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VINE VOICEon 14 November 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The central argument of Making Capitalism Fit for Society is that it is time for social democracy to promote its benefits more assertively in the face of what Crouch sees as the growing ascendancy of free-market neoliberalism.

Crouch has some interesting things to say about neoliberalism, the most interesting of which is that the reality of neoliberal politics (I think we can take it that Crouch has the USA particularly in mind) is not, actually, neo-liberalism.

Crouch identifies three kinds of neoliberalism. The first,'pure' neo-liberalism, seeks to establish perfect markets in all areas of life; the role of the state is limited but important, focussing on protecting property rights and ensuring that there is genuine competition in the markets which increasingly are relied on to deliver all of society's needs. The second form accepts that market forces in their pure form are not appropriate for delivering certain public goods or for dealing with 'externalities'(the unintended by-products of free market behaviour, such as pollution, for which the unregulated polluter may not pay the full 'social' cost). The third form is what, Crouch argues, currently passes for 'neoliberalism' in practice, but is in fact a kind of plutocracy, because huge amounts of wealth and power have been accrued by large corporations and a few individuals, the effect of which is to create 'a politicized economy very remote from what economists understand by a neoliberal economy.'

'Once it engages in politics,' Crouch argues a little later in the book, 'neoliberal economics loses its innocence.'

His argument against the ability of markets to run every aspect of our lives are, essentially and familiarly, that there is seldom sufficient competition or information to create the conditions necessary for a perfect market and, as mentioned earlier, that markets are bad at delivering public goods and at dealing with negative externalities.

Crouch is interesting on the subject of the growing tendency to outsource public services to private companies, by way of example. In fact, he argues, very few organisations are involved in tendering for these services, and the main field of expertise of the successful companies is their knowledge of how to win government contracts. Such contracts then typically run for a substantial period of time, since it would be disruptive to change providers too often. The result is an effective monopoly, and there is an inevitable tendency to re-appoint the established incumbent when the contract is up for renewal. Not very 'free market' at all, then. Private contractors are more able to pay very low wages than the state, for which this is politically difficult, allowing proponents to argue that the outsourcing has lowered costs to the benefit of the public. But the state often ends up subsidising these low wages through tax credits and other subsidies paid for by the tax payer. It is uncertain, argues Crouch, that such outsourced services are genuinely more cost-efficient than a state-run service.

Crouch is, of course, on especially strong ground when discussing the effects of limited or absent regulation on financial markets. We've all seen where that led, and we've all helped to pick up the tab for the bankers who made themselves extremely rich by taking excessive risks, threatening the global economy and requiring a publically funded bail-out. I also liked Crouch's highlighting of the fact that the conditions imposed by the European Union, the IMF and the OECD when bailing out failed economies - such as Greece - tend to insist on the kind of unregulated, free labour markets that do not actually exist in reality in other, non-failed economies.

Crouch suggests that neoliberalism is a 'one size fits all' solution, based in essence on the role of corporations and the maximisation of shareholder value, whereas social democracy can embrace and encourage a far healthier variety of solutions: mutualism, cooperatives and the funding of enterprises by (ideally small) banks rather than by the stock market, a form of funding that was common when the industrial revolution was catching hold in nineteenth-century Britain.

Crouch's philosophy is summed up by his call for 'widespread use of markets where possible and useful, but a willingness to check, regulate and offset their effects where they threaten to destroy some widely shared goals and values.' It hard to argue with that (unless, of course, you are a neoliberal of the first kind).

It is a little ironic that Crouch himself acknowledges that social democrats can be seen as fitting into the category of 'neoliberalism of the second kind', which leaves one wondering whether we are indeed 'all neoliberals now' after all, in which case Crouch's argument for the desperate need for `assertive social democracy' would seem a little Quixotic: social democracy is alive and well, and disguised as a form of neoliberalism. And I suspect, in fact, that many neoliberals (especially 'neoliberals of the third kind') would argue that we are, in fact (and unhappily so, as they would see it) actually 'all social democrats now.'

The book is not an easy read - not in the sense that the concepts are difficult to grasp, but in the sense that Crouch, perhaps inevitably, does tend to assume that the reader is just as enthralled by the detail of the argument as he himself is, and his writing style tends towards the academic. I did find my mind wandering on several occasions - to such interesting topics as `those windows are a bit dirty; I really should give them a good clean.'

Crouch is a heavyweight sociologist and political scientist, and this book will make an important contribution to the debate which will be mainly held, one imagines, between political scientists, economists, policy makers and people made of sterner political stuff than I.

One final comment: Crouch does tend to write about 'us' and 'them'; he implies that 'people' need to be defended, not just against unfettered market forces, but against business in general, which is implied to be rapacious, immoral and untrustworthy. It is not impossible to hope that corporations - which are led, managed and staffed by 'us' - will, as seems to be happening, become increasingly conscious of their social obligations and even a force for good. Crouch does talk about other, better forms of organisational structure, but it seems a little old-fashioned to argue that the classic shareholder-owned corporation is, in effect, inherently malicious. To give an example of Crouch's apparent stance: 'Of course general product advertising does much to give giant corporations a popular friendly image that they would not enjoy if the public saw them just as vast accumulations of wealth and power.'
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VINE VOICEon 11 November 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I approached this book in the spirit of something that I ought to read, rather than wanting so to do. The book was a pleasant surprise, in that it is written in a style that, whilst professorial and measured, never loses the average reader (me!!).

Professor Crouch writes from an unashamedly left of centre position, but is far from the old idea of the raving 'Trot' academic. He explains clearly, and I think in a fairly unconfrontational way, where we are politically and how we got here. He concentrates, but not exclusively, on the UK and seems to instinctively know when to push on at speed and where greater explanation is required. I found that I could understand every concept after a single reading - and I am certainly no financial wizz-kid!

Where the book is a little more fuzzy, is in the strategies needed to move to a fair society now that the Labour Party has renounced the old socialist propositions of state ownership of the means of production. Again, I would be surprised if many people would argue the fact that, whilst a level of common sense from the Labour Party is welcome, the headlong rush into a congested middle ground, where one party looks much like another, is something to be regretted. Many people feel disenfranchised and the number of voters falls with each fresh election.

The one concept which I (remember, a fiscal ignoramus) would have liked to see tackled, is the possibility that Capitalism is simply running out of time: this is an almost taboo topic and, whenever I try to raise it, it seems that the stock reaction is to shout it down as proof that I am a Communist (I AM NOT!!!) Capitalism has not been an ever present state of human life and, I see no reason why it should last for ever, however, this is not broached and so, I shall get off my soap box.

This book is well worth the read, whether your political persuasion is to the left, right or totally apathetic. Colin Crouch has written a book that, were everyone to read it, the discussion of our future could be held upon a higher plain than it is currently.
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This is an excellent book, and very readable despite some rather professorial terminology, not unexpected from a professor I suppose. The wording Crouch mainly uses describes polar alternatives called `neoliberalism' and `socialism'. Where neoliberalism is concerned I could not really claim that they speak of little else in my town, and it more or less equates to the way Crouch uses the term `capitalism', which is at least a word in general use, however vague the popular usage often is. We are to imagine `pure' capitalist and `pure' socialist economic schemes, and Crouch argues expertly for what he calls social democracy, this being a market-based economy that also features social provision and market regulation.

I hope Crouch's terminology doesn't get in the way of his message, but it might. Pure market economies and pure socialist economies are pure abstractions in my own opinion. I don't believe anyone has believed in state-controlled economies since the heady early visions of Mao were reduced to parody by the childish western fun-revolutionaries of the late 60's and early 70's. In China itself Deng's `socialism with Chinese characteristics' is nearly all Chinese characteristics and next to no socialism so far as I can see; and even in North Korea some sharp-eyed commentators have spotted that the official vocabulary is focusing more on the cult of the Kim dynasty and soft-pedalling the `communist' or `socialist' bit. Crouch identifies three types of neoliberalism, but in practice it is always the selective kind. In Britain we have a blatantly rigged market, he is not alone in observing, with corporations, politicians and civil servants in cahoots. In America purist critics of the bailout given to the banks by the state (who else?) usually waited until it had been safely delivered.

Behind his academic verbiage the professor has got the basic point, more important than any other, nailed on p45 where he says that neoliberalism is a political movement. Economics is a branch of politics abusing techniques of sociology, in my opinion. When market enthusiasts and aficionados argue for some supposed inevitability of their pet ideas, don't believe them. When it is pointed out that their policies involve a transfer of wealth and the power and influence that wealth brings with it from the poor to the rich that is because they want it that way and are trying to fix it that way. There are certainly inherent tendencies in society that take economies in that direction, but don't believe that there is no alternative or that we just have to lie back and enjoy it.

Other key elements of the core message are expressed simply and memorably in this book. `Politically managed competition' (as in Britain) is a good phrase, and so is the statement on the following page that `capital is frequently able to demand a secure rate of return, throwing the risk on to the other participants'. Two statements on p159 are worth quoting in extenso, and they are `Political parties ...find it easy to identify internal opponents of the common good when these latter are weak and unable to fight back, such as immigrants, or people dependent on benefits.' And also `it has become possible again to talk about the problem of inequalities, and to criticise the behaviour of banks, private firms delivering public services and other corporate interests. This provides an opportunity to dismount neoliberalism from its dominance of public debate, and demonstrate how individual ends often need to use collective means.' I also liked the neat swipe Crouch takes at soi-disant opponents of the EU in the British Conservative party who enjoy being able to appoint Commissioners and then bewail such Commissioners' lack of democratic accountability.

On p188 comes the important perception that neoliberalism is too intellectual to mobilise masses, but that it can be popularised with slogans about individual freedom. Crouch perceives clearly what the corresponding, and more serious, problem is for social democracy - where are the masses it can appeal to? The British Labour Party was founded in 1906 to represent the broad mass of labour, mainly at that time and until the 1950's manual industrial labour. These days the Labour Party is reduced to trying to pick up votes where it can. These are largely protest votes, and sadly its supplementary constituency of middle-class citizens with a disinterested concern for the underprivileged looks likely to remain a small one. The task is to establish some kind of dominant social democratic coalition, and I suspect that the way to do that in the shorter term is to go negative in our public relations; and let me say clearly that this is further than Professor Crouch goes. To me, that is something that might almost be thought a shortcoming of this generally excellent book.

Crouch distinguishes between defensive and assertive social democracy, and I would like to see more assertiveness and less fatalism, particularly on the last page of all. Where the professor has been wise is in hardly using the term 'left' at all, because it helps our opponents by suggesting some nebulous threat in the minds of the unthinking. (I guess I might call this a negative virtue). What can unite differing strands of opposition to any oligarchy these days is modern communications. We see people spilling the beans on the internet with increasing frequency, and with a bit of organising and marshalling this could be focused into a permanent spotlight on what is going on. Occupy Wall Street lacked any such management, but a good deal could be learned from Private Eye, I suspect. How effectively the vocabulary can be turned in favour of the enlightenment can be easily seen from the accepted taboo on racist and sexist comment. Self-concern and a sense of victimisation is another glaring vulnerability among the oligarchs, and the changing demographic of the USA must keep them awake at nights. What if labour, following capital, could organise itself internationally? There's a thought.

Revolutions happen when enough people have just had enough, regardless of economic theories.
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on 22 October 2013
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
After reading The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism, and enjoying it so much, I was really thinking I was going to enjoy this book. Initially, I did. The first chapter is extremely well written and witty. Crouch is at his best when debunking the pronouncements of neoliberals, and pointing out that what they say and what they do are two entirely different things. I laughed out loud at parts of this chapter---you can read it for free by previewing the book.

Chapter 2 might just as well have been written by another author. It is dull, in content and presentation. Unfortunately, things don't improve as you progress through the book. To make matters worse, at one stage Crouch point at a better book, What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets to make his point, and gives examples from that book to illustrate that a totally unfettered market is a Bad Thing. I would go away and read Sandel's book at this stage.

It is clear enough after Chapter 1 that markets solve some problems but not all problems in the economy. Unfettered markets occasionally need to be rescuing, at huge cost to a country, and the rescue leaves the beneficiaries better off. Think of Northern Rock. Investors there had benefited from high interest rates for years, but the rescue did not take anything away from their profits, it just guaranteed future profits for them, paid for by those who had not benefited from Northern Rock profits for all those years. The beneficiaries of bad securities had already taken their earnings in astronomical salaries and bonuses when the false markets they had created collapsed. The bankers had paid themselves high salaries and bonuses for years; none of that was paid back when their banks folded.

So, Crouch doesn't need to justify himself by writing this book. We heard you the first time, Colin, and agree with you! "We" were not living beyond our means, we let "them" do that.
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on 9 January 2014
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Colin Crouch has long been a critic of Neoliberalism and this book of course, cannot avoid an analysis of the free-market ethos that underpins the dominant ideology of our current times. What he does in this book is develop from that critique in his characteristically accessible but still intellectually astute style, viable alternatives to a system we have been told repeated for over thirty years, There Is No Alternative to, when of course, there most certainly is.

I guess in some ways this book could be seen as trying to reassert social democratic principles back into the socio-economic sphere but I think Crouch is recognising the limitations of this and although not discounting the possibilities of capitalism to adapt to new systems [and why not, because for all it's faults, capitalism is fundamentally dynamic and adaptable], a radical new way to economically organise ourselves on a global scale now beckons. In that way the ideas being developed in the area of 'market socialism' may well be the most vital. This book however is an important step in the right direction as these alternatives are now being seriously discussed and developed, and an essential read for those interested in the potential our society has to improve both politically and economically.
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Opening from the left, Colin Crouch's compact work argues persuasively that the current political landscape is unjustly defensive of income equality. IT is a whistlestop tour of capitalism, and in a measured way, its relative strengths and weaknesses. Not for him, the condemnation of "The Corporation", but a naunced approach that understands the needs of the market, and the the facts that in a purely freemarket economy many of the things that do not generate profit would not exist.

The chapters are logically and intuitatively structured, flowing into the each with a narrative structure, recognising the practical world we live in, and offering - whilst not exactly a solution - a ray of light and hope in the sometimes bleak world. It is easily written, identifying both the situation, the types of liberalism and capitalism, and identifying a way for the future. Whether it is the path this world takes, is another matter.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 13 January 2014
'But there are gains from just having a large supply of people who have been trained to think and use their minds intelligently as they are the source of the innovation and initiative that can be used to improve performance every day in any job in any sector,' believe it or not the author is referring to the welfare state here.

Even without reading the whole book I know Colin Crouch is not going to explore the world and how it would be if everyone was included in society and its promotions. Even the 'trained' have to be allowed.

There is a danger of analysing words without considering each human person. Everyone is important. Yet saying this is outrageous. You can't tinker with the machine. You can only make it work for you. Inertia is what happens when individuals are not allowed to be promoted. When only sublimation rules, the machine is not improved. It is then easily overtaken by events.
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on 5 July 2014
Rather, it explains the different forms of capitalism and overviews the pros as well as the cons of the system. It presents in a very clear way how certain forms of capitalism and regulation can work together to improve society. I find it refreshing to read a book that proposes to make capitalism work for people rather than trying to overhaul everything.

BEWARE - this book has DRM (Digital rights management). This implies restrictions as to how you can use this content. For example, I cannot read this book on devices other than my Kindle (e.g. my netbook or my PC) because I cannot convert the book to a format (e.g. PDF) that is recognized by devices other than my Kindle. If the Kindle is discontinued or future Kindles are not backward-compatible, my Kindle ebook library is totally screwed.
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on 19 October 2013
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Colin Crouch's new book follows on from his previous Post-democracy and The Strange Non-Death of Neo-Liberalism. The latter, in particular, analysed how Neoliberalism has managed to survive, indeed thrive, even in these times of financial crisis. It went on to propose how a defence could be mounted against the privations of this all-conquering 'One True Faith' but, as he acknowledges at the start of this book, his proposals lacked any real concrete agenda, relying on a rather nebulous 'civil society'. In this volume, not only does Professor Crouch strengthen and deepen his analysis of the global dominance of Neoliberalism, he also comes up with a much clearer set of pathways and objectives to finding a way between the Scylla and Charybdis of actually existing (and failed) state socialism and the total corporate dominance of the global agenda.

To start with, Professor Crouch identifies three forms of Neoliberals. These are:

'...[P]ure neoliberals, who believe that society will be at its best when the conditions of perfect markets can be achieved in all areas of life...This does not imply a weak state; it is strong in protecting property rights, extending the role of markets to ever further areas and guaranteeing competition.' (P23-4)

'...[T]hose who, while accepting the value and priority of markets in the economy, are aware of their limitations and deficiencies, in particular their inability to cope with externalities and public goods. They also believe that the market is not appropriate in some areas of life and wish to protect these from it.' (P24)

'...'actually existing' neoliberalism, which refers to the amalgam of corporate lobbying of governments and the deployment of corporate and other private wealth in politics that today usually accompanies introduction of the neoliberal agenda.' (P24)

The first sounds to me very much like classic Austrian or Hayekian neoliberalism.

The second, while accepting the basic tenets of Neoliberalism, see its almost viral-like spread as essentially corruptive - Michael Sandel's 'What Money Can't Buy: The Moral Limits of Markets' springs very much to mind, especially with its emphasis on 'moral limits'.

The third is, as Professor Crouch states, pretty much what we have got. It is perhaps at its most overt in the US (see, for example, Thomas Frank's excellent discussion of the power of corporate lobbyists in Washington. A current example would be the debacle over the 'Affordable Care Act', opposition to which has been largely funded by the Koch brothers).

Professor Crouch takes the second position. A free market is the best way yet devised to avoid the pitfalls of an over-arching and all-powerful state. However, an all-conquering free market almost by definition leads to the loss of competition, the emergence of cartels and (along with globalisation) corporatocracy, oligarchy, kleptocracy etc. It is only by the development of a strong social democratic movement can a balance be made between the demands of individual and corporate 'freedom'.

Clearly, this approach risks being seen as a 'middle way', New Labour's 'Third Way', as compromise, as essentially defensive. But Professor Crouch strongly rejects this defensive posture, instead developing his ideas into what he terms an 'assertive social democracy' - asserting the rights of those who work within, and who may fall victim to, a rigorous utilitarian free market (and its guiding 'invisible hand') and a burgeoning and manipulative corporate transnational Neoliberalism.

This is an almost wholly convincing approach. Somehow, he largely manages to avoid the vaguely religious/spiritual proselytising of writers such as Roberto Unger, the Skidelskys and Jeffrey Sachs in favour of a reformulation of social democracy as 'The Highest Form of Liberalism' (P134). He can, like Guy Standing, actually call for greater commoditisation as a way of getting employers to pay a true and fair price for labour, by putting a price on the negative externalities caused by industry and by enforcing the 'rules of the game'. But Professor Crouch does not following Standing in proposing a 'basic income', preferring instead the flawed but still suggestive 'flexicurity' systems developed in Denmark and the Netherlands - providing a high degree of income security and opportunities for personal development (training etc.) as a counter-balance to the employment 'flexibility' (read 'hire and fire') demanded by a fast-moving global free market. This does sound a bit like Roberto Unger's view that the European left:

'...has retreated to the last ditch defence of a high level of social entitlements giving up one by one many of its most distinctive traits, both good and bad. The ideologists of this retreat have tried to disguise it as a synthesis between European-style social protection and American-style economic flexibility.' (P172)

But Professor Crouch, by emphasising the 'assertive' nature of his social democratic model (and its roots in the very neoliberalism it proposes to both sustain and ameliorate) avoids, to my mind, both Unger's critique and the critique levelled at Unger by Zizek, in that Crouch is not denying the 'underlying Real of capitalism' but is seeking a way to couple this Real with the Real of the human social animal. As an aside, it has been pointed out by many that so much of the supposed inventiveness and innovation of the free market is based on the 'pure' research carried out, or at least paid for, by governments - the Internet, the World Wide Web, discovery of DNA, many pharmaceutical breakthroughs, IT and advances in microchips etc. etc. etc.

There are many, many dangers ahead. The current crisis is giving rise not just to greater pressure from corporate lobbyists, but to xenophobic and racist right-wing movements, from the Golden Dawn party in Greece, to the apparently more socially and politically acceptable face of UKIP in the U.K. Professor Crouch suggests that, in the case of these right-wing parties:

'...neoliberalism wants unfettered global markets; if mass populations are engaged in mutual suspicion and intolerance, they are also unlikely to accept the transnational regimes that are the only institutions that might regulate these markets.' (P4)

Apart from reading virtually like a definition of UKIP, this also points out the crucial importance of transnational organisations in the development of a new 'assertive social democracy'. As Professor Crouch later suggests, in relation to the EU:

'The most straightforward means of democratizing the EU and encouraging parties and governments to work constructively would be a formally very simple rule that said that the Commission should be elected by the European Parliament and not nominated by member states. That would transform the Commission into being a government of Europe and would lead parties of all kinds to develop serious cross-national programmes and to take elections seriously.' (P187)

Professor Crouch knows perfectly well that this is not going to happen as national governments are not going to give up their power to appoint commissioners, but, as he suggests, it is important to 'place the simple proposal on the agenda, as without that it will never even be debated.' (P187)

This short book is packed with ideas, with practical proposals, with clear insights and with a degree of theoretical underpinning which, although I do not agree with 100% (being a bit of an old Marxist), I am sufficiently a 'left libertarian' (whatever that is) to feel a huge amount of sympathy with. O.k. people - this is What Needs To Be Done - let's get on with it.
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on 16 January 2014
Format: Paperback|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Don't know about you, but I think the current Tory government (I'm choosing to ignore the Lib Dem part of the coalition) are doing a pretty good job of making capitalism fit for modern society in the UK.

A drinking friend - and former work colleague - who is a card-carrying leftie and union rep. bangs on all the time about the perils of capitalism and how it produces superfluous consumer goods, and blah, blah, blah... He never produces a realistic alternative of course - because all communist and marxist regimes have never been anything else other than an utter betrayal of the citizens they are meant to serve. I also point out that if he feels so strongly about the issue he should go to live in North Korea and see if his opinion changes.

Anyway, capitalism is surely the way ahead (Russia and the former East Germany obviously believe so), and this book offers palatable measures to make it more acceptable to hypocritical left wingers everywhere.

An interesting read.
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