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Americans' realistic expectations during our most prosperous era , were solidly grounded

in the Henry Ford principle of a living wage, and the Thomas Malthus principle of

public spending towards development of public infrastructure.



Books by Wilson Jeremiah Moses

Golden Age of Black Nationalism, 1850-1925 (1988)  / The Wings of Ethiopia  (1990)

 Alexander Crummell: A Study of Civilization and Discontent (1992)  / Destiny & Race: Selected Writings, 1840-1898  (1992) 

 Black Messiahs and Uncle Toms: Social and Literary Manipulations of a Religious Myth (1993)

Liberian Dreams: Back-to-Africa Narratives from the 1850s  / Afrotopia: The Roots of African American Popular History (2002)

Creative Conflict in African American Thought (2004)

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Thomas Friedman? Benjamin Franklin? Which do you Trust?

By Wilson J.  Moses

November 26, 2008


Thomas Friedman, the author of "All Fall Down" NY Times (Nov 25, 08) often gets things wrong, before getting them half-right.  He is unfair in placing any blame for this real estate bubble on the "People who had no business buying a home, with nothing down and nothing to pay for two years."  People who fall into that category are of ordinary intelligence, and have need, as we all do, of  "the kindness of strangers," in order to survive.  Although some people with IQs of 90 are capable of  grasping household microeconomics, others with IQs above 140 are not.  Our current crisis provides incontrovertible evidence that, most Americans, including college graduates with high achievements on standardized tests, lack a basic understanding of saving and investment.

Benjamin Franklin created Poor Richard's Almanack to teach many things, among these, a non-confrontational class-consciousness, an appreciation for saving, and an awareness that personal prosperity sometimes, if not always, requires a moderate parsimony.  Serviceable as it is, few Americans today can put Poor Richard's common-sense ethic into practice, to guide an enlightened self interest.

It is thus necessary and proper for a civilized nation to sustain such structures as fire departments, public schools, a well-regulated  banking system, social security, and public health, in order to protect the masses, both bright and dim, from clever but unscrupulous risk-takers.

Another category of Friedman culprits, "people who had no business pushing such mortgages," did not for the most part make "fortunes doing so."   Most of these are people of mediocre understanding, honest, but credulous, who work at the local bank on Main Street.  These people also lack class consciousness and have never learned from Poor Richard's catechism how to serve their own interests.  These people did not make millions, but currently find themselves in danger of losing their homes, victims of their own irrational exuberance and blind faith in the conventional wisdom of their leaders.

Friedman's third category, the people who were "bundling those loans into securities and selling them to third parties," are somewhat more culpable.   These products of the Wharton, Chicago, and Stanford MBA programs, and lesser institutions, are capable of understanding their errors, and might have known better, but they are so lacking in creativity, imagination, and skepticism (despite their vaunted grade point averages and standardized test scores) that they really are not to blame either.  They were simply following the teachings of their mentors in business school.   They are ideologically screwed up and dreadfully spoiled, but not bad people at heart.  It is simply that the typical MBA began with the intelligence of a playboy bunny, and was further dumbed-down by their business school.

More to blame are the professors, in the humanities and social sciences, who abandon the field of political economy to a few "experts" in the "appropriate departments."   We stick to our syllabi, and allow our students to be misled that the reforms of the New Deal were the cause, not the cure of the Great Depression of 1929-1940.   We fear to confront our colleagues who "validate" their positions with mathematical models, so elegant as to outdo the most artful constructions of classical and medieval astronomers.   These hire teams of graduate students to crunch numbers to "prove" that the sun circles the earth, and the rest of the planets move in exotic epicycles.

Mathematicians and physicists, are thus blamable because, despite the lessons of the Long Term Capital debacle of the 1990's, they collaborated in the credit swap fantasies, inventing hypothetical choirs of angels to dance on the heads of hypothetical pins.  Professors in the liberal arts and sciences betrayed ourselves and our students by our cowardly silence.  A little faith in our own common sense might have led us at least to suggest, that the empire's clothiers were half-naked themselves.

These sorcerers and their Mickey Mouse grad students have interests overlapping those of their Wall Street chums, who did indeed make a lot of money from pumping up the real estate balloon.   Also culpable are the Federal Reserve bankers, the Secretaries of the Treasury, the House and Senate committee members, whose buddies marketed and rated the bonds, sold them, bought them, refused to regulate them, and convinced ordinary people that unrestrained price inflation (whether in real estate, commodities, or securities) is inevitable, eternal, and benevolent.

There are plenty of Americans who really do try to live within their means; people who are content to have fixed-rate, 30-year mortgages at reasonable rates, who establish monthly budgets, who drive modest cars for a decade or more, pay their taxes, and try to accumulate capital by thrift and saving.

Controlled inflation can be beneficial to small capitalists, small farmers, and even to wage earning people.  Benjamin Franklin realized as much when, at the age of twenty-one, he called for an increase in the colonial money supply.  But the American dream of a perpetually expanding "South Sea Bubble" of the sort that Mr. Henry Paulson and his Wall Street cronies seek to restore is unrealistic.

Americans' realistic expectations during our most prosperous era, were solidly grounded in the Henry Ford principle of a living wage, and the Thomas Malthus principle of public spending towards development of public infrastructure.  No restoration of economic security will be possible if we start with the assumption that these principles, which eventually came to be called "Keynesianism," have been entirely discredited.

The Roosevelt-Truman-Eisenhower economy provided a factory worker with a thirty year mortgage at 8%.  It also provided a four percent return on a pass book account at a Main Street bank.  An eighth grade graduate could afford to send two or three children to college, without taking out loans, and a young couple could afford a 20% down payment on their first home.  Evolving world conditions may never allow for America to revert to that economy,

Thanks to Reaganomics, the Roosevelt structure has been so mindlessly vandalized that Eisenhower Era expectations are no longer realistic.  But whatever the cause of our present ills, no cure will be found in the pseudo-patriotic bravado of so-called "conservative" think tanks, or in the pep talks of MSNBC pundits.  Any solution must be found in a completely new appreciation of those areas of the economy that are actually productive, including industry, agriculture, communications, transportation, and trade.  We need producers like Ford and Rockefeller, Carnegie and Bill Gates, who despite their predatory tendencies, at least create material industries.

Finance is not an industry but a service, where we do not need those who commit the semantical crime of referring to securitized mortgages as "products."   The demand of the hour is not for buccaneers or risk-takers, but for sober anti-inflationists like Nicholas Biddle and J. P. Morgan to guard against the speculative borrow-and-spend bubbles that accompanied Reagan's voodoo economics.

Friedman states an obvious and almost redundant truth, obvious to at least some of us.  The system is broken, and the American dream, insofar as it is based on a perpetual spiral of borrowing to speculate, is completely unrealistic.  Friedman admits that certain irrational aspects of the dream may not be retrievable in the short run.  My reading of Poor Richard's Almanack leads me to the common-sense assumption that they are not realizable in the long run either.

Copyright©2008 by Wilson J. Moses


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Speak My Name

Black Men on Masculinity and the American Dream

Edited by Don Belton

It is rare in America for African-American men to have the opportunity to express who they are, what they think, or how they feel. As the nemesis in the American psyche, they have been silenced by an image that is at once celebrated and maligned. In this first anthology of contemporary African-American men's writing, black men share their experiences as the revered and reviled of America. Through the voices of some of today's most prominent African-American writers, including August Wilson, John Edgar Wideman, Derrick Bell, and Walter Mosley, Speak My Name explores the intimate territory behind the myths about black masculinity. These intensely personal essays and stories reveal contemporary black men from the vantage point of their own lives - as men with proper names, distinctive faces, and strong family ties. Writing about everything from "How it Feels to Be a Problem" to relationships between fathers and sons, these men reveal to us both great courage and in an amazing love for each other and themselves. In a stunning tribute to a centuries-old brotherhood of heroes, black men come together to challenge America finally to see them as individuals, to hear their long-silenced voices—to speak their names.

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Race Men

By Hazel V. Carby

Race men is a term of endearment used by blacks to signify those high-achieving African American men who "represent the race," disproving bigoted notions of black inferiority. In this engaging study, Yale African American Studies Professor Hazel V. Carby seeks to ask "questions about various black masculinities at different historical moments and in different media: literature, photography, film, music, and song." She does so by discussing the lives and works of myriad types of race men. Frederick Douglass's uncompromising fight against slavery, W. E. B. Du Bois's masterful The Souls of Black Folk, Martin Luther King's nonviolent struggles, and Malcolm X's fiery rhetoric articulate the intellectual-political prisms of black activism, for example, while actor Danny Glover represents the dilemma of the black/white sidekick and the fight for a more multidimensional Afro-American image.

Carby compares Toussaint L'Ouverture, the ex-slave who liberated Haiti from the French in the 19th century, to Trinidadian writer C.L.R. James, whose Marxist interpretation of the Haitian Revolution, the Black Jacobins, unveiled the complexities of colonialism, class, and the sexist aspects of radical black leadership

She discusses jazz icon Miles Davis's quest for freedom and his misogynistic persona articulated in his autobiography, then praises science fiction writer Samuel R. Delany's Motion of Light in Water as "an effective counterpoint to Miles ... a magnificent attempt to reject the socially created obstacles separating desire from its material achievement, and in the process demolishing and transcending the limitations of heterosexual norms." Indeed, for Carby the major flaw of race men is that their upholding of "the race" does not prominently address the concerns of African American women as well.—Eugene Holley Jr.

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Malcolm X

A Life of Reinvention

By Manning Marable

Years in the making-the definitive biography of the legendary black activist.

Of the great figure in twentieth-century American history perhaps none is more complex and controversial than Malcolm X. Constantly rewriting his own story, he became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and an icon, all before being felled by assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine. Through his tireless work and countless speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands of black Americans to create better lives and stronger communities while establishing the template for the self-actualized, independent African American man. In death he became a broad symbol of both resistance and reconciliation for millions around the world.

Manning Marable's new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement. Filled with new information and shocking revelations that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a sweeping story of race and class in America, from the rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties and sixties.

Reaching into Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his parents' activism through his own engagement with the Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the never-before-told true story of his assassination. Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of the most singular forces for social change, capturing with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.

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The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788

By Pauline Maier

A notable historian of the early republic, Maier devoted a decade to studying the immense documentation of the ratification of the Constitution. Scholars might approach her book’s footnotes first, but history fans who delve into her narrative will meet delegates to the state conventions whom most history books, absorbed with the Founders, have relegated to obscurity. Yet, prominent in their local counties and towns, they influenced a convention’s decision to accept or reject the Constitution. Their biographies and democratic credentials emerge in Maier’s accounts of their elections to a convention, the political attitudes they carried to the conclave, and their declamations from the floor. The latter expressed opponents’ objections to provisions of the Constitution, some of which seem anachronistic (election regulation raised hackles) and some of which are thoroughly contemporary (the power to tax individuals directly). Ripostes from proponents, the Federalists, animate the great detail Maier provides, as does her recounting how one state convention’s verdict affected another’s. Displaying the grudging grassroots blessing the Constitution originally received, Maier eruditely yet accessibly revives a neglected but critical passage in American history.—Booklist

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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Negro Digest / Black World

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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posted 27 November 2008 




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