Money Talks 2001

The Economy for Dummies


A series of roundtables with guest journalists and economists to help us critically unpack the language and workings of contemporary economics—local, national and global.  Using random financial articles from the newspapers, the audience isolates terms and concepts they want the panelists to break down, and begin to unravel the ways these terms and their practices are determining the evolution of our culture.


January 21, Feb 11, February 25, 2001 : Cooper Union, New York City


Dialogue One

Cracking the Code / Reading the News

By taking random articles about the economy from the daily newspaper, an economist and a media critic helped us to parse some of the basic terms and principles of the domestic economy: the stock market, the “middle class”, national debt, gross domestic product, unemployment, etc. and the ways mainstream media presents these concepts to the general public.

With Seth Ackerman & Michael Zweig
Moderated by Alisa Solomon & Marilyn Neimark



“From 1972 until 1996, the real wages of American working people went down 25%.  Meanwhile, workers’ output and productivity kept going up.  Workers were producing more and getting less, so where was it going?  It was going to capital, to employeres, to businesses, We’ve seen a big increase in inequality in the US economy.  In 1980, the standard CEO made 40 times the lowest paid worker; in 1993, it was 141 times; in 1998 it was 409 times, and last year it was over 500 times.”

– Michael Zweig 



Seth Ackerman [bio from Jan, 01] is a media analyst at FAIR, the national media watchdog group. He has written for Harper’s, The Nation Magazine, In These Times, Left Business Observer, the Journal of Palestinian Studies and the Washington Times. He lives in New York City.
Michael Zweig [bio from Jan, 01] is professor of Economics at State University of New York, Stony Brook, where he has received the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.  He is on the state executive board of United University Professions, Local 2190, American Federation of Teachers, representing 22,000 faculty and professional staff throughout SUNY.  His books include The Working Class Majority: America’s Best Kept Secret, Religion and Economic Justice and The Idea of a World University.


Money Talks Moderators/Co-Curators:

Alisa Solomon,
Writer and theatre critic for the Village Voice, Author
[bio from Jan, 01]
Marilyn Kleinberg Neimark, Print and Radio Journalist – WBAI’s Beyond the Pale; Co-founder of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice
[bio from Jan, 01]



Dialogue Two

Understanding the Global Marketplace

In this meeting, an economist, media critic and a cultural critic defined the basic principles and the turbulent history of globalization. Topics discussed included third world debt, free and fair trade, and the implications of human rights on international labor.

With Seth Ackerman & Robert Naiman
Moderated by Alisa Solomon & Marilyn Neimark



“When the WTO was created in 1994, the pharmaceutical industry insisted that the WTO put an agreement in place saying that countries would enforce the U.S. standard of intellectual property, so that a country that didn’t comply could be the target of sanctions. This is what the big fight is about. The patent-protected price of the triple cocktail, anti-viral therapy in the U.S. is $10,000-$12,000 a year. Brazil reports that they can do it for $700 a year, and some AIDS advocacy groups believe it could be done for $300. Millions of people’s lives hang in the balance, because at $10,000 a year, it’s impossible for people in the poorest countries in the world to get AIDS treatment. But at $300, it starts to become plausible…”

– Robert Naiman 


Robert Naiman [bio from Feb, ’01] is Senior Policy Analyst at the Center for Economic and Policy Research in Washington, DC. Formerly he was Senior Researcher at Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. He serves on the steering committee of the 50 Years is Enough Network. He has a Master’s Degree in Mathematics from the University of Illinois, where he has done graduate work in Economics and Public Policy. His research interests include Globalization, Effects of International Financial Institutions and Trade and Investment Agreements on Living Standards and Democracy, Impact of Speculative Capital Flows, and the Impact of U.S. Foreign Aid. He writes a biweekly column for the Sunday Journal newspapers (Metro DC).  Last February, his culinary contretemps in Bangkok with outgoing IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus beat out press coverage of the death of cartoonist Charles Schulz in European newspapers. 

Seth Ackerman (see above)


Dialogue Three

Productive Areas of Intervention

Activist and author Naomi Klein and Kevin Danaher, co-founder of Global Exchange, explore with us some of the active resistance and current reform experiments –  including the protests in Seattle and Washington D.C., the boycott of “American” merchandise produced in international “sweatshops,” and smaller—but no less significant—practices of intervention that people make in their everyday lives.

Moderated by Alisa Solomon & Marilyn Neimark



What emerged on the streets of Seattle and in Washington was an activist model that mirrors the organic, decentralized, interlinked pathways of the Internet – the internet come to life. And out of these miniature formations is an emerging consensus that building community-based decision-making power — whether through neighborhoods, farms, unions, villages, anarchist collectives, or aboriginal self-government — is essential to countering the might of multi-national corporations.

– Naomi Klein 



Naomi Klein [bio from Feb, 01]   Born in Montreal in 1970, Naomi Klein is an award-winning journalist and author of the best-selling book, No Logo: Taking Aim at the Brand Bullies. The NY Times called No Logo “a movement bible,” and the Guardian Newspaper short-listed it for their First Book Award. Her articles have appeared in The Nation, The New Statesman, Newsweek International, The New York Times, The Village Voice, Ms., The Baffler, and Saturday Night. She writes a weekly column in The Globe and Mail, Canada’s National Newspaper. For the past 5 years, Klein has traveled throughout North America, Asia, and Europe, tracking the rise of anti-corporate activism. She is a frequent media commentator and has guest lectured at Harvard, Yale and New York University. She lives in Toronto.
Kevin Danaher [bio from Feb, ’01]   Author, activist, speaker and The Director of Public Education for GLOBAL EXCHANGE which he co-founded. He is the author of 11 books, including his latest, Democratizing the Global Economy, and others such as, Corporations are Gonna Get Your Mama and 50 Years is Enough: The Case Against the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. He is currently writing a book on the history of the corporate accountability movement. Dr. Danaher has traveled widely in Africa, the Caribbean, Central America, North America and Ireland. He is familiar with the problems and prospects of economic development in many developing countries. His articles have appeared in The LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The International Herald Tribune, The Financial Times of Zimbabwe, Africa News, TransAfrica Forum, Harvard Educational Review, The Progressive among others. He currently lives in San Francisco with his wife, Medea Benjamin, and his two daughters, Arlen and Maya.



Highlights from all Dialogues


The Clinton Boom and the Recession
The concern that is being voiced is that the US doesn’t have enough savings. Because the reason the economy has been growing as fast as it has over the past 5 or 6 years—and it’s been growing faster than it had over most of the previous 20-25 five years, that’s why they talk about this miraculous economy—is because not just consumers but businesses have been spending at a much higher rate and have been saving at a much lower rate, and have been borrowing huge amounts of money to finance their spending. Now the more businesses and consumers borrow and spend, the more the economy’s going to keep expanding. But on the other hand, the limit comes at some point, as everybody knows. –Seth Ackerman

Social Security

There’s a lot of money, energy and time spent on trying to convince us that there’s an impending Social Security crisis that’s going to drag the nation into poverty and despair. It’s hokum. If you’re going to have to come up with some sort of extra savings, anybody could probably think of better places to take money out of than Social Security and Medicare. You could also increase savings by having the government tax rich people more and buying back government bonds. Economically speaking those are equivalent transactions; both of them raise savings and lower consumption, and then your problem is solved. But that’s not an option that tends to come up. –Seth Ackerman

The Fed
The Federal Reserve…Who elected them?…Nobody elected them. It’s an unelected body, even though Alan Greenspan is the single most important economic policy maker in the country. He’s not elected— he was appointed by the president. And moreover, the Federal Reserve committee that sets monetary policy has 12 members, and 5 of them are appointed by local reserve banks that are owned by private banks. So ultimately almost half of the committee that sets our monetary policy is appointed indirectly by the nation’s private bankers. –Seth Ackerman

Monetary vs. Fiscal Policy
Where did the Fed come from?  Alan Greenspan is the most important figure, but not 40 years ago, the head of the Fed was some reasonably minor banking functionary. There’s nothing in the structure of the economy that requires Alan Greenspan to be so important.  His is because there’s this constellation of power relations which have made monetary policy into what it is now — instead of taxes, instead of government spending, instead of what’s generally called fiscal policy.  Fiscal policy used to be the main avenue by which economists thought we could influence the economy; fiscal policy is controlled by congress; it is more accessible to democratic control.   –Michael Zweig

The Stock Market, Inflation, and Unemployment
People with a lot of money in stocks and bonds don’t like inflation, because when prices rise fast it erodes the value of the money they hold. It’s generally true that when unemployment goes lower, inflation goes a little higher, and in that trade-off, people have different interests. Those who work for a living would rather have lower unemployment, but if you have a lot of money in stocks and bonds, then the unemployment rate is not much of an issue for you. But when unemployment is getting too low for the tastes of those who tend to control the Federal Reserve, then Alan Greenspan can raise interest rates, making it harder for business to borrow money, hire workers, and make investments—and that’ll slow down the economy and raise unemployment. And ninety-nine percent of the time the Federal Reserve raises interest rates, its concern is that unemployment is too low. –Seth Ackerman

The doesn’t really mean what it sounds like it means.  It’s been accompanied over the last 20 years by a tremendous movement toward free-market, deregulatory, pro-business policies in the domestic countries involved… the destruction of unions, elimination of labor laws and labor regulations and, in most countries, a huge upward redistribution of wealth and an increase in profits.–Seth Ackerman

The World Bank and Globalization
You see this all the time in these poor countries. They’ll say to the World Bank, for example, we need to build a network of local, rural health clinics. This can be very simple—you can buy most of the building materials in the country itself so they can pay for it in their local currencies. Yet the World Bank will come in and insist that they borrow dollars. Why do they do that? Ultimately the World Bank knows that if these countries have a debt burden denominated in dollars, it requires them to constantly come up with the dollar earnings to pay them back, which means that instead of producing for the local market and the very basic needs that most of these very poor countries have, they have to produce for the world export market.  –Seth Ackerman

Money and Control of the IMF & World Bank
The IMF and the World Bank both operate on the basis of one dollar, one vote. In this sense they are like corporations.  The richest countries in the world—the U.S., Canada, Britain, Germany, France, Japan and Italy—have a working majority of the shares and therefore these seven countries basically own and control the IMF and the World Bank. The U.S. has the biggest share, one fifth. Where does the money come from? It comes from us, the taxpayers. –Robert Naiman

IMF Conditionality
The IMF can step in and lend money on an emergency basis to a country so that they can pay back their debts. But as a condition of the loan, the country has to agree to a laundry list of demands that the IMF will make, changing all sorts of economic policies in that country. Now the changes they have to make can be anything from lowering their minimum wage, to weakening labor laws so that unions can’t operate as freely. It almost always involves reducing the money spent on social programs such as health, education, and welfare.  –Seth Ackerman

Debt Forgiveness
When a commercial bank lends you money, if you cannot pay it off, standard, legally mandated accounting practice in the United States requires the bank to eventually write it off as a non-performing loan.  The IMF and the World Bank have always resisted this. At the end of the day, it’s about control. The debt is the leverage that allows the IMF and the World Bank to run these countries…  –Robert Naiman