Sunday, April 24, 2011

Meet Joe Bageant

      Okay, I agree, this train is running late out of the station, because many of you already know Joe Bageant.  And besides, as his friend, Fred Reed, told us, he has recently passed away.

       It is because of Fred Reed, and diligent friends who try to keep me current, that I know who Joe Bageant is at all.  No, I have not yet read Deer Hunting With Jesus.  Or Rainbow Pie.  But I dived into his essay, "Lost in the American Undertow", about the American white underclass.  This underclass, about sixty million strong, is one of his favorite themes, because he grew up in it and understands it.

       I was immediately attracted to his subject matter, his viewpoint, and his style.  Here is a snippet of his writing, to get you started (the best stuff is at the link below):

Public discussion of this class remains off limits, deemed hyperbole and the stuff of dangerous radical leftists. And besides, as everyone agrees, white people cannot be an underclass. We’re the majority, dammit. You must be at least one shade darker than a paper bag to officially qualify as a member of any underclass. The middle and upper classes generally agree, openly or tacitly, that white Americans have always had an advantage (which has certainly been the middle- and upper-class experience). Thus, in politically correct circles, either liberal or conservative, the term “white underclass” is an oxymoron. Sure, there are working-poor whites, but not that many, and definitely not enough to be called a white underclass, much less an American peasantry.

       Not that he is always talking about the American white underclass -- he isn't.  He thinks in broader perspectives about globalism, capitalism, and other subjects where we can meet him more than halfway.  He can get cranky;  he can shift the conversation down a couple of gears and pull it hard to the left.  Oh, and his language is frequently pungent.  I say, no problem:  if grown guys can't talk about things the way they want to . . . what is conversation for?

       To anybody reading this who already has a place on the bookshelf for Wendell Berry (A Place on Earth), Edward Abbey (The Monkey Wrench Gang), Wallace Stegner (Angle of Repose), Ed McClanahan (The Natural Man), Harry Caudill (Night Comes to the Cumberlands), or Fred Reed (Nekkid in Austin) -- each and all of them authentic and important in his own right -- make some room for Joe Bageant, and tell the rest of us what you think.

*       *       *

      Here is a link to his website.  You can find there his introduction to his recent book Rainbow Pie, as well as some poetry and short book reviews.

       Link to an essay:  America: y ur peeps b so dum?

       Link to an essay:  Algorithms and Red Wine.

(Consider this Economics in One Lesson, part 4.  Part 3 is the post on the Tollan Letters, and Part 2 is the post on Karl Polanyi.)  Comments and links are most welcome.


  1. No, I don't agree with everything he says. He has some serious blind spots, in my considered opinion.

    Nevertheless: he has been able to bring an informed judgment on some of MY blindspots.

  2. I too have been reading Bageant fairly heavily over the last few days. I have read "Deer Hunting."

    Bageant has good instincts: he sees economic injustice and he wants to help the people. It's a Biblical notion, and I have no problem.

    How he proposes to help people is another matter. He is an unapologetic socialist; he wants government provided health care, parental leave, unemployment compensation and free college education.

    These things sound good but, in the end, will not the make the problems of working class people better in my opinion. The trouble is one of ownership; capitalism, a beast the will do anything for a dime, generates profits for the few and concentrates ownership. A few capitalist bankers print money and make money, and a few rich investors buy and hollow out corporations and have them do their bidding.

    What if governmment intervened to insure more equal ownership? Employee owned companies, guilds, professional standards of work and pay, limits on usury, elimination of fractional reserve banking as it presently exists, ending bailouts and central bank cartels -- wouldn't that be better.

    Bageant is also blind-sided by religion, specifically the Christian religion. He doesn't understand it, and he hasn't taken the time to understand it. He thinks committed fundamentalists are theocrats who want to take over the government and execute adulterers. I know of no one who favors these things. It's standard leftist exaggeration and irrational fear of religion. Evangelical fundamental Christians have problems, to be sure, but Dominionism isn't one of them.