This interview by Chris Faraone took place in the Boston studio of InDigNation and was broadcast on Dig Radio on September 14, 2014.
Chris Faraone: Hey, what’s going on? My name is Chris Faraone. You’re listening to Dig Radio Boston. This show is InDigNation. We come here every Thursday from four to six. We talk about what’s going on in DigBoston. You know, recently, obviously, we’ve covered a lot of municipal happenings; the inauguration of Boston’s new mayor, Marty Walsh; we’re all over the place, man. We’re covering protests and people handing out food, people telling them they can’t do it, a lot of minimum wage stuff recently. But… and we’ll get to that, we’re going to get to what’s in this week’s issue of DigBoston pretty soon… but first, we have a very special guest: John Summers from The Baffler magazine. What’s happening, John?
John Summers: Hey, Chris. Thanks for having me in.
CF: Thanks for coming. So… I just asked you before we went on, what is The Baffler? You know, because it’s hardbound, it’s also online.
JS: Yeah. Yeah. It’s online, and we’re working on expanding our digital production. But we brought it back into existence in 2012 as a print magazine that comes out three times a year.
CF: It’s very motherfuckerly.
JS: What does that mean? You’re going on jargon at me right away.
CF: It’s like a cooler version of curmudgeonly. It’s aggressive, for sure.
JS: Yeah. I suppose so. I mean, it depends on the context. One of the things that we’re trying to do is build, kind of, deep context where ideas like ours and intuitions like ours don’t seem so strange or don’t need to be so stated in a tonally confrontational way. They can become more like common sense, like they used to be. So we’re interested in the ways that, basically, the common sense of popular thought, as expressed in, you know, the epitome, in a kind of pundit column of the New York Times or Wall Street Journal is, more or less, full of shit.
CF: How do you germinate? You know, how does an idea… where does it start? How many people sit around a table? Where does it come from?
JS: Well, you know, initially, it came out of a sense of, you know, puzzlement about what had not happened since Obama was elected. Not that…
CF: This was the re-launch.
JS: Yeah, the re-launch in 2012. I mean, the magazine had been founded in 1988 and had been around for quite some time, though it was on hiatus in the aughts during most of the Bush years as the writers, Thomas Frank, in particular, went on to write books. We brought it back in the pretty clear context of disappointment in liberal reform, and a series of questions ideally oriented around, you know, genuine social problems. But also, trying to knock out of the water things that aren’t genuine social problems like red state/blue state memes and things like that. And we wanted to put the magazine back in context with the larger history of cultural criticism in the twentieth century.
CF: Now, the reason we have you on is not just random. If you’re just tuning in to Dig Radio, we have John Summers on. He’s the editor of The Baffler. And we have you on because, you know, this issue that’s coming up, is there a name of the issue?
JS: It’s called “The Jig Is Up.”
CF: “The Jig Is Up.” The next issue that’s coming out soon in digital format and print tackles a topic that really hits on a lot of things. We’ve covered a lot of housing issues here at Dig Boston. We’ve covered a lot of so-called startup economy issues. We have braved the dreaded innovation district, right next to us in South Boston here, which, you know, taken the Silver Line down there many a times and mocked it. So, the name of your piece here is “The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan.”
JS: “The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan.” That’s right.
CF: Did I pronounce that correctly?
JS: I think so. It’s a made-up word.
CF: Now, the funny thing is, of course, we’re referring to Cambridge. Now, this violates, like, a big rule, which is: don’t shit in your backyard. [laughter] You are based in Cambridge, you live in Cambridge.
JS: I don’t know what that means.
CF: Well, it means… I’ll give you an example. I don’t write about police in the place where I live because I don’t need them throwing bricks through my fucking window.
JS: Well, what do you write about, then?
CF: I write about…
JS: I mean, you write about the community in which you live, right?
CF: Well, I live somewhere else now, by the way.
JS: I see.
CF: I used to write about the police where I live, and I learned that lesson.
JS: Okay. Well, I’m not going anywhere and I’m very happy to live in Cambridge, as a matter of fact.
CF: Well, my question was, is it easier to shit on Cambridge than, say, Southie where someone might actually beat you up? Is the worst thing that’s gonna happen, [laughter] like, someone’s going to through a canvas sneaker at you or something like that?
JS: Forms of social control come in many varieties, and in Cambridge, I’ve encountered some of them. We’ll leave it at that.
CF: All right. So, the piece, how did you come about the… well, I mean, clearly, there are a lot of ideas here that… have you been thinking about for a while? How long have you lived in Cambridge, first of all?
JS: I moved here in 2000, and so this is my thirteenth, going on my fourteenth year. And I came to teach as a lecturer in history and social studies at Harvard. Spent seven years teaching there, and then stayed, married, had a couple of kids, moved into an Inman Square neighborhood, and quite enjoyed myself. And I really do enjoy living in Cambridge, but I began to notice in the last couple of years this meme called the “innovation economy.” And I also began to notice a lot of really ugly construction right around Central Square. And then I began to notice that a lot of my friends had to leave because they were complaining of rising rents. And, of course, it’s always a complaint among, you know, complainers like us. But there did seem to be a pattern, so I tried to put these things together. It crystallized in a very odd and idiosyncratic way, as a lot of our Baffler stories begin, in this magazine called Scout Cambridge, which just suddenly showed up in my mailbox one day in September. And there was a story in there called “At a Crossroads,” and it talked about what was happening in Central Square. So, in an extremely obnoxious way, I thought, that missed a great deal of the point that I was trying to put together, at least. So, I began to work from Central Square and tried to understand the concept of the innovation economy—which is, of course, on the lips of Deval Patrick and every other Democratic politician, seemingly, in the state and the region—and try to figure out what they meant by it. And this piece is about that. It’s not about science and technology, as such, or funding within science and technology so much as it’s about the innovation economy as a form of urban development and as a form of imposed social change.
CF: In and of itself.
JS: Yeah. Well, what effects does it have on the community? And what I found when I went to talk to people in Central Square, I talked to people at the Central Square Theater; the Central Square Business Association; Mobius, the art gallery; and lots of other small businesses. And it turns out that there’s a wider conversation going on that I had been only marginally aware of. So I tried to integrate my thoughts about the innovation economy, what I had been noticing, The Baffler’s history and perspective. That’s what the piece is about. It’s quite long.
CF: I wanna read something. Now this is, I can’t even believe this is real. This is…
JS: We have very good fact checkers, Chris. Those are fighting words.
CF: It’s from a report issued by the Red Ribbon Commission in Central Square, Cambridge. If you’re just tuning in, we’re talking to John Summers of The Baffler, his new piece, “The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan.” Now, can you just explain, what is a Red Ribbon Commission? Is that like a business improvement district type of thing?
JS: Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Like, who are the city planners, right? We have all these hundreds of millions of dollars coming into Kendall Square in the form of corporate development projects. We have MIT, we have Harvard, who are running great real estate operations. And so, who are the people who represent the civic interest, right?
JS: Well, they are a mix of small business people and politicos, you know, city council members. And it was really unclear to me, from reading the report, who was actually in charge of it.
CF: So, this is what… they’re calling for a brand. It says, “A brand for Central Square is about establishing a connection, then a relationship, with those most important to your success. A brand is just the first step… A brand will integrate and analyze all of the branding/perception information collected over the past few years.”
JS: Please stop.
CF: I know. It goes on and on. But the part I wanted to say is, this is my favorite: “Central Square is nothing if not authentic.”
CF: “Its brand must be authentic, as well.” I mean, the idea that somebody could actually write this, you know, not ironically…
JS: It’s there.
CF: It’s there. So, who, what’s the answer? Who are these people? Who are the architectural soothsayers? Who’s writing the master narrative here?
JS: I think Ken Reeves was in charge of the Red Ribbon Commission. There are other reports, and I read those, as well. At least most of them, I think. They come from consultants that the Cambridge Redevelopment Authority engaged with and from the City Manager’s office. I did go in to talk to the City Manager and I didn’t get past the desk, although he was nice enough to come out and shake my hand. That’s about it. [laughter]
CF: Cambridge is, of course, really run by a city manager, not a mayor. It’s a similar structure to some other municipalities across the country of its size.
CF: It’s a very unique place, Cambridge. There are some oddities people don’t really realize. The property tax is the lowest in the state. And you talk about the literacy. Well, not just literacy, but the book preferences of people, and there’s kind of an interesting twist on that.
JS: Yeah. Amazon says that Cambridge is their number four market in books. I mean, Cambridge, by definition, is going to…
CF: There’s going to be drones all over that place.
JS: The fourth most well-read city in the country, but Cambridge is number one in business and investing. So one of the things, of course, it’s a little bit cheap, I admit, is to play against the common stereotype of Cambridge as full of bleeding-heart liberals and people that my family—I grew up in a conservative republican town in Pennsylvania—just would have thought are on the other side of the Earth in terms of their crazy radicalism. So, it’s true and it’s not true in interesting ways.
CF: Are you talking about how a lot of the forces against, not all change, but the forces against, say, you know, your big, kind of disgusting, giant, corporate change? They’ve been worn down. A lot of the progressives, the people who… they still flood city meetings. You had just a big net zero issue going on in Cambridge. I know people still come out for these things. Are they pissing in the ocean at this point? Are they just ??? a little bit?
JS: The main problem is, as far as I see it… and I’m not engaged in these activist initiatives, maybe to my discredit as a critic, but I’m not. I’m just not. I have talked to them. Some of them, at least. And I’ve tried to get their perspective. But it seems to me that the problem is housing. I mean, Cambridge is a very nice place to live and it will become an even nicer place to live in many ways. In some ways, in many ways, it is improving for the better, but only for the few. That’s the main problem. I mean, everyone is going to be priced out that can’t afford to live here. The incentives are all wrong.
CF: Now, tell me. As a progressive—and I really strive to not be a neoliberal in any way, shape, or form—who does believe in government programs and subsidies, to an extent, this is particularly disgusting because of where they’re going. I mean, I’ve been watching biotech dollars flow from the state into Cambridge for years now.
CF: And, you know, with no oversight. And not only no oversight, as you have, I think, a couple scenes in this piece, it’s always this grand spectacle. It’s always, like, you know, this big announcement, and you have Governor Deval Patrick cooing at one point…
JS: Over the Cambridge Innovation Center. Yeah
CF: Yeah. And it really is a giant circle jerk.
JS: The beating heart of the utopia.
CF: Yeah. I just want to take a quick side note, although I’m not sure it is, even. I was at one of this mixers not too long ago, and…
JS: A tech one?
CF: Yeah, a tech one.
JS: One of these startup?
CF: Yeah, one of these startup. It was a big one. You know, a gala event. And I’m talking to this guy who owns a bank, a small bank, a community bank, somewhere else in Massachusetts.
CF: He basically… long story short is, he’s going in there to meet people, you know, entrepreneurs, so-called, to invest in. But they’re all there because they pay to be there. It wasn’t some meritocracy that brought them there. So it’s, you know, I feel like this is just an anecdote, but there’s a lot of money being pumped into bullshit that’s being pumped by PR, really, publicists. You know, and reading your story, it’s like, I was really proud do be a fucking dirt-broke alt-weekly reporter. [laughter] Really, you know, because we’re not selling the farm. You know? But really, my question is, how is it happening? How is this happening? Can you explain to people how these ideas are getting funded? Like, who gets the startup money?
JS: Well, you know, you can read bostinno.com, the cheat sheet for venture capital tech investment, and figure out, I mean, I don’t know, something probably happened since we’ve been talking. [laughter] But the larger question is how, I think, you know, money comes in, and then process of social class formation happens without anybody quite acknowledging it. And, I think, I’m trying to gesture at that. In particular, at MIT. And in particular at MIT, the handling of Aaron Swartz’s case. We just had the anniversary of his suicide.
CF: Aaron Swartz, of course, was he an associate editor of sorts?
JS: He was a contributing editor and he was a friend of The Baffler and he helped us restart it, you know, in Cambridge, when he was here.
CF: Aaron Swartz, of course, was being prosecuted by the federal government for downloading, what is it, millions of files off of JSTOR.
JS: Yeah. A lot.
CF: Basically, many of which, and it all kinda comes together here because many of which contained, you know, research that was done with public funding. And this is, kind of, like the heart of this.
CF: And without getting too deep in it, can you explain why the Aaron Swartz situation, why it does play so deeply into this struggle of, kind of, two Cambridges?
JS: Well, again, to return to what we’re trying to do in The Baffler a little bit, it’s about context building, right? I mean, I think one of the things that was lost with the discussion or the, kind of, puzzlement over why Aaron had been prosecuted with such severity was the innovation economy context.
CF: It was the message that had to be sent.
JS: Well, the message, apparently, at MIT, and this from their own report, was broad indifference to the point of contempt for Aaron. The number of people who spoke up for him to the administration from within the MIT community was pitifully small. And that’s one of the conclusions, that’s the main conclusion, in fact, at MIT from their own report, which came out a couple months ago. So, I thought that was kind of strange.
CF: A lot of the language, you know, right at the top of the article you talk about, you know, New York has Wall Street, and basically, there are industries. Now, a lot of the language I’m hearing out of the characters in this so-called innovation economy is very megalomaniacal. It’s very, you know, Oliver Stone’s Wall Street. And also, of course, we always have these very empowered and very entitled entities, people at these universities and everyone’s always sucking each other’s dick, and the Koch brothers, actually, make a couple cameo appearances in your piece.
JS: Yes, of course.
CF: Can you explain how this is all happening in liberal Cambridge? How it’s almost like under this…
JS: Well, it took me 10,000 words to explain it. [laughter]
CF: Anything with the word “innovation economy,” though, it’s like anything goes. Right?
JS: Well, it’s an ideology. It’s an ideology, that’s all. And it’s a kind of exercise of class power under the guise of general prosperity. But if you look at who, in particular, benefits, and in what ways, you’ll find a great parking lot for over-accumulating capital. This is a well-known function of innovation economies. The purely economic function, I don’t get into too much. I’m more interested in the social life and the community life. But, you know, they’re all over the country now. They’re in New York, you know, they’re in Las Vegas, they’re in Salt Lake City, they’re in Seattle. And entrepreneurs come in and explain that they’re going to use the, basically, the public resources that have been accumulated over generations, and exploit them for the, more or less, for their own benefit, although they don’t quite put it that way.
CF: And the way you’ve phrased… I mean, there’s a lot of companies that are doing business here and receiving federal and state subsidies, in many cases, that are filthy. That are filthy, filthy, filthy. So, who did you go after, Novartis?
JS: I didn’t really go after Novartis, but…
CF: Is it Novartis who had a particularly disturbing track record that you mentioned.
JS: Yeah, that’s right. I do have a paragraph about Novartis, but this is wide knowledge although it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference. It is kind of odd to have David Koch being a very important and influential voice in Cambridge and also having Novartis and other interests. The idea, the image of the progressive and the liberal city is, in fact, undercut, I think, but this counter pattern that I’m trying to point out.
CF: What is, still, super progressive about Cambridge besides what people are wearing?
JS: I like the pedestrians’ right of way. The pedestrians’ right of way ??? is my favorite urban amenity. When I go to New York, I’m always concerned that I’m going to be run over.
CF: Interesting. We’re here with John Summers, The Baffler. We’re going to take a break in just a second. Before we do that, thought… really, you haven’t gotten any feedback yet, but you must have spoken to a lot of people. Like, what did people think you were writing about? What did you tell people?
JS: I told them what I was writing about. I told them I was writing about the effects of the innovation economy.
CF: Did they think that, I mean, that can mean anything. That can be positive, though, you know, the positive effects.
JS: Well, I mean, I suppose there might have been some of that, if only for the fact that there’s absolutely no criticism of the innovation economy that ??? find in Cambridge. I mean, there are different people working different single issues, whether it’s environmental issues or whether it’s issues about the homeless in Central Square, but I don’t see anybody calling into question the, you know, the idea of the innovation economy, which is nothing but a warmed-over version of the new economy of the ’90s. These people think that they’re doing it all over again. They think that they’ve come up with a new idea. It’s the same damn thing, which is, you know, which is what we’re trying to cover in The Baffler.
CF: All right. When we come back . . . is just busting. We talk about this shit all the fucking time. I want to ask John Summers of The Baffler, when we come back, what’s next? I mean, are we facing a real bubble situation with this? And if so, what happens to the 580 restaurants that opened in Kendal Square this past year. [Musical interlude]. Yo, yo, yo. My name is Chris Faraone. You’re listening back to InDigNation on Dig Radio Boston. We’re going to get to the stuff. Just hang tight. We’re going to get to the stuff in DigBoston this week. For now, we have a very special guest today and we’re going to do the back half of the interview here. John Summer from The Baffler. How’s it going, man?
JS: Good, man. Thanks, Chris.
CF: Cool. So we spent the first part talking, really, about this new piece you have in The Baffler called “The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan.” At The Phoenix, where I used to write, and here at the Dig, I’ve done some stuff on how Cambridge and Somerville, you know, the way that everybody wants it to look, this great innovation economy. Hipsters are just, you know, sipping lattes in the street. And everything that Rush Limbaugh would want you to almost think it is, that’s actually how the advertisement comes from City Hall and from the Chambers of Commerce. Your piece is saying, okay but look at this, this, this, and this. One thing that you’re saying look at is the local media around greater Boston area and around this innovation economy, some of which is specifically catered to the innovation economy.
JS: Yeah. Apparently so. I don’t know. As we talked about in the first half, I’ve been around for 13 years and, you know, I’m as reliable a consumer of local media, I guess, as one could hope. You know, I read The Globe every day and The Times and Boston Magazine and The Boston Review, a good publication. We have a lot of, sort of, peer publications here. And I was really very sad to see The Phoenix go. And suddenly, though, we have things like bostinno.com and suddenly, The Globe is filled up with these blogs called “The Hive” and called “The Innovation Economy.” And pretty much, it’s just a publicity arm, it seems, of the industry. It’s perfectly in lockstep. In fact, it’s the major organ. And I keep wanting to hear some kind of dissonant note, you know, about…
CF: Well, here it is. It’s yours.
JS: You hear about housing, right? I mean, you hear about the… I mean, there’s a lot of things in my story that I first read about in The Globe, but the context was not the same. So people know the story in pieces, but The Globe really makes you work very hard to find the counter thread because it seems like it’s such a boosterish organ for business interests.
CF: Now, of course, a detractor. And we’ll get to the media, but with housing, a detractor would say…
JS: A detractor of what?
CF: Of the theory that all this new housing is bad, would say, but there’s a lot of affordable housing attached to it.
JS: We’ll, that’s right. If you make a deal, then you get 20 percent or whatever it is.
CF: Not really.
JS: You know, you still have 80 percent of it going to commercial development, so… but you’d have 80 percent less if you didn’t do the building in the first place and you made it 100 percent affordable housing, right? I mean, why do we have to struggle over these equations? What kind of bargaining position are we actually in? The community takes the 20 percent share and says thank you very much for building these god-awful office parks.
CF: You have a great description, at one point, of Kendall and why, you know, how there’s these card reader… Kendall, for those outside of Massachusetts, Kendall Square in Cambridge, it’s like a labyrinth. It’s a strange, you know, brick monument to bourgeois excess.
JS: A labyrinth might be interesting to walk through. [laughter]
CF: How did that happen, do you think? Was it just because one building… they, you know, they just let anybody build whatever the fuck they want and that’s what we end up with?
JS: Well, you know, there are capital and institutional requirements for the kind of innovation that they’re trying to encourage here, and namely, lots of laboratories. So they need certain kinds of buildings, you know. But then, what they also do is they build high-end luxury residential units for corporate professionals who come in and out. They just opened up Logan to China, you know, direct flights to Beijing. All this is about, you know, shaping the whole transportation system and the community life around the needs of, basically, corporate professionals who are coming in and making deals with venture capital. So, my point is that, if you want community development, if you want community benefit, make that the objective, and start from there.
CF: Community benefit?
JS: Yeah. That should be the objective of urban policy, right, is the benefit the community. Instead, it’s a side deal. You know, you make all these deals and then we get a couple of crumbs. And the cumulative effect is, of course, to make every place to look either like Kendall Square, which is barren of human life, [laughter] or Harvard Square, which has become, you know, a kind of adjunct to suburban backing interests.
CF: I was hoping you were going to say that. I mean, Harvard Square, when people visit me who haven’t been there cannot believe the center… I mean, we have bank, bank, bank. Are you talking about the…? I’m talking about actual physical banks on the street. You’re talking about actual investment banks.
JS: No, what I’m saying is nothing more than what everybody feels who’s been here. I mean, everybody feels this way. This is not like…
CF: And another thing you talk about is, you know, in Central Square, there’s a lot of, right there in front of all of us, there’s a lot of detox houses, there’s a lot of homeless projects, a lot of nonprofits that work with houseless people, homeless people, transient people, and, you know, it’s kind of like Occupy Boston, how there were all of society’s problems in the shadow of the Financial District for everyone to see. Cambridge, even with all this great development going on, still has this big street culture there, really.
JS: It does, and there’s a network of community support. I mean, you know, Nancy Ryan at the Cambridge Residents Alliance is really doing great work there on the case. They have an interesting, kind of, perspective as homeowners, you know. It’s not that all the homeowners are simply driving up the market prices and benefitting from the real estate boom, but there really isn’t or doesn’t seem to be any kind of sure place in the political class in Cambridge for having a kind of square-on discussion about this. It seems very marginalized.
CF: Now, you say that you did read… back to media a little bit… in doing research for this, you did, obviously, come across a lot of stuff in the in The Boston Globe. But I’m wondering, especially with the decrease in journalism, local journalism, resources for local journalism by big outlets like The Globe, I’m imagining that a lot of stuff that happens in Cambridge, and I know for a fact in Somerville, does not get covered in The Globe just for pure resource. And then after that, who is there? There’s The Chronicle, which I know Erin. She does a great job but she’s one person.
JS: There’s something called The Cambridge Day.
CF: How does The Cambridge Day do at curbing, you know, giant landgrabs and such?
JS: But I think that’s more of a community platform. There’s Spare Change.
CF: Yeah. Josh does a great job, but once again, it’s a small operation. This is like, everybody’s fighting…
JS: And the, kind of, trajectory of the piece is from 2010 to 2013. In between that period, of course, we saw Occupy Wall Street and the Boston Occupier. And I think that the The Occupier is finished, but it has also lived on under another time, too. And there’s Open Source Boston, I think.
CF: Yep. Yeah. Yeah. So, I’ve been actually talking to people, to Jason Pramas from there, some people around the city. You know, we’re juggling a couple ideas. One thing I was thinking was like, what if we had a press conference? What if all the independent outlets had a press conference every two months and on the steps of the State House, and just announced somebody’s name that we were all going to fucking be digging into relentlessly for the next two months. You know, not randomly, not at random, but somebody. [laughter] Not at random. That wouldn’t be… I don’t know what that would net. But there’s a lot of legislative negligence in your story. Not necessarily detailed, but… actually, I wanted to talk about the… because I know people are definitely listening now because I wrote on Facebook that you, you know, had slammed Cambridge and the innovation economy. And I wanted to talk about this…
JS: Connective love, Chris.
CF: I know. The tech tax. Because I don’t think you really… I really didn’t think you…
JS: I didn’t tell the full story of that.
CF: Yeah. I’m sure you, in earlier drafts, had it. There’s the whole part that the tech… I haven’t seen more politically active, entitled, you know, tech community stalwarts. It was unbelievable. So, the tech tax was, what was it essentially? It was, like, it was going to be on certain products related to, that basically touched a lot of these industries.
JS: Yeah. It was a computer… it was a tax on computer services.
CF: Ubiquitous. Now, bottom line, Governor Patrick signed it, everybody went crazy. It was one of these things where, you know, a lot of the innovation people, posing as liberals, were able to actually reach across the aisle and, like, shake hands with Howie Carr, you know, who’s our local Rush Limbaugh, of course. And everybody was in agreement. You know, the governor’s crazy and this is our innovation economy and it shouldn’t be taxed. And they fucking backed down. I mean, I’ve seen four thousand students go to the State House to get their used jobs funding down and ??? get the fuck out of here. How do they wheel this much power?
JS: Well, I just think there’s a lot of money at stake. I have a couple of paragraphs in my essay about the building and the cost of the building at Northeastern and at Boston University and at UMass Amherst and MIT and Harvard. I mean, I don’t know how much it’s overall worth, but it’s more than a billion dollars.
CF: That’s intense.
JS: Don’t also forget that MIT plays a very important role in the story. During the period of the time after the innovation economy concept was unveiled at around 2010, MIT vaulted into the number one university on these influential global metrics. So, the model, it’s important to understand that the model of the innovation economy and how it feeds on public institutions is a very common model not only in American democratic party circles, but all over the world. There are people studying this and trying to build little Cambridges and, of course, little Silicon Valleys.
CF: That’s hilarious, by the way.
JS: It’s hilarious, but what is missing from it—I wouldn’t say they are posting as liberals, I think they are very much liberals, I think that they think of themselves as liberals—but they have no interest in labor or workers or working people, dwindling interest, I would say, in families, low income families or even middle income families. The bottom is dropping out. And it’s dropping out not only, it’s not only the case that they don’t have a plan for the housing emergency, for example. I point it out in my piece, it’s that their own plan that caused it. I mean, the whole innovation economy is kind of purging on a grand scale. And it’s clear liberalism’s constituency and democratic-party constituency is the professional middle class corporate professionals.
CF: The new man of the information ideology will be free to code in the morning, head to the laboratory in the afternoon, and brag after dinner with never having to read books.
JS: Oh, that’s a little harsh, but…
CF: It’s your line.
JS: Well, [laughter] I’m sure that some of them read books. [laugher] But I’ll tell you that in researching this story… I mean, I know it’s a cheap shot… but how can you not? I mean, the piece is titled “The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan” because this whole thing got going when Mark Zuckerberg came back here to Cambridge and to Boston and made his visit. And everybody got all excited… [laughter]
CF: It’s like Waiting for Guffman.
JS: … like, oh, look, here comes Mark Zuckerberg, He’s rich now. [laughter] He left, we thought he was a little bit of an asshole, and he came back and he’s a rich asshole. So, he came back on a recruiting trip, and then everybody got the idea that they should make Cambridge and Boston a destination for the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world and the David Kochs. And that’s what they’re doing. And they’re calling it progress. And it’s not.
CF: I want to read one more line here. “The Governor of,” this is from John Summers’ piece in The Baffler, “The People’s Republic of Zuckerstan.” “The Governor of Massachusetts won’t be stopping by your office to encourage you in your efforts at moral reasoning about philanthropy. The state legislature won’t be allocating millions of dollars in matching grants for your next novel about how the homeless live. Websites that have replaced the newspapers won’t report on your subway concert. And there is no good reason for this except this is how business wants it.” I felt that was a pretty good ??? 9,000 words down.
JS: It came down, sorry about that. I mean, you know, you have to struggle with me, Chris.
CF: No, it’s okay, man. No, I really enjoyed the piece and there’s a lot of ballsy shit in there, man. Shit. But you still have to live there, and as you said, you still love Cambridge.
JS: Of course, I have a… my wife is here with me and, you know, we have a five-year-old and a two-year-old and a place to live. Only it’s becoming less wonderful.
CF: There it is. All right, everybody. This was a great interview. I really appreciate it. And so, people have already hit me up online. Where can people get it?
JS: You should just go to thebaffler.com, go to our subscribe page, if you please, and take out a subscription. If you like print magazines, if you’re willing to give print magazines a chance, we take a lot of effort to put together a 180-page full-color satirical magazine with no advertising. So every page of it is…
CF: It’s nice. It looks good on the bookshelf, too.
JS: It’s numbered.
CF: It’s numbered.
JS: You can count them.
CF: You can collect them. You can play dominos with them. All right, everybody. So this is John Summers from The Baffler. We really appreciate having you on. I don’t know, on a totally different note, a bit of a, I don’t know, lower brown note, we gotta tone it down a little bit here: I won Wu-Tang trivia last night at The Good Life.
JS: I don’t even know what that is. [laughter]
CF: See? We’re satisfying the entire audience here.
JS: I’m going to stick around and listen. CF: And this is, We Made It, Ghostface Killah. But yeah, that’s right, I’m the reigning champion of Wu-Tang trivia waxing on your ass about Cambridge. We’ll be back.