2007 - 2020

What’s the Economy For?

In Kubler Ross’s famous Five Stages of Grief, denial is often the first. It helps us to survive the loss. In this stage, the world becomes meaningless and overwhelming. Life makes no sense. We are in a state of shock and denial. Many of us are in this state right now, still processing what is happening around us. That is understandable but we need to work our way through the other stages because if we don’t then vital decisions will be made by people and interest groups still stuck in denial.

Much of the talk now is of “getting the economy back up and running”. We are bored and anxious and seemingly incapable of re-thinking what the economy might be for – or how it might work other than just “re-starting it”. Those industries and classes who were benefiting greatly from the economy as it was are at the front of this queue, those who who were suffering under it are considerably less enthusiastic.

The tabloid media, delighted for being able to return to the Madeleine McCann story rather than being forced to cover the uncomfortable truth about police brutality and state murder in the USA, have acted as cheerleaders for “lifting the lockdown” often with gusto about pubs and garden centres and barbeques and the like. This despite the fact that at least eleven countries have reimposed restrictions amid fears of coronavirus second wave including Japan, China, South Korea and Germany.

Last week as NASA and Elon Musk’s Rocket X reached orbit, with ten million people gawping-on, Westminster bid MPS to shuffle round in a gigantic line then enter the chamber to vote on their own return, a routine dubbed the “coronavirus conga”. In a profoundly anti-democratic move it excluded whole sections of elected MPs and seemed to bypass the simplest of technologies as if they were some kind of voodoo. Whilst the rest of society had been becoming accustomed to tele-working and online meeting, this seemed impossible for our parliament. Alok Sharma became visibly unwell shortly after, as if channeling the reckless stupidity of the whole affair by transfusion. The metaphor of Westminster as a source of disease collapsed in on itself.

Now we’re told that the quarantine of incoming passengers will “start soon” and the much fabled NHS test-and-trace system will ‘not be fully operational until September’.

The message remains: “get back to work”.

It’s been pointed out that lockdown in England ended (schools opening, back to work) at the same epidemic levels that most European countries went into lockdown.

Now we’re told by BBC Newsnight that the UK now has more daily deaths from Covid than the rest of the entire EU put together.

The message remains: “get back to work”.

But what is it we’re meant to be mourning?

Well by May 22 the UK had 62,000 more deaths than usual, the highest rate of excess deaths in the world. So we could start there, we could start processing that mountain of grief.

Lord Alistair Darling, George Osborne and Philip Hammond warned this week that we should prepare for 1980s levels of unemployment as the coronavirus crisis sinks Britain into the deepest economic crisis in living memory.

Darling told the Commons Treasury committee: “We need to get ourselves into the frame of mind where we’re thinking about 1980s levels of unemployment.”

Osborne also suggested the current economic collapse could trigger mass unemployment. “There will be loads of people in businesses that have gone bust that aren’t going to return, and people who are coming off furloughs into unemployment. That is going to be a big social challenge, and of course economic challenge, for this government,” he said.

So that’s a lot of peoples jobs and businesses to mourn.

Or we could mourn the loss of species.

This week analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined data on 29,400 land vertebrate species compiled by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International. More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years.

In more upbeat news the sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating, according to an analysis by scientists who warn it may be a tipping point for the collapse of civilisation.

Mark Wright, the director of science at WWF, said: “The numbers in this research are shocking. However, there is still hope. If we stop the land-grabbing and devastating deforestation in countries such as Brazil, we can start to bend the curve in biodiversity loss and climate change. But we need global ambition to do that.”

So we could begin to mourn the Sumatran rhino, the Clarión wren, the Española giant tortoise or the harlequin frog.

Or we could begin to mourn the United States of America as it descends into fascism in a blizzard of social media evidence of police brutality and state crime. Beating women, firing on the the press, randomly assaulting peaceful protestors, attacking old men. What’s different is that it’s a sanctioned deliberate strategy in plain view. It’s aim is intimidation. If before they wanted to cover this up, now they want you to see it.

But really what we’re mourning is an economy and a way of life that we assumed was eternal, despite all the overwhelming evidence that it was gravely ill and deeply dysfunctional.

It gets worse. Now comes chlorinated chicken and the Brexiteers No Deal.

So I say to the people still in denial: this economy is over; we are dependent on global biodiversity; and if the virus should have taught us anything it is that we are part of nature, not separate from it. I could say that the American police force is unreformable, the political institutions of Britain are irredeemable and that the Brexit project is un-salvageable.

The idea that an appropriate response to all this is just to “get back to work” is numbingly stupid. But that’s probably where we are right now, numb with grief, unable to process what’s happening and groping around for anything that’s familiar: the pub, McDonald’s, school, sex, our jobs, our old routines.

Having created an economy that was destroying the world and exploited and alienated us en masse, we now, even with glimpses of what something other than that might look like, are determined to drive back to it.

Faced with overwhelming doses of reality our response is to shrink away from it.

This is 100% Mark Fisher’s “capitalist realism,” in which he describes “the widespread sense that not only is capitalism the only viable political and economic system, but also that it is now impossible even to imagine a coherent alternative to it”.

The second stage in Kubler Ross’s famous five stages of grief is anger.

Comments (15)

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  1. Katie Nicol says:

    I have been in the anger stage since I first witnessed the UK governments shambolic response to this pandemic. It occasions becomes sheer rage when they do something totally undemocratic e.g. the Dom Cummings fiasco and apparently get away with it. Occasionally the rage becomes a feeling of impotence as I feel that there is nothing that I personally can do to affect this government’s actions. They are far more worrying to me than the virus.

    1. Mark Bevis says:

      Yes, when will the English people realise the biggest threat to their existence is not terrorism, capitalism, viruses, the IRA, Putin, China, Iran or Jeremy Corbyn, it is in fact their own government!

      1. Squigglypen says:

        The Scots could have told you that a while back.

  2. Alex Kashko says:

    We may not go through all the stages in order or just once but I have a feeling the current BLM protests are one expression of anger and we will see more.

    Eventually the English will direct their anger against the Westminster government and break up the union.

    unless of course you are wrong and the old order does snap back in which case there may be even more anger

  3. Josef Ó Luain says:

    There’s been a recent growth in the number of mask wearers around in my neck o’ the woods, I’m glad to say. I’m reading that as an indicator of denial-stage exit.

  4. Blair says:

    Capitalism is the only economic & political system I would trust but there is scope to imagine coherent improvements by holistic means.

    There is scope for political leaders to combine Capitalism Economic principles , with the Knowledge Economy and Digital Economy.

    The way forward is to share resources properly and this can only be done through knowledge of hard, soft and complex systems.

    It is up to our political leaders to seek out the right person if has to provide a working solution. Presently we are heading in the wrong direction.

    1. andrew mills says:

      Diem25’s Green New Deal seems to me to be a well thought out plan and to fit your requirements to a tee Blair, but the people with the power in the EU – and the US, China, Russia, Brazil et al, for that matter – seem dead set against such a realignment of an economy and ‘democracy’ that has given them such disproportionate power and wealth. I dread to think what it will take to force them to change that attitude.

  5. Mark Bevis says:

    You’re not kidding about MacDonalds. Last week our main drive-in branch re-opened, by 8pm the police closed it because of the chaos the queues were causing on the roads:
    https://www.lancs.live/whats-on/food-drink-news/burnley-mcdonalds-sites-forced-shut-18355905

    Sheeple desperate for a normal, even though the old normal was killing them. Indeed, too many people that can’t imagine anything else.

    “….American police force is unreformable, the political institutions of Britain are irredeemable and that the Brexit project is un-salvageable.”

    Indeed, it can be extrapolated that the entire human race is unreformable, irredeemable and un-salvageable.

    I have certainly given up to it being redeemable. Collapse is inevitable*, and the establishment know this, which is why they are exterminating as many as they can get away with, without the expense of bullets and gas chambers, in a vain attempt to make their chances of survival higher.

    The fifth stage of Kubler Ross’ five stages of grief is acceptance. Accepting the inevitable collapse of complex systems (which historically and mathematically always happens*) can only be accepted once you accept your own mortality. Once you get to that stage, usually through a life-changing event or near-death experience, then it is possible to learn to go about things without being emotionally attached to the outcome. And that is very liberating.

    I’ve given up trying to warn people or activating for change. Let’s face it, this economy, this “civilisation” of 96% humans and their pet cows, pigs and sheep, is functionally extinct. Our way of living, even this, blathering on the internet, is completely unsustainable. 90% of the people that can’t see that are going to die sooner than they thought, in a myriad of unpleasant ways, most likely within the next 20 years. 90% of the people that can see that, a mere 3.5% of the population at the most, will also also die sooner that they hoped, but at least me and them’ll be psychologically prepared for it.

    I would suggest that those of that are aware, rather than waste energy, time and mental fortitude trying to warn the rest, just hunker down, preferably with like-minded people, and weather the storm as best you can. Start the alternative systems of sustenance and governance, have them ready. Become unnoticed, such that the establishment can’t come and pick on you once they’ve eradicated all the other perceived threats to their existence. Until they too collapse from their own contradictions. And just be there for others that make it through the collapse, with those alternative systems readly to roll.

    Or, as Tim Watkins aptly describes, the only option left worth demanding is an organised Degrowth:
    https://consciousnessofsheep.co.uk/2020/06/04/a-brown-new-deal/

    Interestingly, there is now a thing called Post-Doom, an outbranch of the Doomosphere, where people are talking about what comes next, rather than just watching the ecological and economic collapse of the planetary systems.

    What is the economy for? Hypothetically has many answers.
    What is this economy for? The enrichment of a slave owning class that are already rich, where the slaves pay for the expense of feeding, breeding and housing themselves, an annoying expense the slave owning class had to put up with before the enclosures of the commons in the 19th century.
    And people want more of that? More of just living the lie?

    *https://bsidneysmith.com/writings/essays/all-the-bunnies-in-the-meadow-die
    *https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5WPB2u8EzL8&t=218s

  6. J.Jones says:

    Don’t quite know who the “we” are who are so incapable of re-thinking what and who the economy is for! I’ve never had so many conversations, with neighbours, friends, family, some with strangers (at a suitable social distance) about how the current crisis has exposed the rotten and unfit systems – economic, health & social care, environmental – that we have in the UK and how we need to change them.

    1. That’s very true Jane – there’s a ton of processing and discussing and a huge amount of goodwill and potential. I suppose the “we” are the forces who benefited from the old economics and want to see everything restored as it was.

      1. Jell says:

        Just catching up. There is one goverment that already had a programme for change and is acting upon it. The Finnish Government’s “Inclusive and competent Finland – a socially, economically and ecologically sustainable society”, is the
        Programme of Prime Minister Sanna Marin’s Government developed in 2019.

        Now they have appointed Juho Saari, Dean of the Faculty of Social Sciences and professor of social and health policy at Tampere University as a rapporteur to produce policy recommendations on how to prevent the growth of inequality and insecurity in society caused by the Covid-19 epidemic.

        There is a book coming out in the autumn about “The Future of Europe” written by my wife and two other leading Italian Proffs which supports Saari and others…..

  7. Richard Easson says:

    What stage is it when we all just seem to be spectators watching some badly written , far-fetched drame, like a form of entertainment with no participation allowed even. ( my MP has been effectively banned from parliament and even if he went down there he could not then return to do his job up here). I watch, not in denial just as a helpless byestander.

  8. Jell says:

    Mike,
    Finnish Government’s programne 2019 reference:
    https://valtioneuvosto.fi/en/marin/government-programme

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