Economic Collapse Imminent? Brian Francis Slattery is Here to Liberate You
by Jeff VanderMeer on October 03, 2008
This month, Tor Books publishes Brian Francis Slattery's Liberation: Being the Adventures of the Slick Six After the Collapse of the United States of America. By chance, it's a timely release given the near collapse of our banking system. The book gives readers a dystopic view of a future in which the dollar has collapsed and the United States with it. The international criminals known as the "Slick Six" travel across a transformed America on a quest to save the country. Despite describing a dystopia, Liberation is a powerful evocation of the United States, at once loving of its virtues and unforgiving of its faults. It is a stunning achievement.
Slattery has extensive experience working with publications about economics, public policy, and international affairs. It seemed like a perfect time to interview him about the novel and his views on the financial crisis that has unfolded over the last few weeks.
Amazon.com: Did you see this financial meltdown coming?
Brian Francis Slattery: Yes, but I'm nothing special in that regard, and I certainly couldn't have told you when it was going to happen...the possibility of a financial meltdown, from a variety of causes, has been a running theme for years now. But the guesses as to when things would take a turn for the worse ranged from sometime in the next few months to sometime in the next few decades, depending on the cause and the response to it.
That said, it didn't take much to see that the mortgage situation was unsustainable. The Economist pointed out a few years ago that housing prices were rising much faster than wages were, suggesting that things were a bit out of whack; in that article, the author argued that houses were simply not the good investment that they were twenty years ago. And those zero-down mortgages, with their risk premiums built in, were kind of scary from day one. It seemed pretty clear that not everyone who got one was going to be able to keep up with the payments, especially once interest rates started to rise, as they had to eventually, given that interest rates a few years ago were at record lows.
I don't blame people for signing up for one, though. I think many of them weren't told exactly what they were getting into--or if they were, they were told in terms that were difficult to follow. I don't blame people for not following financial news, either--it takes time that most people don't have. And I don't think it's a sign of reeking ambition to want to own the house you live in. That so many people can't afford property is, to me, another sign that things have gotten totally out of balance around here.
Amazon.com: Is the bailout another cynical empty gesture in a political system gone off the rails, or...?
Slattery: Obviously there's a lot of politicking and politics as usual surrounding the financial crisis. However--and this may sound totally naive in a week--but as of today (October 3), from what I understand, I actually think that the people at the Fed and the Treasury and in Congress are essentially trying to do their jobs. They're looking at a complicated problem with serious consequences for failure, and because they're looking at it from different angles, through different lenses, it looks a bit different to each of them. The Fed's and Treasury's concern about a major downturn in the economy seems totally legitimate, and if things are really as bad as they say, then they really will need to be able to move vast sums of money very quickly to do something about it. But Congress's concern about the lack of oversight in the proposal also seems legitimate, especially given the abuses of executive power we've seen in the past eight years. Add to that the people who think this is all just one big market correction, the people who think we're just handing money to rich people, and the people who think the proposal looks too much like socialism--all of which, at this point, are potentially accurate--and you've got a recipe for a serious brawl.
But this is just how it looks today. In a week, who knows? I really just hope that whatever happens doesn't hurt people too much, and that the people who are hurting now don't get hurt even more.
Amazon.com: How does your new novel approach political and economic issues?
Slattery: Argumentatively. I have my own political inclinations, of course, but that's not where the story originated--and as soon as I saw a political, economic, or moral issue showing up in the story or in one of the characters' actions, I tried to engage it immediately and get at both sides of it. For economic issues, it was important to show both those who benefited and those who got hurt, and to show what they did with the situations in which they found themselves. I also tried hard to make both sides of an argument as smart--and human--as I could, because to do otherwise would be cheap and kind of hectoring to the reader.
Amazon.com: Is it your sense that our real political life is so absurd that satire of it in fiction is tougher than ever to be successful at?
Slattery: Real political life is certainly a lot crazier now than it has ever been in my lifetime, which makes the more polite, comedy-of-manners kind satire we saw in the 1990s look not quite up to the job. But there is now a place for the more savage and surreal satire that we've seen throughout history.