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HARD TIMES by Tom Clark


The Divisive Toll of the Economic Slump

by Tom Clark with Anthony Heath

Pub Date: June 24th, 2014
ISBN: 978-0-300-20377-6
Publisher: Yale Univ.

Guardian contributor Clark and Heath (Sociology/Univ. of Manchester) seek “to identify the distinctive social maladies that flow from economic stagnation…in Britain and the United States.”

The authors debunk the opinions of experts who assert the supremacy of “the Anglo-Saxon societies” and their liberal, free market–based economics over capitalist alternatives from continental Europe and Japan. Clark and Heath probe deeply into the 2008 financial crisis and its aftermath by evaluating the quality of the unemployment numbers, which are often the preferred metrics for assessing the impact of the crisis, especially against the members of the Euro zone. Their basis is a five-year (2007-2012) international investigation known as “Social Change: A Harvard-Manchester Initiative,” which Heath co-directed with Robert D. Putnam, a professor of public policy at Harvard. The directors received assistance from a number of Anglo-American universities and institutes, as well as a variety of organizations, including Save the Children and the Resolution Foundation. The authors argue that the growth of inequality in both countries since the 1970s provides the key to deconstructing the significance of unemployment statistics. They consider social consequences—e.g., the increase in working women and unmarried females and the decline in household formation—and they draw on the latest research to show that “the reach of the recessionary damage” can also be identified by tracing the jobs that have replaced those lost. In both the U.S. and the U.K., this has produced a hollowing-out of the middle of the workforce, as job quality, skills, pay and security have been downgraded, especially since the 1970s; in continental Europe, this shrinking middle is not nearly as widespread. Furthermore, the proceeds of economic growth have been allocated almost exclusively to the top percentiles of the income pyramid—again, this is not the case in continental Europe. The authors also go on to indict “malign passivity towards the lowliest living standards.”

A sharply written rebuttal of prevailing orthodoxies about the realities of global economics after 2008.