What is to be done ?*

by John Quiggin on June 1, 2009

I’m working on a bunch of essays, book chapters and maybe even a book or two in response to the global financial crisis, making the general point that the sudden collapse of the neoliberal order has found social democrats unprepared for the shift from a long defensive struggle to the opportunity (and need!) to develop a progressive response to the crisis. As obvious examples, it’s necessary to reconstruct the global financial system and to ensure that the burden of the debts that are building up so rapidly is not borne by the poor, who did nothing to create the crisis. This piece (PDF) is an example of what I’m thinking.

I have plenty of ideas about policy (though of course I’m always interested in new ones). But, I don’t have much of a feeling for the political strategies that are needed, so I thought I would try the crowdsourcing thing, which has worked pretty well for me in the past.

Any thoughts are welcome, but it might help to sketch out my own limited ideas. First, it’s important to note that the situation is different from country to country and region to region. For example, the task of selling the ideas to the public seems likely to be easier in Europe, but many of the European social democratic parties seem to be in a pretty dire state (or at least they look that way from the other side of the planet).

Looking at the possible vehicles for progressive change, I can think of

  • Existing left-of-centre political parties
  • Possible third parties
  • Unions
  • Other civil society movements
  • (Largely hypothetical) progressive corporations
  • Blogs and other kinds of online activism

All of them seem to have problems. And then there are the standard questions of incrementalism vs radicalism, issue-oriented politics vs a coherent program and so on.

Anyway, over to you.

  • I’m not at all an admirer of Lenin, but, at least as translated into English, he invariably seems to have the right phrase for questions like this.

{ 63 comments }

1

Matt Steinglass 06.01.09 at 9:32 am

I think the issue of international coalitions at least needs to be raised, a la the various solidarity-with-third-world-peoples efforts over the years. That is, is it possible to enlist the interests of states, where those interests are progressive, against other states, where the latter states’ interests are reactionary? On climate change, can the American environmental movement form alliances with the Dutch government? Or the Maldives? And so forth. I don’t think such alliances have tended to work very well in the past, because they provoke nationalistic counter-reactions, at least in the US. But some might argue that nativism is on the decline in the Obama era.

2

Pete 06.01.09 at 10:26 am

The main thing the crisis has revealed is how much politicians are willing to spend to maintain the status quo. Whatever strategy you have has recognise that and go around it.

3

Patrick S. O'Donnell 06.01.09 at 12:43 pm

Progressive public policy institutes and “think tanks:” The conservatives have have used these as a primary vehicle to publicize their ideas and programs and there’s no reason Liberals and the Left can’t do likewise. C-SPAN in the states frequently broadcasts their proceedings. Many churches in this country likewise do a fine job of discussing progressive political ideas (cf. the ‘comunidades de base’ of Liberation Theology in Central and South America which has inspired not a few North American Catholics): the Catholic Worker movement, evangelical Sojourners, several species of Judaism, etc. National and international NGOs are indispensable too, especially inasmuch as they provide bridges and feedback loops between individuals and groups in civil society and various government-sponsored organizations and bodies. Book clubs and study circles might play a significant role as well.

In the states at least, I think it’s important to think along the lines of a Gramscian-like “war of position” with regard to developing counter-hegemonic strategies within civil society and this would entail focusing broadly or loosely on the cultural terrain in which the Left has seen its most historic success (cf. Richard Flacks’ Making History: The American Left and the American Mind, 1988). This in no way rules out conventional political activity or use of traditional political fora but simply accords priority to the cultural landscape of civil society.

4

Barry 06.01.09 at 1:15 pm

Pete 06.01.09 at 10:26 am

“The main thing the crisis has revealed is how much politicians are willing to spend to maintain the status quo. Whatever strategy you have has recognise that and go around it.”

Doug Henwood (author of ‘Left Business Observer’) once said (quote from memory) that he gave up expecting capitalistm to fall under it’s own weight, because government bailouts were so powerful. This crisis has reinforced that theory.

5

Glen Tomkins 06.01.09 at 1:54 pm

Why Lenin has the right quotes for the occasion

Because, in all probability, it will take a revolution to get any reform accomplished out of the present crisis. Given the constitutional forms we have now, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a violent revolution, and perhaps one or two of the types of institutions you list could push a (mostly) peaceful transition. The main reason to doubt that hopeful scenario is that the forms of public governance are, at least in the US, no longer the reality of governance. If public governance were still functional, we would not have fallen so far behind in progressive incremental change that we would now stand in need of revolutionary change.

Nor are the oligarchs at all likely to reform their own realm. Corporate governance has undergone its own decisive turn away from the public governance that was supposed to be the whole point of “going public”. In fact, a reasonable first approximation of the change that the present crisis demands, is that we simply need to restore public governance, specifically public accountability, to publically owned corporations. But our CEOs will not abdicate their thrones. If anything is clear in a crisis that has muddled many things we only thought we knew clearly, it is that nothing that has happened has in any way caused the oligarchs to question their current course. As long as they are allowed to continue to write the rules of the road under our very own Golden Rule (“He who has the gold writes the rules.”), they will continue to be able to make money off of bad conditions in the real economy as readily as they can off of good conditions. A belief that making money is a proof, really the only proof, of the competent management of affairs, is a self-sealing delusion, because everybody under that delusion whom reality schools thereby loses his ability to shape events, and there can be no self-correcting refutation by real-world consequences within such a system.

Our underlying problem is that we have given up on public governance, both of business and of government itself, in favor of the idea that only the “leadership” of strong-willed and competent individuals, exercised behind closed doors to protect a weak-willed public from having to face reality, could guide us forward and protect us from danger. We still have elections and Congress, and we still have Boards of Directors and shareholders’ meetings, but they’re just jokes. We treat these forms much the same as we treat the Student Government of a high school, a nice civics lesson, but we turn to presidents and CEOS and principals to actually run countries and corporations and schools.

Of course this theory is demonstrably wrong. Of course secrecy only serves to shelter incompetence and inertia. Of course “leadership” isn’t of much use above the squad level. (Didn’t Hitler lose that war? Why did the supposed victors start worshipping at the altar of “leadership” just as the Fuehrerprinzip was facing a rather dramatic refutation?) If you have knotty problems of public policy to deal with, ugly as the process may be, there is no alternative, no magic solution from strong leaders operating behind closed doors, to actually thrashing it all out in public and reaching some messy, wretched consensus. If you try the magic solution route, what you get is either stupid answers, stupid because their formulation is protected from the light of public criticism, that can be packaged as simplistic remedies for sale to the public, and the packaging usually adds stupidity because to get to simplistic explanations you have to scapegoat, or you get gridlock, no movement at all.

Another Russian gave us the terminology to describe our dilemma. We’re not going to get perestroika unless we get glasnost first. But the oligarchs and their servants in government can’t accept glasnost because they exist only as a consequence of our choice to avoid glasnost. They will have to have glasnost and perestroika forced on them from outside their fantasy world.

My fear that we will have revolution stems from the fact that none of the insitutions on the proposed list, to include this humble assemblage of bloggers, strikes me as standing very decisively outside of that fantasy world. This observation, I hope, will defend me from the charge that I am in any way actually inciting revolution by writing htese words to this audience, though that point will tend to inculpate me in the perhaps greater sin of lese majeste directed at the republic of Blogistan.

6

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.01.09 at 2:31 pm

As long as they are allowed to continue to write the rules of the road under our very own Golden Rule (“He who has the gold writes the rules.”), they will continue to be able to make money off of bad conditions in the real economy as readily as they can off of good conditions.

Yup. Did you see this item:

Insurance giant AIG is trying to seize a $490 million charitable endowment — and claw back $27 million it already awarded to New York charities — to pay executive bonuses, The Post has learned.

It really is that simple.

7

Tim Wilkinson 06.01.09 at 2:46 pm

Long defensive struggle?

Shurely: short period of disarray followed by near-total capitulation and embrace of the new ‘entrepreneurial’ mythology?

The political spectrum on the old-fashioned left-right economic/property-regime axis is so attenuated that there is no coherent policy response available, just tinkering with a bit more governmental ‘interference’ in the mixed economy, still conceptualised as a dilution of the ‘free market’.

As a semi-example: In the UK the vacuous ‘third way’ verbiage appeared an obvious figleaf for business as usual but it’s possible that (some of) those who actually thought about it (i.e. not failed rock star Blair) thought it was a substantial idea, but becuase it wasn’t, it couldn’t be implemented or wield any real positive influence even while it was briefly bandied about among the commentariat.

Without a big ‘efficient non-markets’ idea or a re-framing of entitlement concepts there is nothing that’s anywhere near saleable enough for the logistics of propagating it to the electorate to be worth considering in much detail. If there were, the political strategy might not be that difficult. Hand your USP to an ad agency. Start making the ‘Social Democrat’ (or socialist, excuse my French) equivalent of Dragon’s Den or The Apprentice. I have no idea what such a thing would be. I blame the political philosophers and the economics curriculum of the last 30 years.

or, what #3 said?

8

christian h. 06.01.09 at 3:08 pm

Revolutionaries have always been the better reformists. The way to go is to challenge the formerly social democratic parties from the left, as is being done in Germany and France, for example. At least in Germany, that has already moved political debate to the left. Let’s just hope the LINKE doesn’t make the mistake to join a government and go the way of Rifondazione in Italy…

9

alex 06.01.09 at 3:14 pm

The real trouble in wishing for a revolution is that revolutions don’t happen, in the real world, until things get so bad that there really is no alternative left. And when they do, the people who start them rarely end up on the winning side; so you’re really wishing for a) a total economic collapse, with all the societal trauma, including potentially mass death, that that implies, [mass death, of course, in addition to all the mass death that the system currently inflicts, because there ain’t no way that’s getting better all on its own] and b) to launch an unpredictable process that has at least as much chance of spiralling off into violence or tyranny as it does of ‘succeeding’ by your terms, and may well end up ‘succeeding’ only in the terms of people you wouldn’t like very much if they hadn’t already got rid of you, so you won’t need to worry about whether you like them very much because you’ll be dead in a hole somewhere……

Or, of course, it could all go swimmingly.

10

christian h. 06.01.09 at 4:09 pm

Alex, that’s just a very selective reading of history you got there. You conveniently forget a number of quite successful revolutions (well, probably you do – given that your comment stays completely in the abstract, who knows). In fact, you are just regurgitating age-old talking points, the same stuff colonial loyalists and French royalists surely warned about. It’s true that revolutions can go wrong. It’s also true that even if they do go wrong in the medium term, they can have positive impact in the long run; and moreover, it surely doesn’t need a revolution for things to go horribly wrong.

(By the way, why do all my comments go into moderation? It makes it a little hard to take part in the conversation. I don’t regularly resort to foul language or anything like that, so I’m a bit confused.)

11

Glen Tomkins 06.01.09 at 4:09 pm

@ alex,

Well, I certainly don’t advocate revolution. Partly this is for the reasons you cite, the uncontrollable destructiveness, but mostly it is because some disembodied intellectual advocating revolution is quite pointless. “Revolution is the opiate of the intellectuals”, as they say. If it happens, it will happen despite what anyone who has any foresight might have to say, and certainly not because of my brilliant advocacy for such a thing.

But I do feel that revolution is not at all unlikely in the present circumstances. I agree with you that conditions are not especially horrible for “the lower orders” these days, but disagree with the idea that revolutions can occur only in extremely horrible conditions, or even that bad conditions play anything more than a minor, proximate cause, contributing role in the factors that lead to revolution. The factor that must be present for the ruled to revolt against the rulers, is that the rulers and their ruling principle have to be discredited.

The current bad economic conditions foment revolution not so much because of hardship, but because this downturn threatens to discredit the rulers. And what makes the present circumstance so dangerous, is that, as I argue above, our current ruling principle is that profitability is next to godliness, and that is a self-sealing delusion that has kept the rulers from doing even the least they need to do to keep their heads. Quite aside from their inability to turn the economy around substantively, our rulers, living under this self-sealing delusion, are not able to manage even the simple, minimal, common sense matters of mere image that even half-wits in their position would know to do in the present crisis did they not live under this delusion. They can’t even forego awarding themselves billion dollar bonuses out of taxpayer money, not because of greed, but because it is a tenet of their belief-system that worth is defined by money-making, and they cannot take less than what they imagine they are worth, what their entire careers of making buckets of money tell them that they are worth.

This inability to see themselves as the ruled see them is what will drive our rulers to such folly that even the long-suffering lower orders will finally not be able to con themselves into believing that their lower station in life is the just deserts for not being as talented and driven as the rich, but is just a con. It is precisely the long-sufferance of the ruled, their tender faith in the ruling religion, that makes the vengeance so terrible when they lose that faith, and are finally are forced to acknowledge that they’ve been conned into submission their whole lives.

12

George W 06.01.09 at 4:57 pm

Plus a pony.

13

StevenAttewell 06.01.09 at 5:22 pm

“many of the European social democratic parties seem to be in a pretty dire state…

Looking at the possible vehicles for progressive change, I can think of

* Existing left-of-centre political parties
* Possible third parties
* Unions
* Other civil society movements
* (Largely hypothetical) progressive corporations
* Blogs and other kinds of online activism

All of them seem to have problems. “

I think your problem is right there – the potential vehicles for progressive change are all over the damn place, and far too few of them are actually within the social-democratic parties. As a result, the parties don’t have the lifeblood, the energy, or the ideas – let alone the activists or the money to get their act together. And this, I would argue, is a major reason why the social-democratic parties in Europe (but more broadly throughout the world) have dropped the ball – because the party’s natural constituencies have dropped the ball in terms of internal party politics, there’s huge gaps inside the parties – and that opened up a huge hole for neoliberal policies in many social democratic parties. As a result, the reservoir of traditional social-democratic policy options no longer exists within the parties as an institutional memory or a going concern, and the parties have little to offer the electorate even if they get in power.

But this isn’t anything new – as I’ve argued before on this blog, since the 1980s, the broader social-democratic movement hasn’t been able to provide the electorate with a strategy for dealing with the rising inequality and insecurity brought on by the current economic order – long before our current crisis. This requires a lot of re-thinking within the social democratic world, and if it doesn’t influence the actual political institutions for acting on the world, it’s not of much use.

I would argue what’s needed is a “march through the party.” Take advantage of the strong party systems in Europe – take over the parties, then push through a solid agenda, nominate some people who are actually quality and actually have the trust of important constituencies, and go try to win elections. And while they’re doing that, you’re going to need a lot of smart people with programs ready to go working within the party to actually get politicians and party activists trained in them – I mean, able to talk about them coherently and with passion, able to see how you tie your ideology to your agenda to your policy option and communicate why they matter, and able to carry them out if elected.

14

alex 06.01.09 at 5:36 pm

A. Glen “The factor that must be present for the ruled to revolt against the rulers, is that the rulers and their ruling principle have to be discredited”. Politely, says who? I mean, what’s your historical, sociological, anthropological comparative frame of reference for this assertion? History would seem to me to show that you can’t ‘discredit’ a whole ruling order, at least not enough to get a mass movement on the streets, unless people are actually starving [and I mean by that, of course, not the people who are always starving… If they could make a revolution, they would long ago have done so.]

B. Steven: Who’s going to march through this party, esp. in a European context? We already have here plenty of fully-mature, well-articulated social-democratic, and indeed democratic-socialist [and old-fashioned revolutionary-socialist] organisations. The last time there was a concerted attempt to drag one of those with a credible national electoral profile ‘leftwards’, the end result, after a decade and a half of political marginalisation, was New Labour, boo hiss. Your project seems posited on the basis that there is a constituency out there of people with highly-developed political skills who are currently not involved in politics, and who can become so, with a coherent agenda, and a long-term plan, just like that…

15

Filip 06.01.09 at 7:37 pm

Hi John,

one interesting angle on this is transnationalism. Over here in Europe, we have the European Union, which can (and should) be criticized extensively, but at it has been a powerful driver of social and environmental corrections to the free market system, especially with regard to the most recent member states, and the future hopefuls as well. I’m not sure that the European model (market capitalism with a relatively high doses of goverment regulation) could have survived the neoliberal onslaught with the EU.

Perhaps this angle can be inspiring to other parts of the world, such as ASEAN, the African Union etc. Just an idea.

16

a 06.01.09 at 8:13 pm

Having read the comments, I’m not sure if this fits in with your request, but here goes anyway: The most important thing from here on in, is that the major industrial countries raise taxes together and in the same fashion, in order to stop the possibility of tax arbitrage by rich individuals and corporations.

17

Tim Wilkinson 06.01.09 at 8:44 pm

[[christian h @10 the only thing I can think of is that you might have a dynamic IP address or use different machines and the initial moderation/acceptance process identifies you by IP, so when it changes you are treated as a new arrival. If you have a static IP and use only one machine, then obviously not that. Maybe something similar but with cookies, or bad luck with ‘suspect’ keywords if there is such a sniffing process in operation. I had a comment held for moderation because, I think, it had lots of links in it (and little else).]]

18

StevenAttewell 06.01.09 at 9:15 pm

B. Steven: Who’s going to march through this party, esp. in a European context? We already have here plenty of fully-mature, well-articulated social-democratic, and indeed democratic-socialist [and old-fashioned revolutionary-socialist] organisations. The last time there was a concerted attempt to drag one of those with a credible national electoral profile ‘leftwards’, the end result, after a decade and a half of political marginalisation, was New Labour, boo hiss. Your project seems posited on the basis that there is a constituency out there of people with highly-developed political skills who are currently not involved in politics, and who can become so, with a coherent agenda, and a long-term plan, just like that…

My argument is that unions, intellectuals, social movements, third parties, etc. need to get involved. Whether they have the skills to do so, I don’t know enough to say. What I would say is that, contra the example of New Labour, I think the issue is one of political climate environment, and sheer luck. Not every push to the left happens at a time when the actual space to the left exists. But to just stick with the New Labour example for the minute, one of the peculiar side effects of the New Labour shift to the center was that it pushed the right left-wards; the Tory Party continues to be…well, a Tory Party, but it’s not the visibly, aggressively Thatcherite party that it used to be. At the same time, the Labour Party shifted too far to the right, on economic policy, on civil liberties and cultural politics, and on foreign policy.

The reaction has been that progressive forces have basically challenged the leadership of the Labour Party by A. Protesting, and B. staying home or voting for other parties. My argument would be that instead, I would argue, those forces should organize themselves to get into the internal Labour Party politics, start organizing in the constituency parties, in the unions, maybe some factions within the Parliamentary party. Unlike in the 80s and 90s, I think the space is actually there this time.

But you make a good point.

19

josh 06.01.09 at 9:40 pm

“What is to be done?” was actually the title of a novel by Chernyshevsky (and then a pamphlet by Tolstoy) before Lenin got his hands on it, so no need to apologize, John! (Also, no need to give the credit to Lenin.)

20

mart 06.02.09 at 2:48 am

I think a lot of the problems here come down to globalisation and how different nations deal with it. As other commenters here have noted, there has been a widespread acceptance of free-market dogma in recent years and so we get SD/Left parties offering “there is no alternative” as an explanation for rightwing economic policies when we need better articulated options. I think a lot of this comes down to courage – the fact that Obama in the US is able to push more “socialist” policies then previous pussy democrats is one example, the stronger showing here in the UK from the LibDems than Labour over reform/expenses issues is another.

I believe the left all over the world has a lot to offer people if we give them a better reason then “we’re slightly nicer than those rightwing assholes”…

21

sleepy 06.02.09 at 3:23 am

I would say what needs to happen, and what is happening, is a return to an idea of social self-fashioning. How do we define our relationship to one another? Are we monads or do we exist, as we measure ourselves, only through others?
We’re moving away from the modern fixation on ‘truth’ and back towards a more humanist attention to doubt and its pleasures. This has nothing to do with religion per se

Doing these cases,” he wrote, “I began to find myself in a dangerous situation as an advocate. I came to believe in the truth of what I was saying. I was no longer entirely what my professional duties demanded, the old taxi on the rank waiting for the client to open the door and give his instruction, prepared to drive off in any direction, with the disbelief suspended.”

John Mortimer was a craftsman, as a lawyer and a novelist. Truth wasn’t his job, more than to play a part in revealing its approximation, for the moment.
I’m not going to go out of my way to give credit to John Holbo and Belle Waring for their geeks fondness for craftsmanship, but they’re winding his way in Mortimer’s direction (as in one way we all are)

I’m not interested in solving questions once and for all, that’s a Liberal’s fixation. I’m more interested in trying to make sure that future generations will have the flexible imaginations to think clearly and deal with ambiguities as they arrive.

The classic defense of the free market is that its openness and vulgarity act as an astringent, testing and tightening thought what would otherwise risk becoming arid blather. But now that the market has reached the academy it wants to escape its roots. So we have an academy predicated not on the hopes of the humanities and of democracy but on the technocratic logic of reactionary schoolmen.

The second age of the schoolmen is ending.

22

Sandwichman 06.02.09 at 3:26 am

What’s wrong with a 20-hour work week? No, I don’t mean the question rhetorically. I mean I have yet to hear a confident, knowledgeable reply to a social democratic strategy focused around radically reducing working time. By knowledgeable reply, I am specifically excluding the kind of knee-jerk “they tried that in France and it didn’t work” parroting of the Anglo-American right-wing media party line. If you can come up with a better alternative to the strategy suggested by Don Fitz in his essay, What’s Wrong with a 30-Hour Work Week?, then there you’ll have it, your “progressive response to the crisis.” If you can’t come up with a better alternative, then you’ll also have your strategy: “shorter hours and higher pay.”

23

StevenAttewell 06.02.09 at 4:14 am

Sandwichman:

Arguments I have heard against that: 1. from a socio-political standpoint, it would be hard to win a 50% wage increase (effectively, since you’re working half as much for the same wages)/100% increase in labor costs (the 50% time plus the doubling of the workforce you’d have to do to maintain production) from employers at the current time. 2. the danger would be that there’s a 20-hour week but no parallel increase in wages, effectively moving the full-time workforce to part-time, which employers love because it increases “flexibility,” 3. at least in the U.S, a lot of labor regulations and benefits (like Social Security) don’t kick in unless you’re working more than a certain number of hours a week.

Conceptually there’s nothing wrong with it. But (going beyond the French case), I haven’t seen much in the way of historical evidence that things like a shorter work week have been successful as public policy ventures. Obviously, this is true only after the period in which “eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, eight hours for what we will” became policy as well as politics. I just haven’t seen much success at pushing that number down – there was an attempt to pass a 30-hours law in 1933, but it got shelved.

24

christian h. 06.02.09 at 5:08 am

I don’t see anything wrong with a thirty hour workweek as a demand. However, it seems

25

Hidari 06.02.09 at 7:16 am

1: Change the (de facto) rule that the President of the World Bank always has to be an American. Move to a more democratic presidential election system.

2: Democratisation of the IMF such that the United States, and the other major powers: (US, Japan, Germany, France, UK) no longer have the majority of the power.

3: Change of the syllabi (syllabuses?) of the major economics departments of the world’s major universities such that alternatives to ‘neo-classicism’ are are taught. A symbolic appointment of (for example) the president of the World Bank being a heterodox economist would also be welcome.

Obviously there are far more detailed changes to the world economic system that also have to be made, but unless this is done, we will still stay in the straitjacket of the ‘Washington Consensus’.

That will do for now…..

26

The Raven 06.02.09 at 7:20 am

I don’t think of it as primarily a financial crisis; it’s a crisis in governance, which has led to a financial crisis. With that in mind, “nationalize, reregulate, stimulate” isn’t a bad place to start. But it’s only a place to start. We need to start talking about global federalism again, or we will end up with global imperialism (or perhaps global disaster.)

Two hugely transformative technologies are lose in the world and it’s time for a more formal exploration and then thoughtful political application:

1. (obviously) THE NET. Which enables co-operative social forms, provided we can figure out how to organize them. I think it is time to reinvigorate the co-op.

2. Computer-controlled small-scale production, including technologies like rapid prototyping and direct digital manufacturing. This has the long-run potential to make industrial capitalism obsolete, just as industrial capitalism made agrarian feudalism obsolete. In the short run, not that, but it’s worth funding research in this area.

Maybe more when I’m awake tomorrow.

27

Tim Wilkinson 06.02.09 at 7:21 am

Maybe join up with the Greens and help them develop refine and expound their kinda-big-idea which actually inspires, and appeals pretty widely as far as I can make out e.g. to current cohort of under-25s(?).

That agenda would join up with the ‘shorter hours’ business among other things. De-emphasis on growth by current measures. Reintroduction of welfare economics to the foundation rather than appendix 2 of economics. Corresponding rejection of gerrymandered ‘revealed (by our markets) preference’ – which has always been (objectively and unbeknownst to them) a big embarrassment to broadly neoclassical (i.e. almost all young) economists. And it might even suddenly be discovered that the basically 2000 year old technology of e.g. underwater turbines is after all easier to do than than stealth bombers etc., rather than insanely difficult.

And this is not arrogant vanguardism of intellectuals – just division of labour. To simplify for effect and brevity: people don’t all think public meetings in drafty halls are fun ways to spend their time.

#18 the New Labour example for the minute, one of the peculiar side effects of the New Labour shift to the center was that it pushed the right left-ward
Or: the the centre moved a long way to the right and stayed there, and the other phenomena are consequences or artefacts of that.

#21: criminal defence barrister is a very special case when it comes to the special, professionalised epistemic stance required. Less emphasis on truth is fine if you mean disquotation (see Tarski et al): I’m not interested in solving questions once and for all – OK, but surely just solving questions – or rather problems – is a legitimate activity? Who introduced ‘the once and for all’?

28

John Quiggin 06.02.09 at 7:25 am

If I end up doing a full-scale project of the kind I’m talking about, I’ll be arguing for shorter annual hours, though (as mentioned in the linked article) I think there’s a lot to be said for more annual leave as the first step.

29

Naadir Jeewa 06.02.09 at 7:49 am

Off the top of my head:

If, as some suggest, the US is the international system maker as the dominant unipolar power, then political preferences in the US matter most.
The US tolerated or even encouraged social democratic political models to be instituted in Europe in the beginnings of the Cold War, and the only reason they haven’t been rolled back despite preferences changing in the US is their institutional stickiness.
Today we’re looking at a wealth of IGOs which take their lead from the US, and that situation is unlikely to change for the forseeable future. Getting elite preferences to change in these institutions and bureaucracies are key, and that probably means looking at what’s taught in anglo-american campuses in the dominant fields.

30

alex 06.02.09 at 8:08 am

@28 – one of the problems of course of the economic structure of developed states is that very many people are employed doing things that are, objectively, a waste of time. ‘Marketing’ is the one that always springs to mind, but there are legions of good, hardworking people whose jobs and livelihoods are dependent on the pursuit of pointless excess. Moreover, many of these people, like it or not, define their wellbeing in terms of material possessions. What conceivable mechanisms could get them to accept that everyone was going to work half as much – with, presumably, half as much material reward [or even less, as any project of this kind would surely involve some rebalancing of the scales of prosperity towards the South?]

The levels of mean-spirited fury directed towards anyone perceived as ‘workshy’ suggest, to me anyway, that you will need a thoroughgoing cultural revolution before you can achieve such an economic revolution.

31

Tim Wilkinson 06.02.09 at 8:13 am

#25 – I’d say it would behave like an ordinary English noun, so syllabuses.

I was going to say that if you wanted to treat it as still behaving like Greek, it would be..then couldn’t remember how ‘-us’ would go. Googled it and came across this which seems to reveal it’s actually Latin (the end of the Latin quote is – ‘which are called by you, [as a matter of opinion]?, sittubai’, or something, which is really mystifying). So if you wanted to you could say syllabi. (just remembered I have a dictionary! Doh! According to Chambers, it’s as above and sittuba was the original Greek word which was changed by a misprint after it got into Latin. Who knew?)

32

Tim Wilkinson 06.02.09 at 8:29 am

#30 – I’d distinguish between ‘push’ and ‘pull’ marketing (or those two element of the activity). The latter isn’t necessarily a waste of time but is about finding out what people want – which, it turns out, doesn’t after all just happen on its own by means of ‘price signals’!

But of course the two are run together thus disguising the prevalence of pushing. Oddly, drug ‘pushers’ don’t have to do much of either.

33

Katherine 06.02.09 at 8:45 am

Personal anecdotes on reduced working hours:

– my other half, a few years back, was put on a 4 day working week by the small company he was working for, as were all staff, in order to avoid redundancies. This worked. 6 months later though, they were all put back on 5 days a week.

– a work colleague, on returning from maternity leave and having to work until midnight, on her birthday, the very first week she was back, asked for, and got, an arrangement to work fixed hours (9 to 6) – she had to accept a 20% pay cut.

– my other half (same one) following the birth of our daughter, rearranged his working week to start and finish an hour earlier every day. He also reduced the hours he worked every week just by sticking to the hours he was contractually obliged to work. No salary reduction required.

It has become a truism, amongst those women who return to work part-time after having children, that you do the same amount of work in 4 days as you do in 5. I’d love to see some actual figures. I do know that in the cases the women I know who have returned to work part time, none of their employers have employed extra staff to make up the day that they have apparently lost. Seems like a good deal for employers, and a bad one for women, in those cases.

34

Katherine 06.02.09 at 8:46 am

The formatting on my last comment seems to have gone a bit haywire. There was supposed to be a lot more paragraph breaks.

35

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.02.09 at 8:50 am

What happened to christian h. in 24 – struck by a neoliberal thunderbolt?

I’ll second Alex 30: there’s very little labor-intensive production going on around me, it’s mostly bureaucracy, services, and distribution. There’s gotta be a better way to do these things.

36

alex 06.02.09 at 8:56 am

@35: the best answer would be simply not to do them, but it raises the question, as I intimated, of what happens to the people elsewhere in the world who are now dependent on the excess purchasing-power of western corporate drones to lift themselves out of poverty through labour-intensive industrialisation. That’s the real long-term downside of globalisation for the progressive – figuring out how we can step away from the gas pedal without a massive global re-impoverishment, with attendant chaos and general FUD-induced carnage.

37

JoB 06.02.09 at 9:09 am

alex-36, I don’ think we need to step out of the macro-economic gas pedal to allow us to work less. Growth in GDP also reflects growth in non-material ‘production’ (entertainment – to keep things simple, but also tourism). If you equate working less with less consumption, then those warning against it are wrong (or the green fundi’s are right).

I have yet to see a macroeconomic analysis linking amount of working hours (forced labour) & GDP growth. In fact, the last century is testimony to the contrary.

And I wouldn’t worry about the 3d world in all of this: there is a substantial need for all kinds of material goods in their own economies. That should keep them busy, until such time they reach the state that employed labour is no longer an economic necessity.

38

Tim Wilkinson 06.02.09 at 9:10 am

#36 question is where does this excess purchasing power come from if not much is actually being produced – do world bank/IMF, dollar hegemony (hence the ‘axis of evil’/Euro link?) and generally US power over foreign governments come into it? The argument that we’re not producing anything, but if we stopped what we are doing the world would be poorer seems a bit wonky to me.

39

Henri Vieuxtemps 06.02.09 at 9:16 am

Everyone seems to assume that third-world industrialization epitomized in making $200 shoes for the westerners is the norm, but it’s obvious to me that it’s a perversion. Why can’t they make shoes for themselves instead, $5/pair shoes? That’s another thing that needs to change.

40

The Creator 06.02.09 at 9:41 am

Hmmmmmm.
The basic problem is with the question. The actual answer to the question has to be “none of the above”. The track record of all of the alternatives provided suggests that not one of them has either the capacity or — rhetoric aside — the intention of radically changing the socio-political system, which is what you are actually talking about.
It would probably be more advisable to ask what policies and institutions need to be changed (as some of the commentators, to be fair, have been suggesting) and then step back and ask how that change could come about. Probably the only way in which it could come about would be to establish a radical party (whether parliamentary or not does not much matter) devoted to those goals.
So I suppose “third party” is the answer, but it isn’t really an answer. What do you want the party to do, that’s the question.

41

alex 06.02.09 at 9:46 am

@ 38: because most ‘money’ isn’t real, is it? Without getting cranky, it’s rather obvious that when GDP growth is made up in part of expanding credit on the back of rises in the value of houses, which turn out to be capable of declining precipitately in price, we can all go along happily imagining that there’s plenty to go round, but when the carousel stops, it turns out we were all just imagining it. That’s the revolutionaries’ problem – stopping the system would reveal that we don’t have what we thought we did, and so we can’t give it to others who have less.

@37: “until such time they reach the state that employed labour is no longer an economic necessity.” Oh please! I want my robot too, but I thought this discussion was at least trying to be rooted in reality.

42

Tim Wilkinson 06.02.09 at 10:02 am

#41 – Is any fiat money ‘real’? Are you saying that those in the ‘developing’ world don’t understand what the dollars they are getting are based on? Or that it is impossible to maintain current levels of *real* US production without maintaining an elaborate charade, or what? I’m no fan of the status quo – I just don’t get what exactly you’re saying about it.

43

Tim Wilkinson 06.02.09 at 10:16 am

(sorry just an experment:) **two asterisks one each side** *one asterisk on each side*

44

Zamfir 06.02.09 at 10:30 am

henri says: Why can’t they make shoes for themselves instead, $5/pair shoes? That’s another thing that needs to change.

They do make them. Poor people in the third world are much better dressed (in the “dressed at all” meaning) than they were 50 years ago. Remember, in the old days the stereotypical third-world pictures showed people in their only loin cloth, nowadays they show T-shirts, and often shoes.

Especially in China, few people are without a significant amount of (cheap) clothes and shoes. The quality and looks of sold-in-China 5$ shoes however are truly horrible, and makes you appreciate even your cheapest Western-bought shoes in ways that you never realized before. At higher, but still low prices you can get good shoes, but leather is a bit rare.

45

alex 06.02.09 at 10:52 am

@42 – I mean that value in a capitalist economy is largely created by economic activity – there’s no big pile of gold somewhere that adds up to a ‘real’ equivalent to the money in circulation. People make decisions based on perceived value and anticipation of future value. When you propose reducing economic activity, you have to be careful not to cause a catastrophic decline in that value, or you end up not with a leaner, greener economy, but with a pile of wreckage. Never heard of a deflationary spiral? I thought people here were economists?

@44 – isn’t one of the main sources of clothing, esp. for Africa, donated surplus items from Europe and N America that are bought up in bulk and shipped on for profit? Whether that’s a good thing or a bad depends on your viewpoint on ‘dumping’ that prevents an indigenous textile sector developing vs. global specialisation and the economics of reuse.

46

Ceri B. 06.02.09 at 10:56 am

Katherine, about hours worked: I understand that some years ago, the computer game developers’ association had some people study productivity changes with increasing crunch time. They were able to make a rock-solid case that in their field, at least, productivity drops off pretty sharply with more than 40-50 hours worked per week, particularly when they included the sort of deeply hidden bugs that make massive complications later. The report went completely ignored. Management culture is quite prepared to ignore such inconvenient evidence.

47

Zamfir 06.02.09 at 11:32 am

Alex, yes, my comment was more about countries that produce for the West: these tend to produce for their own market too, not ship-in used clothes. But even countries that rely on second-hand clothes are profiting from the low production costs of new clothing.

You are perhaps right that own factories might be preferable over left-overs, but it is not clear that second-hand clothes are the main barrier there. The alternative might well be importing cheap new Asian clothing. Many African countries do try, very hard, to establish their own textile industry, but in general they can’t compete on price with East and South Asia.

There is a (not entirely unreasonable) tendency to see very underdeveloped countries as comparable to historic pre-industrial societies, look for example at Paul Krugman’s post in the CT Stross seminar. But clothing is an example of a large difference: in pre-industrial times, clothing was a major consumer of land and labour, perhaps second only to food production.

48

JoB 06.02.09 at 12:41 pm

Alex-41, but you have your robot already. If you didn’t you would be working a 6-day week at 12 hours a day!

You maintain that there is a link between GDP growth and working like we were robots, but you did not substantiate your supposed link. I question it: a. because GDP grows regardless of more working hours & b. because material production in developing countries is easily sustainable in the foreseeable future by the domestic need for material products.

Somehow you seem to imply the ‘green’ tenet: we have to learn to consume less, or else … It is a bogus tenet, never supported by any evidence other than desires by a minority in this society to be ‘closer’ to nature.

To come on-topic: that’s what socialism needs, to fight again for everybody’s right at more time that is freely available for themselves to do with as they please (knowing their options such that they can really decide for themselves).

49

Dave 06.02.09 at 12:50 pm

A concerted effort to reduce the working day/ week/ month/ year, as much as practical economic considerations permit, so as to allow the population the free time to develop ways to take over more of the policy-making and law-making functions—not to mention the broad decisions about bank lending priorities, and company product offerings for basic goods and social services (the free market can still hold sway in other sectors until much later on). All carefully branded as a “redemocratisation” or “enhanced democratisation” of the West, as in Leonard Cohen’s cheeky, “Democracy is coming to the USA”.

If required, especially in the early stages, explanation of the policy options and possible/likely consequences by hired specialists with exceptionally good communications skills—eg very good and entertaining lecturers, cheerful economic journalists etc.

Massive investment in research and development to help to reverse the long-run decline in industrial productivity in the mature capitalist economies, in this way increasing the potential for automation and thus bringing down working times still further, without damaging living standards. Massive investment also in a new schools and university programmes in which these subjects—which will become more interesting to the populace, because they will, on average, be seen to be direct practical relevance to their everyday lives—are well represented, so that the need for the lecturers and journalists declines, as people develop their own expertise in these areas.

50

Alex 06.02.09 at 1:47 pm

Enjoy the hybridity. All the most effective organisations of our time seem to partake of 3, 4, and 6, and occasionally a bit of 1 or 5. We don’t really have a good language to describe the sort of entity – usually a network of some kind – that combines flat or flatter structure, both political and economic or even military functions, discussion and action.

51

bianca steele 06.02.09 at 1:50 pm

Some thoughts:

– Blind forcing of “social democratic” ideas into the ideosphere seems to lead to
stronger and cruder forms of neoliberalism.

– Managing risk is pretty difficult in the absence of good information. Yet too many left-leaning thinkers have a naive metaphysic concerning the relationship between theory and practice, and how information circulates through society. The auto industry is fastened on as the only example needed.

– That management s–ks is a truism (with which many managers would even agree). This doesn’t imply that the problem is the way business is financed and owned.

– Socialized workplaces, in particular when the work is socially necessary, don’t have an actual history of reasonable working hours.

– Globalization results in increased working hours. The same person may have to work with people +6, -3, +12 hours apart, every day.

– Too many social democrats, in my experience, are uninterested in learning about people who think differently from them, and at best wish to educate others to think like themselves (to quit their jobs, to retire, to raise their children differently, somehow to downsize so that they work only 1/4 of the day, and “think” or consciousness-raise the other 3/4 of the time).

52

Sandwichman 06.02.09 at 3:02 pm

John,
Be sure to have a look at Queensland’s 2001 submission to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission’s “Reasonable Hours Test Case”. They cite S.J. Chapman’s theory of the hours of labour with a good summary of that theory (based on my earlier summary of Chapman’s theory).

53

lemuel pitkin 06.02.09 at 3:50 pm

Doug Henwood (author of ‘Left Business Observer’) once said (quote from memory) that he gave up expecting capitalistm to fall under it’s own weight, because government bailouts were so powerful.

I suspect this is what you are thinking of:

As Penny Ciancanelli (1992) nicely put it, during the debt crisis of the 1980s the First World banks got a Minsky bailout while the Third World suffered a Fisher deflation. Domestic banking crises in Third World countries over the last decade or two have been far more intense than in the First, with losses ranging from 10% to 25% of GDP. Those countries, however, were unable to mount the kinds of rescue operations seen in the North, and their economies have, in many cases, suffered depressions, sparked and propagated in the classic Fisher manner. But the experience of successful First World bailouts shows that Marx (1981, p. 621) badly underestimated the power of the state when he said that crises could not be avoided by “allowing one bank, e.g. the Bank of England, to give all the swindlers the capital they lack in paper money and to buy all the depreciated commodities at their old nominal values.” Central banks and governments need not go that far; prudential supervision (forgotten in the 1980s, but more or less remembered in the 1990s, with the occasional exception) and multibillion dollar rescue packages have done their work.

Still, credit has made it possible for expansions to exceed what would otherwise have been their natural limits, and the threat of crisis arose when those limits became clear. The S&L disaster ripened (leaving aside the pure swindling, the yacht parties with their cocaine and call girls, the thrift presidents stealing money to expand their personal art collections, etc.) when it became clear that the shopping centers and condos that were built on its lines of credit proved economically pointless; the junk bond crisis ripened when the corporate buyouts and restructuring that junk originally financed were revealed as the Ponzi units they were. Money of the mind had an uncomfortable collision with matter. But thanks to the Resolution Trust Corp. and Alan Greenspan, these crises never became generalized, unlike their ancestors 60 years earlier. No one can proclaim that it will work this way forever, but so far, this has to be counted a major innovation in the state management of capitalism. (Wall Street, 235-36)

54

alex 06.02.09 at 5:48 pm

Job @48, see me @ 45, or are you assuming that your model will take effect as if by magic after a bloodless yet complete socialist revolution? ‘Cos if you are, dream on.

‘Tother Alex @ 50 – Hamas? Only half joking, or is there a kernel in your thought that thinks the ‘military’ dimension is really a route for progressives?

55

JoB 06.02.09 at 7:02 pm

52, thanks for the earlier link!

I do think John is right at 28, reducing labour is better done in lumps. Amount of hours a week is too much of a fetish. A broad entitlement to ‘time credit’ I think is better. It is anti-discrimatory (nobody can be expected to be there for years on end, so women are no longer the only ones withe the 3-6-12 month out surprise) and more adapted to non-production labour. Also, it avoids the tedious regulation of hours worked. In the end it should be free to work longer hours if that’s what pleases. Only the amount of time that is spent in the actual office should be regulated; that’ll break the peer pressure of being in the office the last man standing (next to the boss).

56

Tim Wilkinson 06.02.09 at 8:54 pm

alex re ##36,38,41,42,45: My response perhaps went astray when I took you to be saying in yours to Henri @35 that a lot of people (‘corporate drones’) were being employed entirely unproductively in economic terms, and that the third world was dependent on them continuing to be so employed and spending their dollars. That, I may have got wrong in the sense that it wasn’t what you meant – but if so, fairly obviously so, I think, so you could have saved yourself some choler by saying so at that point.

I made a suggestion about political factors like dollar hegemony being responsible for the purchasing power of the dollar, since dollars can be exported and not cause inflation/devaluation. And I suggested that The argument that we’re not producing anything, but if we stopped what we are doing the world would be poorer seems a bit wonky to me – because the underlying economic realities – as distinct from the delusions you described, aren’t affected by ceasing unproductive activity. That was one cue to repudiate that argument and save a lot of chat at cross-purposes.

I’m still not sure what your point was with this money-not-being-real business – you seemed to be describing the/a credit/housing bubble, and suggesting it should/could be maintained so that we can carry on buying things from the third world. To which I wondered whether you were suggesting that the recipients would be unaware of such underlying weakness of the currency (since you don’t seem to think there are other reasons why the dollar holds its value). I asked also whether you think there is no other way of carrying on the same actual, real production that is currently done, without requiring a whole load of people to go and sit in offices without actually producing anything, and without having to keep quiet about a perpetual credit bubble so that it will never burst.

FYI, no, as you will have guessed, I’m not an economist; I’m a philosopher by training and inclination (like several of the contributors and commenters to this blog – it’s a kind of PPE crowd I’d say). Perhaps that’s why I’m willing to consider the possibility that group irrationality based on the herd effect of mutually reinforcing expectations isn’t an inevitable feature of economic organisation. You (an economist?) seem to be assuming that there is no alternative to keeping all the institutions which were at least in large part responsible for the latest economic disaster – not to mention the so-called ‘business cycle’, acquiescing in which I regard as a bizarre way for an advanced society to conduct itself.

So yes there undoubtedly were some misunderstandings going on, but I don’t think all of them were mine nor that they involved being unaware of how the money supply is expanded (M0, M1 all that jazz wasn’t it?) in capitalism, or that it’s all about expectations. It’s just that I don’t presupppose that the institutions involved are eternal and immutable. Maybe all this is still well shy of the mark. Either way, don’t come the old acid with me, alright sunshine?

57

alex 06.03.09 at 7:32 am

I’m very far from assuming that one has to keep any kind of system. I was pointing out that a) it is very difficult to disentangle ‘real’ stuff from attributed value in a market economy [unless one is willing to go for broke and simply expropriate material goods while accepting that non-material assets, like, say, pension funds, will cease to exist; and this, of course, fails radically to preserve the level of apparent ‘wealth’ in the former system that one would, presumably, like to get hold of in order to redistribute more fairly]; and b) attempts to do anything like that have generally in the past proved dramatically unsuccessful, asumming that adding to the sum total of human happiness is an unavoidable measure of ‘success’ for such a program.

In sum, there needs to be a pragmatic distinction kept between essentially social-democratic tinkering at the edges of a basically market economy, and any radically non-market solutions that would have extraordinarily disruptive political and social effects. Note that ‘market’, of course, for any sensible person, does not imply the kind of neoliberal fundamentalism, the putative demise of which is currently the subject of much hope, but little hard evidence…

My apologies for thinking that this was so obvious.

58

Alex 06.03.09 at 8:28 am

‘Tother Alex @ 50 – Hamas? Only half joking, or is there a kernel in your thought that thinks the ‘military’ dimension is really a route for progressives?

I’ve not taken up foxhunting in order to improve my horsemanship in preparation for Der Tag…I rather mean that it is probably worth studying some of these organisations, or disorganisations, and how they work. Alistair Crooke is wrong about their philosophy being the way forward, but he may have a point about their organising methodology.

59

Tim Wilkinson 06.03.09 at 12:22 pm

alex @57 – apology taken in the spirit intended. Maybe what you were trying to say was indeed obvious – or anyway seemed obvious. But preserve the level of apparent ‘wealth’ in the former system? Why, if it is really only apparent? That’s not even what markets do in the long run – they have ‘corrections’ don’t they? Are the effects of such corrections (can’t think of an example at the moment) OK, but other perturbations unthinkable? And expropriate material goods while accepting that non-material assets, like, say, pension funds, will cease to exist – but if the ‘fundamentals’ are there, why do those assets (claims to future benefits?) have to ‘disappear’?.

You seem to accept that there’s a radical kind of group delusion about valuation, but dismiss the idea of trying to eliminate it, on the Sir Humphrey-ish grounds of general difficulty. Certainly this stuff is to say the least tricky, and I’m not suggesting adopting a labour theory of value or something, but the matter is not necessarily intractable – for example, it’s ‘pretty obvious’ that consumption is a more fundamental source of value (or valuation) than exchange, which is some sort of start in trying to reconfigure things in a more humanocentric way.

More generally I don’t think it’s accurate that you are very far from assuming that one has to keep any kind of system. Your remarks, e.g. the usual stuff about ‘such attempts in the past’ and various other very dismissive comments e.g. @54, suggest that you are in fact fairly close to doing so. My comments are part of a different (dissenting?) strand of opinion on this thread that thinks it’s necessary to get some kind of an end in view before arguing about means. Focussing on a piecemeal strategy to the exclusion of formulating clear aims reminds me of someone I know who objected to being called a anarcho-communist on grounds that he was actually an anarcho-syndicalist (i.e. the ‘bosses’ will always be there?). ‘Nothing to be done – now, how shall we do it?’ – the fetishisation of political process, or – Sisyphus turns lithophiliac.

60

reason 06.03.09 at 2:04 pm

I must say I find John Quiggins piece confusing in that it doesn’t clearly seperate two separate issues:
1. What do want to acchieve
2. How do we go about it
– and the immediate preceding debate between Tim Wilkinson and Alex confirms this confusion, that I think comes from the original piece.

Now I personally think that here the confusion comes from a natural split in the left, between those who favour egalitarianism as the primary goal of the left and those who see environmental sustainability as the fundamental goal. The left is no more coherent than the right is (and this is not new – this split is at least as old as George Orwell would be) – although I think originally the middle class “sustainability” concern, was more about “alienation”.

I don’t think the left will necessarily disintegrate, it has a common thread, but that thread has first to be sold. What is the common thread in “the left”? I think it has something to do with identification of a common destiny. A world view, that sees competition as at best a necessary evil, not something to be celebrated – because competition creates losers and creating losers shouldn’t be the direction that society takes. The left, takes an inclusive view, the right has a narrower identity (being quite prepared to win at the expense of the “other”).

61

Tim Wilkinson 06.03.09 at 4:24 pm

@60- If I may take this opportunity to ingratiate myself with the proprietorship, I’d mention:

1) that JQ did end with: And then there are the standard questions of incrementalism vs radicalism, issue-oriented politics vs a coherent program and so on. which might be thought to cover this ground, and

2) if not, then that might be because ‘Social Democrat’, though to my eye more of a historical movement than a distinctive political philosophy, is considered to have a sufficiently clear agenda associated with it (or at least sufficiently clearly excludes certain ideas) for at least my comments to be regarded as outside the ambit of the question. If I had to choose I’d go for (1).

On the content, I’d say that besides egalitarianism and environmentalism there’s a distinct ‘anti-consumerist’ set of attitudes which are in a way also common ground between them and could conceivably form a salient rallying point for a coalition around some radical programme for economic reorganisation. There is also the very relevant civil rights agenda which has a big and largely untapped appeal – if only it can be propagated against the tide of scaremongering and doublepluscrimehate.

62

alex 06.04.09 at 11:39 am

I am not Sisyphus, and I do not love my rock. I do, however, think that there is a place for historically-informed pessimists in the consideration of projects that propose fundamental social and economic change. There are, after all, plenty of people out there who believe with all their hearts that the proletariat will one day rise against its masters; people whose contribution to raising the sum total of human happiness I would be hard-put to measure without a micrometer, or possibly a very small piece of string.

63

Tim Wilkinson 06.04.09 at 12:39 pm

Fair enough – yes, I got a bit carried way. Sorry.

Comments on this entry are closed.