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The Reaction Economy

The London Review of Books: The Reaction EconomyWilliam Davies – “When Ideleted my Twitter account in September last year, provoked not by Elon Musk’s imminent takeover but by the suffocating quantity of royal coverage gushing from every media source, I was left feeling bereft, as any addict is when their drug is taken away. How was I supposed to react to the news now? And if I had no way of reacting to the news, what did I want from the news? Am I even interested in the news, if I have no opportunity to react to it? Being in the digital public sphere without any means to react is a bit like being trapped in a shopping mall without any money. The timing was especially awkward since, a fortnight later, a news event came along that cried out for a reaction: Kwasi Kwarteng’s infamous ‘mini-budget’, which threw 45 years of economic orthodoxy overboard, provoked a stand-off between the government and the Bank of England, and very nearly triggered a financial crisis. Twitter gives users thirty days to change their minds after deleting their accounts, to prevent impulsive exits (i.e. to re-ensnare recovering addicts). I was still inside my thirty days. Stopping myself rejoining in order to react to this exceptional political event took considerable self-restraint. The moment I came closest to cracking wasn’t in response to the events themselves, though, but when I was tasked with managing my university department’s social media profile and came across this tweet by a prominent conservative commentator: The louder the squealing from the left, the more certain @KwasiKwarteng and @trussliz will be that they have got this right.

This is the sort of culture war logic that has become known, courtesy of the American right, as ‘owning the libs’, the primary objective of which is to enrage (‘trigger’) the opposition by fair means or foul. In other online settings, it is known simply as ‘trolling’. The tweeter appeared to see the unhappy reactions of the left as the litmus test of good economic policy: Kwarteng was a good chancellor because he was a successful troll. ‘What an absurd way to judge policy!’ I wanted to respond. ‘This is idiotic!’ Yet, of course, in feeling that impulse, I was the one being drawn back into the economy of reaction. Who’s the idiot now?

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