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Radicalism in a time of austerity

January 26, 2015

Just a couple of quick thoughts on radicalism in the aftermath of the Greek elections. Paul Krugman rightly points out that Syriza’s policies aren’t radical. Syriza is proposing sensible things: rejigging its unfair debt obligations, investing and reflating the economy, just like in Germany after the second world war. These policies are what any sensible policymaker would do in response to years of failed austerity. It’s the eurocrats who are radical, proposing fiscal rectitude in a full-on depression.

The situation reminds me of Scotland’s Radical Independence Conference last year after the referendum. Several speakers pointed out that what the so-called radicals wanted was pretty mainstream. Calls for tax to go up a bit aren’t exactly Trotskyite. The top rate of income tax under Margaret Thatcher was 60%, higher than any Scottish party or campaign group is currently proposing. It isn’t ‘extreme’ to rid the country of weapons of mass destruction or to ask for a society which looks after the worst off.

One reading of this situation is that conservatives have succeeded in dragging the debate so far to the right that today’s firebrands are reduced to saying things that would have seemed middle-of-the-road two decades ago. Maybe that’s partly true.

But it’s also important to remember that radical doesn’t mean extreme or fanatical. It’s from the Latin radix, meaning root. There’s a sense in which radicalism is to do with stripping away the superficial and delving to the bottom of a problem. Today’s radicals are, like their forebears, addressing the roots of economic and social concerns. They’re not posturing, wild-eyed fanatics. In a sense, it’s a source of optimism that many people have reached the end of their patience and are being forced to see things as they really are, coalescing around the doable and showing up right-wingers and austerians as the fantasists.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Alan Gay permalink
    January 26, 2015 6:03 pm

    Well said Dan

  2. Liberty of Thinking permalink
    January 26, 2015 8:52 pm

    Looks like evan radicalism is being radicalized, or rather demonized.
    Germany seems happily forgetful about how they made it after burning the world. Merkel ain’t Marshal, isn’t it?!

    • January 27, 2015 9:43 am

      Did you see that the first thing Tsipras did was to lay flowers for resistance fighters killed by the Nazis? You could almost hear the symbols clashing.

      • Liberty of Thinking permalink
        January 27, 2015 1:52 pm

        Thank you for mentioning that; I wasn’t aware of it. Absolutely, powerful indeed. I hope he will keep his promises, as someone has to finally stand against this -in my opinion- new form of imperialism, exercised by the Brussels powers. As I remember from history, Greece was never an easy prey…

  3. ckakal permalink
    January 26, 2015 11:47 pm

    So true Dan! Thank you!

    • January 27, 2015 9:48 am

      Cheers. Love the picture above the blog!

  4. January 27, 2015 12:49 am

    One of my esteemed professor once said, “when methodology becomes a methodology, we are all f…..*”… a return to the roots of thought is well advised..

    • January 27, 2015 10:13 am

      I think methodology is one of the most misused words in economics, mainly because mainstream practitioners pretend to be positivist scientists and don’t want to think about the underlying reasons behind their use of particular methods. An econometric technique like the use of panel data is a method, not a methodology. The section at the beginning of consultancy reports that discusses ‘methodology’ is really a discussion of method.

      Methodology is the study of the framework within which methods are chosen. An ‘ology’ is to do with what happens beneath the surface. Geology and geography are good examples of the distinction. It’s not just semantics. Methodology is something that’s always been discussed (at least by the important economists) and which has a meaning.

      • January 27, 2015 10:14 am

        And you’re right — defined like this, there’s a strong link between radicalism and methodology.

  5. January 27, 2015 10:24 am

    agreed Sir…just wish that as economists we will one day become mature enough to know that we positively contribute to the debate of humanity…the he(art) of husbandry…of business…of growth…

  6. January 27, 2015 10:26 am

    Don’t hold your breath!

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