what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, December 9, 2018

"The Road to….Somewhere"

This 2017 book may use the same metaphor and evince the same interest as Snyder’s in the causes of the political alienation and turbulence of the past two decades but, otherwise, could not be more different in its scope and style. And its essential focus on the UK is only a small part of the difference.
Both books deal with the populist upsurge against mainstream politics but this one’s is a serious effort to understand why social democratic voters have deserted the party in droves since the early 2000s. And his treatment of European populism shows a firm grasp of the European scene…

David Goodhart was a leftist Think-Tanker who – in 2004 (before the “Polish plumber” became famous) - wrote an essay that earned him notoriety and no little ostracism in New Labour circles .

In “Too Diverse?”, he argued that there was a trade-off between increased diversity, through mass immigration, and social solidarity, in the form of the welfare state. Goodhart said that for citizens willingly to hand some of their hard-earned cash to others via their taxes, they needed to feel a basic level of affinity with those others. He argued that in the homogenous societies of old that was never a problem: citizens felt the mutual obligation of kinship. But in the highly mixed societies of today, such fellow-feeling was strained.

He went on to write The British Dream – successes and failures of post-war immigration (2013) and last year produced The Road to Somewhere – the new tribes shaping British politics which I find the most insightful analysis of contemporary British society I’ve read…..Such books tend to be written by economists, political scientists or journalists – people like Will Hutton, John Kay or David Marquand – and do not convey the same depth of familiarity with the thoughts of the average citizen as Goodhart.

Goodhart argues that the key faultline in Britain and elsewhere now separates those who come from Somewhere – rooted in a specific place or community, usually a small town or in the countryside, socially conservative, often less educated – and those who could come from Anywhere: footloose, often urban, socially liberal and university educated. He cites polling evidence to show that Somewheres make up roughly half the population, with Anywheres accounting for 20% to 25% and the rest classified as “Inbetweeners”.

A key litmus test to determine which one of these “values tribes” you belong to is your response to the question of whether Britain now feels like a foreign country. Goodhart cites a YouGov poll from 2011 that found 62% agreed with the proposition: “Britain has changed in recent times beyond recognition, it sometimes feels like a foreign country and this makes me uncomfortable.” Only 30% disagreed.

The book may focus initially on immigration but its analysis soon widens to cover key aspects of economic and social development in the last 25 years and the best part of the book for me is his critique of the new meritocracy; the inexplicable push for mass enrolment at universities; and the collapse of the commercial training system – with employers preferring to take the option of enthusiastic young central and eastern European graduates.
His initial presentation of the book here is particularly strong on sketching just how dramatic the changes in our economic, social and cultural world have been since 1992 - the year of Maastricht and the European citizen; the year the Democrats arrived on the scene with “Robert Reich’s “The Work of Nations” reflecting the prevailing view that globalisation would allow agricultural workers to be transformed into IT workers – as did New Labour a few years later. Well it didn’t happen….the only country where it did was Germany…In 2001 China joined the WTO…the Euro came into existence….. in 2004 the first wave of central European countries joined the EU. In 2008 the global financial crisis hit us and 2015 the immigrant crisis…..” 

The author is clearly well-versed in social surveys and his sense of how the world has so quickly changed very much gives me a sense of the 8 change factors which Matt Flinders identifies in his recent “Defending Democracy”

An excellent, extended review in Spiked Online goes so far as to suggest that “ a new form of social solidarity lies at the heart of the book”

And here, I think, we approach the core of Goodhart’s recent work: the search for a new form of social solidarity. He is concerned with the rift between the Somewheres and Anywheres not in order to take sides with one against the other, but to bridge it, or, as “The Road to Somewhere” puts it, to ‘reconcile the two halves of humanity’s political soul’.
To this extent, Goodhart really is neither on the left nor the right – and you can understand why “The Road to Somewhere” was originally planned as a book on ‘post-liberalism’. He is concerned with establishing the basis for what he variously calls a new social contract, or settlement, one grounded on a political recognition of the ‘decent populism’ he regards as the attitude of the vast majority. ‘[It] refers to those who broadly go along with changing attitudes on race and sexuality’, he says.

 ‘They aren’t in the avant garde of liberalisation, but they have accepted most of those changes – perhaps in some cases with reservations, but they’ve broadly accepted them. They are not liberals in the Anywhere sense. They have views about the world rooted in place, and very strong national attachments; they place a strong value on security; they focus on national rights over universal, human rights; they worry about the lack of opportunities for those not going to universities.’ …………

Yet in Goodhart there is sometimes a patrician-like air to his calls for a ‘new centre, common norms, things that will pull us together’, especially when he seems to want the establishment to provide it. And because of this, is there not a problem, too? How can a political class composed entirely from the Anywhere liberal section of society, incorporate the values and views of the majority of Somewheres, a majority on whom they have waged cultural war for decades? Any move certainly won’t come from the Labour Party, at the heart of whose resurgence lies little more than an Anywhere restoration, complete with a determination to overturn the Brexit vote. As Goodhart himself writes,

‘the Corbyn movement could be described as populist in economics but extreme Anywhere in most other respects. What it has not done is change the social composition of the party – about three quarters of Labour Party members are middle class, about 60 per cent are graduates, and almost 40 per cent live in London and the south-east’. 
And although he sees the Tories as closer to the Somewhere majority, ‘because they often are Somewheres, albeit more affluent than most’, there’s little evidence that they can break out of their political-class office of mirrors. He seems to admit as much: ‘Yes, I think [the political class] is almost entirely Anywhere – political activists, MPs, ministers, shadow ministers – all mostly university graduates, all liberal-minded Anywheres.’ 
At points his argument can sound like wishful thinking. ‘The political class has been divided down the middle between the militant Anywheres and the admonished Anywheres’, he tells me. 
‘And I think Theresa May is the most obvious admonished Anywhere. The admonished admit that they’ve got some things wrong, that there’s a chasm between the smart liberal people running society, and the rest, and it’s time we listened – and that’s what democracy requires. And then there are those, the militant Anywheres, saying we’ve given these idiots too much power, why did we call a referendum – the AC Grayling worldview. Those arguing thus seem almost to want to go back to property qualification for the vote, or that you must have at least a 2:1 before you get to cast a ballot. In other words, you’ve got to be of us before you vote.’……
‘Perhaps it’s as banal as doing things that matter to people, doing something about social care, housing, the post-school education landscape, which is hopelessly over-invested in universities, rather than vocational training and apprenticeships.’

Monday, December 3, 2018

The Road to Unfreedom?

Do(es) 25 years of researching the “Eastern bloodlands” unhinge your mind? This is the question I’m left pondering - in all honesty - after almost completing Timothy Snyder’s latest book The Road to Unfreedom – Russia, Europe, America (2018). I appreciate it's not exactly a delicate question in view of Snyder's reputation . The reviews in the Eurozine journal set the context - 
over the past decade Timothy Snyder has sought to convince western European and English-speaking audiences of the importance of east-central Europe for the history of the twentieth-century. Although the Holocaust is usually thought of as a western phenomenon, in “Bloodlands” (2010) and “Black Earth” (2015) he shows that by almost any measure (death rates, physical devastation, population displacement, societal breakdown or institutional destruction) it was primarily an eastern atrocity.
If we wish to draw the lessons of the 1930s and 40s, we must first understand what happened there.As a scholar of totalitarianism Snyder is understandably concerned by the return of fascist ideas clothed in the guise of right-wing populism. The striking similarities between the interwar crisis that followed the Great Depression (1929-39) and the aftermath of the Great Recession (from 2007) lead him to worry that the beginning of this century might end up looking much like the early decades of the last.
His previous work, “On Tyranny” (2017), started off as a warning posted on Facebook that went viral after Donald Trump’s election and details ‘20 lessons from across the fearful 20th century, adapted to the circumstances of today’. His “The Road to Unfreedom” (2018) brings his longstanding interest in combating the western-centrism of European history and his more recent attempts to apply his knowledge of the past to the present together in a single volume. The book traces the current crisis of democracy back to Russia, showing how Vladimir Putin used fake news and the hacking of personal data – as well as support for neo-fascist parties in Europe and America – to rebuild Russian power and influence in the world.

As someone who lived in Central Asia from 1999-2007, I remember following the development of Russia’s “managed democracy” with particular interest. I never imagined that the crude but apparently successful efforts in building fake political parties there in the late 90s – an updated version of a Potemkin village – would be a test-bed for developments in the West.
Snyder’s narrative is organized chronologically, with each of the six chapters devoted to developments in a single year from 2011 to 2016. In particular, it focuses on how Russia rapidly shifted from rapprochement with the West to overt antagonism in 2012. Snyder links this transformation to the fact that Putin had to fake the presidential election that year in order to retain his grip on power.
He argues that after defeating the uprising in Chechnya, Putin needed a new enemy to rally the people behind him. He settled on the West, concocting a ‘fictional problem’ that focused on the alleged ‘designs of the European Union and the United States to destroy Russia’ (p.51).
Snyder highlights how Putin adopted the ideas of the fascist thinker Ivan Ilyin (1883-1954), who argued that the Russian spirit must be mobilized against all external threats ‘by the caprice of a single ruler’ (p.24). Ilyin’s Manichaean worldview, combined with his obsession with sexual purity, helps explain both the vehemence of Russia’s recent rhetoric, as well as its erotic focus on the ‘homosexual’ attempts of the EU and America to ‘sodomize’ Russian virtue. Snyder notes, ‘The dramatic change in Russia’s orientation bore no relation to any new unfriendly action from the outside. Western enmity was not a matter of what a Western actor was doing, but what the West was portrayed as being’ (p.91).

Given my proximity for the past decade (in Romania) to the Ukraine, I started the book in the hope that it would help me better understand the Russian invasion of the Ukraine. Phrases like “the politics of eternity”, however, soon put me off and I increasingly found myself shaking my head. Fellow historian Richard Evans captures my own thoughts in his Guardian review when he writes that
The effectiveness of Snyder’s thoughts on the “road to unfreedom” isn’t helped by the strangely declamatory, often obscure style in which they are expressed. One dubious generalisation follows another, as the author never troubles to support any of them with serious evidence. For instance: “Britain and France had no modern history as nation-states. The European powers had never been nation-states.” Does Snyder really think that the possession of an overseas empire negated the claim of the imperial power to be a nation-state?
Or: “The meaning of each election is the promise of the next one.” Most people think the meaning of an election is defined by the policies of the parties that contest it. And so on. Obsessed with the theory of Russian manipulation behind all the political surprises of recent history, from the Brexit vote to the election of Trump, he has little to say about the driving forces behind them, forces that are vital to understand if democracy is to be saved. And by packaging all of this in the endlessly repeated concepts of “the politics of eternity” and “the politics of inevitability”, he virtually guarantees that he will lose the attention of his readers. The current threats to democracy cry out for reasoned and powerfully expressed analysis, but regrettably, this is not such a book

And The Nation went so far as to suggest that Snyder’s latest book
marks the next phase in his transformation from academic historian to political commentator; it is also the apotheosis of a certain paranoid style that has emerged among liberals in Trump’s wake. The book’s cover comes complete with helpful directional indicators: “Russia > Europe > America”—the road to unfreedom is a one-way street.
For Snyder, Russia is to blame for the growth of the “birther” conspiracy theory about Barack Obama, stoking the Scottish independence referendum, Brexit, the rise of the far right in various European countries, and the Syrian refugee crisis. Russia is also in cahoots with the National Rifle Association and has been sowing dissension in the United States by encouraging hostility between the police and African Americans. Putin’s “grandest campaign” of all, though, was his “cyberwar to destroy the United States of America” by “escorting” Trump to the American presidency.

“And sentences that consist entirely of rhythmic abstractions”, The Nation caustically remarks, “convey very little” eg
“As we emerge from inevitability and contend with eternity, a history of disintegration can be a guide to repair”. One of his favorite images in the book is the abyss: so empty and so frightening. This gives us “Having transformed the future into an abyss, Putin had to make flailing at its edge look like judo,” but also “Under the mistaken impression that they had a history as a nation-state, the British (the English, mainly) voted themselves into an abyss where Russia awaited.” Truly the abyss swallows up all meaning.

But most of the media are delighted with the book.....as you will see from this "resource" which includes a 15 part series of a Snyder Youtube exposition.....I've included three more substantial texts to help the reader set the Snyder book in context.....

A Resource
Timothy Snyder Speaks series – started Nov 2017

The failure of democratisation in Russia – a comparative perspective; AB Evans (2011)
Russia’s Managed Democracy; Perry Anderson (2007)

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Romanian's National Day

This blog has celebrated Romania’s National Day before - but today is special since it is exactly 100 years ago today that various groups came together in Alba Iulia (which was previously the heart of Hungarian Transylvania) to celebrate the unification of that significant part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (and part of Banat) not only with what was (since 1877) already an independent Romania but also with Bessarabia, Moldova and North Dobrodjea. In one fell swoop the landmass of the country – which opted for the Western Allies only in 1916 - was tripled.

It’s therefore a suitable day to celebrate good writing about Romania. Let me start with an author, Robert Kaplan, who has established a nice little niche for himself as a traveller with a strong line in geo-politics – with The Revenge of History (2013) being its epitome.
I have just finished rereading his “In Europe’s Shadow” (2016) which is most decidedly not a travelogue but that rare and worthwhile endeavour – an attempt to penetrate a country’s soul borne of his forays over a period of 30 years after his first (and unusual) first port of call in 1981– selected simply because, for someone wanting to be a foreign journalist, it offered the distinction of having no competitors…

It’s a very individual if not poetic book which in which the country’s past casts the main shadow (despite the title) but one which is dealt with deftly – often through conversations with characters many of whom are long dead. Americans are not well known for their linguistic skills and I sense that Kaplan relied on translated texts for his early grasp of Romanian history – so Mircea Eliade’s little history of the country (written when he was an attache in Portugal with the Iron Guard regime) was an early companion for Kaplan. But also English writers such as Stephen Runciman and Lord Kinross (on the influence of the Ottoman empire), Macartney (Austro-Hungarian empire) and particularly John Julius Norwich (Byzantium) Since 1990 he has been able to access the histories of Vlad Georgescu, Lucian Boia, Keith Hitchens even Neagu Djuvara although his failure to mention Tom Gallagher's 2 books on the country proves the point I make below about his lack of interest in the contemporary scene.... 

Although he’s able to get access to Presidents (Iliescu and Basescu) and Prime Ministers (Ponta), it’s the long-term geopolitical threats represented by the borders, plains, armies and pipelines which interest him – and he is happiest when in the company of those who talk this language.
The comments of even a dilettante like Patapievici are preferable to any conversation about ordinary life – all we get on that score is a statement that “thanks to the influence of the EU, institutions are slowly becoming more transparent” (!!) 
For future editions of the book, I would recommend that he seeks out people such as Alina Mungiu-Pippidi and Sorin Ionitsa

Then there’s my own Mapping Romania - notes on an unfinished journey (2014). This is my own tribute to the country whose summers I have enjoyed since 2007 and which I have known intermittently since winter 1991. It's actually more of a resource book for English-language visitors who want to know something of the country's history and culture. Its 120 pages contain various a couple of thousand hyperlinks and annexes which give further detail on its history, literature (or rather English texts focusing on the country), art....even cinema...

And, in Bucharest’s French bookshop, I have just come across a nice set of little stories - “Chroniques de Roumanie”; Richard Edwards (2017)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Why we need to ration non-fiction books

Since 1950, the number of book titles has soared by at least 500% - in the UK case by almost 10 times. And, since 2013, the number of non-fiction titles has surpassed that in the fiction category – at least in the English language. And that is what my own experience tells me – when I visit a bookshop I am, nowadays, overwhelmed by the number of apparently relevant books…The overriding consideration as I flick through them is not the price but where to put them…..space is rapidly running out…
But, equally, I know that many of my purchases will disappoint…..I tend to blog about the ones that have repaid the effort of reading…
And readers will have noticed that I have been getting very impatient with a lot of writers – particularly those writing on the global crisis…I have increasingly been accusing them of self-indulgence – of not taking the issue or us readers seriously enough….I therefore thought it would be useful if I reproduced, with a few changes, the piece I wrote about this earlier this year

I now have a litmus test for any book which catches my eye and which I might be tempted to buy – actually not one but four -
1. Does it reveal in its preface/introduction and bibliography an intention to honour what has been written before on the subject?
2. Indeed does it clearly list and comment on what has been identified as the key reading and indicate why, despite such previous efforts, the author feels compelled to add to our reading burden???
3. Can the author clearly demonstrate (eg in the introduction or opening chapter) that the book is the result of long thought and not just an inclination to jump on the latest bandwagon?
4. Is it written in an “inviting” style? Eg as if (s)he was taking you into their confidence….

If a book survives this test and you’ve actually brought it home I then recommend that, before you settle down to read a book, you should do the following
- read the reviews (surf)
- identify the questions these suggest – you should never open a book without knowing what you want to get out of it!
- Mark (with a pencil) passages you both like and don’t like – with underlines, question-marks, ticks, comments and expletives. This will encourage you to return to the book
- If the author doesn’t write in clear language, move on to another book asap. Life’s too short to waste on verbosity……Bad writing is a good indicator of a confused mind
- Write brief notes on the main themes and arguments (tol remember better; and, if transcribed, they help build up an archive)

This, of course, puts the onus on readers - but the real problem rests with authors and publishers...It is they who swamp our minds with thousands of titles and excessive verbosity...
I suggest that, when they come to consider the final draft and layout of a book, they consider the following

1.      tell us what’s distinctive about your book; ie why you feel you need to add to what is already a huge literature on the subject
2.     “position” your book – ie tell us what you consider the key texts in the field (and why) and how your book relates to them. At best you can offer a typology of the different schools of thought on the issue
3.     convince us that you have not only read the “relevant literature” but that you have done so with a reasonably open mind; At best, offer an annotated list of key reading - with your preferences. This will give us a sense of your stance and fairness
4.     give a “potted version” of each chapter. Most think-tank reports have executive summaries. I don’t know why more authors don’t adopt the same approach. Amazon, some publishers and Google offer free access to excerpts – but the selections are fairly random.
5.     use more tables….and graphics. Readers can absorb only so much continuous text. And if the subject matter is difficult, it helps if – at least every couple of pages – there is a heading which gives a sense of the argument…

Their bibliographies may look impressive and their chapter headings riveting but the books increasingly suffer, in my view, from the following sorts of deficiencies –
- They are written by academics
- who write for students and other academics
- and lack “hands-on” experience of other worlds
- the author’s speciality indeed is only a sub-discipline – eg financial economics
- the focus is a fashionable subject
- written with deadlines to meet commercial demands
- making claims to originality- but failing to honour the google scholar adage of “standing on the shoulders of giants” (despite – perhaps even because of - the extensive bibliographies)

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

How they get away with it – being part 5 of the series on the political class

As you saw from the list of 20 odd books a few posts back, the journalists, political scientists and think-tankers have a lot to say about systems of power. Indeed, I often wish they would take an oath of silence – but then I remember they have families to feed…..This means, however, that we stand to be disappointed when we turn to books to help us understand contemporary issues. Several times this blog has gone so far as to urge readers to apply some simple tests when they are flicking books eg on the global crisis eg  early last year one suggested that you go the Preface/Introduction/end-notes/Index and award one point for each positive answer you can give to such questions as
- Does it say why yet another book is needed to add to the huge pile we already have?
- Does it argue convincingly that the book has something distinctive to say?
- is anything said about the audience the author is aiming at?
- Does it list/identify different schools of thinking about the issue?
- does the author list what subjects (s)he has excluded?
- Is there an annotated further reading list in an annex?

Any book with less than 4 points is probably a waste of your time….
My next post will remind you of some advice I gave readers, authors and publishers earlier this year

But, for now, I want to share an important insight with you all – that after all my reading over the past 50 years the best critique of power is actually a short satirical essay by Anthony Jay (the highly successful scriptwriter of the "Yes Minister" television series of 35 years ago)
The essay is called Democracy, Bernard, it must be stopped and can only be read on my website.
It takes the form of the advice given by Sir Humphrey (the retiring Head of the Civil Service) to his replacement – who, amazingly, turns out to be the guy who 30 years previously was the hapless Bernard. It captures the mechanisms which have been used over the past 50 years to corrupt the political class far better than any book.
Here is the first section (the final section will follow)

The first two rules for neutralising democracy are:
1. Centralise revenue. The governing class cannot fulfil its responsibilities without money. We, therefore, have to collect as much money as we can in the centre. In fact, we have done this with increasing effect over the years, with three happy results. The first is that we can ensure that money is not spent irresponsibly by local communities. By taking 80 or 90 per cent of the money they need in central taxes, we can then return it to them for purposes of which we approve. If they kept it for themselves, heaven knows what they might spend it on.
The second happy result is that the larger the sum, the harder it is to scrutinise. The ₤6,000 or so spent by a rural parish council is transparent and intelligible, and subjected to analysis in distressing detail. By contrast, the three or four hundred billion of central government revenue is pleasantly incomprehensible, and leaves agreeably large sums for purposes which the common people would not approve if it were left to them. It also means that a saving of ₤1 million can be dismissed as 0•0000003 of annual expenditure and not worth bothering with, whereas it can make a lot of difference to the budget of Fidelio at Covent Garden.
The third result is that the more the government spends, the more people and organisations are dependent on its bounty, and the less likely they are to make trouble.
2. Centralise authority. It goes without saying that if Britain is to remain a country of civilised values, the masses cannot be trusted with many decisions of importance. Local government must be allowed to take decisions, but we have to ensure that they are trivial. Meanwhile, we must increase the volume of laws made centrally. We have an enviable record of legislation growth, with hardly any laws being repealed, which it is now your duty to extend. If you are under pressure to provide statistics showing your zeal in deregulation, you will find many laws concerning jute processing and similar extinct industries which can be repealed without too much harm. …
You will also want to ensure that every Bill contains wide enabling powers, so that unpopular provisions can be brought in later as statutory instruments which MPs rarely read and virtually never debate. You should be able to achieve three or four thousand of these in a good year. 
The rest of the rules flow from the first two –

3.Capture the Prime Minister
Given the promises a PM makes, it is not difficult to persuade him that he needs more revenue and power
4. Insulate the Cabinet

They must be kept, as far as possible, well away from any contact with the sweaty multitude. This means avoiding public transport by use of private cars, avoiding the National Health Service by private health care etc
5. Enlarge constituencies
In the name of democracy, we have increased constituency size to 50,000 or 60,000, so that no MP can be elected on voters' personal knowledge of him. They vote for the party, and if the party does not endorse him, he will not be elected. His job, therefore, depends on the Prime Minister's approval and not on the respect of his constituents; a splendid aid to discipline
6. Overpay MPs

Even when MPs depend on the party machine for re-selection and re-election, some are occasionally tempted to step out of line. This risk can be significantly reduced if rebellion means not only loss of party support but also significant loss of income.
7. Appoint rather than elect

Government appointment is critical for control of society - so that proper care can be exercised in their selection of the thousands of positions available in Quangos - and so that the incumbents, when chosen, will know to whom they owe their new eminence, while those hoping for such posts (as with honours and peerages) can be trusted to behave responsibly in the hope of favours to come
8. Permanent officials – rotating Ministers

We have built an excellent system of a few transient amateur ministers who are coached, informed, guided and supported by a large department of permanent, experienced officials who enable them to take the correct decisions.
9. Appoint more staff

There are three reasons for this: it increases the volume of government revenue, it extends the area of government control, and it enlarges the pool of voters who have an interest in preserving the system that employs them.
10. Secrecy

Our success is based on the principle that no information should be disclosed unless there is a good reason why it should be. From time to time, opposition parties press for a freedom of information Act, but oppositions become governments and it does not take long for a government to discover that real freedom of information would make their job impossible.

It takes only a few minutes to read the essay – and I would urge you to do so – just click Democracy, Bernard, it must be stopped

Now you can understand why I am such a fan of satire….Some analysts now argue that satire has made us politically cynical and undermined democracy – although I suspect it is more the slow drip of 24/7 news which has done that…..Politicians have certainly become too easy a target. But after wading through so many turgid books about power systems, I have to say we desperately need the gasp of clarity which good satirical writing brings…..

 A Resource on Satire
Satire has long been a powerful weapon against the pretensions of power – Voltaire’s Candide and Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels are well-known literary examples. Ralph Steadman and Gerard Scarfe are modern caricaturists in the tradition of Hogarth; and the Liverpool poets (Roger McGough, Adrian Henry) sustained the protestors of the 1960s. British people are not so familiar with the Bert Brecht’s City poems or the savage anti-bourgeois paintings of Georg Grosz in the 1920s and 1930s.

In 1987 Management Professor Rosabeth Kanter produced “Ten Rules for Stifling Initiative” which I have often used to great effect in Central Asian training sessions.
1999 saw the appearance of “The Lugano Report; on preserving capitalism in the twenty-first Century” which purported to be a leaked report from shady big business but was in fact written by Susan George.

Management guru Russell Ackoff’s great collection of tongue-in-cheek laws of management –“Management F-Laws – how organisations really work” ( 2007) As the blurb put it –
“They're truths about organizations that we might wish to deny or ignore - simple and more reliable guides to managers' everyday behaviour than the complex truths proposed by scientists, economists and philosophers”.
An added bonus is that British author, Sally Bibb, was asked to respond in the light of current organizational thinking. Hers is a voice from another generation, another gender and another continent. On every lefthand page is printed Ackoff and Addison's f-Law with their commentary. Opposite, you'll find Sally Bibb's reply. A short version (ALittle F-book - 13 Sins of management). A typical rule is – “The more important the problem a manager asks consultants for help on, the less useful and more costly their solutions are likely to be”.

Robert Greene’s "48 Laws of Power" may not be satire but it is a very salutary counter to the thousands of unctuous management texts which attribute benign motives to senior management. 
And, to bring this series back full circle to “The Triumph of the Political Class”, a spoof on the British Constitution – called The Unspoken Constitution ( 2009) – had a Preface written by "The Triumph’s...." author - Peter Oborne.
Peter Cook - the greatest of Britain’s post-war satirists - once apparently said, back in the 1960s, “Britain is in danger of sinking giggling into the sea,”

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

How the power elite can – and does - manipulate us - Part 4 of the series on the political class

I’ve often in the past 20 years had to put myself in the shoes of Ministers and senior civil servants to help them develop “road maps” to their destinations of reform….An important technique I’ve used in these endeavours has been to get my counterparts to list why they think people behave the way they do – whether as officials, as citizens, politicians or businesspeople  – and what that tells us about the best way to try to get them to change. 
After all, the projects I’ve led only exist because someone has decided the present state of affairs is no longer acceptable…..so what aspects of whose behaviour are we talking about? And what is it that is most likely to make target groups change their behaviour?
-                Simple instructions?
-                Threats? Incentives?
-                Explanations and understanding?
-                Moral exhortation?

I have then developed, over the past couple of decades, this table which focuses on the assumptions we make about motives - and then explores the various mechanisms which are available to those trying to change beliefs and behaviour

The “behavioural turn” - Tools in the change process

Motivating Factor

Example of tool
Particular mechanism
1. Understanding
Functional review
Rational persuasion

Factual analysis
2. Commitment
Legitimisation; inspiration

3. Maximising Personal Benefit
Pay increase and bonus
Promotion (including political office)
Good publicity
Winning an award
Monetary calculation

Psychological Status
4. Minimising Personal Cost
Named as poor performer
Report cards
Psychological (Shame)
5. Obligation
Action plan
Family ties
Managerial authority
Social pressure
6. Peer influence
Quality circles
7. Social influence

Opinion surveys
Feedback from public about service quality

The explosion of interest in behaviour
In the last decade, the question of changing (other) people’s behaviour has become a central one for government, business and NGOs. Professors Thaler and Cass may have “nudged” interest with their 2008 Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness but it was in fact the UK Cabinet Office which arguably set the ball rolling four years earlier with its Personal Responsibility and changing behaviour – the state of knowledge and its implications for public policy (2004) - an example which was followed with Changing Behaviour – a public policy perspective (Australian Government 2007).

The Nudge book certainly inspired the Cameron government some 7 years later to set up a Nudge Unit in the Cabinet but the British government had in 2008 been exploring this issue in its  The Use of sanctions and rewards in the public sector (NAO 2008) the very same year - accompanied by a literature review drafted by Deloitte
Even the House of Lords was not to be outdone – with the voluminous evidence of its Behaviour Change in 2011. And the voluntary sector put down an early marker with its Common Case – the case for working with our cultural values (2010) – which showed more familiarity with the marketing approach than did the economistic and rationalistic assumptions which were embedded in the erly British attempts.
So the World Bank was rather lagging behind when in 2015 its Annual Development Report got round to dealing with the issue - in its Mind, Society and Behaviour

In parallel to this burgeoning interest, the emergence of “behavioural economics” has represented a shamefaced admission by the “discipline” that their models had been based on utterly stupid assumptions of rationality…

However, policy geeks such as yours truly have perhaps been a bit slow to make the connection between the “behavioural turn” and “Big Data” - let alone the scandal of Cambridge Analytics

Useful Further Reading

Reports and Books
Mind, Society and Behaviour (World Development Report; World Bank 2015)
Behaviour Change (House of Lords (2011)
Nudge, nudge, think, think; book by Peter John, Smith and Gerry Stoker (2011
It was accompanied by a literature review drafted by Deloitte