Sir Paul Collier ‘reviews’ ten books at The Times Literary Supplement. Almost Marx comments

Sir Paul Collier ‘reviews’ ten books on Capitalism in the Times Literary Supplement of January 25 2017, under the title of ‘How to save capitalism from itself’:

1.Marc Levinson

AN EXTRAORDINARY TIME

The end of the postwar boom and the return of the ordinary economy.
336pp. Random House. £20.

2.Jonathan Tepperman

THE FIX

How nations survive and thrive in a world in decline
320pp. Bloomsbury. $28.

3. Ruchir Sharma

THE RISE AND FALL OF NATIONS

Ten rules of change in the post-crisis world
480pp. Allen Lane. £25.

4. Deidre McCloskey

BOURGEOIS EQUALITY

How ideas, not capital or institutions enriched the world
768pp. University of Chicago Press. £31.50.

5. Rgahuram G. Rajan and Luigi Zingales

SAVING CAPITALISM FROM THE CAPITALISTS

Unleashing the power of financial markets to
392pp. Princeton University Press. Paperback, $45.

6. Joel Mokyr

A CULTURE OF GROWTH

The origins of the modern economy.
400pp. Princeton University Press. £27.95.

7. Wolfgang Streeck

HOW WILL CAPITALISM END?

Essays on a failing system
272pp. Verso. £16.99.

8. Sean Meighoo

THE END OF THE WEST

And other cautionary tales
272pp. Columbia University Press. £30.

9. Darrell West

MEGACHANGE

Economic disruption, political upheaval
200pp. Brookings Institute Press. $24.

10. Peter Frase

FOUR FUTURES

Life after capitalism
160pp. Verso. Paperback, £8.99.

Before you read my comments or his essay, read the Wikipedia entry under his name, although I’ll provide the first three paragraphs of his impressive CV:

Sir Paul Collier, CBE (born 23 April 1949)[1] is professor of economics and public policy in the Blavatnik School of Government at the University of Oxford.

He is also a director of the International Growth Centre, the director of the Centre for the Study of African Economies, and a fellow of St Antony’s College, Oxford.

From 1998 until 2003 he was the director of the Development Research Group of the World Bank. In 2010 and 2011, he was named by Foreign Policy magazine to its list of top global thinkers.[2][3] Collier currently serves on the advisory board of Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_Collier

But read, after his CV, the first two paragraphs of his essay, and marvel at his contempt for some of the books and their authors, that looks very much like the arrogance of a technocrat/academic/politician that few would question, certainly no student in an academic  setting.

In The Future of Socialism Antony Crosland redirected the Left from Marxism to social democracy. Written in 1956, it anticipated what became the dominant European philosophy. Social democracy successfully addressed the major problems of the time; but new problems have since arisen for which it lacks a credible narrative, or a credible solution. Social democracy now lies in ruins, its ragbag of policies rejected by electorates. Its heyday was the trente glorieuses, 1945–75, but, as Marc Levinson recounts in An Extraordinary Time, the splendid outcomes during these years cannot be attributed primarily to good economic policy choices. Rather, fortuitous technological changes and one-off structural opportunities coincided to lift Western living standards. In the very different circumstances of today, returning to the Keynesianism and redistributive taxation of 1960s social democracy is unlikely to restore Eden. Levinson’s book, which takes the sorry story of economic mismanagement through to 1990, is a valuable antidote to all passionately held economic ideologies. Levinson shows that the Keynesian “fine tuning” of demand was abandoned for good reason; but its replacement by tax cuts for the wealthy and monetary targeting fared no better. For those so inclined, I recommend combining this study with Paul Romer’s brilliant paper “The Trouble with Macroeconomics” (freely available online), which demolishes the past twenty-five years of macroeconomic theory. Reading these two together it becomes clear that no shiny economic theory is going to restore mass prosperity.

Meanwhile, the only contemporary eruptions from the Left are pantomime Marxism. In the decade preceding the demise of Communism there was an upsurge in books predicting the demise of capitalism, and memories have evidently receded sufficiently to support a revival. The ideological vanguard will find Wolfgang Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End? satisfyingly turgid and pretentious, while for the useful idiots I recommend Peter Frase’s Four Futures: Life after capitalism as engagingly inspirational. If you enjoy these books, you may also, as the phrase goes, enjoy Harry Potter. Yet, while capitalism at last stands electorally victorious and philosophically without serious rival, its performance has become manifestly unsatisfactory. Its core credential of steadily rising general living standards has been badly tarnished: a majority now expect their children’s lives to be worse than their own. It is time for “The Future of Capitalism”. Unfortunately, nobody has yet successfully written that book. In its absence, I will try to weave something from the strands of recent contributions to the field.

http://www.the-tls.co.uk/articles/public/how-to-save-capitalism/

Take this sentence that occurs in the first part of paragraph one:

‘Social democracy now lies in ruins, its ragbag of policies rejected by electorates.’

The notion that ‘social democracy lies in ruins’ is not true, what lies in ruin is Neo-Liberal policies adopted in both America and Britain, that began with the rise of Thatcher and Reagan. Those ‘ragbag policies’ rejected by electorates are Neo-Liberal not social democratic!

Another:

‘In the very different circumstances of today, returning to the Keynesianism and redistributive taxation of 1960s social democracy is unlikely to restore Eden.’

This is pure economic metaphysics, all the reader needs to do is remind herself how utterly minuscule was the attempt of the Neo-Liberals to use Keyenesian methodologies, for fear of breaking with the hollowed Free Market trinity of Hayek/Mises/Friedman!

Number three:

Reading these two together it becomes clear that no shiny economic theory is going to restore mass prosperity.

The premier technocrat has no answers, as the mirage of ‘mass prosperity’ is now as distant, as the profits of tax evading Global Corporations, from the nation states that were once their homes.

Number four:

Meanwhile, the only contemporary eruptions from the Left are pantomime Marxism. In the decade preceding the demise of Communism there was an upsurge in books predicting the demise of capitalism, and memories have evidently receded sufficiently to support a revival.

Mr. Collier crows about the demise of the Soviet Union, by framing his comment in the notion of ‘pantomime Marxism’ as a resurgence of not-quite-real critique of Marx in a less than potent form: a usable caricature. One would think that a defender of Capitalism, in the ninth year of its precipitous decline, except for the financial sector and their vultures, like Paul Singer or Mitt Romney, would be less inclined toward the mirage of post Cold War triumphalism, allied to a retrograde Capitalist apologetics.

Number five:

The ideological vanguard will find Wolfgang Streeck’s How Will Capitalism End? satisfyingly turgid and pretentious, while for the useful idiots I recommend Peter Frase’s Four Futures: Life after capitalism as engagingly inspirational. If you enjoy these books, you may also, as the phrase goes, enjoy Harry Potter.

The reader can only find this string of insults against Streeck and Frase, as instructive of the contempt that expresses itself as derision: comparing the books by these two authors to be in the same genre as Harry Potter: fantasy and wizardry. This one time  World Bank employee has an ideology of his own, but his critique, in this case, is reduced to playground taunts. The reader finds herself in the position of wanting a more potent,critically focused evaluation of Capitalism. The TLS proclaims itself as the premier publication in the world of ideas,literature etc., Collier’s essay put that claim into doubtful territory, as maladroit polemic is what the reader is presented in these opening paragraphs.

Yet, while capitalism at last stands electorally victorious and philosophically without serious rival, its performance has become manifestly unsatisfactory. Its core credential of steadily rising general living standards has been badly tarnished: a majority now expect their children’s lives to be worse than their own. It is time for “The Future of Capitalism”. Unfortunately, nobody has yet successfully written that book. In its absence, I will try to weave something from the strands of recent contributions to the field.

What that reader gets is more muted triumphalism, no matter how misplaced, and the assurance of the enlightenment to follow, from this well credentialed and experienced technocrat. With the proviso that the book on the ‘Future of Capitalism’ has yet to be successfully written.

The patient reader is rewarded with Collier’s statement of principals:

But for present purposes it is Tepperman’s conclusion that is valuable: eschew ideology; focus on pragmatic solutions to core problems, adjust as you go, but be as tough as is necessary. A viable future for capitalism will cut across the ideological baggage of the twentieth century: forget Left versus Right, set aside the familiar pious moralizing and start from the problems. As Tepperman argues, the leaders who stuck rigorously to this approach initially faced intense criticism. Pragmatism is guaranteed to offend the ideologues of every persuasion and they are the people who dominate the media. An identity of being “on the Left” has been a lazy way of feeling morally superior; an identity of being “on the Right” has been a lazy way of feeling intellectually superior. Welcome to pragmatism: the hard centre.

‘Welcome to pragmatism:the hard center’ is his declared ideological position, yet the very idea of ‘pragmatism’ is its adaptability to change in all its iterations, as the basis for action! This is the statement, or better yet the throwing down of the gauntlet, of an intellectual bully, the ruthless Technocrat who brooks no dissenters. All is ex cathedra pronouncement! What is the reader to make of this exercise in blatant paranoia mongering? Pragmatism is guaranteed to offend the ideologues of every persuasion and they are the people who dominate the media. Collier declares himself and his fellow travelers as victims, before the fact. Isn’t that the claim that the ‘Right’ continually makes against the ‘Left’?

Mr. Collier then shifts  focus to what the Financial Times has called ‘The Rebellion Against The Elites’ and he dubs ‘sans cool’ maladroit word play on ‘sans culottes’. His attempt to trivialize the justifiable anger of the ‘masses’, at technocrats like himself, is framed as lame comic patter: the defensiveness of an expert who has been found out? Collier does not qualify as one of Adam Smith’s Impartial Spectators! I can speculate that Collier is an avid reader of ‘The Wealth of Nations’, but has ignored, maybe even scorns , ‘The Theory of Moral Sentiments’, as part of Smith’s unrealized Enlightenment project of a ‘Science of Man’.

The new problems that pragmatism needs to fix are manifested in the new anger against elites. The social basis of that anger is spatial, educational and moral. It is the regions rebelling against the giant agglomerations: Northern England versus London and the South, the heartlands versus the coasts. It is the less educated rebelling against the more educated. It is the struggling “just-about-managing” rebelling against the feckless. The ill-educated, toiling provincial has replaced the working class as the revolutionary force in society: not the sans culottes so much as the sans cool. So what are these people angry about? Partly their gripes are economic. The fortunes of the new elite have risen, often undeservedly, while those of the sans cool have deteriorated. Anger is tinged with fear: for the sans cool economic security is collapsing. But anger and fear go beyond the economic: people see that the members of the educated southern/coastal elite are intermarrying (“assortative mating”) and embracing a globalized identity, while asserting their moral superiority by encouraging their favoured priority groups to elevate characteristics such as ethnicity and sexual orientation into exclusive “community” identities. The sans cool understand that both the withdrawal by the elite and the emergence of new favoured groups apparently creaming off benefits weaken their claim to help, just as their need for support is increasing. Effectively – and pragmatically – addressing these three concerns of the sans cool is the challenge facing our leaders.

In this portion of Collier’s polemic, in which the books and authors are reduced to mere bit players, in his little melodrama of resentments, real and imagined, and provide the rhetorical facts, that fuels the exposition  of his ‘Hard Pragmatism’. In sum the changes to tax policy must favor the good ‘Innovators’ and penalize  the bad ‘Rent Seekers’. This kind of reductivism would shame even a dime store Marxist!

The new problems that pragmatism needs to fix are manifested in the new anger against elites. The social basis of that anger is spatial, educational and moral. It is the regions rebelling against the giant agglomerations: Northern England versus London and the South, the heartlands versus the coasts. It is the less educated rebelling against the more educated. It is the struggling “just-about-managing” rebelling against the feckless. The ill-educated, toiling provincial has replaced the working class as the revolutionary force in society: not the sans culottes so much as the sans cool. So what are these people angry about? Partly their gripes are economic. The fortunes of the new elite have risen, often undeservedly, while those of the sans cool have deteriorated. Anger is tinged with fear: for the sans cool economic security is collapsing. But anger and fear go beyond the economic: people see that the members of the educated southern/coastal elite are intermarrying (“assortative mating”) and embracing a globalized identity, while asserting their moral superiority by encouraging their favoured priority groups to elevate characteristics such as ethnicity and sexual orientation into exclusive “community” identities. The sans cool understand that both the withdrawal by the elite and the emergence of new favoured groups apparently creaming off benefits weaken their claim to help, just as their need for support is increasing. Effectively – and pragmatically – addressing these three concerns of the sans cool is the challenge facing our leaders.

Mr. Collier then places the Metropolis as the villain, to the angry provincials, who seek to do what to this center of power? The city provides scale, specialization and extraordinary connectivity to the technocrat not to the lowly laborer. What does the city of London make? It provides the hive for the Finacialization of the whole of the human endeavor, certainly the keystone of Mr. Collier’s ‘hard pragmatism’. Collier panders to the real complaints, dissatisfactions, the rage of ‘the provinces’ and ‘the less educated’  with these two sentences, separated by the dismal science extemporizing of the technocrat:

The provinces are right to be angry.

The less educated are also right to be angry.

One marvels at Mr. Collier’s technocratic myopia! Once Capitalists, small business owners and providers of services, were integral parts of communities that served the needs of its neighbors. Capitalism is a monster whose only rationale is profit, at any cost, and Mr. Collier is its lackey.  Serving the needs of the community is an utterly alien notion/practice to this expert! Does the reader have an answer as to the why of Marx’s return? I have run out of patience with Mr. Collier’s ‘Hard Pragmatism’, which is quite transparently an evolution, or more tellingly, a de-evolution of the demonstrably poisonous Neo-Liberalism. I will let Wolfgang Streeck speak in his 2013 essay titled ‘How Will Capitalism End?’

Five disorders

Capitalism without opposition is left to its own devices, which do not include self-restraint. The capitalist pursuit of profit is open-ended, and cannot be otherwise. The idea that less could be more is not a principle a capitalist society could honour; it must be imposed upon it, or else there will be no end to its progress, self-consuming as it may ultimately be. At present, I claim, we are already in a position to observe capitalism passing away as a result of having destroyed its opposition—dying, as it were, from an overdose of itself. For illustration I will point to five systemic disorders of today’s advanced capitalism; all of them result in various ways from the weakening of traditional institutional and political restraints on capitalist advance. I call them stagnation, oligarchic redistribution, the plundering of the public domain, corruption and global anarchy.

Six years after Lehman, predictions of long-lasting economic stagnation are en vogue. A prominent example is a much-discussed paper by Robert Gordon, who argues that the main innovations that have driven productivity and economic growth since the 1800s could happen only once, like the increase in the speed of transportation or the installation of running water in cities. [29] Compared to them, the recent spread of information technology has produced only minor productivity effects, if any. While Gordon’s argument may seem somewhat technologically deterministic, it appears plausible that capitalism can hope to attain the level of growth needed to compensate a non-capitalist working class for helping others accumulate capital only if technology opens up ever new opportunities for increasing productivity. In any case, in what looks like an afterthought Gordon supports his prediction of low or no growth by listing six non-technological factors—he calls them ‘headwinds’—which would make for long-term stagnation ‘even if innovation were to continue . . . at the rate of the two decades before 2007’. [30] Among these factors he includes two that I argue have for some time been intertwined with low growth: inequality and ‘the overhang of consumer and government debt’. [31]

What is astonishing is how close current stagnation theories come to the Marxist underconsumption theories of the 1970s and 1980s. [32] Recently, none other than Lawrence ‘Larry’ Summers—friend of Wall Street, chief architect of financial deregulation under Clinton, and Obama’s first choice for president of the Federal Reserve, until he had to give way in face of congressional opposition [33] —has joined the stagnation theorists. At the imf Economic Forum on November 8 last year, Summers confessed to having given up hope that close-to-zero interest rates would produce significant economic growth in the foreseeable future, in a world he felt was suffering from an excess of capital. [34] Summers’ prediction of ‘secular stagnation’ as the ‘new normal’ met with surprisingly broad approval among his fellow economists, including Paul Krugman. [35] What Summers mentioned only in passing was that the conspicuous failure of even negative real interest rates to revive investment coincided with a long-term increase in inequality, in the us and elsewhere. As Keynes would have known, concentration of income at the top must detract from effective demand and make capital owners look for speculative profit opportunities outside the ‘real economy’. This may in fact have been one of the causes of the ‘financialization’ of capitalism that began in the 1980s.

https://newleftreview.org/II/87/wolfgang-streeck-how-will-capitalism-end

Almost Marx

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About stephenkmacksd

Rootless cosmopolitan,down at heels intellectual;would be writer.
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