Wed Aug 4, 2010

I read Denis Johnson’s Shoppers tonight, a collection of two related plays that were written and performed in the early aughts. The first, Hellhound on My Trail was genuinely good on the page, though I wonder at how well it would translate to the stage in every particular. The other play, Shoppers Carried by An Escalator into the Flames, gave every indication of being written without revision of any type, and I can’t imagine how it could have been performed, though the introductory material claims that it was. I almost get the impression that Johnson had tired of playwriting at this point and was fulfilling some type of fellowship obligation. Perhaps that’s uncharitable, I don’t know. I wasn’t there. But it’s by far the worst thing of his that I have read.

Another book I started soon after was George Akerloff and Robert Shiller’s Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, And Why It Matters for Global Capitalism. I’m particularly interested in the psychological material in this book, but I’ve only read the foreword thus far. My notes on the first page or so are only WTFs about how something called a “free market revolution” was brought about by such heroes as Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, and Deng Xiaoping, but the writers find their way past this baroque and fanciful speculation to make a compelling analogy between demolitionists and financiers. It’s apparently—and I love learning about gritty facts such as this from economists—quite hard to find an honest demolitionist. The asbestos and such is much easier to deal with by dumping it in a river than having to go through all the pesky environmental regulations, apparently, so you can’t make money in it unless you cut corners. (Unless there are strict regulators, they point out. It was unclear to me if they think the U.S. has them, though I suppose if this was a plot point on an episode of The Sopranos it’s safe to assume otherwise.)

The book does argue for the necessity of increased financial regulation, and the authors seem largely Keynesian, which I approve of insofar as it’s a mild corrective to the market fundamentalism which dominates their profession. It’s always interesting to me to read a book written by mainstream economists after having recently immersed myself in something from the New Left Review, for example, and realize again the extent of Orwell’s problem.