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Bronze Age Redux: On Debt, Clean Slates and What the Ancients Have to Teach U

Bronze Age Redux: On Debt, Clean Slates and What the Ancients Have to Teach U

Photo by Zak Greant | CC BY 2.0

One of the most compelling sequences in the Oscar-winning Inside Job, Charles Ferguson’s indictment of Wall Street’s role in the 2008 global financial meltdown, involved not the banker culprits but their supporting cast. These were the Ivy League accomplices. Ferguson mightily skewered these economists for the cover they gave the sub-prime Hamptons dwelling wise guys whose rescue turned out to be a pretext for one of the largest reverse-Robin Hood wealth transfers in history. Though for the foreseeable future they enjoy their tenured posts, control prestigious academic journals and continue to prey on the unformed minds of students, the speculative financial implosion has shaken confidence in the economics academy. And through those cracks (to borrow from Leonard Cohen) shards of light are getting in. Economists once on the academic fringes – in university outposts like the University of Missouri Kansas City and Bard’s Levy Institute – are being looked to not only for understanding how to prevent bankers from setting the economy on fire again, but on how to build a social system that works for the majority.

Among the most brilliant of these heterodox economists is Michael Hudson. Coming to New York City in the 60s to study under a renowned classical music conductor, Michael switched to economics when he became beguiled by an accidental acquaintance with what he saw as the aesthetical flows inter-connecting natural and financial cycles and public debt. His biography contains elements of an epic novel: growing up the son of a jailed Trotskyist labor leader in whose Chicago home he met Rosa Luxembourg’s and Karl Liebknecht’s colleagues; serving as a young balance of payments analyst for David Rockefeller whose Chase Manhattan Bank was calculating how much interest the bank could extract on loans to South American countries…

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