Revolutionaries, old and new

One of the enticing books reviewed this weekend (here in the FT by Francis Fukuyama, for instance) was Robert Putnam’s latest, [amazon_link id=”1476769893″ target=”_blank” ]Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis[/amazon_link]. Fukuyama describes it as: “A truly masterful volume that should shock Americans into confronting what has happened to their society.” The US has become a class-based society; the solid middle has been eroded both by economic and by cultural change. It has happened or is happening throughout the OECD, some of whose member countries (including the UK) were always class-riven. The loss of the middle has just made the social chasm clearer. (Indeed, it’s being built into the fabric of the land, as this report including a description of separate doors for the lower classes living in “social housing” shockingly demonstrates.)

[amazon_image id=”1476769893″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Our Kids: The American Dream in Crisis[/amazon_image]

I had just been looking through the new paperback edition of a 2013 book, [amazon_link id=”B00MK2WM98″ target=”_blank” ]The Citizen’s Share: Reducing Inequality in the 21st Century[/amazon_link], by Joseph Blasi, Richard Freeman and Douglas Kruse. It’s a very American book in that it roots the case for restoring greater equality in the writings of the Founding Fathers of the American Revolution, Jefferson, Hamilton and Madison, with many quotations. Here is Madison: “There are various ways in which the rich may oppress the poor; in which property may oppress liberty; and that the world is filled with examples. It is necessary that the poor should have a defense against the danger.” The defence advocated in the book is an extension of ‘broadbased’ capitalism, particularly through increased employee ownership and ownership of other assets. Specific recommendations include not allowing share incentive schemes to count as a cost of business unless they apply to all employees, giving all newborns a small amount of capital, an effective capital gains tax and so on. All perfectly sensible, although I’m slightly sceptical about the scope for or desirability of much more extensive employee ownership, as the same few examples of success stories are cited all the time.

[amazon_image id=”B00MK2WM98″ link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ][(The Citizen’s Share: Putting Ownership Back into Democracy)] [ By (author) Joseph R. Blasi, By (author) Richard B. Freeman, By (author) Douglas L. Kruse ] [January, 2014][/amazon_image]

Tackling corrosive inequality will be a complicated business, and there will be detailed debates about all the policies required. But the underlying question is simple – do we want to accept the end of our representative democracies based on a solid middle class, or not? It’s a political question – politics and culture trump economics even if the underlying economic/technological trends seem inexorable. So meanwhile, while waiting for Putnam’s book to come out here, I’ve ordered [amazon_link id=”B00RYGKVAW” target=”_blank” ]Blueprint for Revolution[/amazon_link] by Srdja Popovic, having been intrigued by Otpor since reading this in Foreign Policy. It might come in useful.

[amazon_image id=”B00RYGKVAW” link=”true” target=”_blank” size=”medium” ]Blueprint for Revolution: how to use rice pudding, Lego men, and other non-violent techniques to galvanise communities, overthrow dictators, or simply change the world[/amazon_image]

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