[Marxism] The ABC's of the economic crisis

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Oct 23 16:17:52 MDT 2009

Why We Need to Give This Rotten System the Heave-ho
by Chris Townsend

Fred Magdoff and Michael D. Yates.
The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to Know. 
Monthly Review Press, 2009.

The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People Need to KnowBooks 
that start out with quotes from Shakespeare's Macbeth make me nervous. 
Like many of my fellow workers, I have attended far more rock concerts 
-- or pro wrestling matches -- than hard-to-figure-out plays.  As a 
largely self-taught worker I am frequently reminded that many authors 
often create more chaos when they make attempts to "explain" things to 
workers.  Used bookstores overflow with the too long, too complicated, 
and just plain too boring efforts of well intended writers who presume 
to try to tell workers why it is they work very hard for very little, or 
just how things "really" work.

Thankfully, this book is no such dust collector.  Veteran Monthly Review 
authors Fred Magdoff and Mike Yates have taken great care with their 
current release: The ABCs of the Economic Crisis: What Working People 
Need to Know.  Right off the bat they keep the volume handy in size and 
length.  A worker with a busy life can actually absorb the content as I 
did, while riding the subway and going outside for a last few rays of 
autumn sunshine at lunchtime.  The average chapter is about ten pages. 
The book throughout is fast-paced yet detailed, understandable, and at 
times entertaining.  A chuckle is needed I suppose when pondering the 
sheer magnitude of the jam we all find ourselves in today.

What struck me besides the author's desire to get right to the point is 
their combined sense of urgency.  Workers after all do need to know 
these things about how our economy works and why it doesn't work in our 
interests.  This volume flows from a fast overview of how we arrived at 
the current crisis, to just why it is that the current economic crash is 
really part of a destructive built-in cycle inherent in our system.  I 
found myself re-reading some of the chapters as I went along, but only 
because I was struck by the clear presentation of recent economic events 
to illustrate what are age-old problems and sometimes fairly complicated 
economic theories.  I frequently remind the members of my union that 
"the economic plan" we have here in the United States is working 
perfectly.  The problem is that "the economic plan" is the bosses' plan, 
and not our plan.  Here you'll see in stark detail just how the bosses' 
rotten plan has done a job on all of us.

My favorite chapter was "Neoliberalism."  No word in recent decades has 
done more to mystify workers and inadvertently prolong their confusion. 
  Put a guest speaker up in front of a union audience and I'll guarantee 
you that when you get to the "neoliberalism" references there will be a 
majority of glazed-over eyes in the room.  But here Magdoff and Yates 
clear the decks of this mumbo-jumbo with six bullet points and eight 
pages of explanation that will leave no one wondering what 
"neoliberalism" is.  Better yet, this chapter will remind us all of just 
how the stage was set for the current economic fiasco.  This mess 
includes toxic ingredients assembled over several decades, and here you 
get a peek into the kitchen to see the prep cooks in action.

"How Did It Happen?" is a chapter that includes what the authors present 
as the "Financial Industry Alphabet Soup."  These brief descriptions of 
all the recent -- and crazy, and corrupt -- financial money-making 
schemes may only disappoint because of the way the paragraphs are laid 
on a darkened background.  I can already see the crappy photocopies of 
these four pages being made and used by workers and activists (hopefully 
on the bosses' copier) who finally found an understandable Rosetta Stone 
for the parasitic inventions of the financial elites.  There is also a 
table here that explains in wondrous simplicity how big money uses 
"leverage" to multiply their profits to astronomical levels.  Workers 
do, and always will, have some degree of difficulty comprehending how it 
is that finance capital generates the huge onrush of profits that it 
does, but this section of the book will help many untangle the notion 
with ease.  If ever there was proof for workers that in this system hard 
work does not pay, here it is.

Related ground is covered including the pervasive debt explosion and its 
current fallout; the home foreclosure wave; why living standards are 
plummeting; the current governmental response, or lack thereof; the 
bailout crimes of Bush and now Obama; an offering of some conclusions on 
our current all-around mess; a few sensible suggestions regarding some 
tangible things we can fight for right now; and finally, an amazing 
appendix which presents a detailed "Timeline of the Financial Crisis and 
the Great Recession."  This ghastly chronicle reminded me that it's 
still not too late for the Department of Justice to arrest and prosecute 
the tens of thousands of white-collar thieves and fraudsters who have 
played a major part in the current train wreck.  No chance of that 
happening, I know, but it's nice to dream of the day when. . . .

I recommend this book to all workers and progressives as an excellent 
effort to explain our current economic gyrations -- and one which 
accomplishes much of its mission.  That mission is to aid workers and 
unionists in their understanding of this destructive economic system. 
And most of all, to help them understand that the system is rigged 
against them at every turn, is designed to fail at our expense, and 
always will fail.  This book also takes the reader to the point where we 
need to be taking ourselves -- and each other -- as quickly as possible, 
where we recognize that the current economic and political set-up has 
got to go.  This system cannot be tinkered back into place, nor should 
it be.  Reforms may slow its decay and lessen some of its most 
destructive aspects, but reforms cannot save it.  It is doomed to its 
own set of internal faults and laws, and unless we recognize that and 
act decisively to replace it with something better we are inevitably 
doomed to be painfully wrung out by it again and again.

At no point while reading this snappy book did I find myself zoning out 
and imagining that some think-tank know-it-all in a bow tie was 
lecturing me.  Most of the book made me feel like I was part of a 
discussion in a union meeting someplace.  Let's make this book a best 
seller and get it into the hands of workers as far and wide as possible. 
  I'll start by paying for the one that Mike Yates sent me to read and 
review, along with four more.  I am going to talk to my union about 
buying a couple of boxfulls.  I challenge you to do the same.
Chris Townsend is Political Action Director for the United Electrical 
Workers Union (UE.)

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