Category Archives: culture

“The Struggle for Full Employment: Not a New Idea and Not a New Struggle”

Last weekend I attended Left Forum and videoed a fantastic panel, The Struggle for Full Employment: Not a New Idea and Not a New Struggle, sponsored by the National Jobs for All Coalition.

“The Struggle for Full Employment: Not a New Idea and Not a New Struggle”
Left Forum 2012
Saturday, March 17, 5:00-6:40 PM, Room W401

www.njfac.org
www.jobscampaign.org

The presentation explores New Deal job creation efforts and FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights that began with the right to a decent job. It discusses two major attempts to secure full employment, in the immediate post-World War II period and in the 1970s, the first ending in the defeat of full employment legislation and the second, in the failure to implement a watered-down full employment act. Full employment, the presentation shows, will take a fundamental break with neo-liberalism and a reorientation of power from big business and Wall Street to middle- and working-class people and will require the full-scale social movement that both earlier struggles lacked.

Panelists:

Chuck Bell: Vice Chair, National Jobs for All Coalition, co-author of “Shared Prosperity: The Drive For Decent Work” (2006). Twenty years of experience in consumer and health care advocacy, and community movements for jobs and economic justice.

Helen Ginsburg: Professor Emerita of Economics, Brooklyn College, CUNY., and co-founder of the National Jobs for All Coalition. Author of books and articles on employment policy and strategies.

Gertrude S. Goldberg: The New Deal and Social Welfare Professor of Social Policy Emerita, Adelphi University School of Social Work where she directed the Ph.D. program. Chair of the National Jobs for All Coalition. Co-chair of the Columbia Seminar on Full Employment, Social Welfare & Equity. Author/co-author and editor of six books and numerous book chapters and articles on social policy and employment.

Moderator: Sheila D. Collins, Professor of Political Science at William Paterson University and co-founder of the National Jobs for All Coalition.

Video by Rebecca Rojer, http://rrrojer.net

Remarks on Proposed Middle School De-leveling.

Context: The Maplewood-South Orange School District, which I attended my entire public school career, is in the process of de-leveling the middle school. The district belongs to a community with many wonderful and unique characteristics: suburban, easy public access to NYC, artistically vibrant, and both racially and economically diverse. But the leveling system reveals an uglier side, as the school is blatantly segregated along racial (and socio-economic) lines.

You can read the district’s proposal here. A paper profiling three case studies of successful elimination of “curricular stratification” can be found here. Its focus is on how to de-level, but the endnotes contain an overview of the literature on why, with two decades of papers discussing the benefits of heterogeneous grouping. Our district is in communication with one of the district’s profiled, and seems to be following the steps outlined in the paper.

Finally, I was inspired to prepare these remarks after attending a discussion of alumni last week. It was a powerful post-mortem on our public school experiences. Hearing first-hand the vastly different experience some of my peers had in the very same schools has motivated me to get involved in this issue (again). The discussion was hosted by a filmmaker and fellow district alumnus Cris Thorne, who is working on a documentary called Deleveling the System. Excerpts of the discussion are online here and here. Additionally, I highly recommend Cris’s earlier documentary (produced as a high school student!), One School, for more background.

Finally, I should note that I was unable to read the complete transcript, because I had prepared for the standard 3 minutes of public comment and found out upon arrival that we were restricted to two minutes.

My name is Rebecca Rojer, CHS class of 2005.

As a k-12 alumnus of this district, it is clear to me that the leveling system is not colorblind. In both the classrooms and the hallways, white students are consistently given the benefit of the doubt, while black students are assumed to be trouble-makers and low achievers. Students enter school with different degrees of preparedness, but the leveling system calcifies these differences into inequalities.

Worse, the leveling system turns prejudice into self-fulfilling prophecy. Low expectations correlate to low performance. For example, women perform worse on math exams after being told there is a genetic difference in math ability between the sexes.

There is clearly a place for grouping students by skill-level and motivation. But it is not always beneficial, even for “top” students. This is especially true of the turbulent and vicious middle-school years, where academic success is better predicted by behavior and obedience than by aptitude.

There are many styles of learning – fast, slow, deep, shallow, literal, abstract, disciplined, intuitive – yet we conceive of “high” and “low” achievers through standardized tests that are valued precisely because they simplify everyone onto a single metric. When testing becomes the end game of education, we all suffer. Excessive reliance on testing dehumanizes students and ultimately sabotages their education. Students who feel valued and respected are more apt to learn. The infuriating paradox in our district is that top-level classes are discussion based, encouraging of critical thinking and debate, while lower-level classes too often focus exclusively on test prep.

Education is about empathy, respect, creativity, and citizenship as much as it is about literacy and arithmetic. These values reenforce each other. Knowledge is power, and schools should empower students. Let’s teach compound interest alongside the history of redlining and predatory lending. Education is about life, not the GEPA.

There is much to be gained by heterogenous classes. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to a peer. And one of the best ways to be challenged, is to be confronted by someone who’s experiences and values are different from your own. That is what I most cherish from my education in this district. And for that, I really have to thank a group of my classmates, some of whom who are here tonight, for literally stopping classes my senior year to create a conversation among students in different levels.

Lets not forget, we’re all in this together. Today’s students are tomorrow’s voters, workers, mortgage-signers, taxpayers, parents, neighbors. Your children’s lives are affected not just by their own education, but by the education of everyone who participates in this society. To fret about the rigor of your special snowflake’s 6th grade social studies curriculum in light of massive, structural inequality is short-sighted and just plain wrong.

There is a wide-spread assumption that integrating classes will destroy our education system and wipe out our property values. Students can feel this very early on, and it is exactly this kind of attitude that perpetuates inequality. The best way to lift your property values is to do what’s right: work towards a system that benefits all students instead of only half. Lets reject the politics of fear, and instead move forward with empathy, creativity, and determination.

If the news is crushing your spirit, I highly recommend some Wendell Berry

The outcry in the face of such obvious truths is always that if they were implemented they would ruin the economy. The peculiarity of our condition would appear to be that the implementation of any truth would ruin the economy. If the Golden Rule were generally observed among us, the economy would not last a week. We have made our false economy a false god, and it has made blasphemy of the truth. So I have met the economy in the road, and am expected to yield it right of way. But I will not get over. My reason is that I am a man, and have better right to the ground than the economy. The economy is not god for me, for I have had to close a look at its wheels. I have seen it at work in the strip mines and coal camps of Kentucky, and I know that it has no moral limits. It has emptied the country of the independent and the proud, and has crowded the cities with the dependent and the abject. It has always sacrificed the small to the large, the personal to the impersonal, the good to the cheap. It has ridden to its questionable triumphs over the bodies of small farmers and tradesmen and craftsmen. I see it, still, driving my neighbors off their farms into the factories. I see it teaching my students to give themselves a price before they can give themselves a value. Its principle is to waste and destroy the living substance of the world and the birthright of posterity for a monetary profit that is the most flimsy and useless of human artifacts.

Though I can see no way to defend the economy, I recognize the need to be concerned by the suffering that would be produced by its failure. But I ask if it is necessary for it to fail in order to change; I am assuming that if it does not change it must sooner or later fail, and that a great deal that is more valuable will fail with it. As a deity the economy is a sort of egotistical French monarch, for it apparently can see no alternative to itself except chaos, and perhaps that is its chief weakness. For, of course, chaos is not the only alternative to it. A better alternative is a better economy. But we will not conceive the possibility of a better economy, and therefore will not begin to change, until we quit deifying the present one.

A better economy, to my way of thinking, would be one that would place its emphasis not upon the quantity of notions and luxuries but upon the the quality of necessities. Such an economy would, for example, produce an automobile that would last at least as long, and be at least as easy to maintain, as a horse. It would encourage workmanship to be as durable as its materials; thus a piece of furniture would have the durability not of glue but of wood. It would substitute for the pleasure of frivolity a pleasure in the high quality of essential work, in the use of good tools, in a healthful and productive countryside. It would encourage a migration from the cities back to the farms, to ensure a work force that would be sufficient not only to the production of the necessary quantities of food, but to the production of food of the best quality and to the maintenance of the land at the highest fertility — work that would require a great deal more personal attention and care and hand labor than the present technological agriculture that is focused so exclusively upon production. Such a change in the economy would not involve large-scale unemployment, but rather large-scale changes and shifts in employment.

“You are tilting at the windmills,” I will be told. “It is a hard world, hostile to the values that you stand for. You will never enlist enough people to bring about such a change.” People who talk that way are eager to despair, knowing how easy despair is. The change I am talking about appeals to me precisely because it need not wait upon “other people.” Anybody who wants to do so can begin it in himself and in his household as soon as he is ready– by becoming answerable to at least some of his own needs, by refusing the glamorous and the frivolous. When a person learns to act on his best hopes he enfranchises and validates them as no government or public policy ever will. And by his action the possibility that other people will do the same is made a likelihood.

From Discipline and Hope by Wendell Berry, from his book A Continuous Harmony (1972).

Ashley/Amber on DVD in “Back to Politics” compilation

[cross-posted at ashley-amber.com]

Ashley/Amber is out on DVD today as part of BACK TO POLITICS, a compilation of 10 short films curated by Berlinale shorts director Maike Mia Höhne.

»Im Alter von 22 Jahren bläst Christoph Schlingensief auf offener Straße und im Schnee seinen Landsleuten die Nationalhymne. Ein klares Eingangsstatement, anhand dessen sich kaum die Frage stellt, ob man sich aufgrund der Hymne von seinem Stuhl erhebt. Prolog & programmatisch für die Auswahl BACK TO POLITICS.
Entlang der Filme lässt sich darüber spekulieren, wie die politische Lage derzeit einzuschätzen ist, wie sie sich zum Besseren verändern lässt. Politisches Handeln weist viele Facetten auf und ist nicht ausschließlich an Tagespolitik geknüpft, sondern tritt in banal anmutenden Entscheidungen zu Tage, die jede und jeder praktisch ständig zu treffen hat. Wie und was ist der Mensch, der entscheidet? In Annäherungen werden prekäre Arbeitsverhältnisse, Ich-AGs und illegale Erwerbsarbeit verhandelt. Die Frage vom Ich im Ganzen bleibt. Zum Ende geht die historische These, wie Sex und Politik zusammengehen, neue Wege. Der Erwartung wird das Leben zugesetzt.«
[Dietmar Schwärzler & Maike Mia Höhne]

It’s quite an honor to be included in this collection. There are some really excellent films including Hugo Lilja’s Aterfödelsen, the dystopian zombie film that screened with us in Berlin.

Order at good!movies & amazon.de

Modern Money Primer

There is burgeoning school of economics called Modern Money Theory (MMT) that I really think warrants consideration. Not only is it theoretically quite intriguing, but if accurate, has tremendous political and social implications. One might even say that (perhaps in contrast to the Obama administration), it is actual cause for hope.

So I’d like to bring MMT to your attention. If you have already encountered, and dismissed, MMT, I’d like to encourage you to give it a second look. If you have already encountered, and dismissed, the entire field of Economics, I’d like to propose MMT as the exception to the rule.

Specifically, I suggest you check out the Modern Money Primer, recently begun by L. Randall Wray, one of the more prominent MMT scholars:

http://neweconomicperspectives.blogspot.com/p/modern-money-primer-under-construction.html

This primer is meant to be accessible introduction to someone with no prior understanding of MMT or even Economics. Wray will be adding a chapter every Monday for the next year, and responding to comments every Wednesday. (And for those of you who can’t possibly wait a year, I highly recommend Wray’s textbook Understanding Modern Money)

Okay okay but what is MMT?

Well, Wray and his colleagues will do a much better job than I of explaining, but here’s the gist as I understand it:

  • In a fiat economy, public debt = private wealth
  • Taxes don’t fund government spending; taxes create demand for fiat currency so that people are willing to sell goods & services to the government in exchange for said currency
  • Taxation is a sufficient (though not necessary) means to create demand for fiat currency (& thus prevent against undesirable levels of inflation)
  • and finally, perhaps most radically:

  • By serving as an “Employer of Last Resort”, essentially hiring anyone who is willing but unable to find work in the private sector and paying them a living wage, the government can ensure both full employment and price stability.

If true, this is pretty huge. Calls for “austerity” and the need to “reduce the deficit” become specious; there is an economically-sound mechanism to employ everyone at a living wage; not to mention that the government can suddenly “afford” all kinds of neat social programs, like universal health care, daycare and public transportation.

Crazy talk!
Lunacy!
Socialism!
Zimbabwe! Wiemar Germany!
Nothing you just said made any sense to me!
Rebecca, what the hell makes you, with your film degree, qualified to talk about economics?!

Yes, in many ways MMT runs completely counter to our conventional understanding of money. It sounds insane at first. But I think, if you give Wray a chance, you will see all the above points (except perhaps the last one) thoughtfully addressed.

And unlike most branches of economics, which could be accused of hiding behind intimidating jargon and complicated mathematical models rooted in mythology, the folks at New Economic Perspectives (the group of scholars behind the primer) are actively soliciting comments & critiques from their readers in an effort to make this primer as clear and thorough as possible. So I encourage you to check it out and ask questions and follow along over the next 50 weeks, if that’s your sort of thing.

[[Modern Money Primer]]

PS. If you contacted me nearly a year ago about that economics discussion list I wanted to start, apologies for never actually getting around to making it. I’m gonna try and get that started up soon, for real. Perhaps we can work our way through the Modern Money Primer together. Everyone who requested an invite will get one. If you didn’t and want in, let me know!

“This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison”

Nathan Bootz, a school superintendent in Michigan, writes a public letter to his governor:

Dear Governor Snyder,

In these tough economic times, schools are hurting. And yes, everyone in Michigan is hurting right now financially, but why aren’t we protecting schools? Schools are the one place on Earth that people look to to “fix” what is wrong with society by educating our youth and preparing them to take on the issues that society has created.

One solution I believe we must do is take a look at our corrections system in Michigan. We rank nationally at the top in the number of people we incarcerate. We also spend the most money per prisoner annually than any other state in the union. Now, I like to be at the top of lists, but this is one ranking that I don’t believe Michigan wants to be on top of.

Consider the life of a Michigan prisoner. They get three square meals a day. Access to free health care. Internet. Cable television. Access to a library. A weight room. Computer lab. They can earn a degree. A roof over their heads. Clothing. Everything we just listed we DO NOT provide to our school children.

This is why I’m proposing to make my school a prison. The State of Michigan spends annually somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000 per prisoner, yet we are struggling to provide schools with $7,000 per student. I guess we need to treat our students like they are prisoners, with equal funding. Please give my students three meals a day. Please give my children access to free health care. Please provide my school district Internet access and computers. Please put books in my library. Please give my students a weight room so we can be big and strong. We provide all of these things to prisoners because they have constitutional rights. What about the rights of youth, our future?!

Please provide for my students in my school district the same way we provide for a prisoner. It’s the least we can do to prepare our students for the future…by giving our schools the resources necessary to keep our students OUT of prison.

Respectfully submitted,

Nathan Bootz, Superintendent, Ithaca Public Schools

http://gcherald.com/letterseditor/letters-to-the-editor-may-12-2011-issue.shtml