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on 2 January 2011
Will Hutton's book attempts a comprehensive analysis not just of the financial crisis but of British society as a whole. Along with the analysis, he puts forward a detailed list of possible remedies. He aims to be as non-partisan as possible. As he says:

"...the proposition in this book is that neither the force of the market nor the capitalists and entrepreneurs who powered it would have been possible without the new Enlightenment openness and a range of emergent Enlightenment public democratic institutions." (P 122)

He thus bases his arguments in theories of social justice and, above all, the idea of 'just deserts' - that people have an innate sense of justice and fairness that has been warped by the politics of the last thirty years or more.

In the first part of the book, he attempts to reach an 'Understanding [of] Fairness'. He considers the ideas of John Rawls which he believes typifies the thinking of those on the left of the political spectrum and the ideas of Robert Nozick for those on the right. Applying these, along with modern, more psychological theories of 'just deserts', he analyses what he considers to be the unbalanced economy of the UK with its dependence on financial services and abandonment of manufacturing and technological innovation and entrepreneurship.

In the second section, 'Fairness Under Siege', he provides a short introduction to the development of Western capitalism roughly from the Enlightenment up to the present crisis, whereupon his analysis becomes almost too comprehensive, becoming breathless in its speed and detail, but his frustration at what he considers to be the idiocy of the pursuit of short-term profit by bankers and politicians at the expense of the wider economy and society certainly shines through.

In the third and final section, he becomes more prescriptive. He pours out a huge number of suggestions for the 'Relaunch of Fairness', every page scattered with 'shoulds' and 'musts' to an almost dizzying extent. He not only puts forward ideas for financial and banking reform but political, media and social reform also. Many of his comments on the media echo the criticisms raised by writers such as Nick Davies in his excellent 'Flat Earth News', to which Hutton refers approvingly.

Again, Hutton tries to be as non-partisan as possible, both criticising and praising New Labour and the current coalition government, but some of his ideas strike me as, at best, ill thought-out. For example, on page 371, he suggests that 'charging could be introduced into the NHS for delivery of all but the most urgent of treatments - but for which poorer patients could be excused.' This implies introducing means testing for the NHS, plus the possibility that people suffering from relatively minor complaints may not present for treatment until their complaints are sufficiently serious to warrant 'free' care. It also ignores the growing popularity of medical insurance as an employment benefit in many companies, helping to create a 'two tier' health care system.

In all, then, although Hutton bravely attempts a comprehensive analysis of the current economic, social and political crises, his ideas do not, to my mind, have any consistent theoretical underpinning, except a rather nebulous belief in Enlightenment values. In economics, he draws on Keynes and Schumpeter; in politics he has high hopes for some form of PR; in the media, he wants to beef up the Press Complaints Commission, change the libel laws to prevent 'libel tourism', ensure the future of the BBC and promote alternative sources of news. All of this is certainly worthy, but none of it really addresses the fundamental flaws in the capitalist system - in the end, all he offers are palliatives.
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on 9 November 2010
Renowned commentator Will Hutton has written a brilliant book on Britain today. Wide-ranging, it covers the economic crisis, politics, society, education, and the ongoing technological revolution.

He denounces the destructive power of `the financial, media and bureaucratic elites' (a long-winded way of saying `ruling class'). He notes that the rich avoid £12.9 billion a year in tax and that a third of our top 700 companies pay no tax.

He points out that hedge funds buying credit default swaps [CDSs] in huge volumes triggered both the banking crisis and Europe's sovereign debt crisis. Their buying of CDSs on Greek government debt in April forced the huge IMF/EU bailout of Greece.

Debt and debt-related building and real estate services accounted for half Britain's growth between 1997 and 2007. Two-thirds of loans were house mortgages and a fifth was in commercial property, while manufacturing's share of output fell by two-fifths to 12 per cent, the world's fastest fall.

The crisis cost us 10 per cent of output, £1 trillion, smashing the myth of a golden age based on financial services, open markets and an endless credit and property boom. Then we gave the bankers £1.3 trillion, worldwide, £14 trillion.

Even the Bank of England says that another crunch is highly likely. £530 billion of corporate debt has to be refinanced by 2015 before any new money will be lent. Europe's private-equity firms have to repay £185 billion by 2016, yet in 2009 they paid back just £4 billion.

Hutton writes sensibly, "The rise of the BNP cannot be explained by saying that Britain is suddenly more racist than it used to be. It has happened because too many immigrants have access to free prescriptions, medical care, schooling and housing before they have made adequate contributions." The EU orders us to give new immigrants immediate access to benefits.

The USA invests 3 per cent of its GDP in universities; Europe's average is just 1.4 per cent. 73 per cent of the science papers cited in US industrial patents in 1993-94 came from public science sources. As Hutton notes, "the university remains the principal institution that creates the cumulative scientific and technological knowledge on which innovative ideas are built. ... It is a strong sector that should be guarded and nurtured; instead, it is being threatened by spending cuts."

Britain has 8 universities in the world's top 50, and 29 in the top 200. Our universities are great national resources, `fundamental sources of competitive strength'.

He points out that, for 200 years, countries with the highest social spending as a share of output have grown most. There is no link between high public debt and lower growth until debt reaches 90 per cent of GDP. Higher borrowing, if used to invest, can bring growth. Every extra one per cent of GNP borrowed cuts the recession by two and a half months (IMF figure); every extra one per cent of capital spending also boosts growth permanently by 0.3 per cent a year.

Hutton says we need `an economic development strategy', with a Knowledge Bank, a Life Sciences Bank and a National Infrastructure Bank. He asserts, "There has to be a willingness to spend, borrow, reshape finance and protect investment at all costs."

But now, as he laments, "the debt moralists are in control, denying the government essential flexibility and agility over borrowing. As a result, the next decade will be far more traumatic than it need be."

He warns us against accepting the government's spending cuts, which he says `threaten the very fabric of British society'. He says its programme is `the closest thing to an economic scorched-earth policy this country has ever seen'.

Yet in the same paragraph he writes of the government, "In the immediate short term this feels like a partial assertion of us over them, and welcome for it." In 1997 Hutton put his faith in Blair and in `stakeholder capitalism'; now he seems to believe in Cameron's `big society'.
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on 7 December 2010
Will Hutton has written an interesting book and lavishes a lot of detail (maybe too much) on the subject of the financial crash, its reasons and its aftermath and makes a strong point for a fairer, more balanced society. The underlying truisms such as banker greed, the role of the media and the inertia of politicians who can only manage now rather than apply any vision are all well analysed. But "fairness" is a word used ever more frequently by the media,politicians and business people and is beginning to have a hollow ring about it. Nevertheless the book is well worth the read and it provokes thought and not a little anger at times.
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on 17 October 2011
I just heard Will Hutton speak about this book at the Cheltenham Literature Festival.

In many places I agreed with him but he was ultimately very disappointing. While he talks the talk on fairness, income equality and need for the NHS, etc... due to his inherent belief in capitalism, infinite growth and Conservatism he can't bring himself to suggest much in the way of regulation to deal with the problems.

He talks a lot about fairness and give it a solid basis in economics. But ultimately its about moral judgements. Economists don't like moral judgements interfering with their 'Science'.

To give some instances:

- He thought large high min and max wage multiples were wrong but didn't think we should regulate them. Only that we might track it within individual companies - that doesn't achieve much. Plus he thought Wayne Roonie was worth his approx. £13m salary since he trains hard and performs! (seems to ruin his argument, perhaps he doesn't want to critise popular footballers).

- He thought that immigrants shouldn't receive full benefits for health care and housing until they had lived here for say a few years because they hadn't earned it. By this logic my new born baby shouldn't recieve childcare benefit until she was two say! And just what are these immigrants supposed to live on?

- Sustainability. While Will gave all the reasons why a return to growth might be tricky, i.e. massive private and public debt, steeply declining North Sea oil and gas, high oil prices, global warming, etc... he just believed it would return with no real basis for thinking so. He couldn't answer the question about how infinite growth was possible in a finite World. To the questioner he just said, well, lets just meet here in 10 years time and see who is right.

- Tax cuts for business. In the talk he though tax rates for business weren't much of an impediment, though he did want to reduce redundancy benefits (its only 1 week for 1 year worked at the moment!). But in the Guardian recently he said tax cuts for business were needed. Very confused it seems.

In the talk he mostly ranted for about 30 minutes more than planned about what was wrong with the system without any real direction of thought. Ultimately and intelligent man who I fear has believed his own myths for too long and has lost his way.
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on 12 June 2013
In some ways this is quite a depressing book, given all the social and political problems that we have in the UK. Hutton details the way that Laissez-faire capitalism and banking in particular has failed in the UK, and how these have affected the complete social fabric of the country. The subjects covers are as wide ranging as the erosion of parliament, the concentration of power in No. 10, education and the power of the press barons.

The second half of the book are the proposals that he would like to see implemented urgently to address the problems that we have. A lot of them are very good, some less so. Al address the power of the vested interests that hold this country back from being great again. I doubt that Cameron and Osborne have read this book; perhaps they should.
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on 12 November 2010
I have read all the Hutton books of the past 15 years and have been impressed by the way he exposes the values which underpin the operation of our economic and social systems - the use his 1995 book made of the stakeholder concept to distinguish Anglo-saxon from the European social model was well done - and further developed in his The World We're in and also the The Writing on the Wall: China and the West in the 21st Century. But I have always been left with a vague sense of unease. I think this book has helped me understand why.
Hutton always seems to give us the big picture - just look at the titles - but, at the end of the day, the focus is generally about fixing Britain. Despite, therefore, his attacks on neo-liberalism and defence of public services, his model remains a thoroughly economic one of the global battle of nation against nation. But the latest global crisis has made a growing number of people dissatisfied with this model (see below). For the moment, however, let's look at his arguments for a fairer society.
After the opening chapter you hit a rather forbidding 80 pages of philosophical material on Fairness. I got discouraged and left it lying on my bookshelves - until I decided to skip on to the middle of the book. I enjoyed the chapter on Innovation, Innovation, Innovation" - where the public status of universities is strongly defended. But it was page 271 before I reached the heart of the matter (the chapter with the rather odd title of Dismantling the Have-What-I-hold Society"). Frankly these 40 pages rarely rise above the level of an insipid undergraduate essay. Statistic is piled upon after statistic (often foreign) - and then a jump is made to a series of ad-hoc recommendations which just leave you gasping. One of them, for example, is to channel the proceeds of an inheritance tax to the disadvantaged" - finishing with the words - ëven the left suspect the poor are spendthrifts and one spendthrift will blight the way the whole system is regarded. But this need not be an issue if those who receive the proceeds had to agree to some form of reciprocal responsibility like committing to use the assets for some form of self-improvement or self-investment". Very convincing! It would make a great election slogan! Even more damning for a book about fairness which is replete with academic references is the failure to mention some recent well known British writing about equality. This book appeared in October 2010 - the introduction is dated 21 July 2010 and is able to comment on the emergence of the coalition government references to which also are scattered in the text of the book. And yet, amazingly, no mention whatsoever appears of Wilkinson and Pickles's The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better For Everyone which appeared more than a year earlier. Nor is any reference made of David Dorling's prolific writings - although admittedly his great book on Injustice: Why Social Inequality Persists came out too late for Hutton. Their arguments are far more detailed, powerful and comparative than those to be found in Hutton's boook.
Will Hutton is one of the few people who has the wide inter-disciplinary reading necessary for anyone who wants to say anything useful to us about how we might edge societies away from the abyss we all seem to be heading toward. But any convincing argument for change need to tackle four questions -
* Why do we need major change in our systems?
* Who or what is the culprit creating the problems which require to be dealt with?
* What programme might start a significant change process?
* What mechanisms (processes or institutions) do we need to implement such programmes?

Time was when most writing focussed on the first question - people needed convincing there was something wrong - hence the need for books like Turbo-Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy and Naomi Klein's No Logo. Now people don't need convincing - they are looking for answers. Society seems to need culprits - and hence bankers have become the easy whipping boy but also, in more sophisticated analyses, the governments and politicians who relaxed the regulations to which the financial system used to be subject. But this just begs the question - how did governments and políticians come to do that? And writers such as David Harvey The Enigma of Capital: And the Crises of Capitalism point us to the marxist theory of surplus the state we're in. It really is a pity that Hutton has nothing to say about such writers.
The first two questions require pretty demanding analytical skills - of an interdisciplinary sort which is fairly rare. Will Hutton is a rare journalist who keeps up not only with relevant social science but also philosophical literature and can therefore supply a clear, original and coherent answers to the first three of these questions. His penultimate chapter is a clear and magisterial overview of the economic and political reality faing the world's big ploayers. The book, however, does not really begin to answer the final question - the "how"of change - which is particularly pertinent for Hutton since the stakeholder analysis he brought with his 1995 The State We're In: (Revised Edition): Why Britain Is in Crisis and How to Overcome It chimed with the times, did persuade a lot of people and seemed at one stage to have got the Prime Minister's ear and commitment. It did not happen, however, and Hutton surely owes us an explanation of why it did not happen. The Management of Change has developed in the past 2 decades into an intellectual discpline of its own - and Hutton might perhaps use some it in a future edition of the book to explore this question. He might find Change the World: How Ordinary People Can Achieve Extraordinary Results particularly stimulating (I certainly did). The weakness of the approach also shows in the chapter which deals with the deficiencies of the political system and media. All the well-known criticisms are made - but only passing reference is made to the Power Report and campaign which we saw from 2006-2010. Here was a determined attempt by some of the great and good to expose and campaign for major change to the political system. Why it appears so have achieved so little is a fundamental question for anyone wanting to tackle the inequities and iniquities of the British system. And his conclusion gives thoughtful and positive reasons for viewing the arrival of a coalition government as opening a strong window of opportunity.
Perhaps I am being too critical. This is one of these rare books which actually makes you think - and to want to reread soon.
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on 13 December 2012
This is a detailed hefty paperback which is an important read concerning issues which most politicians avoid addressing seriously enough. The author is an academic and those who read his book will, for the most part, be those who are already 'converted' to accepting the need for a fairer society. I have no idea how Will Hutton could express his ideas to tabloid readers, but it needs to be done.
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on 25 June 2014
This excellent book, in excellent condition, was delivered well in advance of the promised end-date. I was very satisfied with the performance of the supplier.

The book itself is a very clear exposition of the benefits of fair, honest and open dealings in fiscal and economic areas; and outlines with devastating clarity the way such systems have been slanted, distorted, and downright abused, to ensure that the rich get richer at no apparent social cost, while the poor get poorer and their plight is ignored. The extent to which governments are in the pockets of the City and its like institutions is laid bare. References are many, for further reading and for proof of what Will Hutton claims.

Anyone struggling with their finances would find 'Them and Us' fascinating reading; it should be obligatory for exploiters everywhere; because in a system as unfair as ours (in spades, in the US and, indeed, across the world), in the end everyone loses.
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on 5 December 2013
Will Hutton wastes no time in presenting his argument for
a moderation of the government Deficit plan.
It appears that economic expedience has been displaced by political ideology
at the cost of essential expenditure on education and infrastructure.
The government's traction is all about minimizing the State and here is the opportunity to put that in practice . They do so by perpetuating the
"lie" that the country is broke when in fact Hutton shows by reference to economic history that it is far from the case.
This is a book you need to read to grasp the subjective policy of the government
as it pursues a virulent elitist deficit plan.
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on 9 November 2012
Well written and thought provoking. Useful background reading for anyone studying (or interested in) business, economics, politics, sociology, etc. Objective, factual and revealing.
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