“Love Is Hell” (2004) by Ryan Adams

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600px-ryanadams06LUMPENPROLETARIAT         I could be serious, but I’m just kidding around.  I could be anything, anything but sticking around…

Messina

 

Love Is Hell” (2004) by Ryan Adams

Wonderwall” (2004) interpreted by Ryan Adams

Please Do Not Let Me Go” (2004) by Ryan Adams

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[Image of Ryan Adams on stage circa September 2006 by 6tee-zeven (originally uploaded to Flickr as Ryan Adams), used via Creative Commons licensure (CC BY 2.0).]

[15 FEB 2017]

[Last modified at 12:31 PST on 16 FEB 2017]

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Against the Grain Presents Dr. Max Haiven On Financialisation and Other Ills of Capitalism

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drmaxhaiven-maxhaiven-com-fair-useLUMPENPROLETARIAT—On today’s edition of free speech radio’s Against the Grain, Dr. Max Haiven discussed financialisation and other socioeconomic ills, which emanate from capitalist modes of production (i.e., capitalism), through a discussion of a walking tour of neoliberalism in the San Francisco/Oakland Bay Area.  Dr. Haiven’s clear narration of neoliberal predation involves financial links between “hedge funds, gentrification, Puerto Rico’s debt, greenwashing, the foreclosure crisis [or Global Financial Crisis], and even the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill”.  Listen (and/or download) here. [1]

Messina

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[Working draft transcript of actual radio broadcast by Messina for Lumpenproletariat and Against the Grain]

AGAINST THE GRAIN—[1 FEB 2017]  [KPFA station identification by Erica Bridgeman(sp?)]

[Against the Grain theme music]  (c. 0:40)

“Today on Against the Grain, if the dots are financialisation, gentrification, indebtedness, and hedge fund activity, then, who can connect them in a way, that reveals what capitalism is doing to individuals and communities?

“I’m C.S. Soong.  You’ll hear from Max Haiven, an educator, organiser, and author of books, like Cultures of Financialization [2014] and Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power [2014], after these news headlines with Aileen Alfandary.  (c. 1:09)

[KPFA News Headlines (read by Aileen Alfandary) omitted by scribe] [2]  (c. 5:45)

C.S. SOONG:  “From the studios of KPFA in Berkeley, California, this is Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.  My name is C.S. Soong.

Donald Trump is a capitalist.  On the campaign trail, he may have railed against Wall Street and denounced Goldman Sachs.  But he’s named, or nominated, a number of Goldman Sachs bankers to positions within his administration.  One of them, Treasury Secretary designate Steve Mnuchin, is a hedge fund manager. [3]

“But, whereas some of Trump’s actions draw headlines, many things he and other capitalists, like Mnuchin, do, they happen under the radar, escaping our notice even though their actions have tremendous ramifications for people and communities and social and political arrangements.

“Max Haiven is a scholar and writer, who has taken the trouble to investigate little-known processes of financialisation and debt. [4]  He is Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University in Ontario, Canada, where he directs the ReImagining Value Action Lab [RiVAL].

“Last fall, Max Haiven and artist Cassie Thornton conducted a walking tour of various sites in San Francisco and Oakland, a tour, that explored issues, that—I venture to say—matter to all people living under capitalism.

“A few weeks later, Max and Cassie joined me to talk about the tour.  And, today, we present the bulk of Max’s remarks during that extended conversation, remarks, that address and linked up a wide range of topics and phenomena, including hedge funds, gentrification, Puerto Rico’s debt, greenwashing, the foreclosure crisis, and even the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.

“I asked Max what motivated the creation of the walking tour and all of the substantive material, he and Cassie presented over the course of the tour.”  (c. 7:40)

DR. MAX HAIVENWell, I think for both of us it was starting to collaborate on questions of debt and credit and trying to think through finance and financialisation as a collective experience.  It’s something, that doesn’t just affect individuals, but that affects whole populations.

“And Cassie was undertaking a project at Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois-Chicago in June of 2016.  And that project focused on the Chicago public schools.  And, in the course of that project and examining the bankruptcy of the Chicago public schools, one thing Cassie heard many times was that this situation was very similar to Puerto Rico [i.e., the Puerto Rican government-debt crisis].  And that led us to an interest in Puerto Rico and, eventually, a visit in July and August of 2014 to Puerto Rico, which at the time was in the grips of an incredibly deep debt crisis.  And, you know, our visit there was really illuminating.  And it was very inspiring in many ways.  We met with a lot of activists, who were really thinking about debt in different ways, thinking about debts as, not only financial debts, but the debts of history and the debts of society, the debts that people owe one another, the debts that people owe themselves.  (c. 9:09)

“And we came back from that project to the [San Francisco] Bay Area.  I think, for me, I was deeply inspired by the question of how debt and how finance travels in ways, that we don’t necessarily fully imagine or fully grasp when we just take it at face value.

“So, I was interested in the way that a debt of a country, like Puerto Rico [or colonial property of the US empire], it sort of swirls and eddies in the same, um, substance, in the same waters, as the debt of home owners in Oakland; or the same waters as students and teachers in Chicago; or the same waters as the politics of international debt, through the International Monetary Fund or World Bank.

“So, I think what really inspired me towards the project was wanting to think through debt in a much deeper, more interconnected way, that sought reach out thickly in, really, complex ways, not only to other forms of debt and other social institutions, but to society, to the life-world, to the sort of ecosphere.  I mean when you’re dealing with the topic of debt and financialisation, as you look, as Cassie and I have done over the last six or seven years in our respective work, when you look at it and you begin to look very deeply, you begin to see that it’s interconnected everywhere.  (c. 10:51)

“One of my mentors, Randy Martin, who unfortunately died a short while ago, talked a lot about the [financial] derivative, which is this sort of signature technology of finance today, as this technology, which collapses the whole world into—and the whole world’s multiple futures—into one financial technology, which can be used to manipulate and speculate.  And, so, when you begin to look into finance and you begin to look into debt, it begins to spread out like the roots of a tree into all sorts of nooks and crannies.  It begins to touch all sorts of different social processes from housing to international trade to, you know, work and the effects of work and the effects of housing and the effects of changes in the cities on our bodies.”  (c. 11:47)

C.S. SOONG:  “The tour began at Farallon Restaurant in San Francisco, a posh establishment one block from Union Square.  Why, I asked, did the tour begin there?”

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “So, we chose Farallon Restaurant first because we actually wanted to go to the Farallon Islands, which are a group of islands 20 miles west of the Golden Gate Bridge.  And we’d selected the Farallon Islands for a number of reasons.  The first was it shared the name with Farallon Capital, which is a hedge fund, that became very central to our project.  It became a sort of icon or a cypher for financialisation writ large because it owned, both, a huge amount of debt of the country [sic] of Puerto Rico and had been extremely instrumental in the gentrification of west Oakland.  And those were two processes we wanted to compare.

“But we wanted to link that hedge fund to natural processes and to this sort of ecological sphere because our project involved thinking through the process of invasive species as well.

“And those things came together for us around the Farallon Islands, which are sort of shrouded in sort of myth in the Bay Area, that are very central to imperialism, various imperial powers, including Russia and the United States and Spain and England over the centuries.  But, of course, we couldn’t take all of our guests to the Farallon Islands because it’s a full day trip to get out there; and you have to charter a boat.

“So, instead, we looked around for a place to begin this tour.  And Farallon Restaurant presented us with a interesting, uh, venue, not only because it shared a name with the Farallon Islands and Farallon Capital, but because it was also one of these venues, that seems to be a solidification of transnational capital flows.  (c. 13:56) [snip]  (c. 14:25)

Parasitic financial forms are not an aberration, but central to capitalist modes of production, imperialism, and variants of colonialism.  The Puerto Rican government-debt crisis, for example, is the continuation of imperialism and colonialism by other means.

C.S. SOONG:  “I asked Max Haiven what he stressed about processes of financialisation and their impact during the presentation he and Cassie gave at Farallon Restaurant.”

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “One of the things, that has been really central to my thinking about financialisation over the last two years is trying to move away from the idea that the forms of technologically-driven finance, that we see today—things like [financial] derivative contracts, futures, currency trade, high frequency trading algotrithms—these are somehow an aberration from or a sort of pathology of otherwise perfectly functioning markets.  I think it’s a very pernicious idea because, actually, when we look further back in history, we see that finance has always worked in the interests of imperialism and colonialism.  (c. 15:26)

“And, when we were in Puerto Rico, uh, it was—it just brought home again that, you know, the debt that Puerto Rico has been forced to go into over the last 30 years as a result of neoliberalism, um, and as a result of the continuing colonial presence of the United States in that country, this debt is simply the continuation of imperialism and colonialism by other means.

“And there’s a comforting narrative, that we have, that would say that today’s hedge funds or financial apparatuses are like weeds or like invasive species, that come in and destroy an otherwise functioning capitalist economy.  But, in reality, the capitalist economy has always been poisonous and has always been damaging.”  (c. 16:17)  [5]

C.S. SOONG:  “The tour, then, moved to the office building, that houses Farallon Capital in San Francisco’s Financial District.  Farallon Capital Management’s website says it manages equity capital institutions, including college endowments, charitable foundations, and pension plans, and for high net worth individuals.  The firm, which employs about 180 people is headquartered in San Francisco and has offices in London, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and São Paulo.  What should we know about Farallon Capital Management?”  (c. 16:48)

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “Farallon Capital Management became a really important character in the drama, that we were unfolding.  It really sits at the nexus of capitalist forces, that are ecologically destructive, that are imperialist and colonialist in nature, and that were really participating in the shaping of urban space in the [San Francisco] Bay Area.

“Just to back up a tiny bit, a hedge fund, um, for those who don’t know is, essentially, an elite club for very rich investors.  If you want to invest in Farallon Capital, you need to have a buy-in of five million dollars to put down on the table, that gets you, essentially, to be part of this elite club of investors.  And a hedge fund is an institution, that specialises in accumulating extremely potent information and data and making high-risk, highly leveraged financial gambits.

“So, they get the investments of their initial investors.  They’ll borrow even more money on top of that initial investment.  And they’ll put that into something, that they think is going to be very high risk, but high reward.  So, they’re really a kind of financial shark.  They operate with a sort of exteme, violent efficiency in markets.

“And it’s not a coincidence that we worked with this metaphorical shark because one of the things, that the Farallon Islands is most famous for is, in fact, the greatest concentration of great white sharks anywhere in the world.  It’s one of the most scientifically significant areas to study these incredible creatures.  You know, it might actually be an injustice to sharks to liken a hedge fund to them because a shark has its own logic.  It turns out that sharks are quite sociable creatures.  They have their own rhythms in nature.  A hedge fund is an institution—a highly calibrated, a highly torqued institution—for making as much money as possible for its investors.  (c. 18:57)

On financial predators and a case study of colonial debt bondage

“So, Farallon [Capital Management] has about $21 billion dollars under its management.  It used to manage the endowments of a huge number of America’s leading public and private universities.  It has major stakes in, sort of, privatisation schemes in Russia, in Argentina, in Indonesia.

tomsteyerheadshot-faralloncapitalmanagement-wiki

Mr. Tom Steyer (hedge fund boss, neoliberal capitalist, financial predator, Democrat, philanthropist)

“It’s run, or was founded, by Tom Steyer, who is a very influential figure—uh, for reasons, that we’ll get into a little bit later, I suspect, uh—who, with an initial investment in the 1980s of $15 million, by the time he retires had a stake of $1.2 billion dollars in Farallon Capital.

“And one of the things, that we discovered when we were in Puerto Rico is that this, uh, this hedge fund has invested quite a bit in the loans of Puerto Rico and is one of the so-called vulture funds, that bought up Puerto Rico’s debt for pennies on the dollar, but is now demanding full payment to get as much money as they can out of the island.

“We know that Puerto Rico, as a whole, has something around the realm of $76 billion dollars in debt.  The only information we can gather is that, at the very least, they bought up $55 million dollars worth of that debt and is now part of a consortium of hedge funds and vulture funds.  They are holding that debt over the head of the island, demanding that things like schools, that things like public services be cut back in order to pay out these investors and these vulture funds.

“So, for us Farallon was a particularly acute example of a sort of animal or organism or species, that evolved within the high pressure ecosystem of today’s financialised markets and could offer us a sort of target and also a sort of metaphor for something much larger and more interconnected.”  (c. 21:08)

C.S. SOONG:  “That’s Max Haiven.  And I’m C.S.  And you’re listening to Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.

“Max Haiven is a writer, educator, and movement organiser based at Lake Head University in Ontario, where he is Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice.  You are listening to an account of a walking tour, that Max Haiven and his collaborator Cassie Thornton conducted last fall in San Francisco and west Oakland, a tour during which Max talked about all kinds of pressing issues: financialisation, gentrification, and new forms of economic colonialism.

“A few weeks after the tour took place, Max Haiven spoke with me about it.  I asked Max Haiven to elaborate on how hedge funds and vulture funds operate, what kinds of debt do they try to acquire, and how do they hope to make a profit off of it.”  (c. 21:59)

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “So, most governments around the world, both, at the federal level and the municipal level and, then, at the level of states, operate and make up their annual budget shortfalls by going into debt or, sometimes, if they have a large capital project, like building a school or a highway, they’ll go into debt in order to make that possible, rather than saving up money over 20 or 30 years.  And the typical way that they do that is by issuing bonds.

‘So, what will typically happen is a bond is simply a debt.  It’s an agreement to pay a certain amount of money at a certain point in the future with a certain rate of interest.  And bonds, you know—hundreds of thousands, perhaps, millions of bonds circulate around the world each day.

“And the colony of Puerto Rico, or the autonomous economic zone, as they are called, um, over the last 40 years, especially, has been selling more and more each day to international markets, which, essentially—when we say international markets—we mean the banking and financing sector.  But, because Puerto Rico is a colony of the United States, both, its constitution and numerous laws, that the U.S. Congress has passed concerning Puerto Rico’s economic status, have made it, essentially, into a bit of a Shangri-La for investors.

“For instance, one law that states that before any other expenses are, um, are incurred by the government, they will uphold their obligations to bondholders first, which is a sort of policy, that’s not in place in almost any other place in the world and, certainly, not in any of the other states because it essentially means you have to pay off foreign banks before you pay teachers and police and politicians.  You know?  (c. 23:51) [6]

“So, the island of Puerto Rico had been made into this very enticing location for international banks and the people, that they serve, which is like hedge funds and pension funds and insurance companies, for them to make large investments in the country.

“So, what would, essentially, happen is:  Let’s say Puerto Rico needed a hundred million dollars this year.  If they weren’t in an economic crisis, they would issue 100 one-million-dollar bonds.  And those one-million-dollar bonds would say: In ten years time, we’re going to pay you back a million dollars plus five percent per year interest.  Those bonds would, then, be sold on to major banks.  And, they, would in turn sell them on to their clients, pension funds, insurance companies, even retail investors, like, you know, workers.

“But what happens is, as the government—as any government around the world—gets more and more shaky, the bonds get downgraded.  And, in fact, it’s understood that many of those bonds won’t be repaid, especially if the country’s in a deep financial crisis, like Puerto Rico.  At that point, everyone who owns the bonds of Puerto Rico knows they’re not gonna get their original million dollars back.  So, they start trying to sell that bond for less than the original outlay of cash.  So, maybe, they lent a million dollars expecting they would get, you know, a million dollars plus the interest back.  But, now, they’re willing to sell that bond for $700,000 dollars or $500,000 dollars, just in the hopes of getting some money out of the deal.

“And, eventually, these bonds become so toxic, that they can be bought for, literally, pennies on the dollar.  A million-dollar-bond of the country of Puerto Rico, or the island of Puerto Rico, could be circulating on global markets for $10,000 dollars or $20,000 because no one believes they’re actually gonna get paid.

“And, if you were a hedge fund, what you specialised in is looking around the market and finding easy prey.  And you see that you could buy a million dollars of Puerto Rican debt for $10,000, for basically one percent of its stated value.  You snap up that bond.  And, then, you’d go to the government of Puerto Rico and say: We want a million dollarsWe want the million dollars you owe us.  Puerto Rico says:  We can’t pay.  And the hedge fund, or the vulture fund, in this case, says:  Well, give us all your money, that you can pay.  So, you may never actually pay back that million dollars.  But, at least, we’re gonna get $30,000—$40,000—dollars for this bond out of you; and we come out $20,000 or $30,000 ahead.  So, it’s a technique of extorting governments out of their money. [7]  (c. 26:40)

“And the final thing I would say about it is there are organisations, like Farallon, that specialise in doing this all over the world.  The euphemism, that they use is distressed assets.  But what’s really going on underneath the surface is that places, like Puerto Rico, should never have been forced to go into debt in the first place.  The reason they were in the dire economic position, that made them borrow from global markets in order to build schools and hospitals and highways was the fact that they are, first of all, a colony of the United States.  And, then, second of all, that they’ve been undergoing and, in fact, had been forced to embrace the logic of neoliberalism, which means that corporations and the rich get to keep a huge proportion of their money.  And governments are starved for funds, meaning that they have to go look to the private sector, to banks, to hedge funds for the funding, simply to continue to operate in the interests of their citizens.

“So, these debts never should have been incurred.  And, now, the debts are being used to squeeze even more money out of the population at the expense of people’s health and wellbeing.”  (c. 27:50)

On the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill (San Francisco)

C.S. SOONG:  “The walking tour then moved a block east to a park, a public space with clusters of tall trees, inhabited by very loud birds.  Why, I asked Max, did he and Cassie make this stop on their tour?”

[Dr. Max Haiven discussed the re-wilding of urban spaces by invasive species and what that adds to the extractive capital of a city, which is “re-groomed for tourists”, and informs questions of invasive species and invasion as an analogy for the invasive and extractive capital of Farallon Capital Management.]  (c. 32:47)

On the role of Sullivan Management in home foreclosures, which have disproportionately impacted people of colour (e.g., West Oakland), through gentrification processes

C.S. SOONG:  “And, so, the tour headed across the Bay, or rather underneath it, on BART to West Oakland.  Max Haiven and Cassie Thornton stopped with a group at the offices of the Sullivan Management Corporation.”

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “Sullivan Management Company is responsible, by some estimates, for buying up 40% of the foreclosed homes in downtown Oakland, following the 2007-2008 [Global] Financial Crisis.  As has been recorded by a huge number of studies and NGOs in Oakland and beyond, the 2007-2008 foreclosure crisis disproportionately hit black and brown families the hardest.  And in West Oakland, a huge proportion of the families, that lost their homes in this traditionally black neighborhood were black and brown families.  And the people, who benefited, were largely speculators from outside the neighborhood.

“So, Sullivan Management, for instance, would typically buy an old Victorian home.  There are some very beautiful homes in that neighborhood for around a hundred thousand dollars.  And two or three years later, after a very minimal renovation, would sell it for somewhere in the range of $400,000 dollars.  (c. 34:13)

“This had the effect of really driving up, to a huge extent, property rates in Oakland, in West Oakland, and in the Bay Area more generally, such as we’ve seen over the last few years, where just in the last couple of years rent and property prices of all three cities of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Francisco have increased at rates between 15 and 30 percent per year, essentially driving out lower income residents, driving out, really, anyone, who doesn’t have a really well-paying tech job.

“SMC, the company, is a key part of this.  But it is only one part of a constellation of small companies owned by one man, whose name is Neil Sullivan.  Other companies are REO Homes, which are one of the ones responsible for flipping the homes and renovating them.  There’s a number of other groups with the acronym SMC.

“But what’s significant for us, in addition to finding a red-handed culprit for gentrification and one, who still remains what NGOs point to as a slum landlord, they have kept a hold of many of the homes and now rent them out for exorbitant rates to residents.

“The other thing, that’s significant, though, is that Neil Sullivan was bankrolled in this venture by Tom Steyer, the CEO of Farallon and a number of other senior executives at Farallon as well.  We don’t know if Farallon Capital, itself, invested.  But, certainly, a number of the high-ranking people of the company did, sensing an opportunity, taking that shark-like financial acumen, that they developed at Farallon and applying it now closer to home towards this golden opportunity to buy up these foreclosed homes.  Between 2009 and 2014, for instance, there were over 357 evictions just in West Oakland alone.  Seven percent of all the homes in West Oakland were foreclosed at some point since the crisis began.  And, of those, 42 percent have ended up in the hands of investors.  And that’s a very conservative figure.  So, really, and at this point, SMC or its affiliated companies operates at least 250 units of rental housing in that neighborhood.  And they’ve charged exorbitant rates for it. (c. 36:53)

“So, for us, SMC represents another crystallisation of what happens when liquid financial capital courses around the world, like an invasive species, coming up through the cracks within neighborhoods and within communities, that have been caused by generations of systemic racism and systemic exploitation and really taking advantage of a weakened ecosystem in order to maximise their own growth, growth whose energy and real wealth is being extracted out of the community and into the hands of, you know, extremely wealthy people, like Tom Steyer, the CEO of Farallon, and others.” [8]  (c. 37:37)

C.S. SOONG:  “Max Haiven is Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University in Ontario.  And he’s also an organiser and a writer.  We’ll take a short break and return with more of Max Haiven’s comments.  Please stay with us.”

[brief music break: instrumental acoustic jazz music with horns and percussion]  (c. 38:53)

C.S. SOONG:  “And this is Against the Grain on Pacifica Radio.  My name is C.S. Soong.  Max Haiven teaches at Lakehead University.  And he’s the author of several books, including Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power: Capitalism, Creativity, and the Commons.  And, with Alex Khasnabish, The Radical Imagination: Social Movement Research in the Age of Austerity.  He also co-directs, with Alex, the Radical Imagination Project.  Max Haiven spoke with me last fall [i.e., 2016], a few weeks after he and his collaborator, a social practice artist named Cassie Thornton, conducted a walking tour of San Francisco and Oakland, that examined the impact finance capital has on locations near and far; on people in Puerto Rico; on neighborhoods, that are gentrifying; and on major party politics.

“We, now, pick back up with the tour, which proceeded along the streets of West Oakland, and stopped in front of a residential building.  What, I asked Max Haiven, did he and Cassie find significant about the building?”  (c. 39:55)

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “Well, this house was a sort of typical project for SMC.  It was an old, very beautiful Victorian house, that had this kind of a lumpy addition on it, that was really aesthetically brutalist.  And it was clear that they had seen the footprint of this property as one to extract as much value from tenants as possible. [9]  So, they built on extra rooms to this house, that looked, you know, incredibly ugly, really belying SMC’s claim on their website and elsewhere that they were participating in the beautifying of a derelict neighborhood.

“And, in fact, the whole framing of SMC’s rhetoric about West Oakland being derelict, as it being an undervalued neighborhood, their whole triumphant narrative of themselves as coming in and greening the neighborhood.  All of this is typical of the language, the violent language of gentrification.  And what it serves to do on a fundamental level, we wanted to point out at this station, is it serves to hide or disguise, who’s actually producing wealth.  Capitalism has always thrived, like a weed, on preying on the biodiversity and economic diversity and the diversity of cooperation of workers.  And gentrification, as a sort of current day manifestation of that system, really thrives on and maximises the extraction of the energy, that people over generations have put into their neighborhoods, that make it a beautiful and a wonderful place to live.  (c. 41:36)

“So, when gentrifiers, like SMC come in and claim that they are the ones, who are ‘adding value’, quote-unquote, to the neighborhood, they’re not only stealing the value, that was already there, they’re re-writing history to make themselves into the triumphant capitalist, you know, actors.  And, in this narrative, they can have no better teacher, in fact, than Tom Steyer, whom we mentioned before, the founding CEO of Farallon, who actually retired in, I believe, 2012—I think; I don’t have the number right in front of me—but, who was a really central figure in the growth of this little hedge fund from a sort of boutique investment to, as I mentioned, a hedge fund, that was managing the portfolios of major institutions, like universities, and really a major player in financial markets.  (c. 42:32)

“Um, Steyer was an alumnus of Goldman Sachs and a variety of other investment banksBut, interestingly, once he became the CEO of Farallon, he began to develop, at least on the surface, a sort of green [i.e., environmentally friendly] consciousness.  Though, especially since his retirement, but even in the preceding that, he really wanted to put himself forward as kind of the Democratic Party answer to the Koch Brothers—this enlightened billionaire, who was gonna use his money without apology to influence politics.  He was a major, major fundraiser for, and gave many, many donations to, the Democratic Party.  When Obama came to do fundraising in San Francisco in 2014, that event was held at Tom Steyer’s house.  Tom Steyer and his wife run together a ranch for ecologically-grown beef.  They give tons of money to renewable research at Stanford University, which is their alma mater.  And many people, in fact, speculate that Steyer, who is now very much involved in the Democratic machine—a major fund raiser for Hillary Clinton, is eying eyeing up the possibility of being the Democratic candidate for, uh, the governorship of California.  He certainly has the money to make that possible.  (c. 43:55)

“But, interestingly, part of that campaign centers around his high position as a bank, that’s called Beneficial State Bank, which was first called First California Bank.  And this is a bank located in Downtown Oakland and—that is, also he runs with his wife Kat Taylor—and it claims to have this enlightened mission, an enlightened green capitalist mode of operation.  Yes, it’s a bank.  But it’s a bank with what they call a social license.  It’s part of this new wave of social enterprises, that don’t get rid of the profit motive, but suggest to their customers and suggest to the public that they are, you know, a beneficial gift to the community.  So, Beneficial Bank gives a great deal of money, or claims to give a great deal of money, to sort of green capitalist causes, to local urban gardens, to sustainable ventures.  They also offer informal types of lending and new types of lending to immigrant communities and to poorer communities.  But, also, it’s important to note that Beneficial State Bank is still a bank.  And, in fact, SMC, the company, that we spoke about earlier, that’s participated in gentrification, and many of the clients, to whom they sold foreclosed and flipped homes, got their new mortgages from Beneficial Bank.  So, they are also very much participants in this system of gentrification.  (c. 45:23)

“And, when we zoom out and look at the whole network of capitalist relations, we’ve identified with Farallon Capital, with Tom Steyer and his political connections, with his wife Kat Taylor and Beneficial State Bank, with SMC, we see that, while capitalist enterprises can present sort of green face to their activities, when they choose to do so, we need to be extremely wary and see that, as long as some people get to control vast, vast quantities of wealth, we should not simply be satisfied with them giving us a few crumbs back, even if they got green food coloring on them.

“So, for us, visiting this home was an opportunity to think through these sorts of questions and to, again, sort of zoom out and see the whole process at once.”  (c. 46:14)

C.S. SOONG:  “The walking tour wrapped up in front of a community garden in Oakland near where—if you know the city—San Pablo hits West Grand Avenue.”

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “This garden is called Afrikatown.  And it is a sort of parallel project to the Qilombo Community Social Center.  Qilombo was founded in 2011 and is a collaboration between anarchists and many members of the West Oakland black community, that has been sort of staged as a holdout against gentrification, a hub for organising against the continued theft of the neighborhood and the value, that people there have created.

“And the garden, itself, is being used to grow a whole variety of crops to teach children and everyone in the neighborhood more about how to become self-sufficient.  Qilombo, itself, is named after a maroon community in Brazil and indigenous people escaped the tyranny of colonialism to form their own community.  It’s a sort of mythic place in history and in the history of social movements and anti-colonial movements.  And we thought it would be an excellent place to end for two reasons.  The first is that Qilombo really represents an attempt to take a just and poetic revenge, in some ways, against the system of racial capitalism, that has given rise to the forces of gentrification, that has allowed invasive species, like hedge funds to thrive and allowed them to continue the work of colonialism into a new century through the use of financial apparatuses.  (c. 47:58)

“So, for us, Qilombo really represents a hopeful seed of some new type of invasive species, what those in power will label as an invasive species, but is, in fact, a new way of living together, a new form of common growth.

“And, it’s no coincidence, as you can well imagine, that Qilombo and Afrikatown is located on land presently claimed by none other than Neil Sullivan of SMC Homes and his backers at Farallon and Beneficial State Bank.

“And it’s significant that over the last several years Qilombo, because they’ve been able to cultivate a wide community of support and solidarity, has managed to fight off several eviction notices and still hold on, rooted in that community, and really hold down that area, so that something else can grow.”  (c. 48:54)

C.S. SOONG:  “As our conversation about the tour came to a close, I asked Max Haiven about a broader project, that he’s involved in called the University of the Phoenix.”

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “The University of the Phoenix is an umbrella organisation, through which Cassie [Thornton] and I collaborate on radical alternative financial literacy.  In the lead up to, and the wake of, the [Global] Financial Crisis, this idea of financial literacy was offered to the public, as a means to privatise a social problem.  And the social problem was that people, who didn’t own stocks and weren’t part of the 1% were poor.  But it was, instead of pointing out that this came from systemic and structural problems within capitalism, instead we were told that people were financially illiterate, that they didn’t know how to manage their money.  And financial literacy education was sold to the public in schools and in community centers as an answer to this problem.  (c. 49:55)

“For us, financial literacy is a really important thing.  But the way it’s typically thought, we think, is harmful.  And we wanna teach financial literacy in much more profound ways, that allow people to understand financialisation at a political level and also at the level of their own lives and bodies.  [10]

“So, the University of the Phoenix offers classes in alternative financial literacy.  It’s also an opportunity for us to build collaborations and offer education with, and for, the dead.  We’re interested in the ways that the ghosts of the past haunt the present and the way, that we can invite those ghosts into the classroom, both, as teachers for the living and as learners, themselves, because our hope is that the dead will rise up in vengeance against the system of capitalism and systems of patriarchy and white supremacy, which has led to so much suffering of their descendants.  (c. 50:56)

“So, we have an interest in seances, the paranormal, we have an interest in working with the dead in a profound way in order to shed new light on the timescales and processes of the capitalist present.

“And, finally, the University of the Phoenix, like any good for-profit university offers its faculty as consultants.  And Cassie and I, both, operate as revenge consultants.  We hope to work with a wide variety of community groups and artistic spaces and beyond in order to be able to work with people to figure out what kinds of revenge might be possible, that don’t simply end in violence and heartbreak and terror, but instead end in the growth of new species of resistance, invasive species, indigenous species.  This is the ambition of this umbrella project, under which we are organising a whole variety of different activities.”  (c. 51:54)

C.S. SOONG:  “That’s Max Haiven—spelled H-A-I-V-E-N—talking mostly about a walking tour he co-conducted last fall [of 2016].

“In the time we have remaining, I want to present some of what Max said in an appearance on this programme in 2014.  Here he talked about the financial sector and, specifically, the impact of financial sector logic on everyday life.”  (c. 52:18)

DR. MAX HAIVEN:  “I think, once we begin to understand financialisation in a broader scope, we can begin to see its traces all over the place.  I mean I’m a university teacher and quite involved in the politics of the university.  So, one of the places I see it most frequently is in the way that students, parents, governments, and university administrators increasingly have come to understand education as a quote-unquote ‘investment.  And we hear this sort of nauseating rhetoric all the time, that students shouldn’t expect that government will pay for their education, but instead that they should take out a loan and leverage that debt, that financialised debt in order to buy a credentialed university education, which they’ll then be able to go on to the job market and sell back to recoup their costs.

“Of course, this comes at a time when, in the United States alone, student debt has topped one trillion dollars and when default rates and delinquency rates on student loan debt are skyrocketing.  And, in fact, many new reports are emerging to indicate that the weight of student this student debt on younger generations is fundamentally eroding their life chances.  They are putting off having families, buying homes, becoming, you know, economic members society because of the weight of this debt.

“And this is, I think, symptomatic of a much deeper shift in our society, as this neoliberal ideology takes hold we are all encouraged to see ourselves as individual competitive agents, rather than any form of collectivity.  We are no longer encouraged to see ourselves as citizens, who care for one another, let alone something more that I would like to see, which is as commoners, as people, who are fundamentally dependent on one another, who create common forms of wealth and common forms of community care.  All of that is pushed aside in favour of this idea that we should all see ourselves as miniature Donald Trump.  And, of course, Donald Trump is an excellent example of precisely how this sort of ideology enters into the mainstream and popular culture.  The popular show The Apprentice, which has been on, you know, for many years and was really organised around his persona, really attempts to show us what the exalted neoliberal financialised subject looks like, one who has no compulsion [sic] about betraying one’s friends and allies, one who ruthlessly competes to outperform one’s peers, this is the image, that’s held up to all of us now.

“And, so, another example, for instance, is the incredible popularity of home renovation reality television shows, where the idea is you’re gonna go and buy a home, not because you have a commitment to community, not because you want a roof over your head, but because you want to use it as a financial asset, that you can leverage for greater gain in the future.  (c. 55:04)

“And this idea has really seeped out and saturated throughout all of society, so that increasingly we are talking about everything as investments.  There are, now, a plethora of relationship advice books, which advise the reader to understand themselves not as a lover or friend or companion, but as an investor in relationships.  There is [sic] advice books, that encourage parents to educate their children as savvy financial investors, to see the family as a corporation, that needs to be managed, as you would manage Goldman Sachs.  This is extremely dangerous.  And it’s dangerous, not only in the sense that it normalises the neoliberal paradigm of individualistic competition, but it also valorises, really, the worst elements of our human nature, in a sense.  And it fundamentally privatises our sense of the future, so we can no longer rely on on another to provide for our futures.  Then, it all just becomes the competitive work of the individual.  For instance, as we allow pensions and old-age security to increasingly be privatised and downloaded onto the individual, we become increasingly adept at attempting to get as much as we can for ourselves.

“And, of course, the irony here is that the more and more that we invest in privatised savings, the more and more we invest, in the United States for instance, in 401(k) plans or, in other countries, in highly privatised forms of retirement savings, those funds are actually being used to leverage by major investment banks and others in order to undermine the economy, that we live in.  It is precisely those sorts of funds, that are investing in private equity firms, in hedge funds, in major investment banks, which are doing the neoliberal and financialised work of dismantling the economy as we know it.”  (c. 56:58)

C.S. SOONG:  “Max Haiven is an organiser and writer, who teaches at Lakehead University in Canada, where he directs the ReImagining Value Action Lab [RiVAL].  His books include Crises of Imagination, Crises of Power and Cultures of Financialization: Fictitious Capital in Popular Culture and Everyday Life.  And he’s currently working on a book tentatively titled Art After Money, Money After Art: Radical Creative Strategies Against Financialisation.

“And this is C.S. suggesting the important thing is not to stop questioning.  And we hope you’ll join us next time.”  (c. 57:35)

[Against the Grain theme music, credits, etc.

[Community announcement: premiere of interactive documentary Jerusalem, We Are Here; this is a benefit event for Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA)]  (c. 59:59)

Learn more at AGAINST THE GRAIN.

***

[1]  Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain: Financialization and its Discontents, this one-hour broadcast hosted by C.S. Soong, Wednesday, 1 FEB 2017, 12:00 PST.

Against the Grain broadcast summary (for 1 FEB 2017) from kpfa.org:

Financialization and its Discontents

Max Haiven connects the dots between financialization, gentrification, indebtedness, and hedge fund activity.  Haiven co-conducted a walking tour of sites in San Francisco and Oakland, sites that offer a microcosm of capitalist dynamics that have enriched a few while burdening and displacing countless others.  His analysis encompasses the foreclosure crisis, Puerto Rico’s debt, and even the wild parrots of Telegraph Hill.

Also see past Against the Grain broadcasts, which feature Dr. Max Haiven:

Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain, 23 JAN 2012.  Broadcast summary:  “According to Max Haiven, global capitalism turns cooperative and creative activity into calcified narratives, hierarchies, and commodities.  Haiven emphasizes the importance of a task he calls “commoning memory.”

Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain, 31 OCT 2012.  Broadcast summary:  “Max Haiven talks about the positioning of universities and the role of cognitive labor in the neoliberal capitalist order.”

Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain, 1 MAY 2013.  Broadcast summary:  “A May Day cornucopia, with contributions from Aziz Choudry, Jodi Dean, Chris Dixon, Max Haiven, and Richard Peet; Pacifica Radio May Day reports from years past; and more.”

Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain, 14 AUG 2013.  Broadcast summary:  “According to Max Haiven, global capitalism turns cooperative and creative activity into calcified narratives, hierarchies, and commodities.  Haiven emphasizes the importance of a task he calls “commoning memory.”  [Compare to Against the Grain broadcast for 23 JAN 2012.]

Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain, 9 JUN 2014.  Broadcast summary:  “Max Haiven on what the financial sector and its logic are doing to corporations, to governments, and to the way we live and think.”

Terrestrial radio transmission, 94.1 FM (KPFA, Berkeley, CA) with online simulcast and digital archiving:  Against the Grain: Max Haiven on Financialization’s Reach, 16 MAR 2015.  Broadcast summary:  “The financial sector of the US economy is incredibly powerful and influential, but its impact on our social and cultural lives is rarely examined or acknowledged.  Max Haiven contends that financialization has, in a certain sense, colonized our attitudes, our beliefs, and our sense of the future.  Haiven believes we need to chart a very different path forward, both imaginatively and practically.”

[2]  KPFA News Headlines (read by Aileen Alfandary) for Wednesday, 1 FEB 2017, 12:00 PST:

  • Ongoing Trump Presidency drama and cabinet picks, particularly school privatiser/destroyer DaVos.
  • Socialist Seattle City Council votes to boycott petrol companies associated with Dakota Pipeline (DPL)

[3]  For more on Steve Mnuchin, see:

  • Guns and Butter Presents The Lost Hegemon: Whom the Gods Would Destroy (2016), Lumpenproletariat, 7 DEC 2016.

[4]  For more on financialisation and debt see:

[5]  Also see economist Dr. Michael Hudson’s work on financial warfare and neoliberal capture of public assets through debt bondage.

[6]  Of course, as we know from modern monetary theory (MMT), the United States can always afford to make good on the bonds, which it issues, as it is the sovereign currency issuer of the U.S. dollar, not to mention that it is the world’s dominant reserve currency.  For more on MMT, see:

  • Dr. L.Randall Wray, economist.
    • Modern Money Theory: A Primer on Macroeconomics for Sovereign Monetary Systems
    • Understanding Modern Money: The Key to Full Employment and Price Stability (Elgar, 1998)
    • Money and Credit in Capitalist Economies (Elgar 1990)
  • New Economic Perspectives (UMKC’s heterodox economics blog).
  • The Job Guarantee: Toward True Full Employment edited by Michael J. Murray and Mathew Forstater
  • The 7 Deadly Innocent Frauds of Economic Policy by Warren Mosler
  • Dr. Stephanie Kelton, economist.

[7]  Economist Dr. Michael Hudson is a longtime outspoken opponent of the world’s ruling-class neoliberal agenda of austerity economics, which destroys sovereign economies and, then, extorts and subjugates their governments.  For example, see:

[8]  For an excellent case study, which provides rigorously-researched history of “generations of systemic racism and systemic exploitation”, see Race, Real Estate, and Uneven Development (2002) by Dr. Kevin Fox Gotham, which describes the structural racial residential segregation, which has systematically segregated and prevented blacks, Americans of African descent, from integrating into the USA’s post-WWII suburbanization.  Dr. Kevin Fox Gotham, building on the important work of Massey and Denton, American Apartheid (1993, Harvard University Press), and others, he shows how Kansas City developed a racist template followed by other cities for the deliberate creation of ghettos.

Also see the work of Dr. Erik K. Olsen’s, including “Class Conflict and Industrial Location” (2010), Review of Radical Political Economics 42(3) 344-352.  (Dr. Olsen was your author’s professor of Urban Economics at the heterodox economics department at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.)

[9]  Also see economist Dr. Michael Hudson’s work, as well as other Marxian scholars (not to mention Dr. Karl Marx, himself) on the parasitic nature of the rentier class.  (Pronounced ron-tee-aye)

[10]  On advocates for grassroots approaches to working class financial literacy education:  Free speech radio listeners will recall Catherine Austin Fitts being featured previously on Guns and Butter and Flashpoints.  On Guns and Butter, Catherine Austin Fitts mainly discussed various issues of government corruption and financial looting.  But, if memory serves, Catherine Austin Fitts attempted to produce regular community financial education segments.  (See Flashpoints and Guns and Butter archives.)  Another free speech radio guest on a more grassroots financial literacy approach is Dr. Ellen Brown, author of Web of Debt and The Public Banking Solution, on state banks and public banking.  Dr. Brown is also the founder of the Public Banking Institute.  But, perhaps most importantly, we must recall the Dr. Stephanie Kelton (University of Missouri-Kansas City), Dr. L. Randall Wray (UMKC), et al., on modern money theory (MMT), and beneficial MMT-based deficit spending, including the job guarantee programme.  (See endnote [6] above.)

***

[Time-stamps correlate to a downloaded mp3 copy, not the audio stream playback.]

[Image of Dr. Max Haiven by Karin Cope, used via fair use licensure.]

[Image of Mr. Tom Steyer by Helloaloe (own work), used via creative commons licensure (CC BY-SA 3.0).]

[2 FEB 2017]

[Last modified at 00:05 PST on 8 FEB 2017]

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