Archive for the ‘Next’ Category

Periodical Note:
John Lachester on Austerity, in the LRB
Monday, 18 July 2011

Monday, July 18th, 2011

In the London Review of Books, John Lanchester’s comment, “Once Greece goes…” (dated 30 June), approaches its conclusion (on the vexing differentness of the German ecomony) with an eloquent capture of the growing public mood that is pushing back at the consequences of generations of European political condescension. I have rendered the strongiest feelings bold.

The Greek people are furious to be told by their deputy prime minister that ‘we ate the money together’; they just don’t agree with that analysis. In the world of money, people are privately outraged by the general unwillingness of electorates to accept the blame for the state they are in. But the general public, it turns out, had very little understanding of the economic mechanisms which were, without their knowing it, ruling their lives. They didn’t vote for the system, and no one explained the system to them, and in any case the rule is that while things are on the way up, no one votes for Cassandra, so no one in public life plays the Cassandra role. Greece has 800,000 civil servants, of whom 150,000 are on course to lose their jobs. The very existence of those jobs may well be a symptom of the three c’s, ‘corruption, cronyism, clientelism’, but that’s not how it feels to the person in the job, who was supposed to do what? Turn down the job offer, in the absence of alternative employment, because it was somehow bad for Greece to have so many public sector workers earning an OK living? Where is the agency in that person’s life, the meaningful space for political-economic action? She is made the scapegoat, the victim, of decisions made at altitudes far above her daily life – and the same goes for all the people undergoing ‘austerity’, not just in Greece. The austerity is supposed to be a consequence of us all having had it a little bit too easy (this is an attitude which is only very gently implied in public, but it’s there, and in private it is sometimes spelled out). But the thing is, most of us don’t feel we did have it particularly easy. When you combine that with the fact that we have so little real agency in our economic lives, we tend to feel we don’t deserve much of the blame. This feeling, which is strong enough in Ireland and Iceland, and which will grow steadily stronger in the UK, is so strong in Greece that the country is heading for a default whose likeliest outcome, by far, is a decade of misery for ordinary Greeks.

As we ponder this divide between the general public and “money,” it seems that our navigational charts are severely out of date. Territories previously marked “Here Be Communists” are now otherwise occupied. Almost everyone wants a decent change to do better, which means that almost no one is interested social levelling. But we have learned the hard way that while financiers may know how to make money, that’s usually all they know. Allowing them to set public policy is what produced the the worldwide debt crisis.

Our old poles — communist/capitalist, liberal/conservative — are less and less magnetic; they don’t serve to organize our ideas effectively. Complicating the current world situation is the gradual withdrawal of a one-time outgoing tide of social conservatives who will never be replaced — not, at least, for a very long time. Which are the problems that will persist in the wake of that ebbing, and that therefore require serious consideration?

Our governments, for all their modern apparatus, date back to ancien régime foundations. The distinction between public and private sectors has its origins in Renaissance state formantion, and represents the breakdown of the feudal hegemony, in which the distinction made no sense. Prior to the Seventeenth Century, the state was looked to for little more than military defense and the odd festal monument. It was supposed to uphold the tangle of established rights that had grown up in the highly localized Middle Ages, but this was just another kind of military support; the state wasn’t supposed to take initiative with respect to these rights. That changed with the activist centralizers of early modern France, and the conflict between government and private interests was launched.

I think that we’re due for a new model.

Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009


¶ Matins: Michelle Haimoff proposes a pay scale for HuffPost contributors. 

¶ Lauds: Nige makes me wish that I were in London, to see the Corot to Monet show.

¶ Prime: Carol Smith, an SVP at Elle, claims that women make better managers. Even better, she hates single-sex workplaces.

¶ Tierce: A Web log devoted to bookmarks found in old books (!) reminds us of telegrams at weddings. How old, we wonder, is the youngest person to remember this feature of wedding receptions? (via MetaFilter)

¶ Sext: Steven Heller explains the test pattern.

¶ Nones: An update from the country that can’t: Kurdistan.

¶ Vespers: “It’s enjoyable if you like reading Nexis printouts” — Nicholson Baker on the Kindle DX.

¶ Compline: Drake Bennett reports on some recent studies of attention deficits in older drivers — and how older drivers compensate. (via The Morning News)


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009


¶ Matins: Robert B Reich: manufacturing is a thing of the past. Everywhere. “Blame new knowledge.”

¶ Lauds: Joanne McNeil writes about seeing movies alone — and her fondness for watching a video first thing on a weekend morning — slightly before the first thing, actually (5 AM!)

¶ Prime: Chris Lehmann explains why the bankruptcy of General Motors is almost as great for wingnut pundits as the UAW’s 17.5% stake.

¶ Tierce: “Well, do you want ALL of my money?” snapped an exasperated Brooke Astor,

[a]fter years of pressure from son Anthony Marshall for more, more – and even more – of her millions

¶ Sext: “World’s Most Pointless Machine.” (No, it’s not a motorcycle.) I want one! (via reddit)

¶ Nones: The answer to the question: Gordon Brown is an Aspie. And Barack Obama is not. “The Prince of Wales is to attend the 65th anniversary celebrations of D-Day after the intervention of President Barack Obama, The Daily Telegraph can disclose.”

¶ Vespers: At the new-ish WSJ blog, Speakeasy, Lee Siegel writes cogently about film criticism — about criticism in general.

¶ Compline: Much as I love the infographics at GOOD, I’m not sure that “Conglomerate for Good” is one. I’d call it a very pretty list.


Daily Office: Wednesday

Wednesday, February 11th, 2009


¶ Matins: So manypeople still don’t get it: the important thing right now is to do something, and then, maybe, something else. Waiting to get it right is the only guarantee of disaster. The Obama/Geithner plan faces a “brutally negative” response.

¶ Lauds: I read it at Classical Convert first: Muzak has declared bankruptcy.

¶ Prime: So, you’re going through the attic, convinced that it’s full of treasures. Sadly, you’re probably in the The Trough of No Value. Saving those “collectibles” always requires more patience than you think it will. (via

¶ Tierce: Now that the Obama Administration is re-directing American focus to Afghanistan, the sub-sovereign creation of British mapmakers is metastatsizing from a sorry mess to the new Vietnam. Uh-oh!

The attacks in the capital underlined the severity of the challenge facing American policy-makers who have declared the war in Afghanistan a high priority for the new administration in Washington and who plan to almost double American troop levels with the deployment of some 30,000 additional soldiers.

¶ Sext: What happened at The New School? Put it another way: why does Bob Kerrey stay on as President when he is so massively unpopular with the faculty? What is he thinking?

¶ Nones: Trouble in Paradise Azerbaijan. For the first time since 1994, a “high-ranking” Azerbaijani military officer, Air Force leader Lt-Gen Rail Rzayev has been shot dead.

¶ Vespers: Steven Moore reviews Tracy Daugherty’s new biography of Donald Barthelme, whose student Daugherty was in the Eighties: Hiding Man. (via Emdashes) 

¶ Compline: Something very interesting and beautiful to look at before you go to bed: Scintillation, a short film by Xavier Chassaing (at Snarkmarket).