If Dickens Came Back to America, He Would Note Today's WSJ

Front page of today's Wall Street Journal, similar to front page of all other papers:

Facebookipo.png



Detail from the highlighted box:
FB2.png


Front page of WSJ's "Marketplace" section today:
AmericanAirlinesBankrupt.png


Detail from the lead of the story:

AA2.png

Now of course: there is no connection at all, except coincidence of timing, between this moment of success for some and of further hardship for others. The success is for a virtual-economy, social networking company, whose product is advertising (which is of course also the source of much of our revenue at the Atlantic); and for the people and firms dealt into its IPO.* The belt-tightening is for a "material-world" transportation company dealing with the gritty realities of fuel prices, weather forecasts, cranky passengers, security threats, huge capital commitments for aircraft, and "legacy" union costs; and who for those who have held ordinary jobs there. I know that in even the healthiest economy, "creative destruction" means that some businesses are always failing even as others are starting up.

Still: whatever Charles Dickens or John Steinbeck is rising among us might well use this day's paper as a bit of atmosphere for what has happened to America. Or the next Dreiser or Hugo or Zola. On the day that the graffiti artist who decorated Facebook's headquarters learns that he may be worth another $200 million, tens of thousands of AA workers learn they may have no more money coming in at all. I loved Otto Friedrich's Before the Deluge for its effortless evocation of the tension and madness of Weimar Germany through the quotidian details of life and news reports. We are not Weimar, but the ultimate historian of our era will say something about this year's Groundhog Day. [Thanks to DZF for pointing these stories out.]
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* Disclosure: I am biased against Facebook, because of its consistent record of shady, corner-cutting privacy practices**. I am biased in favor of American Airlines pensioners and employees, because my cousin is one of them, and I know what she has gone through as a career flight attendant.

**And on privacy practices, I'll have more to say soon about the recent changes in Google's rules.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

Fallows welcomes and frequently quotes from reader mail sent via the "Email" button below. Unless you specify otherwise, we consider any incoming mail available for possible quotation -- but not with the sender's real name unless you explicitly state that it may be used. If you are wondering why Fallows does not use a "Comments" field below his posts, please see previous explanations here and here.

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