under construction
Economics

23 May 11    When Institutions Rape Nations, truthout.org, Rebecca Solnit
20.Mai 11    Ein neues Antlitz für die Ökonomie, Tages-Anzeiger, Simon Schmid
19 avr 11    Geithner défend la dette américaine pour rassurer les créanciers, Reuters
16 mai 11    La dette américaine atteint le plafond autorisé par les parlementaires, LEMONDE, AFP, Reuters
26 Jan 05    Stephen Roach: "This is an utterly insane way to run the world economy", BBCnews




LEMONDE, AFP, Reuters     16 mai 2011  16h47

La dette américaine atteint le plafond autorisé par les parlementaires

L'évolution de la dette fédérale américaine depuis 1940  Le Monde.fr

La dette de l'Etat fédéral américain devrait toucher, lundi 16 mai, la limite autorisée par le Congrès, un plafond que les parlementaires se refusent à relever pour le moment. Le Trésor prévient depuis début avril que le 16 mai est la date à laquelle ce plafond de 14 294 milliards de dollars sera proche, empêchant d'emprunter plus. Le gouvernement a insisté, en vain, auprès du Congrès pour qu'il augmente ce montant. Mais le sujet divise les parlementaires : les républicains exigent d'abord, selon les termes du président de la Chambre des représentants, John Boehner, "des milliers de milliards d'économies", ce que les démocrates jugent dangereux. Le Trésor affirme pouvoir rester sous la limite jusqu'au 2 août par divers ajustements comptables.

"Le Congrès n'ayant pas encore agi, nous avons mis en route une série de mesures extraordinaires qui lui donneront un peu de temps supplémentaire pour relever le plafond de la dette", a expliqué le secrétaire au Trésor, Timothy Geithner, lundi. Le ministère a décidé de cesser temporairement d'alimenter autant qu'il le devrait des caisses de retraites de fonctionnaires, a indiqué Timothy Geithner, dans une lettre adressée au chef de la majorité démocrate au Sénat, Harry Reid, et aux principaux dirigeants du Congrès. Ces mesures, qui n'ont aucune implication sur le versement des pensions dues actuellement, dégageront une marge de 224 milliards de dollars.

"L'ÉQUIVALENT FINANCIER D'UNE BOMBE NUCLÉAIRE"
Le ministère du Trésor se serait bien passé d'un décompte avant ce qui pourrait s'avérer une catastrophe d'ampleur imprévisible : les Etats-Unis incapables d'honorer leur dette. "La gravité de cette issue est la raison pour laquelle les gens pensent que ça ne se produira pas. C'est l'équivalent financier d'une bombe nucléaire", affirme Aaron Kohli, spécialiste des bons du Trésor chez Nomura Securities.

Pour David Wyss, économiste en chef de l'agence de notation Standard and Poor's, non seulement le Trésor "peut continuer à fonctionner jusqu'en août", laissant le temps au Congrès de s'entendre, mais de plus, en cas de situation critique, le gouvernement "fera passer le service de la dette en priorité". "Il n'y a manifestement aucun danger de défaut de paiement", affirme-t-il. Cette agence de notation avait attribué, le 18 avril, à la note de dette de long terme des Etats-Unis une "perspective négative", précisant qu'il y avait une chance sur trois pour que le pays perde dans les deux ans sa note maximale "AAA".

Mais la question du plafond de la dette n'intervenait pas dans ce jugement, l'agence jugeant improbable que le problème s'éternise. Le président de la banque centrale, Ben Bernanke, a mis en garde contre ce danger. "C'est une approche risquée que de ne pas relever la limite de la dette dans un délai raisonnable", a-t-il déclaré devant une commission du Sénat jeudi. "Au minimum, le coût d'une telle approche sera une augmentation des taux d'intérêt, ce qui, dans les faits, ne fera qu'empirer notre déficit", a-t-il prévenu.

LES RÉPUBLICAINS À LA MANŒUVRE
Dimanche, le président de la Chambre des représentants, John Boehner, a pressé Barack Obama de prendre des mesures pour limiter les dépenses, mais le président a mis en garde le Congrès contre les risques de crise financière grave si le plafond de la dette n'était pas relevé.

John Boehner s'est dit prêt à un compromis sur le relèvement de ce plafond, tout en mettant en garde, à l'instar des autres élus républicains, contre les graves conséquences pour l'économie américaine d'une telle mesure si elle n'était pas liée à une réduction des dépenses et du déficit. Invité de l'émission de CBS "Face the Nation", il a été interrogé sur les intentions d'Obama concernant la réduction du déficit. "Il en parle, mais je ne vois pas encore de véritables mesures", a répondu Boehner.

Les dirigeants républicains ont déclaré qu'ils n'approuveraient pas de nouveau relèvement du plafond sans mesures destinées à limiter la dette. "La raison pour laquelle nous atteignons si vite le plafond de la dette est la frénésie de dépenses intervenue ces deux dernières années", a affirmé à l'émission de CNN "State of the Union" Paul Ryan, président de la commission du budget de la Chambre des représentants.




Reuters    19 avril 2011    20h15

Geithner défend la dette américaine pour rassurer les créanciers

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Les investisseurs font toujours confiance à la dette américaine, dont la note n'est pas menacée, a voulu rassurer mardi le secrétaire américain au Trésor Timothy Geithner, sur les grandes chaînes de télévision, tandis que la Chine réclamait des mesures de protection.

De son côté, le président Barack Obama espère toujours un accord entre démocrates et républicains sur un programme budgétaire en dépit de grandes divergences idéologiques.

L'intervention de Tim Geithner survient au lendemain de la décision de l'agence Standard & Poor's d'abaisser la perspective sur la note américaine. "La capacité de notre économie à grandir suffisamment pour nous permettre de remplir nos engagements et obligations n'est guère mise en doute. Le prix auquel nous pouvons emprunter chaque jour le prouve, mais nous devons mériter cette confiance", a déclaré Timothy Geithner à Bloomberg Televisions.

Interrogé sur CNBC, il s'est dit en désaccord avec la décision de S&P d'abaisser la perspective. L'agence de notation avait motivé sa décision par l'incertitude qui entoure le débat politique à Washington à propos de la réduction du déficit budgétaire.

Barack Obama affirme que républicains et démocrates s'entendent sur le fait qu'il faudra réduire les dépenses de quelque 4.000 milliards de dollars en l'espace d'une décennie. Mais ils divergent totalement sur les moyens, a-t-il convenu.

Barack Obama ne veut pas reconduire les avantages fiscaux pour les plus riches instaurés sous l'ère Bush, tout en continuant à investir dans l'éducation et les infrastructures. Ces avantages arrivent à expiration en 2012. Les républicains remettent en cause la volonté du président de réellement réduire les dépenses. "Je ne veux pas vous mentir: il y a un grand fossé philosophique", a résumé Barack Obama mardi.

Selon Timothy Geithner, les chances de conclure un accord s'améliorent toutefois. "Si vous observez attentivement ce qui se passe à Washington, vous verrez que des élus des deux camps, démocrates comme républicains, sont d'accord avec le président (Barack Obama) sur la nécessité de lancer des réformes dès maintenant pour réduire nos déficits à long terme", a-t-il ajouté.

A l'antenne de la chaîne Fox Business, Timothy Geithner a jugé que les Etats-Unis ne risquaient nullement de perdre leur note AAA.

L'abaissement de la perspective implique que Standard & Poor's estime à un tiers la probabilité qu'elle abaisse la note souveraine américaine dans un délai de deux ans.

INQUIÉTUDES EN CHINE, FATALISME EN INDE
La Chine s'est alarmée des conséquences possibles de cette décision sur les détenteurs de titres de dette américaine et a appelé les Etats-Unis à prendre des mesures "responsables" pour garantir leurs créances.

Le Japon, dont la majeure partie des avoirs en devises étrangères sont supposés être en dollars, a en revanche exprimé sa confiance envers les Etats-Unis. "Les Etats-Unis répondent de diverses manières à leurs problèmes budgétaires, je pense donc que les Treasuries restent un produit attractif pour nous", a déclaré le ministre japonais des Finances, Yoshihiko Noda.

En Inde, des sources proches de la question ont indiqué que la banque centrale indienne n'envisageait pas de diversifier ses investissements en dette étrangère, faute d'une alternative crédible à celle des Etats-Unis. Les avoirs en devises étrangères de la Banque de Réserve d'Inde sont composés à 60% de Treasuries et à 30% environ de titres en euros.

"Après la menace d'abaissement de S&P, la valeur de la dette américaine s'est en fait appréciée. Les marchés mondiaux pensent à en racheter à présent", a souligné l'une des sources indiennes. "Quelle est l'alternative pour se diversifier ? Les dettes européennes et japonaise sont pires."

Lorenzo Bini Smaghi, l'un des membres du directoire de la Banque centrale européenne, a estimé que les Etats-Unis devaient désormais mettre en place au plus vite une politique monétaire plus ferme, en profitant du début de reprise économique. "Si un basculement (vers une politique plus restrictive) est retardé, les problèmes vont s'accumuler et les déséquilibres se creuser", a-t-il prévenu à l'antenne de la radio italienne Radio 24. Selon lui, la décision de l'agence de notation constitue un "avertissement".

La BCE a relevé début avril ses taux d'intérêt, contrairement à la Réserve fédérale américaine, qui maintient les siens à un niveau très bas.

David Lawder et Mark Felsenthal, Valentina Za à Milan, Kevin Yao à Pékin, Tetsushi Kajimoto à Tokyo et Suvashree Dey Choudhury à Bombay, Gregory Schwartz pour le service français, édité par Danielle Rouquié et Wilfrid Exbrayat




Tages-Anzeiger    20.Mai 2011    21:36 Uhr

Ein neues Antlitz für die Ökonomie
Von Simon Schmid

Wirtschaftswissenschaftler aus aller Welt haben die «World Economic Association» gegründet. Ihr Ziel: Gegen den orthodoxen Mainstream an Wirtschaftsfakultäten anzukämpfen.

Junge Wissenschaftler sollen sich nicht von den Dogmen der orthodoxen Wirtschaftswissenschaft leiten lassen: Studierende hören eine Vorlesung an der Universität Fribourg. Bild: Keystone

Ökonomen, die gegen die Dogmen der modernen Wirtschaftswissenschaften andenken, haben in der Fachwelt einen schweren Stand: Wer sich nicht den Konventionen anpasst, hat wenig Chancen, Publikationen in renommierten Journals zu landen. Und wer nicht in renommierten Journals publiziert hat, erhält an einer renommierten Universität keinen Lehrstuhl.

Um diesen Missstand zu beheben und ihren Ansichten mehr Gehör zu verschaffen, haben alternative Ökonomen diese Woche die «World Economic Association» (WEA) gegründet – eine Vereinigung für all jene, die einen realitätsnahen, pluralistischen, partizipativen und demokratischen Wissenschaftsbetrieb befürworten. Am Montag wurde die Gruppe offiziell ins Leben gerufen, mittlerweile zählt sie bereits über 3000 Mitglieder.

Globale Beiträge für die globale Ökonomie
Einer der Initiatoren der neuen Vereinigung ist Edward Fullbrook, der an der University of the West of England lehrt. Fullbrook schreibt seit geraumer Zeit gegen den ökonomischen Mainsream an – dementsprechend tragen seine Bücher Titel wie «A Guide to What's Wrong with Economics» oder «Pluralist Economics». Nebenbei führt der britische Ökonom das Journal «Real-world economics review», das nun zu einem wichtigen Sprachrohr der World Economic Association werden soll.

Die Vereinigung sei aus dem Wunsch nach Vielfalt heraus entstanden, sagt Fullbrook auf Anfrage von Tagesanzeiger.ch/Newsnetz: «Die Finanzkrise hat gezeigt, dass das dominierende Verständnis der Wirtschaft sehr begrenzt ist. Die meisten der Leute, die vor der Krise gewarnt haben, waren unkonventionelle Ökonomen, deren Blick auf die Realität nicht durch die neoklassische Brille verstellt war.» Was man heute brauche, sei eine wissenschaftliche Organisation, die nicht nur an amerikanischen Problemstellungen interessiert sei, sondern eine globale Ausrichtung verfolge.

Ein Blick auf die Webseite der WEA zeigt, dass es der Organisation ernst ist mit diesem Vorhaben. Zu den Gründungsmitgliedern zählen Ökonomen aus fünf Kontinenten und 42 Ländern. Unter ihnen sind auch einige wissenschaftliche Schwergewichte wie Dani Rodrik («Das Globalisierungs-Paradox») und Richard C. Koo («The Holy Grail of Macroeconomics»), aber auch Wirtschaftsjournalisten wie der Keynes-Biograph Robert Skidelsky und der Autor des Buches «Ökonomie 2.0», Norbert Häring.

Auch der Fribourger Wirtschaftsprofessor Sergio Rossi ist als Gründungsmitglied der Vereinigung aufgeführt. Die Chancen der WEA, im Wissenschaftsbetrieb etwas zu bewegen, schätzt er vorsichtig ein: «Die orthodoxe Lehre hat heute ein Quasi-Monopol an Universitäten und in politischen Beratungsgremien inne. Junge Wissenschaftler werden dazu gezwungen, sich nach den herrschenden Paradigmen zu richten, wenn sie in ihrer Karriere vorankommen möchten.»

Ineffiziente Märkte und problematische Handelstheorien
Zu den Dogmen, die von unorthodoxen Wirtschaftswissenschaftlern scharf angegriffen werden, gehört zum Beispiel die «efficient-market hypothesis». Diese Hypothese besagt, dass Finanzmärkte Informationen effizient verarbeiten und somit niemand in der Lage sein müsste, dauerhaft überdurchschnittliche Gewinne zu erzielen – eine wahnwitzige Annahme, nach Ansicht vieler alternativer Ökonomen. Auch für die Blasenbildung an Finanzmärkten hält die Effizienzmarkthypothese keine befriedigende Erklärung bereit.

Ein weiterer Dorn im Auge der WEA-Ökonomen ist die Theorie der komparativen Kostenvorteile, die den internationalen Handel und die daraus entstehenden Spezialisierungsgewinne erklärt. Als problematisch wird dabei weniger die Theorie selbst angesehen (denn diese ist mathematisch hieb- und stichfest formuliert), sondern vielmehr die Tatsache, dass sie von Befürwortern des Freihandels zur alleinigen Leitlinie der internationalen Handelspolitik gemacht wird. Dass gerade Entwicklungsländer eher eine behutsame als eine radikale Öffnungsstrategie verfolgen sollten, wird im Licht von komparativen Kostenvorteilen häufig ausgeblendet.

Doch die WEA möchte nicht nur Kritik an bestehenden Lehrmeinungen zur Sprache bringen, sondern die Wirtschaftswissenschaft auch konstruktiv weiterführen – zum Beispiel, indem es dem Thema Nachhaltigkeit einen wichtigen Stellenwert in ihren Journals einräumt. Eine brennende Frage aus der Sicht der «grünen» Ökonomie ist dabei die folgende: Wie muss die Wirtschaft des 21. Jahrhunderts organisiert sein, damit sie ihre eigenen Grundlagen nicht zerstört? (Tagesanzeiger.ch/Newsnetz)




truthout.org    23 May 2011

When Institutions Rape Nations
by: Rebecca Solnit, TomDispatch

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the leader of the International Monetary Fund, is escorted from a New York Police Department station in Harlem after being formally arrested, in New York, on May 15, 2011. (Photo: Robert Stolarik / The New York Times)
Some thoughts on the IMF, global injustice, and a stranger on a train.

How can I tell a story we already know too well? Her name was Africa. His was France. He colonized her, exploited her, silenced her, and even decades after it was supposed to have ended, still acted with a high hand in resolving her affairs in places like Côte d’Ivoire, a name she had been given because of her export products, not her own identity.

Her name was Asia. His was Europe. Her name was silence. His was power. Her name was poverty. His was wealth. Her name was Her, but what was hers? His name was His, and he presumed everything was his, including her, and he thought he could take her without asking and without consequences. It was a very old story, though its outcome had been changing a little in recent decades. And this time around the consequences are shaking a lot of foundations, all of which clearly needed shaking.

Who would ever write a fable as obvious, as heavy-handed as the story we’ve just been given? The extraordinarily powerful head of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a global organization that has created mass poverty and economic injustice, allegedly assaulted a hotel maid, an immigrant from Africa, in a hotel’s luxury suite in New York City.

Worlds have collided. In an earlier era, her word would have been worthless against his and she might not have filed charges, or the police might not have followed through and yanked Dominique Strauss-Kahn off the plane to Paris at the last moment. But she did, and they did, and now he’s in custody, and the economy of Europe has been dealt a blow, and French politics have been upended, and that nation is reeling and soul-searching.

What were they thinking, these men who decided to give him this singular position of power, despite all the stories and evidence of such viciousness? What was he thinking when he decided he could get away with it? Did he think he was in France, where apparently he did get away with it? Only now is the young woman who says he assaulted her in 2002 pressing charges -- her own politician mother talked her out of it, and she worried about the impact it could have on her journalistic career (while her mother was apparently worrying more about his career).

And the Guardian reports that these stories “have added weight to claims by Piroska Nagy, a Hungarian-born economist, that the fund's director engaged in sustained harassment when she was working at the IMF that left her feeling she had little choice but to agree to sleep with him at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2008. She alleged he persistently called and emailed on the pretext of asking questions about [her expertise,] Ghana's economy, but then used sexual language and asked her out.”

In some accounts, the woman Strauss-Kahn is charged with assaulting in New York is from Ghana, in others a Muslim from nearby Guinea. “Ghana -- Prisoner of the IMF” ran a headline in 2001 by the usually mild-mannered BBC. Its report documented the way the IMF’s policies had destroyed that rice-growing nation’s food security, opening it up to cheap imported U.S. rice, and plunging the country’s majority into dire poverty. Everything became a commodity for which you had to pay, from using a toilet to getting a bucket of water, and many could not pay. Perhaps it would be too perfect if she was a refugee from the IMF’s policies in Ghana.  Guinea, on the other hand, liberated itself from the IMF management thanks to the discovery of major oil reserves, but remains a country of severe corruption and economic disparity.

Pimping for the Global North
There’s an axiom evolutionary biologists used to like: “ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny,” or the development of the embryonic individual repeats that of its species’ evolution. Does the ontogeny of this alleged assault echo the phylogeny of the International Monetary Fund? After all, the organization was founded late in World War II as part of the notorious Bretton Woods conference that would impose American economic visions on the rest of the world.

The IMF was meant to be a lending institution to help countries develop, but by the 1980s it had become an organization with an ideology -- free trade and free-market fundamentalism.  It used its loans to gain enormous power over the economies and policies of nations throughout the global South.

However, if the IMF gained power throughout the 1990s, it began losing that power in the twenty-first century, thanks to powerful popular resistance to the economic policies it embodied and the economic collapse such policies produced. Strauss-Kahn was brought in to salvage the wreckage of an organization that, in 2008, had to sell off its gold reserves and reinvent its mission.

Her name was Africa. His name was IMF. He set her up to be pillaged, to go without health care, to starve. He laid waste to her to enrich his friends. Her name was Global South. His name was Washington Consensus. But his winning streak was running out and her star was rising.

It was the IMF that created the economic conditions that destroyed the Argentinian economy by 2001, and it was the revolt against the IMF (among other neoliberal forces) that prompted Latin America’s rebirth over the past decade. Whatever you think of Hugo Chavez, it was loans from oil-rich Venezuela that allowed Argentina to pay off its IMF loans early so that it could set its own saner economic policies.

The IMF was a predatory force, opening developing countries up to economic assaults from the wealthy North and powerful transnational corporations. It was a pimp. Maybe it still is. But since the Seattle anti-corporate demonstrations of 1999 set a global movement alight, there has been a revolt against it, and those forces have won in Latin America, changing the framework of all economic debates to come and enriching our imaginations when it comes to economies and possibilities.

Today, the IMF is a mess, the World Trade Organization largely sidelined, NAFTA almost universally reviled, the Free Trade Area of the Americas cancelled (though bilateral free-trade agreements continue), and much of the world has learned a great deal from the decade’s crash course in economic policy.

Strangers on a Train
The New York Times reported it this way: "As the impact of Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s predicament hit home, others, including some in the news media, began to reveal accounts, long suppressed or anonymous, of what they called Mr. Strauss-Kahn’s previously predatory behavior toward women and his aggressive sexual pursuit of them, from students and journalists to subordinates."

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In other words, he created an atmosphere that was uncomfortable or dangerous for women, which would be one thing if he were working in, say, a small office. But that a man who controls some part of the fate of the world apparently devoted his energies to generating fear, misery, and injustice around him says something about the shape of our world and the values of the nations and institutions that tolerated his behavior and that of men like him.

The United States has not been short on sex scandals of late, and they reek of the same arrogance, but they were at least consensual (as far as we know). The head of the IMF is charged with sexual assault. If that term confuses you take out the word “sexual” and just focus on “assault,” on violence, on the refusal to treat someone as a human being, on the denial of the most basic of human rights, the right to bodily integrity and corporeal safety. “The rights of man” was one of the great phrases of the French Revolution, but it’s always been questionable whether it included the rights of women.

The United States has a hundred million flaws, but I am proud that the police believed this woman and that she will have her day in court. I am gratified this time not to be in a country which has decided that the career of a powerful man or the fate of an international institution matters more than this woman and her rights and wellbeing. This is what we mean by democracy: that everyone has a voice, that no one gets away with things just because of their wealth, power, race, or gender.

Two days before Strauss-Kahn allegedly emerged from that hotel bathroom naked, there was a big demonstration in New York City. “Make Wall Street Pay” was the theme and union workers, radicals, the unemployed, and more -- 20,000 people -- gathered to protest the economic assault in this country that is creating such suffering and deprivation for the many -- and obscene wealth for the few.

I attended.  On the crowded subway car back to Brooklyn afterwards, the youngest of my three female companions had her bottom groped by a man about Strauss-Kahn’s age. At first, she thought he had simply bumped into her.  That was before she felt her buttock being cupped and said something to me, as young women often do, tentatively, quietly, as though it were perhaps not happening or perhaps not quite a problem.

Finally, she glared at him and told him to stop. I was reminded of a moment when I was an impoverished seventeen-year-old living in Paris and some geezer grabbed my ass. It was perhaps my most American moment in France, then the land of a thousand disdainful gropers; American because I was carrying three grapefruits, a precious purchase from my small collection of funds, and I threw those grapefruits, one after another, like baseballs at the creep and had the satisfaction of watching him scuttle into the night.

His action, like so much sexual violence against women, was undoubtedly meant to be a reminder that this world was not mine, that my rights -- my liberté, egalité, sororité, if you will -- didn’t matter. Except that I had sent him running in a barrage of fruit. And Dominique Strauss-Kahn got pulled off a plane to answer to justice. Still, that a friend of mine got groped on her way back from a march about justice makes it clear how much there still is to be done.

The Poor Starve, While the Rich Eat Their Words
What makes the sex scandal that broke open last week so resonant is the way the alleged assailant and victim model larger relationships around the world, starting with the IMF’s assault on the poor. That assault is part of the great class war of our era, in which the rich and their proxies in government have endeavored to aggrandize their holdings at the expense of the rest of us. Poor countries in the developing world paid first, but the rest of us are paying now, as those policies and the suffering they impose come home to roost via right-wing economics that savages unions, education systems, the environment, and programs for the poor, disabled, and elderly in the name of privatization, free markets, and tax cuts.

In one of the more remarkable apologies of our era, Bill Clinton -- who had his own sex scandal once upon a time -- told the United Nations on World Food Day in October 2008, as the global economy was melting down: “We need the World Bank, the IMF, all the big foundations, and all the governments to admit that, for 30 years, we all blew it, including me when I was President. We were wrong to believe that food was like some other product in international trade, and we all have to go back to a more responsible and sustainable form of agriculture.”

He said it even more bluntly last year: “Since 1981, the United States has followed a policy, until the last year or so when we started rethinking it, that we rich countries that produce a lot of food should sell it to poor countries and relieve them of the burden of producing their own food, so, thank goodness, they can leap directly into the industrial era. It has not worked. It may have been good for some of my farmers in Arkansas, but it has not worked. It was a mistake. It was a mistake that I was a party to. I am not pointing the finger at anybody. I did that. I have to live every day with the consequences of the lost capacity to produce a rice crop in Haiti to feed those people, because of what I did.”

Clinton’s admissions were on a level with former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan’s 2008 admission that the premise of his economic politics was wrong.  The former policies and those of the IMF, World Bank, and free-trade fundamentalists had created poverty, suffering, hunger, and death. We have learned, most of us, and the world has changed remarkably since the day when those who opposed free-market fundamentalism were labeled “flat-earth advocates, protectionist trade unions, and yuppies looking for their 1960's fix,” in the mortal words of Thomas Friedman, later eaten.

A remarkable thing happened after the devastating Haitian earthquake last year: the IMF under Strauss-Kahn planned to use the vulnerability of that country to force new loans on it with the usual terms. Activists reacted to a plan guaranteed to increase the indebtedness of a nation already crippled by the kind of neoliberal policies for which Clinton belatedly apologized. The IMF blinked, stepped back, and agreed to cancel Haiti’s existing debt to the organization. It was a remarkable victory for informed activism.

Powers of the Powerless
It looks as though a hotel maid may end the career of one of the most powerful men in the world, or rather that he will have ended it himself by discounting the rights and humanity of that worker. Pretty much the same thing happened to Meg Whitman, the former E-Bay billionaire who ran for governor of California last year. She leapt on the conservative bandwagon by attacking undocumented immigrants -- until it turned out that she had herself long employed one, Nickie Diaz, as a housekeeper.

When, after nine years, it had become politically inconvenient to keep Diaz around, she fired the woman abruptly, claimed she’d never known her employee was undocumented, and refused to pay her final wages.  In other words, Whitman was willing to spend $140 million on her campaign, but may have brought herself down thanks, in part, to $6,210 in unpaid wages.

Diaz said, "I felt like she was throwing me away like a piece of garbage." The garbage had a voice, the California Nurses Union amplified it, and California was spared domination by a billionaire whose policies would have further brutalized the poor and impoverished the middle class.

The struggles for justice of an undocumented housekeeper and an immigrant hotel maid are microcosms of the great world war of our time. If Nickie Diaz and the battle over last year’s IMF loans to Haiti demonstrate anything, it’s that the outcome is uncertain. Sometimes we win the skirmishes, but the war continues. So much remains to be known about what happened in that expensive hotel suite in Manhattan last week, but what we do know is this:  a genuine class war is being fought openly in our time, and last week, a so-called socialist put himself on the wrong side of it.

His name was privilege, but hers was possibility. His was the same old story, but hers was a new one about the possibility of changing a story that remains unfinished, that includes all of us, that matters so much, that we will watch, but also make and tell in the weeks, months, years, decades to come.

Rebecca Solnit is the author of 13 books, including A Paradise Built in Hell: The Extraordinary Communities That Arise in Disasters and Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas. She is, from kindergarten to graduate school, a product of the California public education system now being decimated.