I wrote this book because I got really really pissed off with people with lots and lots of money telling people without any money they need to pay shit back. Mark Blyth, author of Austerity, The History of a Dangerous Idea.
Don’t you love it when economists talk dirty? Or perhaps I mean good, hard common sense in language you can understand. So you might spot a recurring theme in the topics and talkers I chose to see at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival.
I’m not alone. The hot and often steamy tents in Charlotte Square are packed with audiences hungry for information and angry that they don’t get enough of it. Perhaps we are a self-selecting bunch. But interconnected themes emerge from the speakers I have heard. We need accountability from bankers, clear explanations of complex issues from the media, and moral courage from our political leaders.
“Pick a topic that pisses you off” is Blyth’s pithy advice to his students when they are planning research. You can imagine his lectures keep them on the edge of their seat. Mark Blyth, Professor of Political Science at Browns University, Boston talks with the speed and punch of a standup comedian, his rapidly delivered soundbites ripping into government economic policy.
Back at the book festival, people are not just pissed off, they are mad as hell. Ray Perman (my husband) and Ian Fraser talked about unresolved issues of the banking crisis drawing evidence from their books, respectively the destruction of Bank of Scotland and Royal Bank of Scotland. Unusually, the chair, BBC Scotland political editor Brian Taylor, then simply handed over to the audience for a record 40 minutes of Q&A – you got the feeling it could have lasted twice as long without anyone running out of steam, driven by a sense of fury and injustice that the men at the top have got away with it.
So where is the media? The same anger and frustration emerged in questions at a talk with C4 economics correspondent Faisal Islam and Oxford professor Ian Goldin chaired by Gavin Esler: Can We Trust the Economists? The short answer is no, says Goldin, because politics and vested interest has captured the study and practice of economics.
Not completely, of course. Mark Blyth’s book is reviewed and recommended by Nobel prizewinning economist Paul Krugman. Joseph Stiglitz and David Blanchflower are among those who challenge government dogma and condemn the growth of inequality – because it is both morally wrong and bad for the economy. Goldin himself is actively involved with the Institute for New Economic Thinking.
But how many mainstream news programmes explain the increasingly complex global issues that determine how governments invest or squander money. Faisal Islam says it’s hard work keeping important economic stories on the news agenda. He urged the audience to put pressure on media bosses to encourage more discussion and explanation, write to the editors and ask them to stop dumbing us down.
Let’s do it.