This is a short blog inspired by the news that the UK is officially in ‘double-dip’ recession (as predicted by pretty much everyone on the left).
So everybody’s taking perverse pleasure in celebrating the return to recession as proof that 'austerity isn’t working'.1 Setting aside the armchair-Keynesianism behind much of this, the main thing that struck me is how nobody's talking about the fact we're in a longer depression than the Great Depression, and nearly as deep, with no end in sight (I'm using the only non-arbitrary definition of a depression I'm aware of as the period in which output remains below its pre-recession high).
The only exception I'm aware of – and not a minor one to be fair – is FT editor Martin Wolf, who back in September wrote that "the current UK depression will be the longest since at least the first world war. Without a dramatic surge in growth, it is also quite likely to generate a bigger cumulative loss of output than the 'great depression'."
But the D-word is conspicuous by its absence in most of the economic commentary. We're living through the second great depression and nobody can utter the words. Is this, as Slavoj Zizek has suggested, a case of Wile E. Coyote having run over the edge of the cliff, but only falling when he looks down and acknowledges his predicament?
In other words, the absence of the D-word from most of the economic discourse raises a more general question of the relationship between discourse and the material world, between the intersubjective and the objective. A typical materialist view sees discourse as the ideological rationalisation of the underlying social forces. And often it is. But to what extent is the relationship reciprocal? In other words, if all the commentators started calling the economic situation it what it is – a depression – what would happen? Would that cause stock markets to tumble, banks to collapse and the material ‘basis’ to wobble on account of a single word?
- 1. This assumes a rapid return to growth is the objective, rather than tearing up the post-war social contract, smashing the remnants of organised labour, privatising everything in sight and getting even more ridiculously minted.