The Old Right in the New Year

The current issues of The American Conservative and Chronicles appeared in our mailbox yesterday; here are my notes on them.

J. David Hoeveler, who in 1977 published the indispensable book The New Humanism: A Critique of Modern America, 1900-1940, contributes to this issue of The American Conservative an article about one of the main subjects of that book, Irving Babbitt (1865-1933.)  Babbitt, Paul Elmer More, and the other critics in the New Humanist group were identified as political and social conservatives in their own day, and it has been conservative intellectuals who have kept their names alive.  Hoeveler argues that Babbitt would have been deeply uncomfortable with much that characterizes the right wing of today’s Republican Party.  Hoeveler identifies four major strands in this movement, which he labels “imperialist conservatism,” “”populist conservatism,” “libertarian conservatism,” and “religious conservatism.”  Since Babbitt was an outspoken opponent of all forms of military intervention the US undertook throughout his life, Hoeveler has an easy time showing that he would have been unlikely to support America’s ongoing current wars and level of military spending.    Nor would the Babbitt whose main political concern was saving democracy by reconciling it to the “aristocratic principle” have found much to attract him in the populist right’s denunciation of “liberal elites.”

Hoeveler says surprisingly little about Babbitt’s likely attitude toward the libertarian right.   To the extent that libertarians set up the unfettered operation of the market as an ideal, it should be clear that Babbitt would have opposed them.  In the opening of Democracy and Leadership, Babbitt’s 1924 political magnum opus, he mentions that one hears that the future will be taken up with “the economic problem.”  If so, Babbitt declares, “the future will be very superficial.”  Though his political attitudes were certainly conservative, in some ways even reactionary, Babbitt was leery of capitalism.  In social arrangements that separate economic activity from family relationships and community bonds, he saw a world grown cold and senseless.  Babbitt would not have denied that the market was competent to allocate resources for efficient production, but would have argued that outside the limits of that sphere its judgments were meaningless.  Seeing successful businessmen consulted as experts on education and public policy, Babbitt told an old French story about a butcher who suddenly found himself needing an attorney.  When several lawyers offered their services, he evaluated them by the standards of his own profession and chose the fattest one.

Discussing the religious right, Hoeveler points out that Babbitt was very leery of their theological and political predecessors.  Himself irreligious, Babbitt thought that religion was necessary for social control and the development of a high culture.  However, he did not believe that all religious movements were equally capable of having these effects.  Babbitt admired contemporary Confucianism, early Indian Buddhism, and later Massachusetts Puritanism, as traditions that inculcated self-discipline and rewarded intellectualism.  The enthusiasms and eccentricities of Pentecostal and fundamentalist groups horrified him.

The American Conservative reprints President Dwight Eisenhower’s 1961 Farewell Address, still famous for its warning against “the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.”  In his commentary on the address, Michael Desch argues that Eisenhower was wrong to imply that economic interests drive America’s interventionism.  In view of the amount of money that defense contractors annually collect from the US taxpayer and the number of people whose livelihood derives directly or indirectly from those contractors, Desch’s claim seems preposterous on its face.  However, an article by Eamonn Fingleton elsewhere in the issue lends it a degree of plausibility.  Fingleton’s article, “Empire is Bad Business,” documents the ways in which US militarists have actively lobbied foreign governments to give preferential treatment to Japanese exporters over American exporters as part of deals to keep US bases in Japan.  Fingleton quotes trade economist Pat Choate:  “Essentially we gave away our electronics industry in return for Japanese support in Vietnam.  In any other country there would have been riots in the streets.”  Fingleton makes a strong case that the masters of the permanent war economy have played a leading role in the hollowing out of American manufacturing.  Thus, “military-industrial complex” is a misnomer.  However, Eisenhower’s broader point might stand.  American capitalists now pin their hopes of future profit on globalization, not on the development of any one country.  In that sense, they have become a revolutionary class, alienated from national loyalties.  The US military establishment is their militant wing, enforcing globalization.

Brian Doherty’s “Dignity Doesn’t Fly” has the subtitle “Peepshow scanners may not catch terrorists, but who says they’re supposed to?”  Laying out the shortcomings of the Transportation Safety Administration’s plan to probe air passengers in intimate ways, Doherty says that “The TSA has created the perfect enemy for any bureaucracy: one that can never be defeated, that could be anyone, and that creates excuses to funnel money to favored interests until the end of time.”  The worst aspect of the whole affair, for Doherty, is the apparent popularity of the TSA’s depredations.  Among those who support the scans, “the TSA seems to have succeeded in constructing a new morality,” one in which personal dignity is of no value and the agents of the state are above judgment.

Chronicles, too, includes a piece about the TSA.  While Doherty spends much of his piece demonstrating that the TSA’s scanners would not detect even the bombs that gave them the pretext to start using them, Chronicles‘ Douglas Wilson would oppose the scans even if everything the TSA and its apologists say were true.  Wilson brings up the Third Amendment to the US Constitution, prohibiting the US from quartering soldiers in private homes.  When that Amendment was passed in 1789, it represented a real limitation on the federal government’s ability to defend its citizens from invading armies.  As such, it “was designed to interfere with national security.”  It proves that the framers believed that the rights and dignity of citizens were more important than national security.

Also in Chronicles, Thomas Fleming offers “The Five Good Reasons” not to be an atheist.  “Atheists have no god to worship” is number one; this is a good reason not to be an atheist, Fleming argues, because humans are generally inclined to worship something, and without gods they’ll only start worshipping other, worse things.  Reason two: “They have no religion to practice.”  That allegedly makes life dull, or did make it dull for Fleming when he was an atheist.  Number three: “Atheists have no religious calendars.”  This robs life of rhythm.  Time is then just one thing after another.  Fourth: “Poor atheists… have no sacred spots, no churches or shrines.”  Atheist space is as featureless as atheist time.  With no store of special stories to differentiate one place from another, atheists not only cannot value places as holy, but lose a means of bonding to each other as people who share relationships with those places.  Fifth, atheists have no sacred texts.  “Scriptures and even canonical literature, because they are sources of authority that lie beyond our own individual whims, discipline our minds and tastes and compel us to have a share in the common sense of our people.”  Fleming and others in the Chronicles crowd often cite Irving Babbitt; this sentence of his could have come directly from any of Babbitt’s books.

All five of Fleming’s “Five Good Reasons” are summed up by Steve Martin:

The last page of each of these magazines is devoted to a column by Taki Theodoracopulos.  They are not the same column.  The difference between them shows the difference between the publications.  For The American Conservative, Taki praises Kate Middleton, who is supposed to marry an English prince.  Taki praises her for being lower-middle class, and therefore likely to have enough common sense to behave properly in her new role, unlike the feather-headed daughters of the aristocracy.  Readers of The American Conservative might find this unvarnished class-stereotyping provocative, and Taki’s stories of his social life among the royals exciting.

When it comes to crossing the boundaries of political correctness,  Chronicles readers are used to headier stuff.  So his column in that magazine does not praise future princesses.  Instead, he opens by mentioning that a man from Somalia was arrested in Oregon on terrorism charges, and goes on to ask “Why are Somalis, in particular, and Muslims, in general, allowed to immigrate over here?”  That question in itself is fairly standard fare for the pages of Chronicles; most contributors to the magazine, however, would not have included some of Taki’s rhetorical flourishes, such as his reference to the man arrested in Oregon as “the subhuman- his surname is Mohamud, what else?”  Talking with other readers of these two magazines, I sometimes complain about Taki and his obviously deliberate attempts to offend; uniformly, these readers say that they usually skip his page.

Seceding from the Nation

Eric Foner is a major historian of the mid-19th century USA and a regular contributor to The Nation magazine.  In a recent issue, he reviewed two books about politics in the South during and after the Civil War, Stephanie McCurry’s Confederate Reckoning and Victoria Bynum’s The Long Shadow of the Civil War.  This paragraph of Foner’s got me thinking:

McCurry begins by stating what should be obvious but is frequently denied, that the Confederacy was something decidedly odd in the nineteenth century: “an independent proslavery nation.” The Confederate and state constitutions made clear that protecting slavery was their raison d’être. Abandoning euphemisms like “other persons” by which the US Constitution referred to slaves without directly acknowledging their existence, Confederates forthrightly named the institution, erected protections around it and explicitly limited citizenship to white persons. McCurry implicitly pokes holes in other explanations for Southern secession, such as opposition to Republican economic policies like the tariff or fear for the future of personal freedom under a Lincoln administration. Georgia, she notes, passed a law in 1861 that made continuing loyalty to the Union a capital offense, hardly the action of a government concerned about individual liberty or the rights of minorities.

I can certainly understand Foner’s exasperation with neo-Confederates who see the Old South as a proud symbol of liberty and elide the role of slavery in the Civil War.  In the legal documents he cites, the Confederate States of America advertised its cause as the defense of slavery.  In prominent speeches delivered at the outbreak of the war, such southern leaders as Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens and Confederate President Jefferson Davis said openly that the cause which justified secession was the threat that the newly ascendant Republican Party would free blacks from slavery.  While Stephens and Davis each spent a great deal of time after the war trying to explain his earlier remarks away and argue that he had been motivated by concern for something other than the maintenance of human bondage, it is hardly unreasonable to attach greater weight to the contemporary documents and to say that in the Civil War, the South fought to defend slavery. 

What is less reasonable is to leave it at that, with the implication that the North fought to abolish slavery.  The evidence would suggest that when the United States armed forces were sent to quash secession, the men who sent them had little interest in emancipating anyone.  Emancipation came later, propelled by the exigencies of war.  As Davis and Stephens would shift their public statements from prewar calls to defend slavery to postwar invocations of the rights of the states, so too did the leaders of the North change their stands very substantially as the war went on.  The most obvious example may be the contrast between Abraham Lincoln’s two Inaugural Addresses.  Lincoln delivered his First Inaugural Address in March of 1861, when the war had not yet broken out.  The Second Inaugural Address was delivered in March of 1865, a few weeks before the end of the war.  Lincoln spends much of the First Inaugural Address vowing to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act and leave slavery alone in all the states where it was a legal institution.  In the Second Inaugural Address, he looks back on the war as a struggle to emancipate the slaves and declares that it would only be just were God to decree that the war should “continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword.” 

In the First Inaugural, Lincoln capitulates to every demand the South could possibly make in regard to slavery.  Time and again, of course, Lincoln would declare his belief that people whose ancestors came from Africa could not live among whites except in conditions of subjugation, and he rarely missed a chance to distance himself from Abolitionists.   These facts do not mean that the South was not fighting to keep blacks enslaved.   Seeing that the Republicans, a party which did include a sizeable antislavery bloc, could elect as president a candidate who did not receive a single vote in the ten states south and west of Virginia, slaveholders might well have drawn the conclusion that their grip on the national government was permanently broken and that some future president would lead the push for abolition.  While Lincoln himself might not in 1861 have had the inclination to take that task on, proslavery southerners may well have thought that it would have been unwise to wait for the crisis they feared.

What the First Inaugural does show, however, is that whatever the South may have been fighting for, the North was not at the outset of the war fighting against slavery.  Why did the North fight to keep the South in the Union?  Why for that matter did so many Northerners vote for Lincoln when it should have been clear that the election of a purely regional candidate would trigger secession?  I suspect Foner’s dismissal, in the paragraph above, of the tariff as a cause for the war applies only to the motivations of the South.  The South opposed a protective tariff because it wanted equal access to the products of industry in the North and in England.  Indeed, the South wanted Northerners to bid competitively with English interests for Southern cotton.  Since the chief goal of US policy since 1776 had been to get the British out of North America, the idea that the southern states of the USA would form an economic relationship with English industry that might very well lead to their absorption into the British Empire could hardly be expected to meet with general approval in the rest of the country.   

The Second Inaugural is among the most widely read of all Lincoln’s writings, certainly the most widely read of his state papers.  That is no surprise.  Not only is it an extraordinary specimen of eloquence, but it also flatters Americans’ national self-esteem.   The Second Inaugural caters to Americans who want to look at the Civil War and see a moral awakening to the evils of human bondage and to the possibility that black and white might live together in equality.  Beyond that; it also allows us to cast that moral awakening as a drama in which our enlightened twenty-first century selves have the leading role.  The Civil War, Lincoln invites us to believe, was fought so that later generations of Americans could be untainted by the guilt of slavery.  In other words, the dead had to die, so that we could look down on them.

If, instead of reading the Second Inaugural and congratulating ourselves on our superiority to our ancestors, we Americans read the First Inaugural and put the Civil War in the context of international Realpolitik, we might shed some of our national narcissism and be warier next time some group of con artists try to sell us another war.  We wouldn’t necessarily be any less proud of our country- opposing the British Empire was a mighty project in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and it isn’t every country that would have the patience to stick with such a project until the UK’s prime minister openly declares his country to be the USA’s junior partner in world affairs.  But we might learn to express pride in our country without pretending that the country itself has some divine commission to institute a world order based on pure justice.

The Nation, lately

Here are the first two paragraphs of Stuart Klawans’ review of Richard Linklater’s docudrama, Me and Orson Welles:

 The story of an omelet told from an eggshell’s point of view, Me and Orson Welles relates the events of one week in November 1937, when a fictional high school student named Richard happens upon some actors goofing off on New York’s Forty-first Street and gets cast in a show that just might open: the Mercury Theatre’s soon-to-be-legendary Caesar. A day-tripping kid from the suburbs will accidentally participate in greatness. As the Mercury’s office manager and all-purpose sweetheart puts it, he will get to sit at the feet of Orson Welles and be showered with his spittle.

As swift and stripped-down as its title, the Caesar into which Richard has wandered will thrillingly transform Shakespeare’s Roman general into a present-day dictator in jackboots and black shirt, provided the director and star ever lets the play get out of rehearsals. Welles is a dictator too, you see, though without any ideal of military discipline, and evidently can’t bear to set an opening date, because then the chaos would end and he could no longer go on bullying and seducing and making everyone in the company wait on his every whim. “Can you play the ukulele?” Welles demands of Richard upon seeing him on the sidewalk, as if it were the first question that would pop into anyone’s mind. Without asking why, Richard looks Welles in the eye, lies and says yes. Welles stares back, recognizes the lie and hires him anyway, telling him he’s now Lucius. It seems the dictator has found a new underling, one with just enough spirit to make him temporarily interesting to break.

“Can you play the ukulele?” is a fine greeting so far as I’m concerned… 

That’s from the 21 December issue, as is Lori Wallach’s piece about the World Trade Organization.  Wallach has done yeoman work over the years publicizing the fact that the World Trade Organization is not just about “trade,” but takes a wide variety of issues out of the democratic process in its member states and subjects them to cloistered bureaucracies that respond only to major corporate interests.   

The main thing I want to remember from the 14 December issue is a piece about the killing of Fred Hampton.  Fred Hampton was the chairman of the Black Panther Party in Chicago when police shot him to death at his home, 2337 West Monroe Street, on 4 December 1969.  The official story from the Chicago Police Department at the time was that Hampton fired first; crime scene photos showing that most of the blood Hampton lost drained into his mattress suggested that he was in bed throughout the gun battle.  Hampton must have been very tired indeed to have remained in bed while waging a firefight against the police.    

The author of the piece is Jeffrey Haas.  Here is Haas’ summary of his own role in the response to Hampton’s death:

I was the first person to interview the survivors in the police lockup, where Hampton’s crying and pregnant fiancée told me that after she was pulled from the room, police came in and fired two shots into Hampton and said, “He’s good and dead now.” The autopsy showed he had been shot twice in the head at point-blank range. My colleagues went to the raid scene, examined the bullet holes and found that the trajectory of all the bullets except one was from the direction of the police toward the Panthers. Later, an FBI firearms expert testified that more than eighty shots were fired by the police at the Panthers, with only one coming from a Panther. That one shot was fired in a vertical direction by a falling Mark Clark after he had been fatally wounded.

Two years after the murder, antiwar activists raided the FBI office in Media, Pennsylvania, and found and distributed documents that demonstrated that FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover was conducting a secret war on the left–the Counterintelligence Program, or Cointelpro. Its most aggressive and lethal tactics were used against the black movement, and the Panthers in particular. Cointelpro mandated FBI agents in cities with Panther chapters to “cripple,” “disrupt” and “destroy” the Panthers and their breakfast program and to prevent the rise of a “messiah” who could unify and electrify the black masses.

In 1969 I was a young, newly radicalized lawyer, one of the founders of a collective called the People’s Law Office, which represented the Panthers. After successfully defending the survivors of the raid against bogus criminal charges, we filed a civil rights suit against the police and the prosecutor, and later the FBI. My book The Assassination of Fred Hampton chronicles our long legal and political struggle to uncover the truth about the FBI’s role in the killing. After thirteen years of litigation, we proved that the raid was a Cointelpro operation. FBI agents in Chicago gave Hanrahan and the Chicago police a floor plan of Hampton’s apartment, which included the location of the bed where Hampton would be sleeping. They urged Hanrahan to conduct the raid and later took credit for it in internal documents. The FBI informant who provided the floor plan was given a bonus because his information was deemed to be of “tremendous value” to what one agent referred to as the “success” of the raid.

Noam Chomsky has called the murder of Fred Hampton “the gravest domestic crime of the Nixon Administration.” It is hard to imagine a more serious abuse by a government than the deliberate assassination of a citizen for his political beliefs and activity. But though we were finally able to reveal that Hampton’s death had been an assassination, it has never gotten the attention it deserves. The government’s cover-up and stonewalling basically worked.


Should the USA adopt a value-added tax?

Most countries in the world collect a border-adjusted value added tax; the USA does not.  In this document, posted on his blog, former US Senator Ernest F Hollings succinctly points out a problem this creates for American manufacturers: 

Our tax laws force off-shoring. You can manufacture a computer in Chicago, which requires an average corporate income tax of 27%. Exporting that computer to China, when it reaches Hong Kong, China adds another 17% value added tax. But if you manufacture a computer in China, the 17% VAT is rebated or cancelled as it leaves Hong Kong for Chicago. And when it reaches Chicago, there is no 27% add-on, making for a 44% penalty to produce in Chicago. Imagine a country where you can’t produce for a profit. Well, that’s Obama’s United States today.

Hollings is the last person you would expect to find online, but his blog is terrific.

The American Conservative, November 2009

american conservative november 2009In this issue, former FBI employee Sibel Edmonds names some prominent US officials whom she believes to have accepted bribes from foreign governments.   

Eve Tushnet visits a Washington, DC locale known to the federal government as Meridian Hill Park, though she has “only seen its maiden name in two places: District government plaques and local girl Florence King’s autobiography, Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady.”  Everyone else calls it Malcolm X Park.  Tushnet compares the design of the place to a ziggurat, a Sicilian village, a complex borad game, and the world’s largest Slinky.  I can see why; there are also some views which remind me of M. C. Escher.  Whatever the park’s designers were thinking, they don’t seem to have been thinking of crime prevention.  “It’s an array of alcoves linked by narrow paths and staircases… The high walls and ample foliage make it a haven for people whose professions or hobbies require a talent for lurking.”  No one seems to be committing any crimes during Tushnet’s visit, though she does have her suspicions about a man who introduces himself as a podiatrist.  

A humor piece is written as if it were a diary entry by classicist-cum-neoconservative madman Victor Davis Hanson.  The locution “No American wishes to contemplate the idea of war, but” occurs three times, the locution “No Namibian mercenary wishes to contemplate the idea of war, but” occurs once.  A truly Hansonian piece, I’d say.   


The Nation, 3 August 2009

nation 3 august 2009Jonathan Schell’s remembrance of former Defense Secretary Robert Strange McNamara begins with the story of Schell’s meeting with McNamara in 1967, at which he, then a young reporter for The New Yorker, briefed the secretary on what he had seen American forces doing in Vietnam.  Schell would not hear from McNamara after that meeting, but declassified documents would subsequently reveal that the secretary had responded to it by attempting to discredit Schell’s story and block its publication.  Schell mentions McNamara’s subsequent contrition for his Vietnam policies, stressing that the remorse he suffered was quite trivial compared with the what the people of Vietnam suffered during the war McNamara did so much to design.  Still, Schell points out, McNamara was unique among high-level US policymakers of recent decades in publicly admitting error.  The piece ends with Schell’s line “If there is a statue made of McNamara, as there probably will not be, let it show him weeping.  It was the best of him.” 


Wounded Knee, nanotech, Serbian broadcasting, and the car industry

The headquarters of Radio Television Serbia after the 23 April 1999 bombing

The headquarters of Radio Television Serbia after the 23 April 1999 bombing

Go away for a month, and things pile up.  Time to get back at it.  Here are “Periodicals Notes” on three recent issues of Counterpunch

16-30 April: Tiphaine Dickson reports on the case of Dragoljub Milanovic, the only person ever to have been tried and punished for NATO’s 23 April 1999 bombing of Radio Television Serbia (RTS), an attack on an undefended target that killed 16 civilians and served no military purpose other than to disrupt broadcasting between the hours of 2 and 5 AM that morning.  The attack followed an ultimatum NATO issued to the Serbs that the station would be considered a legitimate target unless they consented to broadcast six hours a day of NATO-approved western programs, an ultimatum NATO dropped when the Serbs accepted it.  Mr Milanovic has been in prison for seven years because of his role in this wanton act of murder.  What was that role?  He was one of NATO’s intended victims.  The director of RTS, Mr Milanovic was at his desk in the building less than an hour before the bombing.  Dickson details a story of the dizzyingly absurd injustices that Mr Milanovic has suffered, illustrating the workings of the West’s anti-Serb policies of the last couple of decades. 

In the same issue, former US Senator James Abourezk (Democrat of South Dakota) gives a synopsis of the relations between the Minneconjou tribe of the Sioux nation and the US government before, during, and after the 1890 massacre of Minneconjou people at Wounded Knee in South Dakota.  This is to serve as an introduction to Senator Abourezk’s recollections in the next issue of the 1973 occupation of Wounded Knee by militant American Indian Movement (AIM) activists.  

1-15 May: Senator Abourezk tells the story of his trip to Wounded Knee in 1973, when he and George McGovern (his senior colleague in the US Senate from South Dakota) tried to mediate between AIM and the federal agents surrounding them.  The senators left thinking that they had negotiated a peaceful resolution to the standoff, only to find that the Nixon administration had blocked the deal.  Senator Abourezk suspects that the president wanted to keep the crisis going in order to stoke anti-Native feeling among whites.  

In the same issue, Steven Higgs looks at nanotechnology.  After listing such applications as self-cleaning eyeglasses (very attractive to me!), he quotes experts who are concerned that carbon nanotubes strongly resemble the microstructure of asbestos and that exposure to them may pose some of the same risks as does exposure to asbestos.  Other nanotechnologies also seem to represent considerable dangers; for example, the minute portions of silver used in high-end washing machines can enter living cells and may alter DNA there, threatening cancer.  Higgs notes that after years of federal inaction, the Obama administration has issued notice that it may begin a review of regulations in this area.   

16-30 May: Eamonn Fingleton points out that all the explanations for the decline of the US auto industry favored by corporate media are bogus.  For example, one often reads that the Big Three fail to produce any models with the steering wheel on the right, and that this explains why the Japanese won’t buy American cars.  In fact, Fingleton reports, Detroit makes dozens of models with the steering wheel on the right, and has done so for years.  We also hear that closing a country to imports will doom its manufacturers to eventual irrelevance in the global contest for shares of the export market.  Yet the Japanese and Korean car markets have been the most tightly closed in the world for decades, as Japanese and Korean car makers have gone from strength to strength and now dominate the US market. 

In the same issue, Bill Hatch reports on Michelle Obama’s visit to the University of California’s new campus at Merced.  Hatch quotes Mrs O’s criticism of the University of Chicago’s development of the Hyde Park neighborhood as abuffer between itself and the South Side of Chicago, then points out that UC-Merced is trying to do exactly the same thing.  Hatch tells how UC-Merced was built during the California real estate bubble, and how the construction of the university and the bubble worked together to shatter the working class town that had existed there.  In Hatch’s telling, Merced sounds like a ghost town in the making.

More on the Destruction of ViewMaster


It did not die a natural death

In November, I posted here news that had come to me in a mass email from Las Vegas’ 3Dstereo Store, a report that Mattel would no longer produce ViewMaster reels that might appeal to adults.  Today, another mass mailing from the same source brings more bad news:

Since the the end of last year, the news from the world of View-Master has been earth shaking, but then hasn’t all the news been earth shaking.

Scenic and Custom Divisions Close:
Late last year, Fisher-Price notified all its dealers that the Custom Division which encompassed the Scenic Division was closing permanently. All of its products, every scenic title of View-Master, and the Model L viewers will be discontinued. Custom and commercial reels will never again be made. The factory in Mexico where everything from Beaverton, Oregon was moved, will close. And the remaining View-Master products (children’s View-Master) will only be produced in China at the location that produced the poisoned Mattel/Fisher-Price toys which brought Mattel to the edge of destruction in the first place.

The economy can be blamed for a lot of changes in this world, but the demise of View-Master came unassisted at the hands of Mattel/Fisher-Price executives.

But one thing that Mattel/Fisher-Price will never kill is the joy that tens of thousands of View-Master collectors will always possess in the fascinating product that thrilled the world for 70 years. 


Counterpunch, 16-31 January 2009

free-tradeFrom Paul Craig Roberts, part two of a three-part survey of economics.  In Part One, published issue-before-last, Roberts had defended supply-side economics as the insight that reducing marginal tax rates increases the amount of goods available in the economy at every price range.  In this original sense, Roberts asserted, supply-side had “nothing to do with trickle-down economics or the claim that tax cuts pay for themselves.”  Roberts claimed that when inflation declined after the Reagan tax cuts of the 80s, the old Keynesian theory that loosening fiscal policy would raise prices was definitively refuted and supply-side just as definitively established.  This article was essentially a synopsis of Roberts’ 1984 book The Supply-Side Revolution

In this issue, Roberts argues that the doctrine of comparative advantage, for 200 years the cornerstone of the intellectual defense of free trade, does not apply to today’s world.  Roberts says that comparative advantage, as originally laid out by David Ricardo and elaborated ever since, rests on two basic presuppositions.  First, that the differing geographical, demographic, and climatic characteristics of countries would mean that in each country there would be different opportunity costs associated with choosing to make one product rather than another.  Second, that “the natural disinclination which every man has to quit the country of his birth and connections” meant that capital and, to a lesser extent, labor would remain fixed within national boundaries. 

Today, Roberts declares, both of these presuppositions are exploded.  In our world, “most combinations of inputs that produce outputs are knowledge-based.  The relative price ratios are the same in every country.  Therefore, as opportunity costs do not differ across national boundaries, there is no basis for comparative advantage.”  The second presupposition is even more thoroughly discredited.  Not only do owners of capital routinely migrate from country to country, but in the era of multinational corporations and electronic communications owners of capital need not follow their investments abroad to supervise their operations. 

Roberts cites many scholarly publications that challenge the doctrine of comparative advantage.  Among them: Global Trade and Conflicting National Interests, by Ralph E. Gomory and William J. Baumol; The Predator State, by James K. Galbraith; Robert E. Prasch’s January 1996 article in The Review of Political Economy,  “Reassessing the Theory of Comparative Advantage“; and, from 1888, R. W. Thompson’s History of Protective Tariff Laws

Sad news for ViewMaster fans




News in the latest email from Las Vegas’ 3D Stereo Store:

View-Master Closing:
On a sad note, Mattel/Fisher-Price has announced the permanent closing of the Custom/Commercial/Scenic View-Master division of View-Master. Scenic reels and the Classic Model L will cease to exist. All of the special special 3 Reel sets such as Old TIme Cars, and the on-location ones such as Grand Canyon will no longer be produced.  No more commercial Reels either.

The economic downturn and Mattel/Fisher-Price’s association with China has claimed another victim.  And even though, at least, executive salaries and bonuses will be saved by pending layoffs in excess of a thousand U.S. workers, an era that lasted almost seven decades comes to an end.

Children’s titles produced with Wal-Mart’s approval are planned to be continued for the present.

What’s to be done?  I don’t know.  It sounds like a done deal.  

Stereoscopy in general and Viewmaster in particular have a great deal to offer adults.  To peer into the viewer and tease out 3D effects is a meditative exercise.  Not only is it an extremely relaxing use of a few minutes, it also trains the eye to take a more attentive look at the world.   Trade with China, disparity between workers’ wages and executive compensation, the recession, the power of Walmart, etc, all play into the decline of the medium, but the root cause is something deeper.  The people in charge of corporations like Mattel just don’t believe that American adults are interested in sitting still and using their minds.  They may be right.  But if they are, it becomes a vicious circle.  Loud entertainment systems that allow their users to be passive sell quite well, so capital devotes all its resources to promoting loud entertainment systems that allow their users to be passive.  After a while, we as a society forget the use of quietness, the value of stillness, the importance of simplicity.