Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Afternoon Links

This and that for your Sunday reading.

- Zoe Williams highlights how misleading framing has caused far too many people to accept destructive austerity and inequality:
Not unreasonably, given the financial crash and its worldwide consequences, the economy was seen as intensely volatile, susceptible to grand forces whose actual nature fell into a cognitive black hole: “market forces” were seen as determining but utterly mysterious. Words like “falling” and “tumbling” were ubiquitous. The language was of natural disaster, and it was highly unusual to link this back to any human responsibility, except that you shouldn’t take too much out of the bucket. This may explain the paradox that, while inequality is seen as a bad thing, there was very little support for redistributive policies; asymmetry may be destructive, yet, like a weather event, it was beyond the wit of man to correct.

Dora Meade, the lead researcher, was shocked by the “ubiquity and level of fatalism”. If you combine the feeling that the economy is something beyond a normal person’s understanding or control, with the sense that the system is rigged, “people are left feeling there is very little they can do. There’s no role for the general public, even if they believe it’s broken and unfair.”

Perhaps the most dispiriting element is that, when asked to describe or imagine a functional, healthy economy, people turned always to an idealised past, when wages were high, inequality was low and we were more “self-reliant”. The resonance here is not with austerity, but with Brexit arguments: people weren’t necessarily blaming immigration for low wages; but they were imagining a past in which wages were higher, and linking that nostalgia to an era of self-determination whose erosion can only, logically, have come from elsewhere.

The report goes on to describe the economic frames and images that might make us feel differently, less impotent, more optimistic: yet before we can talk about the economy as an ecosystem fostering meaning and fulfilment, rather than a bucket full of money, we need to have the courage, not of one’s convictions, but of one’s confusion.
- Sergei Guriev, Danny Leipziger and Jonathan Ostry note that an economy which provides growing spoils for only a lucky few is unsustainable. And Seth Ackerman interviews J.W. Mason about the instability created for investors and workers alike when more money is funneled to the top while workers borrow to give the appearance of keeping up.

- Meanwhile, Mark O'Connell writes about the steps the .01% are taking to isolate themselves from the social challenges they're unwilling to help address.

- Erik Hertzberg reports on the sky-high levels of Canadian consumer borrowing against home values. And Rajeshni Naidu-Ghelani notes that home purchases themselves are increasingly being financed by consumers dipping into their retirement savings.

- David Moscrop writes that the much-hyped automation of work is merely the latest iteration of the long-standing question of who will control - and benefit from - technological progress.

- Finally, Ioana Marinescu and Herbert Hovenkamp examine the possibility that competition law could be used to challenge corporate mergers based on their effect on the labour market (rather than merely because of the impact for customers). And Rob Davies discusses how Carillion's collapsed privatization scheme continues to affect workers, suppliers and public services alike.

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