Several months ago, I conceived of a plan to restore the world economy through generous support of our beloved book industry. I sent this proposal to the President’s economic advisor, Lawrence Summers. I am optimistic that he will implement this plan. He signaled his agreement with the general principles by sending me an autographed picture of himself with his dog. I hope you all will see the wisdom of this plan.
A Modest Proposal: or What’s Good for Houghton-Mifflin is Good for the USA
Like many of you, I am becoming distressed by the fact that the nation’s treasure is being squandered on the leaches and parasites of Wall Street who have brought us to this sorry state, and the knaves and fools of the auto industry who continue to reinvent the Edsel.
I believe that these trillions are not only attenuating the moral fiber of America, but will fail to bring us out of our current economic malaise. As I sat down to carve my 20 pound hunk of roast Spam on Father’s Day, I realized that there was a better way. For a mere 1% of the cost envisioned by Washington, we can not only restore America’s economic vitality, we can create a cultural resurgence that will make America the greatest intellectual super-power since the Golden Age of Athens.
I offer you, dear reader, a modest 3 point proposal. We will channel a mere nine billion dollars into the book publishing industry which will (in classic Keynesian fashion) restore America.
1) Grants to book publishers: Giving $50,000,000,000 to the auto industry is like fighting fire with gasoline. Rather, I propose that the government grant a much smaller amount to trade publishers large and small with no strings attached. Unlike the hapless and bumbling auto executives, the titans of publishing are known for their wisdom, their courage, and their commitment to the great values of Western Civilization. It is undoubtedly true that some of these funds will be used for more bottom-feeding memoirs of depraved, drug-addled Hollywood starlets which chronicle their struggles against alcoholism and cellulite. This is an unfortunate side effect (collateral damage, if you will) that should not distract us from the larger social benefit.
There will certainly be a “trickle down” effect on the more literary titles. A subsidy of these worthy books will have the residual benefit of bolstering our “intellectual system”. It will allow publishers the luxury of making decisions based on reason and merit rather than on dubious and demeaning sales pitches such as: “This book is like Immanuel Kant meets Danielle Steel.”
2) Grants to booksellers. As an independent bookseller for 35 years, I must say that I have a soft spot in my heart for these beleaguered merchants. It is true that publishers continue to publicly express their sentimental affection for the small merchants . But in the paneled suites of multi-media conglomerates, the word “Indie” is invariably whispered accompanied by the word, “whining”. How can this be? Think of the specter of the pathetic automobile titans being chauffeured in their hybrid jalopies to Washington. Their appearance before Congress surely raised “whining” to an apotheosis never before witnessed in the history of the West.
I take my inspiration from the first efforts of the Treasury department to buy worthless mortgages at face value and sell them later at a debased price of whatever the market will offer for these worthless pieces of paper. Similarly we will use this inverted economic paradigm, “to buy high and sell low”. We will buy up the leases on Main Street and rent to the faltering but virtuous Independents for $1 per year.
For the mass merchants, the great chains, we will offer them billions for saturation advertising that will shift the emphasis on day after Thanksgiving sales away from 56 inch flat screen TV’s to something more culturally productive. Imagine the unruly crowd of buyers breaking down the doors of Barnes and Noble at 4 AM and cracking the knee caps of fragile grandmothers to snatch the last copy of The Oresteia by Aeschylus (Lattimore translation).
3) Writers. Let us not forget the toiling and not-so- silent proletariat of culture, the oppressed workers who labor in the “dark satanic mills” of the book business. We applaud the vision of President Obama to pump prime the economy by investing in infrastructural upgrades. But realistically, can we expect Philip Roth and Malcolm Gladwell to engage in building bridges and dams? Do we really want Salman Rushdie to design the next generation of plug –in hybrids? Would America be a greater civilization if David Sedaris was fixing pot holes? I believe we know the answer to these questions. Our modest proposal would direct taxpayer funds to support the continuing fatuous scriblings of these economically worthless drones.
We must be vigilant, though, that this money not fall into the hands of the unproductive forces of the culture industry. We cannot afford to subsidize the intellectual fellow-travelers: freelancers, ghost writers, and amanuenses. (I will not mention agents for risk of damaging my own credibility).
And so, publishers, booksellers, authors. Let us march together and become the engine of our nation’s salvation. And we shall build the New Jerusalem on the ashes of Wall Street and Wal-Mart.
© Andy Ross