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The New Yorker in Mayberry

Snappy Lunch in downtown Mount Airy

It isn’t often that urbane institutions such as the New Yorker find themselves in places like Mount Airy, North Carolina. In the September 12 issue of the New Yorker, George Packer has a must-read piece on how the United States has deteriorated — in almost every way — since the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The article is “Coming Apart: After 9/11 transfixed America, the country’s problems were left to rot.”

This piece is available on the New Yorker’s web site to non-subscribers, here.

This article is not in any way condescending toward Mount Airy. It’s hard to nail down the gist of an article this long and thoughtful, but these two paragraphs come pretty close:

While the media were riveted by the spectacle of celebrity wealth, large areas of the country were—like Surry County—left to rot. The boom had been built on sand: housing speculation, overvalued stocks, reckless deregulation, irresponsible deficits. When the foundation started to crumble with the first wave of mortgage defaults, in 2007, the scale of the destruction became the latest of the decade’s surprises. Hardly anyone foresaw how far the economy would fall; hardly anyone imagined how many people it would take on the way down. Even the economic advisers of the next Administration badly misjudged the crisis. The trillions of dollars spent and, often, misspent on wars and domestic bureaucracies were no longer available to fill the hole left by the implosion of the private economy. Reborn champions of austerity pointed to the deficits in order to make the case that the country couldn’t afford to spend its way back to health. And, like the attacks that were supposed to change everything, the recession—which was given the epithet “Great” and was constantly compared with the Depression of the nineteen-thirties—inspired very little change in economic policy. Without effective leadership, the country blindly reverted to the status quo ante, with the same few people making a lot of money, if a little less than before, and the same people doing badly, if a little worse.

This malignant persistence since September 11th is the biggest surprise of all. In previous decades, sneak attacks, stock-market crashes, and other great crises became hinges on which American history swung in dramatically new directions. But events on the same scale, or nearly so, no longer seem to have that power; moneyed interests may have become too entrenched, élites too self-seeking, institutions too feeble, and the public too polarized and passive for the country to be shocked into fundamental change.

One Comment

  1. Rene wrote:

    I looked over the article briefly and did not to see any mention of the concept of disaster capitalism. It may be that years ago the politicians actually tried fix the problems while now they use problems as an excuse to push through agendas that are not truly in support of the masses.

    The link below is to a short of Naomi Klein explaining her concept of disaster capitalism:


    Sunday, September 18, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

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