Author Archives: emilykawano

CPE Members Join URPE & Occupy Chicago to Protest Mainstream Economists’ Role in the Financial Crisis

Occupy Chicago teamed up with the Union for Radical Political Economics (URPE) to organize an “Occupy the American Economics Association” event at its annual meeting in Chicago, January 5-8. Economists streaming out of the conference hotel for lunch on the first full day of the conference were met by a large group holding signs such as “Economists — Complicit in the Financial Crisis,” “Occupy the AEA,” and “Danger! Capitalist Economists at Work!” as well as some street theater. Then, a spirited group of about 40 marched through the downtown, carrying a homemade banner poking fun at the concept of “trickle-down economics.” It showed a Very Important Man relieving himself over ordinary people standing below. An accusation from a Chicago police officer that the banner was blocking the sidewalk led to the arrest of one particularly active protester which provoked a loud outcry from the crowd.

The protest was followed by a teach-in at nearby Roosevelt University.  Local CPE member (and Roosevelt University faculty member), June Lapidus, arranged for the teach-in rooms. CPE member and UMass-Amherst professor, Nancy Folbre, gave a short presentation on “the political economy of human capital” followed by a great discussion with the participants. CPEer Elaine Mccrate also joined in. The teach-in continued on Friday and Saturday afternoons. Occupy Chicago is hoping to develop an economics education and outreach program in greater Chicago, and Lapidus will be the CPE liaison there.

Gerald Friedman Testifies to Massachusetts General Court About Healthcare

Gerald Friedman, professor of economics at UMass, testified in favor of a single-payer healthcare system at the Joint Committee on Healthcare Financing hearing held in Massachusetts General Court on December 15, 2011. He addressed the deficiencies of the current healthcare system, especially focusing on the fact that in our current system, the only profitable business model for healthcare companies is to provide coverage to fewer people and deny coverage to the sick. He also addressed the waste built into the current system: America’s average lifespan is no higher than countries that spend much less on healthcare. Despite the fact that we spend as much on healthcare as Canada, our average lifespan is 4 years shorter. Professor Friedman argued that a single-payer system would address these shortcomings and others. The full testimony can be read below.

Testimony to Massachusetts General Court, December 15, 2011

My name is Gerald Friedman.  I am a Professor of Economics at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.  I have lived in Massachusetts since August 1978 when I moved to Cambridge to attend Harvard, where I was awarded a PhD in Economics in 1986.  Since 1984, I have taught at your state University at Amherst where I have specialized in Labor Economics, public policy, and Economic History.

Before studying Economics at Harvard, I was a History major at Columbia and my first book, State-Making and Labor Movements, is a historical study of the origins of the labor movement in France and the United States 1870-1914; my latest book, Reigniting the Labor Movement: Restoring Means to Ends in a Democratic Labor Movement, addresses union growth and decline in 16 advanced economies since the late 19th century.  I am a big picture guy and, as such, I do not envy your responsibilities because the big picture is grim: spending on health is swallowing the economy even while growing numbers are receiving inferior care.

This is not to dismiss your very real accomplishments, of which you should be proud.  With some help from Governor Patrick and former Governor Romney, you developed a health care program that has extended health insurance to most of our citizens even while insurance has become increasingly unavailable outside of Massachusetts.  Today, fewer than 5 percent of Massachusetts residents are uninsured, a rate barely a third that of the rest of the United States.  This is a signal accomplishment that dramatically improves life for hundreds of thousands of people.

Much of the expansion in health insurance coverage has been achieved through the Massachusetts Health Reform Law, Chapter 58 of 2006.  A compromise between reform advocates, Governor Romney, and various industry groups, the bill did less to reform health care in Massachusetts than to expand access by “plugging gaps” in existing insurance programs.  As such, it has done little to slow the seemingly inexorable rise in health care costs, and the resulting squeeze on the budgets of Massachusetts families, businesses, and governments.  Back in the days when Governor Dukakis tried to slow health care inflation, health care spending equaled 12 percent of the Massachusetts economy; today it is over 17 percent.  This increase, 5 percent of our income, is about $3,000 per person that we do not have to spend for other things because of rising health care costs.  If we continue the way we are going, we will be giving up thousands more over the next two decades.

While some of the increase in costs reflects improvements in care and is a consequence of rising life expectancy, most in Massachusetts, as throughout the nation, is due to waste within the health insurance and health care industries.  Compared with other industrial economies, the United States is peculiarly inefficient in our health care system. We spend more but receive relatively poor health care; compared with other affluent economies (members of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development), we spend thousands of dollars more per person to achieve life expectancy lower than 49 other countries (see Figure 1).  If we are only to have the life expectancy of Portugal, then we should be able to spend over $4000 less per person; or if we are to maintain such high spending, then we should have 4 more years of life expectancy (see Figure 1).

Figure 4.  Effect of single-payer financed with 7.5% payroll tax and 7.5% tax on unearned income.  Effect on income by quintile.


A ‘Care Socialist’ Speaks Out

An article about CPE member economist Nancy Folbre, by Joel Bleifuss at In These Times.

In her work, Nancy Folbre, a University of Massachusetts economics professor, explores the intersection of feminist theory and political economy, with a special emphasis on what she calls “care work” – the labor, often outside the money economy, that goes into caring for children, the sick or the elderly.

She is well known for her ability to explain these ideas in simple, accessible language, both in her work with the Center for Popular Economics-the collective of economists who put out the Field Guide to the U.S. Economy (New Press)-and with her weekly post to the Economix-a New York Times blog dedicated to “explaining the science of everyday life.”

Folbre talked with In These Times about the negative effects of ignoring care work in public policy, and what the future of our democracy might look like if we want it to strengthen our families and communities.

What key perspectives are missing from our national debates about budget deficits and the national debt?

First, there is little or no reporting on progressive proposals to address the deficit, such as the Peoples Budget, which has been mentioned only in a few opinion pieces in the mainstream print media, despite support from the Progressive Congressional Caucus and excellent reporting by In These Times. (Editor’s note: See “What Americans Want,” by David Moberg, June 2011.)

Second, there is little or no challenge (outside of op-ed pieces) to what one can call “the austerity story.” This story tells us that social spending in general is on an unsustainable path and needs to be cut. The debate is framed simply as one of levels and timing: The Republicans want us to cut more now, and the Democrats want us to cut less, later.

Only one big component of social spending is actually on an unsustainable path- healthcare spending. That’s one of the problems that President Obamas healthcare reform was intended to address – and would certainly ameliorate, if not solve. Yet Republicans want to repeal it.

My University of Massachusetts colleague Jim Crotty describes the austerity story as a rationale for increased redistribution to the rich.

That redistribution to the rich plays out on a global scale, doesn’t It?

The austerity story reflects a new phase of globalization, in which large corporations no longer have much incentive to invest in the health or education of a national labor force.

Global competition definitely plays a role: Social spending represents a “social wage” that is linked to citizenship. Downward pressure on wages in the advanced capitalist countries is now accompanied by downward pressure on social wages. Both skilled and unskilled labor are plentiful on the global level, and can therefore be treated as a kind of natural resource like oil or coal, to be simply extracted and depleted. Of course, the social consequences, or as economists put it, “negative externalities,” are huge. Global warming goes along with what one could call public-sector “chilling,” that is, reduced public commitments to social welfare – both of which reduce sustainability and health in the long run.

What role does the media play In aiding and abetting those we might call “public-sector chilling deniers”?

The mainstream media tends to limit its attention to mainstream opinions. But I don’t fault the media alone. Neither mainstream nor heterodox economists have developed a clear picture of the political economy of public finance. Heterodox economists- including most progressive economists – seem reluctant to acknowledge the complexity of the distributional struggle that takes place through the public sector, and the ways that it is shaped by race, gender, citizenship and age, as well as class. You can’t boü that struggle down to capitalists versus workers.

In my view, much of it also reflects bargaining over the distribution of the cost of caring for dependents – not just between men and women, but also between those who have dependents (or are dependent) and those who don’t (or are not dependent). For instance, people who aren’t raising children sometimes feel aggrieved about paying taxes to support schools.

Should individuals pay for their own education, their own healthcare, their own retirement, along with the needs of their own children and elderly parents? No, they shouldn’t. There are many reasons why social insurance is more efficient and more equitable.

But many people don’t understand the benefits they derive from educating “other people’s children.” And progressive social scientists and policy makers haven’t directly addressed the underlying issues: To what extent should these costs be socialized? How should they be distributed? Those are key questions.

How can progressives best address them?

First, we need to emphasize the intrinsic merit of investing in the development and maintenance of human capabilities. This is not just about kids! It’s also about capabilities to work productively as adults and age past retirement.

Second, we need to show that such investments pay off with greater overall productivity – even though the increased productivity may not show up in conventional economic statistics.

Third, we need to emphasize fairness and sustainability. We need to address issues of intergenerational equity – spending on elderly versus spending on children – and make sure that people have a clear sense of what they are getting back from government over their life-cycle compared to what they put in.

Where do the international issues fit in here?

The left has traditionally drawn the boundaries around national boundaries – citizenship. But as national boundaries become more permeable, other divisions also intensify.

So we shouldn’t be surprised by growing conflict over the major institutions of the welfare state. People ask themselves: “We don’t pay social insurance for citizens of other countries, so why should we pay it for recent immigrants? Why should we pay it for people who are not like us in other ways?”

The bottom line is that even if the austerity story is false, it resonates with people who feel they don’t have control over government programs. And it resonates with their fears – both rational and irrational – that others are benefiting more than they are from it.

This is a conflict between individual freedom (or the illusion of it) and social cooperation. In a society that worships the ideal of individual agency, does the ideal of working for the collective good stand a chance?

There’s less actual than perceived conflict here. Individuals benefit so greatly from social cooperation – especially from investments in human capabilities and the provision of social insurance to help support family care. And the “ideal” of individual agency doesn’t apply to young children or the sick, disabled or the elderly. It also doesn’t apply to people who can’t find a job because the economy is not functioning at full employment.

The problem is that many conservatives don’t see these benefits, while many of the left believe these benefits are selfevident I argue for a more sustained effort to demonstrate the economic benefits of social democracy.

Should the left put democratic socialism back on its agenda?

The left is reaching for new definitions of democracy and of socialism.

We’ve learned that institutions that appear to be democratic can be undermined by economic power – whether through over-centralization, as in the so-called socialist economies of the former Soviet Union, or through campaign finance corruption, as exemplified by the Citizens United ruling. We’ve also learned that institutions that profess to rest on majority rule can implement rules (like the filibuster) that lead to political stalemate.

Many local activists are drawn to cooperatives and worker-owned businesses, but they haven’t figured out how to scale their grassroots initiatives up in a national campaign.

The left doesn’t agree on any one definition of socialism. We have advocates for increased democratic participation at every level of the economy, like Mike Albert and Robin Hahnel. And we have advocates for market socialism, like John Roemer. And global climate change reminds us that we cannot simply focus on changes within the nation-state.

I am an advocate for a form of what I call “care socialism,” based on stronger collective commitments to the development of human capabilities and efforts to strengthen families and communities. We need to encourage more dialogue between left social scientists and activists. I hope that In These Times readers will weigh in

Occupy Boston – CPE’s Jerry Friedman on Money, Banking and Democracy

 Free School University: Money, Banking, and Democracy

Occupy Boston

When: Tue, November 1, 3pm – 4pm
Where: Free School University, Dewey Square, Boston, MA

One of the resources that the 99% has to draw on is the small but dedicated number of radical political economists who buck recent historic trends in their profession to research and advise as to how our economic systems could be changed so that they really serve the many, and not just the few. Prof. Gerald Friedman, of U. Mass Amherst and CPE, will talk with us about money, and banking, and what kind of democratic changes are really needed in our financial institutions.

Occupy Wall St: Abolish the Fed, Back to the Gold Standard?

The Center for Popular Economics stands in solidarity with the Occupy Wall St. movement. CPE economists have been doing teach-ins in NYC, Boston and Amherst. We have also developed some resource materials on important issues that have been raised by some protesters. (See links below.) The demands to abolish the Fed and to return to the gold standard are frequently heard. It is true that the Fed favors the interest of the banks, and is plagued by a lack of transparency and accountability. However, the Fed serves an important function and rather than destroy, we need to democratize it. A return to the gold standard is not particularly good for the people – it was the Populist movement that demanded an end to the gold standard and the establishment of a Central Bank in the first place.

In 1896, Populist firebrand William Jennings Bryan declared, “If they dare to come out in the open field and defend the gold standard as a good thing, we shall fight them to the uttermost, having behind us the producing masses of the nation and the world. We shall answer their demands for a gold standard by saying to them, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.”

An Intro to the Federal Reserve – 2 page handout (pdf)

Federal Reserve – a Historical Perspective – 4 page article (pdf)


What Is Economics for? Interview With Economist Jerry Epstein

Published on Truthout, Monday October, 10th 2011

by Leslie Thatcher at Truthout

The Center for Popular Economics longtime staff economist and founding Co-Director of the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute Gerald Epstein spoke with Truthout’s Leslie Thatcher on Thursday July 27 at Smith College about the history and role of progressive economists and the essential steps to right our economy so that it actually meets people’s needs.

(Photo: David Gray / Flickr)

Leslie Thatcher for Truthout: Jerry, could you tell our readers about the extraordinary confluence of progressive economists in the Pioneer Valley, the longtime work of the Center for Popular Economics and its mission?

Gerald Epstein: It all started at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where in the late ’60s and early ’70s there were already some radical economists. The big change came when Samuel Bowles, who had been an economics professor at Harvard and some of his former students and colleagues started URPE, the Union for Radical Political Economics. They were influenced by Marx, Veblen, C. Wright Mills … In 1972 Bowles was denied tenure at Harvard, an example of the kind of political discrimination in tenure decisions that is well known. Escaping Cambridge, he came to Leverett MA near Amherst and began talking to a UMass dean then overseeing the economics department – which was then very neoclassical, but also conflict-filled. Dean Alfange and Sam cooked up a scheme to hire a whole group of radical economists from all over the country, including Herb Gintis from Harvard, Steve Resnick from Yale and some very prominent former mainstream economists from leading academic departments. A few years later, the department was essentially awarding PhDs in radical economics.

Sam and Julie Schor (author of The Overworked American) and several other faculty and grad students started the Center for Popular Economics (CPE) in 1975. UMass was already a magnet for progressive economists; Smith, Mount Holyoke, Hampshire College – the whole Valley – became a mecca for progressive economists, now one of the few remaining places with a critical mass of radical economists. There are some, of course, at The New School for Social Research, Notre Dame, UC Riverside (now decimated by a hostile administration). The University of Utah has a heterodox program, as do Colorado State at Fort Collins and the University of Missouri in Kansas City.

I’ve been with CPE since the mid-’70s. Since the early ’70s, CPE’s goal has been to bring together political activists and economists to teach a new way of thinking about economics and to bring people involved in particular social and political struggles together to build a broader movement informed by economics. The newsletter Dollars and Sense developed around the same time. From the beginning, the summer institute [full disclosure: which Thatcher attended this year] was CPE’s main activity. As it grew, CPE gave workshops as well as the summer institute – and since Emily Kawano became CPE’s director, it has become increasingly, though not primarily, focused on the “solidarity economy.” Attendees came more and more from academia, as it had become more difficult to get activists to attend. But in recent years, I believe the balance has shifted back to more political activists and fewer academic types.

A lot of the impetus for alternative economics came from opposition to the Vietnam War and in solidarity with the Civil Rights movement and New Left feminism. It was oriented towards peaceful revolution. The idea was to develop a better economics for a democratic society, a theoretically more valid way to understand capitalism. While its origins were revolutionary, they were also somewhat theoretical. In the last twenty years, alternative economics has become much more policy-oriented, toward developing more equalitarian policies – a lost idea.

I set up the research institute PERI with Bob Pollin to develop policy-relevant research that could be used by people on the frontlines fighting for specific issues that needed a lot of attention.

Thatcher: Is it possible the attention to policy and specifics detracted from progressives’ ability to tell a compelling story about how the political economy works?

Epstein: The other side had hundreds of experts and highly paid lawyers who could write laws that looked good, but with gazillions of loopholes, so that the progressive side was and is totally outgunned. That’s what happened on Dodd-Frank: all the details were left to the regulators and the banks have been writing the regulations. In these areas, people like the researchers at PERI and elsewhere have been able to provide a counterweight.

I do think we’re now at a juncture in the political economy of the US – and maybe of the whole world – where we have to return to our vision in a more believable concrete way.

We have to recognize we’re getting beaten on the policy front, so we have to keep fighting there, but also stay prepared with ideas about what to do next.

Jane d’Arista – who had been a staff person for Wright Patman (D-Texas) and I started a group here, SAFER (SAFER: A Committee of Economists and other Experts for Stable, Accountable, Fair and Efficient Financial Reform) the goal of which was to put people together who could weigh in with Americans for Financial Reform – an umbrella for 250 labor and community groups – on relevant policy. It’s been producing position papers and consultations on financial regulations.

Thatcher: In that vein, you’ve written about the implementation of the so-called Volker rule in Dodd-Frank. Why is this so important? What are the chances of getting it right?

Epstein: Well there were good things in Dodd-Frank that – were they to be implemented forcefully – would make a real difference and there are some regulators who want to implement them, but the GOP in Congress wants to defund those aspects of the bill that actually work.

Thatcher: One of your co-authors for “Globalization and Progressive Economics Policy,” Dean Baker, has written in “False Prophets” and elsewhere about how Greenspan and Bernanke were professionally negligent in failing to see the mortgage-backed securities/housing bubble. Why have progressive economists who did predict the bubble and who have been right about financialization not been heeded?

Epstein: Yes, classical and neoclassical voices are still dominant, but there are more outlets now for progressive voices and more people like Dean who can refute neoliberal arguments point by point. We economists have to make more of an effort to make our voices heard. We’re better at it now than we used to be, but more of us have to try. We’re in a situation now where we need to rebuild from the ground up.

The bankers, with an assist from the mainstream media, have built up the power of the financial sector to such a point that they have us in a vise grip: “Give us what we demand or we’ll go down and take you with us.”

There is a kind of structural blackmail. Look, for example, at the rating agencies’ threat to downgrade treasuries [executed after this conversation]. Here are private companies who make a profit and have the wrong model for credit rating, a neoliberal model and they attempt to force that model on the rest of us. And there is no way we can retaliate for their ideological stance on credit ratings. Governments around the world have given these ratings official credence. So there’s also a form of price-fixing: they are also threatening to downgrade European banks with Greek credit risk if they have to take a hit on the debt. It’s a vise grip on public policy.

Thatcher: Where does the bankers’ power come from?

Epstein: They have the political power that goes with money since money now mostly determines our elections. The House banking committee is stuffed with new Reps who anticipate the need to raise campaign cash and vote for loopholes.

In the ideological realm, they have developed tremendous power as they have successfully sold the idea that the bankers know best and we should do what the bankers tell us. Mainstream economists have developed a whole theoretical apparatus, including the “efficient markets hypothesis” that “proves” markets should regulate themselves. Of course, the hypothesis assumes perfect information and no market power – and is totally wrong, but economists love it because it is very elegant.

And to make matters worse, some of them get paid by the bankers to defend it.

Mainstream economists may also have been personally blinded by the power of money (see “Inside Job“). Many have private associations with financial companies: 70% of them earned money by working for private financial firms and only 2 people revealed those connections when interviewed by the mainstream media.

Larry Summers is perhaps the best example of that: he was earning $5 million a year from D.E. Shaw while he was working on financial reform issues.

Finally, the financial regulatory agencies have been totally captured by the banking sector.

All this is happening as we are in the midst of three huge transitions that also favor finance:

  • the US is losing its position as the most powerful country economically to China and, as we lose high-paying manufacturing jobs, the US economy becomes more dependent on the bubble economy and the non-manufacturing sector. With the loss of union jobs, we also lose a source of political power for working people.
  • the US is moving from being a medium productivity economy to becoming a high (i.e. highly automated) productivity economy, so that the economy becomes more dependent on those sectors that may still generate high-paying jobs, e.g. finance.
  • the US should be – but we are not – transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables and a green economy. That would help us transition out of a financialized economy. We need to shrink the financial sector – which before 2008 accounted for 60% of the profits in the US – and find another sector where we can create jobs.

Thatcher: So, you see the greening of the economy as a way forward?

Epstein: Yes, but we must also transform the financial sector and create public financial services institutions, make more public sector investment and get the money out of politics.

Moreover, the growth paradigm is no longer viable in industrialized economies because of environmental constraints and because it no longer produces jobs. We have to move toward basic guaranteed income for the majority of our people.

What’s the economy for, anyway? We need to rethink: what are our needs and how do we meet those needs?

Also see:

Link to Gerald Epstein’s articles on Truthout and an interview with Epstein on The Real News.

The EPA: A Phantom Menace

By Heidi Garrett-Peltier, CPE Staff Economist

Environmental regulations are not “job-killers” after all.

GOP claims EPA costs jobs

Polluting industries, along with the legislators who are in their pockets, consistently claim that environmental regulation will be a “job killer.” They counter efforts to control pollution and to protect the environment by claiming that any such measures would increase costs and destroy jobs. But these are empty threats. In fact, the bulk of the evidence shows that environmental regulations do not hinder economic growth or employment and may actually stimulate both.

One recent example of this, the Northeast Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), is an emissions-allowance program that caps and reduces emissions in ten northeast and mid-Atlantic states. Under RGGI, allowances are auctioned to power companies and the majority of the revenues are used to offset increases in consumer energy bills and to invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. A report released in February of this year shows that RGGI has created an economic return of $3 to $4 for every $1 invested, and has created jobs throughout the region. Yet this successful program has come under attack by right-wing ideologues, including the Koch brothers-funded “Americans for Prosperity”; as a result, the state of New Hampshire recently pulled out of the program.

The allegation that environmental regulation is a job-killer is based on a mischaracterization of costs, both by firms and by economists. Firms often frame spending on environmental controls or energy-efficient machinery as a pure cost—wasted spending that reduces profitability. But such expenses should instead be seen as investments that enhance productivity and in turn promote economic development. Not only can these investments lead to lower costs for energy use and waste disposal, they may also direct innovations in the production process itself that could increase the firm’s long-run profits. This is the Porter Hypothesis, named after Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter. According to studies conducted by Porter, properly and flexibly designed environmental regulation can trigger innovation that partly or completely offsets the costs of complying with the regulation.

The positive aspects of environmental regulation are overlooked not only by firms, but also by economists who model the costs of compliance without including its widespread benefits. These include reduced mortality, fewer sick days for workers and school children, reduced health-care costs, increased biodiversity, and mitigation of climate change. But most mainstream models leave these benefits out of their calculations. The Environmental Protection Agency, which recently released a study of the impacts of the Clean Air Act from 1990 to 2020, compared the effects of a “cost-only” model with those of a more complete model. In the version which only incorporated the costs of compliance, both GDP and overall economic welfare were expected to decline by 2020 due to Clean Air Act regulations. However, once the costs of compliance were coupled with the benefits, the model showed that both GDP and economic welfare would increase over time, and that by 2020 the economic benefits would outweigh the costs. Likewise, the Office of Management and Budget found that to date the benefits of the law have far exceeded the cost, with an economic return of between $4 and $8 for every $1 invested in compliance.

Environmental regulations do affect jobs. But contrary to claims by polluting industries and congressional Republicans, efforts to protect our environment can actually create jobs. In order to reduce harmful pollution from power plants, for example, an electric company would have to equip plants with scrubbers and other technologies. These technologies would need to be manufactured and installed, creating jobs for people in the manufacturing and construction industries.

The official unemployment rate in the United States is still quite high, hovering around 9%. In this economic climate, politicians are more sensitive than ever to claims that environmental regulation could be a job-killer. By framing investments as wasted costs and relying on incomplete economic models, polluting industries have consistently tried to fight environmental standards. It’s time to change the terms of the debate. We need to move beyond fear-mongering about the costs and start capturing the benefits.

My Center for Popular Economics Institute Experience: “Does your head hurt? Are you confused? Good, that means you’re learning”

By Leticia Medina, Deputy Director of Media Justice League (part of the MAG-Net delegation participating in the CPE Summer Institute)

“Does your head hurt? Are you confused? Good, that means you’re learning.” My classmates and I heard the preceding on a daily basis from Dr. Hector Saez at the Center for Popular Economics Summer Institute. The Summer Institute was a special track titled Media, Democracy and the Economy. For five days, Hector Sáez and Michelle Rosenfield dedicated themselves to opening up the world of popular (read: of or carried on by the people as a whole rather than restricted to politicians or political parties) economics. We talked about how economics inform all aspects of our lives and what exactly it means to live in a society that has built itself on a capitalist framework.

Capitalism as an ideology is embraced by many as an economic structure that allows for social mobility and consumer freedoms. In practice, however, capitalism seems to benefit merely a fraction of the population while it is harmful for the overwhelming majority. We must find a way to shift the economic infrastructure that governs us to better fit a worldview rooted in social justice. As it is, those in control of the nation’s riches do not, in effect, represent the interests and concerns of the American people. What does it mean for a very small group of people to own so much of the nation’s wealth? According to this cool infographic published in Mother Jones, the top 10% control over 2/3 of the nation’s wealth. The implications are astounding.

The Smith College campus (one of the Seven Sisters liberal arts colleges) in Northampton, MA is an idyllic blend of manicured grounds and Victorian architecture. The Center for Popular Economics put us up in sweet dorms at Chapin House which abuts Paradise Pond. From Monday, July 25 to Friday, July 29, we met with Hector and Michelle from 8:30am to late afternoon to learn from them all about our complicated and tangled economy. Because they were essentially condensing one semester’s worth of material into one week the pace was fast and the sessions intense. Nevertheless, our teachers managed to convey the most important and fascinating bits of their course content. From the inception of capitalism to the current-day debt ceiling fiasco, they walked us through important timelines and developments worth studying.

Hector and Michelle stressed over and over that the subject of economics should not be discussed or explored only by a small group of learned academics or finance experts; rather, economics should be accessible to every single person participating in and contributing to that economic structure, hence popular economics. Our instructors focused on the benefits of a participatory populace, one that is involved with its economy on many levels, from working and living in it to helping shape the direction the economy takes. For too long now, the study of economics has been relegated to the classroom and shrouded in undecipherable legalese. The popular economists at the CPE 2011 Summer Institute work to strip away those layers and generate conversations in clear and straightforward language.

I was especially heartened by the focus on media and media justice issues as they speak to the state of our economy now. We have come to realize that responding to media content by creating our own is one of the most effective ways of telling our stories in order to rewrite the narratives that shape our lives. Those in power have been extremely clever in framing their messages and flooding our means of communication with their prefabricated stories. Their tactics are insidious, self-serving, and utterly successful. The Center for Popular Economics recognizes that practicing critical analysis of media content, responding by creating our own, and demanding media policy that will ensure equity are essential steps in bringing about a shift in paradigm.

The classes, sessions, plenaries, and workshops that the CPE generously and thoughtfully organized for us left me feeling brain-fed, exquisitely exhausted, and nothing less than inspired. Exploring the different intersections between media, democracy and the economy was illuminating and, at times, frustrating. Frustrating in the sense that there are clear parallels in inequalities. Inequalities in media translate directly into inequalities in the economy which further translate into inequalities in our democracy. Being able to clearly understand and articulate those connections has amplified and enriched my analysis of those structures that I navigate on a daily basis.

If Hector and Michelle hoped that their students would be galvanized to continue researching and learning about popular/progressive economics on their own, they should be congratulating themselves on their resounding success. I for one plan on continued research of Keynesian economics, the problematic metrics of our GDP, and a better understanding of capitalism as an ideology. I know I will have many allies on this new journey because my amazing, unforgettable fellow classmates all expressed the same desire to continue learning. This is one of the major reasons I LOVE what I do and who I do it with. The fight continues.

CWGL Employment Opportunity: Program Coordinator

The Center for Women’s Global Leadership has begun a formal search for a Program Coordinator for its work pertaining to violence against women (VAW) and women’s leadership.  The intersection of VAW and militarism in its various forms will be a major component of the work.  CWGL encourages the applications of those with knowledge/experience in areas such as the impact of war and conflict, peace building processes, small arms proliferation, political violence, violence against women committed by state agents, and the ideologies derived from militarism.

For more information: CWGL Program Coordinator Description


« Older Entries Recent Entries »