David Halpern's aim in this book is to argue that for decades there has been too much focus on economic growth and not enough attention paid to the alternative 'economy of respect.' To those who've been following politics and policy, the shift of attention towards social capital, well-being or happiness, and co-production of services will come as little new. Halpern does, however, do a good job of connecting a lot of different dots to form one larger - if not entirely clear - picture.
I ordered this book because I'm a lecturer in political philosophy. I found its subject interesting, particularly on fairness and participation, but few of the ideas were new to me - I'm already familiar, for example, with proposals for stakeholder grants (Ackerman) and deliberative opinion polling (Fishkin). It's true that this is a book that seeks to go beyond blue skies ideas to policy implementation, but sadly I found it lacking in this respect. The information about exactly what's been tried and found to work is patchy - many of the policy recommendations simply seem to be Halpern's personal preferences. Sadly, this seems to be a general failing of the book. For an academic book on this subject, the notes and references are few. Some of Halpern's assertions are backed by citations, but quite often he simply asserts the existence of evidence for some recommendation without directing the reader to its whereabouts.
Perhaps its unfair to apply rigorous academic standards to such a work, obviously written for a wider audience. Maybe this book has value, if it serves to popularise some of the ideas it reproduces, but I doubt it will reach a particularly wide audience. There are plenty of graphs and tables, supposedly providing empirical evidence for a number of points, but they're rarely explained. And if you don't have a clue what Halpern's alluding to when he refers, for example, to Burkean ideas of representation then you're likely to be lost at times.
I'd consider myself left-wing and sympathetic to many of Halpern's arguments. I did learn something from this book and its has encouraged me to think about how the state should, for example, strive to prevent crime before it happens, rather than tackling it after the fact, and how political interventions can best be targeted. However, I didn't find this book as satisfying as I would have liked. It flits around between many seemingly unrelated themes, all somehow part of the 'hidden wealth' never clearly defined. Moreover, despite being a Labour sympathiser, I found Halpern's frequent references to his time working for Blair grating. It seems to me that much of this work is an attempt at self-justification for Blairite policies. Maybe they were indeed on the right track, but I'd want to hear that from someone impartial, rather than someone responsible for devising them.
Overall, while there are some good insights in here, I found it disappointing. Now, it's questionable whether I'm really in the target market. I certainly have an interest in politics and policy and a progressive mindset, so I'd have thought so. Perhaps though my disappointment lies largely in the fact that little here is new to me and that it doesn't live up to scholarly standards. Perhaps, for the politically interested layperson, this would be a more informative and interesting read and translate some of the abstract political theory into an implementable policy agenda.