Wednesday, June 12, 2013 11:44 AM
In May, Spanish guerrilla art collective Luzinterruptus built a temporary memorial to a community pool.
Eight hundred glowing blue drops hang in space above cement,
as if a cluster of giant raindrops were suspended in time, swaying as people
move through them. The shimmering drops were hung by guerilla art collective Luzinterruptus
to bring attention to one of Madrid’s
threatened public spaces.
The space is home to a public market, Mercado de la Cebada (Barley Market), and once held a community
pool as well. When the city removed the pool in 2008 it promised another, but the
space is now slated for redevelopment as a luxury shopping center.
A local group reclaiming the space in its current,
semi-abandoned state calls it Campo de la
Cebada (Barley Field). “We believe in the enjoyment of public space before spaces offered by private entities, in which consideration for dialogue and social relations between neighbors is hardly given,” the group writes (article in Spanish) on their site.
According to Inhabitat,
Luzinterruptus memorialized the pool last year as well, filling
salvaged plastic cups with blue water, arranged in a rectangle suggesting
the shape of a pool.
This year’s installation, “Prophylactic Rain That Doesn’t
Wet Anything,” hints at an unfulfilled promise of water, paralleling the city’s
empty promise for a community pool. As Spanish newspaper El Pais reports, a city-funded redesign was approved
in 2007 (article in Spanish), though the subsequent recession made funds to
start the project scarce.
In 2010, then-mayor Alberto Ruiz-Gallardón agreed to
let private investors take over development, with plans to turn the space into
a commercial shopping center and sports complex. The current public market will
be reduced from 70 to 30 stalls, while larger commercial enterprises occupy the
rest of the planned five-storey building.
The installation’s title gives a sly nod to the materials
used to make the installation—800 condoms filled with blue-tinted water. “After
the first few minutes of jokes and laughter had passed, everyone ended up
accepting that manipulating condoms was like any other activity of daily life,”
write the artists on
“We left the installation throughout the night of Saturday,
without knowing exactly what would happen the next day when there was a
celebration in La Cebada. When we returned on Sunday afternoon, we discovered
that the children had not been able to resist the temptation of having fun,
playing with the installation as if it were a piñata with shiny surprises in
Luzinterruptus has commented on water and public space
before. According to Public Art Review,
the art collective adorned
Madrid’s public water fountains with illuminated glass jars in 2012,
drawing attention to the fountains’ disuse. “In Madrid, in less than 30
years, more than 50 percent of the public fountains in service have been lost,”
the artists wrote. “We wanted to say that water is necessary for life.”
All images courtesy of Luzinterruptus.
Prophylactic rain that doesn’t wet anything from luzinterruptus on Vimeo.
Wednesday, May 29, 2013 11:26 AM
College grads: whether you're looking for a traditional 9-to-5 office gig or hoping to travel the globe, a meaningful future is yours to create.
This post originally appeared at Shareable.
Not too long before graduation, I lay in my room, reflecting on how my food, school and my apartment was paid for with money that doesn’t even exist—loans. I had been living in a fantasy world for four years. None of it seemed real because I wasn’t yet monetarily supporting my living expenses. I sat up and imagined holding a 9-to-5 job to keep this apartment, this city, and keep my material possessions upon graduation.
While reflecting on this, I asked myself if I valued my apartment, if I valued my possessions, and if I valued living in a city. Was I willing to work a full-time office job to uphold these luxuries? When it came down to it, I absolutely did not find any value in working just to uphold any of those things. It was an easy decision to make, but now what?
A January report from the Center for College Affordability and Productivity found that “about 48 percent of employed US college graduates are in jobs that the Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests requires less than a four-year college education.” That number included 37 percent in jobs requiring no more than a high school diploma. According to one Pew Research Center report, “a record one in five households now owe student loan debt.” It’s apparent that college students are not left with many obvious options. You get a degree, to maybe get a job, to make a living and try to pay off your loans—that’s it. A flow chart on Shareable explains this phenomenon further. I thought, “There HAS to be another way.”
To allow ease of transition is to identify personal life values. If it helps, make a list of your core values. Knowing your values will help shape the path you take. It begins to make things a lot clearer for you, college graduate, to really make a plan. Your values will turn into aspirations and dreams, aspirations and dreams will turn into goals, and in-between is the fun part. A few of my values can be summed up in one quote by Ghandi: “Be the change you wish to see in the world."
When talking about skills, let’s face it: many people tend to limit their skills to their degree. However, growing up in the digital era and being fresh out of college is advantageous. Every post-college individual can write, effectively use social media, speak publicly, critically think, and problem-solve. Add this to the plethora of skills gained through your major and any hobbies you have. Brainstorm a list of every skill you can think of to help you craft your dream.
Skills + Values + Goals = Success
As you begin to explore your post-college opportunities, remember it’s just a fun game to play. Just like school, it’s a test for us to figure out how we are most happy so we can enjoy life to the fullest. Explore some interesting things you can do after college to fully utilize your values, strengths, opportunities, passions, and resources.
Ask a Friend
If you decide that getting a job to pay your bills is the first road you want to take, reach out to your employed and recently graduated friends or colleagues to see if they can refer you for a position. If the job isn’t interesting, do what you can to lower expenses and save so you can have the freedom to create a new adventure for yourself.
Work in Nature
On the other hand; being in nature, traveling, learning survival skills, and wilderness exploration could also define your immediate future. Apply to work for the National Park Service, which offers opportunities in 379 national parks. Emily Lawlor, college graduate, WWOOFed on almost 20 farms while taking the summer to work in different national parks all over the United States as a wilderness ranger or trail worker. Emily explains her passion of experiential living and learning: “I have valued experience as the most influential learning tool in my life.”
Emily Lawlor hiking the Continental Divide Trail, March 25, 2013. (Photo: Anthony Aiuppa)
WWOOFing allows anyone to securely explore the globe through experiential learning on sustainable farms by trading a full day of work for food and accommodation. WWOOFing is a viable way to spend a week, a month, a summer, or a year or more learning, trading time, and traveling. Andrew Fair, an experienced WWOOFer in Italy, offers his words of WWOOFing wisdom: “It changed me in ways I can't explain, forcing me to take a step back and reevaluate everything I believed to be true, both about myself and the world.”
Volunteers work in the garden at Emerald Village Organization in November, 2012. (Photo: Love Bus Community)
Become an Entrepreneur
Maybe you’re the type of person who desires to be your own boss, start a revolution, or change a paradigm within an industry. It could be your calling to pursue a business venture. Check out Under 30 CEO for excellent tools for young entrepreneurs, or join the Under30Experience community, to meet other ambitious entrepreneurs. These pioneers have learned to break away from their comfort zone, get creative, and meet potential business partners or launch projects.
Start an EcoVillage
Rally up a group of forward-thinking, business-minded, garden and green innovation-savvy people to start an EcoVillage. An EcoVillage is “a model for a truly sustainable community. It’s an intentional village and farm created by people who want to acquire a better quality of life by holistically integrating innovative ecological, economic, social, and cultural dimensions of sustainability,” says Ecotivity. To start an EcoVillage, look at land to purchase and split the cost with a group of people. Activated Villages is an organization created to help groups of people find and learn how to purchase land to start an EcoVillage.
Sieben Linden EcoVillage in Germany held three kinds of meetings: feeling meetings, thinking or “idea” meetings, and business meetings. (Photo: EcoVillage Newsletter)
Join or Volunteer at an EcoVillage
Join an EcoVillage and create a cottage industry that benefits you and the village. Through IC Directory and Ecotivity, you can find opportunities for exchanging, volunteering, renting, or buying in at an EcoVillage. A few examples of cottage industries are food production, holding workshops, tinctures, and art or other natural products. Like WWOOFing, you can often exchange services from a wide range of trades like gardening, land work, natural building, marketing, event planning, and IT. This is a wonderful way to create your own job and live an experiential and wholesome lifestyle.
Work overseas in a fun and collaborative way by lending your time to help out with disaster relief or social work. Burners Without Borders (BWB) began spontaneously as a collection of people who instinctively met gaping needs where traditional societal systems clearly failed after Hurricane Katrina. Now BWB is a community-led, grassroots group that encourages innovative, civic participation and creates positive local change. Nick Heyming, a three-year volunteer with BWB, explains: “I learned during my disaster relief experiences that it’s not just about how many houses you build, or how many gardens you plant. The most valuable part was the exchange with other volunteers, with the local people, and the skills and knowledge that is shared. I feel like those types of experiences are much more accessible than most recent grads are aware of, and much more valuable than they would expect."
Burners Without Borders in Pisco, Peru in 2010. (Photo: Ignite Me)
Get Paid to Roadtrip!
Applications are open now to “Hit the Road,” through Road Trip Nation’s program, that empowers you to define your own road in life instead of traveling down someone else's. Travel in a Green RV to interview inspiring leaders from all walks of life who have defined success in their own terms, and people who wake up and love what they do every day. Also, look into getting sponsored to travel, or create an influential social media presence around your travels for income. Mike’s Road Trip is a great example of a marketing professional who took road tripping to the next level.
Roadtrip Nation’s Green RV. (Photo: Steve Hargadon)
We live in exciting times. The possibilities abound as to what we can accomplish in this era. Dream big, take risks, follow your heart, and don’t let student debt burden you: everyone has it. Whichever path you take, whether it is EcoVillages or disaster relief work, starting your own business or getting sponsored to travel, the experiences you will have are priceless. Collaborating on radical projects with others, traveling, and experiential learning will help you grow and take you farther in life than you can ever imagine.
Top image: "A crowd of college students at the 2007 Pittsburgh University Commencement" by Kit, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, November 20, 2012 2:31 PM
This post first appeared on Shareable.
One of the defining features of this economic crisis is massive debt: student debt, medical debt, credit cards and underwater mortgages. The last thirty years have seen a stagnation of actual wages, which, combined with government cuts, outsourcing and off shoring, has meant a stagnation of the real purchasing power of the American people (alongside many more destructive results). To offset this lag, America has turned to debt, which can only paper over the lack of real capital for so long. The current crisis has seen millions devastated by the bursting of these credit bubbles. What solutions can help get people out of these debt traps?
One idea that's received much atttention lately is the Rolling Jubilee. The strategy, developed by Strike Debt, an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, involves the abolition of private debt through totally legal market practices. The method is graceful in its simplicity: banks that are holding debt they can’t collect sell that debt really cheap on a secondary debt market, almost always to debt collectors. What Rolling Jubilee does is purchase this debt, and then cancel it, freeing the debtor from the claims of the bank and the debt collection agencies. As of this writing, the Rolling Jubilee has raised almost $350,000, which will abolish just under $7 million of debt, a very impressive achievement.
Mike Andrews is a member of Strike Debt, the organization that helped bring the Rolling Jubilee to fruition, and has seen the Rolling Jubilee develop from its first stages. I sat down to talk to him about Strike Debt, the Rolling Jubilee, and larger term strategies for combating debt in America.
Willie: What is the genesis of the Rolling Jubilee idea? How did it get started?
Mike: I don’t actually know who precisely within Strike Debt proposed the idea, but my understanding is that it had been the pet project of one or two people for some time, and that Strike Debt presented an opportunity to try to make it happen. There was lots of conversation about it for a long time. I heard the phrase Rolling Jubilee mentioned a lot at meetings, and at first didn’t know exactly what it was.
Then research started happening: there was a lot of investigation into the legality of buying this debt from the secondary market, what the tax implications would be for the people who bought it, and for the people who had it bought for them. Lawyers were consulted. We have moles in the debt collection industry who have been helpful. So there was a lot of cautious research that went into exploring the idea: a non-profit entity was created to purchase the debt and then eventually there was a ‘test buy’, where about $4,000 was spent to buy this secondary debt, which amounted to something like $20,000 dollars worth of debt, and it went through fine.
Willie: So what are the mechanics of the Rolling Jubilee? How is this debt bought, and how is it cancelled?
Mike: This debt exists in a secondary market. The money raised through the People’s Bailout, the telethon, will go to buy medical debt. The people whose debt we’re buying, their lenders have given up on them, they’re in default. So the lenders, the banks sell their debt into this shadowy secondary market, where it may go through an intermediary or two, but it usually ends up in the hands of shady people, debt collectors, who buy this debt for pennies on the dollar thinking they can collect on it. And even if they don’t collect on the full amount, they may make some profit. Individuals will know that their debt has been purchased, and been cancelled. We will notify people that this debt has been purchased in the spirit of mutual aid, and this is an activist project and not just that the lender has given up on them.
The rolling part of the Rolling Jubilee- this is a gesture of mutual aid, and if you benefit from this gesture of mutual aid, you can maybe do what you can to help other people benefit, whether that means giving a few bucks or organizing a benefit concert or something where you live. The idea is to pay it forward.
Jeff Mangum and Guy Picciotto play the People's Bailout
Willie: Let’s talk about that Rolling part of the Jubilee. One way you can use paying it forward is to build a network: you help someone with the idea that the person who is helped will provide aid to others, and so you slowly build this network of people in that way. How do you think Rolling Jubilee is going to roll, is it related to these processes?
Mike: Historically, the jubilee is where the king or whoever abolishes all debts. And the idea of the Rolling Jubilee, instead of all debts being abolished at the stroke of a pen or a declaration of a king or something, is debt would be abolished in segments. That’s the kind of governing idea. There are two aspects in which this could be rolling. It’s rolling in the sense that you just described, where the people who benefit from it then organize themselves or even contribute money to other people benefiting from it. The secondary debt market makes it impossible to know who's debt you’re buying before you buy it, in order to avoid people buying up their own debt for cheap. But you can buy a specific kind of debt for a specific region, like, say, medical debt in New Jersey, and then, after you make the purchase, you get the debtors’ contact info, since a debt collector would need this info to hound people. We're going to use this info to call or send letters to people informing them that Strike Debt has abolished their debt.
The other sense in which this is rolling, the kick off event, the People’s Bailout, is just to demonstrate that this can be done. The idea is for other groups, other people to hold fundraisers so they can then buy debt. So that’s another sense in which it’s rolling. I know that already Michelle Shocked is holding a benefit concert in New Orleans soon for buying debt and abolishing it. So it seems to have started, in a small way, the rolling idea.
Willie: How do you conceptualize this, or how has it been conceptualized at least, as transforming or politically attacking the ethos of debt? I know that Strike Debt is about more than just getting people out of debt, so how does the Rolling Jubilee fit into Strike Debt’s view about how to change debt?
Mike: One of the first things that Strike Debt did to try to alter the framework around debt is to reject the language of forgiveness, the moral language that surrounds debt. So in the things we’ve produced, whether it’s propaganda or the Debt Resistors Manual , we avoid calling for debt forgiveness, we avoid the word “debt forgiveness”. Similarly, with the Rolling Jubilee we’re not saying that we’re “forgiving” the debt we’re buying, we’re cancelling it or we’re abolishing it. So we’re trying to reject the morality around debt, and part of that is saying that these debts are illegitimate. Today we all have to go into debt just to meet our basic necessities whether its going to college so we can get a decent job or seeking medical care or anything like that. So the idea is that these debts that we incurred are not legitimate, we don’t owe, we don’t actually owe you, we reject this debt both monetary and moral. But figuring out a strategy for how to connect debt to a larger anti-capitalist program, it’s difficult to really think through those steps, so I think as a group we’re just experimenting with something we have the capacity to do, to see what happens, and then depending on the results decide what to do next. So the grand idea behind the Rolling Jubilee is to relieve a lot of people’s debt initially as a gesture of mutual aid, to make day to day survival easier for people who have a lot of this medical debt. But if this spreads widely it actually might cause some havoc. Some people have been critiquing Rolling Jubilee by saying: 'well if lenders or the secondary debt market catches wind of it they’ll just stop selling debt.' Yeah, you’re right! And that would be an amazing victory, if this spread widely enough that this shady secondary market were altered. It would just show we are doing the right thing.
David Harvey on the Crises of Capitalism
Willie: I think also there’s an interesting confrontation where the banks could refuse to sell the debt to Rolling Jubilee once they know who it's going to, showing what they actually they want is the immiseration, because they’re getting the money anyway. I don’t know if that’s been talked about by Rolling Jubilee folks, or if that’s a possibility that they won't sell the debt.
Mike: I think what's been very, what’s distinguished the Strike Debt conversation from a kind of Occupy conversation is that there have both been conversations that are practical about actions and things, but also theoretical, complex and rigorous discussions. But yeah, the banks in a lot of cases don’t actually need to be repaid, they can write it off, it may even be more trouble than its worth for them financially to be seeking this debt. But what’s intolerable to them is the refusing of the moral obligation to pay debt. The idea that the debtor says: “this debt is actually not legitimate, morally I don’t owe you”, is far more threatening. The idea that that could spread, we don’t owe, we won't pay, is far more threatening than not receiving a certain amount of money.
Willie: So you mentioned you’re sort of throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks. Is there a longer term strategy or goal out of Strike Debt or Rolling Jubilee?
Mike: It’s a debt strike, ultimately. In the sort of embryonic stages , when people were trying to come up with the name, and this was before I got involved, there was lots of conversation about reversing this phrase “debt strike” to “strike debt”, making it more of an active thing. Rather than just “we’re gonna stop doing something, withhold something” we’re gonna actively try and destroy something, destroy a certain system. So yeah, it’s there in the name, a widespread debt strike. But we all know that that is a very lofty ambition, something that’s very difficult to organize and something that doesn’t have much modern precedent.
But we think there are ways to do incremental debt strikes that lead up to it. There’s a lot of talk about starting a debtors’ union. One of the ideas there would be to connect people who, for example, all have student loan debt to the same lender. And do something that starts small, say you get 50,000 people to pledge to withhold their student debt payment for one month. And it’s modest because, for the most part, if you’ve been paying regularly there’s no penalty for missing a month’s student loan debt. But just the shock of not receiving that much money and seeing: “oh wow all our debtors are in communication and are coordinating” is a threatening gesture. And it’s something down the line, and we know this is a multi-year project, but you could actually have lots of debtors refusing in a way that gives them leverage to do practical things like negotiate down their interest rate or do more radical things like try to bring down a bank. So that’s the horizon.
Willie: How does Strike Debt see itself as attached to notions of alternative economy? Producing a positive alternative economy situation, how do you see that attached to the Rolling Jubilee project in specific and Strike Debt more generally?
Mike: We’re definitely interested in certain forms of solidarity economy. Being in default is no picnic. You’re hounded by debt collectors, they can garnish your wages, there are lots of ramifications that can make your life hell. So in a lot of ways you may have to partially if not fully withdraw from the formal economy. And because Strike Debt is calling for people to stop paying their debt, we know that there has to be a corresponding increase in mutual aid, solidarity networks, so people aren’t facing the consequences of default alone. Part of our ethos is to connect people who are in debt in a similar economic condition and have them be conscious of each other as debtors. So, similarly we need to connect people to support each other when they default either voluntarily or involuntarily. On a couple of occasions we’ve actually gone around and people have said how much debt they have. A lot of people involved in Strike Debt have a lot of debt, so they’re very very personally motivated in this project.
In an episode of South Park from March, 2009, Kyle takes on the debt of the people of South Park.
Wednesday, June 06, 2012 1:09 PM
Creative Commons Excerpted from an article that originally appeared in The Chronicle of Higher Education
Thousands of Quebec's university students have been protesting for
the past three months. Why? Apparently, because of the government's
plans for a $1,625 rise in tuition over five years, which will result in
annual tuition of about $3,800 by 2017. In other words, at the far end
of these increases, Quebec students will still be paying less for their
education than their peers elsewhere in Canada, and far less than most
American college students.
On the basis of these numbers alone, it's hard to sympathize with the
students' putative plight, let alone condone the protracted, frequently
violent protests that it has provoked. The protests have included the
smoke-bombing of Montreal's subway system, expressway shutdowns, and
attacks on government buildings. They have led to campus shutdowns,
suspended semesters at many of the province's colleges and universities,
and the resignation of Quebec's education minister. Some supporters of
the students invoke the social-protest movements of the late 1960s to
suggest their radical bravery, while critics disparage them as enfants
roi, or child kings—monstrously entitled brats.
But perhaps this is something more than a romanticized rush to the
barricades or a collective temper tantrum. Perhaps the situation in
Quebec, like the recent protest-driven votes for outsider parties in
European elections and the rise of the Occupy movement in the United
States, actually exposes, in the context of higher education, a profound
crisis of faith in the socioeconomic frameworks that have structured
and advanced societies across North America and Europe since World War
II. These recent events register, in their various local situations, a
rejection of the premise of the postwar liberal state: that large-scale
institutions and elected leaders are capable of creating opportunities
for individual citizens to flourish.
In other words, Quebec's students aren't simply protesting tuition
hikes meant to cover the expected gap between future public revenues and
government funds for higher education. They're protesting their looming
entry, through the traditional pathway of post-secondary education, into
a broader social system—both locally and internationally—whose
capacities, as we're reminded daily, are being undermined by enormous
government debts, intractable political divisions, flagging national
economies, and widespread unemployment and underemployment, particularly
for young people.
And if the very socioeconomic structures, institutions, leaders, and
policies that purport to solve these overwhelming problems seem instead
effectively responsible for exacerbating them, why would students want
to join this system, never mind pay a few hundred bucks more per year
for the privilege?
The time has come for us to admit that what has worked for so many,
for so long, very likely won't work for many more, for much longer.
Read the rest of this story at The Chronicle of Higher Education.
Image: The CLASSE contingent passing under the Berri underpass during the May 22, 2012 demonstration in Montreal. Taken by Justin Ling, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011 1:01 PM
This article originally appeared at TomDispatch
When my old gang and I were 14 or 15 years old, many centuries ago, we yearned for immortality in the fiery wreck of a bitchin' '40 Ford or '57 Chevy. Our J.K. Rowling was Henry Felsen, the ex-Marine who wrote the bestselling masterpieces Hot Rod (1950), Street Rod (1953), and Crash Club (1958).
Officially, his books -- highly praised by the National Safety Council -- were deterrents, meant to scare my generation straight with huge dollops of teenage gore. In fact, he was our asphalt Homer, exalting doomed teenage heroes and inviting us to emulate their legend.
One of his books ends with an apocalyptic collision at a crossroads that more or less wipes out the entire graduating class of a small Iowa town. We loved this passage so much that we used to read it aloud to each other.
It's hard not to think of the great Felsen, who died in 1995, while browsing the business pages these days. There, after all, are the Tea Party Republicans, accelerator punched to the floor, grinning like demons as they approach Deadman’s Curve. (John Boehner and David Brooks, in the back seat, are of course screaming in fear.)
The Felsen analogy seems even stronger when you leave local turf for a global view. From the air, where those Iowa cornstalks don’t conceal the pattern of blind convergence, the world economic situation looks distinctly like a crash waiting to happen. From three directions, the United States, the European Union, and China are blindly speeding toward the same intersection. The question is: Will anyone survive to attend the prom?
Shaking the Three Pillars of McWorld
Let me reprise the obvious, but seldom discussed. Even if debt-limit doomsday is averted, Obama has already hocked the farm and sold the kids. With breathtaking contempt for the liberal wing of his own party, he’s offered to put the sacrosanct remnant of the New Deal safety net on the auction bloc to appease a hypothetical “center” and win reelection at any price. (Dick Nixon, old socialist, where are you now that we need you?)
As a result, like the Phoenicians in the Bible, we’ll sacrifice our children (and their schoolteachers) to Moloch, now called Deficit. The bloodbath in the public sector, together with an abrupt shutoff of unemployment benefits, will negatively multiply through the demand side of the economy until joblessness is in teenage digits and Lady Gaga is singing “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?”
Lest we forget, we also live in a globalized economy where Americans are consumers of the last resort and the dollar is still the safe haven for the planet’s hoarded surplus value. The new recession that the Republicans are engineering with such impunity will instantly put into doubt all three pillars of McWorld, each already shakier than generally imagined: American consumption, European stability, and Chinese growth.
Across the Atlantic, the European Union is demonstrating that it is exclusively a union of big banks and mega-creditors, grimly determined to make the Greeks sell off the Parthenon and the Irish emigrate to Australia. One doesn’t have to be a Keynesian to know that, should this happen, the winds will only blow colder thereafter. (If German jobs have so far been saved, it is only because China and the other BRICs -- Brazil, Russia, and India -- have been buying so many machine tools and Mercedes.)
Boardwalk Empire Times 160
China, of course, now props up the world, but the question is: For how much longer? Officially, the People’s Republic of China is in the midst of an epochal transition from an export-based to a consumer-based economy. The ultimate goal of which is not only to turn the average Chinese into a suburban motorist, but also to break the perverse dependency that ties that country’s growth to an American trade deficit Beijing must, in turn, finance in order to keep the Yuan from appreciating.
Unfortunately for the Chinese, and possibly the world, that country’s planned consumer boom is quickly morphing into a dangerous real-estate bubble. China has caught the Dubai virus and now every city there with more than one million inhabitants (at least 160 at last count) aspires to brand itself with a Rem Koolhaas skyscraper or a destination mega-mall. The result has been an orgy of over-construction.
Despite the reassuring image of omniscient Beijing mandarins in cool control of the financial system, China actually seems to be functioning more like 160 iterations of Boardwalk Empire, where big city political bosses and allied private developers are able to forge their own backdoor deals with giant state banks.
In effect, a shadow banking system has arisen with big banks moving loans off their balance sheets into phony trust companies and thus evading official caps on total lending. Last week, Moody’s Business Service reported that the Chinese banking system was concealing one-half-trillion dollars in problematic loans, mainly for municipal vanity projects. Another rating service warned that non-performing loans could constitute as much as 30% of bank portfolios.
Real-estate speculation, meanwhile, is vacuuming up domestic savings as urban families, faced with soaring home values, rush to invest in property before they are priced out of the market. (Sound familiar?) According to Business Week, residential housing investment now accounts for 9% of the gross domestic product, up from only 3.4% in 2003.
So, will Chengdu become the next Orlando and China Construction Bank the next Lehman Brothers? Odd, the credulity of so many otherwise conservative pundits, who have bought into the idea that the Chinese Communist leadership has discovered the law of perpetual motion, creating a market economy immune to business cycles or speculative manias.
If China has a hard landing, it will also break the bones of leading suppliers like Brazil, Indonesia, and Australia. Japan, already mired in recession after triple mega-disasters, is acutely sensitive to further shocks from its principal markets. And the Arab Spring may turn to winter if new governments cannot grow employment or contain the inflation of food prices.
As the three great economic blocs accelerate toward synchronized depression, I find that I’m no longer as thrilled as I was at 14 by the prospect of a classic Felsen ending -- all tangled metal and young bodies.
Mike Davis teaches in the Creative Writing Program at the University of California, Riverside. He is the author of
Planet of Slums
, among many other works. He’s currently writing a book about employment, global warming, and urban reconstruction for Metropolitan Books. To listen to Timothy MacBain’s latest TomCast audio interview in which Davis discusses a possible Chinese real estate crash and other perils of the global economic system, click here, or download it to your iPod here.
Copyright 2011 Mike Davis
[Note for Readers: A sample passage from Henry Felsen’s 1950 novel Hot Rod:
"The crushed pile of twisted metal that had once been My-Son-Ralph's Chevy was on its back in the ditch, its wheels up like paws of a dead dog. Two of the wheels were smashed, and two were turning slowly. Something that looked like a limp, ripped-open bag of laundry hung halfway out of a rear window. That was Marge.
"The motor of Ralph's car had been driven back through the frame of the car, and its weight had made a fatal spear of the steering column. Somewhere in the mashed tangle of metal, wood and torn upholstery was Ralph. And deeper yet in the pile of mangled steel, wedged in between jagged sheet steel on one side, and red hot metal on the other, was what had been the shapely black head and dainty face of LaVerne.
"Walt's car had spun around after being hit, and had rolled over and along the highway. It had left a trail of shattered glass, metal, and dark, motionless shapes that had been broken open like paper bags before they rolled to a stop. These had been Walt's laughing passengers. Pinned inside his wrecked car, beyond knowing that battery acid ran in his eyes, lay Walt Thomas. Somehow the lower half of his body had been twisted completely around, and hung by a shred of skin."]
Image by Dawidl, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, July 22, 2011 2:56 PM
As homes go into foreclosure and offices acquire a ghost town emptiness, it’s hard not to feel skeptical when San Francisco architect Kurt Lavenson praises the effect of the recession. “For my part,” he claims in ARCADE (Spring 2011), “I am learning to embrace the slowdown for its cathartic qualities. The stillness has within it another kind of wealth—one of reflection, grounding and opportunity. I have come to appreciate the fallow period.”
It’s a provocative statement issued to a world of underwater homeowners and laid-off workers. But Lavenson doesn’t write from a position of economic immunity. His own architecture firm has experienced the profound slowdown that has plagued so many businesses. A once-constant list of ready clients, built over decades, has been lost to gaping periods of time without work.
Still, zenlike, Lavenson values this fiscally sparse time the same way a farmer values a crop field lying idle for a season, regenerating its soil for the next round of planting. It was a midlife economic low, he tells us, that propelled 49-year-old Frank Gehry from a conventional architect to a worldwide icon. “Taking time to pause, to lay fallow, allows us to connect with that wisdom and reach a fundamentally new kind of productivity,” Lavenson contends.
If you feel doomed by the economy that has put your job, your home, and (seemingly) your lifelong success in jeopardy, you need to read Lavenson’s inspired article celebrating the downturn. Despite initially raising my eyebrows, Lavenson ultimately convinces me—reminds me, really—that in loss there is beautiful opportunity, in crisis there is beautiful reward.
Image by TimWilson,
licensed under Creative Commons.
Wednesday, February 10, 2010 3:40 PM
Conservatism may be fueled in part by fear and uncertainty, according to a psychological study covered in Miller-McCune. Three researchers “have found evidence that both general feelings of threat and specific anxiety about other ethnic groups sometimes do lead individuals to embrace two tenets of political conservativism—support for the status quo and a belief that there is a natural hierarchy to society.”
Which is to say that a common liberal perception might be rooted in reality. Before your conservative brother-in-law can dismiss the research as the sketchy work of lefty social scientists, he should consider that the study was carefully constructed to track shifting attitudes over time, surveying almost 1,000 undergraduates as they went through four years of college. It went further toward establishing a causal connection than previous studies, which had found that people who were more uncomfortable with complexity and ambiguity tended to lean to the right.
The results surprised even the researchers. As one tells Miller-McCune:
“What makes it really interesting is that using very conservative methods, and looking at processes over time, we still found that there was a conservative shift in response to threat perceptions. A lot of people just treat conservatism as a personality variable that doesn’t change, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. It seems to be influenced by the situation, and it can be affected by threat perceptions.”
The magazine notes that this might be part of the psychology at work behind the recent anti-government, anti-Obama right-wing movement: “With unemployment now topping 10 percent, economic uncertainty is probably weighing more heavily.” Also, “America now has its first African American president. And as the research described here suggests, there seems to be a direct link from ‘intergroup anxiety’ [about people of different ethnicities] to political conservatism.”
Image by MeetTheCrazies, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, December 18, 2009 11:41 AM
Budgets are stretched thin this holiday season, but a little home-baked goodness is just the antidote for gift giving woes. In the latest issue of Baltimore’s Urbanite, Rafael Alvarez celebrates the thoughtfulness and meaning behind gifting prepared food such as Spanish chorizo, sweet and spicy barbecue rub, Belgian-style homebrewed ale with ginger and honey, stained glass candy, and Irish pudding cake. Hungry yet? Some recipes are included if you’re inspired to serve up your own gifts. So what’s so special about giving edible fare? Alvarez shares the perfect anecdote:
During the recession of the early 1990s, Kathy O’Dell’s brother lost his job as vice president of a successful chain of national retail stores. How Jack O’Dell handled Christmas in the wake of his misfortune was a gift his kid sister remembers as “the best ever.” He filled recycled glass jars with sugar and cinnamon for that great breakfast toast concoction we all remembered from childhood,” says O’Dell, an associate dean at University of Maryland Baltimore County who makes molasses cookies each year in memory of her late mother. “The image of my big, hulking, successful brother carefully sifting sugar and cinnamon into jars and attaching personal notes about how lucky we all were to be alive and healthy and family is a treasured symbol of humility and grace.”
Image (above left) by yoshimov, licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009 8:41 AM
There’s no doubt the recession has spurred interest in living more affordably—cutting back, scaling down, and doing more with less. There’s just one hitch with the prevailing frugal ethos: A fair number of penny-pinching Americans have confused thrifty with cheap, bargain hunting in discount shops that rely, for example, on low-wage labor or disposable design.
Taking a page from Ellen Rupel Shell’s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Noreen Malone expounds in the American Prospect: “Houses won’t last and clothes won’t be handed down because we no longer ask that they be built for the long run. . . . We might be cheap, but we’re no longer thrifty. In fact, even if we recover that instinct, we’ll have left ourselves with gaping holes in the reusable products ecosystem.”
In a nutshell, an Ikea couch makes an unlikely family heirloom. And the longer cheap culture prevails, so ebbs the flow of quality goods to thrift stores and reuse centers.
As a sort of antidote to the cheapening of thrift culture, I’d enthusiastically suggest picking up a copy of Make Your Place: Affordable, Sustainable Nesting Skills by Raleigh Briggs. Recently published by Microcosm, it’s an adorable, addictive, pint-sized compendium of DIY advice, ranging from house-cleaning solutions and garden-tending skills to nontoxic bodycare products and natural remedies.
It’s not that I don’t have anywhere else to turn for this type of advice and information; on the contrary, here at the Utne Reader library we have a regular embarrassment of resources. As a matter of fact, our sister publication Natural Home just published a bang-up breakdown of the essential ingredients in a nontoxic cleaning kit. Another one of our sister magazines, Herb Companion, focuses an entire sector of its coverage on herbal remedies and using herbs for health.
There is an extra spoonful magic in Briggs’ pages, though. Make Your Place is neatly hand-lettered and illustrated throughout; the first two chapters began life as zines. When looking to disrupt the low-wage, productivity-maximizing philosophy of cheap, picking up a book that’s been crafted with such care, it seems to me, is quite an appropriate rebuttal.
Source: American Prospect, Make Your Place, Natural Home, Herb Companion
Sunday, August 09, 2009 5:31 PM
Writing for Foreign Policy, Reihan Salam declares that the global dominance of men has come to an end. And what caused this “monumental shift of power from men to women”? Salam argues that the Great Recession is a “mortal blow to the macho men’s club called finance capitalism.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, men lost 80% of total jobs lost since November. Men struggle to deal with the mental effects of job loss, and the world increasingly looks to women for leadership:
Indeed, it’s now fair to say that the most enduring legacy of the Great Recession will not be the death of Wall Street. It will not be the death of finance. And it will not be the death of capitalism. These ideas and institutions will live on. What will not survive is macho. And the choice men will have to make, whether to accept or fight this new fact of history, will have seismic effects for all of humanity—women as well as men.
Although not all countries will respond by throwing the male bums out, the backlash is real—and it is global. The great shift of power from males to females is likely to be dramatically accelerated by the economic crisis, as more people realize that the aggressive, risk-seeking behavior that has enabled men to entrench their power—the cult of macho—has now proven destructive and unsustainable in a globalized world.
Source: Foreign Policy
Image by Elsie esq., licensed under Creative Commons.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009 10:34 AM
With speculation swirling about which industries will weather the recession, and which will give way to a new economic order—there’s one that has a pair of writers at Vancouver Review mighty curious: the “yoga industrial complex,” worth an estimated $225 billion.
“In many ways, Western yoga can be seen as a subset of New Age culture, which is another way of saying ‘Don’t forget your wallet,’ ” Lalo Espejo and Patrick Pennefather write. “It’s no wonder that marketers covet the monied yoga demographic . . . which is unfortunate, because in India, yogis historically shared their knowledge free of charge. In our time and place, this spirit of humility has shifted from ‘free’ to ‘franchise,’ and ‘let’s follow that litigious asshole, Birkram Choudhury.’ ”
The popularity of teacher training has transformed the practice into “a kind of yoga Ponzi scheme,” the duo observes in their relentless roast. But this is no heartless skewering. For “insta-gurus now feeling the blunt agnostic edge of a tanking economy,” Pennefather offers up some of his Patented Yoga Poses for the Newly Poor. The article isn't yet available online, so here’s a sample:
Down ’n’ out Dog™: Mainly a facial exercise, let the eyes and mouth droop, then pull everything tight. Repeat. Works the face in a way not previously possible with botoxed cheeks.
The Potato Bug™: Can be practiced in a small space, with or without a mat. Find your secret place, lie on your side, and curl up into a little ball. Most effective under a desk or table.
The Ostrich™: Similar to Downward Dog, just stick you head in the sand. To be practiced upon hearing rumors of job cuts. Helps achieve a peaceful state of denial while smoothing out neck wrinkles, and helps you look youthful when your spiritual ass is for sale.
Source: Vancouver Review
Image by j / f / photos, licensed under Creative Commons.
Thursday, July 09, 2009 11:26 AM
Image of White Castle Tapas, from
Fancy Fast Food
Penny pinching is in fashion in the current economic crisis. Many people simply can’t afford expensive food, clothing, and consumer goods anymore. The extravagance of 2006 seems gauche and out of touch today. Science Daily reports that economic pressures are forcing people to rethink their desperate need to differentiate themselves from others using expensive consumer goods.
“Cheap is having a moment,” Noreen Malone writes in the American Prospect. Buzzwords like “recessionista” and “frugalista” have crept into American vocabularies and companies like Wal-Mart and McDonalds are enjoying profits in the down economy. In reviewing the book Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture, Malone explores the ways “we’ve been seduced by low prices into forgetting our best interests.” Quality and durability are being sacrificed in favor of cheapness and convenience, often to the detriment of the environment and our own budgets.
Frugal extroverts don’t have to give up all the pleasures in life, though, just because people are cutting back on their budgets. In a hilarious piece in the latest issue of Utne Reader, Mark G. Hannah shows how people can entertain during the recession. His advice: Fake it. Cheap Smirnoff vodka can be poured into the expensive Grey Goose bottle. And Spam can replace the more expensive Virginia ham, with none of your guests the wiser.
To prove the point, the intrepid folks behind Fancy Fast Food give step-by-step instructions on turning White Castle, Taco Bell, and Dominoes into attractive, if not tasty, dinner party fare.
Sources: Science Daily, American Prospect, Fancy Fast Food
Wednesday, June 10, 2009 9:17 AM
“How is it that we have so many people of energy, ideas, creativity and intelligence in the arts, and yet they haven’t even begun to generate enough money to support what they do?” asks Toner Quinn, editor of the recently launched, internationally minded Journal of Music. Good question.
Quinn has a plan, and it begins with blowing up our assumptions about “the economics of the arts.” We praise arts organizations for doing amazing things on shoestring budgets, he writes, and when there’s extra money to go around, it generally goes toward improving compensation for undercompensated people. Fair enough. Quinn notes, however, that arts organizations and artists often operate in bubbles, struggling to meet their economic needs without tapping into collective economic experience.
“Conventional thinking on the relationship between the arts and business is that it inevitably leads to compromise for the former,” Quinn writes. “Arts communities, however, have many successful people who manage to outwit that, striking a balance between business acumen and cultural concern, between artistic ambition and financial prudence, between the language of cultural entrepreneurialism and the language of commercial business….
“What they know cannot be found in books; and it won’t be issued as a memo by any commercial business. It is only learned through having formative experiences in the arts.”
Quinn proposes that arts councils rustle up their experts in the business side of the arts and offer their advice to newcomers. Extending the concept to art galleries, theater companies, publishing groups, and the like would eventually produce a system of economic mentorship. In addition to reducing missed opportunities and generating more money all around, such an insitutution would also strengthen the fabric of arts communities. Good idea, I’d say.
Source: The Journal of Music
Friday, May 01, 2009 5:42 PM
Lately, it seems like every publication in Utne Reader’s library that isn’t busy analyzing who’s to blame for this economic crunch is offering up tips and tricks for living on less—and with good cause. No time like the present for expending some mental energy on how we all might live more thriftily and lightly on the earth.
Which is what makes far too many of the thrifty-livin’ articles so, well, disappointing. I swear I’m going to jam a recycling bin over my head if I read one more cheerful checklist urging me to grow my own food. Um, yes. Gardens are great. More gardens = even greater. But is that the best (see: only) idea we have?
I’m not losing hope. The latest issue of BackHome—their 100th, as a matter of fact—just arrived, and brought with it “50 Ways to Live on Less,” a great article chock full of not-everybody-else’s ideas. The piece isn’t available online, so here’s a handful of suggestions that got my feathers fluffed:
#6 Think of your three favorite ways to cook beans and do those every week. Aside from the roadkill mentioned above, it’s hard to find a cheaper source of protein (and beans are more appetizing, too). Try beans in soups, salads, burgers, or in anything but ice cream.
#11 Use clear containers for food storage, so you can identify and eat food before it goes bad.
#41 Don’t be afraid to barter with anyone for goods or services. This includes doctors and lawyers.
#50 Write down your life goals, then write down your monthly expenses. Figure which expenses aren’t meeting your life goals, and cut out those expenses.
While we’re on the subject of not-boring advice, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention our sister publication Mother Earth News, a font of information when it comes to efficient, smart, do-it-yourself living. Plus, you can ask its knowledgeable editors questions, too. Really. And if anyone out there has seen unconventional stories or has unusual ideas for scaling back and living smart—I’d love to see some links.
UPDATE (5/6/2009): Oh ho! As it turns out, Craig Idlebrook, the author of BackHome’s “50 Ways to Live on Less,” wrote an even more expansive article in 2007 for Utne’s sister publication Mother Earth News. “Live on Less and Love It!” offers up 75 inspiring, unconventional ideas for a happy, thrifty life—and you can read them all online. Thanks to Mother Earth News managing editor John Rockhold for the tip.
Sources: BackHome, Mother Earth News
Thursday, April 23, 2009 3:09 PM
When tough times force families to live on a shoestring budget, what happens when the choice becomes whether or not to feed the family or the family pet? Russia Today reports that one organization in Germany is stepping in on behalf of furry companions, and running a sort of soup kitchen for pets.
Tiertafel, which translates loosely into something like “animal table,” has opened more than a dozen centers in Germany that feed thousands of animals on a regular basis so families don’t have to make that tough choice and either give away or abandon their pets. The organization just requires that people show proof of receiving welfare or low wages, and asks that customers don’t take on any new pets if they’re already receiving assistance through the program.
A board member explains: “We are helping not only the animals, but also the people that own the animals. Many of these people don’t have social relationships outside their pets. They may be old or on their own and their pets are their only companionship.”
Source: Russia Today
Image by numstead, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, April 20, 2009 11:06 AM
Marketers are doing some serious soul searching these days. It’s all over the pages of the January-February issue of the marketing industry magazine The Hub, as the people who sell stuff reflect on just what it is they’re supposed to be selling now. There’s a vague recognition that the correct answer is not “the same old crap,” but bold and definitive answers are scarce as the writers struggle mightily to break free of marketing speak and deeply embedded consumerist values. And every one of the essayists closes with a conclusion that only a marketer could concoct:
Spencer Hapoienu writes that marketing is in need of an overhaul in “The Obama Challenge.” Despite the crass subheadline—“One should never waste a crisis … and by all accounts this one will be a doozy”—Hapoienu asks a high-minded question: “Is there a way that every brand can participate in improving the lives of its customers beyond simply selling a product?” He suggests that being greener is a key goal, but undermines his point by positing that Procter & Gamble set the bar for value-added marketing with its repositioning of Pampers a few years ago. (Google “disposable diapers” and “landfill” to find out how much value they add to the planet.) Conclusion: “This time is a new opportunity for marketing to lead, leaving a mark every brand can be proud of, while creating a fan base of enthusiastic and grateful customers.”
Tim Manners also starts from a reflective position in “Crisis of Relevance”: “As marketers, we owe it to ourselves, our shoppers and, yes, our country, to take a good hard look at how we may have contributed to the sad state of our economy today.” He suggests marketers need to figure out how to “help solve people’s problems and … live happier lives.” But he too rests his case on specious examples: “Dunkin’ Donuts makes a difference by serving up a workaday pink-and-orange cup of joe. … Kleenex innovated its way to relevance by adding germ-killers to its tissues. … Levi’s innovated its way to relevance by coming up with wardrobe solutions for men.” If overhyped coffee, medicated tissues, and Dockers are the answer to our crisis, we’re in more serious trouble than I thought. Conclusion: “This is a painful moment for marketers, no doubt about it. But it is also a moment when those of us who live up to all our chatter about being relevant will flourish.”
Dori Molitor puts an upbeat motivational-speech spin on things in “Everyone Matters,” which posits that “we all want to know that our lives have a purpose that’s larger than ourselves.” She steps up and criticizes many companies for failing to change their ways, but again her vision of a better world fails to inspire. She notes two recent cases in which retail salespeople helped her and her daughter solve pressing fashion dilemmas: One employee delivered a missing belt to their house after work, and another went “on break” to help her find what she wanted at a competitor’s store. Apparently, the future of retail is low-paid employees doing customers favors while off the clock. Conclusion: “Every ounce of my being believes that the greatest opportunity for brands is to help us live better, more purposeful lives. Treating us like we matter is a huge step in that direction and sometimes it’s as simple as looking us in the eye and being yourself. Humanity is all it takes.”
Thursday, April 09, 2009 1:46 PM
Providing welcome relief from a parade of bleak economic tales, a recent piece in The Dubliner entitled “Will Art Outlast the Recession?” (article not available online) asserts that the recent downturn may actually be a boon for the art world.
Art market sales are returning to “normality,” according to one auctioneer cited (normality equates to the 50 to 60% sales made by auctioneers in 2000, before the market was “driven by greed and speculation”). Financial troubles, it seems, are less of a detriment to business than simply finding enough quality work to sell.
The piece cites art critic Waldemar Janusczak, who says the recession hitting the art world is akin to the occasional fires that help forests strengthen, regenerate and return to their essence. They also put it in slightly more straightforward terms: “People will no longer pay silly sums for second-rate or gimmicky pictures…They will evaluate the work for itself, and that is a good thing.”
Image by Richard Cornish, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, March 02, 2009 4:45 PM
“Like Cheez Whiz and the atom bomb, modern think tanks are a distinctly U.S. invention that has spread all over the world.”
—Jeff Gailus, “Mind Games,” from Alberta Views (not available online)
“The country’s run itself down, drinking too many subprime-mortgage martinis and smoking too many credit-default-swap cigarettes; having ignored clear signs its lifestyle was out of control, the nation’s caught a raging, recessionary cold that just might turn into the dangerous flu-monia of economic depression.”
—John Mecklin, “Work Out Plan,” from Miller-McCune
“Every morning, I throw on one of my many pairs of faded jeans, a shirt bearing the image of a radical band or en electric guitar, and a Superman watch with silver bullets on the wristband. . . . The fact that I’m almost three bucks over 30 and a long-married mother of two kids makes my fashion sense all the more creepy.”
—Hope Gatto, “Rocker Mama,” from Mothering (not available online)
“This would have been a big year for Darwin, if he had been fit enough to survive this long.”
—Grant Bartley, “God or Nature?” from Philosophy Now
Sources: Alberta Views, Miller-McCune, Mothering, Philosophy Now
Image by Pixel Drip, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, February 09, 2009 3:38 PM
Desperate times call for desperate measures and, hopefully, desperately good reporting. But when it comes to the stimulus package—the crucial tonic, we’re told, for our ailing economy—are we getting it?
I’ve been on the prowl for solid, digestible treatments of the strengths and weaknesses of the multi-billion dollar plan, because frankly, I need some help wrapping my head around it. But the stories that seem to be everywhere—those detailing the demise of Obama’s honeymoon (starts around 3:15), accounts of partisan gamesmanship, and analyses of who’s winning the spin wars—make good fodder for gossip sessions, but do little to help us understand how we got into this mess and form educated opinions about the best way out of it.
Here are a few things we found helpful (and have enjoyed) so far:
From the New York Times, lessons the U.S. can learn from Japan’s stimulus spending in the ‘90s, which included heavy infrastructure investments.
Two stories from This American Life and Morning Edition describe the Keynesian approach of the stimulus package (starts around 36:15) and evaluate its merits. TAL has also done great, compelling reporting on the housing and financial crises.
NPR’s Planet Money blog has some handy maps that act as visual guides to the stimulus plan’s expected state-by-state impact.
Marketplace’s “decoder” series translates econ-speak into language normal people can understand.
Keep it coming, people: If you’ve come across particularly good stimulus coverage, let us know about it in the comments section below.
Sources: New York Times, This American Life, Morning Edition, Planet Money, Marketplace
Monday, December 22, 2008 4:32 PM
Not even movie stars are immune from the effects of recession. Illuminating an unexpected consequence of economic volatility, Minnesota Public Radio reports on research showing that our conception of beauty changes with the market. Reporter Nikki Tundel spoke with psychology professor Terry Pettijohn, who studied the phenomenon by analyzing the physical features of popular actresses during economic booms and busts. Tundel reports:
In the early 1980s, for example, the country was emerging from a recession. Things were looking up. That's when women like Sissy Spacek and Sally Field really made it big on the big screen. Both actresses, says Pettijohn, had young, almost cherubic features. The same could be said for a young Bette Davis, who had one of the most popular faces during the 1940s, another era where prosperity was on the rise.
The early 1990s, on the other hand, were a time of economic struggle. During those years, Emma Thompson and Sharon Stone were among the most celebrated actresses. Both had strong bone structures, smaller eyes and more mature-looking faces.
While Pettijohn found perceptions of female beauty varied with economic conditions, he told Tundel physical characteristics deemed attractive in men were unaffected.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008 1:04 PM
In shaky economic times, government arts funding may be quick to land on the chopping block. In a timely article on Depression-era arts funding, DIY magazine ReadyMade questions the wisdom of this political logic.
Apparently, even in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin D. Roosevelt (or Eleanor, depending on your sources) viewed artists as an important investment on the road to economic recovery. For nearly a decade, the Federal Arts Project employed out-of-work artists in a slew of public arts projects. Other initiatives, bundled under the larger Federal Project Number One, did the same for musicians, actors, and writers.
FAP-sponsored artists often lent their creativity to the Works Progress Administration’s Poster Division, crafting promotional posters for New Deal programs. The results were often beautiful, vibrant with a sense of optimism both political and artistic. ReadyMade, wondering how such spirit might translate today, asked five artists to create FAP-inspired posters to comment on our current sets of political and economic challenges. The responses range from Christoph Neimann’s abstract celebration of art to Christopher Silas Neal’s exhortation to buy local. All are available for free download, and are accompanied by quick statements from the artists. Some seem to have found the FAP artists' buoyancy contagious. Nick Dewar envisions a cyclist utopia where “reflective bike clips would replace fancy ladies’ purses as the current must-have fashion accessory.”
The posters, while lovely, pose questions more than they provide answers. How, for instance, might artists help rejuvenate the country’s political spirit? As ReadyMade acknowledges, artists will need to do more than look to the past. They’ll also need a “brand-new graphic language,” one “equal in impact to the original initiative, but decidedly different.”
Tuesday, September 23, 2008 2:13 PM
Greed has emerged as a unifying culprit in the current financial crisis and recession in the United States. John McCain blames the situation on “unbridled corruption and greed.” Barack Obama’s campaign has presented a plan to reform the “greed and excesses of Washington.” Not far beneath this rhetoric is the implication that both presidential candidates are ostensibly rejecting the Gordon Gekko, Wall Street mantra of “greed is good” for a more moral and less sinful worldview.
Although it is a sin, greed does have its benefits, according to Dr. Rebecca Blank, interviewed on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly. “It's greed that makes people work harder, be more productive, and helps the economy grow,” Blank says. Greed also may not have been behind every decision that led to the crisis. Blank points out that there were “a lot of people at the very beginning of this, the whole sub-prime crisis that started this off, who saw themselves as providing more funds for low-income families. They were doing a good thing.”
The problem isn’t that people don’t care about each other, Rabbi Michael Lerner writes for Tikkun, it’s that people “don't feel ready to trust their own desires and think that they would just be making a fool of themselves to imagine a world in which people really took care of each other.” Americans continue to be generous right now, even when surrounded by excess and greed. People need to acknowledge and cultivate that altruistic impulse in others, instead of giving up on the government and the market as inherently evil.
The American economy has benefited millions of people, while tapping into a selfish and materialistic impulse inside of humans at the same time. Some people believe that the free market will work itself out on its own, but Jim Wallis writes on the God’s Politics blog, “left to its own devices and human weakness (let’s call it sin), the market too often disintegrates into greed and corruption, as the Wall Street financial collapse painfully reveals.” The government, according to Wallis, must figure out a way to encourage innovation, but reign in the greed.
It’s up to the American people to push elected officials in that direction, toward good regulation and away from unbridled greed. Too often, according to Lerner, politicians keep the “discussion in vague and technocratic terms that avoid the central ethical issues that are always at the heart of the economy.” Lerner writes that politicians, including Obama, need to directly address the moral and ethical issues facing the country, not just the economic ones.
Image by Galaksiafervojo, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, August 01, 2008 11:53 AM
An economic downturn could be a mixed blessing for U.S. libraries. On the one hand, recession drives up library usage, as more people borrow—instead of buy—books. Libraries also provide information (and computer access) for job seekers, as well as cash-strapped citizens who are learning about a more frugal DIY ethic. Both the New York Times and National Public Radio have recently reported on this phenomenon.
Caveat lector, though. As we saw in 2003, tough economic times can also spur budget cuts, putting a strain on already-thin public and school library resources. Better-but-not-best-case-scenario, libraries will have to serve increased demand on static budgets. The FISH Bits blog, all about “creating great school and public libraries,” has some smart thoughts on how libraries can thrive during this crunch time.
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