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Tony Judt on Recession

How will the economic recession affect the human psyche for generations to come?

August 26, 2010

How will the economic recession affect the human psyche for generations to come?

1. What is the dominant feeling in Western society these days?

“We have entered an age of insecurity — economic insecurity, physical insecurity, political insecurity."

2. What other feelings does insecurity breed?

"Insecurity breeds fear. And fear — fear of change, fear of decline, fear of strangers and an unfamiliar world — is corroding the trust and interdependence on which societies rest.”

3. Why will this be hard for Western society to get through?

“We in the West have lived through a long era of stability, cocooned in the illusion of indefinite economic improvement. But all that is now behind us. For the foreseeable future we shall be deeply economically insecure. Poverty is an abstraction, even for the poor. But the symptoms of collective impoverishment are all about us."

4. What signs of poverty are visible around us?

"Broken highways, bankrupt cities, collapsing bridges, failed schools, the unemployed, the underpaid and the uninsured: All suggest a collective failure of will.”

5. Will capitalism suffer as a consequence of this insecurity?

“If we cannot trust bankers to behave honestly, or mortgage brokers to tell the truth about their loans, or public regulators to blow the whistle on dishonest traders, then capitalism itself will grind to a halt.”

6. Why is bankers' honesty so important?

“Markets do not automatically generate trust, cooperation or collective action for the common good. Quite the contrary.”

7. Did people in earlier periods see the magic of markets shaken?

“By 1945, few people believed any longer in the magic of the market. This was an intellectual revolution. Classical economics mandated a tiny role for the state in economic policymaking."

8. Why were people used to government intervention?

"Two world wars had habituated almost everyone to the inevitability of government intervention in daily life.”

9. In your opinion, what is globalization?

“Globalization is an updating of the high modernist faith in technology and rational management which marked the enthusiasms of the postwar decades.”

10. And finally, what is your view on the 1990s?

“The 1990s: The first of two lost decades.”

Editor’s note: All the quotes in this Read My Lips have been drawn from Tony Judt’s book, “Ill Fares the Land,” published by The Penguin Press HC on March 18, 2010.