stability. Galbraith saw it all coming and a close reading of his work, had anybody who mattered cared to do such, might have prevented it’s coming at all.

One hundred years ago today, one of the intellectual titans of the 20th century was born. Had the warnings issued by JK Galbraith up until his death two years ago been better heeded by the policymakers of today, it seems unlikely we would find ourselves so deep in the economic mire.


 Galbraith argued that an unfettered, competitive capitalist system, operating on pure free-market principles, was inherently cyclical and unstable, requiring robust regulation and active government.



The flurry of action by governments and central banks around the world in recent days suggests that Galbraith’s works have finally been pored over by politicians. The experience of the 1930s must be avoided. This financial crisis must be met with programmes designed to maintain demand and avoid another Great Depression. On the 100th anniversary of Galbraith’s birth, his words matter more than ever.

Interestingly, The Guardian, in an editorial which praises Galbraith in very much the way it praised John Maynard Keynes a week ago, sounds a note of caution when it comes to predicting whether the Galbraithian lessons are being learned.


The Great Crash 1929 ends by noting the powerful case for taking action to prevent a return to boom and bust, but warns that “inaction will be advocated in the present even though it means deep trouble in the future”. For the hope of an easy life “causes men who know things are going quite wrong to say that things are fundamentally sound”. This time round, the world must come together and disprove that telling conclusion.

That “must” sounds like an expression of hope, rather than one of certainty.  In  A Journey through Economic Time, Galbraith wrote that, as guiding confession” he believed “the greatest error in economics is in seeing the economy as a stable, immutable structure.” Nothing that’s happening at the moment convinces me that this error will not be repeated.


Randy Newman gets the DID treatment.

October 15, 2008

One of the most inventive singer/songwriters of the last sixty years, the inimitable Randy Newman, appears on next Sunday’s edition of BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs


Next on: 19 Oct 2008 11:15  


Kirsty Young invites the singer-songwriter Randy Newman to choose eight records to take to Radio 4’s mythical desert island.


1.      19 Oct 2008  11:15 BBC Radio 4

  Randy Newman’s January 2007 performance of A Few Words in Defense of Our Country

19th October 2008

Randy’s Choice

1. The 3rd movement of Beethoven’s String Quartet No.16 in F Major
Performer The Hollywood String Quartet
Composer Beethoven 
CD Title Beethoven: String Quartets
Track CD3 trk 8

2. Goodbyes
Performer Film soundtrack
Composer Alfred Newman 
CD Title How Green Was My Valley
Track 15
Rec No 07822110082

3. The Door
Performer George Jones
Composer B Sherrill/N Wilson 
CD Title The Best of George Jones
Track Side 1 trk 1
Label EPIC Rec No SEPC80847

4. The Stampede
Performer Fletcher Henderson
Composer Henderson
CD Title Fletcher Henderson/1925-28
Track 4
Label BBC
Rec No BBCCD720

5. Part of the Sacrificial Dance from Rite of Spring
Performer The Boston Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Benjamin Zander
Composer Stravinsky
CD Title Stravinsky: Rite of Spring
Track 14
Label I.M.P.
Rec No MCD25

6. The beginning of Shostakovich Symphony No 15
Performer London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Bernard Haitink
Composer Shostakovich
CD Title Shostakovich: The Symphonies
Track Cd11 trk 1
Rec No 4444302

7. Part of the Adagio from Mahler’s 9th symphony
Performer Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert Von Karajan
Composer Mahler
CD Title Mahler: Symphony No.9
Track CD2 trk 1
Rec No 4530402

8. Come Rain or Come Shine
Performer Ray Charles
Composer Johnny Mercer & Harold Arlen 
CD Title The Genius of Ray Charles
Track 12
Rec No 13122

Record: Beethoven Late Quartets
Book: Dante’s Divine Comedy in Italian with English translation.
Luxury: A piano


Nobel Prizewinner, Paul Krugman, praises Brown.

October 14, 2008

Paul Krugman, who has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in economic science, in a New York Times article that appeared online on the 12th, in print yesterday and in today’s edition of The Guardian,  praised Gordon Brown and the British government for the way that they handled the current crisis.


Has Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, saved the world financial system?

O.K., the question is premature — we still don’t know the exact shape of the planned financial rescues in Europe or for that matter the United States, let alone whether they’ll really work. What we do know, however, is that Mr. Brown and Alistair Darling, the chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury secretary), have defined the character of the worldwide rescue effort, with other wealthy nations playing catch-up.

Krugman argues that although London a major financial centre, Britain is in every other way Britain does not have the kind of economic clout to make the running when it comes to dealing with a crisis of this magnitude.

But the Brown government has shown itself willing to think clearly about the financial crisis, and act quickly on its conclusions. And this combination of clarity and decisiveness hasn’t been matched by any other Western government, least of all our own.


But when Henry Paulson, the U.S. Treasury secretary, announced his plan for a $700 billion financial bailout, he rejected this obvious path, saying, “That’s what you do when you have failure.” Instead, he called for government purchases of toxic mortgage-backed securities, based on the theory that … actually, it never was clear what his theory was.


In the final paragraphs, he has a stab at explaining why it was Brown and not Paulson that the made the decisive move.

As I said, we still don’t know whether these moves will work. But policy is, finally, being driven by a clear view of what needs to be done. Which raises the question, why did that clear view have to come from London rather than Washington?

It’s hard to avoid the sense that Mr. Paulson’s initial response was distorted by ideology. Remember, he works for an administration whose philosophy of government can be summed up as “private good, public bad,” which must have made it hard to face up to the need for partial government ownership of the financial sector.

I also wonder how much the Femafication of government under President Bush contributed to Mr. Paulson’s fumble. All across the executive branch, knowledgeable professionals have been driven out; there may not have been anyone left at Treasury with the stature and background to tell Mr. Paulson that he wasn’t making sense.

Luckily for the world economy, however, Gordon Brown and his officials are making sense. And they may have shown us the way through this crisisis.

There is some salutary lessons in all this for the American voter. All one can hope is that he or she is paying attention

For Paul Krugman, economist, a Nobel Prize.

October 14, 2008
Andrew Leonard ingeniously uses his How the World Works column in Salon to congratulate economist Paul Krugman on his Nobel Prize win. 

 Some people appear to think that Paul Krugman won the Nobel Prize in economics for his analysis of “trade patterns and location of economic activity.” Since these people would include the Nobel Prize selection committee, I suppose we should believe them.

Paul Krugman has always been considered on the short list for a Nobel Prize, although some economists thought he hurt his chances by becoming a prominent political partisan. Now some outraged right-wingers smell a rat. (One commenter at Marginal Revolution called it “an act of intellectual vandalism” on a par with Al Gore’s selection as winner of the Nobel Peace Prize). Do they have a point? Maybe. In his tenure as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has been a tireless critic of Republican economic policy. And he was right. He deserves a prize.

(But seriously, if you want in-depth analysis, Tyler Cowen’s constantly updated coverage of the prize and what it means is the best.)

Almost exactly a year ago, I opened my review of Krugman’s most recent book, “The Conscience of a Liberal,” with the sentence:

Now is a good time to be Paul Krugman.

It just got even better.

Those of use who know Krugman as a very sharp columnist much better than we know or understand his contribution to economics are grateful that Leonard has found a way of speaking for us.

Landesman & (other) son, Miles.

October 13, 2008

Speaking of Fran Landesman, as I did yesterday,  I’ve just spotted that the one-time owner Crystal Palace Cabaret Theater, Gaslight Square, St Louis, Missouri, where, during the late fifties and early sixties, she and husband, Jay, played host to up-and-coming artists such as Barbra Streisand, The Smothers Brothers, Elaine May and Woody Allen, returns to The Gaslight Theater, just around the corner, for a four-night residency that begins on Wed., October 22 and ends Sat., October 25.  


Fran, who will have turned 81 the day before the first show, will be presenting four evenings “of storytelling and song”, with her son Mles as accompanist.

Fran Landesman & Simon Wallace

 Photo Tom Paice (June 2008)

The ugly side of the McCain/Palin campaign.

October 13, 2008

There is a properly angry piece by Glenn Greenwald in Sunday’s Salon about the way reporters and pundits are either dismissing or minimising the dangers inherent in the way that the Republicans are now conducting their campaign to get McCain into the White House.

Today, Time’s Karen Tumulty reports on what she heard after being invited by the McCain campaign to observe its “ground game” in Southern Virginia.  Tumulty reports on a speech she heard delivered to gathered McCain volunteers by the Chairman of the Virginia Republican Party, Jeffrey M. Frederick — no “low-level party activist” he:

With so much at stake, and time running short, Frederick did not feel he had the luxury of subtlety. He climbed atop a folding chair to give 30 campaign volunteers who were about to go canvassing door to door their talking points — for instance, the connection between Barack Obama and Osama bin Laden: “Both have friends that bombed the Pentagon,” he said. “That is scary.”

After noting that this is “not exactly true,” Tumulty described how that accusation was nonetheless “enough to get the volunteers stoked”:

“And he won’t salute the flag,” one woman added, repeating another myth about Obama. She was quickly topped by a man who called out, “We don’t even know where Senator Obama was really born.” Actually, we do; it’s Hawaii.

This is why it is so disgraceful for reporters and pundits to minimize and dismiss what the McCain/Palin campaign, and Republicans generally, have been doing as they become increasingly desperate.  Here is the top Republican official for the State of Virginia comparing Obama to Osama bin Laden and provoking claims that he hates the flag and isn’t really even American.  The raw tribalism and resentments that are being stoked here, and the pure hatred against Obama based on his Terroristic Foreignness, is unprecedentedly ugly and dangerous, and reporters who dismiss and minimize it all through false equivalencies and other justifications are doing nothing less than aiding and abetting it.

The Guardian’‘s Michael Tomasky, writing on Saturday October the 11th, concluded  that what we are witnessing in Republican campaigning is the “dark, Gothic heart of resentment conservatism”. “It’s going to be a disgusting three weeks.”


It’s going to be an even more disgusting three weeks if we have to witness the sorry sight of those who should know better – the people Greenwald fingers – defending the indefensible or excusing the inexcusable.

Landesman and son.

October 12, 2008
In his review in the Wednesday Oct 1st issue of The Spectator of Cosmo Landesman’s Starstruck: Unruly children as parents, Geordie Greig, cultural commentator editor of Tatler magazine, wrote:

If as a child you found your parents embarrassing then this hiss-and-tell memoir will make you feel a lot better, as Cosmo Landesman had parents who were off the Richter scale of embarrassment. Jay and Fran were two wacky, middle-aged American egotists who arrived in ‘the land of the stiff upper lip’ and caused mayhem. Blind to their own blush-making toxicity, they were obsessed with being famous.


Starstruck is a funny book in both senses. Landesman essentially skewers his mum and dad with his pen, but even this feeds their egotism. We learn that they revel in their son’s blame-game memoir, seeing it as a new and welcome platform from which to propel their ambitions. So the book is also a commentary on fame, celebrity and success, but not the success of being a loving parent, patient listener, supporter, cocooner or even moral guide. It highlights the emptiness of their interpretation: the pursuit of status.

I cannot claim to have read the whole of this book, but the extracts I have read, published in The Guardian and The Mail, did not strike me as being remotely funny. They are, in my book, as deeply as deeply unsettling about Cosmo’s writing as there is about the events they describe.

Cosmo’s parents may well be fame-hungry embarrassments to their son, but in writing about them in the way he has done, he shows that he’s quite capable of being as much an embarrassment to himself as they were to him.

Had he the wisdom to acknowledge it is Fan Landesman, not her son Cosmo, who wrote the lyrics to a dozen or so of the best popular songs of the last half-century, he might not have been so quick to publish.

Fran Landesman & Tommy Wolf’s portrait of ’50s bohemia, All the Fine Young Men, performed by the Sydney-born, New York resident,  Fiona McBain, at The Living Room NYC. Accompaniment is by Mike Visceglia  and the video by Anthony Pepitone.


McCain the “rabble rouser”?

October 11, 2008

The writer and activist Frank Schaeffer has published in various magazines and newspapers,  including Open Salon what appears to be a genuinely impassioned felt plea to  John McCain to put an end to the “rabble rousing” that has of late become a feature of his and Sarah Palin’s campaign rallies.

>>>John McCain, you’re walking a perilous line. If you do not stand up for all that is good in America and declare that Senator Obama is a patriot, fit for office, and denounce your hate-filled supporters when they scream out “Terrorist” or “Kill him,” history will hold you responsible for all that follows.

John McCain and Sarah Palin, you are playing with fire, and you know it. You are unleashing the monster of American hatred and prejudice, to the peril of all of us. You are doing this in wartime. You are doing this as our economy collapses. You are doing this in a country with a history of assassinations.

Change the atmosphere of your campaign. Talk about the issues at hand. Make your case. But stop stirring up the lunatic fringe of haters, or risk suffering the judgment of history and the loathing of the American people – forever.>>>

Given that Schaeffer himself has a pretty good idea what rabble rousing can lead to, I think that McCain would do well to take heed. Having said that, I have to say that whenever I watch McCain caught up in a situation where the crowd is getting out of hand, he appears to me to be at a loss to know what to do. A rabbit caught in the headlights comes to mind. That in itself is frightening. Is a man who cannot lead his own supporters likely to make a great president?

Sarah Palin – the real Alaskan?

October 11, 2008

The Alaskan writer Nick Jans has as a rather good feature piece in today’s Salon in which he questions  whether or not Sarah Palin is entitled to call herself a representative of Alaska and Alaskan values.


…..Palin is a genuine Alaskan — of a kind. The kind that flowed north in the wake of the ’70s oil boom, Bible Belt politics and attitudes under arm, and transformed this state from a free-thinking, independent bastion of genuine libertarianism and individuality into a reactionary fundamentalist enclave with dollar signs in its eyes and an all-for-me mentality.

Palin’s Alaska is embodied in Wasilla, a blue-collar, sharp-elbowed town of burgeoning big box stores, suburban subdivisions, evangelical pocket churches and car dealerships morphing across the landscape, outward from Anchorage, the state’s urban epicenter. She has lived in Wasilla practically all her life, and even now resides there, the first Alaska executive to eschew the white-pillared mansion in Juneau, down on the Southeast Panhandle.


…… Like many Alaskans, I resent Palin’s claims that she speaks for all of us, and cringe when she tosses off her stump speech line, “Well, up in Alaska, we….” Not only did I not vote for her, she represents the antithesis of the Alaska I love. As mayor, she helped shape Wasilla into the chaotic, poorly planned strip mall that it is; as governor, she’s promoted that same headlong drive toward development and despoilment on a grand scale, while paying lip service to her love of the place.


In the end, Palin’s attempt to cash in on the Eau d’Alaska mystique as she supports its destruction sickens those of us who do love this land, not for what it will be some day, after the roads and mines and pipelines and cities and malls are all in, but for what it is now. What we see before us is the soul of an ambitious, ruthless, Parks Highway hillbilly — a woman who represents the Alaska you probably never want to meet, and the one we wish never existed. That said, we’re all too willing to take her back. The alternative is just too damn frightening.

What worries me is that the American electorite might not be willing to give her back. Now that is just too damn frightening.

Obama is a socialist, therefore not an American!!!

October 10, 2008

It is becoming increasingly clear that Republicans (especially right-wing Republicans) are beginning realise that a Democratic White House may no longer a remote possibility. It appears to be getting them very riled up, and, what’s more, it appears that John McCain thinks that riled-up Republicans might just be vote winners.

Here’s the exchange which tells you an awful lot about the just how desperate McCain’s campaign is getting at the moment. A video (which has been circulating on the internet) of it is at the bottom of this post.

Man in audience: I’m mad. I’m really mad. And what’s going on won’t surprise you. It’s not the economy. It’s the socialists taking over our country.


Sit down. I’m not done.


Thank you.

McCain: You’re going — you’re going to have to give me …

Man in audience: When I see …

McCain: Go ahead.

Man in audience: Let me finish, please.

McCain: Yes, sir.

….general laughter…

McCain: Excuse me.


Man in audience: Thank you. I think it’s so important in today’s country what we’re really missing in what’s going on. When you have an Obama, Pelosi and the rest of the hooligans up there going to run this country, we’ve got to have our head examined. It’s time that you two are representing us, and we are mad. So go get them.

Audience: USA, USA, USA.

McCain: Well, I — I think I got the message.

Could I — could I just say the gentleman is right. The Democrats have been in the majority for the last two years. Have you seen any improvement? The point is — but Americans are angry, sir. They’re angry and frustrated. And that’s why we’ve got to act, and we’ve got to act together because all of us are Americans first.



The American magazine Salon had the video on its site, but has been replaced by a “we’re sorry, this video is no longer available” message. I wonder why?