James Galbraith has a new book out, Inequality and Instability, arguing that ... well, you know he's an economist at the LBJ School at UT Austin, so it's pretty complicated ... I'm trying to boil down what I got out of it ... I need to put this into Get-Off-My-Lawn language ... so let's imagine its not a weighty economic tome but a personals ad:
Hey, there. Are you a young person? Are you not going to inherit massive wealth? Why don't you do this? Why don't you bend over and kiss your ass goodbye?
Because you're totally screwed. Deeply so. Unless you can figure out a way to grab the world, turn it upside down and shake something good out of it, you are probably toast. Change that. Not probably. Definite toast. No jam.
Now, none of that kind of language or tone appears anywhere within 100 miles of Galbraith's book, and in fact he probably has a right to come up to Dallas and slap the crap out of me for putting it that way.
But that's what this book means.
We have talked about the good professor here before, you and I. He is the author of The Predator State, a 2008 book that helped provide an intellectual foundation for Occupy Wall Street, not that he meant to, any more than he wants to be described now by some blogger in Dallas as saying the world is about to end.
But Predator State was one of couple of books that provided solid economic evidence to support what became Occupy's most important and politically influential theme -- the whole 99 percent versus the 1 percent thing.
Galbraith is a pioneer in the study of income inequality in this country and the world. This new book of his takes his earlier work to a whole other level, however, in terms of practical political implication.
First, he says we're not the Lone Ranger. The United States does not have a monopoly on galloping gaps between rich and poor. There are major differences around the world, but there also are major underlying similarities. Especially where an economy has stopped relying on real production to fuel its growth and relies instead on its financial sector,the chasm between rich and poor grows more severe.
The George W. years. Remember? It seemed like almost every day the daily newspaper had a story on the front page One saying, "Consumers Urged to Buy More Crap on Credit. Country Screwed if Poor People Won't Borrow More Money at Usurious Rates."
Anyway that's how I read it. And guess what happened to the poor people who did borrow all that money at usurious rates even though they couldn't get good jobs? Oh my land, they didn't pay back the loans! We are shocked, shocked, are we not? And the western economies tanked.
In this new book, Galbraith is telling you that this picture is your future, if your world continues to depend on consumer profligacy and sleazeball lending practices as its primary economic model.
And you know what they tell us now about those sleazeballs, right? They are "too big to fail." I think that makes the rest of us too small to survive.
The scariest thing is this: All Obama is doing by propping up the financial institutions is setting us up for the next even worse cycle of debt and collapse. That's Galbraith's core point: Income disparity isn't a problem because it isn't fair. It's a problem because it fuels instability and collapse.
I heard him on the radio talking about this book. They asked what should be done to steer us in a better direction. He talked about New Deal-style jobs programs, among other things. You know, instead of continuing to listen to the Randian nutball rapists who put us in this mess in the first place, how about some FDR for a change?
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the Observer's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Dallas's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Can't happen too fast for this cowboy.
This is a tough book for lay persons, and I'm about as lay as they get. I'll probably get an email from the publisher's publicist saying, "Please never mention one of Professor Galbraith's books again in that whatever-it-is that you try to write."
But look: This book is solid evidence to support the sense of doom and creeping entropy I hear among 20-somethings.
You're right. The world does suck. It is run by idiots and sons of bitches. Go straight home and eat your parents. It may be the last good meal you get.