Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Don't Buy It

Finished October 16
Don't Buy It by Anat Shenker-Osorio

I found this book fascinating. It deals with two subjects I find interesting, economics and language. The author talks about the use of language around the economy in the United States and how that use feeds the political arguments around the economy. She is progressive politically and shows how the conservatives language is dominant right now and how progressives can work to change that.
Right now the dominant view of the US economy (and indeed economy in general) is as an entity unto itself. Some refer to it like a god, with people being asked to sacrifice for the sake of the economy. Some refer to it as a living organism that does what it does without outside influence. Neither of these are true, but they work to the conservative's agenda.
One of the biggest problems is the lack of understanding by most people about how the economy actually works, that what we do changes the direction of the economy. One common fallacy is that spending is using up money. Spending money transfers that money to someone else, who can also use it and that can continue again and again. 70% of the US GDP is from consumer spending, which means that consumers have a huge influence on the economy. Another common fallacy is economic mobility, which conservatives sell as the ability of anyone to move up. Mobility actually works both ways, but no one mentions downward mobility. Financial literacy has actually decreased in recent years, with fewer people with a good understanding of how even basic finance like mortgages work. This makes it easier to create false stories that influence these people. As the author emphasizes time and time again, the economy is NOT an independent entity, but the result of our collective endeavours.
Progressives can change this in several ways. One, is changing the language to one that uses metaphors of man-made things like cars (i.e. drive the economy) to indicate that some control is needed and that the economy is something we created. Another is to tell people what they can do as individuals to change the economy to something that works for the people and the planet.
Many talk of economics as a science, with rules that govern it, but the author shows in vivid ways how these "rules" aren't rules at all, but merely convenient constructs to illustrate behaviours.
She also suggests four things that can be done to move the economy in the right direction, a direction that will  work for the majority of people and for the planet. If only everyone from politicians to those that vote for them would read and understand these lessons.

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