Tuesday, September 23rd, 2008

The Audacity Of Despair, Or Homeless Again

“The 90s may have spoiled us, b!”

That was the great Joan Morgan, in one of a million conversations this past weekend about the economy.

Things done changed since the Cristal-sipping days, back when artists routinely dropped a milli on their videos. But now all of the chickens have come home to roost.

In the late 90s, the dealings in Lower Manhattan partly help make the hip-hop bubble possible. People were making money off making money. And hip-hop made them look good. We made it so that even if you weren’t hip-hop, you could go down to Soho—yes, Soho—and buy in.

This past weekend, the one after our economy collapsed, it was clear on the hard cobblestone streets of Soho that our days of dancing for dollars were over. In just the past year, Phat Farm and Stussy’s flagship stores have shuttered. Bape, Supreme, and Union’s traffic are mostly European and Asian tourists. Even Clientele’s clientele is thin these days. Adidas stays in the game by discounting its limited edition shoes and shifting most of its floor space to clothing.

What did they used to say? When America coughs, urban America is in the sickbed. America is long past coughing at this point.

Now the dealings in War-shington could define a whole new era, or lead us back to 1973.

On Sunday, as his old company Goldman Sachs looked like it was ready to leap off the precipice, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson went on the morning shows to propose himself as the Monarch of the Economy and to have Congress approve the idea by the end of the week.

When deregulation is your mantra, democracy—the people—cannot be trusted to regulate the market. So Paulson claimed decision-making power above the review of the court or other agencies—”greater powers (over the economy),” according to one finance industry insider, “than even the President enjoys.”

When trickle-down is your economic theory, corporations are the only individuals worth rehabilitating. So Paulson proposed a Troubled Asset Relief Program—TARP, as its called—to use $700 billion or more of your money to purchase nearly worthless assets from some of the biggest corporate debt abusers.

There is a hip-hop analogy here: in the Bronx in the ’70s, slumlords bought up apartment buildings, then hired arsonists to burn them down so that they could pocket the insurance money. Who was left homeless? Not the slumlords.

With the TARP in place, Paulson and his friends can leave their posts at the end of the year and return to a still-bottoming Wall Street that grazes on lucrative funds from War-shington as real folk continue to lose their homes. Critics call this process nationalizing the risk and debt while privatizing the profit.

Talk about the Audacity of Despair.

That’s why finance industry lobbyists are licking their chops over Paulson’s proposal. Some news reports suggest that this particular bailout plan was sitting on the shelf for the right moment. Conspiracy theory, anyone?

Conspiracy or not, there are shades here of the Shock Doctrine—Naomi Klein’s name for the strategy of free-marketeers and their governments to use catastrophes as opportunities to lay waste to countries while creating secure economic, social, and political Green Zones for the rich. What happens in Baghdad—and Santiago and Buenos Aires and Jakarta and…—eventually comes home to New York and War-shington.

Paulson’s TARP proposal locks into place the same lack of accountability and transparency that came to define the Patriot Act, the Iraq War Resolution, pro-torture policy, and more for the entire funny-money economy.

And where was W. in all of this, our fair President? After speaking on the economy for short minutes this past weekend, he presumably retired to the West Wing to continue putting together his favorite things for his Presidential Library.

Yesterday, he sent Cheney out on his first Congressional mission since the Iraq War Resolution. He rewrote a speech to the UN yesterday to reassure the world.
Goodnight Bush, indeed.

I said it a while ago and I stand by it: W. is our generation’s Herbert Hoover, the Republican president who led us into the Great Depression. We are now staring down into our own economic depths. The bankers want to make sure it won’t be them leaping out of the buildings this time.

But if Paulson’s deal is so good to Wall Street, why is the market still plunging? The spin is that markets are now reacting to instability in War-shington. There may be a better explanation.

Over the past decade, corporate hucksters sold a fantasy of pure profit, from Enron through Lehman—one that hip-hop all too often bought in our desire to identify with those large and in charge. But markets cannot function for long on a foundation of obscure financial instruments, accounting shell-games, and corporate lies.

The markets come back down to the people, and perhaps the people are now finding the word now to sum up their judgment.


posted by @ 7:49 pm | 6 Comments

6 Responses to “The Audacity Of Despair, Or Homeless Again”

  1. The Nightshift Chronicler says:

    I think it’s interesting that you reference retailers that are closing down because it would be interested to see you carry this argument a step further and explore the retail phenomenon in hip-hop because last time I checked it was not one of the five elements, but was what helped it have such a profound impact over the last thirty years. Rappers have had access to capital unlike any other generation of black musicians, and the extent to which rap impresarios from Russell, to Diddy to Hova have been able to carry over their brand beyond music has been fascinating. It’s also fascinating consider the struggles rappers in other markets have had in establishing similar brand reach–even if like Ice Cube they’ve managed to have successful film careers, or like Snoop become iconic in their own new millenial way.

    That said, it’s not market areas like Soho where the hip-hop capitalism’s demise is going to be really felt, but places like the Colosseum Mall in Jamaica Queens, Fulton Mall in Brooklyn where retailers who’ve feasted on selling Phat Farm, RocaWear and Nike Dunks to kids and families unlikely to travel to Soho or Delancey Street will be adversely affected. Strikingly, and this is where I think Klein’s point reemerges, these shop-owners will likely be rescued by the same corporations that at one time they were hoping to keep out. In a sense we are running the risk of Fulton Mall and 165th Street looking a lot like the now mallified Soho, similar to how Klein paints overlaps between the Halliburton-led architecture of post-Katrina New Orleas and post-Saddam Iraq.

    Having always been more of veuve clicquot man myself, I will not pity the passing of the cristal era.

  2. Anonymous says:

    for someone from the west coast, you are amazingly bronx focused. where are your ideas pertaining to oakland and berkeley? sf? sacramento?

    what was this about? seriously. either you are a writer beyond my comprehension. or, i am dumb. both could be true. but i dont understand the point of this story.

    is this for hiphop people?

    black people?


    hard left white people?

    i seriously dont know.

  3. Anonymous says:

    i dont get this either. are we supposed to shed a tear for the alleged demise of hip-hop capitalism? if so, didn't it die before this? i thought hip-hop capitalism was Dapper Dan knocking off Gucci and Louie for Eric B. & Rakim. and artists never dropped $1m in videos; labels did. but mtv doesnt even play music anymore, and labels are all about layoffs and ringtones, so what's the point? is there a clear thesis here? hmm. so, did stussy ever have a predominantly-black clientele? last time i checked, sean stussy started as a SoCal surf rat. he's big in japan, and among japanese tourists, but i wouldnt exactly call him a hip-hop designer like marc ecko, karl kani, or PNB. so is this an economic analysis or a social analysis? and what, precisely, is so hip-hop about what you're saying? if we're no longer dancing for dollars, why all the strip club anthems? honestly, this looks more like a huffington post throw-up than something targeted toward the vibe reader. unless the vibe reader is no longer a person of color.
    signed, anonymous2

  4. Zentronix says:

    How I love blowing up false psychographics.

    But to you Anonymites, I feel your pain. Kinda. OK, not really.

    Anonymous1, please read a book. Or two. There’s this one called “The Shock Doctrine.” And there’s this one called “Can’t Stop…

    Anonymous2, look, all I was saying is if hip-hop in the 90s went from crashing the party to suddenly being invited to it, that party is now over. That’s it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    “all I was saying is if hip-hop in the 90s went from crashing the party to suddenly being invited to it, that party is now over. That’s it.”

    ok, so why didnt you just say that the first time? were we supposed to just “get it” automatically by osmosis or something? …if it needs clarification, it probably wasnt that clear in the first place. jes sayn’…

    and was hip hop as a whole invited to the party, as you imply, or just Diddy? did Pookie from the block ever kick it in the Hamptons? the majority of “hip-hop” never sipped cristal, maybe patron (lol).

    and are SoHo retailers really the best (and only) economic indicator of hip-hop’s health? similarly, is NYC–actually Manhattan–the only area that can be looked at in regards to this? how’s the retail market down south? in the midwest? the westcoast? given that the hip-hop world hasnt revolved around NYC since the late 90s, i think it’s a fair question to ask…

    and why is this significant, anyway? if the entire country is in a recession, isnt the party over for a lot of folks, not just hip-hoppers?

    at least for me, the problem here is that you mention hip-hop capitalism but you dont define it at all. so it’s unclear what you’re referring to in subsequent mentions. not trying to call you out or make this into a major piss-fest, i just didnt understand what you were talking about whatsoever, and i’m a fairly literate dude. loved your book by the way, but that analogy seemed like a reach…

    i agree with the nightshift chronicler’s take. he makes valid points and gives clear examples of what he means. he seems to understand what the big picture ramifications of this current economic crisis are on urban retail.

    show us, jeff, don’t just tell us.

    anonymous deux (that’s me being pretentious).

  6. Zentronix says:

    OK…so now I finally get where you’re coming from, Anonymite 2, and why you’ve been hanging around here like syphilis.

    And the best thing is that I know how to help you too.

    My advice is this: If you want to develop your chops as an editor, because you apparently really really want to be one, you can start by setting up your own blog and working on your own writing.

    A blog is a place where ideas get worked out, where you can make new friends, savage the writing of people you hate, and be yourself savaged by generous people you don’t even know.

    You might get to a place where someone will hire you for your skills. You might pay your dues–or maybe you’ll leapfrog ahead because you’ve got such personality and an eye for poor metaphors, and because you possess such an eclectic body of knowledge.

    (Sorry for the run-on sentences. I get excited about things sometimes.)

    In the meantime, thanks for the interest, but I have my hands full with editors already. If there is an opening, I will try to let you know.

    That is, if you ever care to identify yourself.

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