December 7, 2008

March of Dimes

Commonly referred to as the “mercury dime,” what you see above is actually a Winged Liberty Head which, according to Wikipedia, was in common use in the US from 1916 until 1945. The coin does NOT depict the Roman messenger god at all but the goddess Liberty herself wearing a Phrygian cap, a classical symbol of liberty and freedom. Interestingly, the reverse side of the coin contains the image of a “fasces,” (yes, a la fascism,) which is a tightly bound bundle of rods wrapped together and wielded as an instrument of force, but on the Winged Liberty is itself semi-wrapped in an olive-branch.

In general the fasces icon has been used by regimes of all kinds throughout history - at least as far back as ancient Rome - to represent order, power, and strength through unity. Yet it is also part of American political iconography, visible not only on the Winged Liberty Head but also at the Oval Office, on the frieze of the façade of the Supreme Court building, atop the Capitol, and elsewhere. Who would have thought? Liberty and order – metaphorically two sides to the same coin. Heads we win, tails we lose?

Slightly related is Steve Fraser’s “Beyond the Bailout State: Roosevelt’s Brain Trust vs. Obama’s Braniacs” where it is pointed out that unlike the suffocating political and intellectual provincialism that seems to have hitherto defined Obama’s “team,” FDR worked with a relatively motley array of corporatists, Keynesians, state planners, and anti-trust busters. “A genuine administration of ‘rivals,’” writes Fraser, “didn't faze FDR.” However an equally important issue, not directly addressed by Fraser, is where and in what capacity can state spending effectively bring about recovery when the “wartime economy” card has already been outplayed. It really is no secret that without the military boom of WWII the New Deal would probably have been remembered as compassionate and helpful to a degree but ultimately ineffective in solving the fundamental problems of the Great Depression. As Fraser argues, we should be welcoming the nationalization of bailouts, whether it be the auto-industry, the banks, or AIG. “As things now stand,” he writes, “"the public supplies the loans and the investment capital, but the key decisions about how they are to be deployed remain in private hands. A democratic version of nationalizing the financial system would transfer these critical decisions to new institutions created by the Congress and designed to pursue public, not private, objectives.” So just for the record, if creating new industries, say those more congenial to Green living, or if stimulating a more productive economy depends in any way on trimming the bloated and ossified military-industrial budget too, then I'm all for it.

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