I’m planning to write a book over the next few months. It will be called Small is Powerful: why the era of big business, big government and big culture is over (and why it’s a good thing).
It’s being published by the brilliantly imaginative crowd-funding publisher Unbound, so if you like the themes and want to back the book, keep an eye out for the pitch when it is uploaded in the next few weeks.
The key argument in the book is that for much of the last century there was a ‘big consensus’. Big concentrations of political, economic, social and cultural power were celebrated and encouraged. Since the 1970s, however, that consensus has been increasingly undermined both in theory and practice. This is good; it’s a shift which holds out the promise of a fairer, stabler, freer and more creative world. The book will argue, however, that the shift to a small politics, economics and culture is not happening nearly quickly or evenly enough and that, in fact, there are some powerful forces trying to turn back the years. In short, it’s time for the ‘smallists’ to stand up and be counted.
That’s the elevator pitch. I’ll be posting more detailed accounts of different parts of the argument as I write the book. In the meantime, here are my rough thoughts on the historical background to the book’s claims which will form the core of the first chapter. Read more
The UKIP story can end one of three ways. None of them, despite Nigel Farage’s claims to be at the head of a “people’s army”, will resolve the problem of political alienation.
UKIP could crash and burn at the next election registering maybe just 2% of the vote, never to recover the popularity of the last week. The main parties will breathe a big sigh of relief and Farage will be consigned to the dustbin of history as Karl Marx almost certainly would have said. Politics will continue as usual with the persistent simmering of discontent from the population undiminished. Read more
The media may have concentrated on Theresa May’s speech but the more profound news from yesterday’s Police Federation conference is the fact that all thirty-six of the RSA Independent Review’s recommendations were accepted as a total package of reform by an overwhelming vote of the delegates.
This is a huge step for the Federation. For once the phrase “root and branch reform” is completely appropriate. The Fed has agreed to totally new arrangements for it senior officers, its executive committee, its local structures, its finances and its core purpose. It has even agreed to cut membership fees.
For the first time in many years that means it is possible to say the following without any hint of irony: the Police Federation could act as a model to other organisations particularly trade unions.
Three aspects of the Federation reforms should, in my view, be considered by other unions. Read more
It is not widely known that John Maynard Keynes and E.F.Schumacher – author of Small is Beautiful and originator of Buddhist Economics – were colleagues. The two worked together on Keynes’s plans for a reshaped international economic order to follow the Second World War and it was reported by one reputable source that Keynes even saw Schumacher as his natural successor.
However, by the time Schumacher came to publish Small is Beautiful in 1973 he was deeply critical of Keynes’s perspective. The point of difference was over the purpose of work and employment. Read more
Yet more discussion of Piketty – this time on Newsnight. As some have half-jokingly suggested (£) we are experiencing a Piketty bubble which will burst very soon. This would be a shame because what Piketty’s analysis does is place the focus of public debate back on the issue of ownership. And there are few issues more fundamental. Read more
Yesterday, Newsnight had a gloomy report about an issue that is shooting up the political agenda: the rise of the robots. The fear expressed by Newsnight’s technology editor is becoming increasingly commonplace supported by books such as Average is Over by Tyler Cowen and Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson’s The Second Machine Age. Read more
Last week the TUC published research which they said showed that “while some choose to be self-employed, many people are forced into it because there is no alternative work”. In fact, that “some” who choose to be self-employed turned out to be no less than 72% of all self-employed people when the Resolution Foundation released the findings of their survey a couple of days later. This accords very closely with the RSA’s own survey (full results to be published soon) which found that 76% of people in self-employment or running their own micro-business were happy with their work situation. Read more
International data shows there’s no need to panic about the rise in self-employment and micro-business
The rather marvellous Steven Toft (AKA Flipchart Rick) has been blogging a lot recently about self-employment. He’s not keen on it. Based on international data he argues that higher self-employment correlates to weaker economies.
The reason being that less successful economies can’t afford to employ and pay everyone properly so large numbers have to scratch out a living working for themselves. He also suggests that the causality runs the other way: smaller companies and self-employed people are not as productive as big companies because they do not have the same scale of resources to throw at innovation and efficiency. Read more
In case you were too busy enjoying yourself in the late 1980s or weren’t actually born, Marxism Today was a magazine that argued socialism was dead and that the world was changing beyond all recognition because of the collapse of traditional class identities and the rise of individualism and the like. They called this new era New Times and claimed it had replaced the Modern Times that had existed for the most of the 20th Century. Read more
The popularity of banning, taxing and regulating daft behaviour never seems to dim. Just in the last two months we’ve seen smoking in cars with children banned, plans laid out to prevent ‘vaping’ in public, rising demands for a sugar tax and today we’ve been told that cigarette packaging will face new regulation to make it look boring.
The common (and usually ineffective) objection to these plans is that they restrict the freedom of the individual and create a ‘nanny state’.
But I wonder if we should be exploring a somewhat different concern: what such solutions do to our capacity to deal with the next problem that comes along.
The truth is that the human tendency to give in to temptation is very strong. I am certain that by the time smoking, drinking and eating fat has been regulated out of existence, we will have found other enjoyable things to do us harm. Who knows, maybe we’ll face vociferous campaigns from opticians for the Government to restrict the use of virtual headsets and relationship counsellors will be up in arms about the failure to regulate robo-love.
My worry is that the more we rely on the state to stop us doing bad things, the less we develop creative, voluntary and lasting solutions to avoid temptation. As a result, we just keep going through this cycle of discovering a new pleasure, enjoying it too much and suffering the consequences before the state finally steps in after a lot of damage has been done.
This notion that banning things only sets us up (ironically) for further damage is just a hypothesis; I do not know if it’s true. But I think we should find out because when I look at the now famous voluntary and imaginative effort by Oklahoma to lose weight, I wonder what sort of long-term resilience and benefit that City has now secured that we would miss should we go down the route of taxing and regulating away the latest crisis of temptation.