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He said ‘If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch you must first invent the universe’
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If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe. Carl Sagan. Leave a Reply Cancel Reply. Name *. Email *. Website. © 2019.
Pro-Growth Policies, but for Whom?
By James Neimeister
Occupy Wall Street has so effectively used “the 99 percent” and “the 1 percent” to define the problem of American income inequality that even conservatives are embracing these terms. For example, in his endorsement of presidential candidate Mitt Romney, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie used an increasingly prevalent analogy to neatly sum up the Republican approach to this issue: the economy is like a pie. Everyone has a slice, and some peoples’ slices are bigger than others. That is a shame, but the Republicans point out that the pie is infinite in size, so if the pie as a whole grows, so does everyone’s slice. But no matter how big the pie is, the relative slice size still matters.
Just because the pie is bigger does not mean that everyone reaps the benefits of growth. The pie can grow without increasing the size of each group’s slice. Furthermore, the Republican platform for economic growth holds that such growth should focus on the wealthiest Americans. Republicans’ bread and butter strategies of tax cuts, deregulation and austerity all intend to grow the economy by concentrating wealth and power in the hands of the most capable (i.e. those who are already wealthy and powerful). The reasoning for these policies is that when the most wealthy and powerful members of society control most of the wealth, society will be more prosperous because only the capable and hardworking become wealthy and prosperous—a conviction as preposterous as it is circular. As such, the pro-growth agenda that Republicans invoke in the name of general welfare paradoxically embraces inequality as a social good.
Republicans embrace tax cuts as a core strategy for economic growth. Tax cuts allow people to keep more of what they earn, allowing them to spend, save or re-invest that money. Special income tax cuts for the rich, who tend to invest more than the less affluent and, incidentally, have more money to invest, and capital gains tax cuts, which also only benefit those capable of investing, are thought to spur investment the most, and therefore the whole economy. Whether tax cuts are the most effective measures for stimulating economic growth, much less equitable growth is a question of econometrics. But Republicans undoubtedly focus on the wealthy with these measures, offering the meager promise that a trickle-down effect follows. Additionally, some conservatives consider tax cuts an effective way to reduce federal spending growth, a crusade they believe is synonymous with the struggle for freedom itself and complementary to attempts to dismantle the regulatory apparatus that monitors the nation’s economy.
Conservatives claim deregulation spurs economic growth by removing barriers that prevent businesses from operating at their full potential. In practice, however, deregulation targets any legislation that would prevent large corporations from further asserting their near-limitless power. Deregulation is heavily influenced by the mistaken belief that markets can solve all problems through competition. This is rarely the case, as even competing firms have rallied together under the banner of deregulation to strengthen their economic stranglehold. The oil industry, for instance, pushed with fantastic success to be able to drill on public, environmentally protected wild lands by claiming it would be not only their right, but also their obligation to extract all the oil this country has to offer. Likewise, the financial industry successfully lobbied to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which prevented banks from merging commercial and investment operations. The repeal allowed risky investments made before the 2008 Wall Street crash to endanger ordinary peoples’ savings.
Even Supreme Court justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia have actively peddled their influence to special interests. They notably struck down campaign-finance laws that protected the free-speech rights of most Americans by limiting the maximum amount an individual could donate to a candidate and prohibiting attack advertisments that only wealthy Americans and huge corporations can afford. Moreover, deregulation has been used as a weapon against American workers, resulting in labor laws that greatly reduced the collective bargaining power unions once had. This has gone even further in states like Wisconsin, Ohio and New Jersey, where Republican governors have attempted to prohibit outright collective bargaining rights for public-sector unions.
Austerity, the last horseman of the apocalyptic Republican agenda, aims solely to cut government spending. While they argue that austerity would increase investor confidence by reassuring the government’s solvency, Republicans can hardly claim to be proponents of solvency after nearly causing a government shutdown this past July, a clash that ended with the U.S. Treasury’s first ever credit downgrade. Austerity measures include discretionary spending cuts, hiring freezes at governmental agencies, pay freezes and layoffs for public employees, full-scale privatizations and even significant cuts to the social safety net and the elimination of entire branches of government. Principally, it aims for the exact opposite of growth. Conservatives claim a government that has grown too large needs to be shrunk. The government has always grown along with the size of the economy in order to attend to a growing set of responsibilities. Attempting to dissemble the government by shirking its responsibilities sounds like anything but a pro-growth strategy. As always, Republicans are just making another excuse to allow private, self-serving interests to encroach on the public sphere.
These Republican policies would undoubtedly benefit the wealthy and powerful at the expense of the rest of America. They may bend over backwards to argue otherwise, but Republicans should not be fooling anyone. On the other side of the aisle, President Obama made the struggle for a more equitable economy the highlight of his State of the Union address, but Democrats still have much convincing to do. They have yet to form a coherent narrative to burst open the warped and self-contained universe in which the Republicans have sealed themselves. Repeatedly foiled by the ungovernable House of Representatives, Democrats have yet to justify their own means of constructing a more equitable economy.
Economic stimulus, near-certain tax increases and reinforced financial regulations will be tough to swallow in an environment so harshly opposed to any government intervention. It remains to be seen whether the Obama administration can achieve anything of lasting consequence. Can they forge a system of capitalism with a human face as long as Wall Street’s shadow hangs over the Statue of Liberty?
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A wise man once said: "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe." There was a very good chance he was high when he.
Christian Andersson's work If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe (2013) newly produced for Contemporary Archaeology at Matadero Madrid draws material from two of the Swedish artist's previous exhibitions – The Great and Secret Show and From Lucy with love.
For The Great and Secret Show at Von Bartha Garage in Basel (2012) Christian Andersson let the visitors begin in what could be a traditional showroom in a commercial gallery. Here they encountered the works of artists such as Venet and Morelet – who already have their place in modern art history – and then in the second gallery room discovered a number of works by Andersson himself. These works all allude to the subconscious referencing both the Rorschach test and dual personalities. There were also clear references to popular culture in the form of comic books and a keen interest in the role of chance in the process of decision making.
To enter the innermost room of the exhibition the viewer negotiated a PVC curtain reminiscent of a garage. Amongst crates normally used to transport artworks, stood a white Volkswagen van dating from 1990 with the headlights turned on. The work has at the same time the concrete and uncanny title White Van (2012). Above the glove compartment by the passenger seat the observant visitor could see a copy of the horror writer Clive Barker's The Great and Secret Show (1989). Suddenly, it was hard to understand what really was Christian Andersson's exhibition and what was scenographic props or perhaps a normally private section of the gallery. The front headlights also projected a video loop showing a drive through a snowstorm at night – viewed from the driver's perspective. Andersson creates confusion in the exhibition and perhaps doubt in the viewer. What story is being told? What is the exhibition? What is fact and what is fiction? The Great and Secret Show is a slightly skewed version of a traditional art exhibition, activating the title White Van as an allusion to the "white cube" and its connotations.
Christian Andersson's exhibition From Lucy with love at Moderna Museet Malmö (2011) offered an anachronistic historical perspective. The exhibition's title work consists of a long industrial shelving unit that seems to function as a contemporary cabinet of curiosities and an incomplete timeline. The modern desire to categorize and understand reality disintegrates through Andersson's personal view of history, which challenges prevailing facts and truths. At the far end of the shelf a 16mm projector is showing a short film clip from the post-apocalyptic movie On the Beach (1959). The scene shows one of the film's characters – dressed in a protective suit – entering an abandoned office to find that an overturned Coca-Cola bottle is beating irregularly against a telegraph transmitter. The hard-to-interpret signals that the protagonist of the film is trying to find the source of have thus arisen of a soft drink bottle. The man's resignation behind the safety visor can't be mistaken when he discovers that the human sender does not exist.
For the exhibition Contemporary Archaeology Christian Andersson returns both to the white van and the film clip from On the Beach. In the new work – entitled If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe – the viewer now sees the film clip screened in the back of the white van. The title – a quote from astronomer and science populariser Carl Sagan – highlights for Andersson the importance of the impossibility to experience anything in isolation from its immediate environment of current ideology and economic and political climate. As with White Van an unclear projection flows out of the headlights, but this time it is not a snowstorm. Instead, it is a fictional wasteland; an imaginary ruin is passing by. Visible on the wall is not much more than a blurry message waiting to be decoded. However, if the viewer looks closer to the film's source – the headlights – one can see what is displayed: filmed from the driver's perspective a series of Coca-Cola bottles appearing as columns are passed by. The bottles have been transformed into a modern ruin and an architectural element with the purpose of supporting a building. What at first glance can be traced to a critique of consumption is rather a question and discussion of today's iconic symbols and images. Andersson's work highlights the archaeological choices we are constantly forced to make in the search for the 'new truth'. It simultaneously speaks of our fascination for the unknown, and the position of the ruin within contemporary art.
With his new work Christian Andersson manoeuvres between the past and the future. The clip from On the Beach operates as a starting point for the journey to an unknown destination. The van acts as a carrier and encoder for the signals. The artist refers to the van in the work as a lab – maybe it's actually his own studio – and inside can be found scattered 'clues' and source materials: for example, old issues of National Geographic, Coca-Cola bottles, the book On the Beach, a book by Carl Sagan... All these items, along with the footage shown, leads the viewer at the same time both closer to and further away from the story and the outcome becomes more and more blurred. The core of truth and hard facts that is the foundation of positivist science seems even more absent and even largely unjustified.
Christian Andersson's work is for me a search based on an interest in historical phenomena, events and unsubstantiated theories. In his research, empirical facts and fictional stories are treated equally as to what they can say about ourselves, and the world we live in today. But above all, it is probably uncertainty about the upcoming future, and an awareness that everything is based on existing ideas and knowledge, that really interests Christian Andersson and informs his work.
Andreas Nilsson is a curator at Moderna Museet Malmö.
The essay was first published in the exhibition catalogue Arqueológica, Matadero, Madrid (2013).
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