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The Complaint Of New Amsterdam

Given the recent celebrations of the arrival of Henry Hudson and the Dutch here in 1609, it is certainly worth noting that this year also marks the 350th anniversary of poetry—and some would say publicity—in our city. Jacob Steendam (1616-1672) came to New Amsterdam in the 1650s, acquiring land and eventually getting involved in the slave trade. After the British took over in 1664, renaming the city New York, Steendam left, later ending up as the superintendent of an orphan house in the Dutch colony of Batavia (now Jakarta). As the 19th-century literary critic Edward S. Van Zile observed, the following poem “is the first known effort at verse in the colony, and is worthy of attention from its historical rather than literary interest.”
T. Hamm

The Complaint Of New Amsterdam (1659)
by Jacob Steendam

I’m a grandchild of the Gods
Who on th’ Amstel have abodes;
Whence their orders forth are sent
Swift for aid and punishment.

I, of Amsterdam, was born,
Early of her breasts forlorn;
From her care so quickly weaned
Oft have I my fate bemoaned.

From my youth up left alone,
Naught save hardship have I known;
Dangers have beset my way
From the first I saw the day.

Think you that a cause for marvel?
This will then the thread unravel,
And the circumstances trace,
Which upon my birth took place.

Would you ask for my descent?
Long the time was it I spent
In the loins of warlike Mars.
‘T seems my mother, seized with fears,

Prematurely brought me forth.
But I now am very. loth
To inform how this befol;
Though ‘twas thus, I know full well.

Bacchus, too,-it is no dream,
First beheld the daylight’s beam
From the thigh of Jupiter.
But my reasons go too far.

My own matter must I say,
And not loiter by the way,
Yen though Bacchus oft has proven
Friend to ine in my misfortune.

Now the mid-wife who received me,
Was Bellona; in suspense, she
Long did sit in trembling fear,
For the travail was severe.

From the moment I was born,
Indian neighbors made me mourn.
They pursued me night and day,
While my mother kept away.

But my sponsors did supply
Better my necessity;
They sustained my feeble life;
They procured a bounteous wife

As my nurse, who did not spare
To my lips her paps to bare.
This was Ceres; freely she
Rendered what has nurtured me.

Her most dearly will I prize;
She has made my horns to rise;
Trained my growth through tender years,
‘Midst my burdens and my cares.

True, both simple ‘twas and scant,
What I had to feed my want.
Oft ‘t was nought except Supawn
And the flesh of buck or fawn.

When I thus began to grow,
No more care did they bestow.
Yet my breasts are full and neat,
And my hips are firmly set.

Neptune shows me his good will;
Merc’ry, quick, exerts his skill
Me t’adorn with silk and gold;
Whence I’m sought by suitors bold.

Stricken by my cheek’s fresh bloom,
By my beauteous youthful form,
They attempt to seize the treasure
To enjoy their wanton pleasure.

They, my orchards too, would plunder.
Truly ‘tis a special wonder,
That a maid, with such a portion,
Does not suffer more misfortune

For, I venture to proclaim,
No one can a maiden name,
Who with richer land is blessed
Than th’ estate by me possessed.

See! two streams my garden bind,
From the East and North they wind,
Rivers pouring in the sea,
Rich in fish, beyond degree.

Milk and butter; fruits to eat
No one can enumerate;
Ev’ry vegetable known;
Grain the best that e’er was grown.

All the blessings man e’er knew,
Here does our Great Giver strew,
(And a climate;ne’er more pure)
But for me,-yet immature,

Fraught with danger; for the Swine
Trample down these crops of mine;
Up-root, too, my choicest land;
Still and dumb, the while, I stand,

In the hope, my mother’s arm
Will protect me from the harm.
She can succour my distress.
Now my wish, my sole request,

Is for men to till my land;
So I’ll not in silence stand.
I have lab’rors almost none;
Let my household large become;

I’ll my mother’s kitchen furnish
With my knicknacks, with my surplus;
With tobacco, furs and grain;
So that Prussia she’ll disdain.

Roots of the Crisis

In the winter of 2003, I sat down with Comptroller Bill Thompson to discuss the direction of the city’s economy. During the course of the conversation, Thompson criticized Mayor Bloomberg’s defense of predatory (a.k.a. sub-prime) lenders.  In 2002, Bloomberg had vetoed anti-predatory lending legislation—and here Thompson explains why.  –T. Hamm

RAIL: What’s the mayor’s position on corporate governance reform?

THOMPSON: He talks about it, but in some instances, clearly he has concerns about some other things. For example, his vetoing of the predatory lending bill that the City Council passed, and then going to court to enjoin the City Council and my office from enforcing that legislation. He’s like, “Well, you’ll do damage to the companies—you’ll undercut subprime lending.” I disagree with him.

For more, see: Theodore Hamm, “William Thompson’s Challenges” (Rail, April-May 2003); and Nicholas Jahr, “Subprime Crimes: From Wall Street to Brooklyn and Beyond,” (Rail, March 2008).

Notes on the New “Plutonomy”

In a March 5, 2006 industry note, Citibank analysts outlined an equity strategy under the title of “Revisiting Plutonomy: The Rich Getting Richer.” In his new film Capitalism: A Love Story, Michael Moore mentions the note and its key term in order to characterize current economic trends. What follows are excerpts from the original Citibank note.
-–W. Cole and T. Hamm

Our thesis is that the rich are the dominant drivers of demand in many economies around the world  (the U.S., U.K., Canada and Australia). These economies have seen the rich take an increasing share of income and wealth over the last 20 years, to the extent that the rich now dominate income, wealth and spending in these countries. Asset booms, a rising profit share and favorable treatment by market-friendly governments have allowed the rich to prosper and become a greater share of the economy in the plutonomy countries. Also, new media dissemination technologies like internet downloading, cable and satellite TV, have disproportionately increased the audiences, and hence gains to “superstars”—think golf, soccer, and baseball players, music/TV and movie icons, fashion models, designers, celebrity chefs etc. These “content” providers, the tech whizzes who own the pipes and distribution, the lawyers and bankers who intermediate globalization and productivity, the CEOs who lead the charge in converting globalization and technology to increase the profit share of the economy at the expense of labor, all contribute to plutonomy. Why as equity investors do we care about these issues? Despite being in great shape, we think that global capitalists are going to be getting an even greater share of the wealth pie over the next few years, as capitalists benefit disproportionately from globalization and the productivity boom, at the relative expense of labor.

Risks—What Could Go Wrong?
Our whole plutonomy thesis is based on the idea that the rich will keep getting richer. This thesis is not without its risks. For example, a policy error leading to asset deflation, would likely damage plutonomy. Furthermore, the rising wealth gap between the rich and poor will probably at some point lead to a political backlash.Whilst the rich are getting a greater share of the wealth, and the poor a lesser share, political enfrachisement remains as was – one person, one vote (in the plutonomies). At some point it is likely that labor will fight back against the rising profit share of the rich and there will be a political backlash against the rising wealth of the rich. This could be felt through higher taxation (on the rich or indirectly though higher corporate taxes/regulation) or through trying to protect indigenous laborers, in a push-back on globalization—either anti-immigration, or protectionism.We don’t see this happening yet, though there are signs of rising political tensions. However we are keeping a close eye on developments.

New York today:
As of 2008, “Income disparities were higher in New York than in any other state.”

(Source: Sam Roberts, “N.Y. Poverty Data Paint Mixed Picture,” New York Times, 9-29-09).


The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2009

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