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!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Come back Corporatism - all is forgiven!

The events of the past few years have made millions of people angry with their political leaders and disillusioned with the political and economic systems in which they operate.

But for anything to happen, there have to be feasible and legitimate options capable of gaining the support of a significant number of people.

That’s quite a challenging set of preconditions – feasibility, legitimacy and support! A paper on my website tries to track the various analyses and reforms which have been offered in the past decade or so (excluding technical tinkering).

But nothing will happen without catalysts for that change – individuals who have an understanding of the social process of the transformation process and the skills and credibility to ease change into place. Noone buys blueprints (let alone manifestos) any more. And politicians in many countries have lost credibility. Process is all. So where are the catalysts who have that understanding and skill sets; and who cannot be fitted into the conventional political labels?

It was by accident that I pulled a book from my library yesterday which has been lying unread since I bought it years ago. It was Paul Hirst’s From Statism to Pluralism produced in 1997 from various papers he had written in the previous 5 years and arguing the case for “associational democracy” in both the public and private sectors. It has a powerful beginning –
The brutalities of actually existing socialism have fatally crippled the power of socialist ideas of any kind to motivate and inspire. The collapse of communism and the decline of wars between the major industrial states have removed the major justifications of social democracy for established elites – that it could prevent the worse evil of communism and that it could harness organized labour in the national war effort.
Those elites have not just turned against social democracy, but they almost seem to have convinced significant sections of the population that a regulated economy and comprehensive social welfare are either unattainable or undesirable
.He then goes on to argue that –
• more “associational” forms of democracy and wider decision-making would help re-balance the centralisation of the state and the dominance of big business. In this view ‘association’ means groups of people who have similar concerns, views, and aims.
• Associationalism (it has many similarities with mutualism) is the most neglected of the great 19th century doctrines of social organisation. It lost out to collectivism and individualism. But conditions have now changed dramatically and make it an appropriate principle of reform and renewal of Western societies.
• widely distributed methods of decision-making, (both within and between organisations and groups throughout society and the economy) would better enable effective, informed and appropriate action. It might reduce the need for complex top-down regulation, better distribute wealth and security, and offer a potential solution to mistrust and social disintegration within communities.

Sadly Hirst died in 2003 but I discovered yesterday that other people in Britain have recently been going back to his papers and books. Indeed a booklet was produced earlier this year on the discussions.

Clearly the renewed interest stems from the UK Prime Minister’s interest in what he calls the “Big Society” – of public services being managed by its workers (part of the mutualist approach) or by community and voluntary organizations (social enterprise). Although Cameron was talking about this before the global crisis, the concept is a bit suspect these days with such large cuts in public expenditure.

However, social enterprise has a long and honourable tradition and was one I was proud to work for in the 1980s. A recent article set out how the Hirst agenda and social enterprise fit However the elephant in the room is the Big Corporation – and here the limits of (if not the motives for) the Cameron agenda are perhaps most exposed.

And Hirst too does not say much about the economic side of things which Will Hutton was so eloquent about at the same time (stakeholder society) – beyond a few comments about the “industrial districts of Italy”.

Although Germany gets a brief passing remark or two, I find it astounding that the “corporatist” model of North Europe does not get proper treatment. Is that because “corporatism” got a bad name in Britain in the 1970s (it was blamed for the poor economic performance) – or because the Brits (and Americans) are so myopic about foreign activities?

 We should not underestimate the power of words and phrases – but I suspect the explanation is more the latter. I find it ironic that the Brits were very interested in the 1960s with what they could learn from France and other European countries about industrial policy - but that they have no such interest when part of the European Union!

Apart from the usual academic books about German politics, I know of only two general books on Germany in the English language – the idiosyncratic Germania by Simon Winder and Peter Watson’s doorstopper of a book German Genius – neither of which says anything about how Germany managed, in the post-war period period, to become such a politically and economically resilient country.

The only serious article I know about the country are the 60 pages in Perry Anderson’s The New Old World. I remember in the 1970s we had a huge book by John Ardagh which took us through all aspects of contemporary Germany. Now the books are shallow (and mocking) travelogues whcih say more about the Brits than the Germans.

However there is a recent academic paper which explores why a “coordinated market economy” was first chosen as the appropriate model for Germany; and why it might still be the most appropriate for Germany but for other EC countries.

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