Archive | November, 2013

Sorry, Folks, Rich People Actually Don’t ‘Create The Jobs’

29 Nov

Slika

As America struggles with high unemployment and record inequality, everyone is offering competing solutions to the problem.

In this war of words (and classes), one thing has been repeated so often that many people now regard it as fact.

“Rich people create the jobs.”

Specifically, by starting and directing America’s companies, rich entrepreneurs and investors create the jobs that sustain everyone else.

This statement is usually invoked to justify cutting taxes on entrepreneurs and investors.  If only we reduce those taxes and regulations, the story goes, entrepreneurs and investors can be incented to build more companies and create more jobs.

This argument ignores the fact that taxes on entrepreneurs and investors are already historically low, even after this year’s modest increases. And it ignores the assertions of many investors and entrepreneurs (like me) that they would work just as hard to build companies even if taxes were higher.

But, more importantly, this argument perpetuates a myth that some well-off Americans use to justify today’s record inequality — the idea that rich people create the jobs.

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In the last 15 years, almost all of the income gains have gone to the richest Americans.

Entrepreneurs and investors like me actually don’t create the jobs — not sustainable ones, anyway.

Yes, we can create jobs temporarily, by starting companies and funding losses for a while. And, yes, we are a necessary part of the economy’s job-creation engine. But to suggest that we alone are responsible for the jobs that sustain the other 300 million Americans is the height of self-importance and delusion.

So, if rich people do not create the jobs, what does?

A healthy economic ecosystem — one in which most participants (the middle class) have plenty of money to spend.

Over the last couple of years, a rich investor and entrepreneur named Nick Hanauer has annoyed all manner of rich investors and entrepreneurs by explaining this in detail. Hanauer was the founder of online advertising company aQuantive, which Microsoft bought for $6.4 billion. 

What creates a company’s jobs, Hanauer explains, is a healthy economic ecosystem surrounding the company, which starts with the company’s customers.

The company’s customers buy the company’s products. This, in turn, channels money to the company and creates the need for the company to hire employees to produce, sell, and service those products. If the company’s customers and potential customers go broke, the demand for the company’s products will collapse. And the jobs will disappear, regardless of what the entrepreneurs or investors do.

Now, again, entrepreneurs are an important part of the company-creation process. And so are investors, who risk capital in the hope of earning returns. But, ultimately, whether a new company continues growing and creates self-sustaining jobs is a function of the company’s customers’ ability and willingness to pay for the company’s products, not the entrepreneur or the investor capital. Suggesting that “rich entrepreneurs and investors” create the jobs, therefore, Hanauer observes, is like suggesting that squirrels create evolution.

Or, to put it even more simply, it’s like saying that a seed creates a tree. The seed does not create the tree. The seed starts the tree. But what actually grows and sustains the tree is the combination of the DNA in the seed and the soil, sunshine, water, atmosphere, nutrients, and other factors that nurture it. Plant a seed in an inhospitable environment, like a desert or Mars, and the seed won’t create anything. It will die.

So, then, if what creates the jobs in our economy is, in part, “customers,” who are these customers? And what can we do to make sure these customers have more money to spend to create demand and, thus, jobs?

The customers of most companies are ultimately American’s gigantic middle class — the hundreds of millions of Americans who currently take home a much smaller share of the national income than they did 30 years ago, before tax policy aimed at helping rich people get richer created an extreme of income and wealth inequality not seen since the 1920s.

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America’s middle class has been pummeled, in part, by tax policies that reward “the 1%” at the expense of everyone else. 

It has also been pummeled by globalization and technology improvements, which are largely outside of any one country’s control.

The prevailing story that justifies tax cuts for America’s entrepreneurs and investors is that the huge pots of gold they take home are supposed to “trickle down” to the middle class and thus benefit everyone.

Unfortunately, that’s not the way it actually works.

First, America’s companies are currently being managed to share the least possible amount of their income with the employees who help create it. Corporate profit margins are at all-time highs, while wages are at an all-time low.

Second, as Hanauer observes, America’s richest entrepreneurs, investors, and companies now have so much money that they can’t possibly spend it all. So instead of getting pumped back into the economy, thus creating revenue and wages, this cash just remains in investment accounts.

Hanauer explains why.

Hanauer takes home more than $10 million a year of income. On this income, he says, he pays an 11% tax rate. (Presumably, most of the income is dividends and long-term capital gains, which carry a tax rate of about 20%. And then he probably has some tax shelters that knock the rate down the rest of the way).

With the more than $9 million a year Hanauer keeps, he buys lots of stuff. But, importantly, he doesn’t buy as much stuff as would be bought if his $9 million were instead earned by 9,000 Americans each taking home an extra $1,000 a year.

Why not?

Because, despite Hanauer’s impressive lifestyle — his family owns a plane — most of the $9+ million just goes straight into the bank (where it either sits and earns interest or gets invested in companies that ultimately need strong demand to sell products and create jobs). For a specific example, Hanauer points out that his family owns 3 cars, not the 3,000 cars that might be bought if his $9+ million were taken home by a few thousand families.

If that $9+ million had gone to 9,000 families instead of Hanauer, it would almost certainly have been pumped right back into the economy via consumption (i.e., demand). And, in so doing, it would have created more jobs.

Hanauer estimates that, if most American families were taking home the same share of the national income that they were taking home 30 years ago, every family would have another $10,000 of disposable income to spend.

That, Hanauer points out, would have a huge impact on demand — and, thereby job creation.

So, if nothing else, it’s time we stopped perpetuating the fiction that “rich people create the jobs.”

Rich people don’t create the jobs.

Our economy creates jobs.

We’re all in this together. And until we understand that, our economy is going to go nowhere.

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Arctic 30 prisoners sent messages to each other on pipes, says Alex Harris

29 Nov

Prisoners used spoons to clang in code on metal plumbing during 23-hour daily stretches in solitary cells in Russia

  • The Guardian, Friday 29 November 2013
  • Slika
  • British Greenpeace activist Alex Harris has described how she and fellow Arctic 30 protesters held in a Russian prison managed to communicate with each other by tapping out messages on a pipe.

    Harris, from Exeter, said she was terrified during her time in the Murmansk jail. “I didn’t know where my friends were, what was going on, no one could speak English and I couldn’t communicate with anyone. I couldn’t sleep, it was horrible,” she said.

    But the 27-year-old said the group of 28 Greenpeace activists and two journalists devised coded messages that “kept her going” during the 23 hours a day she spent alone in her cell.

    She said: “There was a radiator pipe that ran all the way through the prison. So we got out a pen or a spoon and tapped on it.

    “One tap was A, two taps was B, and three taps was C. Sometimes it would take 10 minutes to say something and someone would go, ‘Please repeat’ and you’d go, ‘Oh no!’.”

    Harris was among 30 people onboard the Greenpeace ship Arctic Sunrise arrested in September when activists tried to scale an offshore oil rig in the Russian Arctic owned by the energy giant Gazprom.

    Russian authorities initially charged the group with piracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 15 years’ imprisonment.

    Harris told the BBC: “The girls and I were chatting one day and saying we can’t even have children any more.”

    Harris said she experienced moments of panic, especially when the detainees were moved to a jail in St Petersburg because she was scared of “the unknown”.

    All the protesters have been released on bail, but all face possible trial on charges of hooliganism, which has a maximum penalty of seven years.

    Harris said she did not regret her decision to join Arctic Sunrise. She did not blame Greenpeace because, she said, no one could have predicted what happened.

    She rejected the suggestion that the Greenpeace protesters should have taken greater care following the imprisonment of the Pussy Riot activists.

    She said: “I never compared myself to Pussy Riot because they were protesting against the Russian regime and we were protesting about oil.”

Moon Mining Rush Ahead?

14 Nov

A commercial space company wants the U.S. government to give it lunar mining rights.

Slika

Dan Vergano

National Geographic

Published November 13, 2013

The Man Who Sold the Moon? A private space company’s chief, Robert Bigelow of Bigelow Aerospace Inc., called for the Federal Aviation Administration to allow property rights for lunar mining, at a Tuesday NASA briefing.

The North Las Vegas, Nevada-based firm already has a contract, announced in January, to provide the U.S. space agency with an experimental inflatable habitat for the International Space Station in 2015.

Now Bigelow, 69, wants private space companies (such as his own and Elon Musk’s SpaceX rocket firm) to take a larger role in expanding NASA’s astronaut explorations to beyond the space station’s orbit. (See “Moon Exploration.”)

And he wants the U.S. government to offer those firms a potential payoff—rights to mine the moon, echoing recent calls to mine asteroids. “The time has come to get serious about lunar property rights,” said Bigelow, speaking at a briefing with NASA manned spaceflight chief William Gerstenmaier.

Moon Base Miners

“Ultimately, permanent lunar bases will have to be anchored to permanent commercial facilities,” he said. “Without property rights there will be no justification for investment and the risk to life.”

According to the FAA, however, the agency only regulates launches and reentries of rockets from orbit, and doesn’t oversee activities of spacecraft. The latest U.S. Commercial Space Act doesn’t mention lunar mining.

Bigelow Aerospace attorney Mike Gold, however, maintained that the agency’s oversight of launches made it the right place to start asking for permission to mine the moon.

Asteroid Mining on the Moon

In recent years, a number of nascent asteroid-mining firms such as Planetary Resources, Inc. of Bellevue, Washington, have announced plans to prospect space rocks orbiting near Earth for rare earths or platinum. (See “Asteroid Mining Metal Abundance.”)

“Asteroids have been hitting the moon for a long time, especially on the back side,” Bigelow said at the briefing, arguing that mining rare earths and other valuable resources would be even easier on the lunar surface.

He described future miners at these asteroid impact sites as “just walking around, picking stuff up from the ground.”

An inflatable moon base designed by his firm would land itself, in his view, after assembly in orbit around the moon.

Lunar Rights Conundrum

Leaving aside the costs of moon rockets and the return of heavy minerals from the moon to Earth, a number of legal obstacles stands in the way of moon miners, says space law expert James Dunstan of Mobius Legal Group in Springfield, Virginia.

Space exploration advocates have called for lunar property rights since the days of the moon landings. However, the Outer Space Treaty prohibits nations from claiming territorial rights on the moon, which is widely seen as precluding them from awarding property rights to lunar resources.

Gold argued that the treaty, signed by the major space-faring nations, does allow for property rights claims, something to be examined in the opinion the firm  plans to request from the FAA.

Dunstan is dubious, however, saying, “While Bigelow may be trying to force the U.S. government’s hand by seeking an opinion from the FAA, the FAA cannot (and my guess is would not) render an opinion as to the legality of mining the moon.”

Private Space Partnerships

Bigelow’s announcement came amid the release of the second half of a report, requested from the firm by NASA, on whether the space agency should seek commercial partners to explore beyond Earth’s orbit.

NASA already has a partnership with two commercial firms to supply the International Space Station, an effort widely seen as a success in the space community.

In remarks that implied criticism of NASA’s plans to test-fly its own large astronaut rockets in 2017 and 2021, Bigelow said the report called for NASA to instead use commercial rockets to explore the moon and asteroids.

NASA announced a plan last year to retrieve a small asteroid and park it in orbit around the moon as soon as 2021. Bigelow said private space firms and the space agency would both benefit by cooperating on such missions to a greater extent.

“We’ll look very carefully at all the recommendations in the report,” Gerstenmaier said at the briefing. He saw such partnerships, at this point in time, “starting small.”

20-Year-Old Hunter S. Thompson’s Superb Advice on How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life

11 Nov

by

“It is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it.”

Slika

As a hopeless lover of both letters and famous advice, I was delighted to discover a letter 20-year-old Hunter S. Thompsongonzo journalism godfather, pundit of media politics, dark philosopher — penned to his friend Hume Logan in 1958. Found in Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience (public library) — the aptly titled, superb collection based on Shaun Usher’s indispensable website of the same name — the letter is an exquisite addition to luminaries’ reflections on the meaning of life, speaking to what it really means to find your purpose.

Cautious that “all advice can only be a product of the man who gives it” — a caveat other literary legends have stressed with varying degrees of irreverence — Thompson begins with a necessary disclaimer about the very notion of advice-giving:

To give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself.

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And yet he honors his friend’s request, turning to Shakespeare for an anchor of his own advice:

“To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles…”

And indeed, that IS the question: whether to float with the tide, or to swim for a goal. It is a choice we must all make consciously or unconsciously at one time in our lives. So few people understand this! Think of any decision you’ve ever made which had a bearing on your future: I may be wrong, but I don’t see how it could have been anything but a choice however indirect — between the two things I’ve mentioned: the floating or the swimming.

He acknowledges the obvious question of why not take the path of least resistance and float aimlessly, then counters it:

The answer — and, in a sense, the tragedy of life — is that we seek to understand the goal and not the man. We set up a goal which demands of us certain things: and we do these things. We adjust to the demands of a concept which CANNOT be valid. When you were young, let us say that you wanted to be a fireman. I feel reasonably safe in saying that you no longer want to be a fireman. Why? Because your perspective has changed. It’s not the fireman who has changed, but you.

Touching on the same notion that William Gibson termed “personal micro-culture,” Austin Kleon captured in asserting that “you are the mashup of what you let into your life,” and Paula Scher articulated so succinctly in speaking of the combinatorial nature of our creativity, Thompson writes:

Every man is the sum total of his reactions to experience. As your experiences differ and multiply, you become a different man, and hence your perspective changes. This goes on and on. Every reaction is a learning process; every significant experience alters your perspective.

So it would seem foolish, would it not, to adjust our lives to the demands of a goal we see from a different angle every day? How could we ever hope to accomplish anything other than galloping neurosis?

The answer, then, must not deal with goals at all, or not with tangible goals, anyway. It would take reams of paper to develop this subject to fulfillment. God only knows how many books have been written on “the meaning of man” and that sort of thing, and god only knows how many people have pondered the subject. (I use the term “god only knows” purely as an expression.)* There’s very little sense in my trying to give it up to you in the proverbial nutshell, because I’m the first to admit my absolute lack of qualifications for reducing the meaning of life to one or two paragraphs.

Resolving to steer clear of the word “existentialism,” Thompson nonetheless strongly urges his friend to read Sartre’s Nothingness and the anthology Existentialism: From Dostoyevsky to Sartre, then admonishes against succumbing to faulty definitions of success at the expense of finding one’s own purpose:

To put our faith in tangible goals would seem to be, at best, unwise. So we do not strive to be firemen, we do not strive to be bankers, nor policemen, nor doctors. WE STRIVE TO BE OURSELVES.

But don’t misunderstand me. I don’t mean that we can’t BE firemen, bankers, or doctors—but that we must make the goal conform to the individual, rather than make the individual conform to the goal. In every man, heredity and environment have combined to produce a creature of certain abilities and desires—including a deeply ingrained need to function in such a way that his life will be MEANINGFUL. A man has to BE something; he has to matter.

As I see it then, the formula runs something like this: a man must choose a path which will let his ABILITIES function at maximum efficiency toward the gratification of his DESIRES. In doing this, he is fulfilling a need (giving himself identity by functioning in a set pattern toward a set goal) he avoids frustrating his potential (choosing a path which puts no limit on his self-development), and he avoids the terror of seeing his goal wilt or lose its charm as he draws closer to it (rather than bending himself to meet the demands of that which he seeks, he has bent his goal to conform to his own abilities and desires).

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is the functioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.

Noting that his friend had thus far lived “a vertical rather than horizontal existence,” Thompson acknowledges the challenge of this choice but admonishes that however difficult, the choice must be made or else it melts away into those default modes of society:

A man who procrastinates in his CHOOSING will inevitably have his choice made for him by circumstance. So if you now number yourself among the disenchanted, then you have no choice but to accept things as they are, or to seriously seek something else. But beware of looking for goals: look for a way of life. Decide how you want to live and then see what you can do to make a living WITHIN that way of life. But you say, “I don’t know where to look; I don’t know what to look for.”

And there’s the crux. Is it worth giving up what I have to look for something better? I don’t know—is it? Who can make that decision but you? But even by DECIDING TO LOOK, you go a long way toward making the choice.

He ends by returning to his original disclaimer by reiterating that rather than a prescription for living, his “advice” is merely a reminder that how and what we choose — choices we’re in danger of forgetting even exist — shapes the course and experience of our lives:

I’m not trying to send you out “on the road” in search of Valhalla, but merely pointing out that it is not necessary to accept the choices handed down to you by life as you know it. There is more to it than that — no one HAS to do something he doesn’t want to do for the rest of his life.

Both reflecting and supporting Usher’s heartening echelon of independent online scholarship and journalism at the intersection of the editorial and the curatorial, Letters of Note is brimming with other such timeless treasures from such diverse icons and Brain Pickings favorites as E. B. White, Virginia Woolf, Ursula Nordstrom, Nick Cave, Ray Bradbury, Amelia Earhart, Galileo Galilei, and more.

How China Can Cause The Death Of The Dollar And The Entire U.S. Financial System

8 Nov

Slika

The death of the dollar is coming, and it will probably be China that pulls the trigger.  What you are about to read is understood by only a very small fraction of all Americans.  Right now, the U.S. dollar is the de facto reserve currency of the planet.  Most global trade is conducted in U.S. dollars, and almost all oil is sold for U.S. dollars.  More than 60 percent of all global foreign exchange reserves are held in U.S. dollars, and far more U.S. dollars are actually used outside of the United States than inside of it.  As will be described below, this has given the United States some tremendous economic advantages, and most Americans have no idea how much their current standard of living depends on the dollar remaining the reserve currency of the world.  Unfortunately, thanks to reckless money printing by the Federal Reserve and the reckless accumulation of debt by the federal government, the status of the dollar as the reserve currency of the world is now in great jeopardy.

As I mentioned above, nations all over the globe use U.S. dollars to trade with one another.  This has created tremendous demand for U.S. dollars and has kept the value of the dollar up.  It also means that Americans can import things that they need much more inexpensively than they otherwise would be able to.

The largest exporting nations such as Saudi Arabia (oil) and China (cheap plastic trinkets at Wal-Mart) end up with massive piles of U.S. dollars…

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Instead of just sitting on all of that cash, these exporting nations often reinvest much of that cash into low risk securities that can be rapidly turned back into dollars if necessary.  For a very long time, U.S. Treasury bonds have been considered to be the perfect way to do this.  This has created tremendous demand for U.S. government debt and has helped keep interest rates super low.  So every year, massive amounts of money that gets sent out of the country ends up being loaned back to the U.S. Treasury at super low interest rates…

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And it has been a very good thing for the U.S. economy that the federal government has been able to borrow money so cheaply, because the interest rate on 10 year U.S. Treasuries affects thousands upon thousands of other interest rates throughout our financial system.  For example, as the rate on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has risen in recent months, so have the rates on U.S. home mortgages.

Our entire way of life in the United States depends upon this game continuing.  We must have the rest of the world use our currency and loan it back to us at ultra low interest rates.  At this point we have painted ourselves into a corner by accumulating so much debt.  We simply cannot afford to have rates rise significantly.

For example, if the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt rose to just 6 percent (and it has been much higher than that at various times in the past), we would be paying more than a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt.

But it wouldn’t be just the federal government that would suffer.  Just consider what higher rates would do to the real estate market.

About a year ago, the rate on 30 year mortgages was sitting at 3.31 percent.  The monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate is $1315.52.

If the 30 year rate rises to 8 percent, the monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage would be $2201.29.

Does 8 percent sound crazy to you?

It shouldn’t.  8 percent was considered to be normal back in the year 2000.

Are you starting to get the picture?

We need other countries to use our dollars and buy our debt so that we can have super low interest rates and so that we can afford to buy lots of cheap stuff from them.

Unfortunately, the truly bizarre behavior of the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government over the past several years is causing the rest of the world to lose faith in our currency.  In particular, China is leading the call for a “de-Americanized” world.  The following is from a recent article posted on the website of France 24

For decades the US has benefited to the tune of trillions of dollars-worth of free credit from the greenback’s role as the default global reserve unit.

But as the global economy trembled before the prospect of a US default last month, only averted when Washington reached a deal to raise its debt ceiling, China’s official Xinhua news agency called for a “de-Americanised” world.

It also urged the creation of a “new international reserve currency… to replace the dominant US dollar”.

So why should the rest of the planet listen to China?

Well, China now accounts for more global trade than anyone else does, including the United States.

China is also now the number one importer of oil in the world.

At this point, China is even importing more oil from Saudi Arabia than the United States is.

China now has an enormous amount of economic power globally, and the Chinese want the rest of the planet to start using less U.S. dollars and to start using more of their own currency.  The following is from a recent article in the Vancouver Sun

Three years after China allowed the yuan to start trading in Hong Kong’s offshore market, banks and investors around the world are positioning themselves to get involved in what Nomura Holdings Inc. calls the biggest revolution in the $5.3 trillion currency market since the creation of the euro in 1999.

And over the past few years we have seen the global use of the yuanrise dramatically

International use of the yuan is increasing as the world’s second-largest economy opens up its capital markets. In the first nine months of this year, about 17 percent of China’s global trade was settled in the currency, compared with less than one percent in 2009, according to Deutsche Bank AG.

Of course the U.S. dollar is still king for now, but thanks to a whole host of recent international currency agreements this status is slipping.  For example, China just recently signed a major currency agreement with the European Central Bank

The swap deal will allow more trade and investment between the regions to be conducted in euros and yuan, without having to convert into another currency such as the U.S. dollar first, said Kathleen Brooks, a research director at FOREX.com.

“It’s a way of promoting European and Chinese trade, but not doing it with the U.S. dollar,” said Brooks. “It’s a bit like cutting out the middleman, all of a sudden there’s potentially no U.S. dollar risk.”

And as I have written about previously, we have seen a bunch of other similar agreements being signed all over the planet in recent years…

1. China and Germany (See Here)

2. China and Russia (See Here)

3. China and Brazil (See Here)

4. China and Australia (See Here)

5. China and Japan (See Here)

6. India and Japan (See Here)

7. Iran and Russia (See Here)

8. China and Chile (See Here)

9. China and the United Arab Emirates (See Here)

10. China, Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa (See Here)

But do you hear about any of this on the mainstream news?

Of course not.

They would rather focus on the latest celebrity scandal.

Right now, the global move away from the U.S. dollar is slow but steady.

At some point, some trigger event will likely cause it to become a stampede.

When that happens, demand for U.S. dollars and U.S. debt will disintegrate and interest rates will absolutely skyrocket.

And if interest rates skyrocket that will throw the entire U.S. financial system into chaos.  At the moment, there are about 441 trillion dollars worth of interest rate derivatives sitting out there.  It is a financial time bomb unlike anything the world has ever seen before.

There are four “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have more than 40 trillion dollars worth of total exposure to derivatives.   The largest chunk of those derivatives is made up of interest rate derivatives.  In case you were wondering , those four banks are JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs.

A huge upward surge in interest rates would absolutely devastate those banks and cause a financial crisis that would make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.

Right now, the leader in global trade seems content to use U.S. dollars for most of their international transactions.  China also seems content to hold more than a trillion dollars of U.S. government debt.

If that suddenly changes someday, the consequences for the U.S. economy will be absolutely catastrophic and every single American will feel the pain.

The standard of living that all of us are enjoying today depends largely upon China.  They can bring down the hammer at any moment and they know it.

On His 100th Birthday, Hear Albert Camus Deliver His Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech (1957)

8 Nov

Slika

The Nobel Prize in Literature 1957
Albert Camus

English
French

Banquet Speech

Albert Camus’ speech at the Nobel Banquet at the City Hall in Stockholm, December 10, 1957

(Translation)

In receiving the distinction with which your free Academy has so generously honoured me, my gratitude has been profound, particularly when I consider the extent to which this recompense has surpassed my personal merits. Every man, and for stronger reasons, every artist, wants to be recognized. So do I. But I have not been able to learn of your decision without comparing its repercussions to what I really am. A man almost young, rich only in his doubts and with his work still in progress, accustomed to living in the solitude of work or in the retreats of friendship: how would he not feel a kind of panic at hearing the decree that transports him all of a sudden, alone and reduced to himself, to the centre of a glaring light? And with what feelings could he accept this honour at a time when other writers in Europe, among them the very greatest, are condemned to silence, and even at a time when the country of his birth is going through unending misery?

I felt that shock and inner turmoil. In order to regain peace I have had, in short, to come to terms with a too generous fortune. And since I cannot live up to it by merely resting on my achievement, I have found nothing to support me but what has supported me through all my life, even in the most contrary circumstances: the idea that I have of my art and of the role of the writer. Let me only tell you, in a spirit of gratitude and friendship, as simply as I can, what this idea is.

For myself, I cannot live without my art. But I have never placed it above everything. If, on the other hand, I need it, it is because it cannot be separated from my fellow men, and it allows me to live, such as I am, on one level with them. It is a means of stirring the greatest number of people by offering them a privileged picture of common joys and sufferings. It obliges the artist not to keep himself apart; it subjects him to the most humble and the most universal truth. And often he who has chosen the fate of the artist because he felt himself to be different soon realizes that he can maintain neither his art nor his difference unless he admits that he is like the others. The artist forges himself to the others, midway between the beauty he cannot do without and the community he cannot tear himself away from. That is why true artists scorn nothing: they are obliged to understand rather than to judge. And if they have to take sides in this world, they can perhaps side only with that society in which, according to Nietzsche’s great words, not the judge but the creator will rule, whether he be a worker or an intellectual.

By the same token, the writer’s role is not free from difficult duties. By definition he cannot put himself today in the service of those who make history; he is at the service of those who suffer it. Otherwise, he will be alone and deprived of his art. Not all the armies of tyranny with their millions of men will free him from his isolation, even and particularly if he falls into step with them. But the silence of an unknown prisoner, abandoned to humiliations at the other end of the world, is enough to draw the writer out of his exile, at least whenever, in the midst of the privileges of freedom, he manages not to forget that silence, and to transmit it in order to make it resound by means of his art.

None of us is great enough for such a task. But in all circumstances of life, in obscurity or temporary fame, cast in the irons of tyranny or for a time free to express himself, the writer can win the heart of a living community that will justify him, on the one condition that he will accept to the limit of his abilities the two tasks that constitute the greatness of his craft: the service of truth and the service of liberty. Because his task is to unite the greatest possible number of people, his art must not compromise with lies and servitude which, wherever they rule, breed solitude. Whatever our personal weaknesses may be, the nobility of our craft will always be rooted in two commitments, difficult to maintain: the refusal to lie about what one knows and the resistance to oppression.

For more than twenty years of an insane history, hopelessly lost like all the men of my generation in the convulsions of time, I have been supported by one thing: by the hidden feeling that to write today was an honour because this activity was a commitment – and a commitment not only to write. Specifically, in view of my powers and my state of being, it was a commitment to bear, together with all those who were living through the same history, the misery and the hope we shared. These men, who were born at the beginning of the First World War, who were twenty when Hitler came to power and the first revolutionary trials were beginning, who were then confronted as a completion of their education with the Spanish Civil War, the Second World War, the world of concentration camps, a Europe of torture and prisons – these men must today rear their sons and create their works in a world threatened by nuclear destruction. Nobody, I think, can ask them to be optimists. And I even think that we should understand – without ceasing to fight it – the error of those who in an excess of despair have asserted their right to dishonour and have rushed into the nihilism of the era. But the fact remains that most of us, in my country and in Europe, have refused this nihilism and have engaged upon a quest for legitimacy. They have had to forge for themselves an art of living in times of catastrophe in order to be born a second time and to fight openly against the instinct of death at work in our history.

Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself. Heir to a corrupt history, in which are mingled fallen revolutions, technology gone mad, dead gods, and worn-out ideologies, where mediocre powers can destroy all yet no longer know how to convince, where intelligence has debased itself to become the servant of hatred and oppression, this generation starting from its own negations has had to re-establish, both within and without, a little of that which constitutes the dignity of life and death. In a world threatened by disintegration, in which our grand inquisitors run the risk of establishing forever the kingdom of death, it knows that it should, in an insane race against the clock, restore among the nations a peace that is not servitude, reconcile anew labour and culture, and remake with all men the Ark of the Covenant. It is not certain that this generation will ever be able to accomplish this immense task, but already it is rising everywhere in the world to the double challenge of truth and liberty and, if necessary, knows how to die for it without hate. Wherever it is found, it deserves to be saluted and encouraged, particularly where it is sacrificing itself. In any event, certain of your complete approval, it is to this generation that I should like to pass on the honour that you have just given me.

At the same time, after having outlined the nobility of the writer’s craft, I should have put him in his proper place. He has no other claims but those which he shares with his comrades in arms: vulnerable but obstinate, unjust but impassioned for justice, doing his work without shame or pride in view of everybody, not ceasing to be divided between sorrow and beauty, and devoted finally to drawing from his double existence the creations that he obstinately tries to erect in the destructive movement of history. Who after all this can expect from him complete solutions and high morals? Truth is mysterious, elusive, always to be conquered. Liberty is dangerous, as hard to live with as it is elating. We must march toward these two goals, painfully but resolutely, certain in advance of our failings on so long a road. What writer would from now on in good conscience dare set himself up as a preacher of virtue? For myself, I must state once more that I am not of this kind. I have never been able to renounce the light, the pleasure of being, and the freedom in which I grew up. But although this nostalgia explains many of my errors and my faults, it has doubtless helped me toward a better understanding of my craft. It is helping me still to support unquestioningly all those silent men who sustain the life made for them in the world only through memory of the return of brief and free happiness.

Thus reduced to what I really am, to my limits and debts as well as to my difficult creed, I feel freer, in concluding, to comment upon the extent and the generosity of the honour you have just bestowed upon me, freer also to tell you that I would receive it as an homage rendered to all those who, sharing in the same fight, have not received any privilege, but have on the contrary known misery and persecution. It remains for me to thank you from the bottom of my heart and to make before you publicly, as a personal sign of my gratitude, the same and ancient promise of faithfulness which every true artist repeats to himself in silence every day.

 


 

Prior to the speech, B. Karlgren, Member of the Royal Academy of Sciences, addressed the French writer: «Mr. Camus – As a student of history and literature, I address you first. I do not have the ambition and the boldness to pronounce judgment on the character or importance of your work – critics more competent than I have already thrown sufficient light on it. But let me assure you that we take profound satisfaction in the fact that we are witnessing the ninth awarding of a Nobel Prize in Literature to a Frenchman. Particularly in our time, with its tendency to direct intellectual attention, admiration, and imitation toward those nations who have – by virtue of their enormous material resources – become protagonists, there remains, nevertheless, in Sweden and elsewhere, a sufficiently large elite that does not forget, but is always conscious of the fact that in Western culture the French spirit has for centuries played a preponderant and leading role and continues to do so. In your writings we find manifested to a high degree the clarity and the lucidity, the penetration and the subtlety, the inimitable art inherent in your literary language, all of which we admire and warmly love. We salute you as a true representative of that wonderful French spirit.»

From Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969

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Anti-Communist propaganda is more awesome than any horror movie poster

8 Nov

Anti-Communist propaganda is more awesome than any horror movie poster

Horror movies and Weird Tales magazine have given us some beautiful, spooky and unnerving works of art. But if you really want a dose of scary brilliance? Check out the posters that warned people of the evils of Communism. These are scarier, and more beautiful, than pretty much any horror art you’ve seen.