Victory means exit strategy, and it's important for the President to explain to us what the exit strategy is.    The Honorable Governor of Texas, George W. Bush

I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.    Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, November 25, 2004

One Market Under God, a review

In the aftermath of the election I found myself continually wondering how a person working her ass off to make $30,000.00 a year does not realize that the person she just voted for was the enabler behind the $1,500.00 increase in real estate taxes she was complaining about two weeks prior.

Enter Thomas Frank. Frank is a PHD of History from the University of Chicago who has written What's the Matter with Kansas?, subtitled "How Conservatives Won the Heart of America". This seeemed like a natural, so I hooked up with Amazon to order it.

Amazon, in a glorious bit of irony, suggested I also purchase an earlier Frank's work, One Market Under God, subtitled "Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism, and the End of Economic Democracy". I decided I would read these two books in chronological order, and have finished the earlier book.

One Market Under God, written and submitted with amazing coincidence on approach of the Nasdaq collapse, deals with the development of the industrial psuedo-revolutionizers of the .com era, primarily in examination of the attendant intellectual boosterism eminating from Ivy league think tanks to Kudlow and Cramer and the like. In these aras Frank is very thorough and enlightening: of particular interest to me was learning of the mechanism behind the images I remember from the 90's, those sort of spooky Brave New World and 1984 backdrops to the heroic actions of Nike's third world dreamers or the common man as investor crashing through the glass walls of the stock exchange to claim their stake of the "New Economy" largesse.

The central theme of the book is that conservatives, having run the course of optimizing political gain from the 60's backlash of the Reagan era, have found themselves a whole new PR campaign, the New Economy. The old money are the elitists, utilizing labor and government to subvert the most natural of all socializing processes, the free market. You're all free agents now! We're laying you off and hiring you back as benefitless temps so that you may join the "ownership society". Unionists and politicians can only hold you back with their elitist (not driven by the democracy of the market) notions of what is best for you!

In truth, Frank spends a lot more time chronicling the advance of the intellectual theory driving this "revolution" than to the devastating effect on working people wrought by the MBAs in the trenches. There are similiarly timed points very near the end of each chapter when the reportage of scholarly research rather abruptly turns to summarization in a more championing tone. Frank is adept at both, however the pattern seems a bit contrived, as if the summaries were a post scripted attempt at broader appeal. Nevertheless the summarization is powerful, as in the following:

For the hustlers of ideology the bull market worked similar wonders. While 'we' never quite 'joined the money class' in terms of wages or security, everywhere one turned in the nineties there was some parable of the world: Grandmothers in Illinois realizing that the market was the true path to social security all along; regular joes in Detroit figuring our that the union was the wrong way to go; workers everywhere counting on tomorrow's fluctuations to make up for the fact that their boss was such an asshole about wages, that their market-driven health-care plan was worthless, that under no circumstances could they afford to send the kid to college. We were learning that past performance was never, ever, a guarantee of future anything; that if the market insisted it was time to burn our factories and sew microchips into our collars we would just have to do it. We were learning to accept the market as the arbiter or all things: To bow before what it chose to do to our cities, our industries, our lives---so long as that little lift continued on our 401(k)s. In one great patriotic auto-da-fe we were sending the work of decades up in smoke---send the jobs south! put our neighbor on a twelve-hour shift! smash the downtown merchants!---whatever it took to keep the market smiling.

"Act of faith", in case you were wondering. Perhaps this insertion of French is telling in my reaction to the book. Although Frank is mindful to identify the origins of and motive for the use of the French example rampant in the right's dismissal of everything effete and powerless, as an intellectual he cannot (perhaps could not, we shall see) help tossing these tidbits of esoteric precision into his writing. Surely this will not win him any converts from the elitist-bashers! I am hoping that What's the Matter with Kansas? reveals a more courageous foray into democratic language.


At 4:30 PM, Blogger JD said...

you are slowly but surely beginning to win me over with this class warfare stuff....

BTW- do you EVER turn your cell phone on? lol


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