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

Monday, May 31, 2021

Assessing a government’s record

Is a balanced judgement on a government ever possible?

I’ve just finished a book about New Labour under Tony Blair. He was PM for 10 years – from 1997 to 2007, leaving office just before the global financial crisis broke – and this particular book, “Broken Vows – Tony Blair, the tragedy of power”, published almost a decade later, purports to be an assessment of his government’s record - at least in the fields of health, education, immigration, energy and “the wars”.

Tom Bower is a well-known British investigative journalist who has profiled commercial rogues such as Robert Maxwell, Tiny Rowlands, Conrad Black, Bernie Ecclestone (of F1 fame) and Richard Desmond let alone characters such as Klaus Barbie but offers more sympathetic profiles of Prince Charles, Simon Cowell and Boris Johnson.

His bibliography lists the books he relied on – basically 40 memoirists and not a single one of the many writers whose serious analytical accounts of the period were available if only Bower had had the patience to read serious material.

It’s significant, for example, that no mention is made – whether in the bibliography or the text – of a book which had attempted an assessment both fair and accessible - The Verdict – did Labour Change Britain? by Polly Toynbee and David Walker issued several years earlier in 2010. 

And that is certainly the question by which it is reasonable to hold both Blair and New Labour to account. “Modernisation” was Blair’s mantra – conservatism the enemy whether it rested in the trade unions or the civil service – both of whom he regarded as the immediate enemy.

Indeed such was the suspicion of the civil service from the very beginning that virtually all New Labour Ministers threw their senior civil servants’ advice notes into the bin. They had their manifesto – strongly enforced by both Blair and Brown, the “Iron Chancellor”.

Not only Civil Servants but the Cabinet was treated with utter contempt – if it had not been for the Blair-Brown tension which would often break out in open conflict, the resultant system might have lapsed into total “groupthink”…..

Sadly, however, Bower doesn’t bother to use (or even make reference to) the excellent analysis available in British Government in Crisis (2005) by Christopher Foster who had been both an adviser and consultant but prefers instead to rest on a critique of the vainglorious Michael Barber of “deliverology” infamy

Strangely, only in Education had New Labour come with coherent plans for the future. Bower’s story is one of the system staggering from one crisis to another – with no lessons learned other than the need to return to Conservative policies which Blair not so secretly had always favoured. 

These days, we associate New Labour with four main things – PR “spin”, the Iraq war; a globalist encouragement of immigration; and huge budgetary increases for health and education. But there was a positive side which even an ex-adviser to Margaret Thatcher recognises in this critical review of “Broken Vows”.   

But – despite the claims in the Introduction - Bower’s book is NOT an attempt to judge a government – let alone dispassionately. As is abundantly clear in the devastating picture of Blair portrayed in the book’s opening chapter and Afterword, this is a hatchet job on a man whose greed, superficiality and delusions were already evident to most of us 

Those wanting a serious analysis of New Labour should better spend their time on -

New Labour – a critique Mark Bevir (2005) Not the easiest of reads – the author is a post-modernist academic if also a social democrat – but starts from the position that New Labour used slippery language and ignored its traditions. But excellent on options and traditions ignored...

The Verdict – did Labour Change Britain? Polly Toynbee and David Walker (2010) written by journalists sympathetic to Labour who supply a reasonably balanced assessment – if one rather light on references.

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

In Transit

One of the books of which I’m most proud is In Transit – notes on good governance which I drafted in 1998 - after almost a decade of experience of working and living in Czechia, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Latvia on projects building, we hoped, more open institutions of local government and regional development. I had come to that work in 1990 after 20 years of trying to get our Scottish system operating in a more citizen-friendly way – so I felt I knew what people in central Europe were up against.

The book was, unusually, written very much for the younger generation in those parts of central Europe and central Asia I was working with; picking out the key features of the new systems they were being asked to run; and tried to identify some pointers for how to effect change in local and central government state bodies. I remain pretty satisfied with the book – although I might have made a better link between the case study of strategy work in Scotland and the rest of the book

In the early days of what used to be called “transition”, people sometimes asked me what, as a western consultant, I could bring to the task of crafting state bodies in the countries of the old soviet bloc. They didn’t realise that, in many respects, Scotland was, until the 80s and 90s, culturally and institutionally, more socialist than countries such as Hungary. The scale of municipal power was particularly comprehensive in Scotland where the local council still owned three quarters of the housing stock, 90% of education and most of the local services - including buses. Only health and social security escaped its control: these were handled by Central Government.

Local government simply could not cope with such massive responsibilities (although such a view was rejected at the time). This was particularly evident in the larger housing estates in the West of Scotland which had been built for low-income "slum" dwellers in the immediate post-war period -

·       there were few services in these areas

·       employment was insecure

·       schools in such areas had poor educational achievement and were not attractive to teachers/headmasters

·       local government officials treated their staff in a dictatorial way

·       who in turn treated the public with disdain

The contemptuous treatment given by local council services seemed to squash whatever initiative people from such areas had. They learned to accept second-class services. Behind this lay working and other conditions so familiar to people in Central Europe

·       the culture was one of waiting for orders from above. There were few small businesses since the Scots middle class have tended to go into the professions rather than setting up one's own business

·       work was in large industrial plants

·       for whose products there was declining demand

·       rising or insecure unemployment         

·       monopolistic provision of local public services

·       and hence underfunding of services - queues and insensitive provision

·       hostility to initiatives, particularly those from outside the official system.

·       elements of a "one-party state" (the Labour party has controlled most of local government in Scotland for several decades).

I’m thinking now of updating the “In Transit” book but thought it would be useful first to plot how western and eastern European authors have deal generally with developments in their respective parts of Europe.

How english-speaking authors from Eastern and Western Europe have tried to make sense of each other’s societies developments since 1990


Western Europe authors

Eastern Europe authors

On Western Europe changes


A lot of Western European writers have covered developments in West Europe since 1990

eg Empire of Democracy – the remaking of the West since the Cold War 1971-2017 by Simon Reid-Hendry (2019)

Ivan Krastev – “After Europe” (2017) Bulgaria’s best-known intellectual argues that the democratic ideals that were promoted beyond Europe’s borders have now been undercut within the European polity itself.

Ryszgard Legutko – a right-wing Polish philosopher argues in The Demon in Democracy – totalitarian temptations in free societies (2016) that the more the cause of liberal-democratic equality progresses, the more indignantly the remaining instances of inequality are felt. Thus “equality resembles a monster with an insatiable appetite: regardless of how much it has eaten, the more it devours, the hungrier it becomes.”

 I would be interested to hear about other publications

On Eastern Europe changes


The Great Rebirth – lessons from the victory of capitalism over communism ; Anders Aslud and Simeon Djankov (2015) which is one of the very few books which tells the story from the view point of some of the key actors in most of the eastern countries at the time – with all the strengths and weaknesses that genre involves

Although most historians find it easier to focus on individual countries, From peoples into nations – a history of Eastern Europe; by John Connelly (2020) reviewed here and with an interview here

Aftershock – a journey into Eastern Europe’s Forgotten Dreams 2017) is based on interviews with people the author, young American journalist John Feffer, met in the early 90s and then, 25 years later, went back to interview. The interviews can actually be accessed here  

SO NOT MANY covering the Region as a whole. Most westerners concentrate on a particular country. As Romania is the country I know best, I have selected a few texts which throw light on that country’s development

- Romania Redivivus; Alex Clapp (NLR 2017)

- Robert Kaplan  - In Europe’s Shadow – two cold wars and a thirty-year journey through Romania and beyond; (2016) a fascinating book by an American journalist who has had a soft spot for Romania since the beginning of his career. Great breadth of reading

- Tom Gallagher - Romania and the European Union – how the weak vanquished the strong; (2009) great narrative by a Scottish historian; and Theft of a Nation – Romania since Communism (2005) powerful critique

Ivan Krastev and S Holmes – “The Light that Failed – a reckoning” (2019) which is one of the few books to assess how Eastern Europe has fared after 30 years.

Alina Mungiu-Pippidi - Europe's Burden - promoting good governance across. borders" (2019) which looks at the nature and impact of European technical assistance on the development of institutional capacity in central europe and "Neighbourhood" countries

SO NOT MANY covering the Region as a whole. East European social scientists and journalists cover their own countries eg Vladimir Tismaneanu and Marius Stan's Romania Confronts Its Communist Past: Democracy, Memory, and Moral Justice (2018) – both Romanians. The first who left Romania in the 1980s and returned briefly in the early 2000s to chair a Presidential commission into the impact of communism on the country, the second who still works in Romania. The book is a very personal take on how that Presidential Commission fared. 

Cornel Ban - Ruling Ideas – how global neoliberalism goes local (2016) a left-wing Romanian critique of how neoliberalism got its grip on countries such as Romania and Spain

Romania – borderland of Europe; Lucian Boia (2001) Very readable and well translated study by a Romanian historian



Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Fourth Dimension?

It’s strange how our mind operates on single tracks but suddenly makes a connection with an idea that has been travelling on a parallel track.

This past year has seen regular posts about the idea behind the blog’s new title – that writers who work across boundaries (be they cultural or intellectual) tend to think more creatively and to express their ideas more clearly than those stuck in the old silos. I even developed a table of some 20 writers to prove the point.

Completely separately, there have also been regular posts about cultural values – referring to the work of people such as de Hofstede; Ronald Inglehart; FransTrompenaars; Richard Lewis (of When Cultures Collide fame) and Richard Nesbitt.  That body of writing emphasises the distinctiveness of cultural values and is most graphically illustrated in the Inglehart cultural map of the world which is best explained in this brochure. Those were the days when a body of literature called “path dependency” was raising important questions about how “sticky” cultural values were…viz how difficult it is to change national behavioural traits

There is one guy who could have helped me make the connection between these two very separate streams of thinking – and that is the rather neglected figure of Ronnie LessemRonnie who? I hear you asking. I first came across his work in the early 1990s when I bought a copy of “Global Management Principles“ (1989) which impressed me very much. It - 

classifies the management literature (and styles) of the twentieth century using the points of the compass.   North" is traditional rational bureaucracy: "West" celebrates the animality of the frontier spirit: "East" the developmental side of the collectivity; and "South" the metaphysical He then goes on to argue that organisations and individuals also go through such phases. It is undoubtedly the most inter-disciplinary of the management books: and gives very useful vignettes of the writers and their context. 

And utterly original – as you would expect of someone raised in Zimbabwe in southern Africa who then moved to the UK. His work blazed a trail, however, which few have chosen to follow – it’s just too original! His personal style of writing was a bit daring for academia in those days! And his references sometimes too wide – in the opening pages he quotes approvingly the development style of the ultimately-disgraced Bank for Credit and Commerce

In a way, it embodies the thesis-antithesis-synthesis approach beloved by those who refuse to accept the Manichean view of the world and argue instead for “balance” (Giddens; Mintzberg) - except that it adds a fourth dimension! 

Which is my cue for an (overdue) discussion of this issue of World Views. In the 1970s anthropologist Mary Douglas developed what she called the “grid-group” typology, consisting of four very different “world views” – what she calls hierarchist, egalitarian, individualist and fatalist. This came to be known as “Cultural Theory”. I came across Mary Douglas’ theory only in 2000, thanks to public admin theorist Chris Hood’s “The Art of the State” which uses her typology brilliantly to help us understand the strengths, weaknesses and risks of the various world views. 

I am aware of only one book-length study which compares and contrasts these various models “Way of life theory – the underlying structure of world views, social relations and lifestyles” – a rather disjointed dissertation by one, Michael Edward Pepperday (2009) an introduction to which is here. Those wanting to know more can read this post which might encourage them to have a look at this short article “A Cultural Theory of Politics” which shows how the approach has affected a range of disciplines. Grid, group and grade – challenges in operationalising cultural theory for cross-national research (2014) is a longer and, be warned, very academic article although its comparative diagrams are instructive

Lessem Resource

Management development through cultural diversity (1995)

Integral Polity – integrating nature, society, culture and the economy (2015)

Friday, May 21, 2021

Do “Progressives” CHOOSE to be on the losing side of arguments?

My introductory remarks about the author of the new book about Big Change were a bit caustic – I just felt Centola was a bit bumptious. But his commitment to significant social change can’t be questioned. Not just because his family raised him to protest against social injustice but by virtue of the range of serious issues he has explored in different parts of the world – which are set out in the book he published in 2018 - How Behaviour Spreads.

Change – how to make big things happen is his reach for blockbuster fame but still deserves serious (as distinct from MM) attention for its focus on how positive ideas can have a greater impact.

My feeling is that not enough so-called “progressives” take this question seriously enough – it’s almost as if they prefer to be on the losing side all the time!

I reviewed a book a few months ago largely because it was one of the few which actually looked at the behavioural aspects of the climate change issue. But it’s been more than a decade since a clutch of publications appeared which seemed to offer new tools for strengthening at least the targeting of progressive messages –

-       Common Cause – the case for working with our cultural values (2010)

-       Finding Frames – new ways to engage the UK public (2010)

-       Wicked Problems and Clumsy Solutions; Keith Grint (2008)

-       How Change Happens - Interdisciplinary Perspectives for Human Development; Roman Krznaric 2007 -       Probably the most useful 60-page article you can read on the subject which tries to summarise how a range of disciplines were thinking about the question in the early part of the millennium. 

Part 1 describes different approaches to how change happens from a variety of disciplinary perspectives. These include, among others, history, politics, sociology, psychology, economics, international relations, legal studies, and ecology. Each discipline has its own distinctive approach; for instance, political scientists are interested in transformations of political systems, psychologists in individual behaviour, sociologists in worldviews. The section highlights the general factors and conceptual frameworks used to explain change, not empirical content.

The second part sets out a tool for thinking about change, drawing on the various perspectives described in Part 1 – in the form of a table called ‘The rough guide to how change happens’. It then examines an example of major social change – the abolition of the slave trade and slavery in Britain – which illustrates the utility of the ‘rough guide’ as a tool for understanding and explaining how change takes place.

The third part of the paper explores the extent to which contemporary development strategies to tackle poverty and inequality employ the full range of approaches to change proposed in the ‘rough guide’. It examines strategies such as managing markets, reforming the state, empowerment, and corporate social responsibility, and traces them back to their roots in particular academic disciplines.

Current development thinking makes use of only a narrow range of possible approaches to change. The result is that development strategies are limited in five main ways:

-       they are excessively reformist and insensitive to underlying power and inequality;

-       they largely ignore environmental issues;

-       they overlook the importance of personal relationships and promoting mutual understanding as a strategy of change;

-       they fail to fully appreciate the contextual factors that limit change;

-       and they lack a multidisciplinary agility to draw on the broad range of approaches to change that exist outside the narrow confines of development studies. 

Overall there is a need for broader thinking about how change does happen so that we can be more creative and adept at devising strategies to confront the enormous challenges facing our societies and planet.

Typically, however, the blog just noted that such papers existed and did not try to analyse – let alone summarise or compare – them. And the same was true last year when the blog collected together in a table what I considered to the more worthwhile of the key texts for social activists issued in the past half-century. No attempt was made to assess them properly – for which I apologise profusely. Clearly this is long overdue – but requires me to be in the mood. So bear with me!

REFLEXIVITY is something we associate with George Soros – who situates it nicely in this very personal story. Basically it states that our capacity to read about events makes predictions impossible. We can and do take actions to minimise any dangers of which we are warned.  

That’s why I take Centola’s the seven strategic recommendations he makes at the end of his most recent book with a strong pinch of salt. Forewarned is forearmed!

Other Recommended Reading

How Change Happens; Duncan Green (2016)

How Change Happens – why some social movements succeed while others don’t ; Leslie Crutchfield (2018)

Duncan Green’s comment on the 2018 book

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Tipping Point at 21

I’ve now finished Damon Centola’sChange – how to make Big Things Happen” and am trying to understand how it relates to the huge literature which exploded in the 1990s on “change management” – something which the author himself sadly fails to do. Perhaps he feels that the arrival of social media has so revolutionised the world as to make that literature old hat and not even worthy of mention??

More than 20 years ago I took the opportunity of what was euphemistically called “resting” between gigs to to summarise the key messages of that literature (in a chapter of In Transit – notes on Good Governance pp177-202) That gives a useful sense of what the debate was like in those days – but didn’t include the writings of my favourite Robert Quinn whose “Change the World” (2000) was published too late for inclusion (I really need to update “In Transit”) 

I’m not a fan of strongly-marketed books which describe experiments conducted by psychologists and data-scientists – particularly when they trumpet how these dismantle myths that have apparently long held us in their grip - perhaps I’m overly suspicious that such experiments have not been properly peer-reviewed. Rutger Bregman’s recent Humankind did a great hatchet-job on many such experiments – so much so that I set them all out in a table you can find hereBut, as I said in the last post, Centola’s book raises important questions about the process of social change – even if some of the examples he uses seem a bit trivial - with a bit too much use, for my liking, of trending on Twitter and Facebook. The way, however, he uses real-life examples of health-care in Africa; the Manhatten. Apollo and Genome projects; the “Black Lives Matter” campaign; and solar energy uptake to develop ideas about what approaches to social change work – and why – is thought-provoking.

The new element, of course, which the data-scientists bring to bear to the subject is the number-crunching power which cheaper computers now bring to bear on Big DataThe field of change management is dominated by a famous book published in 2000 - The Tipping Point  in which essayist Malcolm Gladwell argued that the point at which something – a product or idea – tips into fashion requires  the confluence of a number of influential types of people - not just a single "leader". Many trends are ushered into popularity by small groups of individuals that he classified as Connectors, Mavens, and Salesmen.

Connectors are individuals who have ties in many different realms and act as conduits between them, helping to engender connections, relationships, and “cross-fertilization” that otherwise might not have ever occurred.
Mavens are people who have a strong compulsion to help other consumers by helping them make informed decisions.
Salesmen are people whose unusual charisma allows them to be extremely persuasive in inducing others to take decisions and change their behaviour.

“Stickiness” is an important concept for these discussions - the quality that compels people to pay close, sustained attention to a product, concept, or idea. Stickiness is hard to define, and its presence or absence often depends heavily on context. Often, the way that it is generated is unconventional, unexpected, and contrary to received wisdom. Context is enormously important in determining whether a particular phenomenon will tip into widespread popularity. Even minute changes in the environment can play a major factor in the propensity of a given concept attaining the tipping point.

I’m not sure if Centola’s new book actually adds all that much to the discussion although his opening point is clearly an important one – that the spreading of ideas is NOT like a virus (in which loose, casual connectors are crucial to the spreading of disease). To change behaviour (or norms) - as social campaigns attempt – requires a very different approach – one which depends on mutual support

His work suggests that the process of change can be quantified – and that the “tipping point” for change is when 25% of a relevant population starts to adjust its behaviour.

But otherwise his reference to “relevance” is not all that different from Gladwell’s rather vague use of “context” - although I did enjoy the metaphors Centola uses for different strategies – “shotgun”, “silver bullet” and “snowball” – with his suggestion that the latter is generally the most successful in maximising the concentrated force of related people.

His concluding chapter tried to leave us with 7 strategies but is very weak – you rather feel he ran out of energy,

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Windows of Change

One of the issues which fascinates me is social change – how alliances can and do reach sufficient “critical mass” to force governments to change direction. My background is political science but, when in 1990 I moved into consultancy on “capacity development” I did my homework on the “change management” literature which was then so fashionable.

The pandemic has given us a “new kid on the block” to contend with – the social network theorists - whose father and inspiration has been Spanish sociology Professor Manuel Castells.

“The Rules of Contagion - why things spread and Why they Stop” by Adam Kucharski (2020) is a typical of this new genre. It’s actually been lying on my shelves for a few weeks and it is only a much-hyped book by Damon CentolaChange – how to make Big Things Happen” which has made me aware of the questions now being raised in this field.

I have to confess that I am reading it with a jaundiced eye. I am not impressed with the conceit of an author who tells me in the opening pages 

“I have a unique perspective on these ideas….in fact, over the past decades, my ideas have helped shape this new field” and that “I directly manipulated the behaviour of entire populations”

Hasn’t this guy heard of hubris? Or of Icarus who got burned when he flew too high?

Centola is a Professor (of Sociology in a school of Communications and Engineering) who has done a lot of work on both social movements and epidemiology – so clearly has something to say and I will read the book carefully. Indeed I can already spot where I need to amend my own theory of change which currently runs as follows - 

“I have a theory of change which emphasises the individual, moral responsibility as well as the dynamic of the crowd. Most of the time our systems seem impervious to change – but always (and suddenly) an opportunity arises. Those who care about the future of their society, prepare for these “windows of opportunity”. And the preparation is about analysis, mobilisation and integrity.

·              It is about us caring enough about our organisation and society to speak out about the need for change.

·              It is about taking the trouble to think and read about ways to improve things – and

·              To help create and run networks of such change

·              which mobilise social forces

·              And it is about establishing a personal reputation for probity and good judgement 

·              that people will follow your lead when that window of opportunity arises”. 

Centola’s presentation presents evidence which disputes that final point – showing that key actors in the Egyptian Spring with such reputations failed a week before the crucial catalyst. The key events were triggered by others…..

One of his central points is that social change 

“is not about information……it’s about norms……social networks are not merely the pipes…but the prisms that determine how we see those behaviours and interpret the ideas”

I’ll let you know more about the book once I get through it…..


The last book I read about networks was probably Niall Ferguson’s The Square and the Tower –networks, hierarchies and the struggle for global power (2017) which was actually a historian’s fascinating take on the issue. My comments on the book ranged pretty widely and had more to do with my own discovery of the importance of networks but a subsequent post referred to another article not referenced in Ferguson’s copious notes but which place the idea of networks in a far more insightful context than Ferguson – namely Tribes, institutions, markets, networks – a framework for societal evolution by David Ronfeldt (RAND Corporation 1996). It's an important article which argues that each form is necessary – one does not replace the other….With a great table of which I have selected some excerpts - 

Comparison of the 4 models





Key realm




Civil society

Essential feature

Give sense of identity

Exercise authority

Allow free transactions

Share knowledge

Key Value





Key risk




Group think










Group empowerment






Friday, May 14, 2021

Those Clever Romans – the tactical Playbook of the Corporate Elites

That’s half a dozen posts I’ve done in a row on the apparent increased divisiveness in our societies – without any real attempt at either explanation or prescription. Indeed the blog’s focus on political frustration can be traced back to the first mention of the pending election in Bulgaria at the beginning of April. The posts since then have argued that -

- few (if any) societies can any longer claim to be democratic

- we need, very loudly, to be exposing such claims to be the falsehoods they are

- a better vision of democracy needs to be articulated

- pressure groups should coalesce around the demand for citizen juries – initially at a municipal level to demonstrate their benefits

- political parties no longer serve any useful purpose

- we should be insisting that governments start focusing on the big issues - which governments currently seem incapable of even attempting to deal with

- using citizen juries

- governments, in other words, should govern

So let me try to pull the posts together by questioning the way the media has placed the issue of political polarisation on the agenda. It’s clear that social media have increased the rancour of the tone of conversations - - certainly since Twitter started in 2006.

But can we really blame the social media for the strong and sustained political divisions? The fact that 70% of US Republican party members still cannot accept the validity of Jo Biden’s victory in the 2020 Presidential elections certainly indicates not just a very significant shift in the US political mood but a major question about the resilience and legitimacy of that country’s basic political system. This may or may not be part of “American exceptionalism” but is certainly very serious.

But the wider populist backlash against elite rule is part of something much deeper – and was there for anyone with any sensitivity to see some 20 years ago. I don’t profess to have any particular skills of foresight but in 2001 I drafted a short note which forms the first seven pages of this longer paper (written a decade later). I summarised the basic message at the time thus

·       The “mixed economy” which existed from 1950-1980 was an effective system for the West.

·       It worked because power was diffused. Each type of power – economic (companies/banks etc), political (citizens and workers) and legal/admin/military (the state) – balanced the other. None was dominant.

·       deindustrialisation has, however, now undermined the power which working class people were able to exercise in that period through votes and unions

·       a thought system has developed which justifies corporate greed and the privileging (through tax breaks and favourable legislation) of the large international company

·       All political parties and most media have been captured by that thought system which now rules the world

·       People have, as a result, become cynical and apathetic

·       Privatisation is a disaster – inflicting costs on the public and transferring wealth to the few

·       Two elements of the “balanced system” (Political and legal power) are now supine before the third (corporate and media power). The balance is broken and the dominant power ruthless in its exploitation of its new freedom

·       It is very difficult to see a “countervailing power” which would make these corporate elites pull back from the disasters they are inflicting on us

·       Social protest is marginalized - not least by the combination of the media and an Orwellian “security state” ready to act against “dissidence”

·       But the beliefs which lie at the dark heart of the neo-liberal project need more detailed exposure

·       as well as its continued efforts to undermine what little is left of state power

·       We need to be willing to express more vehemently the arguments against privatisation - existing and proposed

·       to feel less ashamed about arguing for “the commons” and for things like cooperatives and social enterprise (inasmuch as such endeavours are allowed) 

But the elite - and the media which services their interests - noticed something was wrong only when Brexit and Trump triumphed – 5 years ago. But that was simply the point at which the dam broke – the pressure had been building up for much longer.

If we really want to understand what is going on we have to go much further back – not just 20 years but probably at least 50 years – as Anthony Barnett, for one, most recently argued in his extended essay “Out of the Belly of Hell” (2020)

The demos have been giving the Elites a clear warning – “your social model sucks”. Some may not like some aspects of what the crowd is saying – for example the border restrictions….but we ignore its message at our peril. So far I don’t see a very credible Elite response. Indeed, the response so far reminds me of nothing less than that of the clever Romans who gave the world Bread and Circuses. Governments throughout the world have a common way of dealing with a problem – which runs like this –

-       Deny the problem

-       Rubbish the critics

-       Blame the victim

-       Marginalise the issue – concede a little by suggesting that the problem was caused by “just a few bad pennies”

-       set up an Inquiry

-       But ensure (by its composition and direction) that it goes nowhere

-       Compartmentalise the responsibility – to confuse

-       Sacrifice a few lambs

-       Bring on the games and spectacle

-       clowns and jesters

-       Feed the dogs with scraps

-       Starve any programme conceded of serious funds

-       Take the credit for any eventual concession that there was indeed a problem

Suggested Background Reading

We are so  swamped with books these days that someone like me can offer only what catches his eye. But the OECD, Lakoff and Tarrow are significant sources which should be taken seriously!

Catching the Deliberative Wave (OECD 2020) Executive summary of recent important book Innovate Citizen Participation and new democratic institutions - catching the Deliberative Wave which tries to help the global elite make sense of the latest challenge to their rule

Macron’s Grand Debat; useful article about the French approach

citizen jury experience (2016) german; rather academic

Creating Freedom – the lottery of birth, the illusion of consent, the fight for freedom Raoul Martinez (2016) Fascinating book which starts from the proposition that the current failure of our social systems must lead us to question our foundational beliefs

Can Democracy be Saved?  - participation, deliberation and social movements; Donatella Della Porta (2013)  Too much of the discussion on democracy is conducted by anglo-saxon political scientists. Here an Italian sociologist makes the connection to the social movement literature

The New Machiavelli – how to wield power in the modern world ; Jonathan Powell (2011) Tony Bliar’s Chief of Staff does some musing about the government class thinking

Moral politics – how conservatives and liberals think; George Lakoff (1996) an important psychologist sets out our tribal thinking

Power in movement – social movement and contentious politics; Sydney Tarrow (2011 edition – first in 1994) one of the key writers in this field

Metaphors we live By  George Lakoff (1980) our very words betray us