Tuesday, December 05, 2017

the origin of the phrase, "american dream"

The term “American dream” seems to have come into currency in the thirties. It is often attributed to James Truslow Adams, who used it in a book in 1931 to refer a certain American style of thought. However, it was used at least a year earlier to refer to the movies. According to the Literary Gazette, movies were characterized as dreams by a French critic, Bernard Fay, who claimed that they were, pre-eminently, "American dreams".
It makes sense to me that American dream would emerge from the intersection of the analogy of movies to dreams and the crisis of American capitalism, for the dream metaphor is, otherwise, a curious one. It implies, among other things, a collective sleep – yet it is supposed to speak to an overall  waking purpose. It lacks the abstractness of an ideal. It is sexier than a project, less religious than a vision. It is not a mission - which is the French myth, the mission civilisatrice. It contrasts with the British pride in absentmindedness - that smug "absentmindedness" by which Britain acquired an empire.
Movies, through a persistent analogy – the moving picture seen in a dark room, the dream seen under closed eyes – were dreams that violated the limit of the dream, which is the rule that dreams are private, one person only affairs. The metaphor dispenses with the condition inhering in the term referred to. Historians, who often are amazingly clumsy philologists, have a tendency not to care about the conditions of the emergence of a phrase, but brandish it around as though it were implicitly in the thoughts of the founding fathers, or the Pilgrims, or immigrants, etc. But this kind of procedure is, to say the least, extremely unhistorical. We wouldn't attribute an electric razor to the Pilgrims, and I see little reason for attributing the American dream to them. Both are material devices.
If this is right, and the movie metaphor established the rhetorical conditions for the political metaphor, then we can see the American dream as a uniquely modernist invention, and the discourse around it as, among other things, the way in which American modernism sought to understand itself. And like many modernist inventions, it immediately seeks to naturalize itself, to produce bogus roots in a much larger history, to invent a tradition for itself.

Monday, December 04, 2017

silver lining and an opportunity

There's a silver lining and an opportunity in what has been happening in Congress.

The big steal effected by the GOP necessitated blowing up the obsolete protocols of the Senate and the House. You remember those protocols from 2009, when we were all told that we couldn't have a nice public option and a much more extensive ACA cause we needed sixty votes to do it in the Senate. As the GOP has shown, if you have the majority, you make the rules. When the Dems are the majority in the House and the Senate, or even just one chamber, they will no longer be able to toss the progressive promises that put them there out cause of 'bi-partisanship", or some fuckwad rule made up in 1980. The GOP has accidentally liberated Congress and made it more democratic. This is a definite huge advance.

The opportunity is for the Dems to get rid of their Herbert Hoover complex. Until the 90s, the one D. advantage was that they understood the business cycle. The GOP, having a religious faith in the market, can't admit to market failure. The D.'s then were the adult party. As adults, they realized that the question about the deficit is when we should have one and what it should do. Among the many "problems" with the Clinton administration was the way it hustled fifty years of experience out there door, passing de-regulatory legislation that was implicitly founded on the impossibility of market failure (hence that piece of TNT, sponsored by Phil Gramm and endorsed by Bill C., called the Commodities Modernization Act of 2000, which basically primed the depression of 2008) and by fetishizing deficit reduction. The latter resulted in the idiotic politics of 2000 - an election year in which the signals were that a recession was here - in which the Clinton policiy of protecting the budget surplus turned into the politics of putting an "iron box" around social security, which was what happens when you lose the justification for a policy and you pick one ad hoc. Bush, proving that a stopped clock is right twice a day, actually addressed the oncoming recession by proposing a tax cut. It was an awful tax cut, and the deficit it caused was a very distant stimulus, but at least it recognized that a stimulus was necessary.

In 2009, Christine Romer, Obama's economic advisor, told him that the stimulus should be twice as big - about 800 billion dollars bigger - to really lift the country out of the depression. There has been talk about whether Larry Summers cut that figure in half, or whether Obama just rejected it - in any case, Obama, taking up the Herbert Hoover cross, allowed the Fed to loan the banks and Wall street much much more than that 800 billion while he introduced and the Congress passed a stimulus of around a trillion dollars. If Romer's advice had been followed, we would have had a much quicker recovery, and we would not have witness wage stagnation for six years for the majority of the working class. In combination with an ACA that was much more like the one O. promised in his presidential campaign, there's a good chance we would have seen D.'s triumph in 2010, instead of failing epically. 

By coincidence, the deficit proposed by the GOP is equivalent to Romer's proposal eight years ago. But it is a deficit that is being unloaded at a time when the economy is near full employment. And it is going to the least likely sector when it comes to economic stimulus. These are the points I am hoping the D.s press. If they press the "deficit! horrors!" button, they really have learned nothing.

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...