All the World Is Green | The Nation


All the World Is Green

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I think this is too pessimistic. Let's set aside the question of the degree to which 9/11 absorbed and deflected the popular outrage that might otherwise have burst over the heads of Enronizers and privateers, turning princes back into frogs. And let's assume Fraser is right in attributing current complacency to the fact that the cultural underpinnings of resistance have been eroded, the moral goalposts moved down the field. Still, it's worth considering the possibility that the political attack on Social Security might prove the functional equivalent of an economic collapse and provide the shock needed to delegitimize reigning elites and revitalize popular opposition. It's better than an equivalent, in fact, because we confront not a sudden catastrophe that might encourage a panicky acceptance of authority but an Iraq-style voluntary war that affords us time to mobilize resistance in the court of public opinion.

About the Author

Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace is co-author of Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford), author of A New Deal for New York (...

In doing so, Every Man a Speculator can be a valuable resource. Fraser's reconnaissance of Americans' longstanding reservations about Wall Street has mapped the location of ancient stress points that are worth re-examining for signs of contemporary strain; and his assessment of previously proffered reforms can help distinguish outmoded critiques, inextricably tied to vanished moral economies, from proposals of continuing salience, if updated and refashioned.

Thus, it would clearly be witless to denounce speculation as gambling, and gambling as a sin. But I suspect that a culture chockablock with chapters of Gamblers Anonymous remains hip to the kinship between Wall Street-style irrational exuberance and Vegas-style bingeing, hence cautious about transferring nest eggs to casinos. On the corruption front, while cynicism about the possibility of checking financial fraud is understandably rampant, I'd bet that even those prepared to roll the dice with their retirement funds would prefer not to play in a rigged game, and might well back calls to quintuple the SEC's budget and put a pit bull like Eliot Spitzer in charge of the croupiers.

Similarly, while the social gospel is clearly in remission, surely the vast numbers of church people now running the nation's innumerable soup kitchens include many who find ethically despicable the zestful spear jabbers' lack of concern for those who would face an impoverished old age, should smiley-faced market projections prove as wrong as they have repeatedly in the past. Such community-minded activists have also probably spotted "ownership society" flummery for what it is: the latest version of "It's your money" self-centeredness, an irresponsible repudiation of social solidarity.

The nineteenth century's Victorian family code is definitely passé, but Fraser's intriguing identification of a centuries-long link between hypermasculinity and speculative excess should alert us both to the possible appeal of such macho posturing to some younger male voters, and its likely alienating effect on less testosterone-driven constituencies. (How's "Would you trust your rainy-day fund to Gordon Gekko?" as a slogan?) Moreover, there must be many Americans who see the privatizers' ugly effort to divide children from parents for what it is--a menace to contemporary family values. Most people know full well that Social Security has not only been a lifesaver for the old but has provided a measure of independence to the young, shifting some of the burden of caring for aged parents to the country's broad collective shoulders.

Fraser's recounting of how often euphoric complacency has given way to rude awakening might well resonate with those who lived through the 1990s boom and meltdown. People who personally experienced ulcer-making anxieties about the future as they watched their 401(k)s sag--and who agree the record suggests such lurches will likely recur--might be ready to oppose efforts to end psychic security as we've known it and pitch us into a Pepsid 'R' Us society.

Add these up and you've got a fair number of purchase points for moral resistance to self-serving ideologues like Stephen "Jabber" Moore, who would return us to a tooth-and-claw world. But Fraser offers far more than assistance on the Social Security front. His sweeping historical reconstruction is a powerful reminder that our current economic arrangements are the product of centuries of debate and struggle, not the inevitable legacy of invisible "market forces." In historicizing (and thus demystifying) the present, Every Man joins the long list of acts of cultural subversion, and invitations to political action, so admirably chronicled in its pages.

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