Lowly Worm, Huckle Cat, My Therapist & The Global Economy

Screenshot 2019-07-11 at 00.00.33My therapist lives on a remote, nameless island with surprisingly good connectivity near Chile or Peru or somewhere. That’s all I’ve gleaned. We only talk via Skype audio so the truth is maybe he’s still living nearby in the Barbican. He says he needs space.

What he didn’t know until last month was that thanks to the wonders of the global economy (of the dark web variety) I’d persuaded the Fancy Bears to build me a program that allows me to *force* call him in times of emergency.

If he’s on another call, or even if the computer is turned off and sealed in a drawer under his desk I can force a Skype call to happen.

Eventually he answered.

“Doc, it’s Richard Scarry all over again”, I explained.

I had loved Richard Scarry books. But eventually, I’d had to face the incontestable truths: I’d never seen a pilot of an aeroplane who was a dog; Never seen a worm driving an apple-shaped car; Never seen a hippo on roller skates. It had taken me years to come to terms with the dull conformity of humans doing everything. I even tried to embrace identity politics to muster some interest in the variety of humans doing things. But I wasn’t THAT immature.

In any event it had dawned on me, during my recovery, that in our strident, divisive, ideological and identitarian times the world needs a new type of picture book; Not like treacherous Scarry but an honest one. If I permit myself to dream I would want one that contains no false promises (cf police cats); just facts and figures and nuanced explanations of the way things are. In fact in a perfect world I would want something written by a calm, measured, unflappable German economist.

And then, as if by magic, I’d heard a thud and found a review copy of a giant picture book for grown ups called The Global Economy As You’ve Never Seen It by Herr Thomas Ramge.

I’ve told a lie. It wasn’t a thud. It was a ping. I had received an html link to a giant PDF of the book.

The downside of a picture book as a PDF is that the words are so small on my little iPad that to read the dense wording you have to zoom right in but to see the shape of the many complex flow diagrams you have to zoom right out. All the zooming, scanning, shrinking was quite a workout. Like playing Rachmaninov.

The good side is that you can draw fat, red electronic lines across chunks of the book with my exhausted, cramping fingers.

Alas, the first thing I drew a red line through was the entire first page which introduced the giant, complex, nuanced global economy by describing employment patterns by gender and race with sub-sections on ‘inequality’ and ‘the gender pay gap’. These are emotive and disputed data points being presented with no context …on page 1. This is the scene setter.

Now, you’re a smart business magazine reader so you know that the gender pay gap arises from measurement of aggregate earnings over a lifetime rather than different pay for the same job (which is illegal). What accounts for that is worth diving into and is at least as complex as, say, the gender gap in mortality at work or homelessness and you wouldn’t kick off the book with either of those. It’s a great subject for starting a debate but it’s not the neutral delivery of clearly understood and undisputed data which I had been hoping for in my post-Scarry traumatised state. I was on guard for the rest of the book.

I generally didn’t need to be. The combination of detailed graphics and explanatory text dealt comfortably with wide ranging subjects; From a flow chart showing how a Volkswagen car is made to a section comparing economic theorists via charts showing the globalisation of the jeans business …and ending with the promise of fully automated luxury communism.

I can attest that it is, as the publicists claim, unlike anything else I have seen before or at least since I started my therapy.

And yet as a recommendable book, why was I feeling that sense of dread and panic? Why had I had force-called my therapist at 5am in Ushuaia ?

The answer was in the electronic red highlighted lines I’d drawn. They were everywhere.

Doc, I sobbed. This is worse than Busy Town’s false promises. The Global Economy book explains where and how everyone works. It shows a world where globalisation and free trade and AI will solve everything. But my red highlighter struck wherever jobs would be automated out of existence and there isn’t much left after that. Not even humans driving apple-shaped cars.

I can’t wait, he said and hung up.


I was reading: The Global Economy As You’ve Never Seen It
By: Thomas Range & Jan Schwochow