Archive for December 14th, 2008

Cereal and Pop Culture

The cereal business had one major drawback—there was little substantive difference between brands. To stand out from the crowd, manufacturers realized that they had to focus more on the outside of the box than on what was inside. Some tried decorating their products with adjectives, creating names like University Brand Daintily Crisped Flaked Corn. Others competed to appear the healthiest. Tryabita, for example, was infused with celery flavor because, well, it sounded healthy.

Praying for A Better Economy

Many ministers have for the moment jettisoned standard sermons on marriage and the Beatitudes to preach instead about the theological meaning of the downturn.

A recent spot check of some large Roman Catholic parishes and mainline Protestant churches around the nation indicated attendance increases there, too. But they were nowhere near as striking as those reported by congregations describing themselves as evangelical, a term generally applied to churches that stress the literal authority of Scripture and the importance of personal conversion, or being “born again.”

Stimulus From Below

If the economy continues to deteriorate, the poor won’t just be with us, they’ll be us. And they’ll be much harder to ignore.

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Joseph Stiglitz thinks so, echoing the famous words spoken by Richard Nixon back in 1971.

We are all Keynesians now. Even the right in the United States has joined the Keynesian camp with unbridled enthusiasm and on a scale that at one time would have been truly unimaginable.

Of course, this is hyperbole, and Stiglitz has a vested interest in seeing the return of Keynes in economic policy.  He can hardly contain his sense of vindication…

For those of us who claimed some connection to the Keynesian tradition, this is a moment of triumph, after having been left in the wilderness, almost shunned, for more than three decades. At one level, what is happening now is a triumph of reason and evidence over ideology and interests.

Yes, it is true: Keynesians (or other more regulation-friendly economists) will likely see greater attention paid to them in the coming years (or decades) given the catastrophic mess we are seeing right now.  But I have a problem with Stiglitz’s either/or logic–for him it’s either neoliberalism or Keynesianism.  By setting up this false dichotomy, the ability to debate other alternatives in the economic and policy sphere are greatly diminished.  This tendency to project the either/or logic of pro- or anti-state intervention into economic debates has been duly noted by Richard Wolff and others.

Though I have to give credit to Stiglitz, since he does admit that the Keynesian ideology is itself not necessarily politically neutral.

Today, the risk is that the new Keynesian doctrines will be used and abused to serve some of the same interests. Have those who pushed deregulation ten years ago learned their lesson? Or will they simply push for cosmetic reforms – the minimum required to justify the mega-trillion dollar bailouts? Has there been a change of heart, or only a change in strategy? After all, in today’s context, the pursuit of Keynesian policies looks even more profitable than the pursuit of market fundamentalism!

This is a real risk: that any set of policies claiming to be the “economic solution” may in fact be a new niche or strategy for the same profit-fundamentalism that has driven the U.S. economy for several decades now.

So are we all Keynesians now?  I would say no.  Perhaps a disengagement from preformed ideologies is necessary for an unrestricted gauging of the problems and possible solutions.

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