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The following article appeared in Left Business Observer #114, January 2007. It retains its copyright and may not be reprinted or redistributed in any form - print, electronic, facsimile, anything - without the permission of LBO.


LBO at 20

LBO published its first issue in September 1986—the exact date is lost in the mists of history—which makes it 20 years old. (Please don't do the math to figure out how many issues behind schedule we are.) That debut number, written in the late middle period of the Roaring Eighties, was a naïve affair, full of worries about a rerun of 1929.

A little more than a year later came the great crash of October 19, 1987, when the Dow lost 508 points in a single day. It seemed to confirm those worries about a rerun. Early issues mocked the smooth voices of bourgeois reassurance, summoning the ghosts of Hoover and Mellon.

But it wasn't only economic crisis that seemed inevitable—so did some sort of political confrontation. In fact, they seemed bound together: you couldn't transfer that much money upwards and that much insecurity downwards without having some kind of economic and/or political smashup. Either falling incomes would have to undermine an economy so thoroughly dependent on mass consumption, or people would get fed up with "working harder for less," as the New York Times once admiringly described the U.S. economic model.

The crackup didn't happen, and neither did the rebellion. Bush 41 succeeded Reagan, and while the economy stagnated for most of his reign, it never imploded. The crash turned out to be an arresting overture to a melodrama that would never unfold.

But what did unfold was a series of bubbles alternating with bailouts, and along with it increasing polarization (not just on a local and na