An age of economic soul-searching

Was the great recession a bigger game changer than we realise?


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In women’s month, on a cold Sunday night in the farmworkers’ compound, cheap wine-fuelled joviality again turns to discord. A stone is thrown in drunken fury. A skull is crushed. A young women dies. A young man ends up in jail. One life is ended, another destroyed. Neighbours and co-workers become sworn enemies. Tranquillity in the small community is shattered. 

A few more decibels are added to the clamour about gender violence. Another line is written in the tome of hazy hopelessness that is the life of a very large part of a young generation. And just as many in the final generation, those whose formative years were marked by much post-war deprivation but large promise of “never again”, reflect sadly on what has been done to that promise.

It’s a global story. The content may differ, but the context is the same: a fractured, disconnected, economically malfunctioning world. Is the new normal, as Dutch economist, Servaas Storm says: “radical inequality, suffocating debt, job uncertainty, secular stagnation and a vanishing middle-class”? Theories abound. Purists argue that their elixirs were never purely administered. Solutions exceed the problems themselves, but none has proved to be a lasting absolute truth. Some hope that the current few green shoots in the desert will still the dissent.

We are not too afraid of “unchartered waters”, drawing some comfort from history that we have been in unfamiliar places before, and somehow emerged with new approaches and discoveries. This time is no different. But perhaps it is in the scale and depth of questioning all assumptions about economics and about ourselves as a species. The view increasingly being seen is through an evolutionary rather than the traditional reactive quantitative lens – do we evolve or construct on…

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