Managing the meltdown rhetorically : economic imaginaries and the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008
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From September 19th through October 3rd, 2008, Congress debated the largest government bailout in America history—the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act (EESA). Those sixteen days generated a vibrant conversation regarding the nature and severity of America’s economic crisis and the proper role of government in responding to such juggernauts. In this dissertation I explore the rhetoric generated by this bill and its context in hopes of illuminating the more general role of rhetoric in mitigating and exacerbating crises in capitalism. My hypothesis is that, in a global capitalist economy increasingly dependent on immaterial production (i.e., finance, the Internet, mass media, etc.), economic crisis rhetoric has become as essential to economic order as monetary and fiscal policy. To explore this claim, I focus on two key rhetorical tensions that drove much of the crisis rhetoric produced. The first of these battles is a rhetorical struggle over the spatial delineation between Wall Street and Main Street, while the second is a conflict between Keynesianism and neoliberalism in a rhetorical contest over the values of government interventionism. By analyzing a variety of policy and expert discourses that constitute the parameters of these discrete areas of debate, I argue that all rely on moral and ethical appeals to substantiate their meaning and validity. At the same time, I contend that these discourses are indebted to logics of institutional form and therefore cannot be abstracted from the financial and political contexts in which they reside. This insight leads me to forward a new theory of economic crisis rhetoric called the economic imaginary. By beginning with real economic events and then taking into account the discursive and extra-discursive forces that “overdetermine” its mediated understanding, the economic imaginary offers us a more empirical and cartographic account of how economic rhetoric actually operates in society.
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