Saturday, April 18, 2009

Where Did Roosevelt Go?

by: Gil Courtemanche | Visit article original @ Le Devoir

Gil Courtemanche deplores the absence of a modern-day Roosevelt. (Photo: Hugh Gregory Gallagher)

The press in general has described the G-20 Summit that was held in London as a remarkable success. Reporters were astonished by the speed with which the countries representing 80 percent of the world's wealth succeeded in agreeing on the objectives of a common program. If success was so frequently evoked, that was probably because people were certain there would be failure.

And if success was evoked, it's probably also because, for once, an international gathering identified and named the villains. Tax havens, responsible for governments' reduced finances and obscure conduits for speculators and money launderers; hedge funds, which create no wealth and which prowl around like hyenas to appropriate every scrap of wealth to themselves; rating agencies, finally, who live a curious situation: they rate their own clients. It's good that the great of this world should point out those apparently responsible for the crisis.

A chronicler for Le Monde wrote: "capitalism is dead; long live capitalism." He was so right.

During his stay in Washington, from atop his mighty soap box, President Sarkozy said it was necessary to "restructure" capitalism. The Americans wanted more energetic recovery plans from the Europeans. In London, everyone agreed not to follow either path. And everyone shook hands and embraced. And the press applauded such beautiful unanimity.

And yet, we know perfectly well that, in spite of the OECD's white, gray and black lists, tax havens will continue to operate, rating agencies will remain the reference for dabblers in the market and hedge funds will not be outlawed. Tax havens like Switzerland will collaborate a little more with governments, the rating agencies will be a bit more cautious, and hedge funds, more discreet.

Nonetheless, the crisis that we are experiencing brilliantly illustrates the absolute amorality of capitalism as we have been practicing it the last thirty years, as well as the risks it makes citizens run. The lure of profit has replaced the necessity of profit; property's materiality has been replaced by virtual games that even qualified bankers do not master.

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In the beginning, humans exchanged goods in the hope of improving their lot. One may call that profit. Then, they employed people to produce more wealth, then convinced people to bet on future wealth, and, finally, invented products that don't exist. We have gone from legitimate enrichment to absolute predation. We don't talk about that except when the predators are fraudsters like Madoff in New York. But all these people who play with our lives and our futures are fraudsters and rip-off artists.

We lived for a long time thinking that the Stock Market and the factory, finance and employment, were developing within different spheres. But here we are with a crisis created by speculators who never invented a single job; the crisis kills jobs and creates poverty.

We talk about countries that have been weakened like Iceland, about great financial institutions, about the financial system that must be refloated. We must save capitalism which put us into this deep shit. That's what they did in London: saved the system so it can fuck us over again.

Local thinking does not go any further. We must revive demand quickly; then consumption will return. And jobs as well, always within the same absurd system that incessantly repeats in a thousand different ways that profit is more necessary than the well-being of persons. So they give money for concrete and infrastructure. When construction runs, everything runs. That's not true. For the crisis marginalizes. The people who are losing their jobs are either the youngest, those working at the end of their careers, or temporary workers. The first victims of the crisis are neither construction workers, who are not so badly off, nor subcontractors manufacturing concrete and asphalt.

People do not much talk about those marginalized people. We most especially do not discuss alternative models, different visions for taming and transforming reality. Our sole tool seems to be concrete.

A Japanese economist and philosopher maintains that we must invest in health, food and energy to combat the crisis. Why? Because these are sectors that escape the financial insanity of the stock markets. What he proposes is not rocket science, after all. He proposes an economy of proximity that does not lurch around to the rhythm of global speculators, but evolves according to the needs of the local population. To measure our footprint and our movements, to encourage small local businesses, to increase the supply of at-home services for the elderly, to refocus the economy on real and daily needs by using our own resources; in the end, to partially shelter ourselves from the madness of fundamentalist free market capitalism. But we've gotten off to a really bad start. The Agriculture Minister wants to play the big global game and is persecuting local cheese-makers; our health money is in the future deficits of the Montreal University Hospital's public-private partnerships, and the recovery, in concrete. As for new energies, that's reserved for cronies, not localities. When the crisis started, people evoked Roosevelt and the New Deal. For the moment, I see no Roosevelt on the planet and especially not here. Business as usual for Mr Charest.


Translation: Truthout French language editor Leslie Thatcher.


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