My blogging is lagging, and not because I’m gagging, or even lollygagging, just too much going on at once. My book rollout for Nowtopia was last Wednesday and I’m now in the flow of the my “tour” which leaves SF on April 28, but continues later tonight at SmackDab and next Thursday at Modern Times. You can check out the podcast of my rollout reading if you can’t join me at one of my tour stops.
Golden Gate Bridge from Twin Peaks, April 2008.
I wanted to complement my book’s appearance by noting some useful items in the media, both online and off, that help the larger anti-economy argument that Nowtopia is part of. In the current Harper’s magazine, Kevin Phillips writes about the fake numbers that underpin our sense of “economic reality”: “Numbers Racket: Why the Economy is Worse Than We Know”. He gives an overview of how government economics statistics have been jerryrigged and altered quite a few times just since the 1970s, leading to the imaginary economic health much touted by Clinton and Bush during the past 16 years. Turns out unemployment, if measured as it once was, would be closer to 9%, inflation would be running at 12% and GNP and “growth” would have been much worse than reported. Of course the important caveat here is that I don’t believe in any of these numbers either! The whole system of measuring wealth and economic activity is so skewed away from any sense of what’s meaningful or true as to be quite meaningless anyway. But Phillips, a former Nixon speechwriter and Republican strategist (and more recently, debunker of the Bush Dynasty as a criminal enterprise spanning generations) wants to reclaim economic stats from the funhouse they’ve been relegated to. One compelling stat he cites is that in order to artifically hold up the illusion of economic growth during two decades of financial chicanery, 15% of “Gross Domestic Product (GDP)” value in 2007 is accounted for by “imputed” income (the benefit one receives from a free checking account, or the imputed income of living in one’s own home, or the value of employer-paid life or health insurance premiums).
Phillips’ article follows the interesting piece “Faustian Economics: Hell Hath No Limits” by Wendell Berry, in the same issue, which is trying (again) to focus Americans on the reality of limits. Berry has been writing from a radical ecologist position for years now, and often he brings in a quasi-religious tone that really puts me off. He admits as much in this article.
“We are, in short, coming under pressure to understand ourselves as limited creatures in a limited world… I am well aware of what I risk in bringing this language of religion into what is normally a scientific discussion. I do so because I doubt that we can define our present problems adequately, let alone solve them, without some recourse to our cultural heritage.”
Much as I loathe the admonitional tone that wants to chastise for living beyond our limits, I can easily understand the basic ecological truth of that point. Berry’s article escapes his own rhetorical trap as it proceeds and by the end I was quite happy with it.