Economic journalist Doug Henwood, editor of the New York-based Left Business Observer and a contributing editor to The Nation, caused waves with his 1997 book Wall Street: How It Works and For Whom. He dissected the world’s greatest financial centre, exploring the disparity between Wall Street’s enormous power and how little it contributes to the real economy where goods are produced and jobs created.
In his new book, After the New Economy, Henwood addresses the 1990s boom, when a technological revolution was supposed to have given rise to a new era of productivity. What made him write the book?
‘I got the idea during the heat of the New Economy mania’, says Henwood. ‘I couldn’t believe serious people were taking it seriously. Stock touts, sure, but I kept hearing people who should have known better going on deliriously about postmateriality. I could not believe some of the entities - in New York alone, Pseudo.com and Kozmo.com come to mind - that got IPO and venture financing. Semioticians fresh out of Brown were getting web design jobs.
‘I knew it was a bubble of truly historical proportions, but it wasn’t an easy moment to be a skeptic. Alas, for a variety of personal and professional reasons, I didn’t get the book done until after the bubble burst - which means I don’t get any points for being a prophet. But then after it burst, normal American amnesia combined with Bush’s Fifty Year war made any serious consideration of the boom nearly impossible. And not only analysis of the boom, but of the longer-term features of US politics and culture - like financial recklessness, techno-utopianism, and our penchant for unreflective optimism - that fed it.
‘I’m quite a technophile myself. I abhor the neo-primitivism popular among some critics of economic orthodoxy. But I think the USA is too obsessed with quantity and not enough with quality. We have near-Third World levels of poverty jammed right next to luxury - one of the richest neighbourhoods in the USA, the Upper East Side of Manhattan, is right next to one of the poorest, East Harlem. Growth doesn’t solve problems like that, and can make them worse. We need better and smarter, not more. Which isn’t to say I’m against more - it’s just not our most urgent priority.