Larry Elliott & Dan Atkinson “The Gods That Failed”

ISBN 978-1-847-92030-0. “The Gods that Failed – How blind faith in markets has cost us our future” was published by Bodley Head in 2008. This is the follow up to Elliott and Atkinson’s earlier (and similar) work “Fantasy Island – Waking up to the Incredible Economic, Political and Social Illusions of the Blair Legacy” to which they often refer. Disregard the graphic nature of the title and cover-page illustration as this is not really a book for the layman. Despite attempting to popularise the socio-economic consequences of neo-liberal policies this book is just too detailed in its discussion of the workings of the City to be truly accessible. In their last book the authors timidly suggested only a couple solutions to this country’s neo-liberal induced malaise. These included trying to live within the ecological limits of the planet – a topic they do briefly return to in ‘Gods’. This time around they suggest far more resolutions for the damage done to our lives by the people they contemptuously call the “New Olympians”. These New Olympians are the ‘Gods’ referred to in the title. They are the arrogant ‘masters-of-the-universe’ who lead to the financial collapse of 2007/2008/2009. The authors do go into quite tiresome detail on the failings of the financial instruments that lead to resulting economic recession. Mostly they reflect public anger at having tax-payers money used to bail out banks that failed due to personal avarice. They point out the irony that these City Bankers were complaining about big Government on their backs with too much regulation. Within a few weeks of their self-induced economic suicide they ran cap in hand to the self same despised ‘big Government’ for hand-outs. Their profits were privatised but the risks ended up on public shoulders. To replace this failed paradigm the authors look back to a more populist policy line from earlier in the twentieth century. They call it the “New Populism” (new replace the “anti-populism” of neo-liberalism) and it consists of several central tenets: the subordination of finance, personal and social security, accountability, the undesirability of a semi-detached super-rich class, protection and strengthening of an independent middle-class, social stability and tranquillity as being more important than market “efficiency” or shareholder value, and (finally) ‘liberty of the person’. In this final point they do let off a few rounds at an entire new professional class that has sucked in all additional public spending by trying changing how people think. The money was better spent on better hospitals or schools. This books rails against the lack of democracy in the New Olympian experiment. It is broad in its grasp taking in everything from the history of the neo-liberal experiment through to the possible “perfect storm” that may result from climate change and peak oil meeting financial collapse resulting from the abuse of fractional reserve banking (although they never suggest monetary reform). Sadly this not always an interesting nor an easy read. We agree with the author’s sentiments but simply being right counts for nothing these days. We need mechanisms for making change happen, not wish lists. This is a very thoughtful piece but occasionally self-indulgent as the authors seem to stray off into mentioning popular culture without it adding any understanding to the issues being discussed. You are probably safer with Chomsky but if you wish for a carefully-crafted dissection of Thatcherite/Blairite policy and its impact upon the lives of the British population then you could do little better than to pick up a copy of this book. This is not left-wing rant either – this is from the middle ground, a new middle ground. Good luck to them. We’ll watch their future publications with interest.

About post-carbon-man

A passionate advocate of a peaceful transition to a sustainable political-economy, Mark hails from a working class farming background. Today he is a Company Director and Chairman of the Low Carbon Chilterns Co-operative. Whilst at University (Engineering Masters) he was active in Conservative Student politics but has had no affiliation since. He has travelled widely on business covering the USA, Europe, Middle East and Central Asian Republics. In 2007 Mark founded Post-Carbon-Living and a year later co-founded Transition Town High Wycombe. He lives with is wife & daughter in a home they retrofitted to be carbon-neutral. Today he blogs about surviving politics on a shrinking planet and is passionate in his rejection of Nationalism.

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