zombie ideas
December 13, 2010, 5:07 pm
Filed under: brave new world, the sweet life | Tags: ,

A to do list for today.  First write down all the ideas that don’t work, then publicly confront them.  Simple.  Easy peasy. Anyway, someone took the time to make the list below, so the hard part’s already done.  Some are:  that markets decide, that wealth trickles down, that private is always better than public.  Those are the living dead still marauding and loitering around .  Now for step two, to confront.  I suppose it makes sense to come up with some replacement ideas too.  Of course, the big tent idea is to manage risk – the risk of zombie ideas taking over our lives.

Despite the financial crisis, we have yet to have a real national conversation about the ideas that got us into the mess in the first place. Those ideas–Thatcherism/Reaganism/the Washington Consensus/market liberalism–still walk about amongst us, deprived of life but able to exert supernatural force on politics. They include the Great Moderation–the myth of unparalleled macroeconomic stability since 1985; the Efficient Markets Hypothesis–the myth that markets determine fair investment prices; the Dynamic Stochastic General Equilibrium–the myth that macroeconomics should be derived not from economic aggregates but from microeconomic models; trickle-down economics–the myth that what helps the rich will ultimately help the poor; and privatization–the myth that anything government does can be done better by private companies. The great failure of the last two years is that none of these zombie ideas has been confronted head-on by our political class. Risk and uncertainty must be rethought for the twenty-first century: “A social democratic response to the crisis must begin by reasserting the crucial role of the state in risk management.”

Zombie Economics: How dead ideas still walk among us, John Quiggin, LSE

rich inner lives

I was sitting with three camping friends at a fire, good buzz on, upstate New York, talking about the state of India now that 60 years has passed since her independence from the British.  They were saying it was good; I was saying it wasn’t.  They are Indian born and raised now over here, I’m an Indian born and raised North American.  It turns out we were quoting different indicators, they the GDP and the number of new millionaires, me the persistence of poverty.  They’re both good indicators, but should probably be put together to make a bigger and better picture.  They won’t be.  Anyway, good buzz quickly turned bad.

Sometime during the melee – it got quite fierce – my status was called into question:  how would you know, you’re a white guy.  I said I’m third culture, which was probably too eggheaded, and one friend snarled, how pretentious.  Yup, too eggheaded.  But it’s just a definition that helps people to understand themselves and their lives.

Third culture simply means someone grew up between worlds – like say India and Canada – and takes on a lot of identifiable character qualities based on this increasingly common, rich and complicated way of living.  For instance, you feel like you belong to both worlds; and you feel alien from both worlds.  You feel judgmental of  people who grew up ‘rooted’ and without a cross cultural experience of living; and you crave rootedness. There are lots of other qualities common to the Third Culture.

I still haven’t forgiven my elementary school friend with whom I camp every summer for calling me pretentious.  I think she’s wrong.  Apparently, this experience has identifiable results which are increasingly common in the globalizing world as more and more people grow up between places.  Dismissing the nature of their upbringings seems wrong headed to me.  They may have something of use to say as the rest of the world gets increasingly nationalistic and tribal.

The following day – after the fight, and everyone sheepishly beginning their morning ablutions and routines and breakfastings – I was drawn away on a walk by a European spouse, perhaps to make the camp site more friendly and bearable.  He’d been filled in by his wife, my classmate.  His bottom line was that poor people like it that way, which he shared with me at the start of our walk, and we were both happy to drop the topic.

Here is a good article on what it means to be third culture, by Chris Lenton in Janera.  The observations are piercing if you have lived third culture but have had trouble understanding the implication for your life.

From the article:

“They are the most interesting people because their rich inner lives belie their often bland… and sometimes wary, presentation of themselves to others.” TCKs are also, studies now show, bright, and courted by employers.


On the flipside, argues Professor Useem, these same qualities may lead to what psychologists call a “prolonged adolescence.” Over 90% of the people surveyed report being out of step with people of their age group. TCKs change jobs frequently and marry and have children far later than the average North American. They continue to move around a lot. They have trouble identifying what they want to do with their lives and most attest to having changed their course of study numerous times.

Third Culture Club, By Chris Lenton in Janera