WFMU's blog pointed out that today is the thirtieth anniversary of Jimmy Carter's "Crisis Of Confidence" speech. I link to it so people can read it, but I don't have much comment on it. I'm halfway through watching Robert Altman's Tanner '88, and thinking about the way politics have changed: Eight years of the worst president the country ever had makes a lot of things seem somewhere between being quaint and being foreign. Even now, immediately on the other side, talking about the Bush presidency seems like both of those things. (A friend also bought a copy of the issue of The Believer with John Kerry taking up the whole of the cover, as messiah: So strange!)
And I woke up this morning thinking about the economy, and the way that, in some way, the existence of the internet is to blame for its collapse: The free content has done damage to the print industry, and the music industry, places for artists, our best and brightest. But there's also the way e-mail has replaced the post office, and probably led to the cutback of a great many federal employees.
Moreover, the whole concept of the internet as a place for content, for free, is a parallel to the actual downfall of the economy: A world where credit is more plentiful than actual capital ends up devaluing money, with nothing to back that credit up. Meanwhile, internet businesses subsist on advertising, in an infinite loop that probably does not lead to actual purchasing: But that's fine, the people writing for the internet aren't really getting paid, except for the exposure, designed to get them paying jobs in print, which the bottom is falling out of. "Credit" in terms of money ends up equal to "credit" in terms of recognition, and both end up being hollow when there's no actual monetary compensation.
I apologize for the fact that I didn't do any research to write this post, and am going to speak in a language of simplified abstractions because of that.
The internet devalues other things besides money: Like ideas. And sex. Personal interaction. Spirituality, probably: It seems like that would follow a general coarseness brought about by the rest.
But of course, the genie can't be put back in the bottle, pandora's box can't be closed, and Obama can't say: "Here is my new economic stimulus plan: The internet will no longer work, forcing everyone back into situations where things have material form and value, and the exchange and trade of content will create an economy no longer built around abstractions." (If I were seriously advocating this, I would also have to acknowledge the problem in the plan of the cost of material and distribution taking a toll on the environment.) But in such a situation, it seems the main place jobs would be lost would be the place that jobs seem to be growing right now: Those technicians building the infrastructure of the internet, working out ways for more effective image searches and whatnot, which strikes me as a field with a narrower worker base than that of content producers. But more importantly is that there's been no large-scale WPA to work on the infrastructure of the material world, where there should be an even broader pool of people to select workers from.
In this abstract computer landscape, there's an ever-shrinking elite left with a desirable skill-set: Soon only mathematicians, dealing in abstraction, will be able to get at the real money.