Reading Response 2/Christi DiFrank

In the reading, the authors discuss the real-world impact that internet memes and jokes have and have had on politics. One of America’s most basic rights, as outlined in the Bill of Rights, is our right to free speech. Which includes the speech of making jokes about the government and our political institutions. This idea, the idea that people should be free to criticize their government, was very important to our founding fathers. During American colonization, English regulations of speech were rather restrictive. Criticizing the English government in any way was a criminal offense, and thus any dissent was more easily felt, but also more difficult to organize.

This fear of dissent through any kind of aggressive speech is still felt in countries of the modern day. It is well known that the Chinese government has banned roughly 80% of western websites in its country (including but not limited to; all of Google, Facebook, Yahoo, Wikipedia, really any website that has information or opinions on China that the Chinese government cannot regulate). The Chinese government considers jokes, memes, and any opinions that they cannot control as “incredible dangerous political weapons.” And why shouldn’t they? In recent years (2010) we saw revolution begin in Egypt when people found each other on Facebook and, using social media, were able to organize and start fighting back against a political institution that was treating them unfairly. In this way, memes and jokes and social media has become a powerful tool for oppressed peoples.

However, while there are many examples in history where jokes and memes have been used by an oppressed peoples to fight back against their oppressors, there are many cases where these very same jokes have been used by the people in power to justify the abuse of and take power away from others. Perhaps one of the most notable is the Jewish people, who, throughout history, have been the victims of horror and abuse by many different groups. In recent years, notable parody comedian and actor Mel Brooks has used comedy as a sort of catharsis for Jewish identity. Many of his skits and jokes poke fun at the institutions that, in the past, have targeted the Jewish race in crimes of violence and violation of their most basic human rights. And that’s good. People need to be able to laugh in the face of adversity and terrible tragedy. However, the world has a long, not-so-proud history of taking things that Jews say and do and misrepresenting them and then using it against them (actually, you could argue that for a lot of things but let’s stick with the Jewish people and Mel Brooks here, for a second).

And yet, in an age that has seen movies like American History X, which evokes a lot of Anti-Semitic and white supremacist imagery, only to see that imagery be taken and repurposed by the very people the director is trying to take power from (white-supremacists), the only thing that they haven’t been able to take and misconstrue to fit their dark image is comedy. You might see stills and swastikas from old, serious propaganda pieces decorating the media and gathering spaces of these bigots, but you will not hear the song of Mel Brooks’ ‘Springtime for Hitler’ or ‘Jews in Space.’ You will not see the Inquisition sketches from History of the World Part I played or even mocked by such people. If we try and take their viewpoints seriously, we will only succeed in giving them more ammo to fuel their hatred. But by taking away their veneer or superiority, by showing them that their opinions and their view of the world is something to be mocked, we take away their ammo.

A lot of my ideas for this response came from comparing the reading to a great video by Lindsay Ellis called Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zisIf you have 40 minutes to kill, I highly recommend you watch it.

Secondary Research, 10 Years Later/ Christi DiFrank

On the 10th anniversary of the global financial meltdown, here’s what’s changed

This 2017 article by USA Today, published on the anniversary of the beginning of the Great Recession, recaps the major reformations that followed in the fallout of the financial crisis.

Key Events:

Central Banks Write New Rules – Central banks took coordinated action by slashing interest rates, recapitalizing lenders, buying up toxic assets and injecting liquidity into economies through government bond-purchase programs.

Governments Tighten Bank Regulations – The Dodd-Frank Act is passed, forcing banks to hold more capital to cover potential losses, restricting speculative trading and obliging lenders to separate investment and consumer divisions to curtail their ability to use their firm’s money for risky trades.

Incredibly Low Rates Prevail – Today, despite four rates hikes since December 2015, the federal funds interest rate is in a meager range of 1% to 1.25%.

Data:

  • home equity credit and other consumer loan rates stood at 5.25%
  • Today, despite four rates hikes since December 2015, the federal funds interest rate is in a meager range of 1% to 1.25%
  • Eurostat, the statistics agency for the 19 countries that use the euro currency, forecast annual eurozone growth to hit 2.1% this year,
  • The unemployment rate in Spain, one of the nations hardest hit by the financial crisis, recently saw joblessness fall below 4 million for the first time in eight years.
  • In the United States, stocks are trading at record levels and July’s jobs report from the Labor Department showed a 16-year low unemployment rate of 4.3%
  •  In Greece, which is still struggling with crushing debts, unemployment is around 25%
  • Brazil’s economy contracted 3.6% last year and the country is stuck in its worst recession ever

Thesis: Due to these new regulations, the economy is recovering, but we are still a long way from being back to where we were before.

The Great Recession, 10 years later

This 2017 article by the Foundation for Economic Education takes a look at the reasons the financial crisis came about in the first place and examines why economic recovery has been so slow.

Key Events:

Between 2003 and 2008, the Federal Reserve flooded the financial markets with a huge amount of money.

Due to Federal Reserve monetary policy during 2003-2008, the banking system was awash in money to lend to all types of borrowers. To attract people to take out loans, banks not only lowered nominal interest rates (and therefore the cost of borrowing), they also lowered their standards for creditworthiness.

To get the money out the door, financial institutions found “creative” ways to bundle mortgage loans into tradable packages that they could then pass onto other investors.

At the same time, government-created home-insurance agencies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were guaranteeing a growing number of high-risk mortgages, with the assurance that the “full faith and credit” of Uncle Sam stood behind them.

The same Federal Reserve System that produced the monetary excesses that generated the bubble and its eventual burst then got busy flooding the financial markets with even more newly created money.

The U.S. economy and the American citizenry could not escape a correction process after 2008. Housing prices were pushed far too high and had to settle down to more realistic levels. And some people just could not afford the homes they purchased during the bubble period. Companies that were overextended had to dramatically downsize, and in some cases go out of business.

Another factor in the sluggish economic recovery has been the labor market participation rate.

Data:

  • In 2007, the number of people in the labor force was 66.4 percent of the working age population. In 2017, the labor force participation rate fell to 62.9 percent of the working age population, a more than 8 percent decline.
  • the working age population in the United States grew by around 10 percent, but the number of people entering the labor force was only 4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
  • The number of people meeting lower eligibility standards, who in turn stayed out of the workplace, increased from 6.8 million to over 8.8 million over 10 years, a near 30 percent increase.
  • Meanwhile, Social Security Disability spending increased from $90 billion in 2005 over $150 billion in 2016, a 60 percent increase.
  • While the government’s official unemployment rate may have come in at a low of 4.3 percent of the labor force in July 2017, the general youth unemployment rate was 11.4 percent and the African-American youth unemployment rate came in at 25.4 percent.

Thesis: The market is recovering, but slowly, and would recover faster if the government didn’t continue to try and step in and regulate the economy. As the governments meddling with the economy is what brought about the financial crisis in the first place.

2008 Financial Crisis: Could it Happen Again?

This article by USA Today was written 5 years after the collapse of the housing bubble and takes a critical look at how far we’ve come since the initial crisis, and how far we still have yet to go.

Key Testimonies:

Dennis Kelleher, president of financial industry watchdog group Better Markets, offered a dark forecast as he complained that giant banks at the vortex of the 2008 crisis have mounted Washington lobbying campaigns “to fight financial reform that would prevent them from doing it all over again.”

It was the financial version of around-the-clock triage, with trillions of dollars at risk, and the future of the national and global financial system in the balance, said former Treasury secretary Henry Paulson. The former Goldman Sachs chief helped quarterback the U.S. rescue effort, leading Bush administration teams as he brainstormed and executed bailout plans with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, Timothy Geithner, then head of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, federal regulators and Congress.

Among the many emergency measures used by rescue leaders, Paulson said three proved most crucial in quelling the near-panic and restoring financial stability:

  • Executing a federal takeover of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored housing finance giants that collectively owned or guaranteed more than $5 trillion in residential mortgages and mortgage-backed securities. The action kept the housing market alive in 2008 by calming fears that the undercapitalized entities could default on their bonds.
  • Guaranteeing money market mutual funds, the then-$3.5 trillion industry many Americans rely on for retirement and businesses use for short-term funding.
  • Establishing the Troubled Asset Relief Program, which enabled Treasury to move quickly in restoring confidence in the nation’s banks by purchasing equity securities in hundreds of banks and recapitalizing the financial system.

In the five years since, as President George W. Bush was succeeded by President Obama and the new White House administration and Congress enacted the sweeping but still-unfinalized Dodd-Frank financial reform package, questions and criticism surround efforts to ensure a long-term cure and prepare for new financial threats.

Paulson has pointed to potential threats, including the as-yet-unchanged structures of Fannie and Freddie. He said placing them under government control was a temporary “timeout” that provided breathing space to replace the current system in which the two housing-finance giants dominate the home mortgage market and leave taxpayers shouldering the cost of failures and shareholders reaping the benefits of success.

Data: N/A

Thesis: We still have a long way to go before we totally recover, and it is still a long road ahead. There are many obstacles and potential pitfalls, and there is still much need for reform, but we are getting there.

Synthesis Statement:

There is still much deliberation as to the cause of the financial crisis and where we go from here in regards to adding more government control, reevaluating what control is already present, or simply removing it altogether. But one thing is for sure, we are recovering. Albeit slowly.

Reading Response 1/Christi DiFrank

I was in the eighth grade, I think, when the 2008 housing crisis was going on. As such, I didn’t really pay attention to things like “a global recession” and “the bursting of the housing bubble.” And while that sort of ignorance of the state of the economy is to be expected of my young, teenage self, it does nothing to help me put into context what happened and where we are now, almost ten years later. So before I even attempted to read these articles, I went and found a few videos on YouTube (which I will link below) that explained in layman’s terms what the financial crisis was and how it came about.

According to the articles written by the United States’ Senate and the Center for American Progress, the financial crisis of 2008 came about as a result of irresponsible and even predatory lending practices and an unregulated market by the bankers and brokers of Wall Street.

The Center for American Progress specifically states that there are those who want to put blame on the United States Government are misguided, but those who claim this viewpoint are simply trying to cover for Wall Street, as “Federal housing policy promoting affordability, liquidity, and access is not some ill-advised experiment but rather a response to market failures that shattered the housing market in the 1930s” (Center for American Progress 10).

And from what I understand, both articles are correct in that it wasn’t the government’s fault at all. In fact, the government had very little to do with the financial crisis except for that fact that in the early 2000s the Federal Reserve Bank (FRB) was only offering 1% interest on treasury bond investments, which is what pushed investors to seek other opportunities in the first place (1% interest is great for taking out loans, but bad for investing money). But you can’t blame to FRB for not having a god-like level of foresight about where that action might lead.

However, what does it do to just say that the US Federal Government did not cause the financial crisis? What does to do to place the blame entirely on Wall Street? Well, two years after the financial crisis, President Barack Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, which brought “the most significant changes to financial regulation in the United States since the regulatory reform that followed the Great Depression” (Wall Street Journal).

I’m probably getting ahead of myself, though. To sum up, the financial crisis of 2008 has an unprecedented impact on the global economy, and we will no doubt be feeling its effects for years to come. And recovery is slow, but there is recovery.

The 2008 Financial Crisis: Crash Course Economics #12

The Causes and Effects of the 2008 Financial Crisis

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act

Law Remakes U.S. Financial Landscape