The art of the manifesto is a lost one, which is why I often ask my students to write them about themselves according to Hugh MacLeod’s 500-word manifesto specifications, only composed in the traditional rhetorical form of a governing enthymeme followed by paradigmatic strings, in parallel, that exposit on the terms of the enthyeme, which are the terms describe a life as a project that is partial and incomplete in character, and developing according to values and principles. In media argot this form is called soundbyte-talking point, where you have a clear, memorable sound-byte, which I insist should be an enthymeme, and you support your sound-byte with talking points in the form of facts, stories, or examples, that is, paradigms, or paradigmatic expression.
Here be a 3 paragraph manifesto titled Stimulus Now, signed by many “notable economists,” and available at the Daily Beast in an article titled “Reboot America!” Or is “Reboot America” the title of the manifesto? Or is “Get America back to Work” the title? I’m not certain. The document seems to have lots of titles. I have interpolated my own comments.
Fourteen million unemployed represents a gigantic waste of human capital, an irrecoverable loss of wealth and spending power, and an affront to the ideals of America. Some 6.8 million have been out of work for 27 weeks or more. Members of Congress went home to celebrate July 4 having failed to extend unemployment benefits.
(1) The verb “represents” in the first line seems odd to me. 14m unemployed stands in for, or symbolizes, a waste of human capital? That seems strange, so the term “represents” in this case seems to mean “indicate,” or something, but why use a verb that connotes a relation of remove from the actual? The writer could have used the simpler, and stronger relation of identity, which means the be-form verb “is,” as in, 14m unemployed is a gigantic waste of human capital.
(2) Human capital, the loss of wealth and spending power, an affront to American ideals—this tri-colon is a list of abstractions, bloodless and remote, which means that the uniquely or concretely human qualities of human experience are elided. And the catalog is strangely unbalanced: human capital, wealth, and spending power—these terms seem to be in parallel—but affronts to our ideals? Is this meant to emulate the terms of economics-speak? Well, no, because economists rarely refer to affronts to American ideals.
(3) Some 6.8m what, precisely? People? Workers? Family members?
(4) The third line introduces a tone of blame: Members of congress celebrate; the unemployed languish under threat of their benefits expiring. Does even speak to the issue of a stimulus? Well, no, it doesn’t. It’s off-message, and inconsistent with the topic sentence of what appears to be an expository paragraph, and the issue never comes up again.
We recognize the necessity of a program to cut the mid- and long-term federal deficit but the imperative requirement now, and the surest course to balance the budget over time, is to restore a full measure of economic activity. As in the 1930s, the economy is suffering a sharp decline in aggregate demand and loss of business confidence. Long experience shows that monetary policy may not be enough, particularly in deep slumps, as Keynes noted.
(5) A “we” appears? A royal “we”; an editorial “we”? Who are we? We, the readers, don’t know yet. This entire composition has point-of-view issues. The writer(s) should have started with a “we,” and the “we” should have been integral to the argument rather than merely a pronoun in the position of a grammatical subject without a clear referent. The “we” disappears, however, as the paragraph passes into two lines that develop the theme of the problem of restoring economic activity.
(6) The writer(s) draw a distinction between an indefinite future and an immediate and concrete now, privileging the former. The writer(s) concede the “necessity” to cut the deficit even as they push it back into an indefinite future in favour of the immediate now, which is the “imperative” to restore a “full measure” of economic activity.
(7) The writer(s) introduce a third temporal category in their second line, the past, in the form of the 1930s, when aggregate demand also tanked. The writer(s) claim that “long experience shows” that more than monetary easing is necessary to restore that demand.
(8) Note the play of temporality throughout the paragraph: past, present, future, and the quality of duration, in the form of the noun phrase “long experience,” which gets pressed into the service of a grammatical subject with active agency. Note also the book-end modifiers that enclose the two lines that elaborate on the topic sentence, As in the 1930s [...] as Lord Keynes noted.
The urgent need is for government to replace the lost purchasing power of the unemployed and their families and to employ other tax-cut and spending programs to boost demand. Making deficit reduction the first target, without addressing the chronic underlying deficiency of demand, is exactly the error of the 1930s. It will prolong the great recession, harm the social cohesion of the country, and continue inflicting unnecessary hardship on millions of Americans
(9) The urgent need is for … The writer(s) compose this sentence in the passive voice. Yet they already have at their disposal a “we”, though it’s not clear who the we could be. This sentence could be recast more powerfully, and more intelligibly, in the active: We need our government to replace the lost purchasing power etc.
(10) The second line rises almost to the level of an argument, though it hangs in space alone and unattended. I think you could recast it as a classic 3-term enthymeme, something like this:
To make deficit reduction the first target will prolong the great recession, harm the social cohesion of the country, and continue inflicting unnecessary hardship on millions of Americans
To make deficit reduction the first target without addressing the chronic underlying deficiency of demand, is exactly the error of the 1930s
It would have been useful if the writer(s) had started with their argument, and used their remaining lines to support their argument. Instead, what we get is pointless exposition and cheer-leading until the final paragraph.
(11) My conclusion: This is a terrible manifesto as nothing is made manifest, and it is a terrible composition because it is upside-down: The writer(s) conclude on the very point they want to make, rather than make their point and develop through paradigmatic reasoning it to a fresh conclusion that calls a community to action, or something. This is not just bad, this is ridiculously bad, rhetorically, logically, even grammatically, and the few naive rhetorical flourishes in the form of tri-colons and accidental rhythms, only casts the ineptness of the composition in sharper relief.
On the other hand, apparently some among Obama’s entourage were persuaded by this argument, or an argument a lot like it. This SPEND NOW, DISCIPLINE LATER reasoning is already White House doctrine, and championed in the media by none other than his sublime majesty, that mighty advocate of working peoples everywhere, Larry Summers:
Obama adviser calls for new ‘mini-stimulus’—By James Politi and Edward Luce in Washington, for the Financial Times
The Obama entourage has seized on the Summers line only after emitting lots of noise that seemed to support the opposite case, austerity, to the rage and embitterment of the vulgar-Keynesians. See this blog-burst, where I sum up the arguments:
Policy incoherence is the order of the day, my brothers and sisters, which means message incoherence.