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Posts Tagged ‘too much information

labels matter: unpacking posner and florida (by way of arendt)

Richard Florida and Richard Posner are guest blogging for Andrew Sullivan this week.  They each use their first posts to engage in the politics of labeling, identification and categorization.

Posner’s post is a typically thoughtful expository on why the current crisis should be labeled a “depression.” He rejects the prevailing definitions of recession and depression in favor of an alternative that comes pretty close to the notion of a “deep crisis” as it’s employed by Fligstein, Powell and others: a depression is a downturn that undermines fundamental assumptions about the forces that shape the economy. Recessions, in contrast, correct imbalances, but they don’t fundamentally alter underlying assumptions. Of course, by this definition you can’t really tell if you are in a recession or a depression while it is occurring. It’s not, in that sense, ‘objective’ since you can only tell if you were in one retroactively.

But striving for objectivity would miss the point of arguing over a label. At a moment of heightened uncertainty, the contest over the label is as important as its content (if not more). At this uncertain moment, people don’t quite know how behave.  Should I assume the world will “get back to normal” once things settle down and therefore just hunker down until it blows over? Or, should I be prepared to make some significant adjustments in the way I conceive of my role, my identity and my behavior because the world is going to look significantly different on the other side? Should the government stand back and let the economy work itself out? Or, should the government provide clarity and shape the system in fundamental ways? The answer depends on which label you subscribe to. If Posner’s definition gains widespread acceptance, it suggests one course of action in response to uncertainty over another. It also suggests that the Obama administration is right to take drastic measures because if it doesn’t influence the world that results from this crisis, someone else will.

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Written by seansafford

May 18, 2009 at 10:39 pm