Tony Traub reviews Economics for the Many, edited by John McDonnell, Verso
This book is a valuable collection of sixteen short essays on the crisis facing modern Britain, coming up with progressive solutions which a Corbyn-led government could usher in. It is edited and with an introduction by John McDonnell. He says, ‘We are seeking nothing less than to build a society that is radically fairer, more democratic and more sustainable, in which the wealth of society is shared by all.
The first piece, by Antonia Jennings, who teaches at the LSE, starts by talking about democratising economics in a post-truth world. She advocates educating the public who have been misled into accepting the Tory government’s line on austerity, that it is unavoidable and necessary.
Simon Wren-Lewis discusses Labour’s fiscal credibility in context. He talks about the battle between the monetarists and the fiscalists in regulating the economy. He also speculates on a Labour government’s proposed course of action.
Prem Sikka talks about rising to the challenge of tax avoidance, one of the major social and political issues of our times, as HMRC estimates losses of around £36bn a year in tax revenues through uncollected money due to avoidance and evasion.
Ann Pettifor discusses the need for a Green new deal. Climate change poses a mortal threat to humankind. By the end of this century, large parts of the world will become uninhabitable (at present rates of carbon emissions). Mark Carney warned about the threat to huge asset management companies that are threatened by climate change targets. Pettifor suggests the implementation of a Green New Deal to finance the ecological changes required. In addition, it will be necessary to build a sustainable economy, one dominated by a carbon army of skilled, well paid workers.
Francesca Bria writes about the role of data and how to curb the power of the big tech companies. She thinks cities can play an important part in resolving these difficult issues. ‘The fight for digital sovereignty should be coupled with a coherent and ambitious political and economic agenda capable of reversing damage’. This will require reconnecting critical digital infrastructures and protecting citizens’ digital sovereignty.
Christopher Procter analyses how economics needs to be re-thought for a new age. He calls for a sharp break in neoclassical economics that dominate university courses.
Barry Gardiner MP talks about the trade policy which a Labour government would advocate. He proposes one that would be fair and progressive post Brexit.
Costas Lapavitsas, who teaches at SOAS, discusses ‘definancialising’ the UK economy. He thinks that the financial sector is too dominant. He also talks of Brexit being a good opportunity to rebalance the economy away from banks.
Rob Calvert Jump discusses better models of business ownership. He suggests workers’ cooperatives are a good way of deepening democracy. He goes on to analyse the benefits of renationalisation posing questions of how a future Labour government would achieve such a transformation. He suggests that in the case of most SMEs it would not be that difficult to encourage more co-operative forms of ownership. For large companies he proposes part- nationalisation.
To conclude, this is a useful handbook for left activists. The material can be a little demanding for the layperson (but not inaccessible) and I would recommend reading it chapter by chapter. It deals with the standard problems of British society but comes up with some innovative solutions that I hadn’t thought of.