As the he was the economics journalist who broke the Northern Rock story in 2007, I have always encouraged A Level students to follow Robert Peston on the BBC, subsequently ITV, through his blog, and also through his use of Twitter. Although opinion can be divided on his popularity, I have always found that he has a way of explaining events with clarity and passion.
“WTF” is his personal reaction and response to our current crisis, which has resulted in Brexit and Trump. This is reported through a framework of letters to his recently deceased father, a distinguished professor of economics, where he outlines what has gone wrong and what needs to be done to make things better.
The value of this book to a teacher and/or a student of A Level Business or Economics lies in his analysis of the underlying economic reasons that pushed so many to vote to leave the European Union. He works his way through the economic indicators that populate our awarding body specifications. Falling living standards, poor productivity, the decline of social mobility, and the relentless rise of inequality are given the passionate Peston treatment. He argues that the current crisis is a delayed reaction to rising inequality, and that whilst it has been tolerated, the toll of the last ten years of low productivity and stagnation, has generated the need for a voice which will shout that this can be tolerated no longer. The adoption of austerity strategies and the use of quantitative easing has exacerbated the problem, where perhaps a somewhat more Keynesian approach to borrowing and spending might have been seen as fairer. He sees the vote to leave as the opportunity for the people to exercise this voice.
In amongst his analysis of how disenfranchisement has created such a divide, I was particularly interested in his examination of how the technology monopolies such as Google and Facebook used social media during the Brexit referendum and the US election to garner and collect data on our emotions. This data was then used to stir up emotions further, regarding our voting choices. His assertion that all future elections and referendums will be swung by self-interested billionaires with algorithms is an interesting comment on the role of information.
Whilst he finishes by asking whether it is possible to make a success of leaving the EU, there are other questions that he raises which can all be related to economic topics. What lessons can be learned from the Grenfell Tower tragedy? Can robots be stopped from taking over jobs? How can the increasing gap between rich and poor be reduced? How can living standards be raised for all?
Why should we as educators read this book? Why should we encourage our students to read this book? My son is a Year 12 A Level Economics student. I am giving him this book to read. I want him to hear the heart of an economist who is trying to find the reasoning behind our choices. I want him to be able to relate his studies to what is influencing his future options. I want him to understand what is going on and I feel that Peston has encapsulated the ‘zeitgeist’ which many of us have been struggling to identify.
Jo Bentham PhD teaches at Adams’ Grammar School, Newport, Shropshire and is an EBEA Trustee.