Reading time: 25 - 45 minutes

I was gifted "The Crisis of Democratic Capitalism" after my PhD defence in an attempt for me to broaden my horizons beyond my radical leftist thinking. Personally I feel like I did enough of that back my Economist reading days (those were dark days indeed). Nonetheless, I decided to give this book a chance, if only to "know my enemy" as it were.

The thesis of this book can be boiled down to this: we are currently facing a crisis of democratic capitalism (I agree). Democracy and capitalism complement each other and keep each other in check (sort of agree). They are the best political and economic systems we could ever have (I disagree), and what we need to do is reform democracy and restrain "rentier" capitalism (does not go far enough in my opinion).

For this analysis, I have provided three parts. In the first, I discuss where I agree with Wolf. In the second, I discuss my points of disagreement with Wolf and do my best to explain why. In these two parts, I first provide all the quotes that I gathered and then comment on them. (Is this lazy? Yes. Fight me.) In the third, I synthesised the mess from the previous two sections into the general impression that the book left on me.

This is of course not exhaustive. Wolf's book is looooong. So you may also be interested in other reviews that I found online and that I also used to guide my reading:

  • McKinsey review - did not read, but it's McKinsey, so I expect as much insight as their consulting provides (interpret that as you will).
  • Wall Street Journal - behind a paywall, but the first few lines are hilariously dismissive and disparaging.
  • Jacobin - almost ridiculously leftist critique, nonetheless interesting.
  • NIH - short, level-headed, insightful. Great review.
  • "Realist fantasies" - reasonable leftist critique, focuses on the (very short) part about degrowth.

Before I continue, I would like to make one disclaimer. I did not read this book in its entirety. As I said, it is long. I read the parts that I found most interesting, read reviews, looked up particular topics in the index, ... It may well be that I am misrepresenting Wolf on some topics, despite my best efforts to do so. Luckily, I am not alone here, as the aforementioned Jacobin review misrepresented Wolf's view on austerity. Luckily, this is a living document, and I am more happy to make and document any corrections here and in any of my blog posts. You can contact me through the email at the bottom of my website.

I like

Wolf is a realist

... people who read or hear me complain of my pessimism. [...] my existence is due to the decisions of two pessimistic men.

My family history makes me aware of the fragility of civilisation.

Wolf characterises his attitude as pessimism. I would describe it instead as a realistic and healthy scepticism of collective human intelligence. On this we can both agree on, and I appreciate it a lot, because, as Wolf points out several times, civilisation is indeed fragile. Taking it for granted is a sure way to see it go to shit.

Obsessed by inequality

[In the US,] over the period 1993 to 2015, the cumulative real growth in incomes of the top 1 percent was 95 percent, compare with 14 percent for the remaining 99 percent. As a result., the top 1 percent captured 52 percent of the increase in real pretax incomes.

[Figure 31: The "elephant curve" of global inequality and growth]

It [COVID-19] caused economic damage to the yound, women (particularly mothers of young children), the less-educatated, and members of minority communities and also, crucially, harmed the educations of children and young people.

I seemingly didn't collect many quotes on this. I will justify myself by claiming that this is because the book is littered with discussions and data on the rise in inequality since the 1980s. That this coincides with Reagan-Thatcherism seems lost on Wolf, as far as I could tell, but I don't want to pick that bone here.

I was very happy to see Wolf's genuine concern with inequality. Admittedly, that concern seems limited to inequality's pernicious effect on liberal democracies instead of on human flourishing. Indeed, Wolf is very much what I understand a "materialist" to be - someone who places great emphasis on the material causes of political events e.g. famines before revolutions. Furthermore, as the last quote shows, Wolf seems well acquainted and accepting of the generally leftist idea that events and policies will impact different people differently, and policies should, therefore, take this into account.

I feel tempted to give Wolf a score of 7/10 on this point - good that he's genuinely interested and concerned, but he could go further.

Critical of the global capitalist project

Instead of delivering prosperity and steady progress, it [global capitalism] has generated soaring inequality, dead-end jobs, and macroeconomic instability.

People feel even more than before that the country is not being governed for them, but for a narrow segment of well-connected insiders who reap most of the gains and, when things go wrong, are not just shielded from loss but impose massive costs on everybody else.

The problem is not just the economic failures [brought on by global capitalism / neoliberalism] themselves, but that they undermined people's understanding of the future they and their children could aspire to and of how they were valued by the societies to which they belonged. [...] Beyond a certain point, this erodes the ability of the mass of citizens to feel part of a shared political project - a democracy.

Need I say more? 9.5/10.

Critical of profit maximisation and shareholder led companies

One [of the problems with modern companies] is that profit is not a good motivating goal for organizations. It should be a by-product of pursuing other goals, such as making excellent cars or providing reliable service.

... successful corporations generate rents ... There is no obvious reason why all these rents should accrue to the shareholders and top managers.

The shift to control of the firm by shareholders who are not engaged in running it also creates a huge collective action problem.

I was genuinely and gratefully surprised to see this written by someone working for the Financial Times. It is truly refreshing to see "elites" admit the bleeding obvious.

Recognises the destructive impact of private sector lobbying

... companies also possess enormous economic and political power, which they can and do abuse.

Wealth is also a source of power. [...] Democracy is for sale.

... companies are powerful institutions. They can influence the law that governs intellectual property, by extending copyright indefinitely, for example. [Cites the skullduggery of the Disney Corporation]

Same as above. Thank you Wolfy <3

Critical of finance and austerity

But the financial crisis was a decisive event. [...] First it erodes almost everybody's trust in the establishment, as crises have frequently done in the past. Second, it hit the actual (or perceived) security of vulnerable groups hard, directly and indirectly (via austerity).

The financial sector wastes both human and real resources. It is in large part a rent-extraction machine.

Inevitably, these cuts hit vulnerable people and places particularly hard, with finance of local governments especially badly affected.

The austerity adopted shortly after the global financial crisis had been a mistaken choice, not a necessity. [...] This policy weakened the recovery, which damaging consequences for the welfare of the people and even the legitimacy of the democratic system. Among other things, premature austerity lef to Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.

Same as above, though I have to say I was even more surprised to read Wolf mentioning the negative impacts of austerity. He does not dive into it much, actually practically not at all, but still, for me this is a big (and again, very welcome) surprise coming from someone who wrote from the Financial Times.

Immigration, privilege and the left

In Western countries, "white" people with relatively modest levels of education feel threatened by racial miorities and immigrants, and men, both white and members of minorities, feel threatened by the rising status of women.

What does the white working class like about Trump? The answer is surely that he respects them (or at least successfully pretends to do so), while, in their view, everybody else disrespects them.

The panic over refugees is exaggerated and despicable.

This is not just "racism". [...] In very different ways, the stories of Lebanon and Belgium are indicative of the difficulties created by ethnic religious, or other forms of diversity. [...] If a democratic political community is to thrive, there must be an overarching sense of identity that binds everybody.

Talking about "white privilege" is offensive to many whites, especially those who feel underprivileged and disrespected, as indeed they are. [...] much of the new language of gender inclusivity is offensive to a large proportion of the traditionally minded, who are struggling to preserve self-respect in today's more economically challenging environment.

The merchant class is doing very well at splitting the old coalition between an educated class of leftist intellectuals and organised labour.

This is a highly successful version of a strategy seen in many other democracies, namely, splitting the less well-off by their racial, ethnic or cultural identities.

A big mistake of the Brahmin left has been its contempt for patriotism, particularly working-class patriotism.

I want to begin by qualifying my appreciation of Wolf's relatively nuanced position on what I'm going to call "the mistakes of the left". I am in no way justifying anyone voting for the extreme right or acting violently towards people who they don't identify with. I was also generally disappointed (though not surprised) to see Wolf talk very little about racism, colonialism, sexism and other systems of oppression. __(Admittedly I noticed a large section about racism in the US which I skipped. Even so, you should consider that I am mentally comparing this to Decolonial Ecology by Malcolm Ferdinand). In what follows, I am merely appreciating of Wolf's analysis of the left as having ignored (economically) poor cis-white men.

As the quotes above shows, Wolf is convinced that the left has made a mistake in ignoring or trivialising the legitimate grievances of poor, white people in the West. I feel that there is truth to this. I immediately think of social justice warriors, who are concerned primarily with being "right" and categorising themselves as "victims" who are, by their definition, always right. A victim, in their view, cannot be a poor white man. I am reminded of the book I am currently reading, "Comment Mieux Gérer Nos Conflits" (review almost certainly coming up soon). It describes at length the damage that aggressor / victim mentality has on Western societies and proposes transformative justice practices to transcend this dichotomy. I cannot resist quoting that book on what the author labels "privilege bingo":

La tendance au réductionnisme identitaire, qui pose ainsi le pouvoir comme des "attributs" intrinsèques plutôt que des rapports, des relations, est prégnante dans les milieux militants, notamment féministes et queer. C'est le fameux "bingo des privilèges" : le nombre de "cases" que tu coches - est-tu blanc.he? Cisgenre? Hétéro? Non précaire? Etc. - déterminerait mécaniquement le pouvoir dont tu disposes. Or, les choses sont bien plus complexes que ça, et plus intriquées : puisque le pouvoir est une relation, il évolue, et n'est jamais ni absolu, ni définitif.

Quite.

Another face of this typically leftist thinking is the reasoning "The West has committed atrocities, everyone else is innocent". This was crystallised for me recently by a Twitter thread criticising Noam Chomsky for denying the Bosnian genocide because the aggressors in this case were not Western countries. (That being said, this sort of reasoning is not specific to the left, e.g. the classic "Big Pharma is evil, therefore vaccines cause autism" adopted across political spectrums.)

This is quite a simplistic, if not downright wrong, characterisation of "the left", if only because any generalisation will always be wrong. Indeed, Wolf seems to believe that this trivialising legitimate grievances is more perception than reality. At least, this is how I interpret the second to last quote in which he talks about how the extreme right exploits the marginal differences between marginalised people (pun intended) to pit them against each other. The concept of privileges is not intended to produce a race to the bottom of "who is the biggest victim", and indeed people who write and think seriously about privileges go to great lengths to make this point. See, for example, this podcast episode of the "Good Ancestor", hosted by Layla Saad, the author of "Me and White Supremacy". Discussing privileges is necessary if we are to understand how we all experience this world differently and how we can create one in which everyone is given the chance to flourish. (At this point I imagine "Ebony and Ivory" playing in the background as I say these words.)

So OK, thank you for this point Wolf. However, I have issues with your counterpoint to this, your exclusive definition of national identity. More on that later...

I no like

A bit weird about women

Women are also more trusted in many of the service jobs that increasingly dominate employment, expecially caring for children and old people.

Every so often Wolf throws out far-reaching statements that he apparently believes to be so bleedingly obvious that they are undeserving of a reference. The quote above is a case in point. It does not strike me as wrong, but why leave it like that? Why not also mention that this is because of millenia of patriarchy that has left care tasks almost entirely to women while we men just "shave and get drunk"? I believe it is due to his conservatism, which prohibits him from seeing the world any differently. More on that later too.

Delusional about the virtues of the West

... the withdrawal of the US from defending democracy under Donald Trump.

Liberal democracy has a core value: the right of people to act freely. This value needs to be defended domestically. But China can use its rising economic clout to influence what people are allowed to say about it.

Unfortunately I did not collect very good quotes on this. However, I feel quite confident in saying that the book is soaked in the sweet delusion juice that is: "the West has done its best to bring democracy and human rights to the world". Sorry, but no. Admittedly it is not China or Russia, who could not give half a toss about these values, but you have to be really quite gullible to believe this wholeheartedly. I mean seriously, has Wolf forgotten Iraq? Afghanistan? Puerto Rico? All of France's overseas territories? France's control of former colonies currency? Gaddafi and Libya? Nicaragua? Israeli apartheid? Funding Rwandan militias to funnel rare earth elements out of Kivu? Selling weapons to Saudi Arabia to bomb the living fuck out of Yemen?

I could go on. Wolf calls himself a realist, but here he seriously falls short by failing to notice the basic fact that the West promotes democracy and human rights when it suits it. I will happily admit is better than nothing, and pointing this out in no way excuses atrocious behaviour committed by other actors (recall the previously cited Twitter thread). However, it does need to be said because it is in ignorance and false truths that populism is birthed.

Reformist and conservative, bordering on the xenophobic

It is not just impossible, but wrong, to try to re-create a society from scratch, as if its history counted for nothing. [...] As Edmund Burke wrote in his response to the French Revolution, society is a "partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead, and those who are to be born.

Moreover, as Edmund Burke argued in his Reflections on the Revolution in France, not only is it impossible to build a new society from first principles, but it is also inhuman to even try.

... the key requirement [for achieving the goals I have laid out] is to be prepared to be quite radical, while thinking systemically, rigorously, and realistically. This is piecemeal social engineering in practice.

A liberal democracy is exclusive: it includes citizens, but excludes noncitizens... [This does not mean they possess any] rights; far from it. It means they lack the political rights of citizens.

The ability to control who lives in a country is a fundamental aspect of its existence: a country is a geographical space inhabited by people with the right to live, work and vote there. [...] Countries should try to implement a policy on the movement of people, especially for permanent residence or citizenship, that is humane yet also acceptable to the great majority of citizens. The latter need to see immigration as fair and under control. If they do not, there is likely to be a backlash, with devastating social and political consequences. This is not an argument against immigration. It is an argument for recognizing that it can never be solely or even mainly about economics. [...] Immigrants are not just workers; they are people, neighbors, and future citizens.

Citizenship necessarily means privileged access to the opportunities afforded by the economy and the insurance provided by the state. Handing such benefits over to "outsiders" who are not part of the reciprocal bargain of citizenship is widely viewed as unfair. [...] Illegal immigrants are likely to be viewed as particularly undeserving, however understandable their desperate desire to achieve safety and enjoy opportunity in a new country. That is why it was a big mistake not to try to control the employment of undocumented worker in the US more strenuously.

I have soft spot for old school conservatism and Edmund Burke ever since I read "Fools, Fauls and Firebrands - Thinkers of the New Left" by Roger Scruton. It does indeed strike me as sensible and realistic to conserve institutions and, by extension, the natural world, as best as we can, reforming the former as necessary. Part of this is my reaction to a world which moves way too quickly, in every sense of the term. So even if there are institutions that, were I king of the world, would happily abolish (I won't list them for fear of triggering the reader), I am very conscious of the fact that changing things overnight is necessarily violent and unlikely to produce the desired results.

But therein lies my first gripe. Wolf characterises what he doesn't like as "revolutionary" and what he does as "reform". This is what I would Italian grandmother reasoning - everything in moderation (food, drink, sleep, work, ...) and I get to set the baseline of what is moderate.

Yet if we get past what is essentially just name calling, we have many points of agreement. Wolf, for example, proposes a "house of the people", essentially citizen's assemblies, alongside the traditional (elected) house of representatives and (unelected) house of merit (similar to the House of Lords in the UK). This, if taken further, e.g. by abolishing the other two houses entirely, I would consider revolutionary. Call me naïve, but I would also argue that it would go a long way towards solving a lot of the problems that Wolf identifies. Martin Wolf does not place much emphasis on this idea and ignores one of the most established thinkers on this topic, David Van Reynbrouck. I wonder whether this stems from Wolfy's desire to ignore "revolutionary" thinkers at all costs, even though Van Reynbrouck goes to great lengths to outline a plan to progressively introduce citizen's assemblies.

My second issue with Wolf's conservatism is that he seems to me to to flirt with xenophobia. In my initial reading of his views on immigration, I was reminded of Roger Scruton, who, for all his eloquence, was extremely prejudiced (his words, not mine), and dangerously so. To quote Kenan Malik from The Guardian:

Both men [Roger Scruton and Edmund Burke] viewed society as a kind of "trust, with the living members as trustees of an inheritance that they must strive to enhance and pass on". For both, "prejudice" was the key social cement. "Our most necessary beliefs may be both unjustified and unjustifiable," Scruton insisted, "and the attempt to justify them will merely lead to their loss." The ideal society was not built on values such as liberty or equality but on obedience, "the prime virtue of political beings, the disposition that makes it possible to govern them. In the good society one accepted one's station in life".

That last part of the above quote made it clear to me that Wolf would not agree with Scruton. However, I think both of them are unwilling to accept one of the responsibilities that comes with the privileges bestowed upon them by globalisation and the legacies of colonialism, namely that former colonised people will risk their lives to live in the West. Wolf talks about managing immigration, making sure that it does not upset the people living in the West, but he does not (as far as I could tell) talk about educating Westerners about migrants themselves - their history, where they come from, why they move, and their living conditions once they do. Humanising people on the move in this way would almost certainly change many citizen's views on migration.

Let me put this slightly differently. I think many on the left would agree with Wolf's argument that societies require exclusion and control of their members. Just replace the nation state with indigenous people's such as the Yaomami. However, Wolf seems to be concerned almost exclusively with Western nation states, not societies of the global south, who see their land plundered and their way of life annihilated by the capitalism Wolf is supporting. By doing this, I can't help but think that the exclusive citizenship that Wolf argues for is based on the same ignorance and false truths that feeds populism and the far right.

As I was writing this, I was left unsure of whether I was mischaracterising Wolf. Here are some further quotes to nuance this picture. The first is the introduction to his idea of a "ethical education":

Renewing democratic citizenship also requires countries to give people, especially the young, an ethical education, including on what democracy means, how it works, and what the responsibilities of citizens must be.

Would this ethical education include thorough histories of colonial history, including the many attempts by Western countries to cripple nascent democracies in Africa (think Lumumba, Sankara, ...)? Would it include a true history of our ancestors and what they did, be they Nazis, fascists, or colonisers?

The second quote relates to identity politics, which Wolf mischaracterises in my opinion:

Even if things do not go this far, narrow and exclusive identities are a problematic basis for democratic politics. One reason for this is that people cannot be defined by just one attribute of ethnicity, race, sex or gender. They have many and generally overlapping identities. [...] the identity politics of minorities are almost certain to stimulate the identity politics of majorities.

This section of the book left me very confused. On the one hand, yes, of course, we are all composed of many different identities - I do not think that "leftist" thinkers pretend otherwise. On the other hand, I have this nagging feeling that Wolf is promoting a patriotism that must trump all other identities at all costs. Something along the lines of: "Hey we're all French now, let's not talk about the fact that your black, trans, disabled, etc so I can continue to discriminate against you." But perhaps he is promoting the one sort of patriotism that I could actually support. Allowing myself another caricature, I am talking of a patriotism which proclaims that "we're all very different from each other, but let's celebrate that together and do the best that we can to live and flourish with each other in this weird nation state thing that some people built 100 years ago."

Stop strawmanning degrowth

"we need high-income countries to scale down excess energy and material use; we need a rapid transition to renewables; and we need to shift to a post-capitalist economy that's focused on human well-being and ecological stability rather than on perpetual growth. But we also need more than this - we need a new way of thinking about our relationship with the living world." Hickel and people like him wish to overthrow our economic system.

Correct.

Yet no political party with such goals has the slightest chance of gaining power.

As long as such ideas remain at the margins, yes, of course (and by the way, you're helping to suppress them).

The transformation he desires could only be implemented by a dictatorship, and a global dictatorship at that.

Ummm... This seems like more of a "you" problem, in that you can't imagine another way of doing things.

This is at best unrealistic utopianism.

Urrrgh, no, it's realistic utopianism, because, and do I really need to point this out still? decoupling economic growth from environmental degradation is theoretically nonsensical and empirically unproven. See Decoupling Debunked.

Even a true end to economic growth would not solve the problem. Suppose global economic growth did cease and emissions per unit of output continued to decline at the same rate as between 1990 and 2018 - that is, at about 1.8 percent a year. Annual global emissions would still have fallen only by 40 percent by 2050. That would not solve the climate problem

No, it wouldn't, but where on earth did you read this proposal? I don't think any degrowther is proposing that putting an end to economic growth as a policy objective would on its own solve the climate crisis. It is, however, a pre-requisite.

The only ways to achieve zero emissions are either to divorce output from emissions or to eliminate all output that depends on inputs of commercial energy. If the former were possible, neither an end to growth nor the far more radical alternative of eliminating all the increase in global output since the industrial revolution would be necessary.

Again, see Decoupling Debunked.

The latter is certainly politically impossible. But it is also morally unacceptable. It would require reversal of virtually all increase in economic welfare of the past two centuries, with devastating consequences for individual well-being and political and social stability.

At this point I had to take a good long break to shout four letter words at a wall. It makes me livid to see straw-manning like this, and from someone who can and should know better. If his references are to be believed, Martin Wolf has read Adam Smith, John Stuart Mill and whole host of other convoluted and difficult to read thinkers, but he has not spent 3 to 4 hours reading Chapter 7 of Timothée Parrique's thesis on degrowth controversies. I don't have time for this, so Wolf, if you're reading this blog post, please also read the following parts of Timothée Parrique's PhD dissertation:

  • Zero or negative growth (p. 322) - in response to your misconception that degrowth is "de-growth", i.e. negative growth.
  • Technophobic, anti-science, and the end of innovation (p.338) - in response to your fear of going back to the Stone Age.
  • Authoritarian, sectarian, and survivalist (p. 360) - in response to your fears of dictatorship.
  • An apology of misery and romanticisation of the poor (p. 383) - because it's interesting and you've anyway read half the section on misconceptions anyway.

We must do our best with humans as they are - with their mixture of greed and selflessness.

Wolf's strawmanning of degrowth is particularly frustrating because Wolf says a lot of things that are, well, very degrowthy:

The motto of this book is "Never too much"

Belief in the limitless potential of technology is almost a secular religion.

Since humans are imaginative, they also constantly redefine what "living is". It always means thriving within one's society. But today that no longer meansd just sufficient food, shelter, clothing and heating. In the high income economies of today, it includes a range of goods and services unimaginable to anybody born two centuries ago.

the economy is embedded in nature, a truth that economists foolishly forgot.

Life on earth, it is argued, has entered a "sixth extinction", with extinction rates thought to be 100 to 1,000 times higher than their background rate over the past tens of millions of years.

Having got over my initial anger, I found this part of Wolf's book deeply saddening. Like Hannah Ritchie, he is obviously an intelligent person, and yet he does not seriously engage with degrowth or any other idea that is supposedly "revolutionary". There are serious and deliciously complex issues to be tackled within degrowth (e.g. geopolitics and defence funding) that would benefit from rigorous debate. Instead of adding to that debate, Wolf prefers to misunderstand degrowth in order to dismiss it. I will get back to this in my conclusion. First, two more points.

Unrealistic appeal to "elites" to be nicer

Certainly, the core democratic institutions do not protect themselves. They need to be protected by people who understand and cherish the values they defend, particularly members of commercial, political, and intellectual elites.

And yet they have not done so. Why? And why do you expect them to change all of a sudden? Here, Wolf's realism is forgotten and he upholds a naïve theory of change which preserves the neoliberal world order that he cherishes so much. The thought occurred to me that this is unsurprising coming from someone who has all his life argued for what powerful interests want, and so has never had to really think about what you can do if you decide to go against those interests.

In any case, someone else wrote a much better critique of this here, so I will not bother to elaborate further.

West-centric, unimaginative and fraught with false dichotomies

Democracy is always imperfect. But tyranny is never the answer.

By democracy, I mean its dominant contemporary form - universal suffrage, representative democracy.

... capitalism cannot survive in the long run without a democratic polity, and democracy cannot survive in the long run without a market economy.

Quite simply, economically free countries tend to be democracies, and vice versa.

After the First World War, the push for a renewal of global capitalism and democratization ultimately failed. After the Second World War, democratization of the losers succeeded. After the Cold War, the results have been very mixed.

Without the market, economies can generate neither the information nor the incentives needed to be dynamic.

Mining is destructive, particularly when carried out in poor countries, which supplies about 60 percent of the world's cobalt. It is essential that the people of these countries (not just rapacious elites and mining companies) share in the benefits and the miners themselves and their families are treated with care and respect.

Martin Wolf has focussed on the last 200 years of Western history, read almost exclusively conventional, Western authors and concluded, like Churchill, that "democracy is the worst form of Government except for those other forms that have been tried from time to time." His theory of change is apparently based on the hope that powerful people will buy his book and realise the error of their ways. He lives in a world where the situation in North Kivu and elsewhere is deplorable, but anomalous: in no way is it an integral part of global capitalism or a continuation of colonialism. Furthermore, a world in which we mine less because it is so "destructive" is inconceivable to him, as is a world where we decide to put a stop to AI. And what about a world where we trust both men and women to carry out care tasks? Where nation states are not the sole or even the principal way of organising human societies?

Had Martin Wolf read David Graeber and David Wengrow's "The Dawn of Everything", to name just one example, then he might have been a bit more imaginative in his analysis of the situation we're in and the solutions that he proposes. Hell, he might have even been convinced that Enlightenment ideals were in fact inspired by non-Westerners... Instead, Martin Wolf sees history rhyming but is incapable of singing a different song.

Can't we just be friends?

I will be honest - I read this book thinking "Urgh, an old white dude desperately trying to preserve the status quo." Call me cocky, but at least I'm honest. However, I was surprised and grateful to note his level of alarm; his very real fear of a repeat of the '30s; his concern for inequality, corporate lobbying, a reckless financial system and general disgust with an out-of-touch and greedy elite; and his proposal of radical policies, such as a citizen's assemblies. His book ends with a list of laudable aims for "reviving citizenship" which include:

Every citizen should have the security needed to thrive, even if burdened by the ill luck of illness. disability, and other misfortunes.

Every citizen should have the protections needed to be free from abuse, physical and mental.

Every citizen should be able to cooperate with other workers in order to protect their collective rights.

Those who manage corporations should understand that they have obligations to the societies that make their existence possible.

Politics must be susceptible to the influence of all citizens, not just the wealthiest.

I disagree with Martin Wolf on quite a few points. However, ultimately we have many more agreements than differences. I welcome our agreements even more so because they are coming from such an entrenched establishment figure. It was nonetheless frustrating for me to notice our similaries while also seeing him dismiss others such as Jason Hickel who he could also find a lot of common ground with. Wolf's parents were survivors of the Shoah, the aftermath of which saw the formation Grand coalition governments across Europe. These included parties from across the political spectrum, with communists, socialists, christian democrats, liberals and many others coming together to avoid repeating the horrors of the past. We desperately need this sort of cooperation before shit hits the metaphorical fan, and it is possible. That means seeing past our ideological differences, really listening to each other and working together to build a fairer world where all humans can flourish.

Aaaaaah, it's never going to happen. Better start stocking up on baked beans and Marmite.

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