- Politics and the Pursuit of Happiness: An Inquiry into the Involvement of Human Beings in the Politics of Industrial Society by Ghita Ionescu
Longman, 248 pp, £16.50, September 1984, ISBN 0 582 29549 1
For neo-liberals and neo-socialists, the deepening crisis with which this and other advanced industrial societies have been grappling since the early Seventies is essentially economic – a matter of insufficient competition, or inadequate investment, or lax monetary management, or deflationary fiscal policies, to be put right by the appropriate bag of economic tricks. Those who belong to what Roy Jenkins once called the ‘radical centre’ rightly reject the economism of their rivals. For them, the crisis is not only, or even mainly, economic, but political as well. Yet even the ‘radical centre’ has so far seen it in a curiously narrow perspective. There has been a lot of talk about institutional change – electoral reform, trade-union reform, reform of the social security system, industrial democracy, a new ministry of education and training, a Freedom of Information Act, a Bill of Rights. But on the fundamental questions of value and purpose, on the answers to which any worthwhile programme of institutional change must be based, little has been said.
Vol. 6 No. 22 · 6 December 1984
SIR: I think David Marquand has made one fundamental error in his interpretation of neo-liberalism, as he has it in his review of Ghita Ionescu’s Politics and the Pursuit of Happiness (LRB, 20 September). Neither British nor American neo-liberalism favours the allocation of resources solely through the competitive market. Neo-liberals, in fact, accept the alternative doctrine as defined by Mr Marquand: ‘Advanced industrial production is about co-operation.’ That this is true of British neo-liberalism should be clear from David Owen’s own explication of the creed, Face the future. Dr Owen devotes much of his book to the dilemma of promoting trans-social co-operation without its degenerating into corporatism. On the first page of his work, Dr Owen criticises those who continue to place the political debate between the two poles of equality and liberty, all the while neglecting ‘the other element of this historic triad, fraternity, representing the sense of fellowship, co-operation, neighbourliness, community and citizenship’. He correctly recognises the difficulty of fostering co-operation in a post-industrial state that must, of necessity, grow more decentralised, but concludes that the two ideals can be reconciled. ‘The task now,’ writes Dr Owen, ‘is to build up through democratic involvement a sense of community in order to rediscover a responsibility from the individual to the state.’ American neo-liberals within the Democratic Party have also wrestled with the problem of balancing co-operation and competition, as is evident from their raising of the risk-and-entrepreneurship issue at the same time as they extol the virtues of co-operation. This debate is well covered in my own book, The Neo-Liberals: Creating the new American Politics. Unfortunately, American neo-liberalism does not have the luxury of its own party, and thus the questions tugging at liberals stateside – statism or individualism, corporatist tripartism or market-oriented entrepreneurship – are far from a resolution. But, as Harvard University’s industrial policy advocate Robert Reich told me, new technologies have so transformed the post-industrial political economy that it is now possible to ‘centralise resources [and] decentralise authority’. Neither Reich nor any of the other American neo-liberals is so naive as to believe in the efficacy of a competitive marketplace that is, at best, a myth of the Reaganites.
Contributing Editor, Esquire, New York