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October 26, 2014



I think you've got the wrong end of the stick on this one. Brand's appeal isn't that he's 'anti-intellectual'- it's that he calls bullshit on the intellectual apologists for the 1%. I don't find that anti-intellectual at all. In fact I'd argue that the REAL anti-intellectuals are the 'brand' of economists that use obfuscation, complex mathematical models and appeals to authority to try and crush objections to a growing corporatocracy.

Your question, "Replace Capitalism with what?" is also kind of off point. There is no single, unitary economic system called 'Capitalism'. All economic systems depend on the political and legal structures that support them. Ours, in the West, have undergone varying degrees of radical change in the last 40 years, with some of the Continental European countries maintaining more of their original, post-war configurations, and the US in particular and Britain to a lesser extent having jettisoned virtually everything that protected a broad middle class in favor of benefits to a tiny handful of individuals and corporations. This has resulted in extreme economic instability of the type that was common in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It has also caused a return to double digit unemployment figures in many countries- especially among the young.

A great many people, under the radar, have been looking at and experimenting with commons-based economic structures as both variant of and alternative to capitalist forms for many decades now. You saw a tiny tip of this iceberg with the Occupy movement in recent years, and though the public manifestation of the movement has now disappeared back beneath the waters it is still carrying on, experimenting and perfecting as we all consider ways to deal with the big elephant in the room that economics resolutely ignores: the coming upon the limits of resource exploitation and destruction that life on the planet can support.

Until we develop some strong, working alternatives to the current system, however, the question will be not "Replace Capitalism with what?" but what do we have to do to make our current version of capitalism consistent, once again, with democracy, human rights and, preferably, preventing immanent ecological catastrophe?


You want both (a) more intellectualism and (b) to disempower elites. Ever wondered if empowering the non-elites will bring less intellectualism? The non-elite is not notably intellectual.

Beware the curse of unintended consequences.


Any serious revolution would, of course, disempower political and business elites and empower people. Which raises many questions: why is there so little popular demand for worker management or even direct democracy? How do we promote anti-managerialism? Could we achieve worker democracy without weakening incentives to innovate? What institutions do we need to create a healthy deliberative democracy rather than debased populism?

A lot of that is probably because taking on more control over the company would also entail taking on lot more personal responsibility for the firms they work for, and that's not what most people want - they just want to make a living and get paid regular wages. Otherwise there would be a lot more cooperative businesses and self-started businesses in general.

That echoes what MIT's Bannerjee and Duflo found in Poor Economics. A lot of poor people in poor countries were running their own businesses not because they wanted to - many of them, when polled, preferred a steady job, especially for the government - but because they had no other choice for survival.

As for managerialism, I'm open to alternative set-ups, but all the incentives seem to be pushing towards bureaucratic hierarchies with managers - even in big cooperatives like Mandragon.


Brand isn’t ignored because he’s like tomato sauce. The ugliness of what lies beneath is more easily overlooked when used. Column inches are smothered in the stuff which really only reflects acceptance of the no alternatives creed. And the no alternative creed accepts its casualty’s.

Indeed: it’s a matter of balance, of course, but doesn’t the creed need its casualties? I don’t see anti intellectualism so much as a dearth of information. A political-economy that’s evidently blind and apparently ignorant of class dynamics, thus righteous indignation can fight righteous indignation. While any and all left leaning statistics get a dollop of tomato sauce to round them off nicely.


@ Sarah - I'm not sure. Many people have been calling bullshit on the 1% - some of us with reason and evidence. The question is: why are these (we) mostly under the radar whilst Brand isn't? I stick by my answer - that it's about celebocracy.
My concern is that Brand's philistinism will be used to discredit by association the very many good arguments which the anti-1%ers have.
You might well be right that the question isn't replacing capitalism but rather reconciling some form of it with values of equality, rights & sustainability. But surely this requires a comnand of economics, not an anti-intellectual lack of interest in the discipline.

An Alien visitor

"But surely this requires a comnand of economics"

If everyone were an expert in economics society would go to the dogs very fast. What do you know about midwifery for example? Economists are not the lord and masters of the universe.

The administration of a non capitalist system is a technical question.

I don't think Brand is anti Intellectual, as Sarah says he is challenging the idea that we should entrust our lives into the hands of our so called betters. He seems to be against an intellectual monopoly or a narrow view of what intellectualism is.

Neil Harding

Brand listens very attentively to intellectuals he agrees with. His disruptive tactics with Davis were deliberate and he was right about Davis's graph it was an attempt to deceive. Chris, you're usually right, but you've missed the point here.


I'm interested in your use of "celebocracy". I make no claim for the word but I used to use it when I blogged 6 or 7 years ago and I haven't seen it anywhere else. I suspect I heard/read it somewhere and it stuck in the conscience.

Do you know where it came from? It describes the debasement of serious political discussion very well.

Ersatz Fidei

Hi nice angle on Brand there, I have a similar perspective it basically boils down to people being unwilling/unwilling to "revolve around themselves as their own true sun"...it gives rise to situations like twenty different "type" of commodity "for you to express your individuality", Brand's narrative is like clothing worn by many who are naked, but some crossdressers...whether he's the latter we're not quite sure, but the links to Laurence Easemen suggest maybe so, the new Occupy movement suggests maybe so...I think your anti-intellectual, aryan theology based populism is probably accurate. (i know you never mentioned aryans) Please visit my blog and leave your thoughts if any...

Ersatz Fidei

Sarah wrote a load of idealistic clap trap above; "Newsflash" just because you don't understand complex mathematical formula or equations doesn't make them "obfuscation".

"crush objections to a growing corporatocracy"
betrays your perspective as either ahistorical or ideologically aligned to something in particular, this further suggests that to be the case "what do we have to do to make our current version of capitalism consistent, once again, with democracy, human rights,,,,"

It never has been, there is not a "growing corporatocracy", there is a growing reaction against it at all levels, even in economics, capitalism has never been consistent with basic human rights, democracy or any form of ethics, we've fought and struggled for centuries for reform we're accumulating a transcendent perspective that has infiltrated all institutions.

Cue Brand, cue Farage, cue Europe and America wide right wing populism, cue the counter revolution...

Ersatz Fidei

another example: somebody said above "Any serious revolution would, of course, disempower political and business elites and empower people."

What about politicians and business elites working to empower people?

Or don't they exist in your worldview...

john boniface

Time to review the threefold state by Rudolf Steiner.

And how to implement it.

Dominic Sayers

You characterise Brand as "an embarrassment" and "ugly" and so you are in tune with many ad hominem articles about him in the last few days.

These articles have replaced the ones that mocked him for daring to say anything at all, a considerable time after he'd begun to say it.

So he is following the traditional trajectory of "first they ignore us, then they laugh at us, then they fight us, then we win".

Actually it's a perfectly valid series of stages to go through as an idea is tested. What's important in the "then we win" bit is not that the idea survives these tests but that its adherents survive the brickbats.

That remains to be seen, but UKIP are a way ahead on the same trajectory and their demonstrably flawed ideas have not prevented them winning (for some definition of winning).


@ Dominic, Neil - of course, many people are attacking Brand because of his opposition to the 1%. But I'm not doing that: as regular readers know, I'm on his side on this. My problem is that, in doing so in such an ignorant way, he is missing the fact that hostility to the Establishment has a massive evidence base. In giving Brand so much publicity, I fear the media is encouraging the equation of anti-Establishmentism with ant-intellectualism - which is, if anything, the exact opposite of the truth.
@ Simon - I don't know who coined "celebocracy"; I guess it's an American term.


'These show that Sunny is right: Brand represents "anti-intellectualism on an epic scale".'

I'm sure this is true, but it's a strange criticism coming from Sunny Hurndal, who's some distance short of an intellectual himself.

Michael Fowke

Nonsense! Brand is just pretending to be non-intellectual to annoy middle-class ponces who think they're all that.

Simon Nicholas

Michael - Judging from the manner in which he expresses and conducts himself I don't think he's pretending, though that doesn't mean he shouldn't be applauded for at least bringing attention to what are pertinent areas for discussion.


@ Michael - maybe he is. But that doesn't alter my point at all: why is such an anti-intellectual act so popular?
@ everyone - The point of this post is not to attack Brand, who has some virtues. It is to ask what his popularity with the media tells us about our culture.

Dave Timoney

According to the critical theorists at Management Today, "[Victoria] Beckham is living proof that celebrity may be the most marketable commodity of all".

The incursion of celebrity (and thus inchoate anger and policy frivolity) into politics can be seen as the fruit of the ideological hegemony of neoliberalism (cf UKIP, Boris Johnson et al). Politics is no longer showbiz for ugly people; it's just showbiz.

Alternatively, it could just be that Brand has a book to sell and we're complicit in the marketing campaign (I rarely feel sympathy for Sam Allardyce, but his lovebombing by Brand on MOTD was an exception).

An Alien Visitor

"The point of this post is not to attack Brand, who has some virtues."

get out of here, it is a straightforward attack with some remarks about celebrity culture thrown in. celebrity culture really grew in the 70's and has been with us ever since.

Brands response to the real wages graph presented by Davis was spot on. I am sure Marx would have said something along the lines of:

"But dear boy, abolishing the wage system is the whole point"

Though, maybe without the dear boy bit!

"But what does that mean! Who will clean the streets?!" Davis would cry.

"You would!" Shrieks Marx

An Alien Visitor

"I rarely feel sympathy for Sam Allardyce, but his lovebombing by Brand on MOTD was an exception"

I have sat through too many Allardyce teams feigning injury to ever have sympathy!


@ everyone - The point of this post is not to attack Brand, who has some virtues. It is to ask what his popularity with the media tells us about our culture.

We like bright and shiny things.
But we also like to play with the box...
Lots of complaints about focussing of celebrity froth and then we focus on headlines. (Don't vote, econommmics is a con).

The thrust of Brand's argument is very simple:
The system doesn't work for the flourishing of humankind.
Example 1 Rich are getting relatively richer
Example 2 Drug addict turned "star" finds it souless.

So what to do...

He suggets if everyone starts acting like they care for eachother then the system will change as people will act differently. No voting required.

It's very similar to Transition Towns, but with a funky wrapping and a load of extraneous noise.

There is no macro plan just micro how to act... will this change anything? Who knows, but it addresses more of the "there is no society" issue than anything else.

(I've not read his book, but have read a couple of extracts and the editorial in the New Statesman, plus lots of the echos/reviews)

Sorry to add to this thread, but I thought your pee was getting cold on the other one!

Prof. Feeney

The author is misinformed, Brand is a weapon against anti-intellectualism

Ersatz Fidei

Interesting perspective prof. Feeney.
My idea that he represents a "Fetish" in the religio-artistic sense, would make the possibility of him being "a weapon" or perhaps more accurately a tool to be wielded by certain interests, likely.
By anti-intellectualism do you mean the bigotry and politics of fear by UKIP et al?


Hey, chris, I love this blog, you've inspired me to one day study 'economics' and maths, when I have the money of course, so that I can understand in depth what you and your prefered bloggers write. I also watch russell brand's 'the truews', and so should you...it's not too beneath you. In fact, while I too rue the obsession with this 'celebocracy' culture I also appreciate people who are earnest, which in this case would be Mr Brand. While the spotlight does focus on he/she who can shout loudest, passing over more deserved observers like yourself, I also know that this article of yours was a waste of time, i.e. you probably get your info on him from the media at large...which with Mr Brand is a school-boy mistake. Go on, watch the 'truews', his you tube channel, if you can. You'll realise that the guy's not even that irritating and that he will often give a coherent analysis....otherwise, your criticism would just be a case of churlishness. anyhow, any articles regarding Brazil would be much appreciated.
Keep it up, one day I'm going to understand that economics lark completely.


Ok, here's some mean thoughts.

Chris is jealous. As are quite a few other folks on "the left". Nothing like someone "on your side" who has none of your effort or education getting all the attention for doing what you percieve to be a very poor version of making your own point.

The guy is sloppy, but he's getting the word out there. Coach him that the nihilistic (e.g. no voting) bits are not helpful, but encourage hime to continue with both hands.

None of this is a purity contest, so take the help where you can get it and try to make it better.

Back in my grad school days, someone would have doubtless done up a paper on how Brand's various forms of "ickiness" (just what that is composed of depends on one's POV) is all a part of his power in the "ugliness of the other"; proletarian, bougie, whatever (again, POV...).

Perfect is the enemy of good, and just getting past awful is a huge improvement in the state of the world. Brand's challenge to the "elite", which includes everyone reading here, is (also) to come to grips with its own prissiness. As someone wrote else-thread, the elite often loathes its own common-man constituencies when confronted with them close-up.

Deal with it and get back to the work.

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