ECONOMY

Practising heterodoxy

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I start today’s Note with a letter from one of our readers, Stuart Shroff, sent in response to Ed’s last note on paying heed to alarmists:

Dear Ed and Rana,

OK, yes we all know the spectre of Donald Trump’s resurgence is real and that a much more organised and sinister version is waiting in the wings to prey on the groundswell of those left-behind or looking for a place to dump their angst. Yes, again, we know, and are utterly terrified.

But seriously, what action can folks like myself living in Greenwich Village do about it? Aside from donating to political campaigns, what positive and meaningful steps can be taken?

Otherwise, if it’s inevitable perhaps I should look at selling my apartment while the market is hot and emigrate. Or just maintain heightened anxiety that will limit my lifespan faster than climate change threatens my existence.

Thank you.

Great questions, Stuart. First, I’m with you on the moving fantasies. Certainly, plenty of people have already decamped from New York, although sadly most of them seem to be doing that for tax reasons rather than worries about democracy.

I love the city, but after struggling for months and spending tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees to evict a dangerous, abusive tenant from my brownstone apartment during Covid (I honestly didn’t care that he wasn’t paying rent; I just didn’t want to feel like I was in Pacific Heights every day), I’m feeling less in love with the Big Apple than before. For a small taste of what I’m talking about, read this New York Times piece. For a bigger taste, watch for a FT Weekend article I’ll write on this at some point.

I bring this issue up because it dovetails with what I see as the fundamental answer to your question: more empathy, and more heterodox thinking. I, for example, was until eight months ago the sort of progressive that would have never taken the side of a landlord over a tenant. More pro-tenant regulation? Bring it on!

Suffice to say I now have a heck of a lot more empathy for landlords, not so much the Blackstones of the world, but the many small-time property owners who depended on rent during the pandemic and have been completely screwed over by the eviction moratorium. I haven’t seen too much coverage about them. But new statistics show that tenants actually came out with better credit scores post pandemic, while homeowners’ credit decreased.

Heterodox thinking. Questioning our own belief systems. Trying to find some point of contact with the other side. I guess I see this as the only way forward. But it’s incredible how touchy people are these days when you step outside of the political box that you are supposed to be in. I am, for example, braced for the hate mail I’ll likely get for my latest column, in which I argue against the conventional progressive view that we need to keep interest rates low to help working people.

Many of us are worried about Trump. Or the future of New York. Or whether democracy will prevail. But half the country isn’t nuts. We must keep trying to reach out to each other. A few ways I might suggest for progressives like myself to do this: let’s not shame those who can’t quite master the whole new world of gender fluidity overnight. Let’s not get up and walk away from the table when you find yourself dining with someone who voted for Trump (this actually happened at a dinner party I attended recently). Let’s listen when small farmers and manufacturers complain that climate change regulation will kill them, and figure out how to strike a better balance. I could go on, but you get the idea (and I suspect from the gentle tone of your email that you probably already do all this). 

Other than that, I’m giving people in my friends and family circle that I think could be better informed subscriptions to the FT for Christmas. You’ll forgive my prejudice, but I think we are far less biased than either the NYT or The Wall Street Journal. And research shows that biased news consumption is one of the reasons we got into this mess to begin with.

Ed, what advice would you offer Stuart and other readers in despair about the state of our country?

Recommended reading

  • I was interested in this news story in the WSJ noting that Big Tech companies are putting their spare cash to work buying commercial properties. I wrote about this when it first started before the pandemic, but it has ramped up considerably since. Given that the future of cities and the office is still unclear, I’m not sure what to make of it yet aside from noting that this concentrates a lot of power and risk in the hands of a few players that already have plenty of the former.

  • Here’s a fascinating discussion of George Soros, China’s political economy and whether President Xi Jinping is actually crazy like a fox.

  • For those not already signed up for our Trade Secrets newsletter, check it out. This has become one of my own must-reads at a time when trade issues are front of mind every day, and I think my colleagues are killing it. You can sign up here to receive the newsletter in your inbox. 

Edward Luce responds

Rana, I’m all for heterodoxy, curiosity about those with a different point of view and giving people FT subscriptions for Christmas. Judging by the tenor of some of the commenters (a small minority I should add), the latter is not an automatic cure for derangement. But it’s worth a try. I don’t have a simple cure for America’s slow motion train wreck. If it were a literal impending disaster you’d do your best to warn the public, persuade the driver to slow down, contact the Amtrak signalling department and alert passengers to the fact there are other forms of travel. Ignoring all these figures would only raise the likelihood of the looming disaster. I’ve probably exhausted that metaphor. My point is that interaction — and blowing the whistle — is a good thing, especially with people who seem oblivious to the disaster in front of them.

I would certainly not walk out of a dinner party if I discovered one of the guests was a Trump supporter. I am friends with several Trump supporters. Though I think they’re profoundly misguided, and woefully ill-informed, these particular individuals are not motivated by malevolence or greed. But that is not true of all Trump groupies. I wouldn’t want to hang out with Tucker Carlson, for example. He knows exactly what he is doing. So you have to judge each individual as they come. Most are probably open to some kind of engagement, even if positive results are not necessarily obvious. But we should recognise there are also people of bad faith out there. To pretend otherwise is self-deception. I have no doubt that Trumpism is capable of wrecking this republic. We should be pragmatic — and indeed heterodox — about the best means of preventing that from happening. But we should not pretend that it isn’t. 

Your feedback

And now a word from our Swampians . . .

In response to ‘We should pay more heed to alarmists’:
“Since 1990, labour share has been in a downtrend relative to capital, with gains only occurring during recessions. Naturally, labour has become increasingly disgruntled. While labour remains disorganised, the anger is palpable . . . For the establishment, who love globalisation (immigration, trade, and US hegemony which fosters globalisation) the populist rejection seems illogical and will lead to terrible outcomes. It will, for the establishment. It might not for the populists. So far, the establishment has been able to keep the populists divided. That may not continue indefinitely.” — Bill O’Grady

In response to ‘Are men in danger?
“In addition to agreeing with the substance of the note, I believe one event is, specifically, impacting literacy in boys. That is video games and their tunnel-vision impact on children, specifically boys . . . I believe the issue of technology is far greater and structural a problem than most of us would like to think.” — Jose F San Román, Zaragoza, Spain

Catch up on previous Swamp Notes on FT.com.

Your

We’d love to hear from you. You can email the team on [email protected], contact Ed on [email protected] and Rana on [email protected], and follow them on Twitter at @RanaForoohar and @EdwardGLuce. We may feature an excerpt of your response in the next newsletter

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