Dear Paul Krugman,
During my undergraduate studies at the University of Oxford, I attended a talk that you gave there on the response of various governments to the 2008 financial crisis. I was not a student of economics — my knowledge of economics comes from reading, listening, but most of all seeing the impact that the economy has on the people I love. This is what has informed my politics and my will to learn about the systems that shape economies around the world, and while I am not an expert on economics, the abiding question that returns to me with every new year of political organising and learning, is: have we learned anything?
So, I write to you with this question. Have we learned anything as a public or as a society since I saw you speak? That talk was given some time between 2012 and 2015, I forget the exact year. You spoke of how many people compared the 2008 credit crunch to the Wall Street Crash when they should’ve been comparing it to what happened in Japan during the 90s. You talked of how, as I had grown up thinking, austerity was more politically motivated than proven by economic models and theories. Since then, I have graduated into the remnants of a recession, and I have watched the remnants of that recession make it harder and harder for my peers to achieve what a generation ago would have been considered a basic standard of living. I have protested, organised, written, campaigned, and I am always left with the same problem — that as a society, as an electorate, in the UK we don’t seem to have learned anything. And I wonder therefore if this is the same everywhere?
As you probably know, the UK suffers from a deep-seated monetary consensus, which was established by Margaret Thatcher’s government — the British public don’t remember a time when the default position was not leaning towards austerity. I believe that this has led to an ideological position being accepted as factual, neutral information, and after spending the whole of my adult life trying to dispel this myth, I am increasingly wondering what can dislodge its hold. I have particularly found that there is a lack of economic education and therefore economic understanding in my country, with the concepts of macroeconomics not being taught in schools for the most part, despite the profound impact that they have on the lives of every individual. The only reason that I have the understanding that I do (which is still lacking in plenty of areas) is because I was brought up in a very political household, after my father received his political education in large part through his union when he was a typesetter. This type of political education, and economic education, seems to not be very common anymore — it feels as if the structures of community within the lives of working people which used to provide this understanding have been eroded. And with that comes the erosion of confidence: people do not seem to trust themselves to understand the economy of their own country, and they don’t seem to believe that they deserve better than they are currently getting.
Perhaps my lack of expertise in economics is causing me to oversimplify things, but I feel that it is more important than ever that we solve whatever communicational obstacle is keeping us from having better discussions about economic policy —discussions in which everyone participates, instead of ones where most of us are ruled over by those who deem themselves worthy of these debates. I therefore would love to hear your thoughts on whether we, as a society and a public, have learned anything since 2008, since 2015, and how we might change the alienation felt by so many to the systems that control their lives. How can we communicate constructively about macroeconomics as a society? I know that you are probably not focused on the UK where I’m from, but I would love to hear your thoughts on the US or anywhere else you think is an interesting example. One of the things I really admired about your talk was the way that you made everything so understandable. At no point did I feel alienated, lost, or out of my depth. Your talk has stuck with me over the years more than many lectures I had from my tutors, and so I would be interested to hear your thoughts on the communication around economics. I look forward to hearing from you, and look forward to reading more of your work in future too.