what you get here

This is not a blog which opinionates on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers to muse about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

The Bucegi mountains - the range I see from the front balcony of my mountain house - are almost 120 kms from Bucharest and cannot normally be seen from the capital but some extraordinary weather conditions allowed this pic to be taken from the top of the Intercontinental Hotel in late Feb 2020

Thursday, August 31, 2017

"Common Endeavour"

Up at 1,350 metres, the season’s changes are quite noticeable. August 15th is known as St Mary’s day in this part of the world and as the sign generally for a faint new chill to the morning air - after the heat which has driven people up from the plain for the previous month or so….
Autumn is coming – and I have decided to make available, in book form, the 60 posts which have featured in the blog so far this year and which bears the title - Common Endeavour – the 2017 posts so far  

It’s a bit cheeky, I grant you, to offer a 2017 annual just over half way through the year! The one frustrating thing, however, about a blog is that it gives a reverse image of reality – with the most recent post coming first and the reader then required to scroll down for the earlier contributions……Noone these days has the patience to search for the first posts and scroll UP…..whereas a book format allows you to begin at…….…the beginning.

And regular readers will know that a new Feature was quietly introduced in recent months – a “Further Reading Resource”. With two thirds of my readers not having English as their first language, I have perhaps become more conscious of the need for an inviting start to these posts which also tries to “position” the subject in the wider commentary……Hence the appearance of the “Further Reading” list with which book notes in particular now end… 

Early posts couldn’’t help touching on the first shocking weeks of bully boy Trump’s occupation of the White House but, thereafter, ignored the idiot – a tactic I’m surprised more have not suggested as an appropriate weapon to use against such a narcissist. Political misbehaviour in Romania caused more of a public backlash here and was duly the subject of some initial posts - which were followed in the summer by some musings about the failure of most post-communist societies to take seriously the task of building institutional capacity.........

For several weeks from mid-March, I ran a series of posts which started with an observation about   how badly served we are by the hundreds of economics books which jostle for our attention. The opening post suggested some tests we might apply to screen books out – with the drawback that we actually need the book in our hands in order to make the call!
Follow-up posts used some diagrams……which also help guide the reader through the maze of books……More than 100 key books were identified, briefly explained - and hyperlinked. And will all be useful in the task which lies ahead – of severe editing of the present draft of Dispatches to the post-capitalist generation

As a bonus I’ve added, as an Annex, my Sceptic’s Glossary – being my definition of some 100 plus terms used in the questionable discourse of our elites. I’ve set this in the context of texts (and images) which I’ve found useful during my life in the puncturing of their pretensions….. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Political Economy Thriller

Yanis Varoufakis is like the treacly spread product Marmite – which people either love or hate – there seems no compromise between the two positions.
 I happen to think he’s a very good analyst and writer – if rather too prone to court the headlines for sllck comments.
I had first come across him in 2012 when I enjoyed The Global Minotaur – America, the True Origins of the Financial Crisis and the Future of the World Economy (2011) and had then followed his elevation and performance as Greece’s Economics Minister - for 6 brief months - in 2015 with great interest.

I have just got around to reading his And the Weak Suffer what They Must? – Europe, Austerity and the threat to Global Stability (2016) which clearly draws on his experience of his harrowing 6 months in the eye of the financial and political storm - but which resists the temptation to elaborate on his personal encounters with the various European and international players in that “Drama” (which is actually also the name of a small Greek town very near the border with Bulgaria in which a problem with fuel injection once forced me to spend a night!).
Such an elaboration, he told us, needed a bit more distance – but it was not all that long in coming – in the form of Adults in the Room – published earlier this year which Paul Mason has described as one of the greatest political memoirs…..

Although “And the Weak Suffer…..” has been published for more than a year, it has (if Google is to be believed) attracted surprisingly few reviews.
It seems fairly obvious that Varoufakis has offended so many of the powerful figures in politics and academia that only people such as Mark Blyth and Paul Mason are willing to put their heads above the parapets and write positively about him……
But one fan is an Australian academic whose review of the book on the Open Democracy website is, for me, a model of how a review should be conducted with a focus on both content and style;    
This book is far more than a re-statement of Varoufakis’ 2011 book, The Global Minotaur…but it is that first book which provides the structure here – as a play in three acts.Act One is set in the years 1944 to 1971. When the present global economy was set up at Bretton Woods, the US was gripped by a New Deal fear of international financial chaos but was not prepared to let its dominance of the post-war globe slip in order to generate a truly self-balancing global economy.
This led to the US rejecting Keynes’ plan to construct a genuinely international currency and a genuinely international set of surplus and deficit rebalancing institutions but…….., by investing their own surplus into Germany and Japan in particular, the US was able to re-build Europe and Asia and recreate them – politically and economically – in something like its own image. On the whole, things worked exceptionally well for what we now call the post-war boom (1949– 1971). But when the astronomical expense of the Cold War kicked in and the US stopped running a surplus, the Bretton Woods system simply fell over, leaving the globe in a mess.
 Act Two the US was able to maintain global dominance as a deficit economy. The Nixon Shock of 1971 produced the stagflation sickness of the 1970s which was then ‘cured’ in the 1980s by the staggering success of financialized and transnationalized corporatism. But the architecture of the post-Nixon area was inherently unstable, inherently disconnected from sustainable human and economic realities, and it all came crashing down in 2008.
 Act Three starts in 2008. Here, after acts one and two have both ended in tears, the global economy is terminally wounded and must either die or face radical reconstructive surgery. Now, despite the various appearances of recovery, it is simply the case that the mechanisms and institutions that used to keep the global economic order in some sort of functional balance have all failed. We have only just started Act Three, but it could end quickly, and violently.

The reviewer than asks one of the questions so few bother to – “So, how does “And the Weak Suffer as they Must?” take up this narrative and tell us things we did not know and need to know now?” 
Reading “And the Weak Suffer as they Must?” is like reading a gripping thriller. It is a page turner because the plot itself is a relentless sequence of astonishing twists and turns driven by the cunning ingenuity and hubristic folly of its key protagonists.Even if you know a lot about the Eurozone, Varoufakis’ carefully researched account, with its vivid glimpses into the motivations and outlooks of key players, and its expansive breadth in appreciating the global dynamics pressuring localized decisions, is unerringly startling.
Yet it is no novel. Varoufakis’ book has something made-up stories can only mimic; the texture of real history. But here is the key thing that Varoufakis has so carefully noticed. In the texture of real history, convenient illusions are typically a great deal more influential in the circles of power and normality than is truth.
It is for this reason that, in real history, truth usually seems stranger than fiction. And yet, Varoufakis also notices that the texture of history is such that truth always has the last say, no matter how hard the powers of illusion and convenience seek to keep the dream alive by helping us to stay asleep. Varoufakis’ insight into the relationship between what normal mainstream people and the great and powerful want (even need) to believe, and what is actually going on, is a key feature of the significance of this book.
He weaves his intricate and tense narrative fabric out of illusion and reality (the texture of real history) by constantly shifting our gaze between three interconnected focal lengths.
- With the first, Varoufakis enables us to see how the world looks through the myopia of the common man’s desire to doggedly hope that our leaders know what they are doing while we just get on with our lives. This myopia is savagely reinforced by the news media and integrated with the myopia of European high power.And that high power cannot see past the end of its own nose, defined as it is by the bureaucratic echo-chamber of self-perpetuating institutional power. 
- This short-sighted focal length insight is then overlaid with a 20 20 focal length perspective provided by Varoufakis’ forensic knowledge of how Eurozone power actually functions. Here we get a nauseating sense of how badly awry things are when very basic macro-economic realities are simple banished from the ‘negotiating’ table laid out by the powers that be. 
- This perspective is in turn overlaid with a telescopic focus, the far-sighted and sweeping historical panorama which shows us why the Eurozone is what it is. This enables us to see – in the one account – the disjunction between ‘normal’ financial and public affairs orthodoxies, the ‘realism’ mandated by prevailing power interests, and what is actually happening to Europeans.

This is one of those books which needs to be read a second time – and more closely…..and rates up there along with Mark Blyth’s Austerity – the history of a dangerous idea (2013). In a few months, another (smaller) book will come from Varoufakis. I already have the German version which is called “Time for Change; how I explain the economy to my daughter”. The English version bears the title “Talking to my daughter about the economy; a brief history of capitalism

A Varoufakis Resource
https://www.opendemocracy.net/can-europe-make-it/paul-tyson/varoufakis-%E2%80%93-new-kind-of-politics (2015); a profile of the man
The Global Minotaur - the full book!! Which is one of the very few which clearly explains the working of the global economy of the past 50 years. It succeeds simply because, for once, an economist has the courage to put the story in a geopolitical context.  

Reviews of "Adults in the Room"

Friday, August 25, 2017

"Bridge of Friendship" interview

I’m “chuffed” at being the focus of a long interview published this week by a young Bulgarian journalist – on a bi-lingual venture called Bridge of Friendship, Vlad Mitev is based in Russe - which boasts the bridge of that name (over the Danube) – and uses his location to write in Bulgarian and Romanian (and often in English) about various aspects of his region. Not only economic (his original focus) but cultural aspects come within his remit. In this cross-border focus, he is quite exceptional… and deserves support.

I had been intrigued by his blog and we had met up earlier in the summer – in Russe – on my way back to Bucharest which is, of course, a mere 60 kms from the Danube and Bulgaria and it was there he sprung on me his idea of an extended interview. Hardly the shy and retiring type, I was only too happy to oblige….
Behind his modest facade, he’s a tough cookie and soon made it clear he would take no diversionary nonsense from me as, inevitably, I tried to move the discussion into more familiar waters…..For Vlad I was merely an intriguing specimen of a Brit who had apparently opted to make his home in both Bulgaria and Romania and he wanted to explore not so much my reasons for this - as my impressions of the two countries and their differences; and any thoughts I might have about the scope for more cooperation… 

One would have to be a bit insensitive to straddle two countries without gaining some impressions – which, of course, always say more about the visitor and his values than the “natives”. And the more countries I have lived in (almost twelve I think) the more fascinated I have become with cultural aspects (in the widest sense). 
It’s not just history and the language which poses a problem at the Danube – it’s the very alphabet! So it’s hardly surprising that people say that people tend to turn their backs to one another at the river. For a few weeks, a couple of years ago, I entertained the thought of helping to develop a cross-border project based on cultural aspects – but simply could not drum up enough interest from my (admittedly limited) networks….. 

The interview gave me full rein for hyperlinks - and a list at the end gives full access to key texts…...

Earlier in the year I tried to celebrate the principle of bridge building – across the boundaries which divide groups – not just nations – but classes, intellectual disciplines and professions. At an early age, I found myself a lot in “no-man’s land” operating a fairly solitary role but, ultimately, one which offered me exciting new perspectives. But it was, apparently, a central European saying that “the problem with bridges is that horses shit on them in peacetime and they are the first thing to be blown up in times of war”
But Vlad’s efforts on Bridge of Friendship deserve everyone’s admiration – and support 

Saturday, August 19, 2017


I’m not a great reader of novels – the interactions and fate of fictitious characters pale against those of the real people I find in histories…..And, if I want good prose, I find it in essays, travelogues and short stories – although I grant you that it’s only in stories (short and long) that the inner life of people can be treated in depth…..
Perhaps that’s why I’m so partial to short stories – produced by the likes of William Trevor, Carol Shields, Alice Munro, Vladimir Nabakov, Joseph Miller and……Joseph Roth

Seven years ago, however, one post here did actually pay tribute to about 75 novels which had taken my fancy – only one third of which, interestingly, were British….And, of those, most were Irish or Scottish since I have found their style of writing much more lively than that of English novelists…..It’s not just the older generation I’m referring to (such as Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Edwin Muir and Robin Jenkins) but also the younger writers (such as Andrew Greig, James Meek and James Robertson on the Scottish side – and Sebastian Barry and John McGahern on the Irish).

Too many contemporary English writers seem to be unable to shake themselves out of their limited middle-class environment – eg Ian McEwan, although this is not something you could say about his acerbic mate Martin Amis. Sebastian Faulks and Louis de Bernieres are two exceptions who deal with big issues – the latter giving us “Birds without Wings” about the tragic exchange of population in early 20s Anatolia. And Lawrence Durrell still thrills me – despite the reputation he has unfairly been given for “over the top” writing…… 

When I was a teenager in the late 50s, it was the modernist fiction of Aldous Huxley and HG Wells which grabbed my fancy – with Evelyn Waugh for light relief (books such as “Scoop”). Joseph Conrad I read when I wanted something more exotic - and DH Lawrence for the emotional side of things.
The 60s brought the “angry young men” with writers such as Alan Sillitoe, John Bratby and Kinsgley Amis – the 70s the university realists – eg Malcolm Bradbury and Howard Jacobson
By the 80s EM Foster and Thomas Hardy were big – as films brought their books to life. On the contemporary front, Fay Weldon's journalistic prose made the woman's case....

There’s a nice little overview of the writing of the 1945-90 period here; and a more substantial survey here. It’s always interesting to see what foreigners make of British literature and I found the analysis and set of notes of The Desperado Age – British literature at the start of the third millennium (2006) revealing – if a bit forced. The author is Lidia Vianu (2006) who was then Professor of English literature at Bucharest University.

Lists of personal favourites are rather self-indulgent and pointless – unless including some sort of justification for the choices….which might just persuade us to give some of the texts a whirl…. 
It’s in that spirit that I now update that earlier post. 
In 2010 I hadn’t quite adjusted to my Romanian base – so had missed a baker’s dozen of superb books - Miklos Banffy’s Transylvanian Trilogy (originally written in the 1950s but only widely available from 2010); Olivia Manning’s Balkan Trilogy (written in the 60s but receiving a new lease of life after the film); and Gregor von Rezzori’s brilliant three semi-autobiographical books drawn from his time in Romanian Czernowitz (now in southern Ukraine) – first written (in German) between the 50s and 70s but issued by NYRB only recently.  
Rebecca West’s massive and stunning Black Lamb and Grey Falcon – a journey through Yugoslavia  was first published in 1941 and is actually four books in one – about Serbia, Croatia, Bosnia and Macedonia – but received a huge boost from the 90s Yugoslav conflagration. It’s not, of course, a novel but, 75 years on, it is a gripping read - and still repays study.

I would stand by my 2010 list – with the embarrassing exception of Paul Coelho! And I also don’t know how Jason Godwin crept onto the list…. Otherwise the mix of South American “magic realism”; French romanticism and nihilism; Irish, Israeli and Egyptian realism; and Scottish whimsy stands up well……
My tributes to the likes of John Berger and William MacIlvanney demand their addition – as do JM Coetze and Svetlana Alexievitch 

ps this post - and some earlier this year - are in the tradition of blogs such as A CommonPlace Blog where older people try to identify the books and journals they have enjoyed and would recommend to others   

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

In Praise of Journalists

A “journalistic scrum” has become a sign of the times – reflecting globalization; the 24 hours new cycle; the merging of news-collecting with the entertainment industry; technological change; and the growth in the journalistic profession.
A recently-issued book by a German journalist of the 1920s and 1930s has had me musing about the journalistic craft down the ages…….

We all know about George Orwell who established his reputation in the late 1930s with Down and Out in Paris and London (1933) and “The Road to Wigan Pier” (1937). 
But the Hungarian, Arthur Koestler, had been a prolific journalist for the Berlin-based Ullstein press since the early 30s before he burst on the British scene with his Darkness at Noon (1940) reflecting the totalitarianism of the times. Ernest Hemingway also started in European journalism in the 20s and wrote up his experiences of the Spanish Civil War - but was always the novellist. Martha Gellhorn made her name as a war correspondent (see her pieces here); was married to Hemingway for 8 years - and was the better journalist of the two

Victor Serge led one of the most amazing lives as an anarchist in France, Belgium and Russia in the first part of the 20th century.  Memoirs of a Revolutionary is perhaps his most famous bit of writing (published posthumously in French in 1951) but he wrote extensively from the early 1920s about his experiences in Russia from 1919 (where he was initially hired by Maxim Gorky)

Vassily Grossman is another writer who mixed journalism and novels – becoming famous in Russia for his work as a journalist at the Soviet front (A Writer at War gave us a taste of this in 2005) but having his best work “Life and Fate” – modelled on “War and Peace” - banned and smuggled out of the country to be published 20 years after his death only in 1985

Joseph Roth was a less politically involved journalist – but a master of the feuilleton, a peculiar form of journalism that was especially popular in European newspapers in the early 20th century. Roth described it as “saying true things on half a page” and considered it “as important as politics are to the newspaper. And to the reader it’s vastly more important.” In his confident, controversial way, he added,
“What people pick up the newspaper for is me. Not the parliamentary report. Not the lead article. Not the foreign news….I don’t write ‘witty columns.’ I paint the portrait of the age.”
I am currently enjoying his The Hotel Years  which brings together 64 of Roth’s feuilletons, nearly half of which were published in the Frankfurter Zeitung – of which he was a star reporter in the 20s and 30s. Each of these little essays is a pleasure to read, and regarded collectively they present an invaluable portrait of life in Europe between the two World Wars.

And this we owe to a few brilliant translators …. In this particular case the poet, critic, and translator Michael Hofmann. Without him, the reader of English would hardly know Roth at all. The Hotel Years is the 14th of Roth’s books that he has translated. (Among the others are The Radetzky March, commonly considered Roth’s masterpiece, and Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters, a significant work of scholarship that serves as an essential companion to all of Roth’s other writing.
Hofmann’s commentary is insightful and especially helpful in establishing a context for Roth’s life and work. In the introduction to What I Saw — a collection of feuilletons written in Berlin during the years of the Weimar Republic, and the first book of Roth’s journalism to be published in English — Hofmann describes Roth as “a maximalist of the short form.” In these reports from Berlin, as in the pieces collected in The Hotel Years, “What is small is inevitably made to seem vast, and vast things are shrunk into a witty perspective.” The literary journal The Millions has a good review of the book -

"Roth is perpetually engaging, whether he is decrying the Third Reich, criticizing clich├ęd notions of Russia, enumerating the unpleasant realities of travel, or simply commenting on the quirks of a hotel cook. They are works of satire, driven by Roth’s bristling sense of irony and his unsparing eye for detail. He was a keen observer of everyday life, and he had an ingenious knack for capturing a person or place with a few brief sentences. His essays reveal an obsession with physical descriptions and a fascination with the habits and appearances of the people he encountered, as demonstrated in “The Dapper Traveler:”
 The traveler is clad in a discreet gray, set off by an exquisite iridescent purple tie. With complacent attention he examines his feet, his leather shoes, and the fine knots in the broad laces. He stretches out his legs in the compartment, both arms are casually on the arm rests to either side. Before long the gray traveler pulls out his mirror again, and brushes his dense, black parted hair with his fingers, in the way one might apply a feather duster to a kickshaw. Then he burrows in his case, and various useful items come to light: a leather key-holder, a pair of nail scissors, a packet of cigarettes, a little silk handkerchief and a bottle of eau de cologne.
So much attention and enthusiasm are given to these kinds of details that it often seems as though Roth is creating a world rather than describing the one that already exists. Taken out of context, in fact, many of the pieces in The Hotel Years could pass as fiction. Some resemble sketches for novels, travel notes, diary entries. It is remarkable that they were published in newspapers — not because they are uninteresting or poorly written, but because they are so different from the kind of work one expects from a journalist.In an essay on the German city of Magdeburg, Roth explains his writing in the following way:
"What can I do, apart from writing about individuals I meet by chance, setting down what greets my eyes and ears, and selecting from them as I see fit? The describing of singularities within this profusion may be the least deceptive; the chance thing, plucked from a tangle of others, may most easily make for order. I have seen this and that; I have tried to write about what stuck in my senses and my memory."
"There is, of course, a transitory nature to this kind of writing. It is short and often very specific, tightly bound to the time and place in which it was written. Roth travelled across Europe, lived in hotels, and wrote essays that were inspired by what he refers to as “the great blessing of being a stranger.”
He is whimsical and frivolous at times, prone to exaggeration, and indulgent of superficial details that fail to leave the reader with any lasting impressions. But many of his essays endure, as mere ephemera do not.

"……..For Roth, writing was not merely a way to make a living, it was a way of life. When the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933, he left the country and never returned. 
“Very few observers anywhere in the world seem to have understood what the Third Reich’s burning of books, the expulsion of Jewish writers, and all its other crazy assaults on the intellect actually mean,” he wrote at the time. “Let me say it loud and clear: The European mind is capitulating. It is capitulating out of weakness, out of sloth, out of apathy, out of lack of imagination…”
Six years later, at the age of 44, Roth died in Paris from the effects of alcoholism. It is frustrating to think of what he might have written had he lived longer, but not because the body of work that he left behind is lacking. As the present publication of “The Hotel Years” proves, much of Roth’s writing has been neglected. Although he has come to be remembered mostly for his novels, his journalism is equally as impressive".

Who is it, I wonder, who best embodies this sort of work these days? 
There have always been war correspondents – although I was fascinated by this article which explains why no british journalists were on the Waterloo battlefield 200 years ago. Robert Fisk is for me the greatest of these - with his The Great War for Civilisation - the conquest of the Middle East.

As the writing craft has become the subject of university course in recent decades, its practice has perhaps become more precious – although this collection does give a very positive flavour of what has been produced in recent years.
Travelogues have always been popular but globalization giving an added zest in recent decades..…with another interesting trend (at least in the UK) being for novelists such as James Meek, John Lanchester and Andrew Greig to give extensive treatment to political and economic matters….

For my money, three names stick out from the rest of the bunchChris Hitchins despite his apostasy, was a powerful and extraordinarily well-read writer…..Clive James’s wit may sometimes be a bit forced (not least in his television coverage) but the range of his (European) reading and analysis has rarely been bettered, with Cultural Amnesia as the jewel in his crown,
Geert Mak is my final choice – not only for his tour de force In Europe – travels through the 20th Century; but for the creative focus he used on his village (in “An Island in Time – the biography of a village”); his city (“Amsterdam – a brief life of the city”) and his country “The Century of my Father”)

 A Joseph Roth Resource

A Michael Hoffman resource

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Thinking Institutionally

A little book has been engaging my thoughts this past week – On Thinking Institutionally – published a decade ago by Hugh Heclo, now a retired American political scientist with form for an interest both in political institutions and in European aspects of political culture. I remember his name vividly from the 1970s from the book he wrote jointly with that great doyen of political analysis (and of the budgetary process) Aaron Wildavsky – The Private Government of Public Money

Heclo’s book looks at our loss of respect for institutions. Way back in the 60s, Penguin books had published a series of popular paperbacks with the series title “What’s Wrong with…….?” – in which virtually all British institutions were subjected to a ruthless critique. When I was in Germany for a couple of months in 2013, I noticed a similar rash of titles. And France has been flooded in recent years by the literature on its doom…..

I like a good critique like anyone else – but there comes a point when critical analysis of an institution become so overwhelming as to threaten the possibility of ever trusting that entity ever again. A few years ago, we seemed to reach that point in Britain when the “expenses scandal” hit the political class – was it a coincidence that this happened just when the global economic crisis required some determined political action?
For whatever reason, trust in our institutions – public and private – has sunk to an all-time low. This is the issue with which Heclo’s book starts – indeed he gives us a 5 page spread which itemises the scandals affecting the public, private and even NGO sectors in the last 40-50 years – arguing that mass communications and our interconnectedness exacerbate the public impact of such events. 
The past half-century has been most unkind to those discrete cohering entities, both formal and informal, that "represent inheritances of valued purpose with attendant rules and moral obligations." Today, people almost universally denigrate institutions, including those of which they are members.
Attacks on institutions come from our hyper-democratic politics but stem from the Enlightenment with its unshakeable confidence in human reason; its subsequent obsessive focus on the self; and, latterly, its belief that an institution has no value beyond that which an individual can squeeze from it for personal gain.
In the last 60 years our education system  has designated institutions as, at best, annoying encumbrances and, at worst, oppressive tools of the past. Students are taught to believe what they like and express themselves as they see fit. Even people understood to be conservatives—at least in the way we conceptualize political ideology today—assail institutions. Free market economics places a premium on self-interest and assumes institutions stifle innovation and entrepreneurship.
 But institutions provide reference points in an uncertain world. They tie us to the past and present; furnish personal assistance; and institutionalize trust. They give our lives purpose and, therefore, the kind of self-satisfaction that only the wholesale rejection of them is supposed to provide.
How, then, do we protect and promote them? Heclo says that first and foremost we must learn to think institutionally. This is very different from thinking about institutions as scholars do. It is not an objective and intellectual exercise. It is a more participatory and intuitive one. To think institutionally you need a "particular sensitivity "to or an "appreciative viewpoint" of institutions.
To be more specific, the exercise moves our focus away from the self and towards a recognition of our debts and obligations to others. To think institutionally is to do something much more than provide individuals with incentives to be part of and promote institutions. It calls on them to modify their behavior. In this way, Heclo challenges rational choice's assumptions about institutional maintenance vigorously. 

Heclo argues that acting institutionally has three components. The first, "profession," involves learning and respecting a body of knowledge and aspiring to a particular level of conduct.
The second, "office," is a sense of duty that compels an individual to accomplish considerably more for the institution than a minimal check-list of tasks enumerated within a kind of job description. 

Finally, there is "stewardship." Here Heclo is getting at the notion of fiduciary responsibility. The individual essentially takes the decisions of past members on trust, acts in the interests of present and future members, and stands accountable for his actions.

I have a lot of sympathy for this line of argument – against “the quick buck”…. instant gratification….. tomorrow’s headlines…..we need cultures which respect partnership, timescales for investment and the idea of “stewardship” which Robert Greenleaf tried, unsuccessfully, to cultivate…..The quotation, indeed, which graces the first page of my Dispatches to the post-capitalist generation is from Dwight Eisenhower’s last address in 1960 
We . . . must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.

Heclo’s book, I concede, is in the tradition of Edmund Burke and Michael Oakeshott and tended to attract the attention of clerics and university administrators – some of whom produced this interesting symposium 
Thinking institutionally is a lonely pursuit. Its practitioners are unappreciated and considered naive. They expect to be taken advantage of by those who care nothing for institutions, only for themselves. But that does not mean we should not do it.

Readers wanting a sense of Heclo’s writing style are directed to page 750 of The Oxford Handbook of Political Institutions (the link gives the entire “Hand”book!) where Heclo has a short essay on the topic.