From counter-cultural rebellion to financial derivatives, Joseph Heath is an expert on what makes the market tick. He preaches the science of economics—without the graphs and equations. As a philosopher, Heath revels in the surprising and the unexpected. Always opinionated, invariably controversial, he is happy to tell you why everything you know about the economy is wrong.
“[Heath] possesses a rare combination of talents: an appreciation for the nitty-gritty, and the ability to translate even the most difficult ideas into an accessible language. On top of that, he has an earnest desire to set the record straight.”— The Walrus
Joseph Heath is the author of Enlightenment 2.0, which brings us the concept of slow politics: promoting slow thought, slow deliberation and slow debate to restore sanity in today’s rapid-fire political and media landscape. He is also the author of four other bestselling books: Economics Without Illusions: Debunking the Myths of Modern Capitalism, The Efficient Society: Why Canada is as Close to Utopia as It Gets, with Andrew Potter, The Rebel Sell: Why the Culture Can’t be Jammed, and Filthy Lucre: Economics for People Who Hate Capitalism. His work has been translated into 12 different languages and counting. Heath is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, where he also teaches at the School of Public Policy and Governance.
Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the western world have become increasingly divided—not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy. What’s more, the crazies seem to be gaining the upper hand. Rational thought cannot prevail in the current social and media environment, where elections are won by appealing to voters’ hearts rather than their minds. The rapid-fire pace of modern politics, the hypnotic repetition of daily news items and even the multitude of visual sources of information all make it difficult for the voice of reason to be heard. In this talk, Joseph Heath outlines a program for a second Enlightenment. The answer, he argues, lies in a new “slow politics.” It takes as its point of departure recent psychological and philosophical research, which identifies quite clearly the social and environmental preconditions for the exercise of rational thought. It is impossible to restore sanity merely by being sane and trying to speak in a reasonable tone of voice. The only way to restore sanity is by engaging in collective action against the social conditions that have crowded it out.
The Secret History of Risk
There are some things about the most recent financial crisis that you won’t find out reading the newspaper. Banks, we are told, started lending money to people with no jobs, no skills, and no prospects. What happened? Did bankers around the world go crazy? Of course not. They had a theory about what they we doing—a theory, of course, that turned out to be mistaken. It was based upon a particular understanding of risk. In order to figure out what went wrong, and in order to avoid repeating past mistakes, we need a better understanding. We need to figure out the role that risk plays in our society, and how other societies, throughout human history, have dealt with the most basic problem of dealing with uncertainty.
Overcoming Bias How to Think Straight
Our brains are the product of evolution. What sort of consequences does this have for our day-to-day lives? The most important is that it forces us to realize that we are imperfect. Just as your spine was not really designed to support upright posture, so your brain was not designed to support rational thought. Nature is not in the business of producing perfection, it’s in the business of producing things that are good enough. Yet this does not mean that we are fated to be irrational, any more than we are fated to suffer from back pain. There are ways we can learn to overcome the biases that nature has instilled in us.
Understanding the Rebel Consumer
Do you hate consumer culture? Angry about all that packaging? Irritated by all those commercials? Well, join the club. Anti-consumerism has become one of the most important cultural forces in North American life. Strangely, it has also become one of the most powerful marketing tools. What can we conclude from all this? How can we all denounce consumerism, and yet still find ourselves living in a consumer society? The answer is quite simple. Popular anti-consumerism is not actually a critique of consumerism; it’s merely a restatement of the “critique of mass society” that has been around since the 1960s. The two are not the same. In fact, the critique of mass society has been one of the most powerful forces driving consumer spending for more than 50 years.