Thursday, October 02, 2008

epic monetary poets

At left: Ray Kroc, poet of the economy.

This is the first recession in the blog era, so we are getting a glimpse of all the rhetorical stretching that we must presume was there before but unseen. Now we see it. If I had a dollar for every time Wallace Stevens's "Money is a kind of poetry" has been quoted in this (loose) context, and invested them in stocks that are low (General Electric maybe), I might start to believe in the aphorism--to live off it.

There's a blog called "Culture11" run by Joe Carter (ex Lawrence Welk roadie) and his less-traveled friend David Kuo. They write on politics, economics and culture and it's usually fairly good.

Now they want to make a list of their favorite financial geniuses (Sam Walton, Ray Kroc and people like that) but, well, it's a blog and there must be a soft stretchy lead, a cute hook or gambit. So we have, once again, "Money is a kind of poetry." Then something that's not true: "As a Pulitizer Prize-winning poet and president of the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Company, Stevens was familiar with both free verse and the free market." Stevens was an insurance executive who (after his first years out in the field) did mostly administrative work at corporate HQ. He worked with surety bonds and constraining devices such as that - and believed in their efficacy. If anything, he expected the free market to fuck up pretty much continuously, and conceived of the insurer's mechanisms as the proper application of brakes on that freedom.

Untrue here too, in that phrase, in its implication of the positive relationship between "free verse" and "free market." Not by any stretch the same "free" there. So it's all bloggy b.s. aimed at getting us...where? To this point: "So if Stevens is correct, and money is a kind of poetry, then who are our epic monetary poets, the 'poets of the economy'?"

Thus Gates, Kroc, Tom Watson...these are the great economic poets. Their talent for creating just the right removals economic constraints on business is a kind of free verse, and so poetry is a kind of money.

Epic, man. Really epic.

It's still the case that smart people (the makers of Culture11 e.g.) assume that the businessman poet must be someone who would side with Ray Kroc and Sam Walton, thus that the poetic aura gets to include these latter gentlemen. (Stevens, for his part in particular, would have been appalled by them.)

Here finally is the moment where I get to express frustration and even occasional outrage at the way in which advocates of an unconstrained market are being permitted these days to switch sides, support constraints (regulation, moral hazard, etc.) and keep the same language about economics. Read statements made by congressmen who have been voting for the big bailout. Most who are free marketeers speak of this as the big exceptional moment where all that must go out the window (but how free is that?) and a few will talk about how this proves they've never really been "ideological" and that crossing over, when necessary, for the people, is okay. Yet when conditions improve "free" will once again be the poetic word of the day, and those great economic poets can take the field once again.