Conversation between Douglas Rushkoff and Kurt Andersen


Design Observer has posted Part 1 of a fascinating email exchange between two of my favorite writers and thinkers, Douglas Rushkoff and Kurt Andersen. They each have new books out about the economy in America. Rushkoff's book is called Life Inc., and Andersen's is called Reset. Julie Lasky was the moderator.

Douglas Rushkoff: All I wanted to do [in writing Life Inc.] was show how we got here, how this way of life was sold to us in the 20th century by the very same folks who originally saw fascism as a great idea, and why I believed it to be economically unsustainable. Remember, now, every chief economist of every major investment firm or bank I spoke with insisted that the economy was sound, and that it was bound for increasing expansion. And none of them knew what I was talking about when I asked them about the biases of the money we use. "There were other kinds of money?" they all asked, amazed.

Kurt Andersen: Actually, the ideas in Reset germinated six or seven years ago, when I was deep into historical research for Heyday, my most recent novel, which is set in the mid-19th century. Through that research and writing, I acquired a new gut understanding of what I take to be the cyclical course of American economic and political history, and of the concomitant bipolar nature of the American character – that is, how America has always swung back and forth between Yankee prudence and manic magical thinking, between free-market worship and communitarian public-spiritedness, between financially driven busts and bubbly booms. Sometimes the cyclical swings are swift and extreme, and those violent swings can result in progressive political and economic rejiggerings of the system. So when the crash came last fall, followed by (and probably causing) the election of Barack Obama, I was inclined to take a longer view, and see it as a rare and potentially positive convergence of cyclical economic and political swings. And that led me to write Reset.

Kurt Andersen and Douglas Rushkoff: Part I. Two cultural critics and one global economic meltdown add up to a bracing conversation about values and what they're worth.