Friday, March 30, 2012

Newspapers 2

In he classical liberal view of the press, the most important thing, which gobbled up all the attention, was the relationship with the government. The heroic struggle was to escape government censorship of various forms - from outright banning to the state's booted strategy of assessing various taxes - for each copy, or for advertisement - to the newspapers. What the state was doing to suppress freedom of the press was, as well, an impediment to freedom of trade. The classical liberal could thus take up two favorite causes when, abstractly, defending the newspapers Benjamin Constant’s essay (1819), The liberty of the ancients compared with the moderns is an important intellectual link in a chain that goes back through the enlightenment to the British revolutions of the middle of the 17th century; and it made the classical liberal case in the early nineteenth century in ways that were certainly echoed on the Continent, at least. The very title points us back to the battle of the books, the effort by Perrault and Fontenelle to forge another notion of history than that humanistic one which put the scholar in perpetual servitude to the classics. The moderns had long won, but the battle was worth rehearsing (and not simply by Constant - it is rehearsed endlessly in the history of European philosophy) because the stake, this time, was not taste or technology - not progress - but a change in the mode of political experience that acknowledged the end of the old order. Constant does not so much trace an accumulation of knowledge or taste, but instead traces the systematic substitutions that ensue when the ancient idea of liberty is inverted in the modern idea of freedom. Constant presents two determinants of the ancient idea of liberty: one was an ethos of glory that found in war the expression of the highest virtues; the other was a very public view of private life, in which the way one behaved in one’s domestic space was subject, always, to public censure. The moderns have substituted (Constant hopefully claims) commerce for war, while erecting walls to block the transparency of the private life to the public gaze. The ancient city state was, in fact, small enough that the private life spilled out into the public forum; that the private citizen could very well collaborate in government, whose operations were not on a grand scale, and consisted mainly of finding outlets, compensations, for the animal spirits of its citizens (hence, war against an external foe draws away energy from internal feuds); and that was economically semi-autonomous.  These conditions do not apply to the great modern powers

It results, from what I have just explained, that we can no longer enjoy the liberty of the ancients, which was composed of active and constant participation in collective power. Our own liberty must be composed of the peaceful enjoyment of private independence. The part that each took in national sovereignty in antiquity was not, as in our day, an abstract suppositon. The will of each had a real influence; the exercise of that power was a lively and repeated pleasure. In consequence, the ancients were disposed to make many sacrifices for the conservation of their political rights and their part in the administration of the state. Each felt with pride all that their sufferage meant, finding in that consciousness of one’s personal importance an ample recompense. This recompense no longer exists for us today. Lost in the multitude, the individual almost never perceives the influence that he exercizes. Never is his will imprinted on the collective, nothing evidences to his own eyes his cooperation. The exercise of political rights thus offers us no more than a portion of the enjoyment that the ancients found in it, and at the same time the progress of civilization, the commercial tendencies of the epoch, the communication of peoples among themselves, have multiplied and varied infinitely the means to private happiness.”
In this image, commerce – in classical liberal fashion – is enfolded in the private sphere, which thrusts it outside the household and re-deploys the vocabulary of liberty. The happiness of the individual is enjoyed privately, though necessarily earned through public action. Like commerce, the press exists in the mid-terrain between the household and the state, and participates, as well, in the universal mechanism of compensation – by alternately feeding the delusion of private participation in public administration and by encouraging the feeling that individual power is an anachronism, superceded by the multitude. The industrial experience of the multitude, the assembly line, the treadmill of goods, has its correlate in the newspapers columnar structure, its infinite and dispiriting diversity. 

Thursday, March 29, 2012


It is generally agreed that we live in mean and seedy times: the age of the artificial woody, the entertainment-security complex, and a political system that has vanished in a mist of legalized bribery and impression management. Cast a glance at the Forbes hundred top billionaire and trillionaire losers and try to imagine the fun if some world government seized all their money and burnt it – yes, it would relieve the world of a little pain, but it would do surprisingly little good. The system incorrigibly generates these kind of autistic dinosaurs.

So – in lieu of the bonfire of their vanities – at least we can, occasionally, peak at their email. This week, as DSK – that’s Dominique Strauss-Kahn to you Americans – gets officially clamped for pimping, his emails got sorted out in the press. Now, this is  a press composed of people who, two years ago, were his BFFs (whatever that means. It is one of those internet acronyms that has the sort of upshifting, Valley kinda ring to it, which is why I’m using it,  but of BFF in general I’m strictly still WTF?) In other words, the compliant, knowitall press that Segolene so accurately denounced for their sexism, their middle of the roadism, and their toadyism – the new chiens du garde like the old chiens du garde, and someone’s in the kitchen with Dina – have officially turned on the master. 

Which gets us to the vocabulary of the emails. Since America is transfixed, at the moment, with the joys of its newest retro craze, lynching – making a big comeback in Florida, I hear – the emails of DSK have not, so far, made it through the grate.  The NYT story about his arrest was disappointingly dreary with filler, no mention made of the “material”.

Here’s the first paragraph of the story in Le Monde:

Il les appelle des "filles", des "copines", des "petites". Parfois même Dominique Strauss-Kahn use du mot "matériel", comme dans ce texto, un mois de juillet : "Veux-tu (peux-tu) venir découvrir une magnifique boîte coquine à Madrid avec moi (et du matériel) le 4 juillet ?" Une autre fois, il utilise une périphrase, celles qu'on "aura dans ses bagages". Et évoque même, un jour, un mystérieux "cadeau" offert au peintre Titouan Lamazou.
[He calls them the girls, the girlfriends, the little things. Sometimes, even, Dominique Strauss-Kahn uses the word “material”, as in this text, in july: Do you want (can you) come to find a magnificent, cute club in Madrid with me (and material) on July 4? Another time, he utilized a periphrase, those that one “had in one’s bagages” And even evokes, on day, a mysterious “gift” offered to the painter, Titouan Lamazou.]

Material – now, that is a word to jump on. For DSK was an economist, and moved in a pluto-world where humanity had been reduced to two classes: one of “human capital”, the other of ‘innovators’ – aka, rich old fucks. Long gone are de Sade’s libertines, whose every ejaculaton was aura-ed with blasphemy. The orgy, now, is papered in business inspirational prose – just as business inspirational prose is papered in the kabuki language of porn. The girlfriends were probably as conversant as DSK’s buddies in the wow moment.  It is a virtuous circle of the vicious, all converging on a magnifique boîte coquine.
One can forgive the rich much – and besides, one has no choice.
But not their tackiness. At least one has been busted – a small victory for humanity.    

Monday, March 26, 2012

A defense of crank economics

Economics is the art of pretending that the dots are unconnectable. Although in God's own time, we will see that they form the image of a balance - equilibrium being the divinity's one and only aim. Crank economics – of which I am a proud purveyor on this here site – is the art of claiming that the dots are so infinitely connectable that you have to be blind, heartless or bribed not to see it.

"In 2010, as the nation continued to recover from the recession, a dizzying 93 percent of the additional income created in the country that year, compared to 2009 — $288 billion — went to the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with at least $352,000 in income. That delivered an average single-year pay increase of 11.6 percent to each of these households.
Still more astonishing was the extent to which the super rich got rich faster than the merely rich. In 2010, 37 percent of these additional earnings went to just the top 0.01 percent, a teaspoon-size collection of about 15,000 households with average incomes of $23.8 million. These fortunate few saw their incomes rise by 21.5 percent."
To round out the crime in another way: “The bottom 99 percent received a microscopic $80 increase in pay per person in 2010, after adjusting for inflation. The top 1 percent, whose average income is $1,019,089, had an 11.6 percent increase in income.”
Now, of course, we are to believe, on the best authority, that this kind of thing has nothing to do with politics, and everything to do with, oh, free trade, or the talent premium, or IQ, or whatever story your favorite press or think tank brownnoser thinks best. 
What we are not going to be told is this:
This is the outcome you get when you loan 16 trillion dollars to the financial sector, in which the wealthiest of the wealthy have concentrated their fortunes, at one percent or less, while the ninety nine percent have to content themselves with paying off their ARM mortgages, credit cards, and student loans at interest rates of between 5 to 10 percent. Back of the envelop estimates for the point spread between the interest on that amount of money that the Fed (with the cooperation of the treasury) lent to the financial sector, and by implication the top 1 percent, and what it would have cost coming from the private sector comes to something like 600 billion dollars. A nice little gift for the wealthy. And that gift keeps on giving, for the leverage it gives makes it all but certain that the wealthy will increase their share of the national income using all the greasy tools at their disposal.
Add to the comedy of the political economic debate the fact that it has been staged, in our public consciousness, as if there were only two rings to the three ring circus. In the one right stands the libertarian liquidationist, a moral stooge for the plutocrats whose rhetoric they welcome (if only we hadn’t been rescued by the government!) while they gobble down government largesse. The other ring is the plutocrat Keynesians, who insist on easy money as well as lunch money for the lower 99 percent – unemployment benefits, for instance. No peep about, say, perhaps the state loaning money at that nice one percent to the 99 percent, using the easy to create vehicle of a state financial institution, a sort of state superbank, into which the people could also park their retirement money. Even tax free. For a more sure rate than they would get from the kites and carrion eaters on Wall Street.
That kind of idea is way off limits, because our rulers insist on a tworing circus only. I urge you, my few readers, to embrace crank economics before Pluto-economics embraces and crushes you, and sucks your marrow.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...