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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!

Friday, June 27, 2014

Round up the Usual Suspects!

One of the questions which nags away at me is why “progressives” don’t spend more time trying to seek a consensus agenda which can halt the downward spiral into which our societies have plunged since the 1970s.
Since the global crisis, it has been obvious (to most) that the economy (if not society) was broken – trouble is that people could not agree what the causes were. Energies ( and time) were wasted in parading "the usual scapegoats".

But there was too ready an assumption that those responsible would be contrite and change their behavior; and/or that governments would enact strong measures (in the style of the Roosevelt New Deal of the 30s). Only slowly did it seem to dawn on people that, far from slamming the brakes on, corporate power and the political class were driving relentlessly on – imbued, it appears, with an ideological fervor for what, rightly or wrongly, we call neo-liberalism. Colin Crouch dealt with this question in 2011 in his The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism - although the book it a bit theoretical. 
Philip Morowski gives a more trenchant (and political) explanation for the survival of the neo-liberal dogma in his Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste (2013) - arguing that progressives have failed to understand that the neo-liberal rhetoric about the market cloaks a continued build-up of state power (bolstering corporate interests).

The economists have had at least six years to publish their analyses of the process of collapse; to identify the reasons and to suggest measures – both rectifying and preventive. Most serious accounts look at least 15 causes….and the guy was chairman of the British Financial Regulatory body actually produced 39
But, as Morowski argues, the vast bulk of economists adhere to a fallacious doctrine and are incapable of producing relevant prescriptions.
Immediately someone puts his or head above the parapet and suggests concrete actions, they are labelled and dismissed. – whether by those in power or, more discouragingly, by other progressives. This presumably is one reason why such voices are rare.

But there must be other reasons which discourage the mass of discontented people from uniting under a common banner.
Most people are confused; some are just skeptical if not fatalistic; but a significant number of highly educated people are infected, I suspect, by the social disease of individualism which lies, I feel, at the heart of our malaise.

We simply no longer believe in the possibility of effective collective action. And too many of the big names who write the tracts about the global crisis present their analyses and prescriptions with insufficient reference to the efforts of others. They have to market their books – and themselves – and, by that very act, alienate others who could be their comrades in arms. For example, I'm just beginning to look at David Harvey's latest book - Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism - and can see no mention of alternative ways of dealing with the crisis.  

That’s why I suggested that Henry Mintzberg was one of the few people who seemed able to help create such a consensus - a set of minimum requirements. He is a management guru from whom one does not readily expect to hear the message that the world has gone mad. More usually management theorists celebrate the bosses. But Mintzberg (like the discipline’s founder, Peter Drucker) know enough about the real world of business to know when things have got out of hand.

I am not a fan of Malcolm Gladwell but his popularisations have included the important notion of the Tipping Point 
Gladwell suggested (in 2010) that there were three key factors which determine whether an idea or fashion will “tip” into wide-scale popularity - the Law of the Few, the Stickiness Factor, and the Power of Context.
The “Law of the Few” proposes that a few key types of people must champion an idea, concept, or product before it can reach the tipping point. 
Gladwell describes these key types as Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen. (And a maven – in case you didn’t know - is a trusted expert in a particular field, who seeks to pass knowledge on to others. The word maven comes from the Hebrew, via Yiddish, and means one who understands, based on an accumulation of knowledge).
If individuals representing all three of these groups endorse and advocate a new idea, it is much more likely that it will tip into exponential success. The other 2 concepts are, frankly, not so well dealt with – and  need to go the wider literature of change management and social marketing to get the whole picture.

My point is simply that most writers on the global crisis seem to focus their thoughts and text on the WHAT rather than on the HOW. – the ideas about the causes of and remedies for the crisis rather than the process by which “change for the better” might be managed. 
Of course we are still missing the "shared agenda" - the identification of which requires a "maven-like" character. And then the networkers and the organisers. 

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