With a net worth of more than $100 million, John Hantz is one of the richest men left in Detroit. Once a star stockbroker at American Express, he left 13 years ago to found his own firm. Today Hantz Financial Services has 20 offices in Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia, more than 500 employees, and $1.3 billion in assets under management. One day about a year and a half ago, Hantz had a revelation. “We need scarcity,” he thought to himself as he drove past block after unoccupied block. “We can’t create opportunities, but we can create scarcity. And that is how I got onto this idea of the farm.”
Yes, a farm. A large-scale, for-profit agricultural enterprise, wholly contained within the city limits of Detroit. Hantz thinks farming could do his city a lot of good: restore big chunks of tax-delinquent, resource-draining urban blight to pastoral productivity; provide decent jobs with benefits; supply local markets and restaurants with fresh produce; attract tourists from all over the world; and — most important of all — stimulate development around the edges as the local land market tilts from stultifying abundance to something more like scarcity and investors move in. Hantz is willing to commit $30 million to the project. He’ll start with a pilot program this spring involving up to 50 acres on Detroit’s east side. “Out of the gates, it’ll be the largest urban farm in the world. That’s the beauty of being down and out, you can actually open your mind to ideas that you would never otherwise embrace.” At this point, Detroit doesn’t have much left to lose.
Larry Bird: “After we won the 1986 championship me and my wife Dinah went out to K.C. Jones’s restaurant. He had a rib place. I had two beers. Remember how we stopped drinking that year?’’ - the ’86 Celtics swore off alcohol for their playoff run - “Well, I had two beers and they didn’t even taste good. I was tired, anyway, so I went home an hour later.”
“Bill [Walton] came over. It was late. Doorbell rang and Dinah answered and she was like, ‘Hey, Bill. Larry’s in bed.’ I heard him, so I go out and I said, ‘Hey, man I ain’t doing this tonight. I can’t.’ He goes, ‘Don’t worry about it. I don’t even need you. I’m just going to sit down here at the table.’ He had a bottle of Wild Turkey. And he said, ‘I’ll be here when you wake up.’ And he was.”
The Obama administration pledged on Christmas Eve to provide unlimited financial assistance to Fannie and Freddie, an eleventh-hour move that allows the government to exceed the current $400 billion cap on emergency aid without seeking permission from a bailout-weary Congress. But even as the administration was making this open-ended financial commitment, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac disclosed that they had received approval from their federal regulator to pay $42 million in Wall Street-style compensation packages to 12 top executives for 2009. Fannie and Freddie together have already received $111 billion in assistance.
From an economic point of view, I’d suggest that we call the decade past the Big Zero. It was a decade in which nothing good happened, and none of the optimistic things we were supposed to believe turned out to be true.
It was a decade with basically zero job creation.
It was a decade with zero economic gains for the typical family.
It was a decade of zero gains for homeowners, even if they bought early.
It was a decade of zero gains for stocks.
Let me quote from a speech that Lawrence Summers, then deputy Treasury secretary (and now the Obama administration’s top economist), gave in 1999. “If you ask why the American financial system succeeds, at least my reading of the history would be that there is no innovation more important than that of generally accepted accounting principles: it means that every investor gets to see information presented on a comparable basis; that there is discipline on company managements in the way they report and monitor their activities.” And he went on to declare that there is “an ongoing process that really is what makes our capital market work and work as stably as it does.”
So here’s what just about everyone in a policy-making position at the time — believed in 1999: America has honest corporate accounting; this lets investors make good decisions, and also forces management to behave responsibly; and the result is a stable, well-functioning financial system.
What percentage of all this turned out to be true? Zero. What was truly impressive about the decade past, however, was our unwillingness, as a nation, to learn from our mistakes.
Even as the dot-com bubble deflated, credulous bankers and investors began inflating a new bubble in housing. Even after famous, admired companies like Enron and WorldCom were revealed to have been Potemkin corporations with facades built out of creative accounting, analysts and investors believed banks’ claims about their own financial strength and bought into the hype about investments they didn’t understand. Even after triggering a global economic collapse, and having to be rescued at taxpayers’ expense, bankers wasted no time going right back to the culture of giant bonuses and excessive leverage.
Then there are the politicians. Even now, it’s hard to get Democrats, President Obama included, to deliver a full-throated critique of the practices that got us into the mess we’re in. And as for the Republicans: now that their policies of tax cuts and deregulation have led us into an economic quagmire, their prescription for recovery is — tax cuts and deregulation.
So let’s bid a not at all fond farewell to the Big Zero — the decade in which we achieved nothing and learned nothing.
“I draw a radical distinction between the symbolic and the substantial. As a critical supporter of Barack Obama, engaged in over 50 events for him from Iowa to Ohio, I knew that at a symbolic level something could happen that was unprecedented. And it did happen. At that symbolic level, I can understand the tears, I can understand the jubilation, I can understand the euphoria. But I always knew there was a sense in which he, now heading the American empire, was tied to the shadow government, tied to CIA, FBI, tied to the establishment waiting to embrace him. It was clear when he chose his economic team, when he chose his foreign policy team, he was choosing, of course, the recycled neo-liberals and recycled neo-Clintonites, that substantially you’re going to end up with these technocratic policies that consider poor people and working people as afterthoughts. Beginning with bankers, beginning with elites.”—Cornel West (via danielholter: langer)
Ralph Nader’s new novel, Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us, is a quixotic answer to Ayn Rand’s 1957 novel Atlas Shrugged, one of Alan Greenspan’s favorite works. By the end of the book, everything Nader has fought to achieve for decades is accomplished. Popular democracy triumphs. There is an ascendancy of independent third parties. An independent press challenges the status quo. There is universal not-for-profit health care for all Americans. Vibrant labor unions defend the working class. Flourishing public schools educate the rich and poor alike, and pot is legal. There is something endearing and even touching about Nader’s faith in the good.
"Do liberals and progressives think that by putting out great documentaries, great books, great exposés-and we’re in the golden age of muckraking-something is going to change with the two-party tyranny, oligarchic and corporate control of Washington?" he asks. "If they think they’re going to change anything, year after year, they are living a dystopia, and between a dystopia on the ground -one that’s at least 30 years old- and this proposal, I think this one has a higher probability."