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Peter Hill, one of the leading British pianists and musicologists of his generation.,
Thalia Myers, association with the music of Howard Skempton dates from 1995, when she commissioned Cantilena for the first Spectrum (for the ABRSM, the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music).,
John Tilbury, Polish government scholarship where he studied with Zbigniew Drzewiecki and co-founded the Warsaw Music Workshop group with Zygmunt Krause.,
James Weeks, published by University of York Music Press.,
Howard Skempton, none
This chapter captures the voices of some leading performers of Howard Skempton's music: Peter Hill (PH), Thalia Myers (TM), John Tilbury (JT), James Weeks (JW), interviewed by Cavett (EC) and collated by Head. The chapter concludes with a few words from Skempton (HS). For details of Skempton pieces see the Authorized Worklist (Appendix One). For information about recordings, see the Discography (Appendix Two). Author-date references in the transcripts below are to items in the select bibliography, unless they are further annotated ‘Discography’.
“SIMPLICITY ABOUT HIM”: FIRST ENCOUNTERS WITH SKEMPTON
PH: I got to know Howard in the early 1970s through my sister who worked at Faber Music, as did Howard. The first time we met was at a supper party for my sister's colleagues and for composers associated with Faber. Howard at once impressed me as a person of complete artistic integrity, and when he talked about his music he had a sincerity that made a refreshing change from the relentlessly competitive and over-professionalized ambience of the Royal College of Music where I was then a student. He was engaged in writing miniatures, many of them for piano, each of which was a distillation of weeks or even months of thought. Indeed, Howard told me he liked the mundane office work he did at Faber since it left his mind free to concentrate on his music. I had the impression of someone who thought very deeply about very simple things, and he explained that for him composition involved paring his ideas down to their essentials. The appeal of his music to me was that it embodied the principle of “less is more,” in which every sound mattered, instead of being lost in a maze of complexity. Although his manner was serious, Howard was not solemn. I can still recall from that evening that he amused us all with a lengthy saga of the accumulated mishaps that had befallen him on a trip to the launderette – making us laugh through his ability to look at the everyday in a quirky way that brought out the unexpected in things we take for granted.
What Howard was writing at that time was so at odds with the world of contemporary music, as it then was, that one didn't think of him as a “career” composer.
How much do economists really know? In most cases, they claim to have profound knowledge but in fact understand little and obscure almost everything. Most people are convinced that economics should be left to the 'experts', when they themselves are perfectly capable of understanding it. This book explains that mainstream economics serves the interests of the rich through its logical inconsistency and unabashedly reactionary conclusions. John F. Weeks exposes the myths of mainstream economics and explains in straightforward language why current policies fail to serve the vast majority of people in the United States, Europe and elsewhere. Their failure to serve the interests of the many results from their devoted service to the few.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all of them who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers.
Why a Financial Sector?
When I grew up in East and Central Texas, people disparaged another person's judgment with the comment “If you believe that, I'd like the chance to sell you a used car.” In that spirit, I might ask if there remains anyone in the known world other than an econfaker who believes in the efficiency of financial markets. If so, he or she should not enter a used car lot unaccompanied.
In the 1930s the Great Depression brought banking collapse to North America and Europe. In 1929 on the eve of collapse, over 26,000 banks operated in the US. When the newly elected president Franklin D. Roosevelt suspended banking operations on 5 March 1933, the total was less than 15,000, with 5,000 bankruptcies (quite literally) in 1932 alone. The suspension brought a temporary end to a nationwide run on banks by depositors. On 9 March the US Congress rapidly passed the Emergency Banking Relief Act in a first move toward substantial restrictions on private financial institutions.
Three months after the emergency law, Congress passed the Banking Act, commonly known as the Glass–Steagall Act of 1933 (not to be confused with the relatively trivial Glass–Steagall Act of 1932).
“Government causes inflation” probably stands first among the favorite refrains of the econfakers. Allegedly based on sound economic theory, the argument provides great benefit to the rich and powerful, repeatedly used against public spending. As a practical matter, except for fears of alien invasion, few anxieties are less relevant early in the twenty-first century than those about dangers of inflation.
In 2010 the rate of inflation in the US was less than 2%, and negative the year before. During those two years unemployment in the US rose to over 14 million, close to 10% of the labor force. A US Gallup poll in May of 2010 demonstrated the power of the inflation ideology by reporting that 59% of those surveyed described themselves as “very concerned” about the rate of inflation, with another 29% “somewhat concerned,” and only 15% “not very or not at all concerned.”
In 2012 in the UK, with its unemployment rate of 8% and falling household incomes for three consecutive years, inflation fears allegedly gripped the public: “The Bank of England's dilemma over whether to stimulate the recession-hit UK economy was sharpened further yesterday by a survey showing that the public's inflation expectations have risen in recent months, despite falls in the headline rate [to less than 3%].”
Why should inflation at 2% and 3% grip the public with such angst that its makes rampant unemployment and declining earnings secondary concerns? And why attribute inflation to governments (“the Bank of England's dilemma”)?
The first man who, having fenced in a piece of land, said “This is mine,” and found people naïve enough to believe him, that man was the true founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not anyone have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this impostor; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.
People will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.
(Office of Strategic Services, describing Hitler's psychological profile)
All over the globe people experience frustration when buying and selling. Not infrequently the frustration involves more than a hint of fraud, as in “I was gypped!” Criminal fraud in buying and selling is quite common. More common are the day-to-day disappointments that result from believing what you read in advertising propaganda.
Despite these repeated disappointments while shopping, an amazingly large number of people oppose government restrictions on markets, for the apparent reason that these regulations would limit the benefits markets allegedly deliver. This combination presents a perplexing contradiction. Everyday experience informs people that markets are fraught with disappointment and fraud. Many if not most of these people believe that markets should be regulated only in exceptional circumstances.
Any intelligent fool can make things bigger and more complex… It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.
Critics complain that economists arrogantly pretend to understand far more than they actually do. This criticism is too weak. The mainstream claims profound knowledge of the economy, understands almost nothing and obscures almost everything. This assertion may strike the reader as either shocking or slanderous (or both), rather like accusing engineers of knowing nothing about mechanical devices.
Nonetheless, it is true and not difficult to demonstrate.
What is difficult is to explain why so many people in so many countries of the world revere economists as gurus. In part it may come from the econfaker practice of using in-group terminology whose meaning to the layperson remains obscurely impenetrable. I treat this misplaced reverence at some length, because it reflects a stronger version of the hypothesis attributed to Abraham Lincoln, that most of the people can be fooled not just some of the time, but most of the time (especially if the media are in the hands of those who benefit from the mainstream economic ideology). Perhaps more appropriate to describe the broad acceptance of the reactionary banalities of economists is “a sucker is born every minute” (origin highly disputed).
Not long ago a friend asked me to explain the difference between the public budget deficit and the public debt, and soon after another wanted to know if the Federal Reserve Banks were private, profit-making institutions. I was struck that intelligent and informed people with advanced university degrees would ask such basic questions.
Why, I asked myself, are many people ignorant of simple aspects of our economy? To me, a professional economist for almost fifty years, the answer to that question is simple. It is the motivation for this book. Mainstream economists have been extraordinarily successful in indoctrinating people to believe that the workings of the economy are far too complex for any but experts (i.e., the economists themselves) to understand.
The mainstream of the economics profession achieves this indoctrination by misrepresenting markets or, to be blunt, systematically marketing falsehoods (and I am tempted to use a four letter word beginning with “l”). It was not always so, and I dedicate this book to progressive economists who are not liars, be they Keynesians, Ricardians, Marxists, institutionalists or evolutionists. What we all have in common is that over the last 30 years, when the “econfakers” school of economics (see below) seized the mainstream, it expelled us all as heretics and incompetents.
The enforcement of fiscal austerity qualifies as the single most important public policy consequence of the abandonment of economics in favor of fakeconomics. Acceptance of austerity by the public in almost every major advanced country is even more perversely impressive than the austerity itself. Anyone born after 1960 must find it hard to believe that once, long ago it seems, the belief in balanced budgets did not drive public finances, nor did governments agonize over and quake in breathless anticipation of the “verdict of financial markets” on their policy decisions.
The overthrow of rigor and common sense in what we once called the economics profession did not cause this seismic shift in the ideology of public policy. We can trace the chronology of causality quite clearly, especially in Britain and the US. The cause lies in the secular decline of trade union influence and the parallel rise in the power of capital. Aneurin (“Nye”) Bevan, tireless Welsh campaigner for the rights of working people, stated the danger succinctly.
This paper, then, is a serious analysis of a ridiculous subject, which is of course the opposite of what is usual in economics.
Do not be alarmed by simplification, complexity is often a device for claiming sophistication, or for evading simple truths.
(John Kenneth Galbraith)
Idolatry of Competition
From tiny acorns great oaks grow. In a case of dogma imitating nature, from low and banal theory mainstream economists ascend to extreme ideological heights. With superficial and simplistic propositions the economics mainstream constructs a great and complex ideological edifice from which it issues oracle-like judgments over the affairs of humankind (see Box: The Construction of Nonsense). The employment, inflation and antigovernment parables of the current mainstream derive from a shortlist of putatively incontestable propositions which can be found in almost all introductory, and many advanced, textbooks:
Desires and preferences are unique to each person;
on the basis of these desires and preferences people enter into exchanges of their free will, seeking to satisfy themselves through market exchanges with other people;
these market activities, including the exchange of a person's capacity to work, are to obtain the income to buy the goods and services dictated by the person's desires and preferences;
many people seeking simultaneously to buy and sell generates competition; and this competition ensures that people buy and sell at prices that are socially beneficial;
action by any collective or individual authority, private or public, that restricts the potential for people to buy and sell reduces the social benefits generated by markets;[…]
Right-wing politicians, famously the late Margaret Thatcher, preach that public finances should mimic the behavior of household budgets. There is truth in this homily, but not for the reasons that the reactionaries claim. The lesson they draw is that budgets should be balanced and debt is an evil to be avoided. They seem to take as unholy writ Benjamin Franklin's view that “the second vice is lying, the first is running in debt,” and “when you run in debt, you give to another power over your liberty” (both from Poor Richard's Almanack). In German and Dutch the word schuld means both “debt” and “guilt,” a double meaning that Poor Richard would no doubt endorse.
Thatcher's entreaty for governments to balance their budgets like households, and Poor Richard's equation between debt and loss of liberty represent ideology-manufactured clichés, at complete odds with how households manage their finances. A family “budget deficit” is an excess of expenditures over income for some specified time period, such as a month. The household debt consists of the value of all the loans and other liabilities (as in, “liable for them”) of the family.
In the US and most of Europe households buy their homes with a mortgage; that is, they go into debt. Few people would say, “Never take a mortgage, because all debt is bad.” My father did take this position, renting all his life.
Governments are notoriously bad at managing the money they collect. In fairness, the obstacles are many: incompetency, corruption, the sheer complexity of disbursing huge sums, the multiplicity and difficulty of the tasks at hand… The result is that the state is always in need of more money. No matter how high the taxes, there is never enough.
For a long time the degree of concentration [of income and wealth] fluctuated around a fairly stable rate. But in the past two or three decades it has increased markedly, making it more difficult for supporters of capitalism to argue that a rising tide floats all boats… But for all the looming problems, it is still untrue that the nanny state knows best.
Government Is a Burden
The mission statement of fakeconomics includes as its central message the inherent inefficiency and intrinsic malevolence of governments at all levels. The canons of the Society of Econfakers begin with the conviction that regulation of private economic activity brings inefficiency. This inefficiency invariably results from the malicious influence of “special interests,” acting against the general welfare that free markets foster. The action of citizens in a democratic society to achieve common goals through collective action at best functions as a dictatorship of the majority. At its worst it paves the “Road to Serfdom.”
The fakeconomics worldview supports the reactionary message that taxes are a burden on honest citizens just trying to make a living.
People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.
Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.
(Franklin D. Roosevelt)
I suspect that most people understand “competition” to mean a process in which more than one person wants an outcome that cannot be gained by everyone seeking it. This interpretation of competition follows that found in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, which offers “rivalry” as the first definition and “contest among rivals” as the second. The Cambridge dictionary has a more aggressive definition: “a situation in which someone is trying to win something or be more successful than someone else,” and a competition is “an organized event in which people try to win a prize by being the best, fastest, etc.” The explicit implication of these definitions as well as the common-sense view is that in competition someone wins and most lose.
Econfakers reject this definition and all it implies. Where they dwell competition is quite different. First and foremost, it is an outcome, not a process. Second, and equally fundamental, it is not a rivalry in which a few win and most lose. It is continuous harmony of economic coexistence, a romantic dance to market forces.
I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.
(Matthew 19:23–4 It is obvious that Matthew never took a course in fakeconomics)
Two elderly women are at a Catskill mountain resort, and one of 'em says, “Boy, the food at this place is really terrible.” The other one says, “Yeah, I know; and such small portions.”
For all its failings, supporters of an unregulated markets system believe it has one great saving grace. This virtue trumps all its sins. In an unregulated market economy anyone can become rich if he or she has the necessary drive, commitment and optimism. Government interference through taxes and regulations on market behavior rob people of the opportunity to be graced with that reward for diligence, prudence and enterprise.
Of course, everyone cannot be rich. The fakeconomics myth is not that simplistic and naïve. The shining path offered, what might be called the Sendero Luminoso of the econfakers, recognizes that only a few can, but anyone, even you, could be among the few. This fable teaches that accession by the few is not a lottery, but the direct result of individual effort. In a sentence: If you want it, go for it, and you'll get it unless the government stops you through its socialist meddling.
With the US presidential election of 2012 in the rearview mirror, a so-called fiscal cliff allegedly threatened the country with disaster. The time is long overdue to drive a stake through the heart of the budget-cut ideology manifested in the “fiscal cliff ” propaganda, not only in the US but also Europe. This ideology draws great support from the coup that replaced economics with nonsense as the true guide to public policy.
In the politically reactionary period that we find ourselves, all but a few politicians and most of the media present as self-evident and needing no defense the proposition that governments should continuously balance their budgets and not accumulate debt. Lack of an economic or even accounting justification for balancing the budget has not stopped this fiscal foolishness from justifying appallingly antisocial policies under the umbrella of “austerity.” In the US the power of this venal ideology convinced a substantial portion of the public of the necessity for reductions in Medicare and Social Security benefits, previously judged as politically untouchable.
The “austerity doctrine” maintains that current public revenues should cover all government expenditures. If they do not, tax increases and/or spending reductions must quickly correct the deficit. Part of this ideology is the fantasy that “fiscal correction” will have little or no impact on total output or growth because expansion of the private sector automatically compensates for the contraction of the public sector.
Several studies demonstrating that central line–associated bloodstream infections (CLABSIs) are preventable prompted a national initiative to reduce the incidence of these infections.
We conducted a collaborative cohort study to evaluate the impact of the national “On the CUSP: Stop BSI” program on CLABSI rates among participating adult intensive care units (ICUs). The program goal was to achieve a unit-level mean CLABSI rate of less than 1 case per 1,000 catheter-days using standardized definitions from the National Healthcare Safety Network. Multilevel Poisson regression modeling compared infection rates before, during, and up to 18 months after the intervention was implemented.
A total of 1,071 ICUs from 44 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, reporting 27,153 ICU-months and 4,454,324 catheter-days of data, were included in the analysis. The overall mean CLABSI rate significantly decreased from 1.96 cases per 1,000 catheter-days at baseline to 1.15 at 16–18 months after implementation. CLABSI rates decreased during all observation periods compared with baseline, with adjusted incidence rate ratios steadily decreasing to 0.57 (95% confidence intervals, 0.50–0.65) at 16–18 months after implementation.
Coincident with the implementation of the national “On the CUSP: Stop BSI” program was a significant and sustained decrease in CLABSIs among a large and diverse cohort of ICUs, demonstrating an overall 43% decrease and suggesting the majority of ICUs in the United States can achieve additional reductions in CLABSI rates.