Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Up against the wall mother... of invention

John Rich singing "Shutting Detroit Down", (hat to Forensic Economist)

David Seaton's News Links
The American Dream is based on the extraordinary idea/fantasy/vision of an endless horizon, of unlimited possibility, of infinite social mobility, of ceaseless, all solving invention, a place where everyone has/had a chance at "the Diamond as Big as the Ritz".

This vision explains the unique phenomenon of a country where simultaneously the word "elitist" is an insult and the wealthy and the famous are worshiped.

However the dream has its cut-in-stone rules, its iron logic. Those rules, that logic are being violated.
My daddy taught me
In this county everyone's the same
You work hard for your dollar
And you never pass the blame
When it don't go your way

Now I see all these big shots
Whining on my evening news
About how their losing billions
And it's up to me and you
To come running to the rescue
"Shutting Detroit Down" - John Rich
There is hell to pay.

Running out of road, discovering limits, this is the nightmare of the right, that is why, for example, that they react so virulently, so insistently against the clear danger of climate change. Global warming means finding limits.

Ideally, America's vision of capitalism is like a version of musical chairs where new chairs are being added constantly. Everybody imagines that they'll finally get a seat.

However in a Global warming scenario the music stops and instead of a chair being added or one chair being taken away as in the classic game, most of the chairs are removed and unless the remaining chairs are shared fairly, most human beings will be left standing for eternity or rebel and take the chairs for themselves from the few who posses them.

For a long time, despite stagnant salaries and purchasing power, easy credit - mostly loaned to Americans by foreign savers - has allowed this peculiar game of musical chairs to continue. Now even the piano is being repossessed.

In a real sense the American Dream itself may be turning out to be a Madoff style
Ponzi scheme.

One of my favorite practices is to put quotes next to each other and see how they resonate, the same way that musical notes form a chord: the resulting sound is more than the sum of the parts.

Here are two, that juxtaposed, drip with zeitgeist, brim with the writing on the wall.
It has been odd, over the past six months, not to have the gospel of success as part of the normal background music of life. You go about your day, taking in the news and the new movies, books and songs, and only gradually do you become aware that there is an absence. There are no aspirational stories of rags-to-riches success floating around. There are no new how-to-get-rich enthusiasms. There are few magazine covers breathlessly telling readers that some new possibility — biotechnology, nanotechnology — is about to change everything. That part of American culture that stokes ambition and encourages risk has gone silent. We are now in an astonishingly noncommercial moment. Risk is out of favor. The financial world is abashed. Enterprise is suspended. The public culture is dominated by one downbeat story after another as members of the educated class explore and enjoy the humiliation of the capitalist vulgarians. David Brooks - New York Times

Socialism is an ideology founded on optimism - the hope that the world could be a better place if its relations are rooted in co-operation rather than competition, and solidarity rather than insularity. But for much of my adult life the opportunity to apply those principles has been rare. Gary Younge - Guardian
I suppose David Brooks would count John Rich, the author of "Shutting Detroit Down" among members of the educated class that "explore and enjoy the humiliation of the of the capitalist vulgarians".

What I don't see yet is how we get from Brooks to Younge.

What I don't see yet is a charismatic, working class politician in the line of a Huckabee or a Palin saying, like Gary Younge, that "the world could be a better place if its relations are rooted in co-operation rather than competition, and solidarity rather than insularity". I don't hear a down home voice like a Huckabee or a Palin talking, with the angry, Woody Guthrie-like passion of a John Rich, about nationalizing General Motors to save those jobs and pensions.

I opened with John Rich, so I'll close with Cole Porter,
"Use your mentality, wake up to reality"
The day that happens, the entire world will change overnight.

I am enough of an American exceptionalist to believe that, as America is the cutting edge, the vanguard of capitalism, it is "only in America" where capitalism will be finally tamed, if it ever is. DS


bailey alexander said...

Invention, maybe, but isn't this more a manufacturing issue?
If the guy in China charges 5hr and the guy in the US charges 25hr for his labor, both cars being equal, why would you pay more in a global market.

Kevin E. said...

Hi David,

your post reminded me of Leonard Cohen, who said it all so well almost 20 years ago in "Democracy is coming to the USA": it could have been written this morning. Here are two stanzas, and may it be so!

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Anonymous said...

It's possible the Mike Huckabee's of the world (Saw him walking to his hotel in NY and resisted calling him an asshole. Just said "Hey Mike".) could adcovate cooperation over competition in a way that could appeal to the "down home" folks. That's why as a conservative I thank the God I barely believe in for far left hippie atheists and their virulent hostility to religion, specifically Christianity. That alone should ensure that most evangelicals (33% of the vote) NEVER vote democrat.

Your post reminds me of a discussion I had with this guy once and he brought up John Nash and the analogy about the group of guys getting laid that Nash used to go with his equations. These supposedly proved that it is in people's interest to cooperate.

The analogy, as I'm sure you know, goes that if all of the guys trying to get some go for the hot girl they'll be rebuffed, but if they all talk to her less attractive friends and ignore her they all get laid. I told him what that does not take into account is that people still only cooperate because they feel it is in their interest to do so, therefore self-interest is always at the root of everything human beings do. Also if one of the guys could get with the hot chick by screwing over the others, he would do it, and if the other guys had a problem with that they would be whiny dorks. I didnt use that exact wording but I wont get too vulgar on your site.

Another good way to look at it is the way my friend Shaun once put it. Once "need" turns into "want", that's the end of social cooperation.

I wouldnt have a problem with cooperation so much except that "we're all in it together" is just as effective if not more so in disenfranchising the people. Look at the Soviet Union or N. Korea.

In my experience in the job world whenever someone says we're all in it together and we're have to sacrifice, it's always because someone higher up screwed up and they want the lower guys to suffer so they dont have to.