There’s currently a lot of discussion about the constitutional or economic shock of a Yes vote. But if we wake up to an independent Scotland on 19th September the immediate impact will be psychological. And the trauma will take two forms.
The first will be the realisation that the combined effort of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition was not enough to save one of the central institutions of the British state for the last 300 years. From that point on, the credibility of the most senior leadership of the British political establishment will be probably irrecoverable. The situation will be made worse by the inevitable blame game that will follow and the fact that practically zero preparation has been undertaken for the eventuality of an independent Scotland.
The second longer-term shock will therefore need to be addressed by a new generation of political leaders. Read more
In the 1970s, big government and big business was challenged for the first time in decades. Let’s rekindle that spirit today.
The Crowd-funding pitch for my book, Small is Powerful, went live on Friday over at the Unbound site. To my amazement, people have already started handing over hard money - a big thanks to them.
You can pledge anything from one quid (you get your name in the book and access to posts just for supporters in the ‘author’s shed’) to one thousand (all manner of goodies come your way). There’s lots of levels in between which get you things like hardback first editions, invitations to the launch party, even lunch with me at a posh restaurant (or if you prefer: lunch without me at a posh restaurant).
Here’s the synopsis for the book that appears on the Unbound site:
How can we create a wealthier, fairer and more stable world? Politicians tell us that we must rely either on big business or big government or, more often than not, both. This is a terrible failure of imagination that ends up keeping the very people and organisations in charge that delivered the most serious economic crisis in eighty years.
Small is Powerful will reveal how our faith in big business, big government and big culture was manufactured in the 1800′s by a group of powerful business leaders, politicians and thinkers and how it had a forceful grip on our world throughout the twentieth century.
Even if our political leaders are still in thrall to the ‘big consensus’ of the last century, a small revolution is already underway. Millions are choosing to set up their own small business rather than work for a giant corporation. Political and social change is increasingly delivered by many small initiatives and campaigns rather than big parties. And, more than ever, people make their own decisions about how to live their lives rather than accepting the rulings of big religious and civil organisations.
Small is Powerful argues that the small revolution must be embraced. A world where power and resources are shared out much more widely will deliver the fairer, stabler, wealthier world we want.
But it is a revolution under threat. Business, politicians and those who think they know best how we should live are fighting back. Small is Powerful is an impassioned plea for ‘smallists’ everywhere to stand up and be counted.
I’ll be tweeting progress on the book here.
I also wrote a chapter of the book for the pitch. It’s about how the ‘big consensus’ of the twentieth century began to break down in the 1970s. I hope the book will make a small contribution to rekindling the spirit of the campaigners, entrepreneurs and thinkers I cover here. I’ve copied it below but please do go over to the Unbound site to find out more about the book and please pledge to help make it happen. Read more
One of the imperatives of living in creative times is the need to always ask ourselves whether what we are doing will release or stifle the creativity of as many people as possible. It’s a question the most successful organisations in private, public and voluntary sectors now ask themselves as a matter of course. It is not one asked regularly or even at all by our political leaders. Read more
You can distribute power & wealth or you can concentrate it but you can’t do both. Politicians pretend otherwise.
As I do the research for my book Small is Powerful, I’m sharing some of my early thoughts through my blog. Here’s the latest.
It is 225 years since the United States Constitution was adopted. One might have thought in that time that our understanding of democracy would have become more sophisticated. But one of the most central insights into the nature of government and society that was commonplace amongst the Founding Fathers has now been largely forgotten. Read more
Economically, nothing much happened for 130 millennia of human history. Then 250 years ago all hell broke loose. So wrote the economist Eric Beinhocker and he was not wrong.
There were brief explosions of inventiveness, such as during the Roman Empire, but these would come to an end with the fall of the political system that sustained them. Average incomes improved at glacial rates: in the first century AD, most people could expect an income of around $1.20 a day; by the 18th, it had risen to $1.70.
This all changed in the late 1700s. Britain became the birthplace of an extraordinary revolution that would come to transform the world. Modern capitalism was being built on the back of an enormous flowering of commercial innovation: new machines, new products, new production systems, new business structures and new markets came to life. Read more
In the last century, the idea took hold that the state should expand to provide the public services and social security that the free market was unable to deliver on its own. The corollary was the need to fund this expansion through higher levels of taxation. But this conception of tax-funded services provided directly by the state is proving deeply problematic in an era increasingly defined by creativity and self-determination.
The problem emerges because the current model of the state was developed in the first half of the twentieth century when technocratic elitism was in its prime. The faith placed in the power of a small, educated set of technical specialists to deliver beneficial outcomes for any and all areas of life was enormous. Read more
In 1988, 348 assorted celebrities, intellectuals and political activists wrote to The New Statesman to announce the launch of a new charter for constitutional reform. The public response was strong and within a year or so a formal pressure group was formed. Charter 88, as it was called, was soon having a major influence, playing a particularly big role in shaping the manifesto commitments of the Labour Party which was to be elected with a thumping majority in 1997. This was a heady period when it seemed that a young, forward-looking government might finally bring about a major reshaping of the constitutional settlement in the UK. The reality was somewhat less inspiring. Read more
Technology makes politicians and parties redundant but they won’t go without a big push into the dustbin
A quick post to highlight a good piece today by Daniel Finkelstein. Behind The Times paywall unfortunately but his core argument is that the rationale for politicians and parties is losing its resonance. The opinion aggregation that is their main raison d’etre no longer makes much sense in a world where new technologies are far better at fulfilling this task. He also predicts the decline of political parties for, as he says, “if it is possible to contact voters without a party machine, the power of the machine will decline”.
This all chimes closely with identical themes I have explored on this blog. In fact, Finkelstein goes even further than me arguing that many of the governing and decision-making functions assigned to our leaders will soon be done better by artificial intelligence. Read more
I’ve just come across this story from Steven Levy’s great book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. It pretty much tells you all need to know about the role of technology in our current explosion of creativity; what we at the RSA call the ‘power to create‘.
In the Summer of 1973 a small group of geeks called Community Memory had revolution on their minds. They were seized by the notion that the huge power of computers should be available to everybody not just the government and vast corporations like IBM. So they did something that had never been done before: they let ‘ordinary’ people use a computer. They placed a makeshift terminal outside a particularly hip record store in Berkeley, California. As they said in a handout, the “Model 33″ was an attempt to create “a communication system which allows people to make contact with each other on the basis of mutually expressed interests without having to cede judgement to third parties.” Read more
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