Una dintre cele mai inteligente și provocatoare analize a vieții și carierei lui David Bowie
The Political Economy of David Bowie
n one of the more thoughtful pieces to have appeared mourning David Bowie over the past two weeks, John Harris seeks clues about Bowie’s life in its particular generational context. This was an especially famous generation born during or shortly after World War Two, coming of age in the 1960s. But as many have pointed out, Bowie never quite got along with the ’60s, and his career coincided with the rise of a new individualism that would coalesce around Thatcherism. Or to put that in the graver terms that probably felt more immediate at the time, it coincided with the disintegration of Keynesianism. Between Hunky Dory in 1971, when the dollar was de-pegged from gold, and Lodger in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher came to power, Bowie produced his greatest albums while global capitalism was extricating itself from deliberate political control.
It was also a period of historically unprecedented economic equality, as Thomas Piketty has demonstrated. Britain has never had a smaller gap between top and bottom incomes than it did in 1977, arguably Bowie’s most creatively brilliant year, which was spent in Berlin. As Piketty’s historical data shows, Bowie’s childhood and youth (he was born in 1947) coincided with a highly unusual trough in income inequality. The Prudential has calculated that 1948 was the ‘luckiest year to be born’, offering three decades of a uniquely supportive welfare state, followed by three decades of rising asset prices, benefiting baby-boomer home-owners and retirees.
As has now become clear to any observer of London’s cultural sectors, rampant inequality makes artistic risk-taking far less likely. People spend longer living at home with their parents and then have to work far more paid hours in a week, simply to afford rent. This consumes the time and imagination that a 20-year-old might otherwise use to reinvent themselves and/or their art. No doubt there are some children being born in Brixton today who will go on to art school, but that is only because Brixton is now home to people sufficiently wealthy to cover the costs of such non-utilitarian luxuries. This is surely one reason why we look so longingly at Bowie’s self-invention, and also why it feels so impossible to imagine a career such as his happening again, at least in London. Bowie is evidence that many of the goals of neoliberalism (self-reliance, innovation, flexibility etc) are not so much ‘incentivised’ by higher inequality as Thatcherites believed, but utterly thwarted by it.
Leaving aside the ways in which Bowie expressed the emerging individualism of the post-Keynesian era, there is an intriguing question as to why his generation were capable of that level of invention, to an extent that subsequent generations were not. Reduced inequality may be necessary, in terms of liberating people from the bonds of family or labour market dependency, but it scarcely seems sufficient. Now that we’ve entered a period when our heroes born in the 1940s are dying at an accelerating rate, it’s worth asking what might have been special about that particular existential starting point.