Sunday, January 31, 2010

Writing Your Precis

You will recall that one of the key assignments for our course will be writing a précis (two of them, actually) and, ideally, co-facilitating class discussion of the texts for which you write these precises. The precis should in fact provide a point of departure for your contribution to the discussion in class, and you should publish it to the blog at least a day before class to give everybody a chance to think about the text in the terms that interest you.

Those of you who have taken a course with me before may think you already know all of this already, but for our class I have in mind something a little different for the précis, and in any case it is a good idea to review this stuff, since it summarizes the key questions anyone should ask of any text one means to read in, shall we say, a rhetorical sort of way.

Think of a précis, first of all, as a basic paraphrase of the argumentative content of a text.

The following are questions you should always ask of any text as you are reading it, whether you are generating a formal précis or not -- but, mind you, any of these questions can provide the basis for a useful closer reading of a text, even though few readings would ever be expected to make all of these interventions.

In your précis (and in your readings more generally) you should always try to answer fairly basic questions such as:

1. What, in your own words, is the basic gist of the argument? What is its main claim or thesis? What makes you think so? Is that thesis explicit, or do you have to come up with your own version of it?

2. To what audience is it pitched primarily? Do you see yourself as part of that intended audience, and how does your answer impact your reading of the argument? Does it anticipate and respond to possible objections? Does it anticipate your own objections, even inadequately?

3. What do you think are the argument's stakes in general? To what end is the argument made?

a. To call assumptions into question?
b. To change convictions?
c. To alter conduct?
d. To find acceptable compromises between contending positions?

Why do you think so? How is this signaled in the text itself?

4. What are the explicit reasons and evidence and premises offered up in the argument to support what you take to be its primary end? What crucial or questionable warrants (unstated assumptions the argument takes to be shared by its audience, often general attitudes of a political, moral, social, cultural nature) and assumptions does the argument seem to depend on? Are any of these reasons, evidences, or warrants questionable in your view? Do they support one another or introduce tensions under closer scrutiny?

5. What kinds of argumentative work (for example, clarification, illustration, exhortation, emphasis) is being done by metaphors and other figurative language in the piece? Are there extended analogies in it, or do various metaphors collaborate to paint a consistent picture -- or do they clash with one another in interesting ways? What impact might any of this have on their argumentative force? What kinds of experience do these figurative moves call upon and how do they connect (or not) with what you take to be the piece's claims, assumptions, ends?

6. Are there key terms in the piece that seem to have idiosyncratic definitions, or whose usages seem to change over the course of the argument?

As you see, a piece that interrogates a text from these angles of view will yield something between a general book report and a close reading, but one that focuses on the argumentative force of a text. For the purposes of our class, such a precis succeeds if it manages

(1) to convey the basic flavor of the argument and
(2) provides a good point of departure for a class discussion.

In our course I am especially interested in compelling you to give greater attention than you normally would do to polemical arguments for which you likely have little sympathy, or at least to think more critically than you otherwise might do of texts for which you sympathize.

What matters for the purposes of our class is less whether or not we agree with the depiction of facts or with the declared ends we find in these pieces of rhetoric, but that these works have all been enormously influential and that we would all do well to understand just why they have the abiding influence they do when we disapprove of them, and why they may fail to accomplish their work for the lack of a sufficient appeal even when we approve of them ourselves.

Hence, I recommend that you choose to write your precises for texts with which you disagree and disapprove, and that you engage with them in the spirit of one who would truly understand rather than dismiss their power. There is no necessity about this -- I won't assume anybody disagrees or agrees with a text just because they have chosen to grapple with it for their précis. I just think that such interrogations will likely be more fruitful for you as a general matter. Also, I think it is a good idea for you to zero in on key passages or sections of larger pieces that seem to you especially problematic or perplexing, even if you find the work in which these passages appear generally compelling.

Given out huge enrollment and the fact that I expect at least two of these precises from each of you to appear in the blog (although there is no upper limit on the number of such precises you publish or on the comments you append to those that are published by your colleagues), I think that we should be seeing a very high number of postings to the blog beginning more or less NOW. Be sure to sign your whole name to your contributing, inasmuch as your handles are often ambiguous and I want to be sure to credit everybody for their work. Be brave in your opinions and bold in your readings -- nobody in the wolfpack will hold it against you when you go out on a limb in the fraught business of coming to an understanding of a politically freighted text in our shared company.

I hope this guide is helpful to you, and I look forward to reading what you have to say and to elaborating your ideas in the give and take of discussion in our meetings from here on out. I hope everybody is having a good weekend. I'll post a permanent link at the top of our blogroll so that you can find these guidelines and the syllabus easily, even after a great deal of content is posted on the blog.

First Impressions on Hazlitt

(Note: I apologize for bringing Glenn Beck back into our collective imagination)

After reading Economics in One Lesson, my first impression was that it read like a rhetorical playbook. Indeed, it could aptly be renamed "Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government." Hazlitt of course would dismiss Beck as too "emotional" and not "logical" enough, but both do seem to target the same group: liberal "Statists" who have no common sense. Liberals, in this respect, are painted as either short-sighted, idiotic, or too emotional as to be irrational--after all, how can they fail to understand something so "elementary" and common-sensical?

Hazlitt's purpose is to provide his audience with the necessary rhetorical tools to point out the so called "fallacies" and "logical contradictions" of New Dealers, labor supporters, and other "Statists." It gives you a vocabulary, which if used, sets up the debate on terms favorable to the defenders of the "free market." Taxes become a kind of "theft"; good intentions of liberals become naive and short-sighted; and government becomes an institution filled with bungling bureaucrats and" parasites."

Most importantly, Hazlitt constructs the economic debate around logos--specifically, formal validity. According to Hazlitt, economics is an objective "science" much like "mathematics." Like science, economics too has its own nomologically fixed laws. Thus, we can start with certain premises and deduce logically necessary "implications." Of course, much of what Hazlitt writes is true and taught in many "Introduction to Economics" courses. But perhaps, his main fault is that he leaves out the disclaimer: ceteris paribus. He mistakes simple economic models as reality itself.

However, from a rhetorical perspective, I think his biggest fault is that he short-sightedly concentrates on logos at the expense of ethos and pathos. He therefore fears concepts such as "justice" and "fairness" because they are "nebulous" and can't be defined in necessary and sufficient terms. Nonetheless, it does seem contradictory that, on the other hand, he believes that terms like "freedom" or "essential government functions" are not nebulous and can be rigorously defined.

Therefore, while his arguments may be formally valid, he ignores the fact that notions of freedom, essential government services, justice, fairness, etc. are concepts open to rhetorical contestation. To ignore this feature about these ideas is to deny a politics of democratic discourse.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Hernando De Soto speaking on campus tomorrow!

Hey Everyone,

Hernando De Soto, one of the authors we will be reading this semester, will be speaking on campus tomorrow (Thursday) from 1:30-2:30PM in 290 Hearst Mining Building. I have no idea if it costs money. It probably doesn't. So, be there or be square!


New Deal

So, we didn't get to either of FDR's barn-burner speeches yesterday. Let's make Thursday very New Dealy. Be sure to have read and prepared comments/questions on all Four FDR pieces, and the Keynes we'll focus on will be the letter to FDR. Should be fun. Feel free to continue posting media supplements and ongoing commentary, people.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Precis: Economic Possibilties for Our Grandchildren

In this precis, rather than focusing on the merits of Keynes' arguments, I will focus on the particular way he presents them. The form of his essay is interesting in two respects: (1) it exemplifies the practice of economics as an interpretative, rhetorical project; and (2) it is colored with the religious language of deliverance.

But before I examine the particulars of Keynes' essay, I think it will be useful to briefly consider the rhetoric of the Victorian cultural critic and poet, Matthew Arnold. While it might seem "random" to bring in a Victorian writer into my analysis, I argue that a comparison of Arnold's and Keynes' rhetoric brings to light the specific nature of Keynes' project, which aims for both a kind of material as well as spiritual salvation. Specifically, I argue that Keynes pursues an intellectual avant-gardism similar to that Arnold's.

While Arnold's intellectual avant-gardism centers around the notion of Culture, Keynes' focus is on Economics. Arnold, for instance, argues that in certain historical periods (such as in ancient Athens and Rome) there arises a modern demand for an "intellectual deliverance." What is common to these periods is a "vast material spectacle," that is, a prosperous and complex body of society, so to speak. This material condition in turn generates a demand for a corresponding cultural greatness. Indispensable to this end are the poets, writers, critics, and educators--the vanguards of Culture who bring about "perfection" by spreading "sweetness and light" to the uncultured society at large (the Barbarians, Philistines, and Populace).

From these considerations, we can specify the rhetorical features of intellectual avant-gardism. In particular, it usually consists of these three elements: (1) a thesis that our present historical period is somehow different than in ages past; (2) an argument that this difference generates a special historical demand, which if met will bring about material and/or spiritual prosperity; and (3) an insistence that only a certain group of people (the "vanguard"), of which usually the author is a part, can bring society to meet this demand.

Keynes essays follows this line of rhetoric. Indeed, it seems as if we could replace Arnold's "intellectual deliverance" with Keynes' "economic bliss"; "Culture" with "Economics"; and the "Poet" with the "Economist." But while Arnold seeks a spiritual salvation through literature, Keynes seeks an economic deliverance that is at once material and spiritual.

Keynes uses narration to explain the salient differences between the modern age and the past. His use of historical narrative is appropriate, for in the beginning of the essay he makes clear that what he aims to overturn is a "wildly mistaken interpretation of what is happening to us." The assumption here is that the practice of economics is an interpretative exercise. His essay is an attempt to delve "under the surface" and to discover the "true interpretation" of society's economic situation. Like the Arnoldian Poet, the Keynesian Economist strives to "see things how they really are."

Through historical narrative, Keynes concludes that the modern age stands out because of "the growth of capital has been on a scale which is far beyond a hundredfold of what any previous generation had known." From this modern development of capital accumulation and techno-scientific progress, Keynes argues that society has the means to solve the "economic problem." In other words, modern society has the resources and know-how to finally eliminate poverty. This possibility generates a modern demand to actualize this possibility. We therefore see that Keynes rhetoric already follows two of the three features of intellectual avant-gardism.

Interestingly enough, solving the "economic problem" not only provides the basic material comforts for all of society but it also leads to a kind of spiritual salvation whereby society can reach a "fuller perfection." In this "destination of economic bliss" there is a perfect freedom, the chains economic necessity having been removed. In a way, we rise above biological necessity and display our true human potential.

Finally, in line with the third aspect of intellectual avant-gardism, Keynes argues that the solving of the economic problem "should be a matter for specialists" (that is to say, economists). It is only the economist who can lead us to "our destiny" of material and spiritual abundance.

Because Keynes rhetoric displays the features of an intellectual avant-gardism there are several questions that come to mind. Is his economic project compatible with a democratic project? In what ways can his rhetoric by modified to resist co-option by authoritarian movements? How can we reconcile the need for experts in a democratic society that relies on common sense and political opinion?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Keynes vs. Hayek Rap Video

Well-made, but I don't think Keynes' is given a fair shot.

hat tip: Marginal Revolution

More FDR Audio

Audio of FDR's 1936 Speech before the DNC, "A Rendezvous With Destiny," in which he warns of the Economic Royalists.

Keynes and FDR have become insanely topical, I fear, in light of "budget freeze" noises getting leaked tonight about Obama's first State of the Union Address, Wednesday...

Checking In

Are folks having any trouble signing onto the blog, finding texts, and so on? You've got a big block of texts to tackle for this week -- fewer, tho, I fear, than in weeks to come -- but I want us to ease into this comfortably. For tomorrow I expect we'll concentrate our attention on the Krugman piece (which is contemporary, contextualizing, and juicily polemical), the "Economic Possibilities of Our Grandchildren" and "End of Laissez Faire" pieces by Keynes, and "FDR's Nothing to Fear But Fear Itself" and "Economic Royalist" speeches. We'll tackle the remaining texts Thursday, plus I may provide you a bit of more comprehensibly contemporary analysis of the International Trading Union notion before Thursday. Dig in, and by all means play around with the blog and raise your questions and comments as you like.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

No Need to Hunt for Hazlitt

If you would rather purchase Hazlitt's Economics in One Lesson for something like $13.95 rather than click and print and click and print through a forest of pages online, the University Press Books, 2430 Bancroft, is currently housing one available copy. During the break, the store special ordered the text for me, but I found another through a different seller. The UC Books clerk said the yet-to-be-purchased Hazlitt will be added to the stacks, likely in economics (which is near anthropology and sociology, up the steps to the left). Hopefully the book will find a nice home.

FDR: First Inaugural Address

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Keynes and FDR Week

All the links are up on the Syllabus for Week Two --

BONUS BACKGROUND: Krugman, How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?

Lord Keynes: Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, The End of Laissez Faire, Open Letter to FDR, Proposal for an International Clearing Union (skip to Lord Keynes' presentation, unless you are very brave),

FDR: First Inaugural Address, Fireside Chat of April, 1935, 1936 Acceptance Speech at the DNC, Address to the 77th Congress.

Feel free to post clips as you like, if you like, once I get around to inviting everybody on board.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Spring 2010 | Rhetoric 171

Altars and Alters to the Market: Rhetoric in the Neoliberal/Neoconservative Epoch

Instructor: Dale Carrico, Office Hours, 2-3pm on class days, and by appointment.

Meeting: Tuesdays and Thursdays, 5.30-7pm, 79 Dwinelle

Course Site:

Provisional Grade Breakdown: Att/Part 25%; Essaylet/Co-facilitations 15% + 15%; Final Essay: 45%

Provisional Schedule of Classes

Week One

January 19 -- Administrivia
January 21 -- Introductions

Week Two -- John Maynard Keynes

January 26 Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren, The End of Laissez Faire, BACKGROUND: Krugman, How Did Economists Get It So Wrong?
January 28 Open Letter to FDR, Proposal for an International Clearing Union (skip to Lord Keynes' presentation, unless you are very brave), also Speeches by FDR, First Inaugural Address, Fireside Chat of April, 1935, 1936 Acceptance Speech at the DNC, Address to the 77th Congress.

Week Three -- Hayek and Hazlitt

February 2 Henry Hazlitt, Economics in One Lesson
February 4 Friedrich Hayek, The Road to Serfdom, The Readers Digest Condensed Version, The Cartoon!, Mt. Pelerin Statement

Week Four -- Karl Polanyi, The Great Transformation

February 9
February 11

Week Five -- Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged

February 16
February 18

Week Six -- Leonard Lewin, Report from Iron Mountain

February 23
February 25 Eisenhower's Farewell Address and Martin Luther King's A Time to Break Silence

Week Seven -- John Kenneth Galbraith, The Affluent Society

March 2
March 4 Lyndon Baines Johnson's The Great Society, Robert F. Kennedy's Remarks at the University of Kansas.

Week Eight -- Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose

March 9
March 11 (Also speeches by Goldwater, Nixon, Reagan)

Week Nine -- Peter Shwartz, The Long Boom

March 16
March 18 (Also speeches by Clinton, Gore, and Howard Dean)

Week Ten | Spring Break

Week Eleven -- John Perkins, Confession of an Economic Hit Man

March 30
April 1 (Also speeches by George Bush, Sr.)

Week Twelve -- Hernando De Soto, The Mystery of Capital

April 6
April 8 (Also speeches by George W. Bush)

Week Thirteen -- Mike Davis, Planet of Slums

April 13
April 15 (Also speeches by Obama)

Week Fourteen -- Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine

April 20
April 22 (Also speeches by Grover Norquist)

Week Fifteen -- Bill McKibben, Deep Economy

April 27
April 29 (Also speeches by Obama)

Week Sixteen | R R R (Movie time!)

May 4, "The Grapes of Wrath" (screening)
May 6, "The Fountainhead" (screening)

Hand In Final Essay by Tuesday, May 11 either directly into my hands or via e-mail.