Photos Courtesy of Mark Blyth
Author: Mark Blyth
1. How did growing up as a “welfare kid” shape and structure your outlook and relationship with money?
Oh, Interesting. I really didn't understand it and I had none of it. But what put me on this path was one evening when I was 13 years old, I watched a ‘face-off’ between macroeconomic models live on television.
In the red corner, literally, was everyone’s idea of an old professor, complete with a patched tweed jacket and beard, hawking the virtues of a Keynesian macro model with hundreds of equations. I recall he was from Manchester. In the appropriately blue corner was a young man in a very nice suit. I recall that he was from the London Business School.
He had a monetarist model that had barely a dozen equations. The host of the show, game-show style, then asked the Professors to input various shocks into their models to see what happened. In almost every scenario the monetarist model gave clear results, and tax cuts were usually the optimal policy.
I may have been 13, but I knew bullsh*t when I saw it. Observing this schism did make me wonder why anyone took economics seriously at all. To answer that question I went to university in 1986 and never looked back.
2. What is the most common misconception, you hear, of “Angrynomics”?
It's just been released so give it time…but so far the title says it all and people tend to get it, which speaks to the moment. People are angry about the economy and they intuitively know that the way the economy works is driving that anger, so the title is not a source of misperception.
3. Given the inequality and disparity of income between the rich and the middle class, how does your book provide the middle-class reader a course of action to minimizing the systemic income gap?
By trying to give them, as we call it, a ‘what the heck is actually going on manual’ that is written in a way that if the reader gives us three hours, we can give them some clarity.
We also give them concrete ideas about things we could do (citizens wealth funds, digital dividends, etc) that do not require the raising of personal income taxes (which is what hurts the middle class) and that cut across traditional left and right boundaries.
4. There is a saying, “people buy based on emotion and then justify their purchase with logic.” Seeing as anger is one of the most powerful emotions, how is it affecting the economy?
Not in that way. It's not a ‘buyers-remorse with malice’ issue. Anger affects the economy in the following way. An economy is nothing more than the number of workers, the number of hours worked and the quality/amount of the capital that they work with. That’s it.
If those people are working on ever more precarious contracts, with higher levels of revolving debt, with stagnant wages, taking on all the risk while all the reward gets concentrated at the top, they will get angry, and justifiably so.
5. What was the most frustrating thing you discovered while writing and researching for “Angrynomics”?
Frustrating? Interesting. That our problem is not a failure of ideas. It's a failure of the quality of our political capital. Say what you want about Roosevelt or Churchill, they fought for what they believed in.
Say what you want about Reagan or Thatcher, they were ‘conviction’ politicians who followed through on what they believed. What do we have now? At best refugees from the TV industry who govern by polls. At worst, pure opportunists who see public service as a route to personal enrichment. They are crap. We deserve better.
6. It has been said that modern economists are trying to revive a horse that has been dead for years. A) Do you agree or disagree? and B) What are some ways we can revive the horse?
But overall, the field moves on as does the world. It just takes a time to catch up.
A decade ago concern with inequality was a sideshow and free trade was an article of faith. Not so much now.
7. Aren’t companies that are deemed “too big to fail” directly contradicting capitalism?
Hell yeah. With risk comes reward. You can’t expect people to support a system where firms are not allowed to fail (Boeing, Banks, Cruiselines) and get bailed out, while the people they employ are thrown out of work and told to go find a new job.
You can’t have Superannuated Socialism for the CEO class and their political handlers and Cutthroat Capitalism for everyone else and expect this to persist. As I like to put it, the Hamptons are not a defensible position.
8. What are some economic systems that you think are working well during the current public health crisis impacting the world?
My answer lies in this 6-minute film made by an American filmmaker who lives in Spain. She took two of my online interviews and made a mini-documentary. It's totally worth it. Watch this: www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rgANzx8hXs
9. What’s the best book you’ve read so far in 2020?
The Storm Before the Storm, by Mike Duncan. Deals with how the Roman empire screwed itself up 100 years before the fall of the empire by concentrating property rights at the top of society with the result that political polarization and economic fragility followed. Sound familiar? Yes, it's a likely future history of the US.
10. What’s your best advice for getting over writer’s block?
11. What’s the best advice you have ever received on happiness?
Remember that simply by being born where I was, and by living where I am, I am better off than 90% of people in this world, many of whom have problems I can barely fathom. Be grateful to fate as well as to one's supposed talents - and do not confuse the two. Luck beats talent all the time.
12. Do you plan on writing more books in the future?
Of course. My other careers were musician (too rusty), Chef (problematic post-COVID), and Comedian (too much like hard work). So I will stick with writing.
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