Books

The One Percent Blues

The Dismal Science Will Make You Feel Sympathy for the Men Who Destroyed the World

The One Percent Blues

Willie Davis

PETER MOUNTFORD Probably not Occupy Wall Street’s favorite novelist.

Once upon a time, everything was right in the world. It was the distant year of 2005, and Vincenzo D'Orsi, vice president of the World Bank, attended a conference to discuss the global economy. Everything was wonderful, truly:

Even with the chaos of September in the air, the meetings were fine. Everyone was fine. What was there to say, after all? In Latin America, things were going well, more or less. The Bank's programs, in particular—Vincenzo deserved zero credit for it, truly—were going swimmingly. No one really deserved credit. Politics had matured, capitalism was working. Stability had taken hold and the emerging markets were now actually emerging.
"It's almost on autopilot," he said to halfhearted chuckles from the crowd.

D'Orsi is the main character of local author Peter Mountford's second novel, The Dismal Science (Tin House Books, $15.95), and he's partly right and partly wrong in that last sentence. The world in 2005, when George W. Bush was at the height of his power, did seem to be operating on autopilot. Money was flowing upward, and the middle class was resting comfortably on a gigantic balloon inflated with steaming hot credit. D'Orsi is a perfect symbol for the time: Those in charge must've been pleased with themselves, but, if they were smart, also slightly uneasy about the fact that everything was running relatively smoothly.

Of course, it now seems obvious that the whole world was hurtling toward the global financial collapse of 2008 and all the unrest that followed. And D'Orsi, on some level, understands that he's about to come crashing to the ground in a fabulous scandal, too. But when the end does come for him, even he's surprised by the shape that it takes—a small argument with an annoying coworker that somehow becomes an international incident when he spitefully leaks the particulars to a friend who writes for the Washington Post.

The Dismal Science is the story of a man on the downward slope of middle age who at once participates in his own self-destruction and stands off to the side, staring, puzzled, as it happens. D'Orsi is a complicated, likable figure, a ridiculously wealthy man—when facing unemployment, he doesn't ever once worry about how he's going to make do—who understands that his work at the World Bank helps and hurts people around the globe, and who comforts himself by believing that he's helping more than he hurts.

Mountford has put himself in an unenviable position with this book: He's not justifying the globalists who support policies that make the wealthy even wealthier, but he understands that the argument isn't as cut-and-dried as an argumentative Occupy protester might have you believe. Here, D'Orsi argues with a Peruvian representative who complains that the World Bank doesn't do enough to help the very poor of his nation:

"For many thousands of years, the world has been moving from a barbaric and brutal place filled with people who roam the woods with blades and clubs, to a place where people pull four-course meals from their freezer and zap them in a microwave. Is this sad? Yes, it is sad. It is tragic! Really! We have lost our souls, and I believe this. Is it beautiful, too? Yes, it is beautiful. Babies don't die from simple illnesses, and that is good... So these people in the Amazon are going to do horrible work for Exxon for a generation or two. They might ruin that part of the jungle. Yes. They might be miserable. Yes. But they might not be miserable, too. It doesn't matter. And yes, it does matter. We lose and we win."

That's practically a Tolstoyan rant right there, a man who's willing to write off an entire "generation or two" of human beings but who beautifully celebrates the life of a single baby, who's lofty enough to see that the human race is gradually progressing toward the good but who's snobbish enough to backhandedly disparage the artlessness of a frozen dinner. Mountford gives D'Orsi a life full of deep-seated tragedy (one could argue that all D'Orsi's actions in The Dismal Science are displays of grieving for his dearly departed wife) and a banal sort of triumph. D'Orsi is at once the butt of the joke and the prankster, a complicated man playing a complicated game that could have dramatic repercussions for the entire World Bank.

Despite its very particular temporal setting, The Dismal Science is very much a novel for right now, the story of a rich white man who understands that the world is ready to pass rich white men by and who isn't sad about that—D'Orsi even seems happy to see a new generation tackling the same questions he's wrestled with his whole life—but who knows that the world isn't as simple as the angry young protesters believe it to be. He's an unforgettable character, and The Dismal Science is a phenomenal book. recommended

 

Comments (14) RSS

Oldest First Unregistered On Registered On Add a comment
1
He's not justifying the globalists who support policies that make the wealthy even wealthier, but he understands that the argument isn't as cut-and-dried as an argumentative Occupy protester might have you believe.

This is why I believe Constant to be a complete simpleton. He infers that there is both good and bad being promulgated by the World Bank, due to his ignorance (similar to how Dan "let's invade Iraq" Savage supported the Bush crime family's illegal invasion of Iraq, completely oblivious and abjectly ignorant of the generations of corruption from that family) Constant will always support the status quo.

A bit of time researching the background of the World Bank, from its inception, completely destroys this notion.

Even without reading the economist, Stiglitz, and his interview with Greg Palast where he acknowledges the behavior of the World Bank similar to that related in John Perkins' book (Confessions of an Economic Hit Man) just read the decisions of of its second president, John J. McCloy, a truly evil representive of Wall Street.

McCloy turned down Guatemala's request for a loan, because the government was favoring land distribution to benefit its population (taking some of the land --- all of which was owned by the oligarchs or super-rich of that country --- and dispensing it to the working poor for individual farming, etc.).

Shortly after that loan rejection, the Eisenhower administration would see to the overthrow of its populist president Arbenz, in a military coup.

McCloy, formerly an employee of I.G. Farben during pre-WWII Nazi Germany, would pardon one of the most heinous butchers of the Third Reich, a female physician who experimented on labor camp victims, amputating their limbs and removing their internal organs, all without the use of any pain-killers or anesthetics. (But that would require Constant to look into the details of the Nuremberg Trials as well as the history of the World Bank.)

Today, the World Bank, still the global front office of the global banking cartel, avoids certain politically incorrect deals by going through China, having them build those unfortunate peasant-land-destroying dams in foreign countries, while the World Bank, in turn, pumps money into specific Chinese projects in their country.

Naaah....Constant's comment in this book review displays volumes of ignorance, but should never be allowed to excuse what is both simple and happening in reality: outright theft on an unimaginable global scale.
More...
Posted by sgt_doom on February 13, 2014 at 11:57 AM · Report this
2
Mountford is da bomb.
Posted by Ryan Boudinot on February 13, 2014 at 1:39 PM · Report this
Paul Constant 3
@1: I rest my case.
Posted by Paul Constant http://https://twitter.com/paulconstant on February 13, 2014 at 2:58 PM · Report this
sonyalea 4
The complexity of the novel lies in its inability to reach easy conclusions, and to require its readers to ask these questions. I interviewed Mountford for The Nervous Breakdown (up the week of 2/17) and he has quite a bit to say about fundamentalism, and the necessity for holding ambiguities and complicated reasoning. As any kid raised in that DC vibe would.
Posted by sonyalea http://workingwild.blogspot.com on February 16, 2014 at 7:36 AM · Report this
5
@3, PC,

What case?

You simply did a piss poor review of a fictional book, attempting to act pseudo-sophisticated by suggesting nothing is cut-and-dry with the World Bank, but instead there are gray areas.

Bullcrap! Read some books about their history, up to the present day.

You simply sound ignorant and simple minded, repeating back a George Will-like talking point.
Posted by sgt_doom on February 16, 2014 at 1:05 PM · Report this
6
@3, PC:

Read Steve Berkman's The World Bank and the Gods of Lending.

A brilliant Jewish-American thinker once described economics as the official excuse as to why a select few are born owning everything, while the vast majority are born owning nothing.

Reflect upon that and your World Bank, Constant.
Posted by sgt_doom on February 16, 2014 at 1:07 PM · Report this
7
There's just not enough Thomas Friedman fanfic.
Posted by dirge on February 16, 2014 at 5:07 PM · Report this
8
Yeah, right, because we invaded Iraq, the 2nd largest reserve of cheap oil on the planet during peak oil because everything was stable and on auto-pilot. Quit drinking the Kool-Aid.
Posted by anon1256 on February 16, 2014 at 5:08 PM · Report this
Canadian Nurse 9
@1,@8

A novel isn't meant to be a scientific representation of truth. It's a representation of truth as the main character perceives it. This sounds like a fantastic novel. Wolfowitz and his ilk aren't people I naturally have much empathy for, and I love being pushed outside my frame of reference.
Posted by Canadian Nurse on February 17, 2014 at 5:27 AM · Report this
10
@1, 5, 6 and 9

Unlike you, at least Constant has read the fucking book before spewing stupidly all over the thread. Why don't you try actually absorbing the text before you opine on it? What a shitestain you are. I probably complete agree with your politics, by the way, but I'd save my opinion on the novel until I'd actually read it.

This does, I'm sorry to say, make me a slightly better person than you, at least in one small, insignificant regard.

That's all. Have a nice day, jerk.
Posted by Too lazy to register on February 17, 2014 at 6:25 AM · Report this
11 Comment Pulled (Spam) Comment Policy
12
I have neither tolerance nor sympathy for profit-lusting white collar criminals out to destroy the world just so that they can claim to have it all.
Evil monopolies can rot in hell on their own; they don't need to take us all down with them!
Posted by auntie grizelda on February 17, 2014 at 1:44 PM · Report this
13
@9, CN,

It wasn't the novel I was critical of, it was the moronic and pseudo-sophisticated comments of Paul Constant I was addressing.

That should be clear to anyone with a minimal reading comprehension.
Posted by sgt_doom on February 18, 2014 at 10:52 AM · Report this
seattlegrrrl 14
@No7 Dirge: LMAO

@Sgt Doom, you don't actually think book critics read all the books they critique, do you? They skim, they paraphrase what others have said and they turn it in to their editor.

Someone should add an addendum to Woody Allen's old line:

Those who can do.
Those who can't teach.
Those who can't teach, teach P.E.
And those who can't create (a novel, a film, a play, a painting) just critique them.
Posted by seattlegrrrl http:// on March 5, 2014 at 8:54 PM · Report this

Add a comment