A very Happy Xmas to all the readers of this blog. For those with a little time on their hands over the holidays, here are some reflections on the research and writing that I have found inspirational and useful in pulling together my blog this year.
The best thinktank research of 2011 (IPPR aside, of course) has come from the Resolution Foundation. It has bought energy, rigour and political nous to policy debates about what’s happening to low and middle-income families in Britain. Its three stand-out reports this year for me were Growth without Gain, The Missing Million, and Why Did Britain’s Households get Richer? The final report of its Commission on Living Standards will be one of the most important policy moments of 2012.
The most interesting conservative thinking I have come across in 2011 is from the US. Top of the list is the economist Tyler Cowen, whose book The Great Stagnation has received worldwide acclaim, and whose blog Marginal Revolution is a must read. Not far behind is a collection of thinkers who blog under the title of Bleeding Heart Libertarians and who espouse ‘free markets and social justice’. I had always thought that Hayekian egalitarianism was an oxymoron but they are proving me wrong.
As far as UK conservatism is concerned, I’ve enjoyed reading Mark Pennington’s work, after debating with him earlier this year at the Southbank’s clash of the thinktanks (he is perhaps better thought of as a classical liberal). Tim Montgomerie has penned some important pieces for the Guardian on wealth inequality and social justice, and Anthony Browne is always an intelligent read.
US thinkers have generally been a source of interest and inspiration this year. Lane Kenworthy came to IPPR this autumn to discuss his recent book, Progress for the Poor, a great piece of comparative analysis on what works to raise the living standards of the bottom 10 per cent. His blog Consider the Evidence is always worth reading. I have found Elizabeth Anderson particularly interesting on theories of equality and citizenship. Her book The Imperative of Integration is one of the most important things I’ve read on race equality and common citizenship in a long time. Dani Rodrik’s The Globalisation Paradox is this year’s most important work on globalisation, while Jacob Hacker has had a big influence on UK debates on the ‘rich vs the rest’.
Also from the US, Samuel Bowles and Herb Gintis published a significant book on why humankind is a cooperative species earlier this year (plug: in the New Year IPPR will publish a pamphlet by Charlie Leadbetter on the new sciences of human cooperation). I also found Race Against The Machine by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee from MIT very stimulating (it probably has important implications for how we think about public services in the UK, for example).
Sticking with economics, Martin Wolf has been compulsory reading on the eurozone crisis. He and Paul Krugman have come to similar conclusions about the euro and the lamentable failure of policymakers and the ECB to address the real causes of the crisis. Both have also paid attention to the heterodox success of Iceland in recovering from the financial meltdown of 2008/09. Completing the piece, Mark Weisbrot has written some important pieces on contrasting lessons from Argentina and the Baltic states (contra the boosterism of the ‘expansionary contraction’ brigade).
Hats off to the Bank of England and the IMF for showing that establishment economic institutions can also do creative, original thinking. The BoE’s Spencer Dale and Andy Haldane have given really interesting speeches this year, while the IMF has published good pieces on inequality, instability and debt and financial regulation.
On family policy and gender politics, I have found Gosta Esping Anderson’s research indispensable. His book The Incomplete Revolution is the best guide to debates on gender equality, childcare, social mobility and family policy that I have yet read. Rebecca Asher’s polemic Shattered comes to similar policy conclusions (I declare a marital interest here). For education policy, I read Conor Ryan’s wise and rigorous blog and the excellent research of Bristol University’s CMPO, which is always ahead of the game.
The bursting of the Blue Labour bubble should not detract attention from some of the new strands of political theory that have animated its leading thinkers, nor from many of the contributions to the Labour Tradition e-book. However, I suspect 2012 will see a little more cross-fertilisation between the liberal and social democratic traditions, which Blue Labour theorists have hitherto ignored or downplayed.
For websites with strong argument and intellectual range, I have enjoyed Our Kingdom at Open Democracy, for which I occasionally write; Project Syndicate, and the French site Books and Ideas.net. For an aggregator site, I like BookForum. Will Davies’ Potlach gets my nomination for best individual blog – Will is consistently interesting.
As the Scottish independence debate hots up, it is worth checking out Stephen Noon’s blog. He is Alex Salmond’s strategic policy brain. IPPR advisory council member Iain McWhirter’s blog is always worth reading (next year, look out for new IPPR work on what ‘devo-max’ might mean).
Stepping away from politics and policy for a moment, for those interested in architecture and the built environment, The Art-Architecture Complex, by Princeton’s Hal Foster, is definitely one of the books of year. Love him or loathe him, Owen Hatherley is a fine critical writer, whose voluminous output is usually collated at his nasty, brutalist and short blog. And on my reading list is The Red Triology, a collection of essays on Jim Stirling’s famous post-war buildings in Leicester, Cambridge and Oxford.
Ferdie Mount’s review of Supermac: the Life of Harold Macmillan by D R Thorpe, for the LRB was easily my favourite book review of the year. It’s a brilliant read.
That’s it. Watch out for important IPPR reports in the New Year on the future of globalisation, housing policy, new era economics, the rise of English political identity, the true cost of energy, and skills and pay inequality. 2012 will be a big year for IPPR North, with the interim and final reports of its Commission on Northern Economic Futures. And we’ll be overhauling our journal, PPR, building on the success of our recent Marxism Today commemorative edition.
Happy holidays everyone!