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!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

political labelling

I am deeply grateful to Revista 22 for the privilege of being one of their invited contributors to the special issue on 09/11 – particularly when I was clearly going to be out of line with their avowed “market” philosophy. And I do admire the journal for its important role in Romanian society.

I was, however, disappointed to find that they had, without consultation, added a “health warning” to the title of my article – viz “a view from the left”. Four separate issues arise from this -
- First, do the editors not realise that use of such a label for one (only) of the articles is effectively an invitation to their readers to ignore it or treat it with suspicion? What does this say about freedom of expression?
- Second, criticism of the logic and effects of “neo-liberalism” has come from a great variety of quarters – not least the ordo-liberalism which has been the backbone of the post-war German economy.
- Third, it has been recognised for a long time that the left-right labelling makes little sense. Wikipedia has an excellent briefing on this. And I recommend people do their own test on the political compass website - which uses two (not one) dimensions to try to situate people politically.

Finally, there is the issue of whether I deserve the label which has been thrown at me – either from the article or from the range of beliefs I actually hold. The references in my article are impeccably mainstream academia (Colin Crouch; Henry Mintzberg) and a final section clearly signals that I have no truck with statism.

All my political life I have supported community enterprise and been opposed to state ambitions and the “evil” it brings in, for example, the adulterated Romanian form. My business card describes me as an “explorer” – which refers not so much to the nomadic nature of my life in the last 20 years as the open nature for my search for both a satisfactory explanation of how societies and economies work; with what results; and the nature of relevant mechanisms for adjusting what societies judge (through democratic processes) to be unacceptable trends.

I admit to having been attracted in my youth to the British New Left’s analysis of British inequality in the late 1950s - but I was profoundly influenced at University by people such as Karl Popper and his The Open Society and its Enemies, Schumpeter (his Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy and Ralf Dahrendorf; and, at a more practical level, by Andrew Shonfield and Tony Crosland who were also writing then about the benefits of the “mixed economy”.

More recently I have generally been a fan of the writings of Will Hutton (whose stakeholder analysis of UK society was disdained by Tony Bliar on becoming PM). As an academic I was convinced by the critical analysis of UK and US political scientists in the 1970s which went variously under the terms “Limits of the State” or “problems of implementation” and was the softer end of the “public choice school” of institutional economics.

But, unusually, the anarchistic/libertarian sweep of Ivan Illich and Paulo Freire also got to me in the 1970s (which is why I am (unusually) located in the south west quadrant of the political compass). I therefore not only disdained the injunctions of the dominant left and right extremes of British politics of the 1980s but, as an influential Scottish regional politican, used my role to create more open processes of policy-making. Indeed community activitists and opposition politicians were more important partners for me than members of my own party.
I held on to my leading political position on the huge Regional Council simply because I belonged to neither the left or right factions amongst my colleagues but was their natural second choice! The definitions I give in my Sceptic's Glossary reveal the maverick me.

For the past 20 years, however, since I left the UK to work as an adviser on institutional development in central europe and central asia , I have not been involved in politics.
My interest is to find some common ground in all the critiques of the current social and economic malaise – and to develop some consensus about the actions which might be taken.
A paper on my website is an early draft about this.

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