I read on one of the other leftist wordpress blogs that Mike Davis had died.
For a while I was under the impression it was this Mike Davis – the “Mike David (scholar)” according to Wikipedia Mike Davis disambiguation page. That Mike Davis is the author of many best-selling books on poverty, cities, globalization — “politics” — from a more or less “Marxist environmentalist” point-0f-view.
So anyway… awkward transition… This is not an obituary. But an anti-obituary. Mike Davis is great. Long Live Mike Davis!
I can just imagine the kind of obituary someone at the National Review would write for Mike Davis. (Remember Baudrillard’s obituary in The Economist magazine? Well, it was really a shitty one if you ask me.) Davis’s scholarship frequently tends to be an issue with centrist and rightwing book reviewers. But this bullshit tends to come from people who have an axe to grind against him for being a “liar” or a “leftist” or a “Marxist,” etc. (How about “lying, dirty, shrewd, godless, murderous, international criminal conspirator“?)
For the record I spent about six or seven hours going through footnotes from his book Planet of Slums and could not find any falsifications. (A lot of his work traced back to certain foundations, certain academic circles. Erhard Berner from the International Institute of Social Studies in the Hague, Netherlands, for example. Which is not a particularly “leftist” information center. Everyone has their favorite places to look.) But much of it was grounded in well-known places of academic interest like the UN, the World Bank, etc.
Still, reviewers have not been kind to Davis, and many are probably scared for their lives/tenures to associate with him. Being a Marxist has consequences — usually it throws you into the academic spotlight where your rockstar status must constantly be defended from the drones of yellow journalists who only wish they could be like you. But their relationship to capital has placed them in a more assuaging position. A reviewer from Salon.com particularly dislikes Mike Davis’s politics, questions his journalistic integrity, and set out to tarnish his reputation by creating a false interview with Davis.
At any rate, I bookmarked this particular analysis of Obama’s recession strategy in the New Left Review. I think it is a very valid point. Davis is a brilliant researcher, and constantly publishing. Skip to the last paragraph where he talks about the “investment theory” of political change.
At the end of the day, the Crisis itself, not the Election, did the ideological heavy lifting, sending elite opinion back in panic to the protective apron of Old Mother Keynes. (Not perhaps the real Keynes who wrestled with the paradoxes of liquidity traps and perverse market signals, but the Keynes who supposedly smiles whenever governments print money to save banks.) Ironically none of the currently prominent Keynesians or post-Keynesians, such as Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz or James Galbraith, have passed the qualifying exam for the new administration. In contrast to fdr’s One Hundred Days, when the President’s closest advisors included such trenchant critics of corporate power and managerial prerogative as Guy Rexford Tugwell, Gardiner Means and Adolf Berle, Obama’s economic-policy brains trust shares a defining conceit of the Hoover Administration: the architects of the crisis (Andrew Mellon then; Timothy Geithner and Larry Summers now) consider themselves its most competent doctors.
But if the central bankers and financial morticians are still ceded reign over the ruins of Wall Street, Obama has allied with technology icons to lay the cornerstones of an economic renaissance based on massive public investment in ‘Green Infrastructure’. So far this is the flagship idea of the new Administration, the one that owes least to Clinton precedents and most closely resonates with the idealism of the campaign’s volunteers and the expectations of supporters in the big tech centres. The near constant presence of Google ceo Eric Schmidt at Obama’s side (and inside his transition team) has been a carefully chosen symbol of the knot that has been tied between Silicon Valley and the presidency. The dowry included the overwhelming majority of presidential campaign contributions from executives and employees of Cisco, Apple, Oracle, Hewlett-Packard, Yahoo and Ebay.
But the promise of Green Keynesianism may turn out differently than imagined by radical economists and environmental activists. A fundamental power-shift seems to be taking place in the business infrastructure of Washington, with ‘New Economy’ corporations rapidly gaining clout through Obama and the Democrats while Old Economy leviathans like General Motors grapple with destitution and welfare, and energy giants temporarily hide in caves. The unprecedented unity of tech firms behind Obama both helped to define and was defined by his campaign. Through his victory, they have acquired the credit balance to ensure that any green infrastructure will also be good industrial policy for their dynamic but ageing and cash-short corporations.
There is an obvious historical analogy. Just as General Electric’s Gerard Swope (the Steve Jobs of his day) and a bloc of advanced, capital-intensive corporations, supported by investment banks, enthusiastically partnered with Roosevelt to create the ill-fated National Recovery Administration (nra) in 1933, so too have Schmidt and his wired peers, together with the ever-more-powerful congressional delegation from California, become the principal stakeholders in Obama’s promise to launch an Apollo programme for renewable energy and new technology.
We should note that this realignment of politics by economics fits awkwardly within the Keys–Burnham paradigm, which asserts the primacy of public opinion and the durability of voter blocs. A ‘silicon presidency’, on the other hand, is perfectly accommodated by Thomas Ferguson’s ‘investment’ theory of political change which privileges political economy and class struggle within capital as modes of explanation. Analysing New Deal case-studies in his 1995 book, Ferguson—an intellectually supercharged descendant of Charles Beard—concluded that business elites, not voters, usually determine both the nature and course of electoral realignments.