Selling the free market


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Selling the free market

  1. 1. Selling the Free Market: The Rhetoric of Economic CorrectnessHouck, Davis W.Rhetoric & Public Affairs, Volume 5, Number 1, Spring 2002, pp.182-186 (Review)Published by Michigan State University PressDOI: 10.1353/rap.2002.0009 For additional information about this article Access Provided by Harvard University at 06/11/11 11:08PM GMT
  2. 2. 182 RHETORIC & PUBLIC AFFAIRSfiction. The authors claim that Carson’s successful adaptation of elements from thescience fiction progress narrative suggests that “the conversion of science to pur-poses of human action may depend upon translation into a generally comprehen-sible narrative framework and absorption into the mythology of the citizen expert”(197). Linda Lear provides an interesting conclusion with her discussion of the impactof Carson’s image. Lear attempts to dispel myths regarding Carson’s persona as aremote but heroic reformer. In contrast, Lear offers the image of Carson as “a moreheroic, far richer and more passionate woman than the world has thus embraced”who can act as a model for “new ways to take risks . . . [and] build community”(218). The delightfully well-written essays in this volume contribute much to rhetori-cal scholarship and our undernourished understanding of this important text. Eachprovides an insightful analysis with well-argued and appropriate conclusions.Although diverse, the volume follows a consistent logical progression as it movesfrom traditional to newer critical approaches and from a contextual to a textual toan intertextual focus. An addition that would strengthen its consistency consider-ably but which is disappointingly absent from the volume is a discussion of the sim-ilarities between the chapters. For example, a few essays identify the war metaphorand the progress narrative as particularly forceful rhetorical elements. Identifyingconnections between assessments regarding such tactics yields larger conclusionsthat highlight the rhetorical importance of these essays. I believe that such a dis-cussion by Waddell in the introductory chapter would have greatly strengthened thetext. Despite this shortcoming, And No Birds Sing succeeds gracefully in carving awell-deserved space for Silent Spring in rhetorical scholarship.Caitlin Mara Wills University of GeorgiaSelling the Free Market: The Rhetoric of Economic Correctness. By James Arnt Aune. New York: Guilford Press, 2001; pp. xiv + 215. $23.95. At one point in his highly informative and often entertaining book, Jim Aune hasthis to say about rhetorical criticism: its purpose “is to identify the contradictions inan ideology and thus show opponents of that ideology effective ways to target argu-ments” (121–22). “Targeting” arguments is fun for the carni-scholar hanging out atthe county fair with time to kill and a thing for stuffed animals. But this same actseems only very preliminary to advocating social change premised on social justice. Jim Aune is no carni-scholar. He has better things to do than mindlessly pick offslow-moving and often wildly conspicuous targets of libertarian free marketeers—or even to “show” the Left how to do rhetorical criticism. And he proves that in his
  3. 3. BOOK REVIEWS 183important book Selling the Free Market. Despite his purpose statement aboutrhetorical criticism, it’s clear that Aune isn’t in this game for stuffed toys or for loudmidway kudos from the carni-barkers; no, as a father of two boys with autism (afact he makes clear for the reader), he worries about what his/their/our world willlook like should free market rhetoric continue to win the day. Aune is both an optimist and a pessimist, and this ambivalence functions occa-sionally to detract from the arguments that he’s trying to make. At the close of thebook, for example, Aune concludes with the rhetorical good news: that libertariansgenerally are “inherently incapable of motivating the public,” and that the disciplesof Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, Milton Friedman, and Richard Posnerspecifically “possess an inherent inability to persuade a democratic public” (170).Leaving aside the vexing matters of whether someone can possess an “inability” andthe bell curve-ish biologism of inherency, the reader is left with that all-importantof question of: why bother? If Aune’s characterizations of the libertarians and theirthoroughgoing rhetorical ineptness is accurate, what’s the point, then, of writing anentire book about their rhetorical practices? Why “target” libertarian arguments ifthey have no audience? Aune almost talks himself out of a book project, and thatwould be too bad because he has a great deal of note to say—about rhetoric, abouteconomics, and about their common points of intersection in our sociopoliticalpresent and future. There’s a certain pleasurable thickness about reading Aune’s book; it’s not athickness synonymous with the ponderous prose that typifies so much academicwriting (and that results in what he terms “a radical slowing down”) but perhaps aGeertzian thickness of description and explanation. Whether it’s U.S. legal history,the intricacies of Austrian economics, the vagaries of Kenneth Burke and Karl Marx,or popular culture, the reader comes away from Aune’s work having really learnedsomething in its complexity. And even though Aune writes unapologetically fromthe left to left-center, he’s just as tough on his allies as he is on his enemies. Even-handedness rather than shrill partisanship characterizes Aune’s characterizations. Selling the Free Market is organized into three sections—–Rhetoric, Economicsand the Problems of Method; What Libertarians Want; and The Struggle overReagan’s Free-Market Legacy—–seven chapters and an introduction and conclu-sion. Aune also includes a helpful appendix on the work of transgendered econo-mist Deirdre McCloskey who, when she was Donald, began the “conversation”among economists about the rhetorical turn. While McCloskey’s beef with the eco-nomics discipline (and Aune is right: that beef is largely confined to the “blackboardworld” of the academic economist) was largely about epistemology generally andscientism specifically, Aune’s concerns are with policy. Aune begins by framing the battle over economic policy as fundamentally a battleof rhetorical skills—and who will carry the day with the public. Much of the Right’ssuccess to date stems from “the left’s ineptness at communication and persuasion” (6).
  4. 4. 184 RHETORIC & PUBLIC AFFAIRSWith effective public relations and a large bank account the Right has been winningthe game of public opinion. Part of Aune’s mission is to change that, not by freezingbank assets but by debunking arguments. In his first chapter, for example—“The Rhetoric-Economics Connection”—Aunetakes on the rhetorical appeal of rational choice, the master metaphor of economics.Not only do rational choice advocates employ the formal appeal of the good story,but their theorizing relies on two-variable analyses. This latter trick—a favorite ofmy undergraduate microeconomics professor—invokes the rhetorical abracadabraof “ceteris paribus,” or, for non-Latin speakers, “everything else being equal.” In otherwords, we can quantify utility levels by comparing only two things and holdingeverything else constant. It’s a neat trick, can be elegantly diagramed on an x-ygraph, and can be made to look exceedingly rational. There’s only one problem, andAune is right on the money: wealth maximization has little to do with social norms.Instead, for rational choice theorists, wealth maximization is the social norm—theonly “rational” choice to make. In making this observation, Aune taps into a funda-mental habit of thought of the rational choice crowd: who needs “mere” rhetoricwhen you’ve got two measurable variables, a graph, a bit of calculus, and ceterisparibus? What’s so ironic about this view is that the brothers and sisters of the rationalchoice theorists in the law-and-economics camp prefer to employ what Aune callsthe realist style. Two-variable graphic analysis is anything but realistic, but don’t tellthat to Richard Posner, federal judge and high priest of the law-and-economicsmovement. As Aune describes in chapter 2, “Economic Rhetoric and the RealistStyle,” the polymath Posner should probably stick to law rather than rhetorical the-ory. Rhetoricians in need of a stiff jolt of antirhetoric rhetoric should consult thejudge’s essay, “Rhetoric, Legal Advocacy, and Legal Reasoning” in Overcoming Law.Rhetoric should stick to surfaces; let rationality and science do the deep work of legaland economic analysis. Aune concludes Part I by nailing the rationalists where ithurts: theirs is decidedly an undemocratic world, where choice, norms, and debateare the negative externalities associated with that messy thing called democracy. In the middle sections of the text, Aune analyzes several genres of work from thelibertarian elite: two speeches from Ayn (rhymes with “mine” as Aune reminds us)Rand’s novel Atlas Shrugged, Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia, and thememoirs of Murray Rothbard and Charles Murray (of The Bell Curve infamy). Aunedoes some of his best rhetorical criticism in working through the implications of adisembodied rhetoric in Atlas Shrugged and how it functions as a “remarkably total-itarian” text in which the reader’s response is carefully controlled from beginning toend—a remarkable accomplishment for a novel that runs on for more than 1,000pages. Readers will also find titillation in Aune’s biosexual-rhetorico reading ofRand the sometimes randy author. More austere is his reading of Nozick where,borrowing from Chaim Perelman’s work, Aune shows his reader how Anarchy, State,
  5. 5. BOOK REVIEWS 185and Utopia functions rhetorically as a decidedly antirhetorical text—a theme thatthe reader is now getting used to within the libertarian universe. Less cogent asrhetorical criticism are Aune’s analyses of two libertarian manifestos, Rothbard’sFor a New Liberty and Murray’s What It Means to Be a Libertarian. What appears atfirst blush to be an interrogation into generic form quickly turns into a thematiccritique of libertarianism pushed to its logical limits (Rothbard’s) and a more avun-cular, but still “chilling,” version (Murray’s). Regarding this latter version, Auneclaims that he “has shown how a libertarian rhetoric can appeal to multiple con-stituencies—old-fashioned racists, the digitally literate, business people, militiamembers, intellectuals” (117). Aune hasn’t shown this; he’s asserted it. In so assert-ing, he has not systematically worked through Murray’s polyvalent rhetorical prac-tices to show how they work on an auditor. Aune closes his book with two chapters on Ronald Reagan and his would-beheirs Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich. The rhetorical tension that Aune isolates aspart of the Reagan legacy is unfettered global capitalism on the one hand and eco-nomic nationalism on the other. In his fascinating look at the bizarre (yet com-pelling) world of economic conspiracy theory, Aune walks his reader through thedark side of the Federal Reserve banks, the Illuminati, and the one-world govern-ment decried by Pat Robertson, to Pat Buchanan’s The Great Betrayal. Each propo-nent (with the possible exception of Buchanan), interestingly enough, borrowsfrom Reagan’s rhetorical legacy of apocalyptic form. Buchanan, for whom Aune hassome non-ironic praise, attempts to rewrite U.S. economic history from the vantagepoint of trade, arguing that it was Woodrow Wilson who helped bring free trade tothe country. In authoring the Right’s new narrative of economic nationalism,Buchanan has also stolen what was once the Left’s most potent symbol: class. Andthe Left basically allowed him, Aune contends, as they worried more aboutManagua than they did about Flint. So, from conspiracy theory to a reasoned oppo-sition, perhaps the Right has taken a page from that master poacher Bill Clinton, torealign the ideological spectrum. If Aune and Pat Buchanan have points of political agreement, perhaps weshouldn’t be surprised to find that Newt Gingrich and various cyberpunk radicalscan also break ideological bread. The dominant discourse among Newt and thecyberpunks, Aune argues in chapter 7, is the discourse of libertarianism, one thatboth celebrates and denies human agency. With the rhetorical rapprochement ofthe sixties counterculture and the free marketeers, Aune suggests that a New Classhostile to big business and having alliances with the working class could gain ascen-dency. And it is the New Class of the Third Wave that intrigues Aune; for as two cul-tures are technologically bridged, the “old capitalist elite” might face a formidablenew enemy. We’ll see. Aune closes with a brief conclusion in which he puts forward a positive eco-nomic program for the democratic left—one that emphasizes the importance of the
  6. 6. 186 RHETORIC & PUBLIC AFFAIRSwelfare state, strong unions, and regulation of financial markets. But these are notends for Aune; rather, such a coalition would function to preserve traditional com-munities. A noble end, certainly. But one wonders, as per Aune’s previous chapter,whether the entire concept of “traditional communities” is simply an anachronismin our wired world. In so many different ways, Jim Aune’s Selling the Free Market is an exemplarybook: it is well-written; it is witty and sometimes downright funny; it is writtenfrom the honest perspective of an embodied, material person with real concerns; itis theoretically sophisticated without employing a showy and jargon-laden vocabu-lary; the arguments and evidences are interesting and important; and it engages sev-eral different audiences both in and out of academe. Guilford has even made thebook affordable—an institutional context that rounds things out quite nicely. Thebook will have a wide readership. It deserves as much.Davis W. Houck Florida State UniversityRhetoric as Currency: Hoover, Roosevelt, and the Great Depression. By Davis W. Houck. College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2001; pp. x + 226. $39.95. Albeit catchy, the book is misnamed. Its scope and focus are primarily on Hooverand Roosevelt and their speeches; on economics, especially in the introduction andconclusion but less and unevenly so in the other chapters; and certainly not on cur-rency as one normally understands that word—the term “rhetorical currency” islisted once in the index and “currency” not at all. The title could excise “currency”and substitute “health metaphors,” for much of the book discusses how both speak-ers used health metaphors to resolve the Depression. Chapter 1, the introduction, is devoted to economics and, to a lesser degree, itsrelationship to rhetoric. Houck holds that “thoughts, beliefs, and emotions consti-tute and create our economic realities” (4), which is accomplished through persua-sive discourse. Curiously, this book is not situated in the so-called rhetoricalpresidency or in any other rhetorical theories, classical or otherwise, but is con-ceived best as a “journey” (11) through texts. Although the author discusses whohelped write the speeches, he is not particularly interested in how many draftsensued or who made what emendations or how the addresses were organized.Except for metaphors, Houck also omits a discussion of oratorical style. In chapter 2, which spans 1929–30, Houck catalogues Hoover’s many mistakesin managing the art of rhetoric. He demonstrates that Hoover did not initially reactrhetorically to the Depression (27–29), but he does not suggest how Hoover mighthave done so. When Hoover did finally speak, Houck travels the well-worn road ofcastigating Hoover’s maladroit rhetoric in the early days of the Depression. ButHouck’s journey might have included some rhetorical revisionism on how Hoover