Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Thomas Frank Returns, Baffled Again

The Baffler, a Chicago-based magazine published infrequently but taking regular aim at the so-called new-economy (and the evils of the old economy) is returning, according to the New York Observer and others. This development will likely be welcomed by people searching for intelligent malcontents, and it will likely baffl -- um, confound people who drink the kool-aid of group-think economics.

I had the pleasure of interviewing editor Thomas Frank back in 2001 when I was an editor at (the now-defunct) Internet World magazine in NYC. My column (I always loved my column name, "Internet Whirl") on him focused on his reactions to prophets of the new economy such as George Gilder, people who claimed that the rules of business had been totally changed by information technology. My position has been that IT changed some of the parameters within business, but the basic structure has always been the same. When people start telling you that the old rules are completely wrong and there are no rules for the future -- they're usually trying to fleece you. In 2001 when I wrote the column, there were still a lot of people trying to live in that fantasy land. I suspect there are fewer today. You can read the whole column here.

I'll always have two memories of Frank. One is that every time I say or write his name, I have to stop and think, Wait, Frank Thomas was the White Sox slugger; so it's Thomas Frank who's the intellectual gadfly. The other is that our conversation (only a small portion of which made it into my column) was very enjoyable and ranged over a number of topics, including German ancestors fleeing the failure of the European democratic revolutions in 1848.

So, welcome back, Baffler.

Those of you who live near Silicon Valley can come to The Commonwealth Club of California on September 8, when Thomas Frank makes an appearance there. Watch the Commonwealth Club web site for updates.

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