The Global Economy In The Age Of The Pandemic And Beyond: An Interview With Political Economists Gerald Epstein And Robert Pollin

The global economy experienced a massive contraction in 2020, with the overall global GDP falling by 4.3 percent. Compare that with the 2008 global financial crisis, which triggered a 1.8 drop in global output in 2009, and it’s bluntly clear why the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) called the global recession triggered by the pandemic “unprecedented in recent history.” Moreover, the World Bank sees a subdued recovery in 2021, while noting simultaneously that “if history is any guide, the global economy is heading for a decade of growth disappointments unless policy makers put in place comprehensive reforms.” In addition, there are stern warnings from major establishment institutions about the impact of climate change on financial and economic activity that makes one wonder what the future holds for global development and prosperity.

With the above in mind, one needs to ask the following: Why did the ramifications of the CPVID-19 pandemic end up being so great and with far wider reaching effects than any other previous recession? Indeed, in what ways did the pandemic change the world? Moreover, did policymakers utilize all of the tools available to them to diminish the scope of the recession? And what should be done to ensure that economic recovery is steady and sustainable in the post-pandemic era?

In an interview below with C. J. Polychroniou, leading political economists Gerald Epstein and Robert Pollin shed considerable light on the above questions. Gerald Epstein is Professor of Economics and Co-Director of the Political Economy Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst; Robert Pollin is Distinguished Professor of Economics and Co-Director of the Political Economy Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.

C. J. Polychroniou:  The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic caused a massive contraction of global economic activity. In what ways is the Covid-19 induced  recession different from previous ones, including the 2008 global financial crisis, and how did it change the world?

Prof.dr. Robert Pollin

Robert Pollin: If we consider the roughly 90-year period from the 1929 Wall Street collapse to the present, it is certainly the case that our current COVID-19-induced recession has been unique. To begin with, it is the only recession that was caused by a public health pandemic. Of course, previous recessions did also have triggering events—for example, the collapse of speculative financial bubbles both in 1929 and 2007 and the near-doubling of global oil prices both in 1973 and again in 1979. But these previous economic “shocks” were occurring within the operations of the economic system, not the public health system.

The public health shock in 2020 produced a cascade of other impacts that were also unique. One was that the speed and intensity of the economic downturn was unprecedented, even relative to the months immediately after the October 1929 Wall Street crash, which ushered in the 1930s Great Depression. Focusing for the moment on the United States, the number of people who lost their jobs and filed for unemployment insurance went from 256,000 in the week of March 14, 2020 to 2.9 million, the following week of March 21, an 11-fold increase. Two weeks later, in the week of April 4, the number of people filing for unemployment insurance spiked still higher, to 6.1million people. That was a 24-fold increase in the three-week period between mid-March and early April. Over the full year since the onset of the pandemic, 78 million people have applied to receive unemployment insurance. That is approximately half of the entire U.S. workforce. Moreover, these figures do not include the millions of people who lost their jobs but did not either qualify for unemployment insurance, or didn’t apply for whatever reason. It also doesn’t take account of the 8 million people who dropped out of the labor force within a matter of two months only, between February and April 2020. Remember that the U.S. experienced this magnitude of job losses over the year since the COVID outbreak despite the federal government mounting stimulus programs in March and December of 2020 amounting to about $3 trillion (14 percent of U.S. GDP) and the Federal Reserve bailing out Wall Street with another $3 trillion in bond purchases.

The European economies did not experience such severe spikes in unemployment. For the 27-country European Union, unemployment did rise, but only from 6.5 percent in February 2020 to a peak of 7.8 percent in September, before returning to 7.3 percent as of January 2021.  This is despite the fact that the collapse in economic activity (as measured by GDP) was nearly as bad.  Job losses weren’t as severe in Europe because several of the countries, including Germany, the UK, Ireland, and Denmark operated with work-sharing programs. With work sharing, workers are able to retain their jobs, while moving onto part-time schedules consistent with the decline in their employers’ revenue. For example, if the restaurant industry experienced a 36 percent decline in revenue, the businesses did not lay off 36 percent, or thereabouts, of its work force. It rather retained its workforce, but moved the workers onto roughly two-thirds time schedules. The employers then paid workers for two-thirds of their normal pay, while the government work-sharing program covered the remaining one-third. Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, the head of the House Democratic Caucus, proposed such a program for the U.S., but her proposal went nowhere.

Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and India all experienced severe economic collapse during 2020. The expectation is that their recoveries will be slow and halting. This is first of all because, unlike the U.S. or Europe they don’t have the financial resources to mount major economic stimulus programs. They also haven’t been provided supplies of COVID vaccines at anywhere near the rate as the U.S. or even most of Europe. This is due to the pharmaceutical multinationals hoarding their vaccine patents rather than pushing out the vaccines as quickly as possible to all regions of the world, regardless of any country’s capacity to pay for them.

How long it will take to move the global economy onto a sustainable recovery path will depend, first of all, on how quickly inoculations become universal. Right now, it’s clear that protecting the profits of the pharma multinationals is taking priority over the health of the global population and an economic recovery.

C. J. Polychroniou: There is broad consensus that central banks can play a crucial role in supporting economic recovery. Did central banks respond to the Covid-19 pandemic as effectively as they could have? In other words, did they exhaust all of the available policy tools? And, if so, do they need new ones to combat the next economic downturn?

Prof.dr. Gerald Epstein

Gerald Epstein: The Covid-19 pandemic has had devastating impacts on the lives and livelihoods of millions of people around the globe. But for the wealthy, and for finance in particular, things have been mostly just fine.

The clearest picture of this contrast appears if one juxtaposes the global unemployment rate with the stock market we have experienced since the outbreak began in February 2020. As the pandemic took off in the Spring of 2020, global stock markets first crashed, and then, by the summer, started their gravity defying ascent. Meanwhile, the global deaths from the pandemic (or unemployment) have jumped and kept growing.

What accounts for this grotesque divergence? One key explanation is the massive financial intervention undertaken by the Federal Reserve (Fed), European Central Bank (ECB), Bank of England (BOE), and other central banks around the globe. When the pandemic first spread to Italy and then was announced by the World Health Organization (WHO) in February/March, panic gripped the global financial markets and these financial authorities immediately and massively stepped in. This enormous intervention led to a quick and remarkable recovery in global financial market activity and re-energized the “animal spirits” of stock market investors. But these interventions were much less favorable to workers, small businesses, and state and local/municipal governments, who were either more slowly helped by central government programs (in some countries) or not much at all (in others).

The intervention by the world’s major central banks was swift and powerful, much more so than with the Global Financial Crisis of 2007.  In late January, 2020, word spread that the Covid-19 epidemic broke out into the open in Wuhan China, but it wasn’t until early February that it was clear that the virus was going to spread beyond China. On February 21, 2020, Italy announced a lockdown in the northern part of the country and then the global financial markets began to fall, and panic soon ensued. Immediately there was a flight to safety, with banks, hedge funds, stock market investors and others selling off their financial assets and buying “safe assets” notably US Treasury securities, German government securities (bunds) and the like. But when price movements and costs in these usually “safe” assets began to go haywire, financial institutions and wealthy investors began a desperate search for cash, in which they tried to liquidate these safe assets and bought the shortest term government assets and held cash assets in major banks. During this period, the corporate bond market experienced major distress as investors worried about the shut-down effects on corporate profits and cash flow, and the ratings agencies began downgrading these corporate securities. In the US, the municipal bond markets were also hit hard around the same time. In turn, the Fed, Bank of England (BOE) and the European Central Bank (ECB) massively intervened in financial markets, lowering interest rates close to zero, buying trillions of dollars of government bonds and other financial assets, and then creating special lending facilities to prevent bankruptcies, liquidity crises and asset fire sales in various financial markets around the world. In the Covid Panic, the Federal Reserve and other major central banks used many of the same tools during the Covid Crisis, as they had used to stabilize and bail-out the financial markets during the GFC, but they also created some new facilities to deal with problems in the financial markets.

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Carel C.A. van den Berg – The Making Of The Statute Of The European System Of Central Banks

April, 2021. Parts of The Making Of The Statute Of The European System Of Central Banks can be found here:
http://rozenbergquarterly.com/the-making-of-the-statute-of-the-european-system-of-central-banks-contents-readers-guide/

You can download the complete book (PDF) here: C.C.A.vdBerg The MakingoftheStatue

Dutch University Press, Amsterdam, 2004, 2005 ISBN 90 3169 292 7 – This book is the commercial edition of the dissertation defended and approved at the Faculty of Economics and Business Administration of the Vrije Universiteit of Amsterdam on 29 October 2004 . Thesis printed by Thela Thesis – ISBN 90 5170 997 8 (2004).

Zur Thematik
The creation of the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) is one of the most profound steps in the monetary history of Europe, which has significance not only for professionals, politicians and academics, but also for everyday life. Among the accomplishments that stand out are the establishment of a federally structured European System of Central Banks (ESCB)[i]and the introduction of a single currency. The opinions and decisions of the European Central Bank (ECB)[ii] are almost daily topics for the national newspapers, discussions on its accountability (or perceived lack thereof) are recurrent topics in the European Parliament and political and academic circles. In short, the ECB has become a reality for almost everyone within a couple of years since its establishment. Technically it has been successful: the transition from national currencies to a single currency, the euro, has been a remarkably smooth process despite the gigantic scale of the operation. Though it is too early to evaluate how effective the ECB is in implementing its mandate, for the Monetary Union as a whole inflation rates are lower than they were during a large part of the nineties.

The legal underpinnings of the System and its independence have been extensively studied, see e.g. Stadler (1996), Smits (1997) and also Endler (1998). Also, from a political angle, the degree in which the negotiations leading up to the signing of the so-called Treaty of Maastricht in February 1992 could be characterized as a success for the German or for the French negotiators has been analyzed, e.g. by Viebig (1999) and Dyson/Featherstone (1999). In many respects these authors have concluded that it was a German success. However, the ESCB is not a copy of an existing central bank, not even the Bundesbank. It has been established on the basis of a unique Statute.[iii] This Statute will guide the ECB, also in the future. But like many texts, the Statute is sometimes ambiguous. For a right interpretation of the texts it is important to know their genesis. Sometimes wording was copied from existing other texts, sometimes texts are a delicate compromise, sometimes texts have a difficult technical history.

What distinguishes this study from these other studies is that these studies analyzed the ESCB from only one perspective, i.e. either from a legal, political or economic point of view. This study aims to show how political, economic and institutional considerations were combined and have found their way into the (legal) wording of the ESCB Statute. To this end I focus on each article, describing the economic rationale behind it as well as its genesis, systematically using historical sources which until now have not been used for these purposes. The perspective I take in order to interpret, analyse and assess the Statute of the ESCB is that of checks and balances. We will identify and study the ‘checks and balances’ which have been introduced in the Statute of the ESCB. ‘Checks and balances’ are an important characteristic of any federally designed system. They are part of the ‘rules of the game’, which have to be taken into account by the components of the system, which rules should ensure the system’s stability and effectiveness. For instance, ‘checks and balances’ prevent the possibility of ‘winner takes all’, because this would mean the end of the federal character. A clear normative framework for checks and balances for federal central bank systems is not available, though there are general notions which any workable system of checks and balances has to accord with. Therefore, we will develop a framework to describe the checks and balances in central bank systems.

The concept of checks and counterchecks also played a role when the American central bank system (the Federal Reserve System, FRS) was designed. A nice description can be found in P.M. Warburg in his book ‘The Federal Reserve System, Its Origins and Growth’ (1930), p. 166: ‘The position of the Reserve Board, as designed in the Act [of 1913], was bound to prove exasperatingly difficult and trying. The office was burdened with the handicap, commonly imposed upon so many branches of administration in a democracy, of a system of checks and counter-checks – a paralyzing system which gives powers with one hand and takes them away with the other. […] Success or failure in such cases generally depends on the wisdom with which the balancing of the checks and counter-checks in a legislative act is handled, and on the intelligence with which, later on, the act is administered.’ And ibidem p. 170: ‘[….] many attempts were made to find a satisfactory answer to the tantalizing puzzle of how to safeguard the autonomy of the reserve banks while giving, at the same time, adequate coordinating and directing powers to the Reserve Board.’ From our study it appears that these considerations were still relevant for the conception of the European central bank.

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A Green New Deal Is Actually More Affordable In the Long Term Than Fossil Fuels

CJ Polychroniou

With global warming representing humanity’s greatest existential crisis, reducing carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2050, as recommended by the 2018 report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), should be one of the U.S.’s most urgent priorities. We need a Green New Deal now.

In examining the urgency of this necessity, we must recognize the current state of climate response in this country and around the world. Five years ago, the Paris Agreement on climate change was adopted. It was called “historic” because all members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change committed themselves to limiting global warming below 2 — and ideally to 1.5 — degrees Celsius (2°C) compared to pre-industrial levels. Yet progress toward that goal has been slow, where it has happened at all.

We are just emerging from the Trump era, when the former leader of the world’s largest economy and of the most powerful nation/empire in history not only questioned the science around climate change and withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement, but also dismantled scores of environmental regulations and even reversed an Obama-rule on methane emissions — even though methane, the natural ingredient in natural gas, is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

While some investors are shifting away from the fossil fuel economy, close to 85 percent of global primary energy still comes from coal, oil and gas. And no one should be led to believe that the temporary decline of greenhouse gas emissions during the COVID pandemic will last once the virus is brought under control.

As a matter of fact, while fossil fuel production needs to be decreased by roughly 6 percent between 2020 and 2030 in order for countries to remain in line with the 1.5°C target, governments are planning instead to increase fossil fuel production by an average of 2 percent annually, according to a report released by the Stockholm Environment Institute, together with the UN Environment Program and other leading research institutions.

In addition, between 2016 and 2020, the world’s largest banks have put collectively $3.8 trillion into fossil fuel companies, a development which may perhaps be the best indication of the toothless design behind the Paris climate accord and why it is naïve and dangerous to rely on the “invisible hand” of the market either for economic transformation or for a solution to the problem of climate change. Indeed, as climate economist Nicholas Stern put it more than a decade ago, greenhouse gas emissions “represent the biggest market failure the world has seen.”

Meanwhile, climate change denial remains prevalent, including among national leaders such as Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil and former President Trump.

The return of the U.S. to the Paris climate agreement, combined with Joe Biden’s executive order which explicitly recognizes that the United States and the world face “a profound climate crisis” and that tackling global warming will be a central objective in U.S. foreign policy and national security, are surely welcome news, but the efforts to combat global warming need to intensify. We need a well laid out plan for a swift transition away from fossil fuel and towards clean and renewable energy systems. As the World Meteorological Organization warned in a report issued back in March 2020, “time is fast running out.”

The Green New Deal is the best proposal we have to decarbonize the economy and protect the planet from the dire consequences of global warming, including hotter heat waves, increased tropical storms and floods, prolonged droughts, loss of freshwater, flooding of coastal areas, large-scale migration and potentially, eventually, human extinction.

The Green New Deal is portrayed as unaffordable, but in fact, it is financially manageable, especially given what is at stake if we fail to stop irreversible and disastrous changes to our climate system. According to leading economist Robert Pollin of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, the global economy must spend an average of $4.5 trillion per year (or 2.5 percent of global GDP) between 2024-2050 in clean energy investments in order to hit the 2050 IPCC emissions reduction target. This estimate is corroborated by the latest study from the International Renewable Energy Agency, which puts the figure that needs to be invested for the energy transition at $4.4 trillion per year.

In addition to staving off the worst effects of global warming, the transition to a clean energy economy through the Green New Deal will also boost economic growth by creating millions of new, well-paying jobs in manufacturing, construction, energy, sustainable agriculture, engineering, and other sectors of the economy.

Pollin has shown in various published studies that the transition to clean energy systems will prove economically beneficial, expanding job opportunities across the economic spectrum. With respect to the United States, the employment opportunities that will be generated from the infrastructure programs designed to move the economy towards clean energy systems amount to millions of jobs.

Additionally, a transition to clean and zero-emission energy systems will substantially reduce energy costs and health care expenses. According to Mark Jacobson, one of the authors of a Green New Deal energy study published in the journal One Earth, the world will spend around $13 trillion per year on energy by 2050 if we are still reliant on fossil fuels, but the cost drops to $6.8 trillion if we are using clean, renewable energy. According to the same study, trillions of dollars will also be saved each year in health costs, because the Green New Deal would reduce toxic air and water pollution, which are now responsible for millions of deaths annually.

However, powerful economic interests and lack of political will stand in the way of a shift away from fossil fuels and toward a green economy. These two determinants are intertwined and must be addressed simultaneously if civilization is to continue to exist in any recognizable form.

The fossil fuel industry — which has been fully aware of the damage that its products cause to the environment but managed until fairly recently to hide this fact from the public — should be treated like a pariah and phased out. Banks and international financial institutions should be banned from funding fossil fuel production. “Environcide,” the deliberate destruction of the environment, should be recognized by international law as a crime against humanity, as Emmanuel Kreike has argued in his new book, Scorched Earth: Environmental Warfare as a Crime against Humanity and Nature. In addition, fossil fuel subsidies, which are estimated to run into hundreds of billions of dollars annually, must end.

In sum, all financial and political links to the fossil fuel industry must be severely disrupted if any serious progress is to be made toward building a green economy on a global scale.

The struggle to save the planet is the biggest challenge that has ever faced humanity, and time is running out. In this century, we will find out if our species is equipped to overcome its own narrow interests and work toward achieving a sustainable future not just for us, but for all life on planet Earth.


Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. His main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, the political economy of the United States and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published several books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Croatian, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish. He is the author of Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthoutand collected by Haymarket Books.

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Alias Bob Dylan – Heimwee naar de verbeelding

Het moet 1964 geweest zijn toen de mythe ontstond dat de jonge Robert Zimmerman, afkomstig uit Hibbing, Minnesota, als een soort eerbetoon aan de Ierse dichter Dylan Thomas, zijn naam had veranderd in Bob Dylan. Tot ver in de jaren zeventig dook het verhaal in allerlei artikelen en beschouwingen over Dylan op. In 1965 had Dylan al tegen een journalist van The Chicago Daily News gezegd: ‘I took the name Dylan because I have an uncle named Dillion. I changed the spelling but only because it looked better. I’ve read some of Dylan Thomas’s stuff, and it’s not the same as mine’.
Robert Shelton, journalist bij The New York Times, begon in 1966 aan een biografie over Dylan (No Direction Home. Het boek zou pas in 1986 verschijnen). Verschillende malen liet Dylan aan Shelton weten: ‘Straigthen out in your book that I did not take my name from Dylan Thomas’.
Dylan was Shelton sowieso dankbaar, want in september 1961 had Shelton in de New York Times de eerste – lovende – recensie over een optreden van Dylan geschreven. Dylan was op dat moment slechts bekend bij een kleine kring van bezoekers van folkcafé’s in Greenwich Village. De recensie bracht hem onder de aandacht van Columbia Records en van producer John Hammond en bezorgde hem een platencontract.

Interview
Inmiddels weten we dat veel van wat Dylan in interviews verklaarde met een flinke korrel zout genomen moet worden. Met biografische gegevens is hij altijd uiterst karig geweest en verschillende verhalen die hij over zijn jeugd en puberjaren vertelde, bleken achteraf geheel verzonnen. Legendarisch is een van zijn eerste radio-interviews. Nog voor de release van zijn eerste plaat interviewde presentatrice Cynthia Gooding hem in maart 1962 een uur lang voor WBAI-FM Radio, New York. Onduidelijk is of het programma ooit is uitgezonden maar het is gelukkig wel bewaard gebleven. [1] Zo vertelt hij Gooding dat hij op jeugdige leeftijd wegliep van huis en enkele jaren met een circus door de Verenigde Staten was getrokken. In New Orleans zou hij op 12-jarige leeftijd kennis gemaakt hebben met oude bluesmuzikanten die hem het mondharmonicaspelen hadden geleerd. Niets van waar: het bleken gefingeerde biografische verhalen. Soortgelijke ‘herinneringen’ zou hij in zijn beginjaren nog wel vaker verkondigen.

Artiestennaam
Maar als de naam Dylan geen betrekking had op Dylan Thomas, op wie dan wel? Dylan vertelde vrienden dat de naam gebaseerd was op Dillon, de achternaam van zijn moeder. Maar dat was niet waar zo bleek later, de moeder van Robert Zimmerman heette Beatrice Stone.
Over de oom Dillion heeft Dylan nooit meer gesproken.
In zijn highschool-jaren trad Robert Zimmerman zo nu en dan op schoolfeesten en county fairs op samen met jeugdvriend John Bucklen, overigens niet altijd tot genoegen van het publiek.
Voor iemand die het ver wilde schoppen in de muziek, en dat wilde de jonge Robert, was Zimmerman wellicht geen goeie artiestennaam. In 1958 zei hij tegen Bucklen: ‘I know what I’m going to call myself. I’ve got this great name – Bob Dillon.’
Misschien is de achtergrond van de naam Dylan dan ook veel minder prozaïsch dan vaak gesuggereerd. Robert Zimmerman was in zijn jeugd een grote fan van de westerntelevisieserie Gunsmoke, waarin de  rechtvaardige Marshal Matt Dillon (acteur James Arness) in het westernstadje Dodge City de orde weet te handhaven. Mogelijk is de Dillon/Dylan-naamgeving niet meer dan de jeugddroom een held te willen zijn, of op zijn minst zich te willen onderscheiden van de rest.

Westernseries
Hibbing, een plaatsje met zo’n tienduizend inwoners was tot bloei gekomen dankzij de omringende ijzerertsmijnen, maar in de jaren vijftig was de bloeitijd van het stadje al lang voorbij. Voor de opgroeiende jeugd was er niet veel te beleven. Er was een bioscoop, meer vermaak was er niet. In 1952 kon het gezin Zimmerman zich als eerste in Hibbing een televisie veroorloven. De jonge Bob bracht met zijn vrienden urenlang voor het toestel door.
Hij keek naar musicals en variety shows, maar zijn voorkeur ging uit naar westernseries als Wyatt Earrp, Kit Carson, Davey Crockett, maar vooral de serie Gunsmoke was zijn favoriet.

Vertraagd geweld
Van de serie Gunsmoke werden tussen 1955 en 1975 635 afleveringen gemaakt. Met kijkersogen van nu, ruim zestig jaar later, oogt de serie als uitermate braaf. In de volgens een vast stramien opgebouwde afleveringen werden de problemen in het keurige, burgerlijke plaatsje Dodge City op een beschaafde manier door Marshal Dillon opgelost. Daarbij vielen natuurlijk wel schoten en doden vielen er ook, maar zichtbaar bloed vloeide er nooit.
Voor veel acteurs en regisseurs was de serie het startpunt van hun carrière. Bijvoorbeeld voor Dennis Weaver, die in de jaren zeventig de succesvolle serie McCloud maakte, en voor regisseur Sam Peckinpah. Peckinpah had al naam gemaakt als scenarioschrijver van tientallen afleveringen van de populaire westernserie Broken Arrow, maar voor Gunsmoke mocht hij het als regisseur proberen. Tussen 1955 en 1958 regisseerde hij elf afleveringen. Daarnaast maakte hij afleveringen van de westernseries The Rifleman en The Westerner. In de jaren zestig regisseerde hij de westerns Wichita, Major Dundee en Villa Rides. Bekendheid kreeg Peckinpah in 1969 als regisseur van de snoeiharde western The Wild Bunch, waarin hij alle film- en westernwetten overtrad door geweld vooral zo bloedig mogelijk in beeld te brengen, het liefst vertraagd vertoond en vanuit verschillende camerastandpunten gefilmd. In de jaren zeventig zou vertraagd geweld Peckinpahs handelsmerk blijken te zijn. Hij maakte onder meer films als Straw Dogs, The Getaway, Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia en Cross of Iron. In 1973 maakte hij zijn laatste western, Pat Garret and Billy the Kid, met in de hoofdrollen James Coburn en Kris Kristofferson.
Dylan, bevriend met Kristofferson, toonde interesse in een rol in de film en kreeg via de producer het script toegespeeld. Hij ging naar een voorstelling van The Wild Bunch en raakte zozeer enthousiast over de stijl van Peckinpah dat hij meteen erna de song Billy the Kid schreef. [2] Peckinpah was onder de indruk van het nummer en draaide het vrijwel continu.
Dylan mocht de soundtrack voor de film schrijven en kreeg zowaar een rolletje toebedeeld, als Alias, een hulpje van Billy the Kid.

Pseudoniemen
Alias. Hoe toepasselijk kan een naam zijn, want in de loop der jaren bediende Dylan zich van vele pseudoniemen. Hij noemde zich Elston Gunn toen hij in 1959 drie dagen lang deel uitmaakte van de begeleidingsgroep van vroege rocker Bobby Vee, totdat hij uit de band werd gezet omdat hij teveel aandacht van het publiek opeiste. Als Tedham Porterhouse speelde hij in 1964 harmonica op de elpee Ramblin’ Jack van Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. In datzelfde jaar speelde hij als Blind Boy Grunt enkele songs op een plaat van het folktijdschrift Broadside.
Op de elpee The Blues Project. A Compendium of the Very Best on the Urban Blues Scene uit 1965, met o.a. Geoff Mudaur, Dave van Ronk en Eric von Schmidt, speelt hij piano als Bob Landy.[3] ‘To musicians, his piano playing is almost legend’, staat vermeld in de hoestekst. In 1972 verscheen hij als Robert Milkwood Thomas (!) op de plaat Somebody Else’s Troubles van Steve Goodman. Als Lucky Wilbury maakte hij deel uit van The Traveling Wilburys, de groep met George Harrison, Jeff Lynne, Roy Orbison en Tom Petty (1988), op hun tweede plaat heette hij Boo Wilbury (1990). Onder de naam Sergei Petrov schreef hij mee aan het scenario voor de film Masked and Anonymous (2003), waarin Dylan de rocklegende Jack Fate speelt. De afgelopen decennia produceerde hij zijn eigen platen onder de naam Jack Frost.

Speelfilms
Bob Dylan is een filmliefhebber, dat is bekend. In 1956, na het zien van de film Giant met James Dean, wilde hij niets liever dan de nieuwe James Dean worden. Zijn rebellie uitte hij dan wel niet als filmster maar als folk- en rockartiest, zijn liefde voor film en met name voor western is in zijn songs terug te vinden.
Michael Gray, auteur van de indrukwekkende studie Song & Dance Man III. The Art of Bob Dylan (2000), was de eerste die merkte dat sommige passages in Dylansongs een opvallende overeenkomst vertoonden met dialogen of zinsneden uit speelfilms. Nauwgezette studie bracht aan het licht dat Dylan uit maar liefst 61 speelfilms citaten in songs heeft gebruikt, of verwijst naar filmtitels.[4] Negen daarvan zijn westerns, negentien titels – waarvan zes films met Humphrey Bogart – stammen uit de jaren veertig en vijftig, de periode van de film noir, bijvoorbeeld Casablana, To Have and Have Not, Shoot the Piano Player en Rear Window.

Enkele voorbeelden:

The Big Sleep (1946)
Bogart: ‘What’s wrong with you?’
Bacall: ‘Nothing you can’t fix’

Dylan in Seeing the Real You at Last:
‘At one time there was nothing wrong with me,
That you could not fix’

The Oklahoma Kid (1939)
Cagney: ‘You want to talk with me’
Bogart: ‘Go ahead and talk’

Dylan in Tight Connection on my Heart:
‘You want to talk to me
Go ahead and talk’

The Lusty Men (1952)
Mitchum: ‘Broken bottles, broken bones, everything is broken’

Dylan in Everything is Broken:
‘Broken bottles, broken plates,
Broken switches, broken gates

Everything is broken’

In Bronco Billy (1980), een film over een rodeocowboy (eigenlijk een moderne western) zegt Clint Eastwood: ‘I’m looking for a woman who can ride like Annie Oakley and shoot like Belle Starr’.[5] In de song Seeing the Real You at Last (1985) zingt Dylan:

‘When I met you baby

You didn’t show no visible scars.
You could ride like Annie Oakley
You could shoot like Belle Starr’

Het zou zo een citaat uit een film met Humphrey Bogart kunnen zijn.

 

Amerika
Meer nog dan Dylans soundtrack voor Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid ademt zijn achtste elpee John Wesley Harding de sfeer van een westernfilm uit. Titel en titelsong verwijzen niet alleen naar outlaw en gunfighter John Wesley Hardin (1853-1895), een song als The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest roept beelden op van een westernstadje waar oplichters, mysterieuze godsdienstpredikers en zwervende outlaws de dienst uitmaken. Beelden zoals we die wel kennen uit klassieke westernfilms. Op de plaat heerst een geheimzinnige, soms onheilspellende sfeer, waarbij een Bijbels noodlot ieder moment lijkt te kunnen toeslaan. (De plaat bevat zo’n zestig verwijzingen naar de Bijbel, maar dat is een ander verhaal.)

Big Pink – Woodstock

De elpee dateert uit dezelfde periode (1968) waarin de beroemde Basement Tapes werden opgenomen. Dylan en The Band namen ruim honderd songs op in de kelder van het huis Big Pink in Woodstock. De in 1975 uitgebrachte plaat The Basement Tapes was hiervan slechts een magere selectie. De in 2014 uitgebrachte box The Basement Tapes Raw, The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 bood bijna alle opgenomen songs. De opnames lijken die van John Wesley Harding in een breder kader te plaatsen. Oude folk- en bluessongs en nieuwe songs van Dylan schetsen het beeld van een verdwenen Amerika, een negentiende eeuws gebied bevolkt door outlaws, hobo’s, landarbeiders, slaven en immigranten. Ballades uit de Appalachian Mountains, countrysongs, murderballads, kinderliedjes en gospelsongs vertellen de geschiedenis van dat verdwenen Amerika. The Basement Tapes weerspiegelen dat verleden en maken de luisteraar deelgenoot van die geschiedenis, alsof het filmbeelden zijn van een nog te maken epos over een mythisch, vrijwel vergeten land. Een land dat misschien alleen in de verbeelding bestaat. In die verbeelding kan Marshall Matt Dillon de orde handhaven.

Noten
[1] Het interview met Dylan is te beluisteren op https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=483m8ADfG48
[2] Bob Dylan: Billy the Kid (audio) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEi83f_CEqM
[3] Geoff Mudaur, Downtown Blues, on piano Bob Landy (audio) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCSsCK86ldc
[4] Movie quotes in Bob Dylan songs http://www.geocities.ws/linwood/cinema/Dylan-Film/
[5] Annie Oakley (1860-1926), legendarische Amerikaanse scherpschutster. Belle Starr (1848- 1889), outlaw, maakte deel uit van de bende van Jesse en Frank James.

De oudste bewegende beelden van Dylan (ca.1961)

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Noam Chomsky: Biden’s Foreign Policy Is Largely Indistinguishable From Trump’s

Noam Chomsky

President Joe Biden’s domestic policies, especially on the economic front, are quite encouraging, offering plenty of hope for a better future. The same, however, cannot be said about the administration’s foreign policy agenda, as Noam Chomsky’s penetrating insights and astute analysis reveal in this exclusive interview for Truthout. Chomsky is a world-famous public intellectual, Institute Professor Emeritus at MIT and Laureate Professor of Linguistics at the University of Arizona.

C.J. Polychroniou: Noam, two months after being in the White House, Biden’s foreign policy agenda is beginning to take shape. What are the signs so far of how the Biden administration intends to address the challenges to U.S. hegemony posed by its primary geopolitical rivals, namely Russia and China?

Noam Chomsky: The challenge to U.S. hegemony posed by Russia and particularly China has been a major theme of foreign policy discourse for some time, with persistent agreement on the severity of the threat.
The matter is plainly complex. It’s a good rule of thumb to cast a skeptical eye when there is general agreement on some complex issue. This is no exception.

What we generally find, I think, is that Russia and China sometimes deter U.S. actions to enforce its global hegemony in regions on their periphery that are of particular concern to them. One can ask whether they are justified in seeking to limit overwhelming U.S. power in this way, but that is a long distance from the way the challenge is commonly understood: as an effort to displace the U.S. global role in sustaining a liberal rule-based international order by new centers of hegemonic power.

Do Russia and China actually challenge U.S. hegemony in the ways commonly understood?
Russia is not a major actor in the world scene, apart from the military force that is a (very dangerous) residue of its earlier status as a second superpower. It does not begin to compare with the U.S. in outreach and influence.

China has undergone spectacular economic growth, but it is still far from approaching U.S. power in just about any dimension. It remains a relatively poor country, ranked 85th in the UN Human Development Index, between Brazil and Ecuador. The U.S., while not ranked near the top because of its poor social welfare record, is far above China. In military strength and global outreach (bases, forces in active combat), there is no comparison. U.S.-based multinationals have about half of world wealth and are first (sometimes second) in just about every category. China is far behind. China also faces serious internal problems (ecological, demographic, political). The U.S., in contrast, has internal and security advantages unmatched anywhere.

Take sanctions, a major instrument of world power for one country on Earth: the U.S. They are, furthermore, third-party sanctions. Disobey them, and you’re out of luck. You can be tossed out of the world financial system, or worse. It’s pretty much the same wherever we look.

If we look at history, we find regular echoes of Sen. Arthur Vandenberg’s 1947 advice to the president that he should “scare hell out of the American people” if he wanted to whip them up to a frenzy of fear over the Russian threat to take over the world. It would be necessary to be “clearer than truth,” as explained by Dean Acheson, one of the creators of the postwar order. He was referring to NSC-68 of 1950, a founding document of the Cold War, declassified decades later. Its rhetoric continues to resound in one or another form, again today about China.

NSC-68 called for a huge military build-up and imposition of discipline on our dangerously free society so that we can defend ourselves from the “slave state” with its “implacable purpose… to eliminate the challenge of freedom” everywhere, establishing “total power over all men [and] absolute authority over the rest of the world.” And so on, in an impressive flow.

China does confront U.S. power — in the South China Sea, not the Atlantic or Pacific. There is an economic challenge as well. In some areas, China is a world leader, notably renewable energy, where it is far ahead of other countries in both scale and quality. It is also the world’s manufacturing base, though profits go mostly elsewhere, to managers like Taiwan’s Foxconn or investors in Apple, which is increasingly reliant on intellectual property rights — the exorbitant patent rights that are a core part of the highly protectionist “free trade” agreements.

China’s global influence is surely expanding in investment, commerce, takeover of facilities (such as management of Israel’s major port). That influence is likely to expand if it moves forward with provision of vaccines virtually at cost in comparison with the West’s hoarding of vaccines and its impeding of distribution of a “People’s Vaccine” so as to protect corporate patents and profits. China is also advancing substantially in high technology, much to the consternation of the U.S., which is seeking to impede its development.

It is rather odd to regard all of this as a challenge to U.S. hegemony.

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