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The Return of the Public
The Return of the Public
by Dan Hind
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £14.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious About Democracy?, 11 July 2013
Dan Hinds position is straightforward: actually existing democracy, particularly in the neo-liberal era, is crippled by the lack of opportunity for an informed Public to emerge and take an active role in social, political and economic policy. The current dispensation in the world of the media has been remarkably deficient in delivering the facts about the contemporary world to Public notice.

The content of the modern media is for the most part a diet of celebrity slop, lifestyle trivia, mendacious advertisements, regurgitated PR releases, in short a plethora of pointlessness. Bad enough one might think, until one considers the treatment given to important issues in the social, political and economic spheres. Here Hind makes the salient point that a media that in large part connived with the Invasion of Iraq in 2003; has provided a more or less congenial climate for thirty odd years of neo-liberal political economy and signally failed to spot the 2007-8 Financial crisis coming; signally "forgot" that the ongoing economic crisis originated in the private sector and, with a unity that would impress the North Korean dictatorship, declared it to be a problem of government spending and debt (see Kushner & Kushner's Who Needs the Cuts?: Myths of the Economic Crisis); and finally act as cheerleaders for the coalitions assault on the remnants of Britain's monument to a civilised society: the post-1945 Welfare State, has ill served the British Public.

The reasons for these failings are structural. In brief - large corporations control the majority of the media, and the media reflects the interests of the owners. The formulation of policy is regarded as a decidedly elite sport, from which the plebs must be firmly excluded, though once policy has been decided they are subjected to the deception and distortions, fairy tales and fallacies that always go hand in hand with injustice. At the end of the process, our leaders hoped to have manufactured a degree of legitimacy, or more likely a mute and hardly enthusiastic acceptance, for policies that are frequently damaging to the Public at large.

Hind's solution to this impasse is to cut out the middlemen and make the Public the commissioning editor. In his hypothesis a relatively small sum of money would be put in the hands of the Public, who would consider proposals by journalists for investigations, then vote for the investigations they would like to see carried out. The resulting stories would be made available, including to the existing corporate media for a fee, or perhaps - after a further round of voting - they would be compelled to print them. As the process matured so the sum of money available for Public Commissioning would increase, and an alternative to a system of media production that has demonstrably and repeatedly failed the Public would emerge. The Public would begin, step by step, to collectively create a representation of the world that chimed with reality, and be empowered to move onto the political stage and have an informed say in the policies by which they are governed.

The strengths of "The Return of the Public" are considerably greater than my short summary of Hind's arguments allows. Beyond the wonderfully dry wit is a first-rate writer and thinker who writes a comfortable and coherent prose about Democracy and Power, the proper role of the Public, as well as the historical thinking behind concepts of a Public and its proper role in the affairs of state. It also provides a coherent blue print for a good part of any halfway decent progressive and democratic parties media policy. A thoroughly stimulating and utterly essential work.


The Return of the Public: Democracy, Power and the Case for Media Reform
The Return of the Public: Democracy, Power and the Case for Media Reform
by Dan Hind
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.98

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Serious About Democracy?, 11 July 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Dan Hinds position is straightforward: actually existing democracy, particularly in the neo-liberal era, is crippled by the lack of opportunity for an informed Public to emerge and take an active role in social, political and economic policy. The current dispensation in the world of the media has been remarkably deficient in delivering the facts about the contemporary world to Public notice.

The content of the modern media is for the most part a diet of celebrity slop, lifestyle trivia, mendacious advertisements, regurgitated PR releases, in short a plethora of pointlessness. Bad enough one might think, until one considers the treatment given to important issues in the social, political and economic spheres. Here Hind makes the salient point that a media that in large part connived with the Invasion of Iraq in 2003; has provided a more or less congenial climate for thirty odd years of neo-liberal political economy and signally failed to spot the 2007-8 Financial crisis coming; signally "forgot" that the ongoing economic crisis originated in the private sector and, with a unity that would impress the North Korean dictatorship, declared it to be a problem of government spending and debt (see Kushner & Kushner's Who Needs the Cuts?: Myths of the Economic Crisis); and finally act as cheerleaders for the coalitions assault on the remnants of Britain's monument to a civilised society: the post-1945 Welfare State, has ill served the British Public.

The reasons for these failings are structural. In brief - large corporations control the majority of the media, and the media reflects the interests of the owners. The formulation of policy is regarded as a decidedly elite sport, from which the plebs must be firmly excluded, though once policy has been decided they are subjected to the deception and distortions, fairy tales and fallacies that always go hand in hand with injustice. At the end of the process, our leaders hoped to have manufactured a degree of legitimacy, or more likely a mute and hardly enthusiastic acceptance, for policies that are frequently damaging to the Public at large.

Hind's solution to this impasse is to cut out the middlemen and make the Public the commissioning editor. In his hypothesis a relatively small sum of money would be put in the hands of the Public, who would consider proposals by journalists for investigations, then vote for the investigations they would like to see carried out. The resulting stories would be made available, including to the existing corporate media for a fee, or perhaps - after a further round of voting - they would be compelled to print them. As the process matured so the sum of money available for Public Commissioning would increase, and an alternative to a system of media production that has demonstrably and repeatedly failed the Public would emerge. The Public would begin, step by step, to collectively create a representation of the world that chimed with reality, and be empowered to move onto the political stage and have an informed say in the policies by which they are governed.

The strengths of "The Return of the Public" are considerably greater than my short summary of Hind's arguments allows. Beyond the wonderfully dry wit is a first-rate writer and thinker who writes a comfortable and coherent prose about Democracy and Power, the proper role of the Public, as well as the historical thinking behind concepts of a Public and its proper role in the affairs of state. It also provides a coherent blue print for a good part of any halfway decent progressive and democratic parties media policy. A thoroughly stimulating and utterly essential work.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Nov 17, 2014 9:09 PM GMT


Dirty Wars: The world is a battlefield (Wellcome)
Dirty Wars: The world is a battlefield (Wellcome)
by Jeremy Scahill
Edition: Paperback
Price: £14.18

32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murder Inc International, 18 May 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Journalist, Jeremy Scahill, author of the best selling expose of leading mercenary corporation Blackwater, has in his sights a somewhat larger prey in "Dirty Wars": namely the series of Covert Wars the United States has run in parallel with its more overt ones in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11.

The book begins by looking at precedents and experiences of U.S. covert operations and wars in the post-Vietnam War era, particular regard is giving to the Reagan administrations attempts to subvert the restrictions congress placed on its ability to act covertly in Central America, during which not a few of the figures in the Bush II administration (eg. John Negroponte) gained experience that would be put to chilling effect in years to come (see Greg Grandin's Empire's Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism for a detailed look at the continuity between Reagan's Central/Latin American warriors and the Bush II years). The attacks of September 11th 2001 are of course the turning point - the "Pearl Harbour" moment that the Neo-Cons have waited for arrives with a bang - all sorts of plans are dusted off and put into action: from augmenting the power of the presidency at the expense of congressional oversight (restricted after the debacle of the Vietnam War and the Nixon administration), the curtailing of freedoms (from torture, illegal imprisonment, the right to due process, freedom of information) in the name of national security, to the launching of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (which had approximately zero to do with the on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon). The two personalities in the Bush II administration that Scahill focuses on are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld (see Andrew Cockburn's excellent Rumsfeld: An American Disaster for a fine summary of Rumsfeld's career). Both played a critical role in pushing forward the military solution in response to the attacks of 9/11 - an expansive military response that was eventually to regard the world as a battlefield where U.S. forces can go anywhere, at anytime, to conduct operations, regardless of issues of sovereignty, human rights or international law.

So beyond the disastrous wars in Afghanistan (now well into its thirteenth year) and Iraq the American military and the C.I.A. moved to conducting covert operations in a growing list of countries. The two which Scahill particularly focuses on are Somalia and Yemen. He makes a convincing case that American actions in both countries were destabilising: for example in Somalia the US used Warlords to implement its program of capturing and assassinating alleged al-Qaeda operatives, in reality providing them with the means to create increasing levels murder and mayhem, and the context for a largely indigenous Islamic backlash in the form of the Islamic Courts Union, which the United States - in cahoots with Ethiopia - consequently attacks; this in turn creates space for the most radical elements of the I.C.U. - Al Shahab - who have links with Al Qaeda to come to the fore, thus creating an excuse for more intervention, more drone and special ops forces attacks, and more deaths... This is the disaster of American intervention. It is not only countries but individuals that are radicalised: the case of the American Anwar Awlaki is interwoven with the larger tale of institutions, governments and wars: over the course of "Dirty Wars" he changes from a Muslim who plays the part of an interlocutor between Islam and America, who condemned the attacks of 9/11 in mainstream U.S. media to one who - after spending time in a Yemeni jail at U.S. request - is alleged to have become an active member of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (albeit in the realm of propaganda) and is eventually - despite being an American citizen - murdered in a drone attack. Unaccountably and with no explanation, his 16 year old son, along with a number of his young cousins, are murdered in a further drone attack a number of weeks later.

Scahill covers the change from Bush to Obama (see Tariq Ali's The Obama Syndrome: Surrender At Home, War Abroad for an excellent short review of the Obama phenomena towards the end of his first term). His argument that there was a great deal of continuity between the two administrations is convincing, as is his point that the Obama administration carried the logic of covert actions and the doctrine of a world-wide battlefield against "terrorism" further than the Bush II administration, for example there were more drone strikes in the first year of the Obama than in all the years of Bush. Other subjects covered include an account of the assassination of Bin Laden; the formation of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula; covert operations in Iraq and Afghanistan (which eventually spread to Pakistan); the infighting and jurisdictional turf wars between different American military/foreign policy institutions such as the CIA/State department and the Special Operations Forces/Defence department; the torture regimes (Guantanamo/Abu Ghraib and so on including the lesser known base at Baghdad airport where special ops forces conducted torture) as well as the extraordinary rendition (polite terms for kidnap followed by outsourced torture) program; and the Night Raids in Afghanistan and Iraq, often the fruit of flawed intelligence which caused the deaths of innocents and further ratcheted up hostility towards the U.S. among the people of both countries.

In "Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield" Jeremy Scahill has shown himself to an accomplished journalist and writer, he has collated his own original work along with a great deal of work from other writers, to create what must surely be the best single volume of material on the American Global War on "Terror". It has some limitations despite 520 pages of text, in particular geographically where coverage is concentrated on Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan with occasional forays into neighbouring countries but no coverage of for example American actions in the Philippines, or other locations in the far east. Otherwise this is a fantastic book, that sheds a great deal of light on the murderous and murky world of Covert Actions as conducted by the United States in the post 9/11 era that I wouldn't hesitate to recommend.


Power Systems: Conversations with David Barsamian on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
Power Systems: Conversations with David Barsamian on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
Price: £5.49

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chatting With Chomsky, 13 April 2013
"Power systems" is a collection of interviews by Alternative Radios David Barsamian with the veteran radical Noam Chomsky. Barsamian sets the loose parameters, and occasionally interjections into what are essentially talks by Noam Chomsky on matters of current (2nd April 2010 to 15th May 2012) concern.

Subjects covered within the eight short interviews include Barack Obamas continual poor record, the aftermath of the economic crisis, developments in the international sphere, the Occupy movement in the U.S., the Arab Spring, as well as some thoughts on the problems facing those organising for progressive change within the United States. One of the talks is a reasonably accessible excursion into the subject of Linguistics (Chomskys day job at M.I.T. for the last half century or so). It comes complete with end notes which, for those interested in looking into the issues raised in more detail, form the basis of an excellent further reading guide that brings to the readers attention a number of fine works such as Paul Masons Live Working or Die Fighting, General Smedley Butlers War Is A Racket and Ira Katznelsons When Affirmative Action Was White.

I found it an enjoyable and thought provoking read, although at 178 pages it is far from being one of Chomskys major works. The biggest drawback for me was that the publishers, Penguin books, saw fit to release it in a relatively expensive hardback edition rather than the cheap paperback format they used for 2012 book Occupy. Despite that shortcoming "Power Systems" is still definitely worth a read.


Power Systems: Conversations with David Barsamian on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
Power Systems: Conversations with David Barsamian on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to U.S. Empire
by Noam Chomsky
Edition: Hardcover

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Chatting With Chomsky, 13 April 2013
"Power systems" is a collection of interviews by Alternative Radios David Barsamian with the veteran radical Noam Chomsky. Barsamian sets the loose parameters, and occasionally interjections into what are essentially talks by Noam Chomsky on matters of current (2nd April 2010 to 15th May 2012) concern.

Subjects covered within the eight short interviews include Barack Obamas continual poor record, the aftermath of the economic crisis, developments in the international sphere, the Occupy movement in the U.S., the Arab Spring, as well as some thoughts on the problems facing those organising for progressive change within the United States. One of the talks is a reasonably accessible excursion into the subject of Linguistics (Chomskys day job at M.I.T. for the last half century or so). It comes complete with end notes which, for those interested in looking into the issues raised in more detail, form the basis of an excellent further reading guide that brings to the readers attention a number of fine works such as Paul Masons Live Working or Die Fighting, General Smedley Butlers War Is A Racket and Ira Katznelsons When Affirmative Action Was White.

I found it an enjoyable and thought provoking read, although at 178 pages it is far from being one of Chomskys major works. The biggest drawback for me was that the publishers, Penguin books, saw fit to release it in a relatively expensive hardback edition rather than the cheap paperback format they used for 2012 book Occupy. Despite that shortcoming "Power Systems" is still definitely worth a read.


The Great Tax Robbery: How Britain Became A Tax Haven For Fat Cats And Big Business
The Great Tax Robbery: How Britain Became A Tax Haven For Fat Cats And Big Business
by Richard Brooks
Edition: Paperback
Price: £12.99

12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're All in it Together My Arse, 31 Mar. 2013
While the coalition and their fellow travellers in the media hark on about structural deficits, the necessity of reforming (read: destroying) the already emaciated welfare state, and how over-taxing those poor souls earning £150K+ a year will bring ruin to the country, former tax inspector for Her Majesties Revenues & Customs (HMRC) and current Private Eye reporter Richard Brooks has been looking into the issue of taxation, in particular the levels of tax dodging by big, usually transnational business and obscenely rich individuals. The results of his investigations, informed by years of experience in Government, are collated together in "The Great Tax Robbery" and make extremely disturbing reading.

The opening chapter "Welcome to Tax Dodge City" with its series of graphs makes clear the dimensions of the problem, such as that during dozen years leading up to 2011 corporate profits have went up by over 50% but corporation tax receipts have been flat (and at a rate well below the headline rate of corporation tax). Over the same period the amount of corporation tax paid by small companies has increased from 15% of the total to 35% to the benefit of big (largely transnational) business. It also details the complete lack of correlation between tax rates and economic growth over time (in the UK) and across the OECD: in short the oft repeated canard that taxation will bring the economy to a grinding halt is to put it politely horses#!t.

The book goes on to explore how big business and wealthy individuals go about dodging taxation and looks into the four major accountancy firms which promote and arrange tax dodging (at the same time as profiting from government contracts); how the Public Private Partnerships, heartily embraced by the Blair/Brown government, have become a tax dodgers wet dream; the cosy relationship that grew up between HMRC and large business during the Blair era; how transfer pricing works; the links between the City of London and politicians from all parties, for instance 6 of the top 10 Tory donors make/made their money in the City; the fraudulent nature of coalition claims to be cracking down on tax dodging when in fact the exact opposite is happening; how the current tax regime warp the economy and privilege large corporations and the obscenely wealthy over smaller generally local businesses and ordinary working people.

One of the most disturbing revelations is the fact that individuals from companies that are clearly dodging taxes are being placed in positions to influence, if not write, new tax law and regulations. In a half way civilised society the facts revealed within would be a major and on-going scandal, instead we have occasional reporting that gives little idea of the whole picture. But what else can be expected from a media industry which is a member of the tax dodging fraternity itself?

Brooks puts the facts before the reader in a straightforward readable prose that is often dryly amusing, and has done well to describe the methods used by tax dodgers such as transfer pricing in a way that is comprehensible to the general reader. He also draws on a rich range of real world examples to illustrate his arguments. Overall this is a book I can hardly praise enough, one that deserves as wide a readership as possible and is indispensable to anyone interested in social justice or even just basic sense of decency. 110% Recommended.

An excellent companion volume to this book would be Nicholas Shasxson's Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World.


Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class
by Owen Jones
Edition: Paperback
Price: £9.48

28 of 40 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Review of Owen Jones "Chavs" From a Reviewer Who Read It!, 22 Mar. 2013
I would hazard a guess that Owen Jones "Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class" is one of the worst reviewed books on Amazon. I speak with particular regard to the 1 & 2-star reviews, of which the majority appear not to have read beyond the books title, made the assumption that Jones regards Working Class and Chavs to be the same thing, got themselves worked up into no-end of a frenzy, rushed to their computer to post an asinine negative review. Interestingly enough, if one counts up the amount of Amazon verified purchases of the book (thus far) only 6 out of the 33 one and two-star reviews are verified purchases (18%), with regard to the five-star reviews 39 out of 82 are Amazon verified purchases (48%). Though hardly scientific proof, this would appear to suggest that a good many of the one and two-star reviewers are no more likely to have read a copy of the book than pie in the sky.

Anyway, that's enough of reviewing the reviews, onto the actual book itself. Jones point is straightforward: the most frequent representations of the working classes in the mass media are that of the Chav type. He is not saying that this type does not exist, or that every working class person is a Chav. Simply that the main media representation is that of Chav type, and that this fact strongly flavours popular perspectives of the lower orders. It is that simple.

The rest of the book, using a mixture of examples, interviews with various politicians, academics and others, looks at how the lower orders (of which incidentally I am one) have become such a marginalised, underpaid, disparaged and misrepresented segment of our society. Not surprisingly, at least not to anyone with the slightest knowledge of post war history, in particular the last thirty-five or so years, it is the changes wrought by the Thatcher administrations, continued under Major, followed by Blair, Brown and with gusto by the Cameron-Clegg crowd. Simply put working class organisations, built up over the preceding two centuries have been under continuous attack, the industrial and mining sectors of the economy, which provided a high level of quality working class employment were destroyed with varying degrees of culpability: with regard to mining this was virtually 100% intentional. At the same time benefits for those unfortunate to be unemployed or ill have declined in value, decent job opportunities are available to fewer than ever, wages have failed to keep up with productivity, housing has become increasingly problematic: expensive rental sector or an expensive mortgage, or an ever shrinking and harder to enter social housing sector.

Though definitely not a great work of theory, or academic in nature, Jones is quite capable of using the statistical evidence to underline his points, and includes data on such things as the growing disparities in wealth, the lower proportion of GDP going to wages (as opposed to the increasing share going to owners of capital), the effect of immigration on wages, etc.

In short Owen Jones has produced a fine piece of popular writing on a subject that is rarely tackled in the mainstream media. It is a fine entry level text for the general reader interested in the representations and realities of working class folks in these last thirty odd years, so forget the mindlessly negative reviews (and C.Pittards nit-picking 2-star screed which is currently the leading review) and just read it.
Comment Comments (3) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Apr 18, 2013 1:20 AM BST


Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England
Albion's Fatal Tree: Crime and Society in Eighteenth-Century England
by Douglas Hay
Edition: Paperback
Price: £16.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Law and the Lower Orders, 21 Feb. 2013
Since its 1975 publication "Albion's Fatal Tree" has been widely (though not universally) regarded as a classic of historical writing, in particular that branch of history that is known as "history from below". This 2011 edition from Verso corrects the lamentable situation where it has been out of print for a number of years. In addition to the unchanged text from its initial release, the three surviving members of the five original contributors (E.P. Thompson and John Rule having died in 1993 and 2011 respectively) Douglas Hay, Peter Linebaugh and Cal Winslow write individual introductions reflecting on their time working with E.P. Thompson at Warwick University in the early 1970's, as well as the reception the work had at the time from established historians of Eighteenth century England.

Of the six essays two are the work of Douglas Hay: "Property, Authority and the Criminal Law" looks at the primary role of Law has in protecting both property and buttressing the authority of England's rulers. In particular it examines the role of the death sentence and, over the course of the century, the increasing chance of clemency being granted (followed by transportation), and how this affected popular attitudes with regard to the legitimacy of the ruling classes. His "Poaching and the Game Laws on Cannock Chase" is a detailed study of poaching and the response of "qualified" owners in a particular locale during the eighteenth century. This is a classic of its kind, and one that E.P. Thompson would emulate and take further with regard to Windsor and its environs in his Whigs and Hunters published in the same year.

A trenchant as ever Peter Linebaugh contributes "The Tyborn Riot Against the Surgeons" which details the struggle over the friends and family of those who ended up swinging from the gallows at Tyborn, and the Surgeons who wanted their corpses for the advancement of the science of anatomy. Other related issues touched upon include the attitudes of the lower orders to hanging, the rituals they adopted on their appointed day, and the responses of those who turned out to watch.

"Sussex Smugglers" is Cal Winslow's excellent account of the conflict between the state and smugglers in eighteenth century Sussex. A conflict that at times approached the level of a guerilla war. This is followed by John Rules "Wrecking and Coastal Plunder" which looks at the customs of coastal communities with regard to their perceived rights to plunder wrecked ships, their conflicts with the authorities. He also examines some of the myths around the practice, such as the largely fictitious belief, which functioned to stigmatise a practice that many Britons regarded as acceptable, that ships were onto rocks for the purposes of plunder.

The collection closes with E.P. Thompson's "The Crime of Anonymity" which analyses the phenomenon of anonymous letter writing by eighteenth century plebs for purposes ranging from blackmail to enforcing norms of behaviour on those who had authority over them. The increasing incidence after Paine and the French Revolution of anonymous handbills and the chalking of walls with messages of a more general political nature is also touched on. Thompson cites from many of those letters which are one of the few examples from the eighteenth century of the lower-orders speaking for themselves that have survived for posterity.

"Albion's Fatal Tree" is quite simply a brilliant and exemplary work of Social History. The many quotes cited, from above as well as below, bring the period to life for the reader. This was a period of great change, as England was becoming an increasingly commercial society, poised to enter the Industrial Revolution. The lower orders, as in all periods of change, generally suffer the most and the underlying reality that flows through this work, is that much that was customary to them, and provided them with a part of their livelihoods (from access to commons, to poaching and smuggling) was either being lost to the inexorable process of enclosure, or being treated before the authorities in increasingly brutal ways as the massive rise in "crimes" regarded by a property owning parliament as Capital makes clear. The fact that they fought back, had some successes though in the longer term the odds were stacked against them, forms the core of this book. The examples they provide of solidarity, guile and no-nonsense activism is often inspirational and undoubtedly part of its appeal. Thoroughly recommended.

Other books by the authors of "Albion's Fatal Tree" worth reading would include E.P. Thompson's three major works: The Making of the English Working Class, Whigs and Hunters and Customs in Common. Peter Linebaughs The London Hanged is a dense, detailed but fascinating account of the life's, livings and "crimes" of those who were hanged from the late seventeenth century onwards. The late John Rule is always worth reading, his two books on the eighteenth century Albion's People: English Society, 1714-1815 and The Vital Century: England's Economy, 1714-1815 are fine general studies of the period and none the worse for being unashamedly academic in the best sense of that word. His The Labouring Classes in Early Industrial England, 1750-1850 is a brilliant and comprehensive account of the Labouring classes in the period that leads up to and establishes an Industrial England.


Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan
Invisible Hands: The Making of the Conservative Movement from the New Deal to Reagan
by Kim Phillips-fein
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £19.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fifty Years of American "Conservatism", 16 Feb. 2013
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
New York University professor, occasional contributor to the Baffler and The Nation, Kim Phillips-Fein takes as her subject in "Invisible Hands" the history of the modern Conservative movement in the United States from its origins in opposition to the New Deal to the inauguration of the Reagan administration.

While I'm pretty sure Phillips-Feins sympathies are to the left, she manages to deal with the motley crew of Conservative activists, politicians and businessmen who make up the Conservative movement during the half century she covers in an impartial manner. She details the movement from its roots in opposition to the New Deal: that particular change in the political environment after the inauguration of FDR in 1933 to one that was conducive to the growth in the influence of ordinary working people (in particular their Unions), and a growing trend for (some) politicians to recognise that the ordinary Americans interest was not always identical to that of American Businesses.

The story continues with the second world war (during which conservative/business interests regained a degree of power and influence), the gradual post-war roll back of Unions and Liberal politics during the oppressive years of McCarthyism, through to the Goldwater run for the presidency in 1964. Goldwater failed in his run, but the victor - Lyndon Johnson - failed to keep out of Vietnam: the growing involvement in that miserable War and the financial costs undermined his "Great Society" program, the last substantial attempt by an American President to govern with a relatively Liberal domestic policy (which in a European sense would be roughly equivalent to a diluted version of Social Democracy). Within fifteen years of the Goldwater failure, the movement is backed by serious money, has parlayed that money into substantially successful attempts to win the war of ideas (through well funded think tanks and foundations), turned the focus of popular politics away from socio-economic issues to those of the so-called "Culture Wars", and has a congenial figurehead for the 1980 election campaign: Ronald Reagan. The rest is another story. . .

"Invisible Hands" is also excellent on the individuals involved from the ostensibly cerebral Milton Friedman and the Mont-Pelerin Society of von Hayek and von Mises, to the more combative characters such as Jesse Helms and Barry Goldwater. But this is far more than a study of individuals: it tells the story of the movement as it grew, and how the connections between the disparate elements of the movement coalesced (she plausibly makes a case for the failed Goldwater run for president in 1964 being critically important to that process) eventually leading to the Reagan presidency.

Kim Phillips-Fein has written a fine and scholarly work, which contains a substantial amount of research, is written in a clear and comprehensible manner, and it's her first book length publication. It is one I'd thoroughly recommend to anyone who has an interest in how Politics actually functions as opposed to the simplified storytelling which by and large passes for news.

Another excellent book on American Conservatism I'd recommend, though it leaps forward to the post-Reagan era, would be Thomas Franks account of Conservatives in power: The Wrecking Crew.


Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Politics, History, & Culture)
Punishing the Poor: The Neoliberal Government of Social Insecurity (Politics, History, & Culture)
by Loic Wacquant
Edition: Paperback
Price: £18.99

4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Poverty and Punishment, 29 Aug. 2012
Loic Wacquants dense and detailed book "Punishing the Poor" charts the changes in Public Welfare and Penal policies during the Neo-Liberal era. His critique is compelling: States have retreated from their responsibilities to the majority of the population in the economic sphere, turned welfare into machine for forcing workers into the ever growing precarious sector of the labour market, and dealt with those areas, classes and ethnicities who have suffered the most at the hands of the lack of stable employment opportunities and adequate social security with relentless and intruisive policing followed up with grotesque levels of incarceration.

The focus is primarily on the experience of the United States. Part 1 - "The Poverty of the Social State" details the welfare reforms of the post-civil rights era that culminated in the Clinton era "Workfare" act of 1996. With respect to the black population, as well as latinos, a strong case is made for regarding the changes to the labour market and welfare entitlements as functioning as a further stage of repression following slavery and the post-reconstruction "Jim Crow" era following the gains of the civil rights movements of the 1960's.

Part 2 - "Grandeur of the Penal State" charts the inexorable rise of incarceration during the Neoliberal era, the class and "race" dimensions of this immense (2,000,000+) penal obsession. Wacquant regards "workfare and prisonfare" as two sides of the same coin: workfare attacking the welfare of women to encourage them en masse to participate in a precarious labour market where they are no better off, and prisonfare as being the response to the troublesome lower class casualties of a Neoliberal economy that is not able, nor meant to, offer them employment or other prospects.

Part 3 - "Priviliged Targets" is divided into two distinct case studies, the first being "The Prison as Surrogate Ghetto" deals in further detail with black experience of the penal system; and "Moralism and Punitive Panopticism" engages with the subject of prison and sexual offenders in a refreshingly objective manner, charting the moral posturing of politicians and the media against a punitive regime that may well increase rates of recidivism, and arguing for a dispassionate, rigorously scientific re-look at the whole question of sexual offenders with a view to reducing rates of re-offending and providing the most effective protection of the public.

The final part "European Declinations" charts the growing European tendancy to follow the example of the United States. It begins with a comprehensive debunking of zero-tolerance policing in particular that of New Yorks Mayor Rudy Giuliani, before moving on to general European turn to a workfare and prisonfare state, with particular focus on the experience of Wacquants native France.

The biggest, but far from fatal, shortcoming of the book is the occasional descent into what might be regarded as academic jargon. The introduction is particularly guilty of this, but I would encourage readers to work their way through this as they will be rewarded with a fascinating and holistic account of the Neoliberal State and its relations (Penal and Welfare/Workfare) with those who have lost most during its seemingly inexorable rise. Well recommended.


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