Tag Archives: economy

If a depression begets depression, will the concept of mental illness be altered?

For the last several decades, depression rates have been on the rise at a rapid pace. At the same time, the economy was in a boom. Socioeconomic status is a variable that has been shown over and over again to affect the likelihood to experience depression; there is an inverse relationship between income/wealth and depression. If the economy was better a few years ago and depression rates were up, it is imperative that we think about what is happening and may happen in the future, as the economy has plunged and unemployment has risen to levels unseen in decades. With the economy struggling, with nearly 1/10 Americans unemployed (by official statistics – the numbers are likely much higher), it is necessary for Americans think about the ramifications for mental health of the looming economic crisis. According to MSNBC, first time jobless claims jumped by 12,000 last month and we know unemployment is certainly not a boon for mental health.

One question to ask is: to what extent will depression (or anxiety, for that matter) actually increase because of the recession (or depression as some suggest we are in)? In other words, how many new diagnoses of this impairing condition will be directly related to these jobless claims, unemployment status and general downturn of the economy? But another equally important line of thinking, especially for sociologists, is about what will happen to “depression,” as a diagnostic category, if the economy begins to affect so many people that much of the American population seems disordered in some way?

When the economy is good, those who are depressed because of unemployment or poverty are considered disordered, even if they are responding to a normal, stressful social situation – or position in the social structure. However, what happens when increasingly large numbers of people are “disordered” because of that same situation? It’s no longer a social anomaly, or residual deviance. Now, it’s actually normal. Will we be diagnosing and likely medicating large quantities of the population for symptoms related to the stress of home foreclosure, unemployment and poverty more broadly? Or, will it become more normal and acceptable to experience symptoms of sadness because of socioeconomic status or economic distress, as increasing numbers of people experience these problems? These are important questions to investigate, both because of the distress associated with increased experience of depression and because of the problems associated with diagnosing illness where it does not truly exist – the over-inflation of illness estimates and the over-prescribing of medications, just to name two.

Of course, there are myriad factors to consider here. One other is the price of treatment and medication for mental illness. Generally, wealthier people get the best mental health treatment. It is usually not the people who actually need help the most that get good treatment – or any treatment at all, for that matter. If this is the case, then we might assume that a great deal of the people who are unemployed, underemployed, losing their homes and in general economic ruin, will not necessarily be the ones who seek (or are able to search out) help for depression. If this is the case, then we might actually see a decrease in the rates of depression, as people who might once have been able to afford help for a mild form of depression may not be able to seek help for more intense symptoms. And, the population that is likely to still be employed (minus some wall street execs) are the people who can afford treatment. They are not affected by the economic crisis in the same way.

Jobless Filings at Highest Point Since November

Depression, in The Blackwell Dictionary of Modern Social Thought

Are we informing ourselves into inaction? How much information is too much?

What does an overload of information do to our decision-making process? This question becomes, at least in part, an issue of simplicity v. complexity, so I am reminded of Durkheim’s classic argument about social integration and regulation. Too much or too little of each causes problems – for him, various types of suicide emerge because of an overbearing or under-restricting/engaging society.  Simmel’s conflict over the freedom, yet overwhelming choices of the metropolis also comes to mind. In each of these cases, it is a balance that creates a healthy/functioning individual. Perhaps this is the same with access to information. Too many choices makes it difficult for us to assimilate all the information, but too few choices would presumably not provide us with as much intellectual stimulation as we might desire. In our world, is there a balance? Or, are we so inundated with information that we’ve just become accustomed to being overwhelmed. Perhaps we’ve learned to filter what’s important to us – or, might we just miss things all the time because we can’t possibly take it all in? I’m sitting here, right now, with the news on TV and several windows open on my computer screen. I’m in the midst of working on several articles at the same time. That is arguably my personal style – perhaps one of chaos – but it is fairly representative of the general environment in which we all exist these days. There is a steady flow of information abounding at all times – everywhere we turn.

In the PBS piece below (a quite excellent video clip) , the story is about the economy and decision-making about investing, but this is a theme that carries over into much of our world today. Another issue with access to information is that it forces us to make more decisions than we might otherwise have to (see the “jam” experiment in the video). With more choices, people often opt not to make a final decision because it’s hard to feel like you’re making the right choice when there are so many options in front of you. This is a basic tenet of classic social psychological studies of cognitive dissonance. In choosing, we inevitably have to live with the downside of the choice we make and with the absence of the good qualities of the option we overlooked. If we’re presented with myriad choices, what happens then? Do we just become incapable of making any real decision at all – overwhelmed by the prospect of choosing, the notion that we might be missing out on something better or be stuck with something that’s not the best possible option? Especially if there are many other options, making a final decision means high odds of regret. Or, is this precisely why we rely on online stock tips, recommendations from other shoppers on Amazon and other online shopping outlets – we never really make decisions. We rely on these infinite sources of information to help make the choices for us. Social psychological studies also allow us insight into how we make ourselves feel better if we make the “wrong” choice; we externalize the blame. If that’s the case, I can write off the novel I didn’t like because I bought it on a recommendation from another reader or the computer I bought because someone online reported that it had a nice keyboard, etc. It’s not my fault – they recommended it to me! Perhaps the wealth of information makes it harder to make a choice, but easier to deflect the blame for problematic decisions.

Your Mind and Your Money

Information Society, In Blackwell Reference Online

Economic Growth Despite Global Downturn

Map of China Courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency

Map of China Courtesy of Central Intelligence Agency

China aims to experience 8% economic growth in 2010, even after accounting for the global downturn. Since Beijing has targeted 8% economic growth in the past several years and has reached its goal each year, analysts consider China’s target as reasonable.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projects China to exceed its goal, experiencing at least 9% economic growth in 2010. Meanwhile, the IMF only expects India to grow by 6.4%, Canada by 2.1%, Japan by 1.7%, the United States by 1.5%, and the United Kingdom and France by 0.9%.

China expects to experience economic growth because of implemented government stimulus measures and increased industrial production. Minister of Industry and Information Technology Li Yizhong states: “Based on the central government’s target for around 8% economic growth, we’re aiming for around 11% growth in industrial output.” Since industrial output increased 19.2% in the previous year, it is possible for industrial input to increase 11% this year.


The Salience of Political and Financial Climate in Policy Frames

SpaceStationby NickieWild

Politics often guides the course of technological development. One of the most obvious places that this has occurred, and continues to occur, is the United States’ NASA program. With the US essentially still fighting two wars, the looming health care, Medicare, and Social Security crises, and the general poor state of the economy, many question the relevance of space exploration in the world today. In order to keep NASA going, scientists and administrators are increasingly switching NASA’s mission to one of scientific advancement rather than manned exploration.

The symbolism of unbridled Capitalism where the U.S. could afford many Apollo missions, the ability to “beat the Russians” in the space race, and all the other things that created an era of romanticism in the space flight are no longer important. It is easy to compare the change in mission of NASA to change in other areas where government funding and politics intersect. The current healthcare debate is one example. Recession and economic downturn are things that politicians can appeal to when they argue about the mission of healthcare. They can also argue that universal healthcare is a “romantic” notion that is not realistic. Framing the debate about healthcare around necessity, as NASA has done to stay alive, will be necessary if healthcare reform is to succeed.

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A political history of NASA’s space shuttle: the development years, 1972–1982 by Brian Woods

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Comparing the role of government in self-control problems from behavioural and neoclassical economic perspectives


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Member of the World Economics Association – promoting ethics, openness, diversity of thought and democracy within the economics profession

The G8 protests and the logically inconsistent foundations of neoclassical economics

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Member of the World Economics Association – promoting ethics, openness, diversity of thought and democracy within the economics profession

What to Wear Today?

cevahir_mall by ishein1

Teenagers, especially during the years of economic prosperity, consistently cast their consumer vote at various clothing retail stores.  Marketers respond by relentlessly attempting to woo this coveted demographic.  Various stores, even ones owned by the same corporation, create varying images in order to create a perspective of “cool”.  “Coolness,” they believe, will induce the most profit.  In schools around the country teenagers define themselves by what they are wearing.  Brand names are signifiers that display identity.  An individual’s social position, even if it is fictive, can be discerned from their dress.  During tough economic times, however, it is possible that brand names lose some of their mysticism and clout or “cool”.  The article referenced here discusses why certain retail companies continue to flourish while others begin to fall by the wayside.  In this moment of economic turmoil various retail companies are striving to maintain a balance between brand image strength and price elasticity.  The perspective is that if price is cut the brand image will suffer.  A multitude of sociological concepts are useful while discussing these pertinent topics of American consumer culture.  Marx’s discussion of commodity fetishism, 150 years ago, elucidates the mysticism inherent in consumer products.  Bourdieu’s Distinction, guided in part by symbolic violence, is a heuristic tool in understanding the symbolic boundaries and lines teenagers draw between themselves.  Finally, a cultural sociology perspective can illuminate the meaning structures behind these consumer goods.  By utilizing these perspectives consumers can more easily discern how marketers are attempting to balance economics and image to increase their products’ consumption.  Thus, the consumer vote can be more informed and based on a veracity of knowledge as opposed to voracity toward commodities.     

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square-eye16 Terry Newholm and Deirdre Shaw on Ethical Consumption 



Obama and the Spectacle in an Era of Diminishing Consumption

by nathan jurgenson

Less Credit/Less Consumption
Consumption is down. 090120-F-6184M-007.JPGWhile this might be a momentary hiccup, it could very well be the case that Western societies will have to “reset” and pull back on consumption levels for a long time to come. Much of the consumption literature has pointed to Western conspicuous and hyper-consumption as an integral ethic of modern society. We have been consuming well beyond our means by relying on debt to fuel our consumer economy, an unsustainable habit as credit markets have dried up. So what does it mean to pull back on consumerism, something, arguably, so central to our society? Does this leave a void? If so, what fills this void?

A Civic-Centered Spectacle?
One void that seems appropriate to discuss is that of the spectacle. The (increasingly distant) era of hyper-consumption was a time of the consumer spectacle (e.g., mega-malls, Las Vegas, etc), and when consumption is down we might expect to see different sorts of spectacles. Spectacles built around more modest, live-within-your-means activities. The green movement is, arguably, a spectacle in this way. Perhaps a more vivid example is the Obama campaign, inauguration, and early-presidency. Truly a spectacle. Has civic engagement, to some degree, replaced consumption in the realm of a shared ethos (as Benjamin Barber hopes)? Additionally, has civic engagement, to some degree, replaced corporate consumption as the site of the spectacle?

The Commodification of Everything
Of course, the picture may be less roseobamvertisingy than this. Corporate commodification and it’s hold on the Western spirit of consumption (as well as it’s near-monopoly of the spectacle) will not fall easily. In addition to generating their own spectacles, we might also see in this economic and consumptive downturn corporations commodify the very non- or anti-commercial spectacles mentioned previously (i.e., the green movement and Obama-style civic engagement). We are seeing corporations use the green movement to sell products -to the extent that some are questioning the greenness of the movement in the first place. On the Obama front, and this was very apparent on Inauguration Day in DC, Pepsi, Ikea and others have commodified the idea of Obama’s campaign. In the hyperlinks to the Pepsi and Ikea campaigns, as well as with the pictures above, we see that they are not just using his image or name to sell their products, but the very ethos of the campaign, such as “hope” or “change” (in the image above, note Pepsi’s word choice, font and even logo redesign). In this way, while Obama might represent a turn away from consumption towards civic engagement (he called for this, at least) and a turn away from consumer products as the site of the spectacle, this spectacle is still brought into the realm of the corporate. In an economy where branding is still important, ‘hope’ is ultimately used to sell soda. ~nathan

square-eye32 Read More: Consumers are Saving More and Spending Less


Outlines of a Critical Sociology of Consumption: Beyond Moralism and Celebration

A "New" Economics 101


1907_panic1by theoryforthemasses

In a recent New York Times op-ed, columnist David Brooks questions whether the old, “rational,” Keynesian model of economics is truly useful for trying to understand the current economic crisis. He suggests that while economists have traditionally built elegant economic models of efficient markets based on rational actors, the process of making economic decisions is actually much more complex. Brooks explains that these complexities, which are informed by actors’ various strategies, memories, and intuitions, are what influences economic decisions and ultimately markets. In other words, markets are not simply efficient manifestations of reasonable actions; they are confluences of decisions made by individuals who are deeply influenced by their historical, social, political, and cultural contexts. Sociologist Mark Granovetter has drawn from the ideas of economist Karl Polanyi in order to elaborate this very point.

Granovetter has developed a “new economic sociology,” a theoretical framework that suggests that interpretation and social interaction are at the crux of economic action. He sheds the view that economic markets are increasingly separate from the individuals who constitute them. Rather, he argues that economies are “embedded” in ongoing social interactions among individual actors. Economic action is therefore not just a matter of individual, rational decision-making; instead it is patterned along elaborate social networks and influenced by various culturally-defined goals and priorities. Perhaps once we begin to let go of our old assumptions about human nature, specifically that “man” is a rational barterer of economic goods and services, we may be better able to understand the complex causes and consequences of economic collapses, including the one currently in our midst.

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square-eye21E. Mingione and S. Ghezzi on social embeddedness

“High Status” Crime That Does Pay

YouTube Preview Imageby NickieWild

The Bernard Madoff investment scandal has wiped out dozens of individual investors. Many charitable organizations and non-profit groups have been affected by the scam, such as the Innocence Project, Human Rights Watch, and The Center for Constitutional Rights. The JEHT Foundation, dedicated to funding organizations that promote open government and voter registration drives, has been forced to close completely. The scam he has admitted to carrying out is a Ponzi scheme, which is a type of white-collar crime that uses investor money to pay returns to early investors, instead of actual profits from investment. It can only operate as long as new investors join, and no one catches on. Madoff’s scam may have been going on for several years, and is estimated to have cost $50 billion dollars. How could this have happened? Lack of regulation during the Bush administration, cozying up to regulators (Madoff’s daughter was married to a Securities and Exchange compliance officer), and greed have been blamed.

But what does not seem to be getting much attention in the media is greater focus on the problem of white-collar crime as a whole. The symbolic interactionist Sutherland first defined the term in 1939 as a “crime committed by a person of respectability and high social status in the course of his occupation.” Although the term was defined 70 years ago, violent and property crimes receive vastly more attention by the police, the FBI, and the media in the United States. Tracking and reporting of white-collar crime is spotty at best. Yet clearly, such crimes lead to the total devastation of untold numbers of people, businesses, and nonprofits. Nevertheless, this week, a judge decided that Madoff could remain free on bail, but under surveillance, while awaiting trial. This is despite the fact that he is said to have sent millions in valuables to friends and family members to hide them from any asset recovery attempts. How many “low social status” offenders would receive such special treatment?


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The Influence of Class Position on the Formal and Informal Sanctioning of White-Collar Offenders by Michael L. Benson