A global archive of independent reviews of everything happening from the beginning of the millennium
To send us a review you have written click here
Read our Copyright Notice click here
For publication dates click
Reviewed by ANDRE BEAUMONT
When you are in the middle of a revolution, you have little except historical example to tell you how long it might last.
The non-political ones, like the industrial revolution and the digital revolution, can run for a very long time.
The political ones, like the French Revolution (1789-1799), are eventually delimited by historians but their ideas run on. 18 Brumaire may have called time on the Revolution but Napoleon's armies carried its ideas, and some of its rule reversals, across Europe till 1815.
Two revolutions may run apparently consecutively, like the American and French, and one may ask if one constitutes the continuation of the ideas of the other. One might also ask, of these two, which had the most influence on the world. Maybe, to borrow from Zhou Enlai, it is too early to say.
The signature event of a revolution - the taking of the Bastille (in which, for some reason, a lot of wine merchants participated), the fall of the Berlin Wall, the collapse of Lehman Brothers - may force people to recognize that major change is under way but the signs can often be read by the observant well before.
By Easter 2007 regulators had picked up serious problems in the sub-prime mortgage market. Later in the year there was a run on the Northern Rock bank. (For a clear retrospective of the early development of the liquidity crisis, which preceded the Lehman Brothers collapse by over a year, read the eleven page Overview of the Bank of England's Financial Stability Report, October 2007).
The Fortis crisis of mid-2008 punctured belief in the unquestioned solvency of large banks and the wisdom of relying on bankers' public statements.
Realization that the old order has gone usually comes much later for most.
Before the demise of Lehman Brothers, financial brands were held in reverence and awe. Now beyond establishing the likelihood of a financial institution remaining solvent, few trouble themselves about the brand by which it is identified. The hypothesis that we may see 'a mass extinction of brands' is getting some evidential support.
It would be unwise to unquestioningly assume that emerging economies will use brands to get their products to market. The order is still changing.
Now it appears a political, regional, Arab revolution is running concurrently with a currently slow-burning, global, economic one.
There is a common link in that economic conditions sparked the early discontent in Tunisia but it is genuinely too early to say if both are two sides of the same coin.
I was intringued a few days ago to receive a letter of invitation from a member of the Labour front bench to attend a meeting to give views. Entering into the spirit of an invitation possibly better addressed, in this case, to wine merchants and written under the letterhead of a new, not yet extinct, Labour brand - New Politics. Fresh Ideas. - here are the views:
The centre-left is at risk of being stuck in a previous century because:
1) it starts off with grand schemes that eventually disregard the individual;
2) of its enthusiasm for direct taxes (scarcely paid by the very poor and very rich, just those in the middle);
3) its excessive attachment to job security, derived from its history, impedes job mobility in a dynamic economy.
The philosopher Gernot Bohme, in his book Ethics in Context writes of the concept of dignity through property and dignity through work. He also rightly points out that problems are arising because work is running out.
To these two one might add dignity through creativity as being of the same order of importance.
Socialism has frequently been hostile to capital, choosing often to imply it was possessed only by class enemies.
The third way political ideologues recognized that most means of production could not be owned by the state but still sought to ensure that the 'main streams of economic activity are brought under public direction' through regulation.
If as many people as possible did not work in micro-organizations, small partnerships or individually, most would be easy to regulate.
So a prejudice, usually unconscious, against individual capitalism emerged from a movement that should not have been hostile to the individual.
By social engineering people into easily regulated structures, creativity began to be threatened, too.
In the mid-eighties this reviewer worked in an office where nearly everyone in his group was engaged in a rewarding entrepreneurial or creative activity in his or her spare time.
This is scarcely possible now because conditions have changed.
For about half a dozen years, it was an extraordinarily vital time for both artists and entrepreneurs.
The only comparable period in Britain since was 1999 and 2000 when the dotcom boom released a different wave of enterprise and creativity.
If Bohme is right that 'modern society is a society of people defined in terms of work and commuting', then such a reductionist society needs to be replaced by one bigger in outlook.
If in advanced economies well-paid work is getting scarcer, societies should be thankful that people can find alternative routes to a fulfilling life through property or creativity. They should not need to fit the template of an ideology.
Satellite television, in particular, has monetized sporting creativity. Many other types of creativity need to be monetized better than they are. The challenge is in how to make the transition.
When constructing something, individuals generally use capital creatively or entrepreneurially.
Take the person with a two-storey house. If he builds a third storey he adds to the nation's stock of living accommodation. He adds to the capital assets against which he can borrow in future. In turn, any mortgage he takes out can potentially be securitised, increasing the stock of assets his country's banks can pledge in international markets.
Does private equity financial engineering always so conclusively increase the country's capital stock?
Supporting the micro-organization, small partnership and individual in wealth creation requires a relevant tax regime.
Continued advocacy of raised direct taxation in a period of retrenchment is probably good enough reason for not voting for a party at all.
It bespeaks an unwillingness to examine where wealth is created and to tax at the point of creation or at the point of generation of monopoly (rather than when it is being or has been earnt by individuals).
The recent UK budget's windfall tax on hydocarbons extraction, like most turnover taxes, is more discriminating than the three main direct personal taxes.
The same budget's promise to 'promote the UK as the global centre of legal arbitration' is also to be welcomed for although practising arbitrators are a tiny professional group, like boxers they can only do the actual job as individuals.
Lack of job mobility is a bane of the human condition; it wasn't created by the economic downturn.
For now, though, a combination of globalisation and the productivity gains of the digital revolution make it hard for the net number of jobs in the most advanced economies and their lower cost near neighbours, taken together, to increase.
People who know they are not particularly suited to a job may decide that they have to stay in place and await Buggins' turn for promotion because the structures of an economy and recruitment procedures do not allow fluid movement between jobs or for them to try another one experimentally.
Also, for two decades we have witnessed the triumph of business systems. They have delivered untold wealth.
However, they are now increasingly unable to handle the complexity that advanced markets demand.
If an airport is snowed in, the marketing staff cannot be on site to look after the passengers because they work remotely and, in all events, because the business system demands too specialised jobs, they are not allowed to help because they are not trained to do so.
Being stuck behind Buggins or doing a job where you cannot, or are not allowed to, help all make for frustrated staff.
The way people work has to change but since events make for better change than utopian ideas, how is still unclear and perhaps best left to developments.
Not forgetting this, one idea might be to seek to move towards a society where we try to provide people with about two decades of full-time work if they want it.
This might solve the worst of the youth unemployment problems.
Beyond that the employment contract might guarantee only half a week's work per week.
The other half week might be undertaken by the usual cast found in this series of reviews - anyone who shows great enthusiasm to do the job who isn't sloppy, entrepreneurs, artists, older people, part-time students, working mothers and those doing a half week elsewhere.
If the global downturn is simply due to a massive financial recession that has not let losses fall where they might have been expected to, then a return to the former peak of output might be expected within half a dozen years of commencement.
If major changes to customary ways of undertaking economic activity are in the pipeline, and more rule reversal takes place, then we are probably in an economic revolution of a longer duration.
Nothing decrees revolutions need be violent - it is better if they are not, for ethical reasons and because then their ideas get a better hearing - but they do need momentum.
Having said that, the economic one, with at present slowing momentum, has an unfinished feel to it.