Blog: Dispatches from the Left Forum, Part II

“A couple of years ago if you had held a panel about banks at the Left Forum at 10 a.m., nobody would have showed up!” The theater of Pace University, however, was full this morning, and I got one of the very last seats. So, the panelists were asked, should we nationalize the banks or not? Yes, they unanimously answered, with slight divergences. The first one proposed using bailout money to create new, accountable financial institutions; he advocated for “creeping socialism” which, although “disappointing” was actually “heroic under current conditions”: creating economic alternatives to Wall Street economy–changing material relations concretely instead of changing the system first. The second speaker advocated for a not only complete but also permanent nationalization of the banks (not the alan greenspan type, which he called not nationalization but “pre-reprivatization”!) in order to get democratic control of finance and credit–he quoted Stiglitz saying that the neoliberal theory of the efficiency of the private sector had been proven false. He stated that Geithner’s plan was worse than Paulson’s, as, while they had the same objective–Geithner’s plan was more “deceptive” as it delays its financing over several years. Both he and the following speaker challenged the notion according to which banks absolutely had to be bailed out to avoid a complete collapse of the economy, and the “too big to fail” argument. Nomi Prins, the next speaker (a lively, loud, boastful, charismatic young woman, standing out in a born-before-WWII all white male academics panel) “Why would you let something become “too big to fail?”” she asked; plus, AIG could have been left to fail: “the system will collapse argument is simply not true.” She also debunked the myth of the bailout money ultimately coming back to taxpayers in the form of loans: “Goldman Sachs has not intention to deal with any of you.” she told the audience. She advocated for a partial nationalization of the banks: nationalizing the commerical banks (everyday consumer transactions) and for letting “the other parts fail”. She very vehemently condemned the current decisions of the Obama administraion: “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results,” she said, “this is doing worse things each time and getting worse results.”
David Harvey was the last to speak, and all of us groupies in the room (who read his “brief history of neoliberalism” and consider it a gateway drug) held out our breath. He started his speech by saying that even though he was very glad to be part of this panel in front of such a large audience today, he wanted to remind us that for the past 30 years, he and the other few scholars who had argued along similar lines had been systematically marginalized, and that there had been a rising depletion of such scholars through the neoliberalization of academia, and, as a result, he said, we are finding ourselves with “a whole Economics profession that is dominated with people who have no idea what the fuck is going on.” Later, he said that he was seeing a rising generation of grad students that were promising but that for years to come academia would suffer from the vacuum created by the “neoliberal takeover of academics.”
Of course, Antioch comes to mind here, as at many other times in the forum, and especially the role it could take in being a leader in this rise of the left in years to come. About 7 or 8 times this weekend I got very excited, started scribbling frantically in my moleskine notebook about how Antioch could be exactly what this speaker is talking about, and how the story of the nonstop struggle and the rehired faculty and staff could be the beginning of a grand project as the renewed bastion of the left, a think tank for a post-neoliberal world. After a few minutes, though, I tend to remember that this does not seem at all like something that the PTB are even thinking about, and I went on to ask myself if there was, at all, any institution that ever held on to its promises.
So, back to David Harvey, who was using his celebrity status to extend his speech way over the time limit. What else? Wall Street controls part of Congress: as long as this is not changed, little hope for mainstream politics. “Bail out the bank and screw the people is the government’s strategy. We didn’t care when it happened in Mexico but now it’s happening to us.” Harvey is also pissed at how we’re misappropriating Keynes in the discourse about the rescue packages, the G20 etc…. when we’re still evidently operatiing in a neoliberal framework. He called for the left to expand its imagination. He talked about demonetarizing parts of the economy, for example, decommodifying housing completely.

Later I went to a panel about the impact of Venezuela on Latin America. (By the way, I don’t know if you saw, but Chavez yesterday gave Obama a copy of Eduardo Galeano’s Open Veins of Latin America, the idea of which makes my stomach jolt a little every time i think about it.) Nothing new at the panel, mostly, and even some party line as the Consul herself was speaking (but not only, professors too so it wasn’t too polished.) the solidarity programs were described in much detailed (ALBA, the Miracle Program, Heating Oil, PetroCaribe, Banco del Sur, etc…), but, most importantly, William Robinson outlined the three current tendencies in Latin American, as a response to the crisis: 1) the radically anticapitalist reponse (Venezuela, Bolivia, and possibly Ecuador), the more moderate, reformist states (Argentina, Chile, Brazil), and the right wing reaction (Columbia, Mexico, Peru.) He argued that Venezuela could very well tip the balance and set the example for moving beyond limited reform, thus influencing his neighboring countries. (Especially if the Banco del Sur is a success–though Brazil is a strong obstacle to it.)

Wearing an Antioch College t-shirt at a leftist symposium is either a fantastic or a terrible idea, depending on your level of sociability of the day. This morning, I was stopped every three feet, more or less, by alumni or sympathizers. An older woman stopped me and said, “Oh I’m from Antioch too. I work with their PhD program. -I’m from the college, I answered, I’m in Yellow Springs -But there’s nothing there, she said, what do you do? -The faculty are still teaching -You mean you’re at McGregor? -No, No, the faculty of Antioch College are still teaching in Yellow Springs. We’re not closed, we’re still fighting. -Oh. We’re still fighting too, good luck.” She hurried off quickly