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On 1 July 2020, the European Fiscal Board has published its assessment of the general orientation of fiscal policy in the euro area. The economic consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic make the years 2020 and 2021 extraordinary and the assessment of the euro-area fiscal stance particularly relevant. All main forecasters anticipate a deep recession of around or more than 8% of GDP this year, followed by a partial recovery in 2021; downside risks are substantial. The fiscal measures adopted by individual Member States, flanked by the decisions of the European Central Bank and the proposals of the European Commission, in particular the Recovery Instrument are fully warranted. In light of the partial and fragile recovery expected for 2021, the Board cautions against a premature withdrawal of fiscal support measures at the Member State level and looks forward to a swift and effective implementation of recent EU proposals. It advocates a strong focus on growth-enhancing government expenditure including investment, to provide stabilisation in the short-term while bolstering prospects of stronger future growth.


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One of the main tasks of the EFB is to assess fiscal policy from the perspective of the euro area. In the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU), Member States maintain the full responsibility for fiscal policy making subject to commonly agreed rules, the Stability and Growth Pact. The Pact guides Member States towards achieving fiscal positions that ensure sustainable debt and offer room to absorb normal cyclical fluctuations. The post-2007 crisis has shown that the pursuit of national fiscal policies in accordance with the Pact does not necessarily result in an appropriate stance for the euro area as a whole, especially when monetary policy is constrained. By throwing light on the euro area dimension, the assessment of the EFB is meant to improve the coordination of national fiscal policies in the single currency area and, ultimately, contribute to the smooth functioning of the EMU.

Which in my mind is a fair trade. It's no secret I'm a big Dennett fan. He's a very smart guy with an epic beard. One of his many big ideas is that we should use different perspectives or "stances" to understand systems with differing degrees of complexity and intelligence. He describes three levels of analysis: the physical stance, the design stance and the intentional stance.

All of them are very common sense ways of thinking, and will seem very familiar once they are described. They are all used extensively in everyday life and science. Of the three, the first one (the physical stance), tends to get the most respect as a legitimately sciencey way of doing things. The second one (the design stance) tends to get viewed with some suspicion, and the third is often considered as being outright fallacious. According to Dennett, each perspective or level of analysis has its own costs and benefits, and is appropriate for different kinds of jobs. I agree, and think that the intentional stance is often underutilized as a very common sense and effective way to understand pain and motor control.

Now imagine you release a bird from your hand. Applying the physical stance is no longer very practical. Even though the bird is made of physical stuff that must obey the laws of physics and chemistry, there are so many parts to the bird, and they all interact in such complex ways, that using the physical stance is, as a practical matter, impossible.

So the design stance is everywhere in biology, and totally necessary, but it is inherently risky because we can be mistaken in our assumptions about the nature and quality of the design we are analyzing.

The physical stands tends to get favored over the design stance as the most "scientific" way to go about explaining something. It involves objective measurements, precise descriptions, and cool technology like microscopes. At this level of analysis, we can see some very interesting physiological things happen. For example, the microscopic view might reveal that fascia changes in response to force, and vertebral discs sustain micro-trauma and inflammation from repeated movements into flexion. These facts about very small things in the body are very interesting indeed, but it is tough to extrapolate their meaning in the context a larger whole.

Do these facts mean that fascia can be melted by a foam roller, or that we should spend as much time as possible keeping our spines in neutral? Evidence gathered from the physical stance seems to support these claims, but the design stance can act as a reality check. One of the functions of fascia is to provide stability to the body, so it would not make much sense if it started to melt every time we sat down on something hard for a few minutes. The back has 24 joints - looks like it was designed for movement! If it's job was to remain straight all the time, it would be probably look like a femur. So the evidence gathered under a microscope is quite interesting, but we need to make sure any conclusions we draw from that also make sense from higher level perspectives as well.

The highest level of analysis from which to view a system is what Dennett calls the intentional stance. This offers the most predictive power with the least amount of measurement and computation. But it also introduces the greatest risk of error. It is applied to systems that are intelligent enough to have some degree of agency, intention and rationality.

In my opinion, most of the clinically relevant and recent advances in pain science has involved application of the intentional stance to pain. Researchers like Melzack, Gifford and Moseley are asking exactly the kinds of questions suggested by Dennett. 041b061a72


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