Road to Ruin:
An Interim Report
By Beppe Colli
June 27, 2012
Right from the start - with a title whose tone is dry and pragmatic,
and which aims at its target without losing any time, 'cause we know that
time is running out (it goes without saying that the title of the book
brings us back to those protest folk songs by friends of the people like
Pete Seeger), End This Depression Now! - a user-friendly, though quite
rigorous, book by Paul Krugman, a Noble Prize recipient, published at the
end of April - speaks very clearly (in a way, this book reminded me of
a few recent ones by Italian sociologist Luciano Gallino, for instance
the recently published La lotta di classe dopo la lotta di classe - Class
Struggle After Class Struggle).
But while Krugman's book beams with a
"liberal" spirit and aims at quite a few practical goals, its analytical
instruments and means are those of economy as scientific practice, where
facts are made intelligible by a theoretical empirical framework where hypothesis
A recent #1 in the book chart of UK newspaper
The Guardian, End This Depression Now! was also advertised on public means
of transportation - i.e., buses - in Spain (which, come to think of it,
is far from being surprising, given that country's recent troubles when
it comes to matters of economy and finance). Quite funny to notice that,
media spotlights brightly lighting the stage in the USA and much of Europe,
attention in Italy appears to have been less than I expected - just a few
pieces to alert readers that the book was already available in a translated
version; which is strange, given the fact that Italian readers are quite
familiar with Paul Krugman the New York Times columnist and polemist, his
pieces being translated quite regularly in their country.
So, this is a brand of pragmatism backed
by science. What I recently happened to watch on Italian television was
quite the opposite, politicians who are supposed to take us out of the
doldrums talking in a light tone about things they obviously didn't understand
at all ("Now it's time for phase two", "Now we need a recovery"),
calling Krugman's name to give strength to their thoughts ("It's what
Krugman says", adding "... and he's a Nobel Prize Recipient",
with the same tone of those who say "la Pastiera which my daughter-in-law
cooks is really something else... She's from Naples").
There was also somebody who invited us not
to think too much about bank recapitalization, now that (property tax)
Imu's deadline was approaching ("It's on Monday! And people don't
have any money to pay it!). I smiled, having no doubts whatsoever the young
lady was "one of them", only to get very pale when informed that
the young lady in question was, in fact, "one of us". Well...
Wonder what'll become of us.
Talking in general, the tone of the discussion
is the same it has always been: "New Trends", this time with
an added dose of poor literacy that's really frightening. Old vices appear.
And while a blog about business and economy on The Guardian website gives
us minute-by-minute information about what's happening in Europe and all
over the World, Italian leading newspaper la Repubblica drowns a few items
of information in a sea of "narration" ("The background",
"News item") and self-referential "analysis". While Krugman's
blog on The New York Times website, thanks to those links to his pieces from
the past which make it possible for us to see what he previously wrote on
said matters, gives us the chance to check if his predictions were, indeed,
accurate. (They were.)
had been my opinion that Italian music magazines couldn't get any worse:
my mistake! In a nutshell (the topic being one that doesn't deserve a lot
of attention anyway), I think I can say that while in the past music mags
still appeared to remember what arguing one's point meant, today, "anything
goes", with raw prose making fun of minor things such as logic and
facts. What is supremely strange is that nobody seems to notice that "freedom
to the nth degree" ("I can say what I want, whether it makes
sense or not, without fearing any sanctions") equals "total irrelevancy"
("what I say has no value whatsoever").
It's sad to notice that most of those who
take part in public debates about the state of the economy are also bullshitters
of the first degree. They go on TV, say what they want, and what they say
is irrelevant. Alas!, unfortunately what they say will have very serious
consequences... for us! (Cue: The Salt Of The Earth by The Rolling Stones,
with the late, great Nicky Hopkins sitting on piano).
know how familiar today's readers are with the name Timothy White, even
in the USA. Should I choose just two words to talk about him, I'd say that
"professional reporter" will do. Maybe "mainstream" could
be appropriate too, but I suppose in a USA framework the meaning could be
a bit different.
I got to know Timothy White when his writing
started appearing on Musician magazine, in the early eighties. By that
time he already had a quite rich and prestigious CV, starting with his
contributions to mags such as Crawdaddy! and Rolling Stone (then there
were also books, radio shows, and so on).
In the early nineties I got the news that
Timothy White had been appointed Editor in Chief of (US) Billboard magazine
("the Bible of the music industry"), a weekly I had read for
a few years starting in the mid-seventies (the tiny radio station of which
I was part having decided to start a - quite expensive, but also very valuable
It was at the end of the nineties - I had
a Web connection, at last! - that I finally had the chance to read Music
To My Ears, the weekly column that White used as a platform for his ideas.
Funny thing, his notions of the way things should be didn't necessarily
coincide with those favoured by the music industry - which, by the way,
was the magazine's main advertiser, and source of income! (I'll give readers
a few moments, just to let these facts sink in.)
There were big struggles, such as the "Work
for Hire" amendment, about to pass through Congress, which would have
greatly tipped the balance in favour of record companies and music publishers
- and against artists.
It was only after his death (he was only
fifty, and by the way, today's the tenth anniversary of his passing) that
the scope of White's work in shaping Billboard's identity became apparent
to me ("Quality" and
"Honesty", for once, are not empty words). And after his death
I really understood how appreciated he was by musicians, be they mega-stars
or semi-unknowns. And let's not forget that it was thanks to his determination
that a more truthful means of assessing record sales - the system called
SoundScan - was put in widespread use (hence, the so-called "boom" of
genres such as metal, country, and rap - a boom that maybe pre-dated the
introduction of SoundScan, but that only now became visible).
I hate being rhetorical. I'll only add that,
while "artists are artists", and so they obey very specific rules
(which makes the death of people such as Frank Zappa, Hugh Hopper, and
Hans Reichel a tragedy for us all), fine professionals with a strong ethical
sense like Timothy White have a lot more in common with
"plain folks" like us; and so it could be that, in a very specific
way, their example and work is even more valuable for us all.
© Beppe Colli 2012
| June 27, 2012