Monday, 04 January 2010

The hidden wealth of nations: book review The hidden wealth of nations By David Halpern ISBN 978-0745648026, published by Polity Press, 2010 (£13.66 online) Reviewed by Jan Steyaert I have never had the pleasure of meeting David Halpern, but greatly enjoyed reading two of his earlier publications, a book he wrote on social capital in 2005 and a discussion paper he wrote with his colleagues on personal responsibility and changing behaviour. At the time Halpern was working at the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit, which gave his writing that extra touch. You knew it wasn’t only influenced by research and good thinking, but that it also was influenced by and had its own influence on discussion in the inner circles of UK’s public policy. So when a review copy of Halpern’s latest book found its way into my mailbox, I could only look forward to Christmas for some quiet reading time. The snow and following immobility made sure there was plenty of that. What we’re getting in this book is basically five large articles of about 50 pages on average, each exploring a theme that Halpern has seen dominating public policy debates without really being on the surface of these debates. While news media bring us our daily or weekly potion of 'chatter of contemporary politics', Halpern gives us a view of the undercurrents of politics, the themes that really matter but rarely surface. The first theme Halpern explores relates to a topic popularised by Richard Layard some years ago: while in principle economic growth increases happiness, it does so only up to a certain (rather low) level. Once beyond that, more economic growth doesn’t really have much impact on happiness. Income is just one of the drivers of well-being. Secondly, the author turns to the theme of people ‘not getting along’, discussing the increased sensitivity to crime (two-thirds of Britons think crime is rising, while statistically it fell by more than a third, p. 59) and the increased worries about immigration (again, the concerns do not relate to overall immigration levels) and terrorism. Next, Halpern turns to the ‘politics of virtue’ and the area of norms and values, respect and regard. Taking a long-term perspective, he argues that there are few indications of a moral decline: on the contrary, we have become a good deal more polite to each other than our historical forebears (p. 104). Therefore, 'we should be wary of the doom-merchants who tell us that society is in moral free-fall' (p. 95). Having made these observations, the author argues there is indeed a tension between the real economy and the ‘economy of regard’. Building on this, the case for a complementary currency is developed. The fourth theme covered is fairness and inclusion, or social equality. Halpern describes not only the increased inequality, but also the rise in support for meritocracy, changing attitudes on inequality and the importance of social mobility. The final theme covered in the book deals with power and governance. This chapter covers the decline in political participation and reform of public...
Alison West The death has been announced of Alison Cribb, formerly Alison West, who was Chief Executive of Community Development Foundation for many years, and more recently of the National Extension College. Alison died at Addenbrookes Hospital on the afternoon of 29 December. Those who knew her will have no doubt of the ferocity with which she fought her cancer. The funeral will be held at 11.15 am on Sunday 17 January at Cambridge Crematorium. Alison always believed in me as a writer and now I find I cannot structure a sentence. Here are some adjectives that come to mind: inspirational, passionate, quick-thinking, lively, busy, wholly genuine, practical, argumentative, hugely generous, relentlessly positive. Alison was politically very astute but could relate instantly to anyone at their level. Her bullshit-detector was always primed and utterly dependable. Unlike so many managers, she was never too important; but (as we saw when she faced up to the Home Secretary to defend her organisation against savage threatened cuts) would never shrink from her responsibilities. My favourite recollection was of a time when England were playing a world cup match deemed of importance to some, during office hours. She knew the secretarial and reception staff wanted to watch it, so she set up a tv in her office and took over reception duties for the duration. I think she was probably the best thing that ever happened to CDF. If you knew Alison, please feel free to add your own adjectives or anecdotes below.

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