Sunday, May 9, 2010

income and expenditures

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery." - David Copperfield
by Charles Dickens

(Achtung FTC! That was an Amazon Associate link!)

Greetings, gentle readers. I'm 2/2 now: TWO recommendations in TWO days!

Today's recommendation is the chilling Maxed Out: Hard Times in the Age of Easy Credit
by James D. Scurlock. (ACHTUNG! Amazon link! FTC must be appeased!)

It's got everything a good horror novel should have: evil villains, a powerful system, terrifying things that happen to good people, the potential for sequels.

Unfortunately, as Orson Welles would say, It's All True. It's not fiction. I saw Maxed Out (the documentary) a few years ago and found it relentless and kind of alarmist: to pile all this information into a 90 minute movie is, honestly, a bit too much, and something some people would dismiss as manipulated or agenda-driven. After all, documentaries that are, like, angry about stuff are totally always fake like that Michael Moore dude, right? Excuse me while I smash my head into the keyboard.


Maxed Out (the book), on the other hand, is a different matter. On the one hand, you can close it and take a few breaths before returning. You can't deny print, or at least, it's harder to. While Scurlock had never written a book before, he has a unique and honest authorial voice that accounts for his own privilege and still manages to objectively assess the people he describes: this isn't' as black and white as victims and perpetrators, and he knows it. I think the book is better suited to this because this medium allows him to account at length for his opinion.

Maxed Out is a blood-boiling indictment of the debt system in America, and how it is destroying lives. It doesn't resort to the self-deterministic rhetoric of other books about finance (the ones that insist that anyone who can't afford the basics is just a glutton). What the book accomplishes more successfully than the documentary is an examination of the larger system: the changing American economy (and not just in the past two years or so, when it got really trendy to use the atrocious grammatical construction "in this economy"), the culture, the rapacious capitalism that preys upon the underclasses, yet requires them in order to keep the wealthy rich.

Maxed Out (best purchased used or gotten from the library, though naturally if you can afford it I'd love you forever if you purchased from my Amazon link) will recenter this crisis in your thinking. It will make you angry and bitter and maybe even depressed, but hopefully it will arm you with knowledge so that you can extract yourself from this system, or at least participate with your eyes more open.

Here are some recent and interesting blog posts related to the subject of the long decline in American prosperity:

Academia and the decline of wealth in America
Academia isn't broken. We are.



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