Sunday, December 30, 2012

Finished Opus 49 No.1 Organ Prelude in C

I'll toss more into the set over the next week. Now to finish the very troubled Sextet for Piano and Wind Quintet #2, in F#.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The New Program

I have started a composing program, one aimed at productivity. While this means, of course, that longer works must be put aside, as well as revisions to the concerti, an artist should be able to look at their output and fill what is missing. In my case: smaller works, works that are simpler to play, works for more diverse ensembles.

The goal can be summarized as follows: 3 minutes of new music a day on average, and 3 works every two weeks for a year. That is 75 new works, and 1100 minutes of music. While one can't measure production solely in volume – scribbling isn't composing – there are times to put theory to the test: can a volume of ideas be produced in a variety of shapes and groups.

This program began with the Opus 46 Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, English Horn, and Bassoon entitled "Prayers Ascending". The second work is Opus 47 Sextet for Piano & Winds, which will have a movement posted shortly, and the short Opus 48 Prelude for Flute, Clarinet, Trumpet, Horn, Trombone, and Bassoon. 37 minutes in 11 days so far, on the very foothills of a mountain.

In a way this is much like blogging in music: write quickly for any grouping that is to hand, drop anything blocked, and use a different route, hit ideas over and over again in varied form, and above, keep moving.

Yes few care about this, but that is because eyes and ears are elsewhere. When laboring obscurity, labor, and because the obscurity will most assuredly take care of itself.


Tuesday, December 25, 2012

An Ecology of Sound – Why My Music

Music can be played or produced. Produced music isn't entirely new, however, with computers, synthesizers, and associated mixing and recording technology, it went from being largely a toy – think a music box – or the pursuit of the odd experimentalist, to being an overwhelming part of life. Produced music is more akin to painting in its requirements than composing music. It is direct, unmediated to the listener from those that create or assemble it. Like a writer, the producer needs only a channel to an audience.

Composition, like script writing, choreography, and other secondary arts, requires not only a channel, but performers. For this reason composition is inherently more political. It must not only compete for limited time attention of the audience, and whatever width of the channel is, and the limitations of aggregation and criticism, but for the limitations of performers. Performers become the music that they play, it is carved on their bones.

For this reason, movements in composition often appear first as literary movements, explaining the new idea, or the idea that literary figures would wish an ideal music to have. Since the advent of production, composition as become a secondary art, which, like poetry, is relevant more to the inner lives of the participants. Athletics has supplanted art and performance as the physical expression of attainment, both personal and corporate. Where once cities would have to have cultural institutions to prove their worth as great metropolitan areas, capable of carrying and inserting performance and production into the cultural channel, now they must prove they can insert sports into the broadcast channel.

The first movements in composition in the West that we can follow date that we have date to Boethius in the 500's, that is at the very break with antiquity. In the renaissance the modern thread of development of counterpoint and polyphony can be connected to the compendium of Tinctoris, who summarized the practice and theory of the time, in a tradition that saw itself as being a thousand years old. However, it is clear that this is not really the case – homophony ruled the liturgical roost, and with it the living the church could provide. From Tinctoris' literary idea, came the more practical realization in the work of Josquin, who can be thought of as the first modern, in the long sense, composer.

Why delve into this?

Because the tensions of patronage, idea, style, and words, are mixed together from the beginning. Composition is not abstract from these issues, but, instead, is one way the art mediates politics – it brings together many goods, to produce one good, the music itself, from an imperfect mind, through imperfect performers, through imperfect circumstances, to imperfect ears, a striving for a kind of reach that is a kind of touching of a shadow of what we imagine perfection to be.

The musical is political, and composition must meld the political with the artistic.

This means that attempts to keep music out of politics, or politics out of music are muddle, even if the concert hall is put beyond ordinary partisanship, this is part of politics: a peace dedicated to the goddess of music. Composition is not, then, partisanship to external movements, but requires partisanship.

Because of the way outside music reaches in to a person's physical and mental existence, the unbearable weight of undesired order is painful, this, combined with the partisanship and physicality of performance, creates a hotbed for overblown, and overbearing, attempts to force the issue. And so all compositional movements, begin as a search to free music from dead words, and ends its tenure being dead words where the dead lord over the living. They then, like Beethoven's hero, must die before their spirit goes out into the world.

In the present, the last gasps of Modernism are passing from the scene. This does not mean that people are ceasing to compose, play, or listen to Modernism in music, but its time as the dictatorship of taste is virtually over, with a few last ditch exceptions. Modernism started to give way to Post-Modernism, or isms, starting in the 1950's, even as High Modernism was very high and mighty in its own estimation.

Post-Modernism is the academic twin, of Pop. Where as Modernism in music had physics envy, and spawned effects that would be of us in commercial art – film music, commercials, songs – Pop embraced Post-Modernism's undermining of absolute truth. Because in Pop, truth is ticket sales, record sales, and the relationships of personal contact that can create the collaborative works that pop culture consists of. Good is what makes money.

However, the post-modern is essentially an assertion that enough technology and social unity can overcome any problem. The first is the root of the post-modern problem – how to have authority when production is no longer limited – and the second its answer, the game itself. There might b many printing presses, but games are monopolies. There is an NEG point in here, but can be left to a graduate student to show that as the transportation costs of information reach zero, there comes to be a monopoly of games that overwhelms consumer choice, because the economies of scale of a pipe overwhelm any economies of production. In short, if reproduction costs zero, and transmission is virtually universal artists drop in value to zero. Creativitiy is worth zero, which brings us to the present post-Pop moment.

In the post-Pop moment there is no artist, everything is merely a remix of existing surfaces, and the proof is simply acceptance. This is the resulting of paying people nothing, at that point they see popular culture as something that they already paid for. And they are right: both in the sense that popular culture supports the system they live – that is the Marxian reality that advertising and popular culture support consumption and debt – and because without their active labor in spreading, promoting, remembering, and celebrating popular culture, there is no way for it to be made. Or, to the post-Pop mind, popular culture is paid for by the tax on their earnings which the post-Modern system slaps on them – the empirically demonstrable gap between wage growth and productivity is the tax the wealthy slap on the public – and by their own social labor, and use of social rents. That is, the tell their friends, the telling being labor, their friends being the social rent. If you don't think friends have value, then why are businesses willing to pay good money for referals?

I know that is dense, and the terminal stupid critic will just point and sneer, rather than think an unpack it, but it all works out to this:

In the post-Pop era, there is no such thing as piracy.

There isn't any such thing, because the public has already paid for popular culture by their loss of wages, freedom, and social mobility – that's the tax – and by their active labor. Something doesn't "go viral" until some real people spread it.

This means that rather than the socialism of class solidarity – that is, Marxism – or even the socialism of national necessity – that is, liberalism – or the socialism of militarism – that is fascism or naziism – we have the socialism of emiseration. An as yet unnamed socialism, which is the communism that comes from a combination of poverty and labor. That is, the same communism that, so long ago, produces plainchant and nameless sculptors of innumerable niches on Cathedrals. A neo-feudal socialism for what is, in fact, a neo-feudal age.

We remember Dufay, because he bothered to tell us he existed. The first circle is closed.

In the post-Pop era, there is no creation.

This is no originality, because there is no person allowed to be an origin. Revolution, the overturning of the established order, would be death to the very communism which is the adaptation of ordinary people to a world where they cannot do without the oil, nor replicate the capital system, but cannot take control of either. The populism of the right imagines a war for oil, or "drill everywhere," and the populism of the left imagines an overthrow of the capitalism.

The organizer of sound or art must fit in, in the same way the generator of epithets to be used in oral poetry in the rhapsodic age of Homer had to be invisible to be remembered. His bits had to fit with all the other bits.

This fits in with the ant heap knowledge system, where thousands of drones lay siege to some problem. And with the need for genre. Thus to be creative is to be dead. Everyone is picking through the detritus of the upper layers, and so is the politics of their creation. Why create a harmony when there is the unity of necessity?

Now either one can rebel against ones moment, or accept it. This is where I enter this picture. The post-Pop world is an unsustainable mess. It cannot move itself, because of something that the Post-Modern did not really understand: real physical limits. We are committing thermocide, the heat death of the climate we live in. It cannot reduce itself, because its population is to large. Either the people of this moment have to rebel, or there is no future.

This then is the literary moment: to reassert creation in an era where genius is outlawed, and instead social connection is all. To reassert composition where everything is merely assembled and to show that composition can create order where one mind can master genres, in the form of works.

To do this requires accepting the methods of "production" of sound, as in multi-tracking and multi-layering, and to build pieces, not as a composer might on paper in another age, but at the electronic staff the way a producer might. Music asserts the mastery of the hand and voice over technology: that a person can control the monsters of machinery that we have built, by manipulation – the very word coming from the root hand.

This then is my assertion, that as the modern tried to prove that the brain could be a human physics, creating a realm of laws and order that in turn created a universe - Schoenberg, Webern, Carter, Messiaen, Stockhausen – and the pop a human game, were individuals played reductive bits – Riley, Reich, Glass, Cage – the next era is to prove that a single performer, or group of performers, can create a human ecology of sound, that flowers in each performance.

This then is the basis for a new, and more lyrical, age.


10 Rules of Bad Software Interface Design

10. Must sacrifice to Mouse Click God

When adding a feature, just layer it on some place, creating another menu, and more mouse clicks and mode changes. Users must like to click the mouse, so this only adds to their happiness.

9. Default to dumb

Automatically shift the user to an unrelated mode or feature, with no way to get back but going to the menu. See 10 above.

8. Auto Error

If you can make the auto shift or complete throw an error. See 9 above. And then require an edit (See 6 below).

7. Modal Dialog boxes everywhere.

Because all users love dealing with their 2 year old throwing a tantrum who demands attention now, and will not let you do anything until answered. All errors should be modal dialog boxes. See 8 above.

6. Click. Wait. Greatest. Idea. Ever.

When possible use click and wait before being able to edit anything. Because the only thing users like more than clicking, is waiting.

5. Sticky Clicky.

When possible, make an entire entry, when clicked on, do only one thing, so that editing, reorganizing, or changing, requires additional actions. Bonus points for 9 leading to 8 leading to 7 leading to 6 leading to 10. Must sacrifice to mouse click God.

4. Small targets.

For edits, make a small correction require hitting as small a target as possible, and instead grab and delete the entire text, requiring re-entry. See (9) leading to (6) above. Example: correcting one letter in a URL, or email address.

3. Prevent the user from doing what he wants to do.

For example, editing an email address in Apple's mail program. A gem: cannot edit, must click wait, and then has a small target. A thing of beauty is a joy forever.

2. Can only Undo what does not need to be undone, can't undo what needs to be.

Because users love redoing their work. Bonus if the undo route requires utilization of as many of (10-3) above.

1. Do it differently every single release.

Because people hate it. But remember to maintain the ideas in (10-2) above.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Bigot / Racist Fallacy

Bigotry and racism, or another other kind of systematic discrimination, are related, but not equal. Almost all bigots must, at least on an implicit level, believe in systematic discrimination, or at least their own right to discriminate. However the reverse is not true: an individual can systematically discriminate, without feeling any bigotry themselves, or make use of the bigotry of others for political ends.

A defense against the charge of bigotry does not prove the person in question is not a racist – or holder of equivalent ideologies e.g. sexism. Nor does it prove that the person was not a mere opportunist, pandering to the worst instincts in others.


Begun Sextet for Piano & Winds #2, in D

This will be Opus 48 unless something else intervenes.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Rightward Experiment has Failed

The key theory of the Right is that people are prone to  laziness, violence, hysteria, and sin, and that they must be treated with threats, force, and commandments. The right argues that treating people badly is best. The key theory of the Left is that much of what people do that is wrong is out of ignorance, or the response to maltreatment. The left argues that treating people well is best. Across this chasm the left and the right shout at each other.


The rightward drift came as an aging gerontocracy believed that the solution to violent abuse not working, was more violent abuse. The solution to a plutocracy impoverishing the nation, was more plutocracy, the solution to consumption making a sick, was to have more, lower quality, consumption.

Started Sextet For Piano & Winds Opus 47

Scored for Flute, Oboe, Clarinet, French Horn, Bassoon, and Piano.

In the Yuan dynasty many of the mandrinate refused to work for the Mongol invaders, and instead retired to Lake Taihu, near the old capital of Nanjing, and artistic centers, to write poetry, feast, drink themselves into a stupor, and chase after comely ladies. Minus the drinking and swapping out music for poetry, this is essentially my own plan.


The work is similar to my Second Piano Concerto in D# "Hyperion," a drift in a sea suffused with light.


Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wind Quintet #1, in C "Prayers Ascending"

Scored for Flute, Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet, Bassoon. Opus 46.

This work was begun on Saturday December 15th, 2012, and completed early in the morning of December 19th. It is cast in three movements:

First Movement –  Prayers Ascending (7:20)

A slow neo-classical movement, a depiction of eyes turned upward, of guilt, grief, and shock, in the wake of what seems more like an act of nature, than the act of a human. There is a Youtube video here.

Second Movement –  Painted Faces (3:02)

An introduction and fugue after the style of Palestrina, a funeral procession.

Third Movement – Fantasia (Spirit) (5:04)

A scherzo, in the tradition of Beethoven, following the heroic spirit as it flies forth into the world, urging people to be better than they were before, and rise to the occasion.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Prayers Ascending

Youtube video in Memoriam Sandy Hook, words by Alfred, Lord Tennyson and with music from the wood wind quintet I have composed in response to the shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Bust to the Baby Boom 3

The last element of the pre-conditions of the Boom is the one which is often unstated: the boom is, literally, the product of the GI Generation. The GI Generation is, in a socio-economic sense, a product of the Second World War: the American economy went from being coal driven industrial economy, to being an petroleum driven mechanized economy: oil surpassed coal as a source of BTUs of energy only around 1950. This is somewhat misleading because internal combustion engines are more efficient in terms of final work output than steam engines are less efficient, not because of intrinsic efficient: in practice a steam engine produces useful motion at a rate of around 40%, while, in practice, internal combustion produces useful work at around 20% at the same period – it has risen to over 30% today, or still behind what a steam driven turbine can manager – but because the work is done in place and there is no loss from the cost of transporting the energy by electricity, heat, or feul to move the fuel – coal is less energy dense that either diesel or gasoline.

With the War came the end to a long slow decline in the number of hours that employed people worked came to an end. In the US, combining commute times, with a slow continuous increase in the number of hours worked, has resulted in wide gap between the US and Western Europe. While the image Americans have of the era is of a placid domesticity, looking at surveys of the times, such as the famous Kelly Life Survey (KLS) shows that this applied to a relatively narrow range of people the new economy applied to. Much of America, even white America, was in poverty, and much of the newly affluent class was pressured to do unpaid social work, especially by women, which are not accounted for in labor statistics.

The GI Generation was a military creation, and trained as such. While many economists focus on the demand side of the World War II economic shift: that is there was enough demand generated by the war effort to pull the economy out of the Depression, but what is overlooked is that the War also universalized infrastructure: being able to drive, work mechanized devices, phone service, radio, and so on became ordinary skills, the ability to work in a paper driven bureaucracy became an ordinary skill. Before the war, Americans were economically starving to death, in the middle of plenty. Uncle Sam's finishing school trained Americans to take advantage of the powerful position America found itself in after the Second World War: one of a few industrial economies not touched by the war, and the holder of half of the world's remaining industrial capacity: the others were Australia, Canada, Argentina – whose combined output was a drop in the bucket compared to the US.

This might seem as if it is part of an objective realities story, or a ergodic economic story, however, it is the social valence of the GI Generation which is among the under appreciated aspects. Just as with the Marxian consciousness story of social consumption, and the historicist story of being a synthetic intellectual generation, the psychological aspect of this part of the story is a fundamental pillar. Important aspects of the military ethos are pack honor and mentality, the importance of CYA (cover your ass), and group solidarity. The boom then both inherited and reacted agains the military ethos that they saw. It is no accident to say that the methods of mass mobilization and organization were coming to be applied to everything: schools were "skill and drill," subdivisions were laid out like MASH units.

The GI generation were heavier users of alcohol than either their parents or their children would end up being. The subterranean pressures on the nuclear family home that would lead to the liberalization of divorce laws were already in progress. While views on the militarismare filtered through the boom's own critique, namely the sense of containment, constraint, and restriction, there has yet to be a thorough going analysis which connects both the positive and negative aspects of the military heritage of the boom. This includes hero worship of the GI generation, excessive evaluation of the effectiveness, and importance, of the security state.

One of the cardinal legacies is that boomerite ideology aims to produce a sense of security they felt during this time on the streets, while assuaging the personal insecurity they felt in the home. To paraphrase Ike, the look forward with nostalgia.


We Kill Children

Isn't compromise on the gun issue beautiful?

Reported 27 dead, including the shooter. 18 children reported dead.

It's amazing how much safer we are since 9/11.

But then, this is really a blow for Liberty, and Deficit Reduction, by decreasing the surplus population. Swift would have suggested that the deceased could probably be harvest for the delection of the Job Creators.

Work composed in memoriam Sandy Hook here.

We Torture

I do not think anyone in the world will read Glenn first because of this link. However, a link is a vote, even in this social media washed out version of the web. We torture, and it is now our ideology.

Torture does not work, that Americans are proud for whacking an old man at the cost of 1.2 trillion dollars and 10 years, when he had be located repeatedly before, is to realize that the reason torture is the central point is because it is proof that with unlimited resources, evening doing something the wrong way can be made to work. This is a large fraction of what the last generation has been spent doing: that we want to do things the right wing way, and that if we destroy our society and economy, it can work.

This is what is known as terminal stupidity.

The Private Health Insurance Market at Work

Long term care insurance spirals in cost. From sneaky consumers? No, corporate greed. The entire sneaky consumers story was neo-liberal nonsense pushed to be able to tax the young to pay for the old. It was always a generational screw. The truth about Generational Warfare is that, like Class Warfare, the people who accuse you of it, are the ones winning it.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Mistaken Rendition Censured by Eurocourt

We not only torture, sometimes we torture by mistake. Note the case was dismissed in 2006 on state secrets grounds. The right to a fair and speedy trial takes a back seat to the CYA exception to the bill of rights.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

A Bust to the Baby Boom 2

The popular part of the Baby Bust's ideology works fairly well told in Marxian terms: after the austerity of the Great Depression, and the Second World War, pent up demand created a wave of babies, this demographic bulges objective realities – they outnumbered their parents; atomization of labor for the required mobility meant that they were in nuclear families; there were competing demands on capital, and these previous facts meant they were Lord of the Flies style left to misraise themselves; mass production and mass broadcast became their form of social mediation and social proof – led to rather clear response in the creation of a "generational consciousness" which replaced class consciousness. For the boomers, one's age was the defining feature of ones opportunities and circle of friends, challenges and outlook.

This story is a gross oversimplification, it has been told often, and while it is close enough for understanding two important parts of Boomerite ideology, it does not tell the other half of the story, namely the intellectual aridity of the previous age. New ideas, other than exploitation of semi-conductor technology, have been almost non-existent.

This intellectual story does not fit in Marxian objective realities of production, part of the problem being that Marxism and its spin offs is only half a theory: objective realities work to create consciousness, and that consciousness is the response to pre-existing distribution of wealth and capital, and thus how class conflict plays out. All well and good, but it is missing a theory of psychology, and all economic theories are scaled up theories of psychology.

This is why in the late 20th century a myriad of hybrids of Marxism sprung up, many of which were attempts to combine Marxism, with Freudianism. This impulse is not generated by class consciousness, or generational consciousness, but by historical consciousness: where people think they are in the historical structure. The boomerite ideology is as the janitor generation for a series of synthetic – indeed synthesistic and even syncretic movements, in the arts, in the sciences, and in the humanities. Once one grasps that Syncretism, with a capital "S" is the historical consciousness, one which won among a competing series of ideas, not because of objective consciousness, but because it was the historical consciousness, then the second, that is the elite, strand of the boomerite problem becomes visible.

Syncretic thinking is the response to the Modern period's legacy: where there was war, there had to be peace, where there had been fiat, there had to be consensus; where there was siloed theories, there had to be unity. There had been syncretic movements in the Modern, in cubism, in Dada, in various aspects of literature, and previous syncretic ages, my own study is of Petrarch, and the syncretic nature of his "Scattered Rimes," the collection of hist Italian poems, as well as the 1500's with its syncretic approach to knowledge and myth – e.g. occultism, and poems such as Orlando Furioso. There have been others, for example the mid-Bronze age after the first Bronze dark ages was host to several: the Babylonian synthesis of the Sumero-Akkadian, the Vedic tradition in India, the Middle Kingdom in Egypt, the Hebrew tradition, the early Ionic tradition which leads to Hesiod and Homer. Key signs of syncreticism are hybrid names: Pallas Athena, for example which is a merger of two different goddesses, and shifts away from an original creator sky god to some other God – for example the shift in the pantheon in the middle east to Marduk.

The first wave of the syncretic takes overt pleasure in "mash up" and "bash up" cross over of myth, like that great middle modern syncretic exercise, the superhero comic, where techno marvels, e.g. Iron Man, are next to Norse Gods, e.g. Thor. However once this is done, the next wave looks for a way to unify the competing pieces, and make them look whole. There are many sources for the Greek Pantheon, sources that are still largely visible in Hesiod, but by the time of Greek Tragedy, these sources are being blended together. There is still a need for "deus ex machina" – literally "the god out of the machine," where some higher power is invoked to sort everything out. This is a second wave syncretic exercise, but it is headed to full synthetic. Plato, wants synthesis, where the joints between near eastern despotic gods of nature as it is, have been merged into logic idealist gods, of nature as man imagines it in the utopian. Plato points out, perhaps somewhat in jest, that the Iliad purged of bad gods, is an ode, not an epic.

The synthetic paradigms of the post-war era are many: in physics, the relativistic Standard Model, in economics the neo-classical synthesis, in sociology Marxo-Freudianism, in biology the neo-Darwinian synthesis of mendelvian genetics and Darwinian selection. The necessity of taking very disparate underlying theories, and fusing them, went first by syncretic thinking, and then a search for full synthesis. Many of these theoretical frameworks were extremely successful, for example the Standard Model and General Relativity are the most precisely predictive ideas ever created. Marxo-Freudianism is virtually a religion complete with iconography, without which there simply is no understanding modern cinema and much of modern literature.

The Baby Boom inherited, then, a historical consciousness of their role as the ones who would bring full smooth synthesis to syncretic hybrid theories, prove that there could be "one ring to rule them all," or "a theory of everything. The Baby Boom became the neo- era, neo-classical, neo-liberal, neo-conservative – even a film grasped that to be the arch-neo was the holy grail in The Matrix and its sequels. The Baby Boom was destined to be either a janitor generation, or the root of one of the "Grand Bargains" of intellectual history: make each theory budge enough to make both fit.

Such grand fusions in the past include the medieval synthesis of Mediterranean antiquities (Roman, Greek, Hebrew), the Roman synthesis of Greek and Hebrew thought, the Christian gospel fusion of Jewish and Greek mysticism, the hellenistic synthesis, the renaissance synthesis of Antiquity and post-medieval Catholicism. This last word "catholic" is rooted in universalism. The end of synthetic thought, is catholic, small "c," thought.

Thus the boom at once was disabled, and challenged: challenged to create an envisioned catholic universalism, and disabled, because the real synthetic problem is between the reality of a popular social consciousness, and an elite historical one. These are incommensurable.

So the second part of the preconditions of the boomerite problem is that consensus leads to the necessity of creating synthesis, where none of the parties must give up their preconditioned values or ideologies, leading to an attempt to form a catholic field theory of society and nature. This is the elite consciousness of the age. And this part of the story ends with an exclamation point: the Janitor Generation project of a simple "elegant" solution to synthetic problems has failed, across the boards. Before the boom even came of intellectual age, they were already condemned to a generation of intellectual labor which would go nowhere.

More of the Krugman Follies

Mea culpa.

Yeah and Americans were slow to grasp that perhaps the stories of WMD in Iraq were perhaps a tad overblown. Since if the economic problem is more "skills shortage" than "opportunity shortage" it is fixable by relatively easy means, it was an easy narrative to fall into, despite the small problem that it was totally wrong. Now that the crisis has passed and nothing can be done Krugman and Bernstein – another reliable idiot – are starting to admit, it is structural and it is based on the flow of money up to the top.

The most reliably good move for a liberal pundit, is to be a useful idiot for some reactionary idea.

(h/t Matt Stoller)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

A Bust to the Body Boom

The Boomers are not babies, but they are getting closer to being bodies. The last two decades of American life have been presided over, and dominated by, not mere individuals born during the baby boom, whose boundaries are fiddled with to make various people fit or not based on some thesis or other about them. They are not the only component of a demographic structure which is a failed generation, but they have the most powerful consciousness of themselves as a generation. Thus criticize the present generation, and a boomer will show up, angry that you don't recognize their magnificence.

So, in the end, the problem is the Body Boomers, because they want to be the problem.

Generational consciousness is a recurring, but not constant, feature of history, because synchronizing events that create a wave of people all shaped by the same forces, are a recurring, but not constant, feature. For a time after a synchronizing event, generational consciousness runs on its own, as people marry, raise children, who fall in orderly averages from the previous generation. The consciousness wanes, until some new event resets the clock. The Civil War was such an event in America.

But the period from 1914-1945 was larger and more global than any event before. Only a few events during humanities time on this planet could be compared to it: the end of the Younger Dryas, the Lake Toba super-eruption, the Black Death, the age of discovery's impact was concentrated in the Western Hemisphere, and did not have a generational moment. Or, bluntly, there had never been anything human generated with so much scope, but it was not unprecedented in more localized forms.

The waves that have been thrown off of this event are, however, unique in the combination of circumstances, as all historical events are unique. But since we are living with it, and through it, it's structure is of more than academic interest. We can learn a great deal from the flowering of the Romantic Generation, and from the period after the Black Death. But those are lessons by inference.

The first thing to remember is even highly synchronized generations do not have absolute power. The American GI generation, which held the Presidency from 1961 through 1993, came into its own, and fell, but had other cohorts it had to appease or tried to direct. The present generation in power is a mixture of the Silent Generation, the Body Boom, Generation X, and increasingly Millennials. The reasons for failure cannot be laid at the doorstep of any one group, but thte dysfunctional relationship between the Silent Generation and the Body Boom represents the most immediate political dynamic. They simply cannot easily do business with each other, and their impulses, alternating between confrontation and accommodation on their worst impulse have left the country in a far worse state than before.

The reasons that the Body Boomer, and its ideology. What ideology? David Foster Wallace is well known for his commencement address "This is Water," headlining it with a joke about an old fish asking two young fish "How's the water?" The ideology of an age is not generally made explicit, because much of it consists of the unspoken assumptions and heuristics of a period. Later people, or people coming in from the outside, often must formally phrase the details of the ideology, so they can function in it.

Thus Liberalism, Conservatism, and the rest of the explicit ideologies, are embedded in the zeitgedanken, and change over time, because their tenets are seen through the lens, which is transparent view face on, but changes all that perceived. In the post-modern era, this means the lens, not of production, but of consumption. (For the fundamental analytic terms here see Le Miroir de la production by Balliard) Consumption is the objective reality and necessity with which that era thought, and as one can see, the Body Boomers were conditioned and receive their ideas from post-War syntheticism, more on this another time.

To grapple with real meaning, at some point, requires looking at the underlying assumptions about what proves truth, or epistemology, and what constitutes the boundaries of existence and moral allowance, ontology and deontology. Because every utterance is interpreted in the light of the implicit connection between what can be said, what proves what is said, and what is real, the same words mean different things in different times. Pace Borges, Don Quixote was still written by Cervantes.

The Preconditions of Boomerism

To be quasi marxian for a moment, the easiest way to explain boomerism, is to look at the objective physical facts of the boom, and what that meant for their social interaction. It is not that marxian thought, vulgar or refined, is the best way to interpret events, but it allows people to connect observations with personal experiences more easily, and gives cognitive narrative shape to what can be overwhelming abstract notions, which must be made abstract not because they are, but because they are not. We can only see ourselves in a mirror, and abstraction of common notions is a kind of intellectual mirror.

The realities of the boom were two fold: they were many, and their parents fewer, older, and busy; they were born into either a wilderness of austerity, in the case of Europe and Asia, or a Garden of mass produced plenty. You could have as much of anything, so long as it was like what everyone else wanted. Ken's New Industrial System: corporations do not generate supply to fill demand, but generate demand for what they can supply. This is important, the boom does not fill demand, but creates, or mandates, demand. Before the boomers were even conscious of themselves, the fragmentation of extended families and the building of the "nuclear" family was begun by the Second Word War: war industry meant that people had to be moved to where there was demand for labor, and during the war, remember, the war effort virtually was the American economy. This sheared the coming boom from the communal labor of raising children, and from the extended family labor. Instead, it placed people in a labor-age cohort based on where their parents were in the productive system, not stratified by class, but grouped by demo-economic function.

From this first flows important implicit assumptions: rather than growing up amidst adults, from whom they learned adult games, like many generations that grew up with lowered supervision, they reified children's games. They did not have older adults from clan, family, or geography to learn from, but learned from each other.

Carlin quipped on this, so it is not new.

Thus the first precondition of the boom is demographic isolationism, and consumer productionism as the "realities" that people grew up among. What your cohort liked, and what could be consumed, were the proofs of everything.

This is the first tennet of Boomerism: an acceptance of the post-modern assertion of the game itself being the only important standard: or in short social consumption epistemology. This is codified and re-enforced, and enforced, by its own social proof, Or: once something becomes popular, it pushed out all other alternatives, because the production system of the time was a short tailed one: the few most popular alternatives with the most profitable production were everywhere, a few other items that were distant from them were "alternative" and available and more expense from specialist outlets. And for everything else, you were on your own. Social epistemology is a constant feature of human life, it is the relationship between social proof, as embodied by consumption as a tangible thing, that is central to the boom.

Thus social epistemology has the social proof of personal approval first, but being part of a larger wave of success is proven by success in the popular market place: the band you liked was suddenly on the radio, the food in the supermarkets, the clothes in Sears, the cars on the streets, the images in shows. The proof of social success, would be staring everyone in the face. It is a side discussion how taste makers will then move on to the next area of pre-demand, but it fits in with this structure as can be trivially shown.

Another implicit assumption flowed from the disparity of available adult labor: that of generational exceptionalism. The Body Boomers did not come up  with the idea of their exceptionalism, their parents planned for it. This means that for much of their early existence, the boomers grew up in a world where whatever they needed, seemed already provided. The boom was a demographic escalator, and also a target for demand shaping.

This fit hand in hand with the growth of mass media: in 1945 mass media was films, radio, magazines, and news papers, by 1970 it was color television above all. Mass media lead to media theory, that is a shift in how people mediated their image of the world from what they saw, to what they saw in the media. This was explained, most famously, and framously, by MacLuhan. One can say directly that the hallmark of the age is media theory as a component of all social discourse.  Mass media is "instant karma," it is social epistemology lagging by the minimum distance from the event.

This means that many of the attributes of boomerism were present before the boom was even morally, let alone intellectually, aware: the synchronizing events of the first half of the century. the development of the mechanized industrial economy, the disparity in adults to children, the fragmentation based on the needs of production, the new industrial system, mass media as a form of demand shaping and reality mediation: all of these are pre-conditions to boomerism. Thus two of the important pillars of boomerism are completely beyond the reach of logic, they are matters set in the moral formation of the boom as a generation, and are pathos conditions: the boomers are good people, and what they think and want is what appears on screens and shelves, is also good. It's a good life, or they will wish you to the bottom of the cornfield.

One can see then that the core pathos of the Boom is not their creation, nor then, is their ethos, or really, their logos.


Yes, I know I start much and wander on, but then just as the core society is about holding on for a few more years – the old boomerites love of Hillary gives away that they have no next generation, but only want 8 more years to get to slip to retirement  – means that on the frontier of knowledge it is a time of beginnings, not endings, a time to begin threads that others will spin, and then weave, and then cut, and then sow.



Monday, December 10, 2012

Light Dawns in Paul Krugman's Small Brain

If you are an Obamacrat, and some flavor of bi-coastal liberal, you probably think very highly of Paul Krugman. And you should, he's a seminal intellectual, but mainly of ideas that you hate. Consider NAFTA: Krugman's New Economic Geography provides a powerful argument for reducing trade barriers, because lower trade barriers are, effectively, lower transportation costs, and lower transportation costs make economies of scale more important, and consumer choice in any one location more likely for the likely range of goods.

Krugman is a Neo-Keynesian, and his reading of Macroëconomics is based largely in the synthesis of Keynesian ideas and neo-classical ideas, which is called the Neo-classical synthesis. The resurgant Keynesian branch, based on a different understanding of stickiness in prices, expectations and Phillips relationships, addressing the critiques of the original versions of these ideas, is Neo-Keynesianism.

Gospel for the Neo-Keynesians was that the past economic downturn was almost strictly one of lack of aggregate demand, and that therefore government borrowing and spending was the only really necessary step to get the economy moving, at which point increased activity and increased productivity could be directed at any long term deficit problems, which were comparatively a mild problem. So: not structural, but cyclical. The Neo-Keynesian argument was bolstered by the reality that the "fresh water" alternative, was for austerity now, with tax cuts for the wealthy, and did not work at all.

However, the heterodox position was, and is, that the economic problem, while it was visible as a drop in aggregate demand, is structural: the economy gives incentives for economic activity, and economic accumulation. We have a lack of aggregate demand, but simply goosing economic demand will lead to demand for already bottlenecked: oil being the poster child. This means that restructuring must be the focus of spending. We are not in a situation where simply lowering interest rates and government spending on roads will do the job.

The reasons for this are myriad, but the root causes are from the nature of the economy: all growth must pass through a very small number of channels, and it is possible to corner those channels relatively early. Oil is the poster child, because all consumer demand becomes demand for things that run on oil in the end.

The problem then is that a demand cycle kills itself: demand is goosed, money flows into resource based acquisition, and that chokes off the recovery. Growth is then limited to the rate below which resources out perform capital, but capital is sucked up to the top of the economy.

The real problem is no lack of aggregate personal demand in a macro-economic sense, but of true mega-economic demand for a better world. The people who constitute the voting majority are fine with how things are, at least compared to anything they can have at minimal cost. The only thing the aging body boomers want, is their ass covered if they get sick before Medicare. Hundred thousand dollar funerals, they're done. They want pot and the right to fuck, but these things don't really touch aggregate spending decisions.

Where the demand is for stability, the inevitable result is that ordinary people have no pricing power, not for their wages, and not on prices. They cannot force their wages higher, and they cannot force prices down as far as their wages. This complex is why deflationism never works: prices never go down by as much as wages minus sticky rents on wages.

No pricing power means that any stimulus that goes to wages will be vacuumed up by either capital rents, or by resource rents. Repeat this: Keynesian stimulus will be boiled away to minting more billionaires. Not income, but through put. This is a structural problem, because the nature of mega- as opposed to macro- demand is that it is related to the long term equilibrium of resources against technology and population.

Thus with this column light dawns on Krugman's skull: no pricing power, wow. Now of course it is too late to do anything about it, and Krugman and the other et al. neo-Keynesians have been so far in the pocket of the Obamacrats that it will be another half generation before there is another political moment. By that time millions of people will have suffered, and many died, because during the one golden chance in a generation to get serious about shifting off the internal combustion economy, the neos were part of the consensus to bail out the banks first, the boomers second, and screw over everyone else.

OK, you got what you wanted, but what you'll also get is the undying hatred of the next generation, that won't care which bunch of billionaires you sold out to. Because that is the other reality: we have austerity and lack of shift, not because it can't happen, but because the mega demand is to create a parallel world for the rich. We can't have that, and a new world. Right now, the old are willing to sell out the future and allow the Davos Consensus build its parallel planet, so long as they get some scraps.
 

The three tier attack

In internet discourse at the present time, one of the time honored patterns is the three tier attack on a discourse system. It takes advantage of peonism – the pathos connection of ordinary seeming people to other ordinary seeming people – and to the sub-pop illusion, namely that there is another different world which we could have right now, but is being kept from us by a conspiracy of elites. It also takes advantage of the breakdown of disinterested gatekeeping. All gatekeepers now are self-interest, and there for weed the discussion of the best, because these people reduce the size of conversation, and therefore the number of ad impressions, this is a descendant of the social reality of the baby boom, where there were far more children than adults.

The first step are the screamers. The screamer loudly asserts some patent untruth, for example, African Americans are stupid genetically, or that Albert Gore was secretly taking in unknown billions for the Democrats, that Saddam had working nuclear weapons or was close to acquiring them. The screamers point is to end all other discussion, and make it focus on the screamer. The screamer will offend whatever the smartest people left are, who will know the screamer is uttering unspeakable nonsense.

The second step is the spammer, while the screamer can spam links or repeat talking points, having others creates the illusion that a large body of social opinion exists, and that it is backed up by some independent body of research. Of course it doesn't, all the links are mirrors of a few original pieces of propaganda, where the screamer and spammer are primed with their screams, and links. The Free Republic is like an infection reservoir for crazy. These are replaced as the old ones decay.

This hovers for a while, until everyone with the ability to disable the attack has been outed as "uncivil." If need be some version of Godwin's Law is invoked: I can't be a Nazi, I am a peon like you. The logical result is that Nazis win all arguments, because Godwin's Law forbids telling the truth about Nazis.

However, at some point the last of the three tiers comes in, the suit. The suit does not scream, he will confess to agreeing to some of the points the other side makes. He will drop words that betray he has a viewpoint, but it is such a moderate view, he has to be reasonable, and look the people against him are so unreasonable, what's wrong with a little discussion of the Jewish Question?

Until social mechanisms are in place that overturns this, the discourse system is screwed. One was created, but that was crashed. Where only a few people are writers, and most are in the soup of facebooking and tweeting and commenting, it is easy to capsize the discourse with the time honored three tier attack.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

American Thermidor Revisited

There has been an American Thermidor:

   There has been an American Thermidor, a counter-revolution, one which is based on the way money and energy relate to one another. The key is not only oil, nor only money, nor only corporate concentration, but how each of these pushes the other along a cycle. Each one maintains the others in place. To understand how, it is important to look at the deficits that America faces.
In the wake of Barack Obama winning a second term in the White House, there is a tide, in part manufactured, in part real, that the cycle of Republican government has been broken by demographics and by personality of the President. While there are things that could be farther from the truth, this isn't particularly close to the truth. There were two theories of Obama, one that he is a progressive giant, the other that he is a liberal Reaganite. With his first order of business being a "Grand Bargain" to slash spending for a small increase in taxes on the wealthy, which theory predicts better?

A summary of the theory: increases in resources prices and static wages lead Americans to use their homes as a casino table, and use tax cuts to offset the lost income. This creates a spiral: the rich demand being richer to stay ahead of the resource barons in other countries, and this means less revenue, which means less ability to change the economy, which means that growth uses more resources, particularly oil. And it starts again. The article praise Rubin in the act of burying him: having cut the Gordian knot of spending by rolling debt to short term, he created a moment where we could have shifted the economy from physical goods to soft goods, from oil based growth, to other kinds. It was Clinton, not Bush, who failed to shift the economy, and Bush exploited that.

Obama has continued the destructive pattern: he started with a "Middle Class Tax Cut," continued with a "Payroll Tax Cut," he has done what he could to prop up housing prices, and privatize everything, shoving wealth upwards. He saved the rich, first.

Why does he do this? One road to a post-Thermidor America is to shift from the sprawlconomy, to a different kind of economy. The other is to extract resources here. The Reagan play is to bail out the rich, check, slow down the economy by austerity, coming soon, and then wait for new extraction to come on-line and bail everything out. The difference between Reagan and George W. Bush is that while Reagan wanted, not a peaceful, but a peacesque route through business, Bush's new extraction was Iraq, and required a war. An actual ground war. This horrified many Reaganites who, burned by Vietnam, wanted a peaceful, though conservative solution.

Bush swapped out waiting for bombing and invading. This is why Webb became a Democrat, and Jude a funder of anti-war causes.

Obama has gone back to the Reaganite architecture: tax cut driven bail out, slow the economy fiscally, while relying on monetary policy to keep enough people afloat, and then go back to waiting.

Oil? You're soaking in it.

Old writing

Project to collect important essays here, because they are slowly disappearing from the places that they were published originally.

E.g. American Thermidor.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Flowers of Autumn

I have been meaning to link to Colin Watson's blog for some time now. That he has been diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease makes it that much more important to do so. It is tempting to call people "aspiring writers" but Colin is a writer who simply has not been recognized yet. The quality of the shorts varies, to some extent because they are striving to capture an innate voice that he distrusts, but which shines through in the oddest of ways at the oddest of moments.

The reality is that he was working as a barista at the two story Harvard Square Starbucks, which is a hideous waste of his talent. He diagrams out theories of coffee with an intellectual panache that would be better spent on other problems. Often his best writing is when he addresses the reader, and the powerful undercurrent of performance present in his work, comes out – for example here. The key is that he truly loves his readers, and this saves almost anything for the ersatz attempt to use an audience as social proof in a pick up game.

You want to know why the world of literature is filled with naval gazing next big things? Because we are busy burying the artists while alive. This is merely one example, but a particularly poignant one, since he is sitting on an as yet unpublished novel, which the world ought to read, and which ought to have more company before Colin takes leave.

As for me, I am back now, lord help you all.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

When Economists Drink Tea - III

Forward projection of mega-economic trends proceeds in the reverse fashion – creating a model with the Nash disequilibrium as the output, and then casting that as a trendline. This is superior to simple minded extension of trendlines, because the simple extension does not show where the trend will break down. At what point will those getting out more than they put in be stopped? That which can't go on, won't – but when?

For most of human history, much of human activity has been devoted to subsistence, with almost all of the excess going to population growth. This is the Malthusian equilibrium: reproduction can unilaterally improve its position. Because of this "cereal equivalent" is often used as the measure, and then this is converted into some real dollar equivalent. Since the LCA of human activity is about 1 - that is you get one calorie of work out of people for every calorie you put in, and the LCA of animals is about 2, that is you get 2 calories of work out, this means that historically:'

1. The maximum GDP/capita is twice subsistence.
2. There is very little capital, except to convert work from one form to another, which is frictional capital.

However this creates a problem in searching for the capitalist moment, because the definition of it is the break down of these two long standing results: people value other things rather than the chance to have another child, and there is capital which has an output larger than 2. In otherwords, until the capitalist moment arrives, people value the good of leaving descendants, or leaving them in a better position, more than they value everything else, or, conversely, if they value other things more, they do not leave behind descendants.

What economists refer to as the "Malthusian equilibrium" is this: all of the wages of labor, and any gains in technology, are used for subsistence and population increase, meaning that wages exist under an iron law, where by the fall back to subsistence, and per capita living standards stay very close to flat. This observation is credited to Malthus, from his "An Essay on the Principle of Population." When looked at at very broad aggregate, it might seem as if per capita GDP started to take off in 1820, but this is an illusion created by the extremely uneven period of disequilibrium at the end of the 18th century, and the long depression which characterized the mid-18th century in many areas. There were booms, often driven by war spending, or the reverse, long peaces in certain areas. However, there were extreme climatic events against which the peple of that time.

The breaking of this equilibrium, which with local exceptions had been the human norm, and those local exceptions become the rule when the local exception is sacked and looted, for all of human history. In fact, in Europe, the expansion of per capita GDP has followed two great waves. The first when the Renaissance economy takes hold. European Capitalism 1.0 begins with the trading, exploration, colonization, and conquest era, combined with the internal change brought on by early metallurgy, the printing press, and the growth of civil institutions, including law. These fed each other, contracts to spread the risk of the costs of a voyage or privateering expedition needed lawyers, banking to fund conquest and construction of military capital, then going through a revolution in military affairs. One can see skilled workers with rising real income closest to the ship building areas – for example in London real wages of guild members double 1530-1580, it would take over 200 years to double again. These gains did not translate into higher real wages for day workers or unskilled labor, nor general increases.

But one also has to take into account risk, real wages were rising, but so were outbreaks of disease, which took skilled workers more often in cities than in the country-side. Weighing in risk, city skilled workers were compensated for risk and scarcity – they could choose to work in the cities, and be paid more, but risk dying, or they could work in the country side, be paid less. Unskilled laborers were not compensated for risk – the made similar real wages in both places, and lived much worse in the city. Thus among unskilled workers it feel to those detached from land right or work to move into the cities, or those unusually risk taking.

This tells us where to look, not in the trendline, which will be the result of the change, but at that point where, at a lower level, the consequences of choosing capital goods shifts. Since this is the result of a strategic choice, we can model it by the formalism of the theory of games. However, the simple discrete set of choices does not work, instead, there must be a way of showing the results of actors making distributed choices of options, choosing say 50% reproduction and 50% capital.
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Tuesday, October 9, 2012

When Economists Drink Tea - II

To address this question requires the systematization of work that has already been done, and I will refer to this process by a specific term – mega-economics.

Megaëconomics consists of the following procedure:

First nominalization:
1. Using systematic means create a proxy between output and price. This is an exercise in econometrics: measure out put and the relative abstract exchange values with distortions from market failure and inefficiencies.
2. Overtime find a trendline for a market basket of these proxies. This trendline will be represented  by a continuously differentiable function.  This is largely a statistical question and takes no more than the ability to use a spreadsheet.
3. Map the marginal deviation around this trendline. This can often be accomplished by imposing a macroëconomic model with guass distribution around the trendline. While out of fashion because of misuse during the financial meltdown

Second reification:
4. Correlate this nominal model to events which alter the utility preference, or indifference. That is a mesoëconomic model.
5. Verify that inflections in the nominal model (mega- ) model are larger than can be explained by the cyclical (macro-) model and thus represent a potential alteration in the structural (meso-) system.

Third monetization:
6. Show there is an alteration in not merely output, but price relationship which confirms that the imputed mesoëconomic preference change is reflected in micro- preferences in an local manifold of Sayesian equilibirum. That is that supply and demand are local self-correcting to new market clearing levels in response to shocks resulting in full utilization of capacity with an understood level of marginal attachment to the labor force and capital capacity. This should circle back and connect to the original output and price model.

The objective here is to correlate relative value to absolute value through means of price system.


While some of these terms are more concise than current practice, this is a fairly close summary of the bits and pieces of how historical economics is done and how it used. It is also a good corrective for failures in exigesis work.

Now for what is original – as opposed to merely systematic synthesis – to this post.

Since the baseline constructed in (2) is an attractor, it represents a zero in the generating iterative function. The marginal marco-models represent the boundary with other attractors, and the degree of the marginal functions is one less that the minimum degree of the iterative function. This can be determined by the number of convex attractors, but since we do not know the other potential output states, it is impossible to do this with certainty.

From this iterator we can then determine the number of terms that must be included as the equilibrium state of the individual actor. Or, how many things the ordinary economic unit, firm, government, or person, is concerned with.

Often the reification step is sufficient, however, since this correlation is often only the interaction, we must sum it as a <> wave function rather than as a classical function with determinant value.

This method will be used to analyze the twin data series and reach a different conclusion about the relationship to industrial capitalism to the public sector.


Monday, October 8, 2012

Economists, if they must drink tea, should choose Earl Grey I

The Myth

Sometimes an error is sufficiently common as to need periodic debunking, Samuelson recites it, in quest of a thesis that does not bear examination, so it is as good a place to start as any:
What we are witnessing in Europe — and what may loom for the United States — is the exhaustion of the modern social order. Since the early 1800s, industrial societies rested on a marriage of economic growth and political stability. Economic progress improved people’s lives and anchored their loyalty to the state. Wars, depressions, revolutions and class conflicts interrupted the cycle. But over time, prosperity fostered stable democracies in the United States, Europe and parts of Asia. The present economic crisis might reverse this virtuous process. Slower economic expansion would feed political instability and vice versa. This would be a historic and ominous break from the past.
So where is the story coming from? From one interpretation of the work of Angus Maddison, who published on historical economy, and whose final thoughts on the matter are set down in Counters of the World Economy based on his The World Economy. A Millennial Perspective and The World Economy, Historical Statistics. Prof. Maddison spent much of his career with the OECD.

The story he infers from his statistical study is this: comparing per capita GDP between China and Western Europe, the two begin to diverse around 1820, and this leads him to date the modern capitalist-democratic progression from that time. It's a neat story which does not happen to work out that well when lined up against historical facts.

First historical: 1820 does not mark any particular establishment of Democracy in the European world. On the contrary, France is under a restored monarchy, Britain under a conservative government, Germany under principalities. The US is a one party state with limited suffrage. During the 1820's a series of regressions happen, which reduce, not increase democracy, until late in the decade.

Consider the career of the Earl of Liverpool as Prime Minister: in 1819 following the Peterloo massacre he pushed through "The Six Acts":

  1. Training Prevention Act, which outlawed military drilling except as part of municipal or national government.
  2. Seizure of Arms Act, giving essentially unlimited search and seizure powers to magistrates looking for weapons.
  3. Misdemeanors Act, which restricted bail.
  4. Seditious Meetings Prevention Act, which outlawed meetings with a permit by the local sheriff.
  5. Blasphemous and Seditous Libels Act, which is self-explanatory.
  6. Newspaper and Stamp Duties Act, which widen the publications which were required to have stamps.
This is not a list for democracy or free market capitalism, and it does not support the thesis that 1820 marks a turning point. Some of these acts were subsequently repealed or allowed to fall into disuse, but that mere means a return to the pre-1819 status quo, and in the case of the Training Prevention, repeals of sections only began in the 1870's, and some parts allowing warrant-less arrest were only repealed in 2005.

France was still under the Ultras during the reign of Louis XVIII, restored monarch, and then his brother Charles X. One could go on, with Francis I, Emperor of Austria and so on. Thus 1820 can hardly be a democratic turning point. However there is a simpler explanation for a macro-economic upturn here: the ending of the long series of wars which culminated in the Napoleonic War – but which had started with the Seven Years War, ending a half century of destructive global conflict does not require democracy to start having a positive effect on personal GDP.

The 1820-1830 period then is not democracy driving loyalty to a state providing greater living standards, but a decade of reactionary order, which is overthrown later by external political forces. Far from being the beginning of a period of stability, peace, and prosperity, 1820 marks the point were aristocratic groups are trying to maintain power by offering a minimalist compromise, which is the overturned in a series of reverse, the first clustering late in that decade – the Jacksonian Revolt in the US. The one area to rebel successfully during that time was Latin America – but we don't speak of the flowering of Democratic Capitalism as starting with Simon Bolivar.

Instead, it is England, Germany, and the United States that were poised to expand industrially, but the path to democracy and industrialization did not run smoothly, nor was it really evident outside of Britain for almost 30 years afterwards. When one looks at markers of industrial progress, a useful place to look is Bairoch's Economics and World History: Myths and Paradoxes, where he makes it clear on pages 81-82 that the industrialization of core industries based on coal fired and water driven technologies, as well as the densification of agriculture, precede everywhere else in the world by, in many cases, a full century. By 1780, a significant share of English GDP is tied up with coke fired iron, and mill driven production of textiles. 1820 theories, need not apply. Despite this the quality of many critical manufactures from the UK is falling, as seen from the condition of British warships through the period. This despite having a monopoly on graphite, and better iron production. British sea power and production where hampered even with rapid industrialization.

Thus the 1820 date does not accord with historical facts, and it is questionable on economic grounds. While Maddison is an import statistical series, it is not the only one, and the thesis that 1820 marks a jumping off point for their linkage is refuted by an examination of the political facts. A better case could be made for 1830 as the moment of intense democratization. In the US, the Jacksonian Revolt, which in 1828 ushers in almost universal male suffrage for the Presidency, in France the establishment of the July Monarchy which shifted power from the old aristocratic families to the "haute-boursgeoise," and in England the "Great Reform" embodied by the Reform Act of 1832, a question that ended the career of the Duke of Wellington. It ended slavery, expanded the franchise, and change the manner of election to the House of Commons

However, these reforming waves are destined to be swept away by what I term "The Federalist Revolutions," the enshrinement of a two tier structure of government, with a dominant center, as opposed to the Confederal structures that then prevailed. This period, foreshadowed by 1848, which was a series attempts to institute a Romantic, Liberal, and National order, gave way to a structure which was Realist, Conservative – though not reactionary – and Federal. These revolutions were indeed an expansion of participation which clearly mark that the trend to democratization had begun earlier.

Thus the Democracy and Capitalism argument falls apart because there is no good linkage – industrial democracy was largely an English national phenomenon, and a local matter elsewhere. In England the innovations that would lead to industrialization center around coal had been developed in the early to mid 18th century, but the problems with quality and with the lack of improvement in an industrial means of transportation meant that England could produce a great deal of very ordinary quality goods, for which demand was, as yet, weak. Hence the colonial export policies of the time. This is not to say that the transformation in England is unimportant, merely that it does not accord with a Democracy and Capitalism leading to loyalty to the State argument.

Thus a different frame work must be looked at, both for state power, and for the basis of the upturn in fortunes of the large mass of human beings.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

The Republican Vietnam, The Democratic Nixon III

Noam Chomsky called Nixon, "in many respects, America's last liberal President." It is a sentiment that has been expressed by, for example, Eduardo Porter in the New York Times:

That’s right. The Nixon administration not only supported the Clean Air Act and affirmative action, it also gave us the Environmental Protection Agency, one of the agencies the business community most detests, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to police working conditions. Herbert Stein, chief economic adviser during the administrations of Nixon and Gerald Ford, once remarked: “Probably more new regulation was imposed on the economy during the Nixon administration than in any other presidency since the New Deal.” 

Nixon bolstered Social Security benefits. He introduced a minimum tax on the wealthy and championed a guaranteed minimum income for the poor. He even proposed health reform that would require employers to buy health insurance for all their employees and subsidize those who couldn’t afford it. That failed because of Democratic opposition. Today, Republicans would probably shoot it down.
Wonkette broke it down to bullet points:

* Saved America’s environment by creating the Environmental Protection Agency and Clean Air Act while approving the most sweeping environmental legislation in history.
* Simultaneously reformed welfare and brought in serious new civil-rights laws and agencies for minorities, women, the handicapped and children.
* Proclaimed the first official U.S. Earth Day/Earth Week in 1971.
* Totally reformed the government’s relationship with Native Americans, bringing new self-determination and civil rights to U.S. tribes while saving such Indian natural wonders as Pyramid Lake — the tribe even renamed its capital “Nixon.”
* Was even described as “the Abraham Lincoln of the Indian people.”
* Loved those Chinese communists.
* Spent more on social programs than defense!
* Fathered screaming ex-socialist lunatic Mojo Nixon.
There you go, hippies: Nixon was more liberal than Clinton.
 One academic site devoted to says that Nixon's era of reform did not just claim to be radical, he was:

From the moment Nixon assumed office, the liberal and radical press, many individual Democrats, and a few liberal Republicans interested in domestic reform, concentrated their attention on his personality and political ethics. They did this, not because Nixon's persona during his first years as president offended them any more than usual, but, in part, because his early substantive programs and specific domestic priorities threatened to co-opt their own positions on a number of issues. They might have endorsed or "accepted" some of these plans and ideas from a president they liked and trusted, regardless of party, but not from "Tricky Dick."  In some instances, blatantly ignoring facts that normally would have made such legislative and administrative innovations appealing to them, Nixon's long-standing opponents refused to support certain of his domestic programs, even though they represented, according to Daniel Patrick [Pat] Moynihan, the "natural constituency" for most of his domestic policies.
If Nixon's domestic reforms were often opposed, as political scientist Paul J. Halpern has noted, by those who "never even bothered to get the facts straight," it may well have been because many liberals simply could not believe that Nixon would ever do the right thing except for the wrong reason. Thus, they seldom took the time to try to determine whether any of his efforts to make the 1970s a decade of reform were legitimate, however politically motivated. Consequently, they never accepted him in the role of a catalyst for domestic reform.
The country had elected only one other Republican president since the onset of FDR's reform administrations over thirty years earlier. Consequently, due to the vacuum created by the breakdown in the New Deal consensus, Nixon faced unprecedented opportunities for changing domestic. He also faced the traditional problems of presidential governance; in this instance, exacerbated by bureaucratic pockets of resistance from an unusual number of hold-over Democrats. Such resistance was not new, but its magnitude was particularly threatening to a distrusted Republican president who did not control either house of Congress. 
In part because Nixon, and to no small extent the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court he selected, Warren Burger, grew up politically in the social shadow of liberal consensus, and wanted to prove that they had mastered the lessons of the previous era. Nixon likened himself to the reforming Republicans of the 1920's, who saw it as their role to protect the system from the bad apples.

But the last of the three paragraphs quote is important: "the break down of the New Deal Consensus."

What we are see now, is a break down of the Reagan consensus, and the dying off of the coalition that made the four Republican landslides – 1972, 1980, 1984, 1988 – possible.


Friday, October 5, 2012

The Republican Vietnam, the Democratic Nixon II

It is, at this point, not difficult to build a case for GW Bush as the Republican attempt to create a LBJ Presidency: use a flush of political capital to remake the society and cement a generation of political gains in the concrete institutions which successive Presidents would have difficulty over turning. It was a case I made at the time, so to repeat the details of how "The Ownership Society" and its props are a mirror of "The Great Society" underlines the depth of the fall of American aspirations, and indeed global aspirations among developed nations.

The first prop is the Global War on Terrorism as the mirror image of the Cold War: a permanent, or quasi permanent program to shape economic and political policy, a constant river of money and support. Bush took power in an American born on the 4th of July, dedicated to the principle that all men are created equal, and left one born on September 11th, dedicated to killing the evil doers.

The second prop was the drive towards housing as the engine of the American economy – which pushed money into the hands of the disorganized, that is Republican, working class. This was bolstered with tax rate reductions, and with a domestic spending binge – which even far right commenters noticed.

These pieces fit together – the Global War on Terrorism increased uncertainty, and this drove demand for US backed securities, while the repackaging of mortgages as those securities funded the economy. It also had subsidiary effects, in that it promoted the purchase of large vehicles, where American makers had an advantage. Did anyone need to mention that trucks were a good indicator of Republican support? Or that talk radio was funded by auto dealer ads, which saw their profits increasingly from sales of light trucks, i.e SUVs and pickup trucks? These subsidiary effects fit in to a system by which falling wages in general were buffered for supporters of the Administration.

The long term weaknesses of this system is that it required very low interest rates – to support home buying, and to drive investors to search for more risk, and greater US imports, because US manufacturing was dominated by war needs. This meant more imports. The positive of this for the policy was that it created a global boom, selling to the US, and hence quiescence abroad. The negative was that this driving dollars overseas lead to those nations that could raise prices to do so, which meant oil.

The glue then, was to invade Iraq, and force its oil onto the market. Saddam had to go, not because he had WMD, but because if he could sell oil, no one trusted him not to try and acquire them. This was a bi-partisand understanding.

Thus the triumvirate was using a foreign threat to reshape domestic policy and create a larger dollar sphere was the same, but both the intent, and the context, where different. The objective of LBJ was another round of universalization of the American economy, this was based on the liberal theory that more consumers and high quality workers meant economies of scale would more than offset materials costs, and that such an improved workforce and market could win either war, or peace. The Guns and Butter theory. GW Bush was to create affluence for fewer people and use the reduced access to the affluent economy to offset material prices. This more dedicated core elite market and military force could win both war and peace.

Thus, Vietnam and Iraq were a test of their respective theories of government, and of society. Two administrations gambled on a theory, and both lost a generation in the process. As I write this, icasualties.org has recently updated their counts that shows a total of 8,001 coalition military dead, and nearly 7,000 US dead. This puts it ahead of all of the small wars in history. But this understates its impact, as it has left more surviving severe casualties, and when contractor deaths are included, the total swells. While not as large a swath as Vietnam, these deaths and casualties represent a culling of a generation of a comparable order.

Thus, each war represented a failed attempt to translate a particular social theory into hegemony, political and domestic.

Both failed, but that was not clear in the same way on the next election.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Republican Vietnam, the Democratic Nixon I

In 1967, it was the last year on the pinnacle for an old order. The Ballade of the Green Berets was the number one song for the year, and the campus of Berkeley, as seen in the background of The Graduate, resembled a high school or a college of a decade earlier, with slightly more mop topish men's hair styles. The movie makes a good ending of that older era, where an arranged marriage, and a younger man with an older woman would still fly. People forget that the Great Depression and the War, meaning World War II, had put a generation of marriage on hold, and so the styles of the 1950's were intended, deliberately, to disguise a woman's age, as were rules of culture.

Then came Tet, and the flowering of the Baby Boom on college campuses, not just in America, but Europe as well. They did not want to be fuel for the fire of their parents' generation war. Their slightly older breathren, the silent generation, which they were not yet separated from by so wide a gap, or so deep a gouge, wanted to get on with their lives. Many people who we think of as "boomers" were, in fact, at the tail end of the generation before. It was they who supplied the West Point classes that bled in Vietnam.

It was a set of decisions made in the 1960's, when it seemed as if liberal technocracy could solve all problems, that would destroy the faith in that system, and split those of liberal feeling, from those of technocratic mind, creating a dysfunctionality in the leadership of the left. This is an important concept, and allow me to explain it in more detail.

For the democratic political spectrum, as opposed to the totalitarian one, the left and the right are, and always have been, divided by their sense of the nature of human material, and the human condition. The left sees individuals as largely products of their nature and their nurture, where as the right sees people as largely products of their genesis – race, culture, religion – and both inadaptable, and infinitely malleable in the hands of power. From this comes the most important distinction between the fundamental political ideal of the left, and of the right: the left believes that on should treat people well as the default, and the right believes that one should instill fear in people as the default. While few hold the absolute allegiance of many people, the fundamental indicator is whether someone would first kick, or pet, a dog that barks.

The old modern liberal order came of age when universality, of labor, of market, both contributed to the welfare of the State. Everyone had to participate in building the new capital, in purchasing the products, and in fighting the wars. Even elites could see that they were leaders of men, and saw themselves that way. While elites will always be of the right in that they got to be elites by screwing over other people out of just rewwards, the mentality became that the game was the game, and the reality came first. Fighting for a share of the spoils, came after winning the spoils.

This view was enforced by crisis: World War I, World War II, and the intervening economic turbulence. The mass state required, on one hand, a concern for the welfare of that mass: "The people." The mass state also required direction above the cut and thrust of daily life, this is because that cut and thrust was the only self-organizing force known to work. The people were players, and the elites made sure the game ran. Thus people focused on their immediate good, but were directed by law, and by custom, towards a higher series of ends. This worked as long as the public trusted the leadership to lead.

The years from the Tet Offensive through the failed rescue in Iran, broke that sense. In between there was inflation just as the first of the GI generation wanted to retire, social liberation, and a conflict in the streets that offended the sensibilities of a very Kantian generation: one where categories of race, creed, gender, and age, were important important indicators. It was an age when even people who though of themselves as liberal could tell ethnic jokes, jokes about women drivers, an use the "n" word in a disparaging way. The rebellion of youth was, to their eye, upsetting clear categorical imperatives which they thought of as traditional, but, in the way of many national traditions, were in fact created as way stations. The same had been true in the 19th century. The "traditions" of a lockstep to early marriage within a defined ethnic community were creations of a moment, in a nation where the average age of first marriage dropped by nearly 3 years in the space for men, and 2 for women, in the space of the previous half century. Half of that came in the previous 10 years. The young newlywed image of the 1950's, was a creation.



The marriage statistics show why there was such a sense of threat to this neo-traditionalism: the rate at which a conception outside of marriage resulted in a marriage was dropping form its peak in the early 1960's, a trend that has continued to this day. To give a picture of how much marriage oriented the present is, black teenagers married after a conception at a higher rate than white women in their 30's do today. Whites, as a whole, have an out of wedlock birth rate comparable to African-Americans in the 1930's.

This snapshot, among many, shows the social backdrop that neo-traditionalists were facing, they could feel the created garden of early marriage and social stability crumbling. It had not been a long time in existence, but it was their lifetime, they knew no other.

Iconic of the moment were the demonstrations and riots of the time, which were economically and socially driven by a long period of stasis in wage gaps, as well as the unequal treatment. It is worth remembering that the incident that touched off the Watts Riots, was a party for returning Vietnam Veterans. While these riots are, incorrectly often blamed for depressed property values in the inner city, the more important clue is the radical drop in African-American men engaged in full time work, and the redlining tactics that would continue until the 1990's of banks. White flight, was economic policy.

Into this vortex stepped Richard Millhouse Nixon as President. Nixon was, as most members of the GI generation were, trained in technocratic methods, particularly in the way that the Navy must be, and was far more willing to be liberal, even if not personally, often for conservative reasons. For example, he supported broad abortion rights, but because he disdained inter-racial babies. His own paranoid world envisioned good white girls getting pregnant by untethered black males , and hence the need for abortion. This isn't me talking, it's Nixon on his own tapes.

Nixon's liberal record is interesting when compared to our own. Nixon's universal health care plan was to the left of Obama's. Nixon created the EPA and expanded the power of the FDA. He was an economic Keynesian in a debased sense. But what Nixon did in the landslide of 1972, was create a political coalition. That political coalition would serve as the basis of the three landslide Republican victories of 1980, 1984, and 1988. The Republicans have not had one since, and are not likely to get one this year.

Nixon's hallmark is made by a foreign policy gesture: traveling to what was then called "Red China," or the regime in Beijing, which, not to put to fine a point on it, was the fact on the ground. This had not been a conservative goal, to put it mildly. The UK had extended full recognition in 1950. While full recognition would not occur until 1979 under Carter, it was the first step.

So what does this have to do with Bush and Obama? A great deal.








Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Screwtape proposes a toast

I was born into a nation whose national day was July 4th, and whose creed was dedicated to the principle that all men were created equal. I live in a nation whose national day is September 11th, and whose creed is that we will kill the ebil dewers. So long as they aren't bankers, search companies, iPhone makers, oil companies, real estate swindlers, or whatever other corporate exception we have carved out.

But this one nation, of Bush v Gore, Citizens United, enemy combatants, executive assassinations, and pervasive denial of evolution, climate, and basic human decency, is eroding. On this day, September 11th is a few fading bumper stickers. It is less present than Pearl Harbor was. It may be revived, as July 4th is actually a revival of a date that was not that important at the time – John Adams though that July 2nd would be the national day. However, that revival will mean something quite different. Because we didn't just sleep, we were stoned.

Different from the growing cult among the old of "St. Hitch" who is the patron saint of sell outs,  of every old man who betray everything they young man stood for. The spirit of fear that stalks those whose chattel rebels, and whose distant slaves, beyond the reach of conscience, come to the bed side with a blade.

But these are old men's totems. The young are not terrified of Islam, people with scarves run the registers where they buy beer, and

On September 11th, in this Septembrist nation, I give you July 4th, the once and future founding of America.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Food Fight Among the Body Boomer Gods - IV

The Collapse of Demographic Determinism

Touching on each of the three writers reveals more about the critic than the writers. This critic is fed up with the Body Boomers talking about themselves, particularly since this is the second to last Presidential election which will be about the Baby Boom, the next one will be as well.  He's also tired of an idea that can be called "demographic determinism." That is, ones fortunes are largely about clashes of people born at the right moment or right time.

However selling demographic determinism is at a fever pitch right now, precisely because the great synchronizing events of that created the Body Boom generation are breaking up. The reason for this quick literary survey is was motivated in no small part because the three writers show one of the first break up moments of the body boom: 1967-1972. This was the moment which divided the body boom into early and late: those who were not part of it, whose friends did not go to Vietnam, who were not on college campuses, who were not blindsided by the force of the late 1960's as a cultural moment – the time when sound went Stereo, and Television went Color, and Cinema went realist – parse differently from those who were there, or were rocked by it in their formative intellectual moment.

The three authors are part of the people cut off on the island of the Body Boom, they morally parse as Boomers, but they do not culturally parse as boomers, because by the time they had reached their formative intellectual moment, after Watergate, the ground had shifted underneath them, Pop and Post-Modernism were the establishment, and the era of limited possibility was dawning. America, and Europe, were treading to conservative ground.

However, as an Xer, they are all Body Boomers, in that their obsessions with the personal is political thesis, mark them as being people who are still grappling with the Post-Modern and Pop problems. The Post-Modern problem is the problem of abundance, and particularly abundance of information. In an era without canon, without a scarce source of knowledge, how is knowledge anchored? The answer, which marks the pop era, is the game itself. The game. The game. The game. That's Jacques. But it is also Milton, who posits that control of the money supply itself is enough to guide the economy.

The fight then becomes about the game itself, what is allowable, what is not, and what modes of combat are allowed. This is not an Xer obsession, in that for us, games are frames, and largely given, one can only shop for the game one likes the best. The "Democratic Spirit" of Wallace, is really the play in the sandbox of the body boom: the game, itself, is elementary school, where there are too few teachers, and too many children. X grows up differently, there are too many institutions, and too few people.

This island, which cries "can't we all just get along?" is part of the body boomer continent, and it has one most influential resident: President Barack Obama.
On the other side, however, there is another major dividing line: the boomers who got out before 2008, when they could sell their economic home, the one in the high earning area, for peak price, and move to bonds – and those that did not. This divide is particularly apparent when you look at net wealth cohorts: people above this divide have seen their net wealths, on median, climb. Those below it have, as a group, taken the second largest hit to net wealth in Post-War history.
The non-demographic divide of the baby boom is visible in every Presidential electoral map: the conservative part, the part that helped make "The Ballad of the Green Berets" the number one song of 1967, and the metropolitian technocratic part, which is not all that liberal economically, but is liberal socially.

The power of demographic determinism has, in fact, peaked, and it looks better precisely because almost all of it is in the rear view mirror, and because we are faced in politics with a three way divide. The silents want a depression to make their money more powerful: money having higher buying power is deflation, and the cult of deflationism is rampant among them. The body boomers, particularly those on the back half, need to tax the millenials to make it out. That is what the ACA, aka the health care act is: taxing the millenials to pay for the late body boomers to get to medicare. It isn't universal health care, unless passing a law requiring everyone to buy a house is universal home ownership. The third part is the millenial/X mass. The Republicans, being the party of the silents, need the Xers, if nothing else to run for office. Look at the Tea Party candidates, like Ryan. They are Xers.

This cluster makes up Generation #fail, a group of three generations in order that are focused on their fortunes, as generations, without the smallest scrap of forward thinking. If you look at it, the Xers should not be in favor of conservative policies: they are a small cohort, and after a short period of discomfort, will be able to ride the millennium generation all the way to the grave. The late Boomers shouldn't be engaging in crass generational warfare, precisely because very soon the American population pyramid will normalize, and as Millennials become family people, they will be seen as a plague of locusts. The silents, with a self-image as the abused and forgotten generation, should not be collapsing the economy precisely when they are about to be completely dependent on living on its surplus.

If you don't see the divide, let me lay a simple chart for you, of Presidential and Vice Presidential Candidates.

John Kerry: December 11, 1943
William Jefferson Clinton: August 19, 1946 
George W. Bush:  July 6, 1946 
Albert Gore: March 31, 1948
Mitt Romney: March 12, 1947
Dan Quayle: February 4, 1947



That's right, for 16 years America was under two Presidents that were born 44 days apart, and the Republicans are now running a man who is less than a year younger than the two of them.

Let's take the silents:

Jack Kemp: July 13, 1935
Dick Cheney: January 30, 1941
Joe Lieberman: February 24, 1942 

Two of these, are close to the gang of 6, Kerry being closer to the cluster around Dick, than around Bill.

Finally, ignoring GI Generation Dole, and Bush I:

John Edwards: June 10, 1953
Barack Obama:  August 4, 1961
Sarah Palin: February 11, 1964
Paul Ryan: January 29, 1970 

That's correct, the cohort born in the 1950's will not elect a US President in all likelihood, as electoral power has already shifted past them, they had only one person even nominated for either slot, the now disgraced John Edwards. Only one person from the 1930's was even nominated for either top spot. The early silents will be virtually shut out of the Presidential game. A 13 year period supplied 10 of 13 individuals nominated for the highest office since 1992, and two years saw 5 that governed for 16 years. But likely, they have one more chance, 2016 might see one last late boomer, or 1950's member. That's the pinnacle of demographic determinism.

The Three Body Boomer Presidents: Clinton, Bush II, Obama, have a long gap between them.  For all that we talk about Boomers, much of the generation will not have a member nominated for President or Vice-President, where as 6 of the late silents, early boomers will have been nominated. This is the past that shows the power of demographic determinism, but not in the way one might loosely first expect: instead of having a great wave of boomerocracy, we have some fairly particular blocks which are not generationally determined. Cheney, the most powerful Vice-President in American history, to the point where he was often referred to as "the Prime Minister," was closer to George W Bush in age, than his successor, and was not a boomer.

But this is illusory and starts to break down on examination, the reason there are these clusters is not accidental, nor a product of waves. Look at the cluster of Boomer candidates, mixed in with late silents. These are not large cohorts, and not the result of a wave of people coming to consciousness under peer leaders, these are the results of pivots in society, events such as World War II, which are not demographic determinism, producing people who are in a position to take the new economic or social territory. Hence some of the smallest cohorts: because by 1961 the boom is sliding down, and Palin is on the cusp of the bust, as well as the 1940's births, dominated a half-generation of Presidential nominees in America. Note how after this tight pivot, there is a wide scatter to either side. We have in two Presidential elections seen more demographic variety than was the focus of four before.

More over, by taking people into school at the same time, giving them a lock step education, rights and responsibilities at certain times, 16, 18, 21, 22, 25, 63, 65, we are inserting synchronizations to drive, drink, die in war, retire. It is not that the world is governed by a demographic clock, though this is not to discount demographics, but that we govern the world by it.

Now what does this have to do with three late boomer authors? 

The three picked each other: they are peers and competitors, clustered not because there is some magical moment in the late 1950's and early 1960's births, but who competed at the same times in their lives, were of the same age working the same general niches. They knew each other because they were born close in age, and thus create an artificial outline of a moment that wasn't. They made themselves part of the same moment, by talking about each other. In the same way, Clinton and Gore were peer competitors, as were Reagan and George W. Bush, as were Dole and George W. Bush. They weren't in place because of an inevitable demographic moment, they bound themselves together and cleared the space around them first.


To say, then, that Wallace, Franzen, and Ellis come from some special moment is like noticing that the team ahead at the end of regulation time in a game tends to be declared the winner. We set the clock, it did not set us. This will get more ragged over time. This essay, and myriad others, are synchronized by an event, the publication of a biography, and that by an event, a suicide. These are not demographic realities, but individual ones.


So what is left here? Having spent a good deal of time using a generational lens, the essay is now undercutting it. Wallace's upbringing, Franzen's upbringing, are, in the long term, details. The food fight driven by their need to make a living now. 50 years from now, these factors splay. Franzen and Ellis are both still writing, they may well be remembered for a book they have not even started yet. Wallace is done, but he finished himself.

Soon we will be stripped of the demographic synchronization that has ruled mindsets for 70 some years as the Second World War, and to a large extent, the first half of the 20th century struggle against totalitarianism, ended. Much of the present synchronization is by another artificial set of numbers: when we let people retire. The ACA is created by the existence of virtually universal care at a certain point, and chaotic anti-care below it. These aren't signals in the life cycle of a fly, but our own decisions to draw lines.

Wallace's personal problems will, in the end, throw a sidelight on his work, but we will read Infinite Jest against that background for its own virtuosity, based on the correspondences to that time. There will always people willing to sell their souls for their addictions, as in Less than Zero. While a particular moment may have moved the author to write it, empty consumption wasn't invented in California in the 1970's.

In the end, as tempting as demographic determinism is, because the Body Boomers are the most craven and tiresome generation since at least Louis XVI, the reality in policy is that these demographic moves are counter-productive. The Xer alliance with the silents will destroy them, because the Xers need a bubbly boom economy now in the last 20 years of their working life, because they have no savings. The Boomers have already fatally wounded themselves, by consciously bending their own children over the table and raping them of their youths. 


In the end, the full life cycle most work, and robbing one part of it to pay others, is a dead end. We won't see this, because the Silents and Boomers have been fighting a generational war for 60 years, and will never stop, because it is what they have become. Their dysfunctional relationship will continue to dominate politics, until the oil runs out, a number that is not set by graduation, matriculation, or celebration, but by the remorseless logic of a wider world whose generations are not linearly related to our own.

America is about to hit the wider world, and find out that our generational divides, like our racial ones, are parochial nonsense.