Activism is Good For You

The BPS Research Digest blog has recently posted this post about an interesting bit of research on political activism. Apparently…

One hundred and twelve student participants were encouraged to write to the college cafeteria director calling on him to source food more locally and ethically. These students subsequently reported feeling more energised and alive than a control group of participants who wrote to the director calling for tastier food and more choice (more global measures of happiness showed no difference between the groups).

It’s not simply that the students in the activism condition were more motivated by the task they’d been given – in fact, the students in the control condition said they felt more strongly about the issues they were writing about than did the students in the activism condition.

Which is kind of interesting. At conference, I attended a training session about motivating and expanding local party membership where, amongst other things, it was suggested that becoming a member of a party was an act that might be thought of in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, fitting in somewhere near the top of the pyramid in the “self-actualization” section.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

At the time, it struck me as perhaps a little pretentious, but now I’m not so sure. The researchers suggest one possible conclusion to draw from this:

“Activist groups might use these results to help recruit new members from a broader range of people, ” the researchers said. “Further, they might be able to find ways to emphasise the psychological benefits of activism to help encourage current activists in their daily struggle for a better society.”

Possibly, but I’ve got a slightly different question: What does it all tell us about the type of person who it might be most worth approaching? What is it exactly that people get out of activism?

According to the paper itself‘s abstract…

Potential mediators of the relationship between activism and well-being and the usefulness of these findings are discussed.

Unfortunately you have to pay to read it, so we’ll all just have to speculate about what it might be that associates activism with higher measures of “hedonic, eudaimonic, and social well-being”.

Well don’t look at me…

How To Change Financial Regulation

Lord Eatwell (alas, he is not one of ours; he’s a former economic advisor to Kinnock) has written this rather interesting article for CiF. It is an attempt to put a little meat on the bones that are the current sentiment that “something must be done” to change the regulation of financial institutions in the light of the current financial crisis. Having attended a talk on the subject of the credit crunch that John Eatwell gave to Queens’ College’s “FF Society” not so long ago (well he is President of the college, after all), I was pleasantly surprised to see his name pop up on CiF a few minutes ago (I know, why am I reading it at this time of night?). He has a few interesting things to say, alongside a (perhaps a little controversialist) dismissal of calls for transparency, disclosure and risk management as being ill-informed.

What Eatwell does well, apart from display his own understanding of the situation, is help those of us who aren’t experts with a bit of all important context:

Thirty years ago most loans, to businesses and to individuals, were made by banks, or specialist institutions such as building societies. The deregulatory fervour of the 1980s changed that. Credit markets became “disintermediated” – instead of banks acting as intermediaries between savers and borrowers, the markets took over. Borrowing is now packaged into securities that are sliced and sold through a myriad of financial intermediaries. Investment banks, such as Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and Goldman Sachs, are (or were) at the centre of this process, taking on massive amounts of debt relative to their capital base (that is, becoming highly leveraged) in order to deal profitably in the complex web of markets. Guiding their operations are their risk models, which measure the riskiness of their operations against patterns of past market behaviour. The firms claimed they could manage risky markets, and the regulators swallowed that claim. Faith in transparency, disclosure, and risk management by firms is at the heart of the financial regulation today.

Yet at the same time it is generally accepted that a core purpose of financial regulation is to mitigate systemic risks, like a global credit crunch. Such risks are externalities; their cost to the economy as a whole is greater than the cost to a firm whose actions are creating the risk. But if regulators focus on risks that are recognised by firms already, and neglect systemic risk, why do we need regulation at all, other than to enforce best practice? Firms will manage risks well enough, using systems that are inevitably, and properly, market sensitive.

The flaw is that in the face of systemic market failures the market is inefficient. Risk is mispriced, with consequences that are all too evident today.

So what can be done to tackle “systemic” risks?

Read the rest here.

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Marvellous Article In The Indy

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