The politicization of the economy and the extension of controls does not always or perhaps even often favor the popular classes.
February 26, 2019
On Paul Volcker
Those who praise Volcker like to say he “broke the back” of inflation. Nancy Teeters, the lone dissenter on the Fed Board of Governors, had a different metaphor: “I told them, ‘You are pulling the financial fabric of this country so tight that it’s going to rip. You should understand that once you tear a piece of fabric, it’s very difficult, almost impossible, to put it back together again.” (Teeters, also the first woman on the Fed board, told journalist William Greider that “None of these guys has ever sewn anything in his life.”) Fabric or backbone: both images convey violence. In any case, a price index doesn’t have a spine or a seam; the broken bodies and rent garments of the early 1980s belonged to people. Reagan economic adviser Michael Mussa was nearer the truth when he said that “to establish its credibility, the Federal Reserve had to demonstrate its willingness to spill blood, lots of blood, other people’s blood.”
August 22, 2017
Boston protest dispatch
As the morning’s speakers, mostly black and indigenous women, reminded us, we were standing in a gentrifying neighborhood, in a city that remains deeply segregated, in a metro region where rents are rising, on land stolen centuries ago. Boston is a city where, as of 2010, the black median household income was thirty thousand dollars lower than the white median household income. In 2011, over one fifth of black families in Boston were living in poverty, while only 7.1% of white families shared the same fate.
May 26, 2017
On graduate labor and the Yale commencement protest
On Monday, Peter Salovey, president of Yale University, strode down the tree-lined streets of downtown New Haven, garbed in voluminous robes, a massive pendant, and a velvet cap with a gold, dangling tassel. Before him walked a scowling bulldog puppy that strained against its leash. Handsome Dan XVIII, the university’s mascot, was processing in his first commencement, and both figureheads were being very, very good boys.
Everything is about capitalism, but class is nothing special.
March 23, 2017
April 8, 2016
Merle Haggard, 1937–2016
The complexities of Merle Haggard were bound up with the complexities of a baffling political moment, when old rules had been destroyed without new ones being written, a time when everything seemed frustrating but anything seemed possible. But there is nothing inherently redemptive about flux or paradox. It’s nice to know that some George Wallace voters had a kind word for the Communists, just as it’s nice that Haggard followed “Okie from Muskogee” with “Irma Jackson,” a sympathetic portrayal of an interracial romance. But in the end Wallace-style fusion of redistributive populism with open racism crippled progressive politics in this country. There is no reason to forgive Haggard for singing “I ain’t never been on welfare / that’s one place I won’t be,” or “I wasn’t born and raised in no ghetto / just a white boy looking for a place to do my thing.”
March 14, 2016
On Days of Rage
The later pages of Days of Rage, though perhaps more relevant to the study of cults or mental illness than American radicalism, make for fun reading. The suicidal ineptitude of the second generation underground is complemented at times by their occasional picaresque escapes. The reader is supposed to be struck by how incompetent the radicals are, but it’s impressive that they managed to do anything at all. The lawyer for the SLA’s semiofficial spokesman remembers spending his trial getting high in the courthouse stairwell at his client’s insistence—“the finest marijuana I ever had . . . I remember it so clearly—literally floating into court.” He won the case.
August 18, 2014
How did a handful of Oakland radicals, drawing up their plans in a War on Poverty office in 1966, find themselves four years later with offices in sixty-eight cities, a budget in the millions, dozens of popular social programs, and a newspaper circulation of 150,000? And how did it all fall apart so quickly? (The Party formally disbanded in 1982, but Black Against Empire effectively ends in 1971, when an internal schism damaged the organization irreparably.) Bloom and Martin argue that state repression, though considerable, isn’t enough to explain the decline.