Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Calculating Personage Through Appearance

Much of our movie viewing discussions were focused upon evaluating the vivid portrayal of countenances within both The Fountainhead and The Grapes of Wrath. Most striking was the thematic binary juxtaposition of insidious inhumanity through “beauty” and “humanity” through gauntness. With particular emphasis on the ways light affects the presentation of face and facial expressions, both The Fountainhead and The Grapes of Wrath serve to expose the multifacetedness of human nature and illuminate the conditions under which it develops into and under the extremities of political reality. I find that the film The Fountainhead asserts an almost eugenic profile of what is “evil” and what is “good” through the use of lighting and make-up. The director presented totalitarian corruption as genteel perfection and sage self-determination as provincial homeliness—a now overused departure from the traditional trope of good as beautiful and evil as ugly. With this invocation, the film launches a campaign befitting its spatiotemporality: by tapping into the nation’s prevalent xenophobia, the 1949 film The Fountainhead offers an interesting subliminal commentary upon U.S. international (and domestic) affairs and relations.
These films both reached box offices during the height of a pedestrian eugenic craze. With the greater part of the latter 19th century and early 20th century witnessing the escalating manifestation of Nazism in the European theater and U.S. state’s implementing sterilization projects for the “mentally and psychically impaired,” it comes as no surprise that “decent” and “indecent” take on archetypical phenotypes for both the American public and its specialized, jargonic echelons. Couched in fear of the “foreign” and “impure,” scientists and policy makers cast “decency” and “indecency” as physically manifestable thus making these character profiles replicable and/or eradicable—something that all societies have striven to accomplish through simple citizenship standards or more caustic miscegenation regulations. Therefore, for Hollywood to echo with these sociopolitical reverberations comes as no small surprise. Beginning with increasingly more exoticized iterations of Dracula to post-1904 St. Louis World’s Fair portrayals of “Oriental” villains, Hollywood ran a bountiful cornucopia of filmic, over-dramatized binary profiles that strove to define both in drama and popular culture the faces, figures, and figurings of heros vs. villains, beautiful vs. ugly, good vs. bad, and reality vs. alternate universes.
In The Fountainhead, Henry Roark’s character had a face of weathered ruggedness, which in comparison with the refined features of characters like Ellsworth Toohey and Mr. Francon, separated him from the world of lecherous mooching and corrupt theft. Accentuated in the black and white cinematography, Henry Roark’s chiseled facial planes spoke of a multidimensional character whose mantle of abstruseness lent a devil-may-care recklessness. . He possessed a predatory muscuclature of someone accustomed to physical labor while the sharp valleys of his perpetually furrowed brow and the spidery lines of his crows’ feet emulated the highly defined and architecturalized quarries he prowled and buildings he designed. His darkened complexion evidenced hours spent toiling in the fields rather than in the boardroom.
Ellsworth Toohey, on the other hand, exemplified the appearance of a well-educated and refined man whose life was appointed by grand pursuits and high society. The great expanse of his unblemished forehead gestured to an undiluted intelligence, whilst his fair complexion and white hair created a refined sagacity. This served to centralize Toohey’s aesthete around his head, providing an almost halo meant to enlarge the impression that he was in possession of more mental faculties than perhaps he really did. This balanced his rather diminutive and frail stature; however, it did nothing to prevent Toohey from proudly lifting his head and jutting out his chin in order to observe the practice of looking down his nose at any interlocutor.
These physical attributes are emanations of what may arguably be considered the era’s social thoughts. Roark, with his rugged, homely appearance represents the idyllic American Dream imaginary of self-wrought livelihood and success. The peaks and troughs of his sun-ravaged face, labor-chiseled forearms, and predatory gait create the perfect image of Manifest Destiny’s champion; Roark is the man who drilled through obstinate mountains, hacked away clingy fauna, and architecturalized the wilderness of the West into the high rises of American free market domination. Toohey, in his soft genteelness personifies the pinnacle of high society— “that which the American Dream” suggests, but never explicitly expresses as its culmination. In further contrast, the slight figure possessed by Toohey combined with his despicable cunning, stresses what Rand considers the lootery that American democratic idealism can easily evolve into. With his waistcoats, cumber buns, pin stripes, and cigars Toohey’s rounded inflection reminds audiences of the colonial looters of America’s pre-Revolution days when the public’s wills were bent to those of Oxford’s noble aristocracy.
I do not think that Rand’s book nor the cinematic adaptation strive to connect the British crown of yore and the implementation of democratic socialism; however, there is a startling parallelism between the “villains” of Rand’s social thought and the British “high society” under which American self-determination suffered the destiny of suppression and possible extinction. In the cinematic profiles offered by costume and lighting direction, it seems as though the Americans are once again “fighting” off foreign subjugation in the face-off between Roark and Toohey. I find that the profiles created by Roark and Toohey are not meant to present eugenic caricatures of Self-Determination and Corrupt Democratic Socialism, rather aesthetes meant to impress upon audiences a cautionary and scapegoat. By connecting to a historic consciousness and memory, the cinematographers are able to invoke the chafing resentment of American pioneers

This is my original work, but for some reason it won't properly copy+paste from my word doc.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Ethos of Anecdote

In Deep Economy, Bill McKibben relies heavily on anecdotal evidence in his argumentation. McKibben tries to apply lessons learned through sentimental stories of rapidly industrializing China and rural Vermont to the rest of the world in an attempt to convince his readership that “more” is not necessarily the same as “better.” I think I speak for most us when I say that I’ve had trouble understanding why he believes the methods and techniques used in relatively anomalistic portions of the world could provide insight into how the rest of the world should conduct business. Far more often than not, McKibben fails to provide a sufficient articulation of the reasons for why his personal experiences constitute a legitimate basis for argumentation. This leads many of his assertions to appear unfounded and forced. Perhaps more importantly, it insults the reader’s intelligence and discredits McKibben, himself. The repercussions of poor anecdotal usage go beyond damaging the content of the argument, itself. Anecdotal writing regularly calls attention to the author of the argument. When the argument is ill- conceived, it becomes a self-destructive literary exercise. Due to the fact that anecdotes require inserting oneself into one’s argumentation, McKibben’s poor anecdotal usage not only hurts his argument, but also strips him of any semblance of legitimacy as a writer. Deep Economy may be seen as revealing the rhetorical disadvantages of anecdote. When executed effectively, anecdotal usage generates a strong and rhetorically viable ethos appeal. When seemingly contrived, anecdotal usage detracts from both the logos and ethos of the argument.
For McKibben’s argument to even be plausible, he would have to spend a great deal of time legitimizing his experiences as grounds for leading up to the grander claims he makes. His belief in Vermont and parts of China as microcosmically applicable to the rest of the world, especially America, is the primary evidentiary force behind the book’s rhetoric. To grant him a little bit of credit, McKibben intermittently acknowledges the fact that his readership might find it hard to believe that the self-sustaining practices of farms in Vermont could benefit a greater urban population. He explains, “This sounds silly and soft-headed to some of us, but only because we’ve so internalized the economist’s ideal of the human being as a self-contained want-machine bent on maximizing utility” (111). However, he always immediately follows these refrains with their quick and easy disavowal, creating the impression that his exploration of potential objections to his theories is disingenuous. He follows the last passage with this empty sentimental appeal: “Think about your own life: which moments mattered most? Didn’t most of them entail being involved in something larger than yourself? Either out in the hugeness of the natural world, or working together with those around you toward some common end, often for no material gain?” (111). This appeal to the reader’s emotions fails in its generalizing effect. It relies on a shared experience, which is problematic to begin with. The assumption that everyone has experienced what he’s describing would unquestionably alienate those who don’t feel they have the experience. More importantly, it cues those that are skeptical of the experience’s universality to question his intentions. When McKibben so plainly attempts to exploit our emotional reactions to experiences, he shifts the focus away from his argument and onto himself, as an individual desperately striving to be convincing. McKibben’s objections too conspicuously function as straw-man arguments, raised to be torn down rather than complicate the argument he has set forth.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Spontaneous Combustion

As promised here is the short video I made and wrote my paper on. This thing is made of all youtube clips. I had to do quite a bit of After Effects work to get things how I wanted them. I apologize for the crappy quality. Things don't come out of youtube and the go back into youtube well I guess. I hope it makes some sense. You are the target audience as all the jokes are a product of our time spent together. I wasn't there on the last day so let me also take this moment to thank everyone for their contributions to the class. I loved this class! Of course thank you Dale for the "vicissitudes" of stuff and stuff. You are awesome!

Here is a better quality version

Spontaneous Combustion from Travis Steil on Vimeo.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Last Dance. Last Chance 4 Revision?

Dearest Professor Carrico: Any news on whether you will offer office hours this week?

"The Grapes of Wrath" Precis by Andrea Bella

Andrea couldn't log onto the Blog, so in true Grapes of Wrath fashion I am lending a helping hand an posting it on her behalf.

"The Grapes of Wrath" Precis by Andrea Bella
(film adaptation by John Ford)

The film adaptation of John Steinbeck's novel, "The Grapes of Wrath," tells the story of the Joads, a close-knit family from Oklahoma who are forced to leave their farm and move to California in order to survive in the midst of the Great Depression. Steinbeck uses the fictional Joad family to illustrate the real plight of thousands of farmers who were cast out of their own land during the Dust Bowl, declining national economy, and the beginning of industrialized farming. The Joads encounter hardship and death (of Grandma and Grandpa Joad) as they make the long haul to the supposed promise land. Upon arrival, they discover that there is a surplus of farmers, desperate for work, and not enough food and work to support the new flight of immigrants.

The film mostly focuses on Tom Joad, an archetype of the downtrodden working man, whose oppression takes him out of his atomized self into a collective body that fights for the ideals of a labor union: livable wages, workplace safety and security. The film garnered positive reviews during its release in 1940, as it bespoke the struggles of the working class of the Great Depression. In contrast to the screening of "The Fountainhead," whose moral values move towards individualism, this film argues for collective identity and solidarity. Tom Joad makes a remarkable transformation from the former to the latter. At the beginning of the film, when tries to hitch a ride with a hesitant trucker, he says, "A good guy don't pay no attention to what some heel makes him stick on his truck." This nugget of moral value was still based on self interest. Fresh out of prison, his ethos of self-preservation is illustrated when he says to the trucker, "I'm just trying to get along without shoving anybody, that's all." As he witnesses his family and other workers manipulated, beaten, starved and killed by an economic system that persecutes them, Tom changes his atomized perspective and decides to fight for the collective benefit. Individualism is also thwarted with Ma Joad, who acts as the foundation and pillar of the Joad family throughout the entire film. She, like Tom, also reaches towards collective identity, beyond her biological family, when she extends her scarce pot of breakfast to feed all the starving children in Keene Camp.

Tensions and paradoxes are seen with the concept of the authorial figure. "The Man," remains abstract as nobody takes direct responsibility for the thousands of farmers' destitute conditions. When Muley asks a suit who is responsible for (aka who he "oughta shoot" for) kicking him and his family off their land, the well-dressed tool in the posh car says he is only delivering the message from the company and the bank, who also have orders to follow. In contrast, the man in charge of the utopian Wheat Farm, with his FDR sympathy, takes care of the exploited farmers and symbolizes the government.

The highly romanticized film, with close up shots of dirty faces, shoddy housing and downtrodden workers garners the sympathy of the audience to the extreme and unbearable living conditions of the (barely) working class of the Great Depression. As "The Grapes of Wrath" focuses on the strife of the Joad family, the film speaks to grander political, social, and historical conditions of 1930s America.

-Andrea Bella

Galbraith in the Rhetoric Department?

Galbraith wrote an article in The Atlantic giving writing tips (don't procrastinate, don't try to be funny, don't get drunk), and says in the beginning:

"Six or seven years ago, when I was spending a couple of terms at Trinity College, Cambridge, I received a proposal of more than usual interest from the University of California. It was that I resign from Harvard and accept a chair in English. More precisely, it was to be the chair in rhetoric; they assured me that rhetoric was a traditional and not, as one would naturally suppose, a pejorative title. My task would be to hold seminars with the young on what I had learned about writing in general and on technical matters in particular."


Precis: Shock Doctrine

Naomi Klein’s, The Shock Doctrine, attempts to locate the assumptions underlying modern neoliberal economic policy, which has, as the book argues, been at the epicenter of the world’s most atrocious political violences in the latter half of the 20th century. These policies have had a centrifugal effect on all populations who were subject to its sadistic economic prescriptions to the extent that violent government crackdowns on political leftists, forced disappearances, extraordinary renditions, and government overthrows were the modus operandi of a free market ideology manically devoted to deregulation, privatization, and cuts on social spending. Transforming the welfare state into a corporatist one depends on an economic strategy of “shock and awe”, owing thanks to psychiatric professionals who utilize this brutal strategy on their patients. Central to the claim concerning neoliberalism’s deleterious effects is the assumption held by psychiatry regarding the mind and its operations. Klein navigates through the last 60 years by creating a narrative focused on the relation between the triumphant theories in neoliberalism and psychotherapy—both of which share similar assumptions, discordances with reality, and a logic of brutality to actualize their results. “This fundamentalist form of capitalism,” Klein writes in outlining her thesis, “has consistently been midwifed by the most brutal forms of coercion, inflicted on the collective body politic as well as on countless individual bodies.” The near seamless analogy provides the reader with a powerful, easily digestible argument—one that even Immortal Technique can gain inspiration from in recording his Revolutionary albums. But what are the implications of using such rhetoric? And to what extent does Klein imbibe upon the analogy to further her own work?

Milton Freedom, whom Klein refers to as the “grand guru of the movement for unfettered capitalism”(5), observes that “only a crisis—actual or perceived—produces real change”(5). Through the course of time, this quotation would serve as the mantra for disaster capitalists everywhere, and as Klein points out, providing them with fertile ground for economic opportunity and exploitation. The drive for “real change” highlights one underlying assumption beneath the veneer of neoliberal free market reform: the blank slate. Borrowing from modern psychiatric theory, the blank slate would be the ground zero equivalent for economic development. The blank slate would thus be ideal for testing free market reforms, and the challenge for economists is to create the conditions that make a blank slate economy possible. Once again, psychiatry intersects with economic theory, looking at the use of shocks to induce blank slate states. For Friedman and his followers, crises serve as the sort of shock necessary to induce a population into a state that allows for the least resistance and defense to free market reforms. Whether a crisis is actual or perceived is irrelevant—the world will always have its share of natural disasters; the issue for Klein is the fervent manner by which disaster capitalists seek to induce these crises by the most violent, coercive means possible.

The sustaining logic behind economics aligns with psychiatry, sharing similar internal as well as external limitations molding the kind of work being produced. It is no surprise, then, that the two disciplines share a common vocabulary. Whether or not Klein thinks the analogy works is unclear—she indicates that the same failures in electroshock therapy became prevalent in the ‘shock and awe’ tactics used by economists. To a varying degree, her project depends on the analogy in order to narrativize a history fraught with greed, corruption, and violence. In fact she writes, “As soon as we have a new narrative that offers a perspective on the shocking events, we become reoriented and the world begins to make sense once again”(580). Yet it is precisely this rhetorical move that motivated Friedman to advise Pinochet to use economic shock therapy. If neoliberal economics failed because it held on to false assumptions in psychiatry, then would a more accurate theory of the mind yield a better economic modal?

The function of psychiatric language in the book plays a pivotal role in articulating the relationship between economics and psychiatry. But Klein appears to suggest that this role needs rearticulating. In the conclusion Klein looks to Latin America in recent years as it attempts to reconstruct its economy through local and regional efforts. “Democracy in daily life” is the mode by which a structured and free-market based economy can coexist with the maintenance of basic social safety nets. Community based economies provide the support and protection against the shock doctrine. Yet this alternative resists the language used to describe economic policy in psychiatry. The social body is uniquely distinct from the individual body, and yet, the tools used to investigate one are equally applied to the other, making psychiatry obsolete in characterizing our modern socio-economic reality. How can psychology, and if not psychoanalysis, provide us with the tools necessary to understand the dynamics of social change, localized sites of resistance, and the ways in which the political economy of the body has become reorganized? Tracing neoliberal policies back to its roots in psychiatry and to theories of the mind, as Klein has done, can suggest that a proper conceptualization of the relations between the individual and collective begins with understanding the way in which this distinction is made problematic in the first place. Mind/body and individual/collective are legacies of that old tradition that are present in the outcome of neoliberal policies today.

-Matthew Nguyen

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Ahhhh! Objectivists trying to stealthily enter into our consciousness/proselytize their religion/take over the world via google!!!!

When checking my gmail a few moments ago, I was horrified to see that google was advertising "Who is John Galt? Shirts, Bumper Stickers, Drinkware, Silver Coins, Custom Gifts & More!" right above my inventory of emails. I have never specifically researched John Galt, Ayn Rand, or Objectivism on my computer... so this leads me to ponder the relationship between Objectivists/followers of Ayn Rand and our media.... I'm tempted to click on the link so that I can see what kind of ridiculous merchandise they have on their site, but I do not know if that would be such a good idea.. All I know is that if I were a follower of Objectivism, I would definitely need some serious drinkware..

Thursday, May 6, 2010

This Isn't Your Grandpa's Spontaneous Order

Hey old man, fuck you, this spontaneous order might be scientific too! Who knows?! You can take you little story about pencils and shove it up your ass I got nature on my side now.

Office Hours Thursday --

I'm running a little late, but I'll be in my office asap. I'm slipping off to public transport right now.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Friedman's Wage Laborer, Revisited

"Television is dramatic - it appeals to the emotions. It captures your attention"(3). Though Milton and Rose Friedman were writing of their TV miniseries, the same could be said of the print version of this important economic work. Milton and Rose Friedman ensnare us in cinematic portrayals of the potential for prices to seamlessly articulate every facet of human life, understood as a delicate consumer/producer balance. It’s interesting to read a text I’ve been so deeply trained to disavow, as its arguments, taken as Friedman presents them, have a kind of warped salience. When I consider the extent to which his examples are cherry-picked, and the immateriality of the processes as he describes them, the problems with his arguments become most clear. At points, his work illogically merges the scales at which economic interactions play out. His appeals to individual - and understandable - sensibilities often run counter to the ways in which economic activities are inhabited. Despite some obviously fallacious foundations - that America was "an empty continent to conquer" (3), for example, Friedman issues broad and seductive claims about the government's ideal role as an "umpire". Indeed, this text certainly complicated my senses of the positivism of government intervention – though it by no means bolstered my faith in the private sector. I want to revisit it now for my final précis, and focus on his Chapter 8 “Who Protects the Worker?” to supplement the disparate images of the working class we’re seeing in the films this week.

Friedman conflates the motives of the individual with those of the "cooperative". His work hinges on notions of freedom, but ones that are awkwardly mobile and intangible. He moves from a coercion-free sense of liberty (Smith), fundamentally underpinned by basic Jeffersonian ideals. Early on, Friedman implicitly counterpoises Jeffersonian positive freedom - 'equality' - with Mill's negative 'freedom from harm'. This tension, one explored in the second session regarding this book, surfaces prominently in his discussion of wage labor. Chapter 8 broadly illustrates the problems inherent in his understandings of freedom, as well as scale. Especially given the disparate images of the wage laborer we're now seeing in The Fountainhead and The Grapes of Wrath, it's useful to return to Friedman's portrayal of the worker to ground the philosophies behind (at least one of) these renderings.

Friedman argues that ‘labor’ is not synonymous with ‘labor unions’ (a claim potentially at odds with his earlier notions of the “cooperative”). Likewise, the interests of the individual laborer are not synonymous with those of the labor union. He evidences this claim by suggesting that unions are not borne out of industrial development, but rather pre-industrial guilds. He seems disinterested in how these workers may be situated in relation to their employers; here, his definition of a union doesn’t distinguish between self-employed merchants/craftsmen and wage laborers. He suggests that unions put the freedom of the worker in jeopardy, but doesn’t explore how threats to freedom are also produced both by the precariousness of their work; that union formation is not solely active, but re-active.

The Grapes of Wrath scene of the tractor demolition challenges Friedman’s obtuse portrayals of self-interested individual laborers. The threat of the sharecropper shooting the tractor operator is diffused by dispassionate acknowledgement of their similarities and powerlessness. The individualism that motivates the tractor operator’s demolishing is indeed his own, but it is born of a forced compromise between moral and physical priorities.

Friedman argues that labor unions only work to make high wages higher, and that cuts to corporate profits (6% of national income) are insufficient to meet the demand unions place on wages (80% of income). However, this claim is challenged by more recent studies of wage and corporate profit trends. His example of the American Medical Association supports his claim that unions can be extractive from the general public, by charging more for high-priced services and reducing the size of the labor pool, but I find this sole example a heavily biased one. I find that the practices he indicts the AMA for facilitating are not so much characteristic of unions as of economic posturing at large. The same could be argued for corporate buy-outs of smaller vendors (or farmers, in the case of Grapes of Wrath). Friedman also manages to argue against physician licensure – yet offers no alternate system of accountability. It is a little far-fetched for him to use such a polar example of a union to speak to the work that unions do more generally.

He complains that those who testify in favor of higher minimum wage levels are “not representatives of the poor people”, but of unions. (Who and where, exactly, are these representatives of the poor?) He goes further in saying that minimum wage laws are “one of the most, if not the most, antiblack laws on the statute books”. Despite his attempts at empirical salience, citing disparate unemployment rates, Friedman neglects to thoroughly examine the causality. Do minimum wage laws themselves discriminate against blacks – or do employers inequitably estimate the value of their laborers based on existing racial stereotypes?

Friedman uses Babe Ruth as an example of who wage laws fails to protect: “he had to bargain with the Yankees, using the threat of not playing for them as his only weapon”(245). His choice to use such a monumental figure to legitimize his claims about the problems of having “only one possible employer” mirror Rand’s figuration of Roarke in the Fountainhead. These illusions of the vindication of the uber-talented reiterate the insidious individualism that permeates both of their philosophies. This is reiterated with Roarke’s contrived flirtations with the wage-laborer life, and the way Rand’s film works to preserves his monumentality through this. Okie wage laborers seem to function, then, at the opposite pole of in Friedman’s “least bad”(246) system of labor/employer competition, suffering from extenuating corporate and economic circumstances.

Emma Tome

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Using this space for posting a lecture for another class, thanks:)

rhetoric 103b 5.4.2010

Party Thursday!

Hi Everyone!

I am not going to be able to make it to the movie session tonight due to a conflicting review session for another class that I really need to be at. Sorry! But I will be there Thursday with PIZZA!! I called them today and they said that I can come in at 4:30 and wait in line to get the pizzas. Would anyone be available to come in with me? It is going to be a lot to carry the pizzas up from Shattuck by myself so if anyone wants to volunteer that would be great! Thanks so much! My number is 650-823-1344- text/call if you can help a sista out. Thanks!


Reminder --

For those of you who mean to attend movie nite / review -- please remember that our schedule is a little different. We have the room from FIVE to SIX-THIRTY, rather than the usual time. I'm not sure if another group is scheduled to nudge us out of the room after that -- but we have a lot to watch, so I am hoping we can have the desks in rows, the blinds drawn, the DVD cued up, and everybody all ready to go by FIVE. So, be early rather than late! A visual feast awaits us tonight!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Precis: Chapter 12 of Polanyi's Great Transformation

For my precis, I have decided to write on Chapter 12 "Birth of the Liberal Creed" in Polanyi's The Great Transformation because I believe it is one of the most polemical chapters in the book, not to mention one of the strongest cases presented against "economic liberalism" of all the "Team B" players. After inundating readers with vast conjurations of historical information in the first half of his text, Polanyi shifts gears around page 140 and begins his explicitly polemical work in Chapter 12. In an effort to show how Polanyi formulates a cogent, polemical argument, I will trace Polanyi's arguments in the text and map out his rhetorical moves, charting: first, his narrative account of the origin and development of economic liberalism, in which he paints a portrait of "economic liberalism" as a religion with all the unsavory qualities of fanatacism; second, his construction of a "trial" setting, in which he positions the readers as a jury who, bearing witness to the economic liberal's case (a case which he constructs), will ruminate on the "testimony of the facts" and ejudicate on which of the two contending views--economic liberalism or his view--- has more weight. In conjuring up his opponent's viewpoint and then refuting this viewpoint with the "evidence of history," Polanyi seeks to decimate his opponent's position. In tracing these various rhetorical movements in this chapter, we can see that Polanyi's primary mode of argumentation is based on his appeal to logos-- he will let "the facts" speak. In contrast to his construction of the "Other"-- the followers of economic liberalism-- who he aligns with blind faith and irrationality, he constructs his position as correct because it has the force of "logos" and reason behind it.

Before putting the "economic liberals" case on trial, Polanyi first sketches out the rise of the "liberal creed," from its birth ("born as a mere penchant for non-bureacucratic methods" (141) to its "spasmodic tendency" (142) to its stable form as a fanatical religion that demands "complete acceptance" (144). While Polanyi's narrative of the origin and development of economic liberalism was interesting in itself for its historical content, I found Polanyi's rhetorical tactic, in which he uses language to figure "Team A" as religious fanatics, most interesting in this section. When tracking the origin of "economic liberalism," Polanyi immediately discusses the three pillars or "tenets" of economic liberalism as it emerged in the 1820s: competitive labor market, automatic gold standard, and international free trade. After discussing how laissez faire was interpreted narrowly at first, he then explains how economic liberalism gained velocity and took shape as a creed during the 1830s: "it was not until 1830s did economic liberalism burst forth as a crusading passion and laissez faire became a militant creed" (145). In this segment of the chapter, Polanyi's language is saturated with words suggesting that economic liberals are "religious fanatics." In employing a host of religious words when unveiling the narrative account of economic liberalism--such as "fanaticism"(141), "evangelical fervor" (141),"fervently," (143) "creed" (143x2), "crusading passion" (143), "faith" (141), salvation (141)"act of faith" (144), "unshakable belief (144)," "religion" (145)-- Polanyi paints a particular portrait of the economic liberal: a stubborn, narrow-minded religious zealot who makes decisions based on blind faith-- not reason.

When delineating a historical narrative of the origin and development of economic liberalism, Polanyi moves from making subtle rhetorical attacks at first (like aligning his opponents with religious fanatics) to more explicit attacks. In fashioning his own narrative, Polanyi throws his first punch about 5 pages into the chapter: unlike the myth told by economic liberals, "there was nothing natural about laissez faire" (145). According to Polanyi, from its origin, state intervention was necessary to implement a laissez faire economy. In exposing this paradox, Polanyi weaves in the story of utilitarianism and Bentham during the heroic period of laissez faire. Polanyi uses the historical example of Bentham-- who believed that government, with all its administrative organs, was an agency for achieving happiness- as evidence which testifies to the fact that laissez faire economy does not have a natural, "spontaneous" origin; rather, the "road to free market was opened and kept open by an enormous increase in continuous, centrally organized and controlled interventionism" (147). In addition to "de-naturalizing" the myth that laissez faire economy emerged from a spontaneous order, Polanyi also precedes Davis and Klein by arguing that this interventionism is marked in blood, as Bentham maintained that political repression and coercive measures are necessary to implement a laissez faire economy.

After throwing forward his first punch, in which he shows that the laissez faire economy was the product of deliberate state action, Polanyi makes another offensive move when recounting the narrative of economic liberalism. In a moment of dramatic reversal, he states that "subsequent restrictions on laissez-faire started in a spontaneous way. Laissez faire was planned; planning was not". When mobilizing this aphorisim "laissez faire was planned; planning was not," we can observe that Polanyi is directly speaking to Hayek, who argues that "planners," or proponents of an interventionist government, would lead citizens on the road to "serfdom" (as we saw in the Road to Serfdom comic when he obnoxiously inserts "planners" into every frame of the comic). Speaking in Hayek's language, Polanyi appropriates Hayek's terms and cleverly re-orders them to pummel Hayek's argument and assert dominance with his argument. When explaining how "planning was not planned," Polanyi replicates his previous gesture and employs a mode of operation that relies on its force from its empirical methodology. Like his story of the Bethamites, Polanyi roots his argument in a historical example, discussing how Dicey--who made first inquiry into origin of "anti-laissez-faire" collectivist trend-- came to the conclusion that there was "no evidence of a 'collectivist trend' in public opinion prior to the laws which appeared to represent a trend could be found."

After sketching out a background of economic liberalism--in which he subtly and explicitly attacks it when constructing its narrative (or rather deconstructing its mythical narrative?)--, the landscape of the text changes, as Polanyi brings the audience into the context of an imaginary "trial," where the two contending myths will be fleshed out and put up for deliberation. Before dipping into the arguments involved in the case, Polyani first establishes the question/issue that the audience needs to deliberate upon: "While in our view the concept of af self-regulating market was utopian and its progress was stopped by the realistic self-protection of scoiety, in their view all protectionism was a mistake due to impatience, greed, shortsightedness, but for which the market would have resolve its difficulties" (150). Once establishing the issue, Polanyi then delves into sketching out the economic liberal's case, stating that the only argument economic liberalists have is that laissez faire economy failed because there was not complete application of its principles: "Liberal leaders never weary of repeating that the tragedy of the nineteenth century sprang from the incapacity of man to remain faithful to the inspiration of the early liberals" (151). According to economic liberals, the laissez faire policy never had a chance because it was "strangled by trade unionists, Marxists, greedy manufacturers, and reactionary landlords" (157). Polanyi points out that because they are unable to "adduce evidence" of a concerted effort, economic liberals, like politicians of our own day mobilize an "irrefutable" conspiracy theory of "covert action." Having sketched out the "defense of the economic liberals," Polanyi states that he will let the "testimony" of the facts speak for themselves.

In refuting the liberal defense's case, Polanyi mobilizes four different proofs, each of which draws heavily on empirical support: 1) he uses Herbert Spencer's list of diversity of measures of restrictive legislation to show that it could not be a concerted effort 2) the "collectivist" solution was a result of people responding to contingent circumstance "without any consciousness," as we see in the instance of the Workmen's Compensation Act 3) a cross-cultural comparison of the development in various countries shows that "under the most varied slogans, with very different motivations a multitude of parties and social strata put into effect almost exactly the same measures" 4) the behavior of the economic liberals shows that they even at times advocate state intervention, as we see in the case of trade union law and antitrust regulations. In sum, when examining all the facts," Polanyi argues that the liberal myth of the "collectivist" conspiracy of the 1870s and 1880s crumbles. On the other hand, his own case or interpretation of the double movement is "borne out by evidence." In the end, Polanyi states that "nothing could be more decisive than the evidence of history as to which of the two contending interpretations was correct: "that of the economic liberal who maintained that his policy never had a chance, but was strangled by shortsighted trade unionists, Marxist intellectuals, greedy manufactures, and reactionary landlords; or that of his critics, who can point to the universal "collectivist" reaction against the expansion of the market economy in the second half of the nineteenth century as conclusive proof of the peril to society inherent in the utopian principle of a self-regulating market" (157).

In mapping out the contours of Chapter 12, we can observe that Polanyi is engaging in explicitly polemical work. In employing specific rhetorical moves-- constructing a portrait of the "Other," mobilizing a historical narrative of the origin and development of economic liberalism, and using the "trial" setting as a construct--, Polanyi creates a compelling, clever, cogent argument.

--Tess Ranahan

Precis: Free to Choose

Rose and Milton’s Friedman’s Free to Choose lures and captivates by qualifying claims and anticipating directions, resulting in one of the most powerful, compelling, and generous texts that we have read. What I appreciate most about this text is that includes concepts that an “Introduction to Economics” course often fails to explain. This is because Friedman speaks from not only an economic perspective but also a philosophical one, therefore examining some of the more pressing theories thoroughly. Such concepts include human freedom, economic freedom and equity, all three themes driving this book through the critical analysis of the market as a whole.

Friedman argues that the market’s main way of relaying information is through prices (chapter one specifically talks about “The Role of Prices”), and prices therefore, must naturally be able to reach their own levels based on the preferences of both consumers and producers; no government involvement is necessary. One of his central arguments in chapter one is that price is the language that all cultures speak. Adam Smith, economist and philosopher, was the man who gave us the answer as to how price is the language of the market: “Adam Smith’s flash of genius was his recognition that the prices that emerged from voluntary transactions between buyers and sellers— for short, in a free market— could coordinate the activity of millions of people, each seeking his own interest, in such a way as to make everyone better off”(13). In essence, Smith believed that the world would be a better place if the market were free of government regulation.

Smith “analyzed the way in which a market system could combine the freedom of individuals to pursue their own objectives with extensive cooperation and collaboration needed in the economic field to produce our food, our clothing, our housing” (2). His argument was that a free market could establish an avenue in which capital is able to flow naturally into productive hands; hence improving it’s own system. The individual who “intends only at his own gain” is led down a road that “promotes an end that was no part of his own intention”, thus self-interest allows an “invisible hand” to naturally guide society. By pursuing his own interest he essentially betters the community. Furthermore, Smith wrote, “both parties to an exchange can benefit and that, so long as cooperation is strictly voluntary, no exchange will take place unless both parties do benefit” (2). Today, cooperation is not strictly voluntary.

Additionally, Friedman further mobilizes his argument in support of Smith through the example of the production and selling of a pencil, “none of the thousands of persons involved in producing the pencil performed his task because he wanted a pencil…Each saw his work as a way to get the goods and services he wanted…we are exchanging a little bit of our services for the infinitesimal amount of services that each of the thousands contributed toward producing the pencil” (13). All of the individuals that took part in creating the pencil— the wooden frame, the metal on the tip, the rubber eraser, the lead— each individually made then shipped their own products to a factory to be assembled. Friedman also claims that it is incredible that the pencil was ever produced at all, for “no one sitting in a central office gave orders to these thousands of people… (they) live in many lands, speak many languages, practice different religions, may even hate one another— yet none of these differences prevented them from cooperating to produce a pencil”(13). They labored voluntarily and chose to produce for their own self-interest, hence enhancing the entirety of the market.

Finally, Friedman notes that today’s economy does not run with the aid of an “invisible hand” but rather is guided and regulated by the government— tariffs and other restraints on international trade, domestic action fixing or affecting individual prices, including wages…monetary and fiscal policy producing erratic inflation and numerous other channels”(17). Government interference of the price system causes disruption of the natural “language” could be spoken by millions: “anything that prevents prices from expressing freely the conditions of demand or supply interferes with the transmission of accurate information”(17); he argued that the market was meant to be spontaneous, and believes that there is hope that we can still return to an economic system that is less strictly regulated.

Rhetorically Friedman appeals to the audience by including historical accounts of the developing "new world"(U.S.) and using simple examples to mobilize his argument, leading him to write in an informative manner. As many other subjects, economics can be taught in a very complex, complicated way, or it can be simplified to a level that the average audience can comprehend; Friedman takes introductory economics concepts combined the with political philosophy to write a book that reaches a large audience.

Paulina Inzerillo


If You Are So Inkleined:

Shock Doctrine

"In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism's core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that 'only a crisis--actual or perceived--produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes politically inevitable.' Some people stockpile canned goods and water in preparation for major disasters; Friedmanites stockpile free-market ideas. And once a crisis has struck, the University of Chicago professor was convinced that it was crucial to act swiftly, to impose rapid and irreversible change before the crisis-racked society slipped back into the 'tyranny of the status quo.' "


In her book, the Shock Doctrine, Naomi Klein chronicles the destructive path of capitalism, spearheaded by Milton Friedman. Ultimately she explains that free-market capitalism is the bearer of democracy and freedom--an idea that has been used to justify all kinds of U.S. policy and action--and in fact is the bearer of bad news for everyone as free-market capitalists deliberately try to find ways in which to insert their ideology wherever possible, whenever possible, particularly taking advantage of contexts in which societies are at a loss or in disarray. According to this passage, the shock doctrine is the manner in which Friedman and his followers planned to take advantage of particular contexts and societal downfall to promote their free-market capitalist agenda, as the savior of the future of humanity.

The word "nostrum" can be a "cure" marketed under false claims and is of no value to the ill person. It is important that Klein preceded the quote with the description of the shock doctrine as capitalism "tactical nostrum," with "tactical," something deliberate and connived, and "nostrum," false advertising. By using these particular words, Klein is already setting up the notion that Friedman, as the fierce proponent of fundamentalist free-market capitalism, whose ideology is neither founded nor helpful and deliberately so. As such, he is villanized along with his ideology. This sets up Klein's argument and story as a legitimate analysis and inquiry.

Klein's decision to include this particular Friedman quote is interesting because the meat of the quote is not uniquely Friedman. Nothing in the quote itself is expressing free-market ideology or capitalism as a global necessity--and we all know there are plenty of quotes from Friedman that would demonstrate those notions. The vagueness of the quote, therefore, seems to be Klein's deliberate choice to create a framework for her story that easily highlights the irrationality of Friedman's theories. One can't necessarily disagree that change occurs only when people are in panic, when people are desperate because their lives (livelihood and/or physically) are in danger of ending as they know it. And also, actions are taken based on preexisting notions, ideas, and theories because swiftness of actions is preferred so as to minimize the damage of a crisis. And, perhaps, it is not a bad idea to be developing these notions, ideas, and theories per chance that the crisis occurs. However, in the two sentences after the quote she puts Friedman down as an irrational, conniving person. First, Klein contrasts the very rational idea of stockpiling goods and water in disaster preparation with stockpiling free-market ideas. The structure of this sentence--most people do statement A; a few do statement B, the opposite--implies that because Friedmanites aren't doing the rational stockpiling (goods and water), they are doing something irrational, namely, the stockpiling of free-market ideas. Then she affirms this dichotomy by added that Friedman was "convinced." "Convinced" has a connotation of having to be persuaded, to prove to oneself or other, an effort in believing in something. I think in this context, Klein uses the word "convince" to underline the possibility that free-market capitalism is not a truth, but rather an ideology that requires serious critical analysis and questioning.

Another interesting choice for Klein is her inclusion of "tyranny of the status quo" at the end of the quote. This also undermines Friedman's ideology because this implies that the status quo must be tyrannical, restrictive, or oppressive. Friedman was staunchly against government actions such as the New Deal which was implemented in light of the crisis of the Great Depression, but I can hardly imagine that most people felt the New Deal part of a tyrannical and oppressive status quo. It seems, in fact, that "imposing rapid and irreversible change" at the time of the New Deal (i.e., not having a New Deal at all and letting the market supposedly fix itself), would not only have been wholeheartedly opposed but severely and permanently damaging to American citizens. All together in this passage, on page 7, Klein delegitimizes Friedman before we even really start the book and this sets her up for a powerful and convincing story.

Logos vs. Pathos

A precis for Ch. 1 of The Mystery of Capital by de Soto

De Soto primary argument in the first chapter of The Mystery of Capital is a rather nice paraphrase of the argument of his book at large. He lays out his argument that the Third World is poor because they lack the conversion process which allows entrepreneurial individuals to turn their concrete fixed assets into representative assets, which are able to be put to use primarily as collateral for credit but also for the creation of reliable public services and securities (which are essentially mortgage-backed bonds).

Given all that has happened in the United States surrounding mortgage-backed bonds it is very difficult for the likes of us to have confidence in this representational system. Fortunately for de Soto, I think he was pitching his text primarily towards people who already believed in the free-market, but felt sudden pangs of guilt over the Third World’s poverty and who want to help, but don’t want to give up their ideology.

From the very beginning he takes as his warrants that the market economy is pervasive everywhere and that there is no alternative to capitalism. What elucidates this faulty warrant is his introductory quote that states “ a significant rate of capital formation was possible only in certain sectors and not in the while market economy of the time” (2). He fails to consider that maybe there were/are systems that chose to operate outside the capitalist free-market paradigm.

Most markedly his oscillation between logos and pathos appeals is fascinating. He begins by saying that capitalism's greatest hour was one of crisis (a claim that has interesting resonances with Klein’s thesis) and goes on to state the “suffering” and “anxiety” of the Third World (1). This is a trend that develops over the course of the chapter. Whenever he talks about the position or state of the Third World he uses pathos appeals. For instance, when describing Latin America’s attitude toward the free market he couches it in terms of “sympathy for the free markets”(2). When he discusses their attempts to formulate a capitalist system he makes note that “after the initial euphoria” they returned to their anti-capitalist policies. Though he does not use the terms “anti-capitalists, in fact never does he detail what an anti-capitalist program would look like or be called. He always defines things in terms of responding to capitalism. The closest he gets to anti-capitalist is “swung back from capitalist and market economy policies”(3).

In his own reasoning, he seems doggedly intent on proving a logical and scientific approach. His association of pathos appeals to undermine the position of the “Third World” is very clear when he writes that to use culture as the reason for poverty in the Third World “is worse than inhumane, it is unconvincing” (4). This clearly demonstrates his internal hierarchy of appeals. He goes on the state that his proscriptions are supported by "facts and figures" (5) from the research he did. Yet, in the very same paragraph, none of the figures that he uses about how much people in Haiti and Egypt save of their income are cited. There is even a moment where he characterizes the assets of the Third World as "defective forms". Which not only serves the purpose of demonstrating that the form in which the assets appear are unsustainable, but also that the structure of the Third World does not conform to his from, his logic. The last sentence of the chapter distinctly confirms his idea that logos is a superior mode of argumentation. He writes that "as all plausible alternatives to capitalism have now evaporated, we are finally in a position to study capital dispassionately and carefully (13). His suggestion that we take emotion out of the picture all together functions as a dismissal of Latin America as he has made a distinct argumentative tie to Latin America through explaining the cultural and political position that much of Latin America occupies through pathos appeals.

As hard as he tries though to produce his text as a logical one, he fails not only on the facts and figures front, but blatantly when he characterizes the nature of the process of incorporation (legalizing extralegally held assets) as having origins in the "economic subconscious" (8). Perhaps this is sloppiness on this part, but the figure undermines his project of supposed logos argumentation because the subconscious is the primal and impulsive, not logical and reserved.'

In all, it is clear that de Soto tries to argue primarily on the logos register, but he fails to follow his own rules because the force and intelligence of his essay depends on communicating urgency through strong pathos appeals and allusions to crisis situations.

The shallow end

You know how sometimes you read a book and the whole time you’re nodding your head, the writer crystallizing your own elemental thoughts in such a way to give you a greater understanding of the world around you. Well this book doesn’t do that for me, though I’m struggling as to why specifically it fails. Perhaps it is because I know too much. I mean, as I was reading it I kept having the thought running through the old noggin that this was MY book, the one I was supposed to write, and that, in fact, I could do it better.

So perhaps a little background is in order. I’ve been obsessed with cult of economic growth in society for quite some time now. When you transfer into Berkeley, you have to apply to a specific major. The major I originally chose was Environmental Economics and Policy with the intent to learn the language of economics so as to be able to tell the bastards in their own words that they were full of shit. Well in my first semester at Berkeley two things happened. First, I took an upper division micro economics class and, well, fuck math. Second, the economy collapsed, my inner chicken little felt vindicated ( I had been telling all who would listen, aka no one who it would matter to, that the real estate market was going to bust soon) while at some public roundtable of great economic minds, including one Christine Romer ( you keep smudging your face against that glass ceiling girl, lord knows Larry’s getting a real kick out of it,) some radical in the back asked/shouted ever so rudely the question of did any of them see it coming. To which they all gave each other long sideways, pulled at their collective collar, gave a little gulp, and said something to the effect of “Well not exactly, but that shouldn’t prevent you from listening to us expound upon what we think should and will happen next. We are the experts you know.” I quickly realized translation is a lost cause.

Although I was done with my feeble attempts at economic fluency, my interest in the power of economics did not wane and I took a class on Ecological Economics (for further evidence see: me, this class.) Ecological Economics being one of the many examples of things I’ve studied the past two years here at Berkeley that Bill briefly touches upon. Some others include Agroecology, Political Ecology, Cuba’s artificial peak oil crises, and even Detroit of which I’ve written about 60% of my essays on and want to start an Ecovillage (also menationed). But here’s the ironic thing, despite his insistence that we move towards a ‘Deep Economy’ (I also studied deep ecology in my Environmental Ethics & Philosophy class), he doesn’t give a lot of depth in his survey of what he see as the budding foundation for a ‘Durable Future’.

But then I also get that to do this, to give depth to the wide variety of issues he touches on in the book, would make it a very long read and probably not so hopeful, a goal he is explicit about achieving. However this leaves me with a vacuous feeling, not dissimilar to De Soto, with grand platitudes being supported by literally anecdotal evidence. I thus feel it serves a similar function to Mystery of Capital in that through kid glove treatment (hey, let’s take the successful model of farmer’s markets/American property system and apply it to Energy/Third World) and attempts to appeal to a broad spectrum (Hey, look, he quotes Sachs/Foucault), the converted see it as an effective pamphlet with which to proselytize.

Only I don’t know how well it works in that capacity, my (um, anecdotal) evidence that the most people who have heard of Bill McKibben are fellow enviro-dorks. And if the crowd at the lecture he gave a couple of Fridays ago in Berkeley is any indication, graying enviro-dorks most of the crowd seeming to have arrived straight from the early-bird special at Herbivore. This makes sense in conjunction with some of the points he chooses to focus on in the book. I mean, radio? Seriously? Don’t get me wrong, I love the radio. KALX is constantly kicking out the jams while KPFA and NPR kick’s out the knowledge, but I also don’t own a computer/ipod/anything more technologically complex than a four year old free phone whose sole feature is the ability to make your own ringtone (pure awesomeness), so my relationship to technology is far from normative. But even I know the kids don’t listen to radio these days.

But beyond his baby boomer tendencies, I think he fails not just in attracting a wide spread audience but in also achieving some sort of synthesis between the various subsets of the environmental movement. And Mckibben name checks nearly everyone of them. But his attack of that beast growth through the mantras of local and durable is far from novel and far from strong enough of a contender to knock off growth from its hegemonic position as the ideal society strives for. Combined with his woefully unrealistic futurological Vermont-ification of the world, and I’m left wanting. Wanting to write this book better that is.

So what would I do different? First I would explore more the role of the ideal of growth within the grand societal narrative and see how these various environmental subsets can interact with each other to create a new meta-narrative. Because if the goal of our current economy is growth, than what would be the goal of a new, deep economy? He says in the first couple pages we need to make a shift, but towards what? The regressive goals of sustainability/durability and localism, while important values to any new paradigm, but must be consequences toward chasing after some higher ideal. They must be the means not the ends if we are to “crack the consensus that what we need is more,(3)” and move away from preachy reactivity towards true positive actualization.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Not Exactly a Deep Connection...

Bill McKibben’s general premise in Deep Economy is not new: ‘we’ own too much, consume too much, and still aren’t happy. The old notion that ‘more is better’ has become a dangerous mantra, leading to the rapid destruction of our planet via global warming and the frightening depletion of fossil fuels. I agree with these arguments in a general sense, and I confess that I really wanted to like Deep Economy. As someone who falls slightly outside of his intended audience of yuppies, however, I found myself unable to fully accept his program for fixing the world’s economic ills.

For me the most troubling aspect of the text was this vague conception of the ‘we’ and his treatment of economic class. He speaks of the inequality created by unfettered economic growth, but does so with a lack of real connection to it. Despite his insistence on the importance of community, his only acknowledgement of class difference seems to emphasize an ‘other’, an ‘us’ versus ‘them’ relationship. The most obvious example is the Chinese girl Zhao Lin Tao (oddly described as “the most statistically average person on earth”, p.4—fairly dehumanizing in itself), whose story seems meant to be an empathetic force but ultimately marks poverty as foreign. He achieves this same effect, though, in his analysis of poverty in the United States. Although readers are inundated with McKibben’s personal anecdotes, testimonies of Vermont oat rollers, and the like, we are only given facts and figures to describe the ruin generated by economic growth and disparity. It becomes quite clear that the community McKibben envisions is one that mirrors his own: relatively wealthy, well-educated white individuals living in the many suburbs sprinkled across New England and the West Coast. His conception of that community, and of his audience, is separated from those who actually suffer from financial challenges. It is this separation that makes the $10,000 figure, and its comparison to an inhuman, scientific measurement (the freezing point of water) feel so disturbing. There is so much lost in the use of statistics to convey human experience.

In outlining possible futures (already a problematic pursuit), he reduces reactions to hyper-individualism to three—including, of course, his desired shift to local economies. To the left, he responds: “Our lives may not be making us particularly happy, but the institutionalized anti-individualism that marked the Soviet and Maoist experiments was infinitely worse” (104). Okay. He then outlines the program of the ‘contemporary liberal’: “continued economic growth, but with the benefits distributed more fairly and more of them put back into the public realm” (104). This he finds unsuitable as well, because it does not address peak oil and global warming, and “can’t fundamentally alter the dynamic of dissatisfaction that I’ve been describing” (105). To reduce the entirety of human potential to these three outcomes is already enormously damaging, but to completely dismiss the ‘contemporary liberal’ strategy also makes it clear that environmental concerns are foremost in McKibben’s mind. In terms of environmentalism, a shift to local economies makes complete sense. His arguments start to weaken, however, when he sees that as a more promising economic solution than something like welfare programs or financial redistribution. McKibben is essentially writing a text about economic environmentalism—and as I was reading, I kept wishing he would just come out and say that. Deep Economy cannot function as a programmatic fix for the American, or global, economy. McKibben says that “any solution we consider has to contain some answer for [Zhao’s] tears” (4)—but, as Evan mentioned in his précis, he doesn’t really have that answer.

Katie (Katherine) Carroll
SID #19573684

Precis - Deep Economy

In the chapter “After Growth” of Deep Economy Bill McKibben argues that humans have passed the point where economic growth produces a better life for individuals. McKibben calls economic growth “more” and argues that growth is simply the accumulation of more goods. For most of human history economic growth has been tied to improvements in people’s life and their happiness but recently growth has led less and less to improvements in people’s happiness and quality of life. Recent economic growth has not produced greater happiness rather it has led to increasing inequality, with most people seeing very little improvement or even a diminishment in their quality of life while a very small minority become exponentially wealthier. Additionally the focus on continual economic growth has led to environmental degradation. McKibben argues that because economic growth, particularly since the industrial revolution, has depended on fossil fuel consumption and not factoring in the costs of environmental degradation in calculating growth our current economic system has favored resource depletion and environmental damage in a way which makes our economic system unsustainable. Beyond the issue of our current economic system ignoring or undervaluing resource and environmental costs, our current economic system ignores the personal costs of growth. Growth beyond a certain point produces progressively less happy satisfied people. McKibbens argues that despite the gospel of continual growth professed by most economists, continual growth has made those of us who are “on the happy side of the growth equation” more stressed. The focus on growth has also forced an extreme attachment to the supremacy of the individual. In the same way that the value of the environment and happiness are disregarded, in the economic gospel of growth communities are illegible. McKibben believes that part of the reason that those benefitting monetarily from growth are less happy is because they have lost touch with other groups of individuals. There is increase in happiness up to ten-thousand dollars, but that after that increases in wealth have mixed results. Although economists have created beautiful mathematical models, these are increasingly out of touch with reality, in general, and actual people’s needs. Economics have become attached to people who are completely separate from one another and are guided only by selfish interests, even though this conception of humanity is so far removed from actual people.
The text is aimed at those in the economic systems that are growing as a whole, but who are not getting improvements in their quality of life and happiness in general. McKibben assumes an audience who recognize environmental destruction is occurring and are not religious fundamentalists who believe the rapture is imminent. In particular McKibben seems to write this text for an average American, who McKibben imagines is a Christian, middle class suburbanite. He repeatedly interjects himself into the text, trying to present himself as an ideal American to garner a sense of shared beliefs between the readers and the author. McKibben presents himself as ideal in his choices, such as in being a Methodist sunday school teacher and a hybrid car driver. The author makes this attempt to find unity with the audience in McKibben’s repeated use of we. In some ways I see myself fitting some characteristics of the intended audience, but in other respects I feel outside of the intended audience. I feel that the continual citation of the author’s personal beliefs and lifestyle, which are intended to include what the author imagines to be mainstream, often make me less trusting of the argument and the author. The chapter “After Growth” does not recognize many objections. The only clear objection the author seems to recognize is the argument that if economics is so concerned with growth, how could this concern be so disconnected with people’s actual lives. He answers this objection by stating that up until some point the single-minded pursuit of more produces an improved life, but that we continued to pursue this goal even after the corresponding improvement in peoples lives stopped.
The biggest issue with this chapter is the disavowal of economics as a objective, scientific way of studying the world and making decisions and the of similar statistical data to support his argument. McKibben compares his unexplained statistical data to scientific certainty stating, “money consistently buys happiness right up to about $10,000 per capita income, and that after that point the correlation disappears. That’s a useful number to keep in the back of your head - it’s like the freezing point of water, one of those random numbers that happens to define a crucial phenomenon on our planet.” (McKibben 41). He fails to explain how this study was conducted or how happiness was defined or how the fact that ten thousand dollars has vastly different buying power in different parts of the world. All of the explanation of methods used to gather and to reject or accept scientific hypotheses are missing from his text, yet somehow the reader is supposed to accept this data as scientific fact. Beyond the problem of both disparaging unsupported statistical data of questionable use and the use of similar statistical data the text also at criticizes materialism and valorizes it.
In the story about the shower curtain factory in China, McKibben presents the desire of the girls working in the factory for more and more stuffed animals as understandable or positive in seeming contradiction to the text’s continual call for less stuff. McKibben asks the girl about stuffed animals stating, “I asked her if she had a stuffed animal ... like everyone else. Her eyes filled ominously. She liked them very much, she said, but she had to save all her earnings” (McKibben 41). In describing her eyes as filling ominously, McKibben conveys the real impact a stuffed animal has on the girl’s happiness. He re-iterates this point further down the page stating “China’s relentless economic growth... was indeed lifting lots of people out of poverty and in the processes making their lives somewhat happier.” (McKibben 41). The two previous quotes suggest a confusion between being pulled out of poverty and materialism. McKibben criticizes the coupling of more and better beyond the point where humans have their basic needs met, and yet in explaining how for much of the world more and better are still connected McKibben cites the accumulation of non-essential items as making the girl’s life better.
The text seems to argue for creating a new way of determining the value of an action or item that is less dependent on that action or item’s potential for economic growth and more focused on the improvement to peoples happiness. This project requires a shift from a focus on individuals to focusing on communities. The text suggests that it will seek a new way of considering economics that places equality, human happiness, and protection of the planet as the central concerns rather than growth.
Kelsey A. Mulherin