Are We All Zombies Now?

I’m not an economist and have only recently become interested in economics – mostly because I am interested in the dire political situation we find ourselves in – reinforced by recent riots but also by reports of rising unemployment, closing businesses, threats to welfare and services.

Reading Newsnight economist Paul Mason’s blog I was alerted to the concept of Zombie Economics – a bit late to the party as it’s been around for a while!  I also was made aware of the idea of Zombie Households and Zombie businesses and it made me wonder whether perhaps there were also Zombie Politics and Zombie Citizens – and if so how would they be characterised and how could we rid ourself of this Zombie plague?

In case, like me, you are ignorant of the whole world of Zombie-isms that don’t exist in horror or comedy-horror genre culture – here’s a brief guide:

Zombie Economics – Economic theories of the last 100 years have been tried and failed and repeatedly tried and failed many times. Despite the fact that the ideas are frequently consigned as ‘dead’ they rise again – they are ‘undead’ – they are Zombies.  We are currently in a period of Zombie Economics where all the alternatives are ‘dead’ but face Zombification – mostly because there seem to be no viable ‘live’ ideas to replace them.

Zombie Businesses – Businesses that survive simply to survive. They are so heavily burdened by debt that they survive merely to service the debt, they can’t borrow more and grow, they can’t do less – they’d break.  The banks continue to support them in order not to face losing their lent money.  Effectively the business is dead but doesn’t know it.  It’s a Zombie.  Usually the preserve of smaller businesses we are increasingly seeing larger businesses and institutions becoming Zombified – maybe even countries – hello Greece!

Zombie Households – Like Zombie businesses these households survive just to survive – wage stagnation, rising prices and travel costs balance against low interest rates -but these households teeter on the brink – (economist Guy Standing has dubbed them the ‘precariat’)  those of us who’s financial and social stability is never assured – there is no cushion of savings, no job for life or pension certainty – if we own our own properties then interest rate rises could see the end of that ownership or a miring down into ever greater debt. We aren’t free – we are trapped in the market – shuffling along – hungry – looking for brains – preferably the sort that can come up with a solution to this mess!

But how did we get into this weird Zombie Nation?  Could it be we were led by Zombie Politics?

Zombie Politics like Zombie Economics is a world full of dead ideas, ideas that have been around so long that some can be traced back to at least the 16th Century (if not before)!  A lot of the ideas are based on the Zombie Economics – so that doesn’t help.  The ones based on ‘morals’  – for example the deserving versus the un-deserving poor have been around for ever – and solutions still aren’t forthcoming!

I can’t have been alone in thinking at the last election “ this party is putting forward an idea that clearly didn’t work last time, oh – actually so is the opposing party – oh – and this one, and this one”.   Commentators on the recent rioters have been quick to point out that they were not ideologically motivated (unless you count those non-ideologues the Anarchists) perhaps because young people (whether educated or not) are shunning dead politics and ideologies as pointless.  They see no solutions to their own Zombification and therefore embrace it.  The difference between the educated disaffected young and the unedcuated is that the educated protest (peacefully and not-so-peacefully) in a structured way, and the uneducated ‘protest’ in an unstructured way – unaware perhaps that they are protesting.   We see the rise of the Zombie Citizen.

The Zombie Citizen accepts the most general mores of the culture they are presented with: capitalism, consumerism, state controlled welfare – whether they are high-rolling, champagne drinking city boys and girls, or estate dwelling drug-dealing doleys (to give two nice extreme stereotypes) they accept the status quo that money is good, low-taxation is good, buying things is good, the NHS is good, holidays and affordable travel are a right, celebrity equals respect and so on.  They do not, though, engage with culture or society any further than that – they are not interested in political debate, they may not even vote – they don’t perhaps understand why they should – they aren’t interested in helping to make better those things they perceive as ‘wrong’ – they simply complain about them.  They are alive in the sense that they are functional/dysfuncational units of society, but dead in the sense that they take no part in it, make no effort to engage with it, and have little interest in the future of it unless it relates to a loss of a  part of the status-quo that they are particularly attached to – even then the engagement required to do more than simply complain and grumble might be too much for the Zombie Citizen.

But how are we to rid ourselves of this Zombie Plague? Having led myself down this massive analogy with Zombies I am now faced with finding ways of getting rid of them that doesn’t require a mass decapitation of all politicians, economists and most of the population!  So lets assume that somewhere, someone is working on a cure, a vaccine against this Zombification.  I’m no scientist but I predict that part of that cure will be political engagement by ordinary citizens – like you and me – a shaking off of the burden of consumerist culture – a long hard look at what politics ought to look like – a closer engagement and assessment of our politicians (how many of us regularly write or email our MP about anything that isn’t a personal matter? How many of us can even name our own MP?) – a real assesment of what really matters to make society a place where we can all live happily (surely the ultimate aim) rather than wealthily.  What can I say? “Zombie’s of the World Unite – give us some braaaaaaaaains…”

 

These are some of the articles, blogs and info I looked at in writing this blog:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-14579710

http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/10/15/five_zombie_economic_ideas_that_refuse_to_die?page=0,5

http://zombiecon.wikidot.com/

http://press.princeton.edu/titles/9270.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zombie_company

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/finance/edmundconway/100000592/the-rise-and-rise-of-zombie-households/

http://www.xperthr.co.uk/blogs/employment-intelligence/2011/08/the-uk-economys-walking-dead-2.html

http://www.guardian.co.uk/business/2011/jul/03/western-economies-japan-lite

http://www.guardian.co.uk/theguardian/2010/nov/28/happiness-cameron-welfare-cuts-bentham

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Precariat-New-Dangerous-Class/dp/1849663513

http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/newsnight/paulmason/2011/05/

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