brutal economics 25-10-2010

there are many depressing things about the recent government cuts. the increased homelessness and the de facto 'social cleansing' as poor people are moved out of big cities to cheaper b & b accommodation by cash-strapped councils looks like being the most pernicious result, but who knows precisely what's going to happen in the longer run?

one of the less-often discussed aspects of the crisis is the 'supposed' necessity of the cuts at this severity and speed (or indeed the superiority of cuts over a stimulus package). i have no way of judging this, neither do most people. and the study of economics clearly gives no help in this regard because academics, politicians and business people line up according to their previous ideological affiliations (the question of whether the cuts are opportunistic social engineering misses the point; the tories and the cleggite lib-dems have adopted this economic model precisely because they are pro-freemarket, low-tax, low-state involvement).

the truth is that most of us know nothing about economics beyond our own bank account / mortgage / business despite the fact the it governs our whole lives. a) because it's boring and complex. b) because economists make virtually no effort to make it simpler and more comprehensible (go into any decent bookshop and you can find a whole section devoted to the popularisation of science and mathematics - often of fearsome complexity - and three books which try to make economics accessible: stuff like freakonomics is not really about economics at all but about the analysis of social structures and large data sets). c) because econmoics simply doesn't do what it essays on the tin. it's driving using only the read view mirror, as i-forget-who once said. it's good at autopsies but very bad at prevention. and d) very little economics steps outside the world of business and finance and politics to answer what seem to me to be some fundamental questions. is growth necessary? is someone's wealth dependent on another person's poverty? why are we obsessed with the free market when free-market societies simply do not exist and would be clearly abhorrent (witness the freemarket firemen in tennessee watching gene cranick's mobile home burn down last month because he hadn't paid them his yearly fee)...?

a footnote: the most interesting and revelatory economic fact i stumbled upon recently was in the documentary corporation: that the corporation was originally a body of citizens granted a limited charter to engage in specific business. only in the nineteenth century after aggressive lobbying by lawyers on their behalf and a dogy judicial decision or two, were corporation recognised as 'natural persons' with a host of rights previously enjoyed only by actual persons. this was done by hijacking the fourteenth amendment which whose original purpose was to protect the rights of freed slaves and grant the rights of citizenship to black americans...