The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘economics’

This Picnic Is Over, and Other News

July 20, 2016 | by

Photo: Barry Haynes. Image via Hyperallergic/Wikipedia.

  • Today in wild new frontiers for the humanities: in a new book, the German sociologist Jens Beckert uses literary theory to explain economics. “Rarely do scholars explore the role of imagination in economic life systematically,” Brooke Harrington explains. “In a realm dominated by economic and financial scholarship that aspires to be ‘scientific,’ fantasy and creativity in envisioning the future are often ignored; they don’t fit well into a model of research whose aim is to reduce unknowns and to eliminate surprises as much as possible … Imagined Futures: Fictional Expectations and Capitalist Dynamics, makes a thorough, exhaustively documented argument in support of what many have suspected about capitalism: It’s a castle in the air, built on fantasy shading into fraud. He makes a compelling case that no corner of the market is untouched by the process of generating imagined futures. The novelty of his work lies in offering a way to understand that process as a social system in which everyone, from individuals to institutions, is implicated.”
  • At The Paris Review, we pride ourselves on knowing a thing or two about the art of the interview. But I’m willing to admit when we’re licked. And Robin Leach—of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous fame—may well have licked us. He told a classroom recently, “The one piece of advice I would give you students about the art of interviewing is to listen. There is a joke about a television newscaster who asked all of her questions from a blue card that was prepared by or for her. So instead of listening to the answer to the question she asked, she would busy looking at the next question in order to ask it. I never go into an interview with questions on cards. It is a conversation, designed to elicit information, and you get information only by listening. The follow-up question is more important than the original question. And there is nothing better than eliciting a response by remaining silent.”

Literature in Castro’s Cuba

July 11, 2016 | by

Lockwood on the baseball field with Castro, 1964. © 2016 Lee Lockwood/TASCHEN.

Late in 1959, the photojournalist Lee Lockwood flew to Cuba to witness the end of Batista’s regime. After a long search, he found Fidel Castro, who had only just seized power. The two had an immediate rapport, and in successive trips over the next decade, Lockwood found that Castro granted him unprecedented access to the island; in 1965, he sat for a marathon seven-day interview. First published in 1967, Lockwood’s portrait of Castro stands as arguably the most penetrating document that exists of the man. Lockwood died in 2010; this month, in light of the new course in U.S. relations with Cuba and the paucity of historical context, Taschen is reissuing his interviews in Castro’s Cuba: An American Journalist’s Inside Look at Cuba 1959–1969, including hundreds of photographs, many of them previously unpublished. The excerpt below covers Castro’s opinions on literature, arts, and culture in Cuba.   


Is there any attempt to exert control over the production of art in Cuba? For example, in literature?


All manifestations of art have different characteristics. For example, movies are different from painting. Movies are a modern industry requiring a lot of resources. It is not the same thing to make a film as it is to paint a picture or write a book. But if you ask whether there is control—no. Read More »

Planned Obsolescence

October 7, 2014 | by

900304-05-02, Licht en lampen, Argenta, Etalagereclame met trans

An ad from the Philips company archives.

Is Byron in for a rude awakening! There is already an organization, a human one, known as “Phoebus,” the international light-bulb cartel, headquartered in Switzerland. Run pretty much by International GE, Osram, and Associated Electrical Industries of Britain, which are in turn owned 100%, 29% and 46%, respectively, by the General Electric Company in America. Phoebus fixes the prices and determines the operational lives of all the bulbs in the world, from Brazil to Japan to Holland (although Philips in Holland is the mad dog of the cartel, apt at any time to cut loose and sow disaster throughout the great Combi-nation). Given this state of general repression, there seems no place for a newborn Baby Bulb to start but at the bottom.

But Phoebus doesn’t know yet that Byron is immortal …

—Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

I can remember reading Gravity’s Rainbow and marveling at the imagination on display in the famous “Byron the Bulb” section, in which a very chipper, eternally burning lightbulb (yes, that’s our Byron) finds himself in the crosshairs of Phoebus, a nefarious lightbulb cartel intent on controlling the life span of every bulb in the world.

At the time, I assumed without a second thought that Phoebus was a work of fiction—and why wouldn’t it be? The cartel was mentioned, after all, in basically the same breath as an all-girl opium den, “dildos rigged to pump floods of paregoric orgasm to the cap-illaries [sic] of the womb,” and, yes, a talking lightbulb.

Markus Krajewski, a media studies professor, was less skeptical: “I knew that Pynchon’s prose style mixes fact and fiction, and so I wondered: Could this be true?”

It was, his research revealed. Well, it kind of was—the Phoebus cartel really did exist, and it perpetrated what can only be called the “Great Lightbulb Conspiracy.” Appropriately enough, IEEE Spectrum—a trade magazine edited by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers—has Krajewki’s story: Read More »


This Old Phallus Tree, and Other News

August 4, 2014 | by


A nun picks ripened penises from a phallus tree in the Roman de la Rose, ca. 1325–53. Image via Collectors Weekly


The Actual Return Upon Taxable and Tax-Exempt Securities

March 7, 2014 | by

It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific prose available in the public domain. Tonight’s prescription: “The Actual Return Upon Taxable and Tax-Exempt Securities,” first published in the War Taxation: Some Comments and Letters, in 1917.


Wilhelm Schumann, The Sleeping Embroiderer, 1838.

Dear Sir:

Your letter indicates that you do not sufficiently realize the enormous advantage in interest yield which under the income tax schedule as fixed in the House Bill is possessed by tax-exempt securities as compared to taxable securities, especially, of course, in respect of large incomes.

Permit me to call your attention to the following eloquent facts:

The yield of tax-exempt securities at prevailing prices ranges from 3-1/2% to nearly 4-1/2%. Under the rates fixed in the War Revenue Bill as it passed the House of Representatives, a taxable 6% investment would yield:



per annum


 on incomes over


























Read More »



February 3, 2014 | by

On Holland’s legendary tulip bubble, which burst today in 1637.


Detail from Jan Brueghel the Younger’s Satire on Tulip Mania, 1640

When economists need to summon an age of unchecked speculation and financial fecklessness—usually as an analog to our own—the Dutch tulip mania is at the top of the list. If you’re not familiar with the story, it’s an early and especially hysterical example of the vagaries of the stock market: In the mid-1630s, the Dutch fell rapturously in love with tulips, whose vivid petals made them the envy of every Hendrik and Veerle in the neighborhood. The flower became a status symbol, and the Dutch were all but tripping over one another’s clogs in a race to conspicuously consume. To satisfy burgeoning demand, speculators began to trade in what were essentially tulip futures; these grew outlandishly complicated and expensive, and on the third of February, 1637, the tulip market collapsed.

The Scottish journalist Charles Mackay gave currency to the incident. He offers a trenchant, if dubious, account of the whole debacle in his 1841 book, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds, which takes, as its title suggests, a pretty dim view of group dynamics. In his chapter on “the tulipomania,” Mackay presents a cautionary tale rife with tulip jobbers, tulip marts, tulip notaries, and tulip parties:

The demand for tulips of a rare species increased so much in the year 1636, that regular marts for their sale were established on the Stock Exchange of Amsterdam, in Rotterdam, Harlaem, Leyden, Alkmar, Hoorn, and other towns … The tulip-jobbers speculated in the rise and fall of the tulip stocks, and made large profits by buying when prices fell, and selling out when they rose. Many individuals grew suddenly rich. A golden bait hung temptingly out before the people, and one after the other, they rushed to the tulip-marts, like flies around a honey-pot … Nobles, citizens, farmers, mechanics, sea-men, footmen, maid-servants, even chimney-sweeps and old clothes-women, dabbled in tulips. People of all grades converted their property into cash, and invested it in flowers. Houses and lands were offered for sale at ruinously low prices, or assigned in payment of bargains made at the tulip-mart … In the smaller towns, where there was no exchange, the principal tavern was usually selected as the “show-place,” where high and low traded in tulips, and confirmed their bargains over sumptuous entertainments. These dinners were sometimes attended by two or three hundred persons, and large vases of tulips, in full bloom, were placed at regular intervals upon the tables and sideboards for their gratification during the repast. Read More »