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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!

Monday, January 15, 2018

a reading list for the Davos set

The annual Davos festschmalz comes this year with a book bag - consisting of reading recommended by Bill Gates and Mark Zuckenberg.  This includes fairly predictable, mainstream stuff – eg Harari’s “Sapiens” and Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence has Declined by Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker. 
Such lists make, of course, the (rather heroic) assumption that the Davos CEOs are inclined to read books – and an interesting challenge would be to come up with some titles which might persuade such privileged people to see the world a bit differently - and perhaps change their thinking? 
I suspect, for example, that participants might just allow their guard to fall for books written by people who know they are dying – eg the paean to social democracy penned by Tony Judt just before his death - Ill Fares the Land. And there were also these eloquent final thoughts of a seasoned campaigner found on his laptop after his death

So here’s my New Year challenge to readers - what short and thoughtful books might we recommend to challenge the smugness of the Davos set?

As it happens I have just collated last year’s blogposts which try to give a sense of how writers from the 1970s onwards have been dealing with what is now recognised as a systemic crisis in our economic order. Our Future – an annotated reading list identifies 250 books. Even more importantly, I make an effort to classify the books…..using a variant of the 6 distinctive “worlds” or “dimensions” developed by the Commons Transition people
·         political (democracy and the Commons)
·         economic (or Financial) 
·         work 
·         consumption/“4th Dimension”
·         conscience
·         citizens

Take the first dimension - as representative democracy has eroded in recent decades, direct democracy has attracted increasing attention – eg referenda, citizens’ juries, participatory budgeting or random selection of electoral positions. There is no obvious name to offer – although John Keane’s huge book on The Life and Death of Democracy is one of the best resources. Paul Hirst advanced the idea of “associative democracy” until his sad death in 2003. This drew on the thinking of figures such as GDH Cole…

But the very word "democracy" will put most Chief Execs off - they feel much more comfortable in the the management field where some gems an be found - eg Danah Zohar’s Spiritual Capital – wealth we can live by (2004) is an interesting critique of capitalism with a rather too superficial approach to its amelioration. The Ethical Economy – rebuilding value after the crisis by A Arvidsson and N Peitersen (2013) covers the ground better – it’s summarized here and critiqued here.
Henry Mintzberg is a well-regarded management guru who has been warning of business excesses for a couple of decades and produced in 2014 the highly readable Rebalancing Society – radical renewal beyond left, right and center.which is ideal for Chief Execs. 
Peter Barnes is a very fair-minded entrepreneur sensitive to the evils of unregulated capitalism whose Capitalism 3.0 (2006) is persuasive.
David Erdal's Beyond the Corporation (2011) is the inspiring story of an entrepreneur who passed his business to the workers..

They might also be persuaded to open some pages which bear a religious imprint eg a fascinating and totally neglected book is Questions of Business Life by Richard Higginson (2002) ananalysis of various critiques produced by a cleric from his work at an ecumenical centre for business people….
And then there is  Laudato-Si – the Papal Encyclical (2015). A summary is available here. Its entire 184 pages can be read here

Some outriders which I would strongly recommend are - 

The Lugano Report: On Preserving Capitalism in the Twenty-first Century” – Susan George (1999). A satirical piece which forces us to think where present forces are taking us…. 

Danny Dorling’s hugely underrated Injustice (2011) identified 5 “social evils” – elitism, exclusion, prejudice, greed and despair – and explores the myths which sustain them. The argument is that we are all guilty of these evils and of sustaining these myths......
More recently he produced "A Better Politics" - a great and persuasive read

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