New radio product
Freshly posted to my radio archives:
April 9, 2011 Carrie Lane, author of A Company of One, on how unemployed tech workers see themselves (as heroic, self-reliant questers, mostly) • Adolph Reed on the uselessness of TV liberals, the limits of spontaneity in politics, and the sponginess of race as a politlcal and analytical category
Thank you for the Carrie Lane interview. Yes, the transaction has replaced the relationship, even as a norm. Market liberalism has always been about more than political restructuring. What Thomas Frank got wrong, Irving Kristol got right: interests are defined by ideas. I don’t see the point of “naming the system” if the left doesn’t recognize the beliefs that define it.
Choice appeals to actors rather than subjects. It flatters us as draftsmen (and women) of our own plans for our own lives. But choice, according to market liberalism, emerges from competition. Markets create opportunities while testing our talents. And that is what I heard in this interview: the competitive ethos.
Remember Charles Munger, vice-chair of Berkshire Hathaway, who directed us to thank God for the bailout of elite creditors? Their success was the definitive answer to any question of their worth to the country. Anyone else expecting aid, anyone whose life is “a little harder than it used to be,” Munger said, needs to “Suck it in and cope, buddy. Suck it in and cope.” Munger said he was defending our “culture.”
You recalled Emerson, but wasn’t there, in his day, something more explicitly about political economy? I suspect, though my knowledge of the era is thinner than I’d like, that the Jacksonian era and its “market revolution” is the antecedent here.
The competitive view of life, which rationalizes a market society, is justified in terms of power. (That was the conclusion reached by the old school University of Chicago economist Frank Knight.) By the competitive ethos, those who acknowledge mortal frailty, who doubt the uncertain future, who yearn for collective action to achieve what is beyond the reach of any individual, concede weakness. To a way of thinking which defines merit as success, that is akin to confessing failure. Adapt or perish.
In America, the reified market is both alluring temptress and merciless taskmaster. She neither betrays nor oppresses the unfortunate; she rejects them as inadequate. Wouldn’t that account for the absence of public rage and the excess of private shame?
The left has tried to discredit market liberalism by reciting grim history, with paltry results. As Corey Robin said, and as I believe you suggested in your review of _The Shock Doctrine_, the left must contest market liberalism as an ideal:
I really enjoyed Carrie Lane’s discussion, though working in IT none of it was exactly news to me. Its a shame that her study was in Dallas, though, as much of what she discusses is endemic to the area. I wonder whether these tendencies would be so strong in less individualistic/right wing areas. I suspect they would be, but it would be nice to see some data on this.
Something that she didn’t mention, perhaps because she is unaware of it, is that in recent years the same class of people have invested into a kind of self-help/productivity ideology. Perhaps best represented by the site life-hacker, though there are plenty of gurus out there, its also a very individualistic outlook that sees success in terms of hacking culture, the system, yourself, whatever. Much of it is an outgrowth of self-help stuff. So there are productivity systems, discussions of how to maximise your time.
In a strange kind of way its a little subversive. You’ll see discussions for how you can chip your iPhone, get free TV shows, bittorrent, etc. And you’ll also see discussions (and attacks) on things like the ways that banks rip us off, TimeWarnerCable. And there is a definite awareness that time is being sucked away by longer working hours, etc. However action is seen as quite limited – you can prevent them from ripping you off, but the idea of political action to change these things is not so much off the table, as unimagined. Its a strange mixture of pseudo-empowerment and passivity. But perhaps there’s something to work with there.
The other thing that she mentioned was that many of these people had business degrees. I wonder if the reason they were so accepting of the system, is that business school is at least 50% indoctrination into a neoliberal way of thinking. Computing degrees don’t have much in the way of indoctrination, but I’ve noticed over the years that something about programming computers affects people’s brains s.t. they become more individualistic and prone to simplistic explanations of the world. And Chicago style neoclassical economics is certainly appealing on those terms.
I loved the interview with Adolph Reed and a point you or he made in passing intrigued me–one of you said and the other agreed that a problem with the Left is we believe if we just expose the Truth then Voila enlightenment will follow and we’ll all vote Democrat–or something to this effect. I would LOVE to see you devote an entire show to this theme–ie getting beyond analysis as the be all and end all of our problems.
Love the Radio show and LBO newletter!