Interesting to read:

Polite, but for me confirms the basic problem: the airy concepts all sound fine, but where is the real content, the substance, the policy?  It seems to be a speaking tour not a policy programme, so far.

Despite my nasty libertarian streak, I found a lot to like in Blond’s talk, particularly in his enthusiasm for decentralization and local competition. My only quibble is that while Blond’s diagnoses are often compelling, his proposed solutions are sometimes less so. When talking about the importance of political subsidiarity, for example, Blond spoke of “giving democracy back to the streets,” which sounds more like a Students for a Democratic Society slogan than a concrete political program. “Driving capital to the periphery” and decentralizing our financial system sound great in theory, but I’m still left to wonder how economic subsidiarity works in practice.

His economic vision …  reminded me of the American experience after World War II, when millions of returning GIs received free college educations and federally-backed homeownership loans helped create the American middle class. But while these programs were largeky  successful, they’re not exactly models of decentralized governance. Is Blond willing to compromise or moderate his small government sympathies to create new economic stakeholders? I ask because state efforts to create or impart social capital – from public schools to the Federal Housing Administration to Bush’s compassionate conservatism – are rarely characterized by decentralization or subsidiarity.

If anyone comes across more actual crunchy policy stuff from ResPublica, let me know.  I remain curious and sceptical.

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13 thoughts on “A League of Ordinary Gentlemen on Blond

  1. The quote sums up the inconsistencies in Blond’s politics – but then, it takes him seriously. The work of Blond and ResPublica is to provide hopey-changey mood music to drown out the Thatcherite noise that comes out of the mouths of Tories. Brand decontamination aimed at urban intellectuals who might just vote Tory if it didn’t make them feel guilty.

    It was perfectly possible to believe Blairism because it represented a movement in control of a party conceding policies to a stronger force, but whereas any attempt to revert to socialist economic policies would be reflected by a capital strike and tabloid hysteria – what’s to stop a Cameron government reverting to Tory type?

  2. I’m thinking of starting ResPublicaWatch at my place, with the aim of poking fun at the cod philosophy and incoherent babble that comes out of Blond and co.

    He really does talk a lot of silliness. Check out Stuart White’s posts on him over at Next Left.

    1. I think that would be useful, though (in all seriousness) – start with an open mind. You don’t want to announce your conclusions. Hey, I voted Tory in 1992 and (it’s on the record now) I might one day vote that way again.

      I’ve met Phillip Blond and he is engaging and clearly cares – but for me the meat is always in the details. It is a criticism I tend to aim more at leftish types than the Right – ‘that sounds nice, but how’.

      BTW my Hume Political Discourses has arrived

      1. I certainly don’t doubt Blond’s sincerity. I believe him when he calls for all businesses to become social enterprises – I just doubt the people funding ResPublica are in any way interested in such radical social change.

      2. For me, the way Cameron arrived at the launch, waved for the cameras, said nothing very committal, and let before Blond’s speech, spoke volumes

  3. He left before the speech? Seems a bit rude. Still, I suppose he’s a busy man.

    You realise Giles that Cameron and Osbourne’s public-sector workers’ co-op idea was one proposed by Philip? That was, I recall, in the form of a crunchy document on the civic state.

    1. Of course, there was considerable irritation throughout the centre-left-liberal world at the notion of cooperatives being something P Blond thought up – and bemusement by we policy wonks that the idea could make a big difference to the £700bn state …

      1. Indeed. The involvement of joint ventures with for-profit enterprises might actually result in higher costs rather than a reduction in state expenditure.

        Co-operatives have always been more appropriate as market-led organisations and the problem for workers interested in a form of collective self-employment has always been access to capital. No doubt, there’s a great potential for co-owned firms to internalise social and environmental costs and to re-invest surpluses.

        A worry amongst co-operators is that the sudden interest in our ideas by the political elite is just as a sugar coating for further marketisation and privatisation in public services, rather than a change to business as usual in the private sector.

        It will be interesting to see what comes out of the Commission on Ownership being chaired by Will Hutton. It was not by accident that his “stakeholder theory” was dropped quickly after being floated as Blair’s vision thing.

        And on the Liberal Democrats – what happened to their traditional interest in shared forms of ownership. Strangely silent in recent years, with the 2005 manifesto the first to have no mention of ESOPs or co-ops…?

      2. I am not an expert in these areas, and tend to be unjustifiably sarky. The number of times a think tank report cites John Lewis as the way to do things. Yes, maybe in retail. In oil production? Microchip design? So yes, but on the scale of things, not a way of changing an economy that has about£ 50trn of transactions annually ….

      3. There are employee-owned manufacturing firms, though of course it is possible to do the whole “engagement ethic” thing in a more traditional way through collective bargaining.

        Given that the rebalancing of the economy will involve a growth of new firms in advanced manufacturing, and a reliance upon innovation, co-ownership is a pretty good way of unlocking “tacit knowledge” and mitigating against offshore outsourcing…

      4. Microchip design? Well, a fabless chip designer like ARM or Qualcomm is basically a lightly capitalised company that mostly consists of professionals. And the textbook worker-owned business is a professional partnership.

        Oil production? Less so…

  4. Giles,

    I’m entitled to close my mind because I’ve read enough of his stuff now to know for sure that it’s pseudo philosophy/politics. I’m sure Blond is a nice man, but his function is brand decontamination – his vacuous rhetoric demonstrates this.

    Re Hume, enjoy. Though be warned: his essay on public debt looks like he’s a raving Policy Exchange debt hysteric. But he’s not; that essay is ultra contextualised and has to be read in reference to Britain and the 7 years war – if you get interested I can swing you some excellent articles by Istvan Hont that explain. Actually, his book Jealousy of Trade just came out in paperback, and if you get interested in the foundations of political economy it’s definitely worth reading (both incredibly informative and amazingly easy to read despite being very high level).

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