Who Was Better than Nostradamus and Jack Van Impe at Predicting Economic Collapse?

The answer to the question could include several names, but I choose one for purposes of this post: Fredric Jameson.  A decade before the current global financial fiasco, Jameson published an essay called “Culture and Finance Capital” in Critical Inquiry, a journal that had far more clout in 1997 than it does now.  Here are some salient passages to give the flavor of Jameson’s piece:

How can you have profit without production in the first place? Where does all this extreme speculation come from?

The guiding thread of all contemporary politics seems much easier to grasp, namely, that the rich want their taxes lowered.

After the disappearance (or brutal downsizing) of heavy industry, the only thing that seemed to keep it [the U.S. economy] going (besides the two prodigious American industries of food and entertainment) was the stock market.  How was this possible, and where did the money keep coming from?

Then there is the grimmer conjecture, in which the capital of an entire center or region abandons production altogether in order to seek maximization in nonproductive spaces, which as we have seen are those of speculation, the money market, and finance capital in general.

Reading the full article without noticing the date on it would leave many readers in an odd chronological space. For another twist on time, Jameson provides an excellent explanation of capitalism’s capacity, through its cultural products, to compress time, to open up new spaces of commercialization via a minimalist aesthetic.  He mentions that film trailers are, in many instances, “all you need.”  The longer narratives of the films themselves that are previewed end up serving a different purpose.  A current development that would bolster Jameson’s reading of temporal condensation is Twitter, a microtrend that causes affluent intellectuals and technophiles to accept a bounded form of communication that insists on offering up its readers only fragments. It is an analysis of the fragment that occupies the last section of Jameson’s essay.

Some of the defenders and disciples of Twitter have pointed interestingly to Twitter’s role in the recent attacks on Mumbai and in the crash of the U.S. Airways jet into the Hudson River, as if Twitter is the medium of choice for disaster, a strange and disturbing selling point for a so-called social service, but perhaps one appropriate for the times.

Migrant worker's family - Nipomo, California (1936)

Migrant worker's family - Nipomo, California (1936)

Jameson’s 1997 essay concludes by informing the reader that we are being steered “unwittingly towards a crash.” The crash has come, and Wall Street is twittering.  The Wall Street Journal probably now regrets that in its endorsement of Twitter (in October 2008) as a business tool it used a real estate agent as an example.

Twitter can be useful for keeping up with friends, but businesses are also finding ways to employ it. Daniel Rothamel, a real-estate agent from Palmyra, Va., follows feeds from more than 1,000 people, including neighbors and fellow real-estate professionals. The 27-year-old searches the site for people who indicate that they are seeking real-estate help in his area.

We trust that Mr. Rothamel now provides foreclosure help with his feeds.


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