Stuff to Read

Andrew Leonard, “Why Is the U.S. So Awful at Job Creation?

Worthwhile Canadian Initiative has the charts. In comparison with other members of the G-7 — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the U.S. — the United States has demonstrated remarkably good GDP growth since the beginning of 2009, second only to Canada’s. But we’re last, by a mile, in terms of new job creation over the same period. …

… In comparison to the rest of the G-7, the U.S. boast higher levels of income inequality, does a poorer job of educating its workforce, enjoys the double jeopardy of weaker labor unions and a sketchier social welfare net, and, at the government policy level, appears relatively more influenced by the financial sector than by Main Street.

Another interesting but flawed article at Salon is “America in the Age of Primitivism” by Michael Lind. Lind argues that instead of being divided between liberals and conservatives, we’re currently divided between regressives and modernists.

I agree with the basic point, but the Lind article doesn’t work for me 100 percent. His reaction to Star Wars was way overwrought, I thought. I don’t think its popularity meant that progressives were turning away from science in favor of magic; it was just a good story. Nor does disenchantment with nuclear energy mean one wishes to “quit modernity.”

I also think he misreads the 1960s counterculture (I looked him up; Lind was born in 1962, so he missed most of it). Yes, we flower children were romantics with some silly affectations, but most of what we did was a reaction to the conformity, repression and depersonalization of the 1950s, and really needs to be understood in that light. And we were much younger then. (sigh)

Lind goes on about GM (genetically modified) food, as if there were some huge backlash coming from the left about it, which I can’t say I’ve noticed. I have some qualms about messing with nature, but genetically modified food is not that high on my list of things to get aggravated about.

And, believe me, I know people who get just a little too excited about heirloom tomatoes, but an enthusiasm for boutique vegetables is hardly a threat to civilization on the same level as, say, denial of global climate change.

Lind’s view of modernity seems weirdly retro to me —

Let everyone who opposes abortion, wants to ban GM foods and nuclear energy, hates cars and trucks and planes and loves trains and trolleys, seeks to ban suburbia, despises consumerism, and/or thinks Darwin was a fraud join the Regressive Party. Those of us who believe that the real, if exaggerated, dangers of technology, big government, big business and big labor are outweighed by their benefits can join the Modernist Party. While the Regressives secede from reality and try to build their premodern utopias on their reservations, the Modernists can resume the work of building a secular, technological, prosperous, and relatively egalitarian civilization, after a half-century detour into a Dark Age.

Or, we can form the Real True Modernist Party that favors development of green technology and sustainable agriculture and investment into mass transportation to reduce oil dependency; remains wary of any business or financial enterprise that becomes “too big to fail”; and demands transparency and accountability from business while building a technological, prosperous, multicultural, tolerant, and relatively egalitarian civilization. How’s that?

24 thoughts on “Stuff to Read

  1. Leaving aside arguments about how Modernism is a part of our past (as is po-mo, if the fates are kind), how many times are we going to have to read someone posit some “me against the world” theory of politics? Why can’t I, for example, put together a grab bag of my political hobby horses, and suddenly transform the mess that is American politics into a simple binary system?

    Also, why did egalitarian get a modifier? It’s not as if it were any less likely to be fully realized.

  2. And, believe me, I know people who get just a little too excited about heirloom tomatoes, but an enthusiasm for boutique vegetables is hardly a threat to civilization on the same level as, say, denial of global climate change.

    I dunno. I don’t remember when (80s?), but I saw a roadside sign “TOMATOES THAT TASTE LIKE TOMATOES”. I laughed at the farmer-marketspeak. Years later, I ended up buying a tomato at a supermarket. I suddenly realized that we live in a (expletive-deleted)-up world where it’s perfectly sensible to market “X that tastes like X”.

  3. I almost expect Lind to wax fantastic that we’ll all have private rocket cars within ten years. He embarasses himself projecting his own dated, version of utopia.

  4. Anyone who has tasted a Cherokee Purple or a Brandywine is probably too blissed out to get too excited, Maha. Must admit, though, that I have already called my hardware store guy to make sure he’ll have my preferred varieties this spring, because I was getting ready to order seed. A little insurance probably wouldn’t hurt, though.

  5. In regards to the Salon article, “Why is the US So Awful at Job Creation?”, I think Andrew Leonard mostly gets it right, though there is more he could have added. In addition to outsourcing everything imaginable to India and China, Andrew points out…

    In comparison to the rest of the G-7, the U.S. boast higher levels of income inequality, does a poorer job of educating its workforce, enjoys the double jeopardy of weaker labor unions and a sketchier social welfare net, and, at the government policy level, appears relatively more influenced by the financial sector than by Main Street.

    Andrew didn’t mention how the US employs so many illegal aliens, but of course that’s for physical labor bottom-end jobs (agriculture, construction) which, we’ve been told numerous times, Americans are supposedly unwilling to do. But outsourcing has creamed off most of the skilled manufacturing jobs which Americans are definitely willing to do. Even high-tech stuff like computer programming has been shipped overseas. This has put downward pressure on US wages.

    Americans have been conned into thinking they could make up for their falling wages by taking on more debt, made worse by all sorts of usury – hidden fees, escalating interest charges, etc. The credit card industry knew this would end badly, so it pushed the Bush administration to pass the Bankruptcy Reform Act which made sure that even declaring bankruptcy couldn’t get individuals out of debt.

    The icing on the cake is that banksters/hedge funds have essentially robbed pension funds, municipal governments, and US taxpayers. Just about everything that can be stolen has been stolen. US-style capitalism no longer much resembles what is found in Europe, Australia and the more prosperous parts of Asia. If you’re looking for a similar model, think of capitalism as it’s practiced in Somalia or Haiti – that is America’s future. If you want to put it in a word, think “kleptocracy.”

  6. I forgot to add that the USA has also bankrupted itself with military adventures, and continues to do so. Despite what righties say about how war creates jobs, at the end of the day all that military spending would have done much more lasting good for the economy if the money had been spent on building infrastructure (modern mass transit, green energy projects, etc). Military spending, while it creates temporary jobs (at a very high cost per job) produces nothing of lasting value. And the USA has even privatized much of the military, raising the cost per job several times and ultimately making such spending even more wasteful.

  7. OT but worth a comment. Joe Leiberman will announce on Wednesday that he will be spending more time with his family. As in not seeking reelection.

    Talking heads say this won’t help democrats hpld the Senate but I would rather rely on the fillibuster than rely on Joe.

  8. “While the Regressives secede from reality and try to build their premodern utopias on their reservations, the Modernists can resume the work of building a secular, technological, prosperous, and relatively egalitarian civilization, after a half-century detour into a Dark Age.”
    The problem is that the regressive/secession crowd won’t be happy with just whatever states they can get, if it happens. No, they see their future as taking all 50 back at least a century and maybe more, and hold them until Jesus and the “Calvary” crowd come to save them, suck their nekkid souls up to Heaven, leaving the rest of us to sweat, or burn, to our deaths on the planet they overheated.
    The problem with even talking about secession is that if you look at voting maps for the last 10 or so years, the blue areas are the urban ones, with the suburbs immediately around them, most of the rest of the states are crimson. Take NY State as an example. Outside of NYC, Albany, and a few other cities, the rest of NY really isn’t that much different from SC, or MS, IN, AZ, or AL, except that it has more hills and it snows in the winter. Upstate NYer’s are just as conservative, and just as white as their cousins in the South, the Midwest, and the Southwest.
    So, while we talk. or even joke, about secession, if it did happen, the new map of America might not look like what we think it may – Blue states in Northeast, the old industrial Midwest, and the Pacific coast, the rest a seperate conservative red one. The new map might look like the old ones for Italy and Germany from centuries ago – Blue City States, sorrounded by seas of red.
    Oh well, those are my moronic mad musing’s on a miserable Upstate NY morning.

  9. I wish I could explain this better, but, hey I’m just a farmer (full disclosure, former hippie, who dropped out again, you know the drill).

    I think he makes some good points but, I think Maha’s last paragraph hits it squarely.

    I have some basic differences with Lind’s article, which I tried to explain in a long, rambling attempt at a reasonable argument. Mercifully, I came to my senses and deleted it. I will just list the bare bones.

    Change is not so readily equated with progress.

    Non-rational is not the same as irrational.

    Things are never all good or all bad. If their benefits outweight their costs, they may offer some good.

    I think it is important to listen to what he is saying, but he simplifies some opposing ideas into strawmen and some of the “packaging” of the article seems solely for effect. For example, I have a car, but I am indeed fond of trains and trollies. He seems to push the image that some of us want to climb aboard some steam driven relic. I think I’ll spring for the 200 mph TGV, thank you very much, it even seems kind of modern to me.

    It may be that some of us question change out of some romantic inclination, rather than pure reason. We are emotional beings, capable of reason. We just need to blend those two attributes as best we can. (Maybe in a more perfect world “Principia Matematica” would be a real page turner, but, I’ll settle for “Sentmental Education”.) I think Michael Lind does have a different generational perspective, which is helpful, but prone to the same limitations as our own observations.


    Where the opposition to GM foods is various, one that was ignored was due to the ability of corporations to own certain genetic sequences as intellectual property. In crops like corn, where the genetic makeup of a neighbor’s crop can insinuate itself into mine, Monsanto might end up with a claim on my harvest. That’s pretty real world to me.

    Once again the noble tomato takes its well deserved place at center stage. The market gave us the wondrous “Ruskin Tomato”. It drove out the competition with the advantage that its skin was so thick that it could be easily loaded into a huge truck bed without damage. It tasted like sawdust, but that was just a minor marketing problem. How about, it tastes “modern”.

    • I say the best tomatoes are those ripened on the vine in Arkansas. Don’t ask me why Arkansas; that’s just how it is. They’ve got optimum tomato growing conditions there, I guess.

  10. I found Lind’s piece painfully self-centered, and, starting with his reaction to Star Wars, confused and hard to identify with.

    Did he seriously not get that the “the advanced, scientific, galaxy-spanning organization” was an EMPIRE, not a republic, and the rebels were an alliance of diverse species and governmental systems much more akin to the ideals of the UN, (or the UFP, to use his other sci-fi trope)? Even if you miss the film’s obvious attempt to claim the serial movie heritage and the WWII/Allies frame, how do you get that the Rebel Alliance was regressive? If he can’t properly parse an action movie, how much can we expect of his societal analysis?

    His definition of modernism is annoyingly vague, and seems paper-thin. Many of the people I know who “hate cars and trucks and planes” aren’t motivated by a longing for horses, rather an advanced scientific understanding of the urgency of global climate change. I raise chickens in my back yard not out of regressive nostalgia for the Depression-era, but as a progressive alternative to an industrialized food system that repeatedly fails to produce healthy food for the people it claims to serve.

    I’ll be happy to join Lind in a Modernist party, as soon as he gives up that antiquated attachment to the idea that Big Technology is always Good Technology, when he actually gets Modern in his perspective.

  11. Salon regularly features writers who overreach for one point or another that seems more fixation than insight. I recently took exception with a writer who dismissed the notion that the violent revolutionary imagery and references to 2nd amendment alternative has the power to negatively influence others, even those already on edge.

    I can’t say that I know this first hand but a credible source tells me that much of the stimulus money intended to revive our economy has gone to temporary agencies that will end shortly. Investing in infrastructure and transportation would have made improvements that required jobs to maintain what had been built.

    There’s hardly any substitute for having lived the period being written about and the next best thing is relying on those who did or their writing. Some do neither. This is not surprising. It sounds a little like Lind relied exclusively on Thomas Friedman, neglecting well documented political history.

  12. maha,
    I can’t vouch for Arkansas, but NC tomato’s around Chapel Hill were amongst the best I’ve ever had. There was a farmers market I used to go to, and this one farmer there had more varieties than I could ever have guessed existed. And when the market re-opened in early March, he’d have his hot-house tomato’s out, and I swear, he was such a great farmer, you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between one of them and one grown in the summer. I know, I know, it’s hard to believe, but it’s true. My family’s been growing our own tomato’s upstate NY for over 40 years. Sadly, we’re down to only 4 or 5 plants, because my parents are getting older, and I’m handicapped. But we used to have about 30 or so plants going every year. But those plants this year provided a bumper crop. This past year was such a great one for tomato’s, we got more than we used to get with any 8 or 10 plants.
    But still, my all time favorites, hands-down, are the NJ ‘Big Boy’s’ grown in the sandy soil along the seaboard. And the blue berries from there are the best, too. And it was the best year for both of them last year that I can ever remember.
    There’s nothing I crave more in mid-winter than a sandwich made with freshly picked tomato’s, some decent bread, mayo, salt & pepper, and a nice cheese. But toasted wheat bread and American cheese make a fine, fine substitute. Damn it, now I’m hungry…

    • Any tomato ripened on the vine and picked just before you eat it always will be better than what you can buy at a grocery. But as a midwesterner, back when I lived (for several years) in New Jersey, I used to get tickled by the locals’ enthusiasm for New Jersey grown produce. It was OK, but fairly pitiful stuff compared to what’s grown in the southern midwest.

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  14. Gosh I hate to disagree with Maha, but, my money still goes for the New Jersey tomato. Part of it would be that my parents grew them in Sussex County, NJ and they were part of my childhood, so I could be remembering them as better than they actually were. Our NC tomatoes are very good, but our pastured chickens have a way of getting at our homegrown just as they get ready.

    I guess to be fair, I’ll have to travel to Arkansas/southern midwest to eat the tomatoes in season.

    The Jersey tomato, “fairly pitiful stuff”? That’s harsh.

    Ahh Cundgulag, one problem in my little town, you can’t buy a good loaf of bread. I was going to build a wood fired oven this spring to try my hand at a decent baguette.

    I guess some of this conversation about produce and bread shows that we do have deep attachments to things like food and that we get a feeling of well being and contentment from raising a bit of our own. It’s called culture. Some of us are happier living in the exurbs, some people like the rat race. But, the mindset of the Lind article fails to recognize that there is pleasure in doing things and making things. I’d rather build something than sit in a cubicle trying to make the money to pay someone else to build it. There’s a creative process involved that is really satisfying. It may be more rational to fork over some money, fix a G and T, sit in a lawn chair and watch somebody work on my house, but … hey wait a minute, maybe I have been an irrational romantic. I guess I am willing to give the G and T and lawn chair experience a bit of a whirl.

  15. The Jersey tomato, “fairly pitiful stuff”? That’s harsh.

    There are some food items that are better in these parts, I grant you. I can’t criticize New Jersey blueberries because I don’t think they grow blueberries much back home. There’s really good bread here in the east, in particular the incomparable authentic New York City H&H bagel.

    On the other hand, I don’t know if y’all damnyankees know what ham is supposed to taste like. If you did, you’d be ashamed to serve the stuff that gets called “ham” hereabouts.

  16. goatherd,
    The bread’s all in the water. That’s why NYC and Philly have great bread, and the bread in the South sucked.
    There was a bakery in Wilmington, NC that had great bread. They imported their water from NYC!

    Try Ess-a-Bagel on 1st and 21st. Their egg bagel – GREAT (and I’m not even that big a fan of an egg bagel). Their whitefish spread, also wildly yummy.
    My favorite though, get some Ess-a-Bagel, and cover it with some cream cheese from Russ and Daughters, and some fish from Bareny Greengrass – lox, or sable. TO DIE FOR!!!

  17. You know, We visit Wilmington once in a while and unless I am having a senior moment, I think our friends there said the same thing. Next time I’ll be sure to bring some bread back. But, it’s quite a long drive to say the least.

    But, I can’t blame our water. A good friend of ours was a chef in Atlanta with a great reputation. About fifteen years ago she started a bakery up north. When she visits she gives me a tutorial and makes some great bread. After she leaves I follow up with some improvement and then get back to bread that’s a bit too dense. She stresses the AMOUNT of water, but I never get it just right. It’s one more reason to emigrate.

    I had some friends from Mexico who used to jokingly call us ‘bolillos” which means “bobbin” from the lacemaker’s tade, but also a small bobbin shaped bread loaf. The explanation went that north Americans would devour all the small loaves of bread in restaurants so voraciously and in such quantity that they earned that nickname. I tried to explain this behavior by the difficulty of finding good bread in a lot of the USA. Although we had some good bakeries in Tampa. In our part of NC, there is no good bread. In the mountains, yes, piedmont, no.

    Damned yankees? One third of New Jersey is below the Mason Dixon line. (But, yes, I am a yankee, and I will check out Arkansan tomatoes at the first opportunity.)

  18. goatherd,
    When you’re in Wilmington next, go to “Taste of Italy” for a hero:
    Get the Italian sandwich with lettuce, tomato’s, onions, oil and vinegar, and this olive paste they have. Great imported cold cuts, and their bread tastes to me like it’s from Aurthur Avenue in Bronx, NYC. I asked if it was, and was shocked it was local.
    Also, for the best steak in town, go to Soho’s right around the corner:
    Don’t pay attention to the reviews. I ate there dozens and dozens of times, and never had a bad meal. Ask for the Ribeye with coffee grounds and get the sweet potatoe gratin – if they still do it. Both sound weird, great flavor. If Michael’s still the chef, you’ll be in for a treat. If not, then all bet’s are off, and I cana’t say what it is now, or how good. Capitol City Chophouse is good, but overpriced, and the steak is nowhere near as good. Same for Ruth’s Chris – Soho, at least when I used to go there up until 2 years ago had them hands down. If you do go to Soho’s, if Mei Ling’s still the owner, you’ll probably have a memorable meal, even if Michael the chef is gone.
    Let me know what you think.

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