In the adjustment period between Finland and Hanoi with a couple days in Paris between I somehow missed this post by Megan McArdle calling all of our attention to this superb bit of rhetoric by Daniel Davies:
It’s therefore an important point to be made, to our own population and to the world’s watching media, that Nick Griffin isn’t in fact a newly popular and influential political figure; he’s a widely reviled creep who not only doesn’t lead a phalanx of jackbooted supporters, but actually can’t even set up for a TV interview without being pelted with eggs. The voice of the British populace does not shout “Hail Griffin!”, it shouts, “Oi Fatty, cop this! [splat]”.
Not only was I unaware that the head of the British National Party had been egged; had I been so aware, before reading this post, I probably would have found said egging a bit tedious and most likely counterproductive. After reading the post, I am a gung-ho member of the pro-egging faction. How often is it that one reads something that actually changes one’s mind? What worries me however is that while Davies’s argument may in itself be sound, the reason I changed my mind was rather because I was too busy laughing at the words “Cracking shot, sir!” and “Oi Fatty, cop this!” to disagree. I have a feeling that I might be persuaded to back the economic policies of Eva Peron or Ron Paul if they were expressed in the language of a really good Eric Idle skit.
I think the answer to Matthew Yglesias’s question of where the relentless increase in government-subsidized auto industry overcapacity will end might lie in C. Wright Mills’s vision of the ultimate non-alienated society where everyone builds his own car.
It’s generally awesome, but I do have the sense that DeLong is unfair in his trashing of Marx’s idea of commodity fetishism. He derides Marx’s claim that a commodity is a “mysterious thing” because in it “the social character of men’s labour appears to them as an objective character stamped upon the product.” Nobody, DeLong says, thinks this way; “Nobody I talk to believes that ‘values’ are objective quantities inherent in goods by virtue of the time it took to produce them.” But it seems to me that this is sort of Marx’s point: nobody does think that way. Instead we imagine the commodities to just exist in pure exchange relation to each other, paying no attention to the social web of activity that brings them into existence for exchange and use, which is the real human story. Basically Marx is taking a humanist stance here and trying to posit that the really compelling thing we ought to be looking at in our little fleeting lives here on earth is human beings and how they spend their time with each other, rather than the things they are employed to make. And I think at some basic moral and aesthetic level, that’s true. The problem, as DeLong says, is that the labor theory of value is completely useless as an economic yardstick, and leads one off into absurdity. And DeLong is also right to find here the roots of Marx’s sense that markets are fundamentally tools of unfreedom rather than of freedom, with all the needless suffering and poverty that misconception would entail through the next century-plus. But I still think the insight of “commodity fetishism” is a powerful one and that Marx’s move, of disassembling people’s reified sense of the naturalness of commodities and their worth, is a powerful one that often comes in handy.