on 7 September 2015
This book is a wake-up call to Britain.
Will Hutton argues that Britain has reached a crossroads in its development – and that we are facing some tough choices.
If we continue to be America’s poodle in economic and foreign policy terms, warns Hutton, we risk being sucked into a vortex of unfettered capitalism and liberalised markets. This will permanently scar our country, and by extension the rest of the world, as Britain and Europe are one of the last bulwarks against its devastating onwards march.
Less privileged Britons would be more permanently disenfranchised, inequalities of wealth further exaggerated, business and politics further corrupted. The United Kingdom would end up being governed by a self-serving monied elite, without any interest in redistributing their wealth.
To avoid this dystopia, Hutton believes Britain must to throw its lot in with Europe. He argues that we must join the euro and then assist the European Union’s evolution into an alternative political and economic model that demonstrably works.
In Hutton’s view, the EU would then be able to act as a counterweight to an increasingly isolationist United States. The new Europe could lead by example, perhaps by reforming its own farm subsidies to help raise living standards in the third world.
The first half of The World We’re In is a withering a critique of American values rubbishing, one by one, every myth of superiority that the US likes to disseminate about itself.
Hutton’s says US-style capitalism is a good deal weaker than it likes to pretend and that US society has been disfigured by the way America’s economy is run.
He reveals how the poorest Americans are less likely to escape from poverty than the poorest in other developed nations. He paints a harrowing picture of a society where the ‘‘haves’’ can have it all, and where the idea that the ‘‘have-nots’’ should be provided with a safety net by the state has never even been on the agenda.
Hutton warns that the US is plagued with ‘‘unsustainable imbalances – notably the disappearance of saving and the colossal trade deficit. Rather than being the possible engine of a global economic recovery, Hutton says the US economy ‘‘looks floored and faces years of depressed growth’’.
Hutton accuses Gordon Brown and Tony Blair of naivete in paying too much heed to the American right. He says they have been foolish to swallow the doctrine that publicly-owned and -managed activity is, by its very nature, inefficient. However he does suggest that Blair and Brown may have learnt something from the collapse of Railtrack.
Hutton also successfully demolishes the myth that senior executives are a breed apart – existing like top-class footballers in a global market for talent – and that they have to be paid accordingly. He cites the examples of European businesses such as Volkswagen, Michelin and Airbus Industries, whose chief executives are paid much more reasonable salaries, and yet are still able to beat their American rivals at their own game.
There are weaknesses in this book. In his praising of the German system, Hutton glosses over the string of bankruptcies which have recently blighted the country’s economy. These include those of construction group Philipp Holzmann, aircraft makers Fairchild Dornier, and media group KirchMedia. He also fails to mention that state-owned banks such as Bayerisch Landesbank have been dangerously over-exposed to such insolvencies.
Hutton is a realist. He acknowledges that his recommendation that Britain becomes firmly rooted into a reformed European Union will not have universal appeal. He concedes it will be a tough challenge in Britain because of our cultural and linguistic affinities with the US and our deep-seated mistrust of ‘‘Europe’’, coupled with the widespread support for US-style capitalism and economics in business schools, economics faculties and the financial press.
He accepts that Labour is taking steps in the right direction, such as the new Companies Act which will require directors, like their counterparts in Europe, to acknowledge their obligations to the whole organisation they serve, rather than just shareholders. For Will Hutton, however, this isn’t enough. We can still sustain some of our ties with the US but he believes that we must ultimately accept that we are Europeans.
[review written for the Sunday Herald in May 2002 but only posted in September 2015!!]
on 19 May 2002
Cannot fault Will Hutton for ambition. His analysis is detailed and wide ranging. He cannot just be dismissed as Anti-American as he elucidates many times his admiration for much of US economic and technological achievement.
Clearly, this book will be hated by the right, and anyone in the US or UK who supports the neo-liberal "washington consensus".
His description of the political/economic processes that have driven the washington consensus over the last 30 years is excellent, and much of his material uses US sources.
Hutton does not hide his disdain for neo-liberal economics, or the "chicago school", and he raises questions about the prevailing orthodoxy and ideology of the concensus that drives most international financial institutions. But his personal position is made open and clear, and the purpose of the book is to drive forward debate in europe and particularly the UK. In this the book succeeds.
His contention, backed by prodigious evidence, is that the UK national interest is more aligned with europe than with the US, and future economic and political developments are likely to make it increasingly necessary for the UK to understand that its culture and history is tied to europe, and the "idea of europe".
Hutton's description of the historical and cultural roots of europe's "social contract" is thought provoking, and even historians will find this interesting and informative. He shows how the UK is far closer to this conception politically and culturally than the prevailing consensus now driving political economy in the US.
There is much to think about in this book. It is well worth reading as much for its accessible style as for the importance of its subject matter.
on 10 June 2002
My sympathies tend to lie largely with will Hutton's views and after reading this, you do start to feel more optimistic about the prospects of the european ideals as well as possibly the economic power becoming pre-eminnent over the coming years.
But maybe not. Unfortunately I found that the arguments were seemingly shaped to fit the authors prejudices rather perhaps the other way round. Despite protests, there is certainly an anti american strain running throughout the book and some of the negative references made, seemed a bit gratuous. This for me, undermimed the text
I also felt that examples were slightly thrown at the reader whilst the sharp observations, wit and clear headedness which is well demonstrated by Paul Krugman say, was missing. It felt as if Will was shouting at you.
Overall though, the debate is definately worth absorbing and the author does in patches, argue his case particularly well. Personally, I found the Airbus vs Boeing example evry illuminating
In total the book was perhaps a shade overlong , but on balance, recomended
on 22 May 2002
Like his The State We're In, this is a book nobody in the political class can ignore and required reading for Blair's buffers and babes. A five-star rating if only for the urgent debate it will ignite and the influence it will rightly have. Hugely informative, convincing in its narratives, powerfully argued, this is an outstanding piece of political writing.
It is an extensively detailed withering indictment of contemporary American capitalism; of a 'hyperpower' in the grip of conservative market ideologues, of precarious economic stability, nationally and personally debt-ridden, racialist, grotesquely unequal, of a democracy corrupt to the eyeballs. It is a celebration of Hutton's conception of a different capitalism - an argument for the political, social and economic rearmament of the European Union, anchored he insists - now only tenuously and held in contempt by its native free-marketeers - on age-long socially contractual and humane values, of which even its supporters are ignorant, and maybe the only bulwark against the menacing dominance of Bush's America. There is something in The World We're In to upset pretty much everybody. But socialists will probably be left in most pain.
Insofar as European capitalism is a more 'libereral' capitalism, needing better telling is how it got that way. In Hutton's story there is too little of the historic class and industrial battles across Europe and too much of post-Enlightenment philosophical history - too little of a liberality forced on capitalism, not least by anti-capitalist socialist movements, sometimes spearheaded, sometimes whipped on, by now despised Marxist revolutionaries, sometimes with self-inflicted failures, but with steady gains often unperceived by the agents themselves. Unremarked is that capitalism - capitalism tout court - would have been, and would be, hell-on-earth without organised labour and trade union movements, their allies and the myriad of radical 'pressure groups' (inaptly called). That's to say, in its unhindered essence capitalism is an unliveable system, Hutton's own book, likewise his pungent journalism, adding to the evidence.
He is apt to ascribe to European capitalism absurdly more of the values of equality and justice (terms anyway with the semantic precision of watery jelly) than are visible in practice, or likely to be if the only Left left turns out to be enfeebled social democracy, chasing the vote of the affluent and thus ever more open to the pressures of the propertied and the market. The idea of a 'just capitalism' is as utopian as the collectivist socialist idea, which capitalists, seemingly together with Will Hutton, are relieved to see the back of, but was nothing like as ridiculous. No more evidence is required than that even in the abstract 'egalitarian' world of John Rawls, much impressing Hutton, capitalist are still profiting, workers still working and the poor, the consequence of the riches of the rich, are always with us. (However no sane egalitarian, contra Hutton, ever demanded the distribution of wealth 'exactly equally' or anything so silly.) Of work in its common drudgery on the shop or office floor, of working people forlornly in the grip of ambitions that even the most 'liberal' capitalism excites but would be its own suicide to satisfy - at the same time plundering the eco-sphere - of people, even whole communities, ever vulnerable to and not infreqently devastated by the market's crises, here the book evinces too little of the known Hutton. Not many will be uplifted, still less find reforming fire in their bellies, told that, rid of the culture of Enron, the promised land is labouring for Hutton-admired Nokia mobiles or Michelin tyres.
Over and over - but not emphatically enough - does he point up the huge extent to which capitalism, significantly in Europe, is now cradled by public authorities and institutions on the one hand, and the public protected from the worst of its venalities and cruelties on the other. This now vast public engagement - this 'public realm' - is in Hutton's view 'analytically distinct' from socialism, which is pronounced dead. It seems not to occur to him that it is more accurately analytically distinct from capitalism and that its steady expansion, notwithstanding the current reaction, promises - certainly rationally entails - a world, one already gorged with mal-distributed wealth, wherein private big capital and its octopus of greedy financial institutions are found not so essential to humanity's salvation after all. What we want capitalism for, what of it exactly which is wanted, are questions not addressed. More pointedly, do its benefits any longer justify the self-perpetuating hierarchies of differential life-chances, even of differentail chances of life and death, which follow from its nature as surely as night follows day?
But Hutton has a pressing task, and one brilliantly undertaken. His priority, rightly, is to help resist a violent turning-back of the clock to a global market regime of untrammelled ruthlessness and even more human disregard. But the cost is that in the end he serves us a thin political gruel, seeming substantial only because the present alternative fare is Newt Gingrichism and the American politico-religious Right. He is militantly and eloquently for a capitalism subordinate to the public goods of liberty, equality and fraternity. A shame he does not similarly dilate on the instruments by which such a contradictory state of affairs might be accomplished. The trouble with Hutton's capitalism is that if these values - together with the many other shackles upon it he rightly demands - are realized not just in the letter but also in fact, he will have brought about its extinction.