Discussion Thread: Alex Pareene, 'Consolation Prizes'

In general, individual articles aren’t a great place to start with for a discussion thread. With that said, I can’t stop thinking about Alex Pareene’s recent Baffler article and think that it would be great to get more eyes on it and to discuss the article, which is wide-ranging and fascinating.


To put a summary on it, Pareene discusses the rightist talking point “that Americans have grown ungrateful for all the bounty capitalism has bestowed on them […] Look how great you have it. Don’t you know there are people starving in Venezuela?” (emphasis original) – the notion that consumer goods should outweigh income inequality in how people see the world.

Pareene finds room to critique this argument working from, by and large, conservative sources such as think-tank reports, turning them back on themselves and finding the fissures that rightists overlook to make idealistic cases for their preferred economic models.

Here’s a quote or two that appealed to me:

There is a rich socialist history of predicting (and celebrating) the end of work, but those celebrations usually involve the material needs of the nonworkers still being met. The libertarian version of that utopia, as far as I can tell, assumes you can enjoy self-driving pizza cars without worrying about paying rent because you, like the author, happen to have a sinecure at a pro-market think tank.

The disrupted vision of the end of work, in other words, is simply underemployment, mitigated by the escapist pleasure of eating pizza in front a $150, forty-inch TV. But if that’s all the future economy has to offer millions of Americans, shouldn’t the pizza and TV suck a bit less?

Indeed, you can see a whole generation of misguided economic policy in the economics profession’s failure to account for the social and psychological context of consumer spending. People don’t necessarily revolt when things are bad, but they might when things aren’t getting better, or are getting demonstrably worse. That failure—the presumption that people would settle for LCD TVs as a new generation of robber barons shot cars into space because they couldn’t figure out what else to do with the staggering amount of money they have—has been a hugely consequential one.

It’s a great diagnostic to help us understand and think about how the powerful on the right feel and act on the economic case. It isn’t a total account – but I think it breaks these issues down into an accessible and intuitive style.

I’d be curious to see what folks made of it, whether points worth highlighting or lines of argument that folks would like to discuss further.


Alex’s articles for Splinter and OG Gawker were always thoughtful. Good to know they’re still fighting the good fight.

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