The UN’s World Happiness Report Ranks “Socialist Friendly” Countries like Finland, Norway, Denmark, Iceland & Sweden as Among the Happiest in the World

One of the most pernicious, “dangerous, anti-human and soul-crushing” myths in the business world, writes Liz Ryan at Forbes, is the “idiotic nostrum” that has also crept into government and charitable work: “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” The received wisdom is sometimes phrased more cynically as “if you can’t measure it, it didn’t happen,” or more positively as “if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”

But “the important stuff can’t be measured,” says Ryan. Don’t we all want to believe that? “Can’t Buy Me Love” and so forth. Maybe it’s not that simple, either. Take happiness, for example. We might say we disagree about its relative importance, but we all go about the business of trying to buy happiness anyway. In our hearts of hearts, it’s a more or less an unquestionable good. So why does it seem so scarce and seem to cost so much?  Maybe the problem is not that happiness can’t be measured but that it can’t be commodified.

Buddhist economies like Bhutan, for example, run on a GHI (Gross National Happiness) index instead of GDP, and pose the question of whether the issue of national happiness is one of priorities. In other words, “you get what you measure.” In March, Laura Begley Bloom cited the 20 happiest countries in the world at Forbes, using the UN’s 2020 World Happiness Report, “a landmark survey of the state of global happiness,” as the report’s website describes it, “that ranks 156 countries by how happy their citizens perceive themselves to be.”

Happiness is measured across urban and rural environments and according to environmental quality and sustainable development metrics. The report uses six rubrics to assess happiness—levels of GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and corruption, and income. Their assessment relied on self-reporting, to give “a direct voice to the population as opposed the more top-down approach of deciding ex-ante what ought to matter.”  The last chapter attempts to account for the so-called “Nordic Exception,” or the puzzling fact that “Nordic countries are constantly among the happiest in the world.”

Maybe this fact is only puzzling if you begin with the assumption that wealthy capitalist economies promote happiness. But the top ten happiest countries are wealthy “socialist friendly” mixed economies, as Bill Maher jokes in the clip at the top, saying that in the U.S. “the right has a hard time understanding we don’t want long lines for bread socialism, we want that you don’t have to win the lotto to afford brain surgery socialism.” This is comedy, not trenchant geo-political analysis, but it alludes to another significant fact.

Most of the world’s unhappiest countries and cities are formerly colonized places whose economies, infrastructures, and supply chains have been destabilized by sanctions (which cause long bread lines), bombed out of existence by wealthier countries, and destroyed by climate catastrophes. The report does not fully explore the meaning of this data, focusing, understandably, on what makes populations happy. But an underlying theme is the suggestion that happiness is something we achieve in real, measurable economic relation with each other, not solely in the pursuit of individualist ideals.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Ted Turner Asks Carl Sagan “Are You a Socialist?;” Sagan Responds Thoughtfully (1989)

Socialism should not be a scare word in the U.S. Were it not for socialists like Eugene V. Debs and the labor movements organized around his presidential campaigns in the early 20th century, reforms like the 8-hour workday, worker safety protections, women’s suffrage, minimum wage, the abolition of child labor, and vacation and sick time would likely never have made it into a major party’s platform. The legacy of this strain of socialism in the U.S. endured, Jill Lepore writes at The New Yorker, “in Progressive-era reforms, in the New Deal, and in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society,” all widely supported by self-described liberals.

Yet while socialist policies are broadly popular in the U.S., the word may as well be a writhing, high-voltage wire in mainstream discourse. The same was true in the Reagan 80s, when so many progressive reforms were undone: military spending ballooned, social spending was cut to the bone, and homelessness became a major crisis, exacerbated by the A.I.D.S. epidemic the administration mocked and ignored. In 1989, at the end of the president’s two terms, Ted Turner lobbed the charge of “socialism” at Carl Sagan in a CNN interview. The astrophysicist and famed science communicator refused to take the bait.

Rather than denouncing or distancing himself from socialists, he made it clear that the label was less important to him than the material conditions under which millions of people suffered as a result of deliberate policy choices that could be otherwise. “I’m not sure what a ‘socialist’ is… I’m talking about making people self-reliant, people able to take care of themselves,” he says, in an echo of Debs’ praise of the virtue of “sand.” But this sort of self-reliance is not the same thing as the kind of mythic, Old West rugged individualism of conservatism.

Sagan acknowledges the reality that self-reliance, and survival, are impossible without the basic necessities of life, and that the country has the means to ensure its citizens have them.

I believe the government has a responsibility to care for the people…. There are countries which are perfectly able to do that. The United States is an extremely rich country, it’s perfectly able to do that. It chooses not to. It chooses to have homeless people.

Sagan mentions the U.S. infant mortality rate, which then placed the country at “19th in the world” because of a refusal to spend the money on healthcare needed to save more infant lives. “I think it’s a disgrace,” he says. Instead, billions were allocated to the military, especially the Strategic Defense Initiative, called Star Wars: “They’ve already spent something like $20 billion dollars on it, if these guys are permitted to go ahead they will spend a trillion dollars on Star Wars.”

Is objecting to a vast waste of the country’s resources and human potential “socialism”? Sagan doesn’t care what it’s called—the word doesn’t scare him away from pointing to the facts of inequality. The problems have only worsened since then. Military spending has grown to an obscene amount—more than the next ten countries combined. The figure usually given, $705 billion, is actually more like $934 billion, as Kimberly Amadeo explains at The Balance.

“Monopolies have risen again,” writes Lepore, “and income inequality has spiked back up to where it was in Debs’ lifetime.” Newsweek reports that in 2018, “America’s Health Rankings found that the U.S. was ranked 33rd out of the 36 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development countries for infant mortality.” We have only just begun to reckon with the devastating policy outcomes exposed by the coronavirus. As Sagan would say, these problems are not accidental; they are the result of deliberate choices. We could have a very different society—one that invests its resources in people instead of weapons, in life instead of death. And we could call it whatever we wanted.

See the full Sagan-Turner interview here.

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Carl Sagan’s “Baloney Detection Kit”: A Toolkit That Can Help You Scientifically Separate Sense from Nonsense

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Massive Harrods Catalogue from 1912 Gets Digitized: Before Amazon, Harrods Offered “Everything for Everyone, Everywhere”

A couple years ago, obituaries began appearing online for the department store Sears after the 130-year-old American company announced its bankruptcy. Many of the tributes focused on Sears, Roebuck & Co’s catalog, and for good reason. Their massive mail-order business, the Amazon of its day, transformed the U.S., selling guitars to Delta blues and rock and roll musicians and shipping thousands of build-it-yourself houses to rural homesteaders and suburbanites. The sheer reach and scope of the Sears’ catalog can seem overwhelming…. That is, until we turn to the 1912 Harrods for Everything.

This 1,525-page catalogue from London’s world-famous department store, Harrods, does seem to mean everything, with over 15,000 products available for purchase at the store’s location, by mail, or by phone (“anything, at any time, day or night”).

You can see the enormous monument to commerce for yourself at Project Gutenberg. The catalogue took 13 years to scan. “Some idea of the vast quantity of items that Harrods stocked or had available can be taken from the general index,” notes Eric Hutton, one of the volunteer editors on the project, “which runs for 68 pages, five columns to a page.”

Men and women could order custom-tailored clothing, fine jewelry, clocks, watches, furniture. Naturalists and hunters could have their trophies dressed and mounted. Policemen and, well, anyone, could order pistols, “knuckle dusters,” and handcuffs. “You could also hire bands or musicians, plus tents or marquees for outdoor gatherings. You could rent steam, electric, or petrol launches to go down a river, or, if you set your sights further afield, there were ‘exploring, scientific and shooting expeditions… completely equipped and provisioned for any part of the world”… perhaps the Edwardian British version of the Sears House.

A MetaFilter user points out how much globalization and empire play into the marketing. These are “not just luxury goods but commodities. I noticed wheat could come from at least three continents…. Over and over it explains how Harrods will outfit anyone abroad who needs a social or military or exploratory uniform: telegraph Harrods for shoe buckles appropriate to your stations.” Harrods also repeatedly emphasizes they will ship anywhere in the world. Colonial officials in India or Uganda could live like kings. We must confess, we doubt this merchandise was truly meant for everyone.

This was also a time when miracle cures and various unscientific treatments abounded. “You could buy things like chloroform or throat pastilles in dozens of varieties,” notes Hutton, “even those containing cocaine!”

A few of the commodities featured in Harrods for Everything are a lot harder to come by these days. Some of them, like the pages of guns, are easy to get in the US but not so readily available in the UK and many of its former colonies. (Though you can find catalogues for just about anything if you look hard enough.)

But aside from certain obvious historical differences, the catalogue isn’t that much different from the pages of online retailers who will also sell you almost anything, at any time of day, and ship it to you anywhere in the world. What we thought of as unprecedented innovation was commonplace in the days of Queen Victoria, only shipping took a lot longer. Harrods’ universalizing Latin motto even sounds particularly modern, in English, at least: Omnia Omnibus Ubique, or “everything for everyone, everywhere.” Yet much, too, has changed. Harrods, outfitter of the British Empire, is now owned by the state of Qatar.

See the fully scanned 1,525-page Harrods for Everything catalogue at Project Gutenberg.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

When John Maynard Keynes Predicted a 15-Hour Workweek “in a Hundred Year’s Time” (1930)

Image by IMF, via Wikimedia Commons

That which stands first, and is most to be desired by all happy, honest and healthy-minded men, is ease with dignity.

—Cicero, Pro Sestio, XLV., 98

There is much to admire in Roman ideas about the use of leisure time, what Michel Foucault referred to as “the care of the self.” The Latin words for work and leisure themselves give us a sense of what should have priority in life. Negotium, or business, is a negation, with the literal meaning of “the nonexistence of leisure” (otium). The English word—considered in its parts as “busy-ness”—doesn’t really sound much more appealing.

The notion that everyone, not just a propertied elite, however, should be entitled to leisure time came about only relatively recently—mostly advocated by radicals and trade unionists. In the U.S., anarchists and striking workers in Chicago fought against police in 1886 during the Haymarket Affair to achieve “Eight Hours for Work, Eight Hours for Rest, Eight Hours for What We Will.” In 1912, women-led immigrant strikers chanted “Bread and Roses” in Lawrence, Massachusetts, proclaiming their right to more than bare survival.

After the achievement of the 40-hour workweek, paid vacations, and other labor concessions, many influential figures believed that egalitarian access to leisure would only increase in the 20th century. Among them was economist John Maynard Keynes, who forecast in 1930 that labor-saving technologies might lead to a 15-hour workweek when his grandchildren came of age. Indeed, he titles his essay, “Economic Possibility for our Grandchildren.”

Writing at the start of the Great Depression, Keynes finds reason for optimism. “We are suffering,” he writes, “not from the rheumatics of old age, but from the growing-pains of over-rapid changes, from the painfulness of readjustment between one economic period and another.” Keynes’ essay concerns what he calls the “economic problem,” which is not only the problem of mass unemployment but also, in his estimation, the ability of capitalism to provide a decent standard of living for everyone. He did not see its failure to do so as evidence of a more fundamental dysfunction:

[T]his is only a temporary phase of maladjustment. All this means in the long run that mankind is solving its economic problem. I would predict that the standard of life in progressive countries one hundred years hence will be between four and eight times as high as it is to-day. There would be nothing surprising in this even in the light of our present knowledge. It would not be foolish to contemplate the possibility of afar greater progress still.

Many economists shared Keynes’ optimism through the 1970s, “a time when revolutionary change still seemed like an imminent possibility,” writes John Quiggan, professor of economics at the University of Queensland.” Utopian ideas were everywhere, exemplified by the Situationist slogan of 1968: ‘Be realistic. Demand the impossible.’” Cult figures like Buckminster Fuller explained, as had Keynes decades earlier, how technology could free everyone from the tyranny of the labor market and the scourge of “useless jobs.”

Keynes and others made a “case for leisure, in the sense of free time to use as we please, as opposed to idleness”—a distinction that draws from the ancient philosophers. “But Keynes offered something quite new: the idea that leisure could be an option for all, not merely for an aristocratic minority.” He was, obviously, mistaken. “At least in the English-speaking world,” Quiggan writes, “the seemingly inevitable progress towards shorter working hours has halted. For many workers it has gone into reverse.”

That has certainly been the case for the majority of workers in the U.S., at least before the novel coronavirus led to mass layoffs and reduced hours. What happened? For one thing, the ascension of neoliberal economics in the late 1970s, and the elections of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, began a long slow decline of organized labor. “Employers have had increasing desire for workers to work long hours,” says Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College. “And workers haven’t had the power to resist that upward pressure.”

Keynes’ predictions resonated with NPR’s David Kestenbaum, who interviewed some of Keynes’ descendants, the closest thing he had to grandchildren, in a short segment on Planet Money in 2015. One Keynes relation points out the irony that the man himself “died from working too hard.” How can those of us who aren’t globally famous economists help end the tyranny of overwork? Maybe a lot more striking workers making demands; maybe a universal basic income or something like Bhutan’s “gross domestic happiness” index?

Keynes may have erred in his predictions of the future (though he seems to have understood the needs of his moment well enough), but he may not have been wrong to view the economic turmoil of his time as a radical opportunity for utopian change and better living for everyone. Overturning the dire conditions of the present for our own grandchildren will require not only hard work, but the leisure to do some visionary futurist thinking. Read Keynes’ full essay here.

via Aeon

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Case for a Universal Basic Income in the Time of COVID-19

The idea of Universal Basic Income (UBI) has been the subject of much debate in the past few years. The candidacy of Andrew Yang for U.S. President brought the issue to national prominence, where it has remained during the spread of COVID-19. What is UBI? Put simply, it proposes that the government give every citizen a certain amount of money each month to cover, at the least, basic living expenses. As the video above by YouTube channel Kurzgesagt explains, those citizens are then free to live their lives as they like.

Unlike most welfare state models, UBI usually does not involve any means testing. In most schemes, every citizen, no matter their current wealth or income, receives the benefit. (Though most studies of the program have only given it to poor or unemployed beneficiaries.) Those who do not need the money can do whatever they want with it, but so too can those who need it. UBI ensures that people do not have go homeless or hungry if they lose their livelihood, and that they can survive without paternalist state agencies breathing down their necks.

UBI is not a new idea but dates back at least to Thomas Paine, whose Common Sense inspired the American Revolution and whose Rights of Man defended the French a few years later. As Paine argued in another, little-read, pamphlet, Agrarian Justice, no one could be truly free if they had no means of subsistence. Since capitalism had placed most of those means under private ownership, he reasoned, citizens should be compensated for being deprived of resources that belonged to them by natural right as much as to anyone else.

This philosophical justification doesn’t always enter into the conversation, which is often framed in more pragmatic terms as a political and economic expedient in times of capitalist crisis: in times, for example, like the present moment. The COVID-19 crisis has intensified calls for a UBI, as millions of layoffs point toward the inevitability of a depression. Pushing people back to work during the pandemic seems to be the only thing the U.S. government plans to do, but no amount of coercion can stop the virus from forcing closures all over again.

Even the famously libertarian economist Milton Friedman once embraced a version of UBI—as an alternative to the liberal social programs he loathed. Under Richard Nixon, of all people, such a policy almost came into being in 1969. Neither Friedman nor Nixon believed in the natural right of all citizens to a share in the profits of a state’s natural resources. But they could see the wisdom of ensuring millions of U.S. citizens weren’t relegated to living in destitution.

The program required testing, so the administration set up a trial run. “Tens of millions of dollars were budgeted to provide a basic income for more than 8,500 Americans” in five states across the country, writes Rutger Bregman at The Correspondent. Researchers wanted to know: 1. if those who received a basic income would work significantly less, 2. if the program would be too expensive, and 3. if it would prove “politically unfeasible.” The findings? “No, no, and maybe.”

The chief objection, idleness, held no water. As the chief data analyst for the Denver experiment put it at the time, “The ‘laziness’ contention is just not supported by our findings.” The two groups who did cut back on hours, 20-somethings and mothers of young children, were people who most needed the money so they could go to college or devote time to their kids. Otherwise, recipients did not quit their jobs and lay around watching TV.

Yet there remains a powerful species of human busybody who cannot rest until they’re sure everyone’s working. Such people continue to object—whether in good faith or not—that “just giving people money” will turn everyone into a slacker, as though most people were only motivated by the threat of starvation. And so, trials continue decades later. Researchers at the University of Helsinki recently conducted a two-year study in Finland with a random selection of 2,000 unemployed people across the country. Each participant was given €560 (about $607) a month to ease their burden, and received the funds whether or not they sought or found a job.

“The scheme was not strictly speaking a universal basic income trial because the recipients came from a restricted group and the payments were not enough to live on,” points out Guardian correspondent Jon Henley. Nonetheless, the researchers found that recipients were significantly less stressed than a control group—and that they could make different choices than they might otherwise. “Some said the basic income allowed them to go back to the life they had before they became unemployed,” the study authors write. “While others said it gave them the power to say no to low-paid insecure jobs, and thus increased their sense of autonomy.”

Other findings also showed how UBI could radicalize our relationship to work. “Freelancers and artists and entrepreneurs had more positive views on the effects of the basic income, which some felt had created opportunities for them to start businesses.” People providing unpaid care for others felt their time was more valued. “The security of the basic income allowed them to do more meaningful things, as they felt it legitimized this kind of care work.” The findings are being taken seriously by many European governments.

In Spain, Scotland, and elsewhere, leaders are proposing or considering some form of UBI to combat massive unemployment due to the pandemic. While the idea may have little political future in the U.S. at the moment, where priorities are to use the country’s wealth to further enrich the wealthy, UBI is becoming tremendously popular elsewhere. (A recent poll found support among 71% of Europeans surveyed.) No one believes UBI is a panacea for the world’s ills, but as the Wired video above argues, there may be no better time than now to make the case for it.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Watch 21 Animated Ideas from Big Thinkers: Steven Pinker, Carol Dweck, Philip Zimbardo, David Harvey & More

The Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, better known as the Royal Society for the Arts, and best known simply as the RSA, was founded in 1754. At the time, nobody could have imagined a world in which the people of every land, no matter how far-flung, could hear the same talks by well-known scholars and speakers, let alone see them animated as if on a conference-room whiteboard. Yet even back then, in an era before the invention of animation and whiteboards, let alone computers and the internet, people had an appetite for strong, often counterintuitive or even contrarian ideas to diagnose and potentially even solve social problems — an appetite for which the RSA Animate series of videos was made.

We can’t understand what goes right and what goes wrong in our societies without understanding how we think. To that end the RSA has commissioned animated videos based on talks by psychiatrist Iain McGilchrist on our “divided brain,” former political strategist (and current RSA Chief Executive) Matthew Taylor on how our left and right brains shape our politics, psychologist Steven Pinker on language as a window into human nature, philosopher-sociologist Renata Salecl on the paradoxical downside of choice, psychologist Philip Zimbardo on our perception of time, “social and ethical prophet” Jeremy Rifkin on empathy, philosopher Roman Krznaric on “outrospection,” journalist Barbara Ehrenreich on “the darker side of positive thinking,” and behavioral-economics researcher Dan Ariely on drive and dishonesty.

Economics is another field that has provided the RSA with a surfeit of animatable material — even of the kind “economists don’t want you to see,” as the RSA promotes economist Ha-joon Chang’s talk on “why every single person can and SHOULD get their head around basic economics” and “how easily economic myths and assumptions become gospel.”

Freakonomics co-authors Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner make an appearance to break down altruism, and “economic geographer” David Harvey attempts to envision a system beyond capitalism. And on the parts of the intellectual map where economics overlaps politics, the RSA brings us figures like Slavoj Žižek, who “investigates the surprising ethical implications of charitable giving.”

As, in essence, an educational enterprise, RSA Animate videos also look into new ways to think about education itself. Educationalist Carol Dweck examines the issues of “why kids say they’re bored at school, or why they stop trying when the work gets harder” by looking at what kind of praise helps young students, and what kind harms them.

Education and creativity expert Sir Ken Robinson explains the need to change our very paradigms of education. And according to the RSA’s speakers, those aren’t the only paradigms we should change: Microsoft Chief Envisioning Officer Dave Coplin argues that we should re-imagine work, and technology critic Evgeny Morozov argues that we should rethink the “cyber-utopianism” that has exposed harmful side-effects of our digital world.


But it is in this world that the RSA promotes “21st-century enlightenment,” a concept further explored in another talk by Matthew Taylor — and one of which you can get a few doses, ten minutes at a time, on the full RSA Animate Youtube playlist. Watch the complete playlist of 21 videos, from start to finish, below.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

An Animated Michael Sandel Explains How Meritocracy Degrades Our Democracy

Imagine if governments and institutions took their policy directives straight from George Orwell’s 1984 or Jonathan Swift’s “A Modest Proposal.” We might veer distressingly close to many a literary dystopia in these times, with duckspeak taking over all the discourse. But some lines—bans on thinking or non-procreative sex, or seriously proposing to eat babies—have not yet been crossed.

When it comes, however, to meritocracy—a term that originated in a 1958 satirical dystopian novel by British sociologist Michael Young—it can seem as if the political class had taken fiction as manifesto. Young himself wrote in 2001, “much that was predicted has already come about. It is highly unlikely the prime minister has read the book, but he has caught on to the word without realizing the dangers of what he is advocating.”

In Young’s historical analysis, what began as an allegedly democratic impulse, a means of breaking up hereditary castes, became itself a way to solidify and entrench a ruling hierarchy. “The new class has the means at hand,” wrote Young, “and largely under its control, by which it reproduces itself.” (Wealthy people bribing their children’s way into elite institutions comes to mind.) Equal opportunity for those who work hard and play by the rules doesn’t actually obtain in the real world, meritocracy’s critics demonstrate—prominent among them the man who coined the term “meritocracy.”

One problem, as Harvard’s Michael Sandel frames it in the short RSA animated video above, is an ancient one, characterized by a very ancient word. “Meritocratic hubris,” he says, “the tendency of winners to inhale too deeply of their success,” causes them to “forget the luck and good fortune that helped them on their way.” Accidents of birth are ignored in a hyper-individualist ideology that insists on narcissistic notions of self-made people and a just world (for them).

“The smug conviction that those on the top deserve their fate” comes with its inevitable corollary—“those on the bottom deserve theirs too,” no matter the historical, political, and economic circumstances beyond their control, and no matter how hard they might work or how talented they may be. Meritocracy obviates the idea, Sandel says, that “there but for the grace of God or accidents of fortune go I,” which promoted a healthy degree of humility and an acceptance of life’s contingency.

Sandel sees meritocratic attitudes as corrosive to democracy, describing their effects in his upcoming book The Tyranny of Merit. Yale Law Professor Daniel Markovits, another ivy league academic and heir to Michael Young’s critique, has also just released a book (The Meritocracy Trap) decrying meritocracy. He describes the system as a “trap” in which “upward mobility has become a fantasy, and the embattled middle classes are now more likely to sink into the working poor than to rise into the professional elite.”

Markovitz, who holds two degrees from Yale and a doctorate from Oxford, admits at The Atlantic that most of his students “unnervingly resemble my younger self: They are, overwhelmingly, products of professional parents and high-class universities.” Once an advocate of the idea of meritocracy as a democratic force, he now argues that its promises “exclude everyone outside of a narrow elite…. Hardworking outsiders no longer enjoy genuine opportunity.”

According to Michael Young, meritocracy’s tireless first critic and theorist (he adapted his satire from his 1955 dissertation), “those judged to have merit of a particular kind,” whether they truly have it or not, always had the potential, as he wrote in The Guardian, to “harden into a new social class without room in it for others.” A class that further dispossessed and disempowered those viewed as losers in the endless rounds of competition for social worth.

Young died in 2002. We can only imagine what he would have made of the exponential extremes of inequality in 2019. A utopian socialist and tireless educator, he also became an MP in the House of Lords and a baron in 1978. Perhaps his new position gave him further vantage to see how “with the coming of the meritocracy, the now leaderless masses were partially disfranchised; a time has gone by, more and more of them have been disengaged, and disaffected to the extent of not even bothering to vote. They no longer have their own people to represent them.”

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Economics 101: Hedge Fund Investor Ray Dalio Explains How the Economy Works in a 30-Minute Animated Video

Want to know how the economy works? It “works like a simple machine,” according to Ray Dalio, who explains its mechanisms in the 30-minute video above. The presentation is “simple but not simplistic,” says the site Economic Principles, a research arm of Dalio’s company Bridgewater Associates. The lesson packs in most of the major boldfaced concepts in the average overpriced college economics textbook, “such as credit, interest, rates, leveraging, and deleveraging.” And it does so in that most engaging means of learning things online, an animated video, narrated by an expert.

All that’s well and good, but can we really understand such a volatile beast as “the economy”—an abstraction that sometimes seems like a cruelly rigged game and sometimes like a not-particularly-benevolent (to most people) deity—in only half an hour? Should we trust Dalio to summarize its complexity? The billionaire hedge-fund manager did, he tells us, manage “to anticipate and to sidestep the global financial crisis.” And he has made quite an impression on people like Forbes Senior Contributor Carmine Gallo with his “7,500-word LinkedIn article titled ‘Why and How Capitalism Needs to be Reformed.’”

In that piece, the “voracious learner who studies narrative and communication… turns an enormously complex subject into a simple, compelling narrative.” He also makes it clear right in the title that by “the economy” he means a capitalist economy. It’s a point largely taken for granted in the animated explainer but an important one nonetheless given the underlying assumptions of the theory. Serious critiques of capitalism seem much harder to condense because they’re tasked with unpacking all those assumptions.

Marx’s Das Kapital spans three volumes, though he only lived to publish the first one, itself a monster of a read. Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century is maybe a little breezier, at 696 pages (though if you let The Economist read it for you, they can sum it up in four paragraphs). By contrast, Dalio offers a comprehensive primer in brief for those of us who skipped that macroeconomics course, or who never got the chance to sign up for one. But elsewhere he has matched capitalism’s biggest critics with his own best-selling book Principles: Life and Work, a huge and highly-praised look at economic crises of debt, gross inequality, stagnant wages, etc. See him describe the book, in five minutes, on 60 Minutes, just above.

Capitalism’s best-known critics, even those who want to see the current system swapped out for a more equitable, sustainable model, have known they must begin by learning how the current system works, or how it doesn’t. Dalio himself isn’t setting out to build a worker’s paradise or to make financiers like himself obsolete, but he does have some trenchant thoughts on capitalism’s failures—and they are many, in his estimation. Still, he believes he knows how it can be reformed “to produce better outcomes.” Learn more in his compellingly-written essay here.

Related Content:

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David Harvey’s Course on Marx’s Capital: Volumes 1 & 2 Now Available Free Online

Piketty’s Capital in a Nutshell

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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