Our latest issue!

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We have sent our latest (July/August 2020) issue to the printers and to e-subscribers, and we’d already posted several articles from the issue to the website, including the cover story by Mateo Crossa and James M. Cypher, “Essential–and Expendable–Mexican Labor.”

Here is the p. 2 editors’ note from the issue:

Loss and Hope

As infections and deaths from the Covid-19 pandemic spike in the United States, largely due to incompetence at all levels of government, we bring you two feature articles about the impact of the pandemic outside of the United States.

Mateo Crossa and James M. Cypher relate how U.S. corporations and the U.S. government have pressured the Mexican government to declare maquiladora workers as “essential,” forcing them to produce decidedly non-essential consumer products for U.S.-based corporations, even as the novel coronavirus spreads in the factories. Meanwhile, President Trump invoked the Defense Production Act not for much-needed personal protective equipment, but to force meatpacking workers, many of them Mexican immigrants, to work in even more dangerous conditions.

Smriti Rao details how, under India’s right-wing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the plan was to have no plan. Although Modi imposed a stringent and punitive lockdown, with police ready to throttle violators with batons, the lack of a transportation plan for migrant workers and the lack of a meaningful relief program has led to economic devastation for most Indian households.

Ongoing nationwide protests against police violence in the United States continue to offer glimmers of hope in an otherwise bleak political and economic scene. Here we include two articles about how liberal politicians and corporations alike contribute to the over-financing of the police. Plus: John Miller on the cure-all of capital gains tax cuts, Mark Maier on the ideology of entrepreneurship, Mark Paul on how to make sense of the current unemployment crisis, and more.

Amidst the stories of death from a global pandemic and from a rash of police violence, we are mourning the loss of three friends and supporters of Dollars & Sense.

Mason Gaffney, professor emeritus at the University of California at Riverside and a proponent of the ideas of 19th-century economist Henry George, died on July 16. Mason wrote a piece for our March/April 2006 special issue on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina about how San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and fire, rebuilt with the help of a Georgist land tax, could be a model for the rebuilding of New Orleans (find the piece here). Mason was a friend of and mentor to frequent D&S author Polly Cleveland, who said in a tribute that she will always be grateful for Mason’s “courage and honesty in confronting bastardized economics and history, and for his generosity, clarity, and humor in this benighted world.”

London-based economist John Weeks died on July 26. John wrote frequently for the magazine and our blogs (especially Triple Crisis), serving as our de facto London correspondent, with several articles updating our readers on Brexit. His most recent piece
for us was a post at the D&S blog on June 16, “The Murder of George Floyd and My Segregated Youth,” about his upbringing in Austin, Texas. John was a friend and mentor to the British economist Ann Pettifor, who said on Twitter that John’s death “leaves vacant an important intellectual leadership role in macroeconomics.”

And Louis Kampf, professor emeritus of literature and women’s studies at MIT and a long-time friend and supporter of D&S, died May 30, at 91. He was born in Vienna, and he and his parents fled the Nazis, via Belgium, France, and Casablanca, to New York. In 1967, Louis published the widely acclaimed On Modernism: The Prospects for Literature and Freedom. The book appeared to be launching him into a career of academic fame, but Louis chose political activism instead. He was heavily engaged in anti-war work and support of the women’s and the civil rights movements. D&S columnist Arthur MacEwan described Louis as “smart, erudite, funny, loyal to many friends and students, and a stalwart progressive.” And D&S collective member Jeanne Winner said that what made him so important to his friends “was Louis’ intellectual power combined with his passionate sympathy for people and their well-being, and his very sensitive and powerful aesthetic feelings.”

In these troubled times with some glimmers of hope, Mason, John, and Louis would want us to look to the glimmers of hope and fight on. All three have left us with ample inspiration and tools to do so.

How the U.S. Military Protects and Enriches Multinational Speculators

By Polly Cleveland

At a 1972 economics conference, at the height of the Vietnam war, Mason Gaffney presented an invited paper blandly entitled “The Benefits of Military Spending.” The paper so shocked the conference organizer that he refused to include it in the conference volume. Gaffney couldn’t find another publisher willing to touch it. Now, only 46 years later, here’s that paper (draft version), updated by Cliff Cobb, and published in the American Journal of Economics and Sociology (March 2018). What so offended the economics establishment?

In dry economese laced with even drier humor, Gaffney laid out the fundamental land economics underlying U.S. military spending. The logic resembles that of urban sprawl: For a few bucks, John Bigshot buys Old MacDonald’s farm way out in the boonies. Then he visits his pals on the city council of Anytown. They in turn vote to incorporate MacDonald Luxury Estates into greater Anytown, which means the town improves the road, extends water and sewer, police and fire protection, and other benefits to the property. With little personal investment (maybe a suitcase of cash), Mr. Bigshot has acquired a multimillion dollar parcel at the expense of Anytown taxpayers.

In similar fashion, multinational corporations go to third world countries where they acquire concessions for a song—mineral rights, broadcast rights, bank licenses, timber rights, harbor and airport rights, rights of way, or large tracts of agricultural land. Often they have bribed the local ruler, or “cacique” as Gaffney calls him. When angry locals threaten to overthrow the cacique, the multinationals can call in the U.S. government to protect their sacred property rights. The United States may provide guns and aircraft to the cacique, or establish a military base, or finance infrastructure like dams and ports and highways. Alternatively, the United States can support an opponent who promises to uphold those concessions. A small initial overseas investment can yield decades of lucrative return flows to the multinationals.

Documenting dozens of such arrangements, including the original deals for oil in Saudi Arabia and Iran, Gaffney takes a sly poke at the conventional economic treatment of “defense” spending as a benign “public good” equally benefitting all citizens of the homeland. The real-life benefits go to a small wealthy international minority with no particular loyalty to the United States, while ordinary U.S. citizens pay—as consumers, taxpayers, and especially as soldiers.

When I first read an unpublished version of the paper in 1992, 20 years after Gaffney wrote it, I felt a jolt of recognition. I was a Foreign Service brat. My dad served as Economics Officer; what was he doing? Arranging deals for U.S. investors. Everywhere we were posted or traveled there were U.S. military bases. What were they doing? (We FS types looked down on the military, because they didn’t try to learn the local language or culture, and shopped only at the PX.)

I felt the same jolt years later reading John Perkins’ Confessions of an Economic Hit Man. Perkins’ employers sent him out to convince local third world rulers to undertake wildly overambitious, environmentally destructive infrastructure projects to be built by multinational engineering companies like Bechtel and Haliburton. These projects usually failed to deliver the promised economic benefits, leaving the locals in hock to U.S. and European banks and subject to U.S. control. The original excuse for U.S. intervention on behalf of such caciques was that they provided us with a bulwark against “Communism.” Today they provide us with a bulwark against “Terrorism,” but it’s the same pattern.

The United States has dominated this game since World War II, taking over from Great Britain. The Chinese are now bent on doing us one better with military bases in the China Sea, rail and road systems across Eurasia, seaports around the world, and vast soy plantations in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa. It’s the same pattern.

Looking back to 1972, I think Gaffney’s analysis so shocked conventional economists precisely because his method was so conventional. No hint of Marxism. Just good old-fashioned marginal analysis applied deadpan to an array of undisputed historical facts. Even worse, Gaffney poked subtle fun at received economic wisdom. No way could such subversion see the light of print—until now.