Friday, May 26, 2006

Dee Dee Ramone and Thorstein Veblen, or, Why Money Isn't Everything

They only appreciate you when you are dead

The purpose of this blog entry is to recognize the arrival of one of my heros. Dee Dee Ramones (Doug Colvin, 1952-2002), co-founder of the NYC punkrock band the Ramones, and in fact of punkrock itself, is in the Outlaw Bible of American Literature along with such people as Hunter S. Thompson, Jack Kerouac and Sam Shephard. Dee Dee in the last years of his life became a fictional autobiographical writer and a painter, his writings are now found in the aforementioned Bible.

Thorstein Veblin (1857-1929) the groundbreaking economist who founded the Institutional school of economy – a reaction to what he saw as the overly scientific laws of classical economics – wrote of how, no, the workers will not overthrow the capitalist power but in fact will want to emulate them and thus predicted the continued rise of the middle class. Veblen also predicted how nationalism and patriotism will trade-off (didactic materialism) with the economic growth provided by industrialism. This nationalism was institutionalized in human behavior from the first hunter-gatherer tribes which fought each other over survival. And Veblen said, in 1915, how this dynamic, this tension between nationalism and industrialism, will lead Japan to strike thus predicting in his own way WWII.

Veblen also wrote of conspicuous consumption, how the working class emulation will lead towards outward displays of wealth.

Dee Dee Ramone in his own way helped us to break this narrow path. Punk rock is/was about not following trends (of course now in its fourth musical generation punk has become a consumerist institution in itself) and living a simple honest idealistic life away from mindless consumerism and in sharing with your friends this vision. Many have found their voices and their political awakenings through the music of punk.

Punkrock was itself a kind of nationalism, at least by some. In the 1970s it was the hippies versus the punks. But the Ramones were always different. The Rolling Stone magazine obituary of singer Joey Ramone (the most recognized Ramone though Dee Dee was the genius who conceptualized the band) called him the last hippie and the first punk. The Ramones were about inclusiveness, not division, about fun and working hard not about keeping-up with the Joneses.

Veblen would say the Ramones were about craftsmanship not about invidious nationalism. We need more of this.