The 1800s appeal. Or yearning for The Poor Again.

Now that America is busily retreating into its tortugan Shell Of Greatness, its worth reassessing the socioeconomic landscape that’s crystallising before our very eyes.

Between the tariffsi and general trade warz are glimmers of the Hamiltonianii approach to economic growth : id est protectionism until prosperity and then free trade until domination. That’s right. The Firer-In-Chief is once again practicing what the best of his forefathers preached with all of the vehemence and gusto of days gone by. That doesn’t mean you should hang off every crazy word Agent Orange tweets – always follow an old carnie’s hands, not his lips – but you’d also be unwise to underestimate both the necessity and the value of protectionist policies if The Great Again has so much as a snowball’s chance in atch-ee-double-hockey-sticks of succeeding.iii

You’d also be unwise to think that the unionised, middle classised, mid-century “modern“-ised America is the one anyone halfways intelligent seriously wants back in the first place. It ain’t. The post-war generation was the last one to squeeze a few creamy drops of sustenance from the dusty udders of Hamilton’s cow, not the first, and the writing was already on the wall by then as Daniel J. Boorstin pointed out in 1961 :

Our attitude toward our own culture has recently been characterized by two qualities, braggadocio and petulance. Braggadocio —- empty boasting of American power, American virtue, American know-how —- has dominated our foreign relations now for some decades. … Here at home —- within the family, so to speak —- our attitude to our culture expresses a superficially different spirit, the spirit of petulance.

And furthermore :

In the last half century a larger and larger proportion of our experience, of what we read and see and hear, has come to consist of pseudo‑events. We expect more of them and we are given more of them. They flood our consciousness. Their multiplication has gone on in the United States at a faster rate than elsewhere. Even the rate of increase is increasing every day. This is true of the world of education, of consumption, and of personal relations.

Already in the 1960s, you see, mass delusion as to American exceptionalism and “fake news” were the norm, and mathematical reality was by then even well divorced from the surreality commonly perceived. The Space Age then was very much the Anthopogenic-AI Age of today. The days when the tallest buildings in the world were erected in a single year were already a generation in the past – already stories told by wistful grey-haired men – but even the 1920s were but a gilded shadow of the 1890s when World’s Columbian Exhibitions drew record numbers of global travellers,iv automobiles steamed along without horses, X-rays pierced through solid objects, and immigrants ate dirt until they either choked or were beaten into a useful form.v

That’s how far back you have to go! It wasn’t a generation or two ago that America was Great. It was four. It was four generations ago that America enjoyed prosperity as a result of the foundations laid a century prior to that by Alexander And even Hamilton’s foresight wouldn’t have been enough had America thought itself so Great in the first place. Fortunate, of course, but Fortune is seized upon and sacrificed for whereas Great just Is. So on the contrary, America knew full well in the 1800s that it was dirt poor and would have to put on a hell of a showing (and get a few lucky breaks) to prove to the rest of the world that it wasn’t just some lousy goodfernuthin’ jonny come lately.

That’s the spirit that’s so desperately needed and earnestly desired by wealthy politicians, wealthy private citizens, and really anyone worth their salt today.vii The yearn for the Great Again is, ironically, the yearn for the Poor Again. It’s the yearn for The Hunger Again.

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  1. Steel and aluminum are the first two targets but don’t think for a second they’ll be the last.
  2. It’s funny how the Broadway musical Hamilton is all the rage at the moment, with tickets selling for multiples of their face value, such is the demand, but the whole production is about dueling and the lost role of honour in society, not about shaping the future. It’s about love, not sacrifice. How deluded is that retelling ?  
  3. Anti-swearing, it’s a fucking thing.
  4. Travellers being distinct from tourists for the former’s desire to get lost with the locals compared to the latter’s desire to snap a selfie in front of a pop-recognisable piece of art or architecture. And since it’s basically Boorstin Day here at Contravex, we’ll hand the old yid the mike one more time :

    The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes ‘sight-seeing.’

    DJB unwittingly hits upon the fallacy of the whole Millenial echafaudage as both misunderstood by senior businessmen and misrepresented by junior ones. It’s not that teh youf are seeking experiences over material objects – they can’t afford material objects in the first place! Any representation to the contrary is at best a false dichotomy and at worst willful ignorance. The only thing those born after 1980 can scrape together for is a $30 Ryanair ticket, a $5 curry plate at an overcrowded Full Moon Party, and a selfie stick to capture it all for their 250 instafollowers. That’s it. Nothing more. (Those who’re Bitcoin rich are but a rounding error in this calculation and can be meaningfully excluded from the broader demographic analysis.) 

  5. The Ashkenazim fleeing the pogroms of the pale in the late 1800s certainly didn’t expect to be treated to all the free housing and free pussy that latter-day Syrians are being showered in. Nor did the Jews settling in Brooklyn receive such a red carpet welcome in spite of their expectations. Now the question is : will Syrians have the real estate market in Berlin cornered by 2125 ? I’ll take your bets!
  6. Hamilton’s export-oriented economic strategy – including the establishment of the First Bank of the United States – was not only effective in nurturing the nascent US but was also copycatted during the later industrial maturations of Otto von Bismarck’s Prussia, Park Chung-hee’s South Korea, Meiji Japan, and yes, the Communist China that’s fattening you up into submission today. This protectionist, export-oriented approach has proven itself a remarkably effective ramp upon which nations can grow their wealth from relatively low levels to relatively high levels. 
  7. As to wealthy private citizens and their desires for the 1800s, this is as well reflected as anywhere in the private banking industry with such trite branding as “Private Banking 1859 by National Bank.” So too in the hilariously-inflated-and-equally-unpoppable auction prices for Monet, Degas, Cezanne, Pisarro, Renoir, etc. Can’t get enough of those 1800s vibrations!

2 thoughts on “The 1800s appeal. Or yearning for The Poor Again.

  1. […] don’t typically shy away from the fact that they have finite lifespans. This isn’t the First Bank of the United States we’re building here. Those days are over. […]

  2. […] that people of earlier times “had it all figured out” and if only we could return to The Great Again, everything would make sense – we’d be on top of our shit – unlike now. Those of […]

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