Sunday, October 11, 2015


First I tied my head into knots trying to balance my checkbook.  You’d think that with a life so simple, a balance so small, it would be a snap.  But I accidentally skipped some checks and the government demanded a blank check to give them access to my bank account for automatic “deposits” and “adjustments.”  Consecutive numbers will be lost until I use those empty checks.  I had a printout of the bank’s online statement, which is always a week behind; my own register with mysterious jotted notes that made sense at the time; the paper form that I invented for balancing; and the actual bills and receipts which I always accumulate in a monthly envelope, though some of them are electronically debited at the cashier’s counter and others are mailed or go into the store’s paper bookkeeping.  It’s the variousness that drives me nuts.  I hate being forced onto electronic records which are written on water and subject to strange policy changes, even in foreign countries since some of my pension comes from Canada and the exchange rate floats.

Some people call him a renegade economist.

Then I tried to read an article sent to me by a reader who had an unwarranted belief that I would understand it.  It’s an interview in the October 5, 2015, magazine called  “Counterpunch” which I didn’t know.  The interview is “Parasites in the Body Economic: the Disasters of Neoliberalism,” which is about a book by that name written by Michael Hudson, who is my age (b. 1939) and was educated at the U of Chicago but in quite a different discipline -- I did “theology’ and he did “economics”.  Both have their fantasy dimension and require learning a lot of invented terms which prove to be very useful if you can find anyone else who uses the same terms.  This particular set of terms and definitions turns out (or maybe will when I finally decode it all) to be very helpful in answering some questions that are local and specific.

Valier grain bins

It stays with me that a big piece of real estate in the town of Valier is owned by someone (I don’t know whether they are local) who only owns the land.  It is occupied by grain bins owned by industrial-grade farmers based on irrigation.  The bins became available when the US government changed its system of handling the huge grain purchases that are meant to stabilize economics and politics between nations.  So many bins with such large capacity meant that the system that was once simply logical has now become an economic system based on renting.  Like trailer courts or boat docks -- not the object itself but the land (or shoreline) under it.  This interview explains where the term “rentier” came from and its relationship to feudalism. 

The author sees what he calls “neoliberalism” as a return to feudalism.  Sort of share-cropping.  Ranchers I overhear talking remark bitterly that they are only running their ranch for the bank.  Not only does acquiring a large acreage cost a major first investment so that most ranches that have at least a little independence came by it through inheritance, but the megamachines that operate the fields also are immensely expensive.  Of course, one doesn’t have to pay wages or health insurance to a giant combine.  The old homestead houses, now considered pretty substandard (only one bathroom), are demolished, or -- like the grain bins -- moved to lots in town.

New topic:  When I was working for the City of Portland in the Bureau of Buildings, a bold legal concept was just arriving: “taking.”  It seems to have derived from the condemnation of private property for the public good and puts into play a lot of shady doin’s, like secret knowledge of governmental plans to construct something like sport stadiums, which somehow have become the public good.  We ran into a case where a big box store wanted to expand on marshy land behind it.  That marshy land was part of the system for handling floods, not only absorbing the extra water but also because of the marsh plants filtering storm water.  The store could buy the marshy land but -- due to environmental regulations -- could not drain it to put their extension on it.  So they sued for what they claimed was profit they lost by not being able to "grow" the business.  And they won.  I tried to tell a sophisticated lawyer in Montana about this (I knew he was sophisticated because he was from California and his daddy was a lawyer) and he said it was ridiculous and I must be making it up.  Many cases since then have changed his mind.  

New but related topic:  states are mandating certain standards for water and sewage, which involve both the collection piping and the treatment lagoons.  The state is always pushing the standards upwards, which means expansion and lucrative contracts for construction companies who actively participate in decisions of the towns about what to do.  Partly there are problems because of the concertina-like population which swells and shrinks in mysterious economic patterns.  The sweetest plea is always for the young people of the community since the service area for education is much bigger than the town.  Schools are big water users, not just for food and sanitation but for fire, which is only a potential.  But it was the argument that forced the second water tower in town so there would be enough water to put out a major school fire.   No one wants it to be an actuality.  In several ways the service area demands more and more (a percentage of the local farms have no on-site water source so need to truck water -- the trucks begin hauling before dawn.  (They pass by the head of my bed, twenty feet from the street, indoors, of course.) These are big heavy hauling systems that shake the house.  The town has added a fourth well.  The ranches buy the water.

Another topic:  Here’s a key idea from this article, the concept of the rentiere who uses a paybooth theory, so that he charges a toll for crossing a bottleneck of land or even stringing a wire across it.  This is a French idea that took hold in Europe.  It came to America, of course, but was not a concept in the minds of the indigenous people.  This is part of the reason they have not been able to exploit their rez land in the way that adjacent Euro-origin people have.  They have simply not seen the potential without the hypnotism of the idea.

Although -- in the Sixties there was a free-lance tribal toll-taker who had a cop hat and now and then collected toll for driving on the rez from clueless tourists.  He only asked a dollar.  There was a plan to charge the same category of tourists for taking photos of Chief Mountain, but it fell through.  Still, you see how a good idea catches on.

Of course, the government and businesses, local or national, were not about to explain the cost of crossing the rez -- because those same big entities were the ones who wanted to run railroads, pipelines, shipping routes, wires and all the other major infrastructure services that could charge “rent” for crossing the land.  This is how Malcolm Clarke was prospering on his ranch where there is a narrow passage on the way to Helena.  The railroad made a mint when Marias Pass was discovered and developed -- but not the tribe though it was on their land.  The same is true of Swift Dam.  It’s a little strange that when the dam collapsed in 1965, there were no law-suits for the “takings” of life.

Photo by Todd Klassy

This ability to make a profit simply from legal ownership without any participation in terms of labor or supplies or even physical danger is what has created a “coupon-clipping” class of people.  This is capitalism.  We call it “interest” and “investment” and the stock market.  I still don’t really understand it properly, but here’s an interesting opinion of renegade economist Hudson's: that religion (or at least religious institutions, the notorious “organized religion”) was originally developed as a way of keeping money exchanges honest and to constantly preach against hoarding, usury.  This is the core of the success of the fantasy of “money,” which isn’t really anything.  Just an idea.  In fact, Hudson says money was once physically made by religious institutions.  So maybe the University of Chicago Div School and the infamous Chicago school of economics have something in common after all.  Maybe both are outdated and need to renew their moral goals.

Michael Hudson

This is also a guy named Michael Hudson.  Native American.  Just so you don't think I'm a stuffy old woman.  But maybe we should think about his ancestors.  This IS Indigenous day.

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