Claudia Rankine’s Citizen in the Midst of Grexit

I borrowed “Citizen: An American Lyric,” Claudia Rankine’s 2014 collection of poetry from the library weeks ago. It is full of social commentary written in formats that are part poetry and part prose elsewhere. It is currently overdue, so I grabbed it today to read a few more lines and a few more pages before I return it this afternoon. Fittingly, I read it in the midst of #ThisIsaCoup blasts into our global cyberscape thanks to the failed romance and mounting grievances between Greece and the European Troika. There is so much to read in these 24 hours since a “agreekment” (sic) has been announced through the fourth estate. But, Rankine’s words on page 75 strike me as apropos to the political and economic storm and man-made disaster happening over days, weeks, months and years in Europe:

what faces you, the storm, this day’s sigh as the day shifts
its leaves, the wind a prompt against the calm you can’t
digest.

Blue ceiling calling a body into the midst of azure, oceanic,
as ocean blushes the blues it can’t absorb, reflecting back
a day

the day frays, night, not night, this fright passes through
the eye crashing into you, is this you?

Yes, it’s me, clear the way, then hold me clear of this that
faces, the storm carrying me through dawn

not knowing whether to climb down or up into its eye —
day, hearing a breath shiver, whose are you?

Guard rail, spotlight, safety lock, airbag, fire lane, slip guard,
night watch, far into this day are teh days this day was
meant to take out of its way. An obstacle

to surrender, dusk in dawn, held open, then closing,
then opening, a red-tailed hawk, dusk at dawn, taking
over blue, surveying movement, against the calm, red sky
at morning.

whose are you?

Navigating these storms will require many skilled deckhands working towards a shared goal. It will require that many egos get put on ice or are told to pipe down because their attitudes prevent the key participants from figuring out the terms of negotiation and the chemistry to play well together. That’s why we have the adage of “all hands on deck.” Not doing so, will result in a European Quagmire that will result in the collapse of the European Union — too many opinions, too many differing wishes, and too many demands.

As Thomas Piketty and others stated in an open letter to Chancellor Merkel last week:

In the 1950s, Europe was founded on the forgiveness of past debts, notably Germany’s, which generated a massive contribution to post-war economic growth and peace. Today we need to restructure and reduce Greek debt, give the economy breathing room to recover, and allow Greece to pay off a reduced burden of debt over a long period of time. Now is the time for a humane rethink of the punitive and failed program of austerity of recent years and to agree to a major reduction of Greece’s debts in conjunction with much needed reforms in Greece.

What’s ahead: quakes in the labor market

When college graduates cobble together employment between washing dishes, cleaning homes and working at a tourist resort on one hand. On the other, working 60 hours a week for a national trade association as an intern because the compensation of $200 a week (aka $3.33 an hour) as an intern?

There’s a generational schism at play. The differing realities make me think of the type of earthquake where one tectonic plate is buried or smashed underneath the other. It is easy for to personalize, making my generation of Gen Y the plate causing the Millennials to collapse, go underground — and seemingly perish — under the weight of the forces at play. However, I think that the hulking plate is actually that of the Boomers, who’s spending, entitled sense of self has qualified them for a bevy of entitlements without having to consider the bill, and who’s widespread hoarding has amassed mutual funds, multiple homes and the fallacy of consuming limitlessly.

Somehow, these behaviors became enmeshed and messed with the popular imagery of the American Dream. McMansion homes even after there were no children, and oftentimes not even a partner, to occupy residences exceeding 2,000 square feet. The delusion that 401ks, 403bs and investment portfolios would rise into perpetuity even though build on a tenuous form of global capitalism where “capital chases global labor, and labor chases global capital,” in the words of Hamid Dabashi.

Yet, this earth is a closed system so one generation has to be a counterbalance to another, just as one continental shelf subsumed another as global homeostasis is sought/maintained.

The current tensions reveal the tremors before larger quakes. Bigger shocks that realign and remake the map and the lands that we’ve known for generations. A seismic shift that may take as little as 10 seconds with a legacy that lingers for generations.

****

Yet, just as some people live on less than $2 a day, others live on $20,000 a year. While others struggle to live within their means of $80,000 a year. I recognize that the cost of living, the status and expense of living varies greatly from one person to the next. And so, the work norms vary greatly between three different people. And, the norms that one generation was accustomed to are not the same as others.

The diverging classes demonstrate how young, middle class college graduates of today are not graduating or arriving into the same labor market as existed 15 years ago. The changing labor market has not only had stagnant or declining wages but fewer job benefits that accompany full-time employment. If health care is provided, the employee’s burden is greater than it was. Yet, my history lessons remind me that employer-based health insurance has only been a creation in the US for the last 70 years or so. And, that is not how most other societies in the world have constructed a social system to provide medical expertise, and health care.

corrosive economics

four days ago i stated that

capitalism breeds a scarcity mindset.

Today, I’d add:
Capitalism breeds a perception of scarcity, when exquisite sufficiency is before us, around us, and within us.
i was also told this morning by a 72-year old friend how he and his wife appreciated me for “calling a spade a spade.”

Credit + Access, a Marley fable (aka access to credit)

There are two memorable moments (among oh-so many) in the 2012 documentary, Marley. The two that my mind/heart/soul has linked are from two very different phases of Bob Marley’s life and career. He certainly lived as a musician, but I was reminded how he was and is a spiritual figure and global icon for love, nonviolence, and freedom. Freedom of nations, of people, and of our souls. Now, for the two moments, which have to do with credit.

#1 — As Bob, Peter Tosh and Bunny Wailer are first embarking as an independent three-man band in Kingston of the early 1960s, the documentary recounts the story, told by a distant cousin, of how Bob went to see some of his extended family asking for some support or a loan. The Wailers wanted/needed the capital to buy a car that they could use to independently distribute to clubs, and radio stations across Kingston. Yet, the white Marleys wanted nothing to do with this mulatto son of one of their deceased members. (note: I had not known that Bob had a white father, nevermind one who was so much older than his mother, until watching the movie) Despite their tremendous wealth and plenty of assets that would have made a car loan an insignificant amount, Bob was turned away from the Marley Construction Company empty-handed. The Wailers had to find other means to distribute their newly recorded singles.

#2 — Years later, Bob is cash rich. So much so, that when a Zimbabwean delegation visit him to ask him to perform at their independence concert and ceremony in 1980, Marley is keen. So eager to do so that he/the band cover all of the $80,000 in 1980 dollars (which is approximately $208,888 in 2010 dollars) to ship their instruments and sound equipment from Kingston to Harare.

The Zimbabwean delegation did not have the cash. But that did not stop the Wailers from being at a national liberation concert on the Mother Continent. It is ironic and tragic to see a much younger Robert Mugabe, circa 1980, proclaiming freedom, independence and democracy; how much can change in three decades.

The ensuing concert and historic occasion — of Zimbabwe’s independence and of a free Bob Marley and the Wailers concert for a newly independent nation, that is no longer colonized, and no longer Rhodesia — is also an instance of spiritual transcendence. At least, that is how it seems to me, witnessing history through the movie’s storytelling.

~~~~

The trajectory of Bob, who is one of the rare humans who is on a first name (or single names) basis with much of the globe (along with Madiba, Evita or Barack), was marked by his access to capital, and to the other means of production. Those means of production being land, labor and capital. The Wailers’ rise within Jamaica’s domestic music scene took longer because of the bottlenecks and constraints that a young, independent band faced.

Conversely, the people of Zimbabwe would not have had the enduring joy of Bob’s only live performance in 1980, had he been cash poor or debt-strapped.

I am inspired by the story of how even a global phenomenon such as the Wailers faced obstacles such as lacking a car, and the gasoline to distribute their music. The status quo had wanted to control the distribution, release and promotion of Kingston’s musical acts. Much like the 20th Century industry titans who want to impede the innovative people, ideas and companies that nurture the creative destruction today that will hasten the demise of the old ideas of yesteryear, and yester-century.

Ultimately, limited and constrained access to capital is a norm in our economy (and in capitalism). Too few lending dollars provided to small ventures and enterprising individuals. As a result, a bias towards that results in any loans considered being lent to the bigger entities who can either point to previous financial records or who already have the assets that serve as collateral. As a result, those with existing assets have the access to capital. Capital that makes it much easier to grow, or experiment on a new idea. Ideas that can be business or cultural and art ventures such as The Wailers.

Some may suggest that the status quo demands that musicians or entrepreneurs have to show grit, hustle and finesse needed to persevere. Yet, an uneven playing field means that the very subjective nature of lending is not done evenly. It is subjective because lending is, after all, one person making a subjective decision about another person. Instances where a new venture may not have the financial records to demonstrate the return, or safety of such an investment. The current set-up squashes dreams and aspirations when capital is so hard to come by. When the pools of who has access continue to be so dependent on the Old Boy Network.

some of the new normal

The New Normal means a few things, and in economic terms:

  1. those with mortgages, are likely underwater.
  2. exorbitant debt burdens for recent college students, both graduates and those who did not get a degree.
  3. social services cut, and a political paralysis and un-will to raise taxes.

In the nonprofit industry:

  1. money flows have changed.
  2. the support of individuals is tantamount.
  3. having 90% of revenue come from foundation grants is no-more. or a luxurious oddity.
  4. raising money is a 12-month, 365-day endeavor.
  5. programs need to run at cost, either covered by participant fees or with clear sense of where sponsorship and subsidization will come from. general support funding is not a long-term option.

 

Mobile phones v. credit card cos.

One thing i’ll say for “the dismal science” of economics — i love it’s ability to embrace and witness aspects of destruction and disruption. That it is what it is, and not cling to the past such that it blurs the ability to be today. In this spirit, I appreciated the following post (h/t nakedcapitalism) this morning for a dose of some creative destruction:

The [AT&T and Verizon] partnership, which also includes Deutsche Telekom AG unit T-Mobile USA, may work with Discover Financial Services and Barclays Plc to test a system at stores in Atlanta and three other U.S. cities that would let a consumer pay with the contactless wave of a smartphone….
The service, similar to those already available in Japan, Turkey and the U.K., would use contactless technology to complete purchases in stores. They’d be processed through Discover’s payments network, currently the fourth-biggest behind Visa, MasterCard and American Express Co. Barclays would be the bank helping to manage the accounts, said the people, who requested anonymity because of confidentiality agreements.

Because, really who wouldn’t want to watch some titans of Vzon and the behemoth formerly known as BabyBells go at Visa and Mastercard. Just for the sake of storytelling, it is fascinating to observe a moment where Verizon is an underdog. And is willing to risk failure by going after the bread-and-butter niche of the Plastic.
And the post closes with this ringer from Crone Consulting:

“A mobile device is online, real-time interactivity that changes the customer relationship,” he said. “A card is dumb.”

FYI, who is Crone? According to the LLC’s homepage:

for nearly 30 years, Crone Consulting, LLC, helps companies unlock the power of electronic payments to create strategic advantage in the financial services marketplace.

And, if you are unfamiliar with the phrase of “creative destruction” here is how wikipedia summarizes it:

an economic theory of innovation and progress…. In Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy, Schumpeter popularized and used the term to describe the process of transformation that accompanies radical innovation.

What a venture wants …

I came across the site for Seattle firm Second Avenue Partners yesterday (after reading site of WA State Senate candidate Eric Liu). Their synopsis of what  business plan ought to answer includes:

Consider the following questions:
Is your company bringing a new technology-based product or service to market?
Is your company at the “seed” or first stages (i.e. raising less than $10 Million)?
Is your company headquartered in the Pacific Northwest United States?
Will your company offer 40%-60% compound annual returns on Second Avenue Partner’s’ money?
Are there multiple exit strategies for your company?

A different lens than the one-page business plan format/formula.

Appropriate reading as counterpoint to the Duration of Unemployment graphs from CalculatedRisk blog. Oh, that and Donald Peck article in the Atlantic on ‘How Jobless Era will transform America.’