The Fourth Revolution… July 27, 2016Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
A while back I picked up John Micklethwait and Adrian Woolridge’s book the Fourth Revolution in the library. Micklewait and Wooldridge wrote a pretty good book on the US right entitled the Right Nation: Why America is Different in the 2000s, and so they should have, being both an Editor-in-Chief of the The Economist and a Management Editor respectively. Sad to say, though, the Fourth Revolution isn’t anywhere near as good or as interesting and readable as that other book.
In part this is because, as with many such things, there’s a sense of pre-determined conclusions forcing the text along the way to align with them. In part it is because their central thesis that three revolutions in relation to government – the arrival of the nation-state, the development of the liberal statement and then the welfare state, seem questionable as means of categorising enormously complex processes of state development. Their idea that somehow the state is in massive crisis also seems open to question. They trace this supposed crisis to entitlement culture, generational pressures, distorted democracy and a raft of other issues, not least insufficient choice.
Sounds familiar? It should, as does their proscription for a fourth revolution which seems, well, well worn at this point. Efficiency, smaller government, a constraining of democracy, and so on is all in the mix. None of that is terribly novel.
And although they warn against – say – the Chinese approach, and to a lesser extent that of Singapore, i.e. authoritarian polities, it’s difficult not to get the feeling reading the book that there’s a certain admiration for certain aspects of the way those states conduct themselves. Indeed there’s a real sense that that constraining of democracy, as mentioned above, is central to what they proscribe.
For much of the book the problem is that statements that are very open to interpretation are simply taken as read. Hence the state is in decline, hence only significant injections of private ‘expertise’ will save it, hence it is irreformable from within. There are a number of modish nods – they support Obamacare for example and make great play of the idea that they’re not anti-state. But… but… the sort of state they seem to prefer would be remarkably limited.
There’s considerable angst expressed over entitlements – child benefit and suchlike, and as it happens there’s an element of truth in some of those criticisms. Yet their answer is means testing and they demonstrate no curiosity or interest at all in the one proven mechanism for clawing back monies in respect of such entitlements, that being the income tax net.
One review online makes a point in it that is very very important, that there’s a desperate staleness and over-famliiarity at the heart of the ideas in the book. This is, after all, the same message that we’ve heard since the late 1970s, in essence a somewhat modified Thatcherite/Reagan approach. It is curious in the extreme that a supposed fourth revolution is meant to appear on foot of that. Their rationale is that the Thatcher approach was only half-implemented, but one has to wonder how accurate that is.
But the attempt to dress this up in new clothes fails. I think there’s a lesson there. The current period has seen, as never before in the last three or so decades, efforts, of varying effectiveness, to provide counter-narratives in political form to the prevailing orthodoxy. Certainly there appears to be some appetite for change. How much? Well, that’s a different question again, isn’t it?