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Eureka: Society during recessions
by Jay Gutman
2016-12-13 10:57:03
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As an anthropologist, I happened to live through a few recessions in East Asia, North Africa, Europe and North America. I observed the world around me without being conspicuous, took notes and some patterns emerged from societies going through recessions. Here’s a brief overview of what such societies go through, in no particular order.


Societies going through recessions will often deny that the economy is not doing very well. What they often say is that there are plenty of opportunities, but that people are not looking at the right places. A common phrase I hear a lot is “if you look hard enough, you’ll find a job or a business opportunity.”

Lack of discussion

One of the common features of recessions is that people no longer have the Dutch debates they used to have, that is long debates overanalyzing everything to an extreme point. Conversations become dull, and it’s almost like you’re afraid to offend people at all times.

Hiding in front of the TV

When things aren’t going so well economically, people in households tend to flock in front of the television and pretend to be absorbed by the media contents, refusing conversation or discussion in the process. People will rarely admit that they’re looking for a job or business opportunity but can’t come up with anything.

No more meetings at the corporate level

When corporations start losing money, many will stop having meetings and try to discuss a path to growth. Many businesses are so self-absorbed that they will only have meetings if there’s good news to share, and will stop having meetings if sales are declining hoping that no news will be interpreted as good news.  

Late pay

When businesses start losing money, they are often afraid about restructuring and perhaps firing people, as rumors of people getting fired tend to lead to discussions over who deserves to keep his or her job and who doesn’t. So businesses just pretend that everything’s going fine, forget to pay the workers and hope that those who aren’t happy with the situation will voluntarily quit.

Strange hiring procedures

When businesses want to hire people during recessions, they obviously get flooded with applicants. So they’ll reject anyone who doesn’t fit in to their often strange definition of what a good employee is, sometimes having criteria as weird as birth dates, astrology or names when hiring people.

Judiciary invaded by strange requests

If you work in court or at the police, you’ll get lots of strange requests including husbands and wives disappearing or a boss using torture tactics that were once used by the military about a century ago.

People look to the spiritual

When there are recessions and the economy isn’t going so well, that’s a good time for cults to hire members. When people lose everything, they tend to look to mystical dimensions hoping the heavens will offer what the earth is not offering.

Worthless skills and tough competition

When there’s a recession, people don’t want other people to get ahead, especially those who have skills that they don’t have. Those with decent skills tend to be thrown to the closet.

Low job retention

Sales aren’t going so well, and companies start coming up with strange tactics such as mandatory sales or mandatory productivity hoping that will be an incentive for employees to sell more. Lots of yelling goes on in companies, people avoid each other, and people quit so they can keep their sanity.

Higher propensity to gamble

When you lose everything and have no prospects to make money, gambling becomes the last resort. You hope you’ll hit the jackpot, which is the only realistic means of making money.

The rich go in hiding

When people do have money, people start asking them for money during recessions. So the rich tend to trade the brand suit for more casual clothes and try to hide among the masses.

Companies start strange rituals

You have to bow to your boss, people become sensitive about mistakes and keep talking about butterfly effects. Companies start scapegoating people when things go wrong.

Housing prices soar

Housing prices are either low but no one can afford housing or so high that even the rich can’t afford it. In some cases people will only sell housing in foreign currency so they can move to another country.

Public service budgets don’t come in

No taxes, no budget. No budget, public servants don’t get paid and find other ways to make money. The police becomes obnoxious, public servants will make you dance around before you get that document or will come up with contradictory procedures, meaning only a bribe can make you keep your business.  

Bureaucracy becomes the rule of the bureaucrats

Bureaucracy used to be the rule of institutions, but in times of recession the bureaucrats have real power. They can refuse to sign documents even when procedures mandate that they sign them.

Recessions can have a little taste of Dante’s description of hell. But I’ve lived in countries that survived recessions, and in such cases many forget that there even was a recession. Memory works in strange ways, at least some would say,

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Emanuel Paparella2016-12-13 14:31:15
“I think I got it!”

In ancient times an Aristotle would have first have arrived at the essence of what an economic recession is then perhaps prescribe a social prognosis, always keeping in mind the essence or ideal of any society. Since Hume's arrival in the 18th century we have a different approach, the empirical positivisistic approach: the observer takes himself out of the phenomenon, observes trends and patterns “objectively” and then prescribes what is normal and what is abnormal. To be even more concrete: a man nowadays goes to a psychiatrist claiming that he does not fit in the society he lives in, and the psychiatrist tells him that he will help him observe and describe all the ways he does not fit in the society he lives in and then he will help him to fit better or adjust to it. The same man goes to a different psychiatrist with a different more ancient and perhaps wiser approach: he tells him that he will help him determine which is the ideal society and then tell him how well or how badly his life conforms to it in its essence, whether or not it is him that does not fit and is "abnormal" or is it the society in which he lives that is not “normal.” He may even praise the man for not fitting in very well. These two scenarios could well be imagined under the emperorship of a Caligula or the presidency of a Trump. The patient may be confused at first, but eventually he will exclaim “I got it, the former is a bad psychiatrist and the latter is a good one and it would be wiser for me to adopt the latter.

Leah Sellers2016-12-13 16:18:26
This would be a great piece of Satirical Comedy if it weren't so True about Individuals as well as Collective Societies. Thank you for the Recessional, Depressional Confusion of simultaneous Chuckles and Tears. You've made some very valid points, dear sir.

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