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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!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Exemplary Critics

I’m a great fan of diagrams – apart from giving us a breathing space from text, they show that the writer is aware that we all operate with very different types of understanding
hAnd - even more than the act of writing itself - the process of designing a diagram will quickly throw up the flaws in your thinking…….
Six categories form the heart of the two diagrams from the Commons Transition people I referred to yesterday - I liked the selection of the worlds of “work”, “citizens” and “conscience” as key categories – we all behave differently in these spheres……and I understood the “politics” and “economy” labels – we have various assumptions and expectations in those fields….
It was the sixth category however – of “consumption/production” which utterly confused me. What exactly is it – and how does it differ from “economy” and “work”?? And why are “workers’ cooperatives” not included in the “economy” category (and “social enterprise” included not there but in “work”??)

There were actually two diagrams – one purporting to illustrate the “present capitalist paradigm”, the second “Beyond Capitalism” and containing illustrative names……
The first diagram, however, was also bereft of such illustrations and I therefore offered a simpler version of the diagram which included the names of writers I considered offered useful examples of the schools indicated (with appropriate hyperlinks)….
I readily concede that the names selected probably said more about the world of an ageing (male) Brit than anything else – even so, of the 23 names selected, only five are actually English.
I do, however, have to confess that all but two are male (although I generally quote people like Susan Strange and Susan George).

Let me introduce this exemplary group – in future posts I hope to say more about those who have written critically in the past 50 odd years about the economic and political system which has us in its grip…… I start at the top left corner of the diagram with some key names in the increasingly critical debate about the health of our democracies........
Sheldon Wolin was one of America’s most distinguished political scientists – producing in 1960 one of the most lucid and inviting political textbooks “Politics and Vision” (700pp). As a student of politics between 1960-64, it was his book (and Bernard Crick’s “In Defence of Politics”) which inspired me to pursue politics as a vocation……
He died in 2015 at the grand age of 93, having produced seven years earlier a withering critique of the American political system - Democracy Incorporated – managed democracy and the spectre of inverted totalitarianism
 Peter Mair was a highly respected Irish political scientist who died at the height of his powers at the age of 60 and is renowned for Ruling the Void – the hollowing of Western Democracy (2013) which encapsulated the increasing despair of serious political scientists about the post 2000 trajectory of democracy.
 Robert Michels started the critique a hundred years earlier with his “ Political Parties – a sociological study of the oligarchical tendencies of modern democracy” first produced in German in 1911.
 Jeremy Gilbert is a British academic whose  Reclaim Modernity – beyond markets; beyond machines (2014) was a contribution to the ongoing debate about the future of the British Labour party 
David Graeber is an American anthropologist who has written powerfully about the history of debt; about anarchism; and more recently about aspects of modern work…..
Mark Blyth is a Scottish-American political economist whose Austerity – history of a dangerous idea made a big impact when it first appeared in 2013 and even more so in his subsequent lectures…
Yanis Varfoukis is a Greek-American economist whose The Global Minotaur – America, the true origins of the financial crisis; and the future of the world economy (2011) ……
Wolfgang Streeck is a German sociologist who has produced a series of powerfully-written critiques of the modern economy, culminating in How will Capitalism End?
David Harvey is an English Marxist geographer who has been based in the States for the past few decades; and become famous for his courses on Marxism and capitalism. One of his most powerful books is A Brief History of Neo Liberalism (2005)
Guy Standing’s claim to fame is The Precariat – the new dangerous class (2011)
New Capitalism? The End of Work (2009) by Kevin Doogan is a surprisingly critical assessment of the writing which from the mid 1980s has warned of the increasing job insecurity which lies ahead. It’s worth reading for its summary of writing of this important field.
Barbara Ehrenreich is an American journalist who has famously worked undercover to bring to readers her experiences of just how grim working life can be eg “Nickel and Dimed”
Joseph Stiglitz was the World Bank’s Chief Economist until his challenges of its Orthodoxy proved too much for them to bear. Globalisation and its Discontents (2002) is one of the many trenchant books he has written to expose the emptiness of economics orthodoxy….
John Michael Greer is an American writer and one of the most prominent of what might be called the apocalypicists – who consider that the western world is on a “Long (if slow) Descent” to a simpler world…I’m using the word in a respectful way since a lot of their arguments are convincing – and Greer’s analysis of American politics is the most profound I’ve seen.
Dmitry Orlov is another such apocalypticist – a Russian engineer who came to the States in 1974 (when 12) and, on home visits, having seen the USSR collapse at first hand, has been suggesting since his     Reinventing Collapse; the Soviet Experience and American Prospects (2005) that a similar fate awaits the States… 
Michael Pollan is a Professor of English in the States who became famous for his writing on agro-business
Naomi Klein is a radical Canadian journalist who made an impact with her “No Logo” (1999) and “The Shock Doctrine” (2007) books about capitalism. This Changes Everything (2014)
Oliver James is a British psychologist whose various books (such as “Affluenza” 2001) reflect the concerns of a lot of people….
Pope Francis has become the remaining hope of a lot of progressives. On Care of our Common Home (2015) is an encyclical which lambasts the present economic system and doctrines… 
Christopher Lasch was an American cultural analyst whose The Culture of Narcissism (1979) caught well the self-centredness of America in the post 60s period. His penetrating critiques continued with The True and Only Heaven – progress and its critics (1991) and his posthumous The Revolt of the Elites and the Betrayal of Democracy (1995)
Edward Snowden is the whistle-blower par excellence – working for a CIA sub-contractor he unearthed and spilled the story of the scale of American hacking of private accounts…
Julian Assange is an Australian computer expert, publisher and activist who has been holed up in London’s Ecuador Embassy since 2102 for fear of extradition to the US for “trumped-up” charges by the Swedish authorities…. 
Danny Dorling is a British geographer whose Injustice (2014) rivals the moral power of RH Tawney‘s writing and whose A Better Politics – how government can make us happier (2016) is one of the clearest invitations to a better society

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