While I was changing jobs last autumn, I was also working on some research looking at the experiences of public sector organisations that transfer to the status of mutuals. Given that this is quite a major policy theme for the Coalition government, this is a relevant issue at the moment. The resulting report, Becoming a Public Service Mutual, co-authored with my successor Ruth Yeoman, is now published, and you can download it here [pdf].
The report is based on a number of case studies of individual organisations that had been spun out of state ownership, into some form of employee and user ownership (although the status of that 'ownership' tended to remain a little ambiguous, given that a degree of risk and often some assets remain with the traditional public sector). These are in sectors such as housing, health and social care, and in all cases, some sort of new governance model was required, to reinvent accountability and hierachy in ways that were distinct from standard public sector bureaucracy.
In terms of political economy more broadly, what I found interesting about visiting these organisations and interviewing their management was that they have to adopt a very different approach to risk and failure, which defies tidy quantification. Basically, they don't quite know what they're doing much of the time, and have to adapt to that fact. But - as any good Hayekian will tell you - nobody really ever knows quite what they're doing when seeking complex forms of coordination, and it's better when those in authority are aware of this, than if they come to believe that things like spreadsheets and audits will protect them. There's a sense of humility about these organisations, born partly out of the fact that they've often had to invent their governance structures out of thin air, and can't be entirely sure that they won't fail in some unpredictable sense. This makes technical risk management harder, but probably makes the collective intelligence and learning far greater. New Public Management techniques are therefore mitigating against precisely the forms of practice and co-operation that might rescue effective public sector governance from a descent into technocratic stagnation (as David Graeber argues in this superb piece, "whenever there is a choice between one option that makes capitalism seem the only possible economic system, and another that would actually make capitalism a more viable economic system, neoliberalism means always choosing the former").
What you discover, when you visit a co-operative or a mutual that is succeeding (or at least not failing, which, contrary to Blairite rhetoric, is more fundamental), is that a new concept of individual agency has emerged, which is unlike those which are handed down from the HR profession or agency theory. It's a concept of agency which is socio-economic, messy, aware of longer-term consequences (which doesn't necessarily translate into taking responsibility for those consequences, but at least can do), and capable of dialogue. What I don't know is whether such a form of agency could ever be translated into formulaic templates, training or audit, without losing what makes it valuable in the first place.
My colleague, Nate Tkacz and I, have put together a conference at CIM, which tries to think about neoliberalism in terms of rival technologies of information-processing. In particular, could the market be usurped within the neoliberal imagination by other 'smarter' machinic visions of liberty, such as those promised by 'open data'? Philip Mirowski will give a keynote, drawing on his forthcoming book on the financial crisis. The full ad for the conference is copied below (the original link is here) with registration details at the bottom. Come along!
Neoliberalism is commonly identified as a belief in the self-regulating powers of markets, especially financial markets. Markets, from this perspective, are powerful information-processors, which are uniquely capable of governing complex societies while preserving liberty. In recent decades, financial institutions have added further computational power, which, among other things, has led to the automation of trading and the calculation and simulation of market scenarios to manage risk. The financial crisis has been perceived by some as the outcome of this collision between markets and increasingly ‘performative’ economics.
But where does this leave neoliberalism and its technical ideal of freedom? Does it simply require more markets or greater computational power to prevent future crises? Or are we witnessing the emergence of a different neoliberalism, based on different technologies and ideologies of liberty, in appeals to ‘Big Data’ and ‘openness’? Might software and ‘open data’ usurp the primacy of the price system in the neoliberal imagination, as tools of governance in complex modern societies? To what extent are the political desires of the digital elite – from Hackers to Silicon Valley – amenable to the neoliberal project?
This one-day conference will address these questions from a range of disciplinary perspectives, including software studies, history of economics, political theory, media studies, international political economy and economic sociology.
The conference is free to attend, but registration is essential. To register please click here.
Karl Marx believed, optimistically, that capitalism was creating the conditions of its own socialist successor, through bringing an emergent class together in cities and factories, where they would inevitably discover their shared interest and the superiority of common ownership. Optimistic Marxists, such as Hardt and Negri, continue to believe that something like this is true, on the basis that value is dematerialising, making it eventually impossible to privatise. There are even business gurus who preach something similar.
Wandering around Stratford Westfield the other day, I had a similar but more pessimistic thought: maybe capitalism is gradually morphing into the 'actually existing' state socialism of the old Eastern Bloc. (For international readers, Stratford Westfield is a vast shopping centre that was strategically located between the 2012 Olympic Park and the nearest train station, in the hope of rinsing unfortunate athletics fans for some cash en route to the games.) British capitalism already has many of the hallmarks of Brezhnev-era socialist decline: macroeconomic stagnation, a population as much too bored as scared to protest about very much, a state that performs tongue-in-cheek legitimacy, politicians playing with statistics to try and delay the moment of economic reckoning. But it was this glimpse of Bucharest-style architecture, while crossing one of the Westfield walkways, that really brought this home:
A whole area of Hackney and Newham, that used to be a wasteland of scrap metal and ex-industrial equipment, was bulldozed, concreted over and then built on at vast scale, as part of London's unnecessary Olympic modernisation project. Only a very carefully planned alliance of state and corporate actors could have made this happen, with the principle goals being 'security' and 'delivery'. But even these apparently neoliberal ideals were becoming mired in comedy by the time of the games themselves. The 'security' threat was so vaguely defined, that battleships were located in the Thames and rocket-launchers placed on top of people's homes, like those laughable Red Square muscle parades of yore. Meanwhile, the 'delivery' was spoken of as 'on budget', but on the comical principle that 'budget' meant whatever the spokespersons needed it to.
Travelling around the area, you get a very clear sense that you are no longer in an unplanned, emergent or liberal urban space. Both aesthetically and politically, this is the nightmare that everyone from Jane Jacobs to Friedrich Hayek was warning us against: the quest for complete control of an economy or a space will result in a uniformity that is at best very dull and at worst very frightening. Examples of 'actually existing' state socialism tended to sit at various points on a spectrum between the two. For a British example of something that is a tad scary and more than a tad depressing, here is another shot of post-Olympian London:
The absurd sculpture that nobody asked for, the CCTV, the barbed wire, the bland greyness; I was probably breaking the law by taking this photo, but the security guards had probably given up caring. In any case, I might have bought them off with the offer of a pack of Marlboro reds or an Eagles LP.
Earlier this week, I happened to hear an old NYLON friend, Suzi Hall, speaking about her work on the LSE Ordinary Streets project, which is carrying out a close ethnographic and economic analysis of the Peckham Rye Lane area of London, including interviews with hundreds of shopkeepers. The work sounds like a brilliant example of what an anthropological sensibility can bring to the understanding of urban economic life.
She compared Peckham Rye to Stratford Westfield, in terms of numbers of businesses and the employment generated. While Westfield was sold as a local regenerator and job creator, Peckham Rye Lane's economy of ethnically diverse small-holders is eyed suspiciously by policy-makers as an apparent blockage to economic development. Plans are afoot to help chains move into the street as a step towards 'regeneration'. Yet Suzi reported that, while Westfield Stratford had duly delivered its promised 8,000 jobs, Peckham Rye Lane's local market was already a source of 13,000, via a far greater number of businesses. This is aside from the webs of social networks that accompany an 'embedded' market economy, in contrast to identikit businesses that are taking over most highstreets.
The notion that in an age of shrinking social security, policy-makers might view such a street as anything other than an irreplaceable socio-economic benefit is just bizarre. Why such government suspicion of the market? In contrast to the known quantity of WH Smiths, it probably appears dangerously opaque to the local council, but only because of the myopic tools of transparency and surveillance that are in use. A different gaze, such as that practiced by Suzi and her colleagues, would reveal things differently. The blind fear of the migrant (or even second or third generation migrant) converts economic liberty from the asset that Adam Smith portrayed it as, to a risk that requires costly management. And when it comes to mitigting the risks associated with individual freedom, the Chinese political model will always 'out-perform' ours...
In his recent On Critique, Luc Boltanski argues that repetition becomes the key trope of political actors who seek to avoid moments of critical or objective judgement. Words are recited, truths are repeatedly affirmed, routines are performed repeatedly, for fear that otherwise questions might be asked. This is different from, say, a company audit or an evaluation, in which there is a ritualistic element to it, but the outcome is unknown, unless it has become corrupted in some way. My feeling is (and I discuss this in a book I'm just finishing) that neoliberalism has entered a post-critical, repetitive phase, in which certain things have to be spoken - delivery, efficiency, security, competitiveness - but in order to hold the edifice together, rather than to reveal anything as objectively 'delivered', 'efficient', 'secure' or 'competitive. Political systems which do not create space for critique encounter this need for mandatory repetition immediately, as occurred to state socialism.
Neoliberalism was a political system in which the world was put to the test in some way, it was simply that the tests employed were those which privileged price and entrepreneurial energy. I don't want to defend this form of testing, which is often cynical, bullying and depressingly unsympathetic to other valuation systems. But there was often some consistency about it and the capacity for an unexpected outcome (for instance, that local economic diversity might be revealed to be more fiscally efficient). Look at Westfield today, however, and you see an economic culture being repeated, without any sincere sense that this represents 'choice', 'efficiency' or 'regeneration', nor any sense that things might have turned out differently even if this had been known. The point becomes to name this as 'efficient' and that (e.g. Peckham Rye Lane) as 'inefficient', and try and avoid or suppress evidence to the contrary. The fear arises that provable efficiency might involve abandoning one set of power structures in favour of another. And so economics becomes a naming ceremony, not a test.
Eastern bloc socialism had to keep going through the 1970s and 80s, inspite of lagging growth and failed ideological hegemony, because nobody knew what else to do. This is the stage neoliberal policy-making has now reached. The difference is that there is still one area of our economy that is still moving and changing, namely the money economy, with corporate profits high and financial innovation ongoing. What seems to have changed, post-2008, is that the price paid for this monetary dynamism is that the rest of us all have to stand completely still. In order that 'they' in the banks can cling on to their modernity of liquidity and ultra-fast turnover, 'we' outside have to relinquish our modernity, of a future that is any different from the present. Finance is to our stagnant societies what the space race and the Cold War were to the Eastern Bloc countries of the 1970s and 80s - a huge cost that the state imposes on its public, with the result that cities and economies start to become tedious processions of the same.
People will always round on 'liberalism' (in the European, not American, sense of the word) at times of perceived crisis. Opponents of liberalism will even seek to engineer crises in order to attack it. New Labour was blessed with one of those rare periods of human history, when military conflict is minimal and wealth seems to grow almost naturally. In response, Tony Blair and John Reid invented a fantasy of ubiquitous Arab terror, so as to advance their instinctive political assault on liberalism. This had the no-doubt-anticipated consequence of re-framing 'liberals' as a special interest group, obsessed with human rights law, magna carta, old men in grey wigs and Europe. Even the Liberal Democrats no longer want anything to do with that kind of liberalism.
That those in the executive branch of government like to hurl rocks at the judicial branch is not so surprising. Even in the US, Presidents simply have to refer to something as a 'war' (on terror, on drugs) to know that they are then virtually free from judicial interference. But it bothers me when the Left starts to beat up on liberalism. The leftwing New Statesman's editorial this week argues that "with its emphasis on abstract individualism, liberalism, the great driver of social emancipation and economic prosperity, now feels inadequate to this new age of insecurity." This repeats the line espoused by Blue Labour and Red Toryism, that both the 'social liberalism' of the 1960s and the 'economic liberalism' of the 1980s have now reached their limit, and some sort of more substantive, collectivist communitarianism is needed.
Of course everyone is entitled to their own definition of 'liberalism'. But allow me to offer my own interpretation of the term, and question what on earth the Left would be left with, if it became genuinely 'post-liberal', as for instance the think tank Demos has been recently proposing. Liberalism doesn't favour 'abstract individualism', because it doesn't want to get entangled in culture or history. What it favours is identifying a common and stable basis on which to judge people, actions, institutions and economic distributions, that is robust enough to survive inspite of cultural or historical contingency.
This is, admittedly, partly a search for principles, giving it a necessarily philosophical and discursive dimension. Certain ideas are at work, especially regarding what it means to be a human being. But this is an open philosophical or anthropological debate. 'Deontological' liberals, such as Kant and Rawls, view humans as reasoning creatures. But there are more materialist answers to this question, including those provided by Marxists, which represent human beings as productive creatures. Hayek, if he believed anything at all about humanity, probably believed that we're all equally prone to be wrong about the world. There is no reason whatsoever why liberal debates about common humanness couldn't now be entered by neuroscientists or neo-Darwinists, if they weren't so busy re-categorising details of the pope's religious affiliation or the sylvanian geography of bear's toilet habits.
But it is never only about principles. It is also about the material, technical and institutional means by which equal judgement on people is to be enacted. For neoliberals, this is some notion of price (often mutating into an audit of competitive performance). As Stuart White's fascinating article, Revolutionary Liberalism, details, liberals of the early 20th century saw worker ownership and profit-sharing as the institutional basis on which to ensure individuals could attain equality in the public and political realm. There is a long tradition of liberal socialism, now exemplified by people such as Robin Blackburn and Erik Olin Wright, who would view capitalism as the main enemy of liberalism.
There are multiple philosophical liberalisms, and even more technical or practical manifestations of liberalism. All that they essentially share is a vain Enlightenment hope, that there might be some basis on which to govern people, that does not discriminate according to contingency. Or rather, to flip that round, they are explicit about which element of contingency they are using as the basis for discrimination. For judges, it is the contingent fact that one is guilty of something. For neoliberals, it is the contingent fact of being able to pay for something. For republican liberals, it is the contingent fact of being a skilled orator. And so on. But there must be a criterion, it must be named in advance, and there must be some publicity surrounding how it is employed. That is all liberalism necessarily means.
Abandon this in favour of what? I can at least understand the catholic theological critique of liberalism, that underpins John Milbank's theological critique of modernity, Phillip Blond's Red Toryism, possibly John Cruddas's Blue Labourism, and Alasdair MacIntyre and Charles Taylor's communitarianism. The basis for political judgement ceases to be purely institutional and philosophical, and attains an element of divinity. Ordinary people may not understand how judgement is meted out, but they can believe that it is good nevertheless. But what do we secularists have? There are some answers to this question, and some of them are hideous.
The other question I would put to 'post-liberals' is this. Why do you automatically assume that liberalism is a watchword for elitism, technocracy and establishment, whereas post-liberalism will usher in community, organic relations and rekindled tradition? Isn't that the same lie that Karl Rove based George W Bush's political career on, whereby working class anger with judicial rule (in the US case, Roe v Wade) is channelled to facilitate a cynical extension of power by existing elites? Surely elites are often delighted to see liberalism diminished. Remove rule of law or rule of market, and elites - including technocratic ones - simply acquire new freedoms to meddle and rearrange institutions in their own interests.
In After Virtue, MacIntyre poses a horribly simple ethical question: do we side with Nietzsche or Aristotle? Or to put that another way, do we abandon morality altogether, or sign up to virtue ethics? MacIntyre opts for the latter. But when a choice is put this starkly, there is a dangerous tendency of people to flip from one to the other, or even dwell in both realms simultaneously. The only solution to nihilism is the church. The only freedom from moral repression is a form of hedonistic nihilism. MacIntyre's dilemma works very well for many cynical elites, who talk Aristotle, but act Nietzsche. The post-liberals are naive about politics, if they think that the rhetoric of 'faith, flag and family', as Maurice Glasman likes to put it, will actually install virtue ethics into modern public life. The abandonment of liberalism can create a polarity, in which some select substantively meaningful rituals (as Blue Labour and Red Tories hope), while others enjoy an even greater form of hedonism.
Neoliberalism, of a certain variety, is able to proceed without having much of a liberal component, other than a basic common recognition of money (but even money is now constantly propped up by the executive branch of government, via central banks). The neoliberal tradition had thrown off much of its 'liberal' heritage (such as the ordoliberals and Henry Simons) by the time it achieved its political takeover in the 1970s. The effect of the financial crisis on neoliberalism was to shed the remnants of its claim to treat all market actors equally. Today, the poor aren't even trusted with money...
I've written a couple of papers on what 'post-liberal' neoliberalism looks like, and I'm not convinced that it involves morris dancers swilling warm beer on the white cliffs of Dover. As I argued here, a version of technocratic communitarianism is now increasingly plausible, to replace technocratic liberalism. And as I argued here, a type of Schmittian market exception, in which the market is sustained only through periodic acts of extra-legal emergency measures, may be what we're left with, post-2008. These are examples of 'post-liberalism', in which the status quo is defended out of fear, but not on the basis that it serves the common good.
Maybe this is all a problem of definitions. If the issue is, how can secular, modern societies find a basis on which to sort 'good' from 'bad', then I'm sure that I would find far more common cause with a catholic communitarian like John Cruddas than with a neoliberal such as Larry Summers or a legal liberal such as Shami Chakrabarti. But why is liberalism the problem, and not, say, utilitarianism, with its brutal statistics, expert weightings and clinical interventions? Or why not defend democracy, with its specification of voice, rather than community, with its darker implications of exclusion and suppression? Somebody other than just the liberty 'lobby' needs to defend liberalism, and I don't see why that shouldn't be the secular left.
For what it's worth, I would view the present as the moment to do neoliberalism all over again, though this time with a sociologically coherent notion of what economic freedom (and domination) means, where it is likely to arise, and the types of institutions and public policies that are likely to support it. Thatcherite belief in 'enterprise' and 'entrepreneurship' was never liberal in the first place, because it treated some individuals (the 'talented', the 'leaders', the 'innovators') according to a different set of standards from everybody else. That's the opposite of liberalism. Real economic liberalism would be a monumental achievement. Whether it's compatible with capitalism is another question altogether.
For any academics, graduate students or prospective graduate students reading this, please check out a few things that colleagues and I at CIM are running over the next year:
Please forward to anyone you think might find any of these of interest!
This advertisement should be in the running for the Turner Prize.
It is one of the most unsettling pieces of film that I've ever seen, reducing advertising to a set of blank and bland facts, to be recited out of the mouths of an apparently arbitrary collection of sports stars. What are the celebrities doing in other people's houses? Have they broken in illegally? Or are we to suppose that they are ghostly apparitions? The atmosphere of the ad is one of oppressive silence, like that of a family that has lost a member but refused to ever discuss it. It's difficult to know what is stranger: the fact that Jenson Button is standing behind someone's fridge door, dressed in his racing gear, or the fact that he is sharing tips on gas bills, or the strange resignation to all of this on the part of the man using the fridge. Jessica Ennis is represented as a sort of track-suit-clad bag lady, who bothers people in the street with unwanted - and almost certainly false - information. The ordinary people, trying to go about their days in peace and privacy, exude a sad resignation that capitalism now drops (real? hallucinatory?) celebrities into their bathrooms and kitchens, to talk at them uninvited. If they could speak, what would they say? Their faces project fear and anxiety, as if they are now are trapped. Mostly they just want to be left the hell alone, to live, walk and paint; but this is the wish that sport, finance and above all advertising clearly will not grant. Is this a warning of some kind?
Reading the news this week that the government is to set up new 'evidence centres' to inform, criticise and influence £200bn-worth of public policy, my immediate thought was - why now? New Labour came into power singing the praises of 'evidence-based policy' in 1997, and became widely celebrated for its ability to bring new insights from economics, psychology and sociology straight into Downing Street, via the Strategy Unit and academic-wonks such as Geoff Mulgan and David Halpern. Even before then, the relentless auditing and measuring of public services was introduced under the guise of 'new public management' (though new research by Christopher Hood and Ruth Dixon shows that this never achieved great savings). And the Treasury's Green Book has offered a set of techniques for policy evaluation and appraisal for decades.
It seems now that policy is undergoing quite a rapid shift from treating economics as the standard for policy knowledge to treating medical research as the standard. This is clear from the fact that the evidence centre idea arose initially from the proposal of creating a 'NICE for social policy', to find out 'what works'. Economics itself is undergoing a much slower mutation, from aspiring to the status of physics to aspiring to that of biology. The infrastructucture of government that is needed to facilitate these shifts is quite different and far more extensive.
The key thing here, epistemologically, is that the state is trying to relinquish an a priori account of causality. The methodology of neo-classical economics has a very particular theory of causality, which it packages up within its assumed psychological theory of preference satisfaction. This theory then structures what types of evidence are collected, how they are interpreted, the political uses to which they are put. Inevitably, like any useful scientific framework, it also limits what types of conclusions might be drawn and the types of knowledge that might arise. A scientific framework that presupposed nothing about the world - or in this case, society - wouldn't be able to make any sense of the world.
Yet the spread of medical epistemology into public policy is strangely anti-theoretical, thanks to a somewhat naively optimistic view of a single technique: the randomised controlled trial (RCT). RCTs operate according to induction. The facts are meant to speak for themselves; the data and the theory are kept neatly and self-consciously separate from each other. A medic, Ben Goldacre, has co-authored a paper on the policy applications of RCTs for the British government, which opens with the line 'RCTs are the best way of determining whether a policy is working'. Elsewhere, RCTs are often referred to as the 'gold standard' for scientific testing, a term that confirms the dangers of metaphorical tourism, given that, while economists are happy to speak biologically of 'toxicity' and 'contagion' in the financial system, only the crankiest libertarians amongst them would countenance a return to the actual gold standard.
This is supplemented epistemologically by the rise of Big Data, which no doubt is already on the minds of forward-thinking policy experts, especially in the domain of health behaviours. The very character of Big Data is that it is collected with no particular purpose or theory in mind; it arises as a side-effect of other transactions and activities. It is, supposedly, 'theory neutral', like RCTs, indeed the techno-utopians have already argued that it can ultimately replace scientific theory altogether. Hence the facts that arise from big data are somehow self-validating; they simply emerge, thanks to mathematical analysis of patterns, meaning that there is no limit to the number of type of facts that can emerge. There's almost no need for human cognition at all!
The problem with all of this, politically, is that causal theories and methodologies aren't simply clumsy ways of interfering with empirical data, but also provide (wittingly or otherwise) standards of valuation. The reason economics has proved so powerful as a governmental tool is not because it is empirically correct about the drivers of human behaviour (no economist since Jevons has really claimed this; sociologists are barking up the wrong tree in this particular indictment) but because it provides a very clear idea of what a 'good' or 'bad' outcome would look like, in a particular situation. Pragmatically speaking, it saves decision-makers from having to have moral arguments about things, by placing numerical values on them instead.
Health policy is one area where this type of simplification is hardest to achieve, because moral trade-offs are often impossible to keep at bay. From the little I know of NICE and health economics, a great deal of what they wrestle with is not establishing 'facts' or 'evidence', but coming up with incredibly convoluted ways of agreeing what the standards of evaluation should be in the first place. QALYs are the most obvious example of this, but philosophical arguments about 'experienced utility' versus 'reported utility' and so on rage on in health economics, because pain, suffering and life itself are at stake, which can't be easily subjected to an efficiency analysis. As a goal, 'health' or 'wellness' lacks the finality of 'efficiency' or 'consumer welfare', meaning that there is a risk that health and wellbeing policies can never truly 'work'.
It is therefore a little ironic that NICE has become the model for social policy evaluation, given that social policy-makers already have a very clear toolkit for how to evaluate policies for over 40 years (the Green Book), whereas health policy evaluation is in a permanent - and necessary - state of philosophical self-doubt. By adopting the inductivist epistemology associated with RCTs and Big Data, social policy-makers may learn a great deal more about the world, but may also become commensurately less sure of what it even means for a policy to work in the first place.
For those of us with an innate suspicion of government positivists, this should be a good thing. Government might become more humble in its ambitions, cancel policies more readily, recognise the complexity of society. On the other hand, there is a risk that, as with RCTs in psycho-pharmaceuticals, diagnoses of social pathologies might start to spiral. Whole new problematic demographic sub-groups will start to appear to the gaze of the data analyst; new correlations of behavioural problems will be spotted; the perceived sources of our social, psychological and neurological malaises will simply multiply, and we'll long for an age when it was all just a problem of the wrong 'incentives'. Tesco's Club Card is rumoured to produce 18,000 sub-groups of customer; the equivalent for the state would be 18,000 sub-groups of pathological behaviour to be nudged back into line. Without the extreme simplifications of rationalist theories, society would appear too complex to be governed at all. The empiricist response to the government's paper title, 'What Works', might end up being 'very little', unless government becomes frighteningly 'smart'. Alternatively, if theory no longer provides the procedures of evaluation, there is a risk that private backroom politics will do so instead.
I exaggerate, of course. But the political issue is really this. Where clunky-old economics, with its unrealistic models, is used to deliver 'evidence-based policy', political and moral debate can be sidelined; yet the standard by which things are being judged is not difficult to discern. There is some publicness about this (I did some interviews with government economists a couple of years ago, and they couldn't understand why journalists never dipped into departmental policy evaluations, which are all published, and many are quite politically problematic). But where the state becomes a theory-less, inductivist, RCT-ing, data-analytical state, accumulating more and more data to find out 'what works', we are entitled to ask what working might actually mean. A clear and transparent utilitarianism, oriented around efficency, may be preferable to a vague and opaque utilitarianism, oriented around some metaphor of systemic 'wellness'.
Nothing simply works unambiguously in social policy, gold standard or no gold standard. No policy delivers benefits without any 'side-effects' (to play along with the game of policy doctors and nurses). A policy might 'work' in terms of reducing unemployment, but lead to an increase in family break-down. The inductivists response would be - yes, and that's precisely the type of pattern that our new evidence centres will detect! So why use the rhetoric of 'what works', when it is plain that nothing unambiguously works, at least without also offering the standard (the QALY for social policy, if you like) through which ethical dilemmas and trade-offs will be addressed? If all of this opens up space for non-utilitarian political debate about the multiple, competing purposes of social policies, and the types of procedures and authority that might be used to navigate between them, then that would be welcome. But the alternative is a Tesco Clubcard-state, which gets smarter and smarter, and more and more opaque as to whom its interventions are targeted at and why.
My article, 'When is a market not a market?: 'Exemption', 'externality' and 'exception' in the case of European State Aid rules' has now appeared online at Theory Culture & Society (I assume this means it will be in the March issue). I probably blogged about this when the article was originally accepted back in 1934 on whenever it was. Anyway, here is the preprint version, below is the abstract, or email me if you'd like the actual published pdf version.
The reach of markets and market-based forms of valuation is never unlimited in any society, which invites empirical and political questions regarding how limits to markets are instituted, justified and enforced. Under neoliberalism, the state performs a key role in expanding the reach of markets and associated principles and techniques of valuation, using law and governmental techniques. But this then poses a question of the relationship between the neoliberal state and the market that it endorses and enforces: is the state internal or external to the market order that it helps to construct? European Union state aid rules provide an empirical entry point to consider such questions, providing a combination of normative, technical and sovereign principles, via which the division between state and market can be justified, tested and enacted. The article identifies three separate though overlapping logics within state aid documents, each of which offers the state a justification for suspending the competitive market order: exemptions, in which non-market values are upheld, externalities, in which markets are shown to be technically inefficient, and exceptions – such as the 2008 financial crisis – in which the state abandons the market to save the market.