I have a piece over at ethicaleconomics.org assessing progress against the criteria set out in my book, The Possibility of Progress, since it's publication in 2005. It concludes that while little progress has been made, and a great opportunity spurned, in the failure of progressives to make capital out of the financial crisis, there is still room for optimism. Progress depends on getting more people to engage with idea that there is a alternative to the current set-uo.
And, on a not unrelated theme, the lastest post in my series about unearned wealth is now up at the Renegade Economist. This week I look at the pernicious effects of speculation.
As you may have noticed if you've clicked on the link above, I'm now penning a weekly column for the excellent Renegade Economist website. This is a new(ish) initiative by a bunch of young and creative individuals who, in a nutshell, want to change the world.
I'm especially pleased to write for them, because, as you will know if you've been following my scribblings on this site, or over at The Guardian, I, like millions of others worldwide, share that simple aspiration.
My first contribution consists of a ten-part series on the theme of Unearned Wealth: the basis of minority power and privilege, the flip side of which is the appalling poverty and hardship suffered by upwards of a billion people, and the chronic insecurity endured by many of the rest, even in the developed countries.
I hope to demonstrate the link between unearned wealth at the top, and the denial of viable economic opportunities at the bottom. The mechanisms by which the wealthy consolidate their position are an intrinsic part of an economic system that has emerged, and continues to evolve, largely in response to grossly unequal power relations in society.
Historically, those relations were defined by aggressive warfare, colonial conquest, slavery, the subjugation of women and many other injustices which, as we celebrate the achievements of modernity, we are proud to boast have been condemned to the dustbin of history.
Except they haven't, really: there's still no shortage or warring, much of it connected to the desire for greater economic power on the part of the already economically powerful, as it always was. Traditional forms of colonial conquest are now frowned upon, but it's okay if you seek the same outcomes through an economic system which is heavily biased in favour of the rich countries, and, specifically, the richest people within those countries.
Slavery is a thing of the past, we are pleased to console ourselves, except it is estimated that there are up to 27 million slaves in the world today, people who slip through the safety net through which we try to regulate an economic system that eschews all considerations of value except financial ones, and certainly has no time to consider the value of human life. And, while in many countries, women have a better deal than their mother's or grandmother's generations, statistics abound that show the struggle for genuine equality to be far from over.
Doom and gloom it may all be, and while it's important to be realistic, it is still possible to be optimistic. The transformation in levels of moral awareness and understanding over the last century is unprecedented: more people today express a strong preference for a different kind of world, and a firm belief in the possibility of improvement than would even have considered the question a hundred years ago.
We now have to find a way to channel that growing collective aspiration for a better world into concrete, coordinated action. And for me, that begins with spreading the word about the constraints placed on our moral aspirations by an economic system whose motives are diametrically opposed.
I'm well used to accusations of utopian idealism, of people saying it'll never happen. But as I pointed out in my book, The Possibility of Progress, one of the biggest obstacles to creating an inclusive and just economic order is the pessimistic belief that nothing can be done. Of course it can be done, if enough people want it to happen and believe in its possibility.
To this end, over at the Renegade Economist, I shall be examining the various sources of unearned wealth; the way they are connected through our archaic system of money issue; possible fixes to tackle unearned wealth as both a cause and a symptom of the current crisis through changes to the tax, financial and monetary systems; and the prospects for achieving these objectives through the existing institutions of democracy.
The first, introductory, piece in the series, is here, and this week's piece, looking and land rent, is here. A new article will be published each Wednesday, and next week's will examine the pernicious effects of speculative investment.
I've just read a load of stuff about Michael Foot. Jesus, politics today is a load of crap. That Foot is considered by many to have been a failure in political terms shows just how corrupted and detatched the political world has become. Perhaps it was always thus.
Foot should be seen as the last credible defender (in the UK at least) of the possibility of a different and better world, one to which the value of the equality of all human lives is central.
I say credible defender becuase not only was Foot an exceptional journalist, editor and writer, but because he somehow managed to negotiate the murky world of politics, and succeed within it, without compromising his principles. His old foe Tony Benn has also remained a politician of undiluted principle, but he never fully made it in politics; at least not until he withdrew from the frontline.
Foot was able to combine priciple and power, though because the world of politics has divested itself of any pretence to principle, he was not able to halt the shift towards a 'world in which people struggling to be individual end up being more and more like each other', as Brian Brivati writes in this excellent tribute re-printed in today's Guardian.
Foot opposed Margaret Thatcher at the despatch box, but lost the 1983 election because to few people any longer cared about what really matters; or about how we are properly to measure civilisational progress.
How is one to get excited at the prospect of the forthcoming election when the ethos of those contesting it is so removed from that of Michael Foot?
I'm just back from an inspiring trip to the United States where I was invited to speak on the subject of Ressurecting the American Dream, at Missouri Sate University and Drury University, both in Springfield, Missouri.
The talks were well received and I was exceptionally well looked after by my American hosts. By way of promotion, this piece was published in the Springfield News Leader, and I also did this radio interview.
I had a stimulating and constructive meeting with members of the League of Women Voters and the Senior Democrats, which confirmed my belief in the crucial role that older people have to play in shaping the future of politics - so much wisdom and experience of life.
I was very impressed by the progressive spirit of many I met, and the enthusiasm with which they are embracing the possibilities for progressive change in America, and therefore the world, following the election of Barack Obama.
Thanks to everyone I met, and to all those who came to the talks. The talk itself will soon emerge as an article which, once published, will be accessible from this site.
These concluding paragraphs from Anotole Kaletsky's column in today's Times should stir the passions of any self-respecting progressive:
So economics is on the brink of a paradigm shift. We are where astronomy was when Copernicus realised that the Earth revolves around the Sun. The academic economics of the past 20 years is comparable to pre-Copernican astronomy, with its mysterious heavenly cogs, epicycles and wheels within wheels or maybe even astrology, with its faith in star signs.
The academic Establishment will resist such a
shift, as it always does. But luckily economists understand incentives.
They should now be given a clear choice: embrace new ideas or return
their public funding and Nobel prizes, alongside the bankers' bonuses
they justified and inspired.
Alas, as you might expect from the always stimulating, but rarely anything but conventional Kaletsky, the rest of his piece says little about the nature of this paradigm shift.
The problem is that in order to be a successful academic economists, you have to toe the establishment, neo-classical, line. This narrow form of economics, which forms the basis of all economics text-books and teaching makes a set of assumptions about the foundations of the economy, and proceeds then to examine how this particular kind of economy works.
Any economists that values their career will not question these assumptions for fear of rocking the boat. As Keynes said 'In the City, it's better to be conventionally wrong than unconventionally right." The same applies to academic economics. And it largely explains why we're in the mess we're currently in.
What is needed is a rejuvenation of the discipline of political economy, of the kind practiced by Adam Smith, David Ricardo, Karl Marx, Henry George, Joseph Schumpeter. J.K. Galbraith and E.F Scumacher among others. Political economists need to wrest back the discipline from the econometricists that have come to dominate the profession. Their assumptions must be assessed against ethical criteria. We need to ask the question, 'what kind of economy and society do we want?' and then set about devising economic structures and institutions fit for the purpose of delivering that moral vision.
Brian Hodgkinson's book, A New Model of the Economy, is a good place to start for any economists that want to be in at the start of the paradigm shift.
I have this new piece over at Comment is Free this morning. Part of the series entitled, Who owns the progressive future, it suggests that rather than rehearse old arguments between left and right, we should instead look for inspiration to some as yet untried ideas of the past, with reference to the thought of Karl Polanyi and Henry George.
I have a new piece over at Comment is Free now, which you can read here.
It's a response to Aditya Chakrobortty's challenge to progressives to do better in their response to the current economics crisis.
I particularly enjoyed this line, where Barnes, when describing his father, says.
When I was an unforgiving adolescent, I judged him weak. Later, I thought him compliant. Later still, autonomous in his views but disinclined to argue for them.
I have a great deal of sympathy for anyone who feels disinclined to argue for their views. And it strikes me that the more autonomous one's views, the more sensible such disinclination is.
My thoughts on this take me back to the the words of the great theologian/philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr who said, many years ago,
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.
OK, the quote has been overused, and can be construed as being unambitious. But Niebuhr was not arguing that there's no point in trying to change things beyond your direct control. By urging people to find the courage to change those things that can be changed, he was reminding us of the importance of finding the right strategy to promote change.
As Julian Barnes realised, his Father had come to the conclusion that some people just aren't worth challenging, but that is not a sign of weakness. It is perfectly possible to be steadfast in one's own convictions, but also to recognise that others have a different psychological make-up which necessarily prevents them from seeing points of view alien to their own.
Sometimes, and alas this applies all too often on discussion fora like the one over at Comment is Free, it's simply not worth challenging people on certain issues. That is not to say that those of us who believe in the possibility of creating a more just and inclusive world should throw in the towel, just that we need to work out a better strategy for change than simply forcing our opinions and world view down the throats of others, and then throwing up our arms in despair when they spit it back in our faces.
Fred Harrison, whose recent book, Ricardo's Law, I reviewed on comment is free last year, has now made a short film in which he outlines the book's central message: that our failure to address poverty is a direct result of a tax system which favours the better off, and discriminates against the poorest; a tax system which taxes the wrong thing: people's labour, while leaving the unearned wealth that accrues to landowners largely untaxed.
He makes a persuasive argument, and it's a rather good film. You can watch it in high definition via the producer's website, here, or on YouTube here:
I have an article in the current edition of Land and Liberty Magazine, the journal of the Henry George Foundation in which you might be interested. Their online presence is not as up to date as it might be, but you can download a pdf of the latest issue. If you do, and you like what you find, please make a donation here.
Most easily of all, you can read my article in full, here.
I was rather frustrated to discover that Art Garfunkel has not read my book. Quite why the frizzy-haired one has gone to the lengths of publishing a list of every book he's read since 1968 I'm not sure, but given that he's taken this rather peculiar decision, you'd think he might have caught up with some of the more essential reading of the last decade, before releasing his list to the world.
After all, I've listened to many of his songs over the years (although I haven't kept a list). Indeed I believe we may still have an old cassette of his and Paul Simon's greatest hits in the car. On second thoughts, I think the kids trampled it to smithereens while we were driving down to Italy last year.
Must say though, with Erich Fromm's The Art of Loving at number 2 on his faves list, and Ouspensky's In Search of The Miraculous at number 3, I wonder if Art and I don't have more than a love of Watership Down in common after all:
Anyway, if he'd been paying attention, he would have noticed that the nice people at Amazon are still offering my book at a discount. And don't believe what they say about only having two copies left in stock: it's a marketing ploy. I happen to know they have hundreds.
A while ago I was invited to visit the Reform Club in London's Pall Mall. Although rather anonymous from the street outside, the interior is a wonder to behold: the art decorating the walls is exquisite, the architecture and furniture, a tribute to the visual creativity and ambition of the Victorians.
Opened in 1841, membership was originally restricted to those who pledged support to the Great Reform Act of 1832. There is a small but fascinating permanent exhibition about the various reform acts which were the focus of member's efforts a century and a half ago. The Reform Club was the first of London's clubs to admit female members in 1981, and has a long history and supporting progressive causes and reflecting changes in wider society.
As we lunched in the slightly less plush buffet dining room I was struck by the profile of the membership today. The Club is no longer aligned to any political party (membership of the Liberal Party used to be a pre-condition of admission) but it apparently attracts civil servants from the nearby Treasury, whereas their colleagues from the Foreign Office generally patronise The Traveller's Club.
Looking aroud the dining room, it was difficut to imagine the Reform Club any longer providing a debating forum for progressive ideals or social reform. Perhaps, in the minds of today's members, enough has already been achieved. I'd like to imagine, however, that as the struggle for social justice continues, some of those who spend their time in the hallowed rooms of this historic building might follow the example of their forebears and join the struggle. Many of these people have considerable power: if change is to come, they will have an important role to play.
Fred Foldvary has an informative piece over at The Progress Report in which he rates the policies of US presidential candidates from both parties against the essential change criteria of the geolibertarian movement. He's especially good on the wacky tax plans of Republican hopeful, Mike Huckabee.
And why not check out Fred's fledgling political party, Free Earth. It's easy to dismiss such initiatives as marginal and therefore inconsequential, but as a concise programme for transformative social change, it's right on the button.
When it was published, The Possibility of Progress garnered one or two positive comments.: Tony Benn thought it "a deeply moral and intellectual book". James Robertson called it "important, impressive and readable". Tony Vickers suggested that it might be "the book that Henry George would have written if he'd been alive today."
At the book launch Tony Benn, Clare Short and Susan Kramer all turned up to give their backing to the book, more information about which you can find here.
I'm currently working on another book which explores similar themes from different angles, but while that one is in production, The Possibility of Progress should keep you going.
If you're in the United States, you can order it through amazon.com by clicking here. (Sorry, no discount).
Of course, if you can afford it, and have an independent bookshop nearby, why not get them to order it in for you? It'll cost you the full price (£14.95) but you'll be supporting a small business, rather than a corporate giant, and contributing to the cause of progress in a tiny way.