The Rhetoric of Economics

September 24, 2019

The Rhetoric of Economics
or, people are so shitty.

Five euro note close-up, Didie Weemaels/Unsplash

The Rhetoric of Economics

I read a lot of random stuff. A quick glance at the Reading Materials page of my site, with its embedded Goodreads-provided graphic showing my recently read bookshelf, makes that fairly clear. But there are certainly common threads, if you spend a second more looking for connections among the books.

For instance, besides titles sharing common authors or members of literary movements, many of them hail from a handful of publishers: Deep Vellum, Open Letter, Coffeehouse, Gray Wolf and one or two others.

The theme among the publishers being, mainly, that they offer subscriptions to newly translated titles and independent authors from around the world. There’s so much out there to read. If it’s unlikely I’m going to learn to read another language fluently, I can at least broaden my (literary, conscious) horizons by engaging with the thoughts and words of translated works.

My interest was piqued upon reading Eduardo Rabasa’s A Zero-Sum Game, which I stumbled upon while working the San Antonio Book Festival a couple of years ago. It’s a lovely book, and, when I looked into the publisher, Deep Vellum, I discovered a small nonprofit press in Dallas focused on bringing new translations to the States. I donated, subscribed to their ten-book plan and started reading.

Now, a few years later, I’m still a subscriber to it and other translation- and independent-focused presses (named above).

Subject-wise, it quickly becomes clear from the Goodreads graphic that I’m interested in economics (the study of supplying a society’s needs). I don’t believe this would have been indicated by my academic studies. It’s an interest spurred by personal circumstance and public policy preferences over love of equations, that’s for certain.

I studied English Writing and Rhetoric in college, largely because — beyond the fact that I was a more prolific writer before college than after — Brother John Perron, the main man in rhetoric at St. Edward’s University when I was there, advised I consider it.

Writing must have been far easier for me then. I certainly don’t remember it being the struggle I’ve turned it into. Whatever the case, the writing was never a difficulty for me, but the rhetoric side of the major was mostly new to me, and I ate it up. By junior year, I had a personal subscription to Rhetoric and Philosophy (and struggled to understand the articles).

Imagine my surprise (and peculiar delight) when a couple of weeks ago, suddenly, I happened upon a reference to a small body of work on economic rhetoric (or the rhetoric of economics). It’s a mingling of fields I’d considered but never looked into.

All that is really to explain how I came to be reading a book by Dr. James Arnt Aune, a rhetorician and former head of the Texas A&M University communications department, entitled Selling the Free Market: The Rhetoric of Economic Correctness. It’s a concise — too concise, sadly — look at the rhetorical strategies used by free marketers in pushing their policies on the American public and politicians.

I think it’s a brilliant book, and, like I said, too short. Aune’s brief discussions of nationalism and the appearance of Donald Trump’s name twice read as if the book were published today rather than in 2001. As I plowed through his essays — the book consists of a series of essayistic analyses of rhetorical strategies used by free marketers from Ronald Reagan and Adam Smith to Ayn Rand and von Mises (Aune previously did this to the left in Marxism and Rhetoric) — during the day, I found myself looking forward to more of Aune’s work elaborating on his side comments and allusions and reflecting on world changes since publication. In fact, as the day drew to a close, I plugged his name into Google assuming I’d end up with an email address for him to which I could send my appreciation for his work.

I read the first result and my heart deflated. My stomach sank a little. That heavy disappointment in the world settling in.

People are so shitty.