29 November 2008

"by the time one future's there, there's another one being imagined"

I am presently reading Tom McCarthy's Remainder— a brilliantly complex novel that will merit its own post once I complete the book. But in the meantime, I thought I'd share a passage from the beginning of the novel that today is eerily poignant. The book's narrator, recently recovered from an accident and awarded generous compensation by those responsible (it's all very vague), meets with a stockbroker named Matthew Younger to discuss investment strategies for this newfound fortune. Younger begins by explaining the workings of the stock market to his new client:

"Over the last century the stock market has outperformed cash in every decade apart from the thirties. Far outperformed. As a rule of thumb, you can expect your capital to double over five years. In the current market conditions, you can reduce that figure to three, perhaps even two."
"How does it work?" I asked him. "I invest in companies and they let me share in their profits?"
"No," he said. "Well, yes, that's a small aspect of it. They give you a dividend. But what really propels your investment upwards is speculation."
"Speculation?" I repeated. "What's that?"
"Shares are constantly being bought and sold," he said. "The prices aren't fixed: they change depending on what people are prepared to pay for them. When people buy shares, they don't value them bu what they actually represent in terms of goods or services: they value them by what they might be worth, in an imaginary future."
"But what if that future comes an they're not worth what people thought they would be?" I asked.
"It never does," said Matthew Younger. "By the time one future's there, there's another one being imagined. The collective imagination of all the investors keeps projecting futures, keeping the shares buoyant. Of course, sometimes a particular set of shares stop catching people's imagination, so they fall. It's our job to get you out of a particular one before it falls—and, conversely, to get you into another when it's just about to shoot up."
"What if everyone stops imagining futures for all of them at the same time?" I asked him.
"Ah!" Younger's eyebrows dipped into a frown, and his voice became quieter, withdrawing from the room back to his small mouth and chest. "That throws the switch on the whole system, and the market crashes. That's what happened in '29. In theory it could happen again." He looked sombre for a moment; then his hearty look came back—and, with it, his booming voice as he resumed: "But if no one thinks it will, it won't."
"And do they think it will?"
"Cool," I said. "Let's buy some shares."
I should also mention that this book was published in 2005.

24 November 2008

recycled landscape

Another good one from New York magazine: Robert Sullivan on Fresh Kills Park and its designer, James Corner of Field Operations. Worth a read. Precisely the kind of mega-infrastructural project that we've been talking about as a means to stimulate the economy (and keep architects in business).

21 November 2008

the infrastructure gap, cont'd.

Over in New York magazine, Justin Davidson picks up where I left off with a call for a massive national program of infrastructural rehabilitation. Although perhaps a little too fixated on bridges (there are other kinds of infrastructure, too, you know), Davidson does touch on all the important arguments for such a much-needed stimulus: the economic advantages, the moral imperative, the symbolic/psychological effects. Again, I ask: isn't this a no-brainer? I have yet to hear or read a legitimate counter-argument why a massive infrastructural spending initiative is not a good idea right now.

An aside: Anyone else out there impressed with Davidson's writing over the past year or so? It's refreshing now and then to read a critic who actually has something to say...

20 November 2008

derivative of what?

Finally. John Lanchester, of whom I must admit I have never before heard, has a stunning piece buried in the back of Nov. 10 New Yorker on the credit crisis as it relates the broader cultural paradigms of modernism and postmodernism. Although I've appreciated the commentary of Krugman (who just today so succinctly declared: "This is an economic emergency"), Reich, and others these past few months, this is really the first piece of critical analysis that I've read that situates the credit crisis within a larger cultural and philosophical context.

Lanchester's article, which uses the format of a book review of recent books on the credit crunch as an excuse to analyze its cultural/theoretical dimension, is as revelatory as it is simple. Of course derivatives, credit-default swaps, and all those other bizarre financial instruments are nothing more than financial incarnations of the classic late twentieth-century disjunction between the signifier and the signified. And of course the root of the crisis lies in the escalation of this disjunction to the point where the signifier no longer retains any connection whatsoever to the original signified. Lanchester's piece echoes critic/philosopher/writer Mark C. Taylor (see his book Confidence Games from a few years back) in this idea of how money has essentially become nothing more than a floating signifier. All value is relative—or derivative, if you will. It's all a house of mirrors. Lanchester's key line:

It seems wholly contrary to common sense that the market for products that derive from real things should be unimaginably vaster than the market for things themselves.
Now forgive me for my sudden, euphoric lapse into the language of post-structuralism and deconstruction; nobody should have to parse such nonsense. But in all seriousness, most people have no idea what the hell is going on with this credit crisis, and hopefully Lanchester's reading of the situation can help to encourage a broader understanding. It sure did for me.

link: "Melting Into Air" by John Lanchestor, in the New Yorker

blog typology

Via Andrew... I just ran this site through the Typealyzer, which claims to analyze a website and categorize the author in terms of right-brain/left-brain dominance. This Progressive Reactionary landed smack-dab in the left-brain camp of the so-called "Mechanics":

The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generelly prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.
The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters.

Not entirely inaccurate... although I'd hate for these pages to become a product merely of the left brain! We must be fair and balanced, as they say. Keep your eyes peeled for future postings on "imagination," "symbols," "spirituality," and other right-brain oddities.

10 November 2008

urban policy in the whitehouse

Following up on an earlier post... there's an interesting rumor going around about President-Elect Obama's plans to establish a Whitehouse Office of Urban Policy. This is a good sign for the 70% of us Americans who dwell in urban areas! Dare I suggest that maybe an architect or planner should be appointed to head up such an office? Stay tuned for more....

06 November 2008

on hope, redux

I'll spare you, dear readers, my own gushing post-election thoughts. Instead, I point you to a fitting coda to the tremendous milestone of Tuesday's election and to my own ruminations from a while back on the possibility of an Obama presidency. From TomDispatch.com: a followup by Rebecca Solnit to her beautiful 2003 essay "Acts of Hope." Read it.

05 November 2008

signed, sealed, delivered.

[image: Reuters]
Remember this moment, America.

04 November 2008

in the unlikely story that is america...

 [image: Getty Images]

...there has never been anything false about hope.

Please vote today.

02 November 2008

the end draws nigh...

...and not a moment too soon. Let's go out there and win this thing, once and for all.

This Progressive Reactionary has been dispatched to the swing-state hinterland for one last effort to spread the gospel of hope and change, so you won't be hearing much until I return on November 5.

In the meantime: get off your ass, and go do something. History is on the verge of being made. Be a part of it.