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Mike Davis on the Recent Election

I’m reading the new NLR. I have to say that it possesses most things that I find lacking in grad school — attention to political economy, an interest in understanding lived reality, and politically interested — so, I am reading it instead of wondering what exactly is up in Hegel’s exegesis of the family (hey, people, he’s giving a universalistic, philosophical argument for a contingent social formation! hey! hey hey!). I found Mike Davis’ article on the 2008 election to be very good. Davis proceeds by first analyzing the shifts in electoral makeup that allowed Obama to win — some of which were pretty significant — and then tying these into broader socioeconomic trends; this is done somewhat in the light of the thinking of VO Key and Walter Dean Burnham which posits the notion of a “critical election,” an election that represents a fundamental shift in voting behavior. Davis ultimately comes to argue that Obama’s win does not meet such standards, but is significant for other reasons. It’s all nicely done. Most striking of the article, though, was a short section on Obama’s administration as the “Silicon Presidency”:

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.

Categories: Asides.

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