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Archive: July 2009


Banner for BusinessWeek.com's Debate Room

I have a short piece in BusinessWeek.com's "Debate Room" this week.

The resolution is: "There's reason to be optimistic about the U.S. economy."

I take the negative. James J. Angel, from Georgetown University, is on the affirmative.

Peak Finance

The former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, Simon Johnson, has a great post on Baseline Scenario today, where he doles out some pretty strong criticism of Obama economic advisor Larry Summers.

Among other things, Johnson argues that it isn't likely that the financial sector will help to put us back on a solid long-term growth path --because the economy has already hit "Peak Finance". Going forward, the financial sector will account for a smaller, not a larger share of the total economy. He links to a very useful slide presentation that spells out the economic and political mess we're in.

And don't miss Johnson's "The Quiet Coup", in the May issue of The Atlantic.

"We Didn't Know"

Logo of Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona

I'm just back from a couple of weeks in Barcelona, where I taught a short course at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra and then took some time off. During a visit to the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona there, I saw a great piece by Argentine conceptual artist León Ferrari called "Nosotros no sabíamos". The title references the refrain of socially and politcally respectable Argentines who are quick to say now that they just did not know about the torture, disappearances, and murders carried out by the military and others involved in the 1976 coup.

Ferrari's piece (available here in Flash format) simply mounts a wall full of clips from the Argentine press at the time of the coup. Taken together the headlines, photographs, and text provide a crushing refutation of this conveniently imagined ignorance. Pages and pages of headlines read: "Bodies Appear", "Body of ex-Radical Leader from Tucumán Found", "Three Bodies Riddled with Bullets Found in Trash Dump", "Body of child identified", "Three Writs of Habeus Corpus Filed", "Pope Expresses Concern Over Violence in Argentina", "Two Lawyers Kidnapped Thursday Turn Up Dead".

Of course, anyone who wanted to know, knew. The Argentine military chose the particular tactics documented in the clips --and permitted the press to run these accounts-- because these tactics spread fear, and people can't be afraid if they don't know what is going on.

The big first impression I had was that a conceptual artist here in the United States could easily do the same thing around the case for invading Iraq. The US media was overwhelmingly in favor of the invasion, but a dogged reader of even the Washington Post would have had enough information to be skeptical of the Bush-Cheney administration's claims about WMD.

But, then, it really hit me that the piece was much more directly applicable to the United States, a possible foretelling of where we might well be in 2020, say. "We Didn't Know" that the United States was torturing people. "We Didn't Know" that the United States was operating clandestine prisons around the world. Even though we did know all along about Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, waterboarding, and Dick Cheney.