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July 26, 2011


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Luis Enrique

When we think about the rich, whom we would like to tax in the interest of fairness, or change power relations with, what proportion of them are owners of the means of production? Does it make any difference? [is talking about the power of capital a harmless shorthand for the power of managerse and the wealthy]. I suppose even if you earnt you money as a footballer or derivatives trader, you'll eventually end up parking much your wealth in ownership of capital. But your interests whilst generating your income aren't necessarily aligned with owners of capital.

I just don't know what to make of all this - take a firm with lots of badly paid workers and a few highly paid managers. Redistributing those high salaries, which is something I could see more worker power achieving, would help a bit, but not much (because I am assumeing many workers few managers) but what else could rebalanced power relations within firms achieve?

I suppose something explains the hugh rise in inequality, so something ought to be able to reverse it.


"..something must be done to shift the Overton window leftwards."
Can I ask in what is honestly intended to be a totally non-sneer-y, non-smart aleck-y way - what precisely?

Because I've spent quite a bit of my life recognising this problem and failing to come up with an answer that works.

Alex Marsh

Wouldn't Keynes be better styled a social liberal than a social democrat (as, most likely, would Matthew Taylor)? That would go some way to explaining why the issue of class conflict/the power relations of capitalism do not feature so strongly in the analysis.

Absolutely agree on the public opinion point. For too long progressive politicians have been timid in their response to public opinion - even when that opinion is inconsistent or incoherent.

There is an absence of appetite to articulate genuinely alternative futures entailing greater equality. In the face of a hostile rightwing media that is perhaps not surprising. But its consequences for society have been deeply unfortunate. The Overton window is, if anything, drifting rightwards. The reorientation you seek is even more challenging as a consequence.

The notion of genuine political leadership or statesmanship seems to be so far out of fashion as to be anachronistic.

But the broader discursive context needs to shift away from market fundamentalism before it will be politically possible to effect a leftward shift in policy. That needs a much broader progressive coalition to articulate a credible alternative vision upon which politicians can draw.

Luis Enrique


"There is an absence of appetite to articulate genuinely alternative futures entailing greater equality"

well, there's a fair few people giving it a short (the NEF and others) with the one small drawback that they tend to spout pure cobblers.

I don't think a lack of willingness / appetite is the problem, I think it's a lack of feasible ideas.


@ Alex - yes, Keynes was a liberal rather than social democrat; I had in mind the countless social democrats who were influenced by him, rather than Keynes himself.
@ CMcM - I don't know exactly. John Q's post suggests one possibility is for some personal sacrifices - people willing to take an extreme public stand, so that others can say "I wouldn't go that far, but" and so express leftist ideas in a way that appears "moderate". Too many leftists (maybe including me) like to appear extreme; the trick is to sound "reasonable".


Small point, but Keynes was a Conservative. He was unhappy for governments to spend more than 25% of GDP.

Charles Wheeler

"First, there’s an omission of any reference to power."

Rather a sweeping statement. I would have thought most social democrats take that as a given.


Ah, the Left, giving the people what they should want, not what they actually want since 1917................


Chris: I've done the 'appearing reasonable' bit. I've read my Gramsici and *tried* to frame all my leftwing arguments in the terminology appropriate to 'the common sense of the age'.I have a full set of back copies of Marxism Today (deceased) 1978-1991 somewhere in the attic.

It's not noticeably worked, has it?

I respect John Quiggan, but there's something a bit WW1/Balckadder-ish about his call for a human sacrifice 'to encourage the others' at the moment.

Matthew Taylor

Thanks for the comment Chris. I take your point about the power of labour although I would be interested in your thoughts about the leadership deficit in the trade unions; cause or effect of the weakness of organised labour? But I do want to defend my self on the public opinion point. My argument is precisely that the gap between the ends we want and the means we will sanction is one of the big challenges facing progressive politics. For me it is not simply a failure of leadership on the left but the consequences of misapplying the language of consumerism to democratic choice making in a post traditional society. The myth of politics as consumerism means that politicians must pander to our cognitive frailties (wanting long term outcomes but being unable to take the matching short term decisions) rather than confronting them.

But anyway it is a genuine pleasure to be the subject of even a critical post on one of my favourite sites.


Thanks Matthew - I'm touched.
I'd emphasize the weakness of the labour movement much more than any leadership deficit. As you know, I've very little faith in the transformative power of leaders, and was there ever really a time when union leadership was widely acclaimed as outstanding?
I entirely agree that politics shouldn't be a matter of consumerism. But again, what's cause and what's effect? If our political parties are small - and lack the ability to transform public attitudes through regular face-to-face talk between "ordinary" folk - then they have no chance of influencing people except through orthodox marketing means.

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