Before the pandemic struck it was commonplace to ask if our economies were chronically crisis prone.

The answer was generally in the affirmative: memories of the great financial crisis have barely faded and some of us either know our history or have lived through it.

Economies go up and down, sometimes by a lot, always with alarming frequency. While the pandemic can hardly be argued to have economic roots, it obviously has economic implications.

And the varying responses from different countries raise questions about governance that are linked to the ways in which we run our economies.


Populist, authoritarian demagogues are great at promises, excel at faux-empathy with the people and are utterly useless at dealing with complexity.

States invested in the messy business of problem solving have done much better than others who devote considerable resources to devising headline grabbing slogans. ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Get Brexit Done’ did do a great electoral job but are now seen as mere media management exercises with zero content.

In fact, those slogans have proved costly, not just in terms of the governance resources that were devoted to their creation. The primacy of catch-phrases to the exclusion of all else has cost lives.

Crisis comes in many forms. I count three great crises of the modern age, but some historians will no doubt differ. From the 1970s onwards, many economies have mostly failed to deal with the economic, social and political consequences of deindustrialisation.

A decade ago we lived through an economic crisis spawned by a belief that house prices can never go down. Today, we have to deal with Covid-19.

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The Financial Time’s Martin Sandbu has just published a book called The Economics of Belonging. It was written before the pandemic struck but is no less relevant for that.


It is a brilliant, if sometimes controversial, exposition of what ails our economies and political systems. His central thesis is that the rise of populism in general, and Trump and Brexit in particular, stem from a misdiagnosis.



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