Over the last decade, author and activist Astra Taylor has helped shift the national conversation on topics including technology, inequality, indebtedness, and democracy. The essays collected here reveal the range and depth of her thinking, with Taylor tackling the rising popularity of socialism, the problem of automation, the politics of listening, the possibility of rights for the natural and non-human world, the future of the university, the temporal challenge of climate catastrophe, and more. Addressing some of the most pressing social problems of our day, Taylor invites us to imagine how things could be different while never losing sight of the strategic question of how change actually happens. Curious and searching, these historically informed and hopeful essays are as engaging as they are challenging and as urgent as they are timeless. Taylor ‘s unique philosophical style has a political edge that speaks directly to the growing conviction that a radical transformation of our economy and society is required.
Simon Potter, Professor of Modern History, University of Bristol Global media tycoon Rupert Murdoch has announced his retirement as chairman of Fox and News Corp, making way for his son Lachlan. He has been demonised as a puppet master who would pull the strings of politicians behind the scenes, as a man with too much power. But what influence did he and his fellow media moguls really wield? The day after the 1992 UK general election, Murdoch’s tabloid The Sun claimed credit for the Tory victory with the notorious headline “It Was The Sun What Won it”. Murdoch subsequently denied he had such influence. But in 1995, and with another general election on the horizon, Labour leader Tony Blair certainly thought it was worth courting the media mogul. Blair, along with his chief press secretary Alistair Campbell, travelled to Hayman Island, Australia, to address a News Corp. conference. Two years later The Sun turned its back on the Conservatives and backed New Labour, which emerged victorious from that year’s general election. Commentators have argued that Murdoch’s US media empire, notably Fox News, gave Donald Trump significant public support in his quest for presidential power. Although Murdoch now seems to have gone cold on Trump, his latest biography quotes the tycoon’s ex-wife Jerry Hall as telling him: “You helped make him president.” More than a century ago, commentators were worrying about the power of the “press barons”. The archetype of this malign figure was Lord Northcliffe, who as Winston Churchill put it, “felt himself to be possessed of formidable power” after helping to unseat a prime minister and install the next one. According to Churchill, “armed with the solemn prestige of The Times in one hand and the ubiquity of the Daily Mail in the other”, during the first world war Northcliffe “aspired to exercise a commanding influence on […]
Entrepreneurs can provide mentorship to facilitate development towards a sustainable circular economic framework. Consensus building and collective action is required to convert the ideas and innovations of knowledge-rich but economically poor individuals and communities, into viable means of raising income, addressing social needs and conserving the environment. Unless we build on the resources in which poor people are rich, the development process will not be dignified, and a mutually respectful and learning culture will not be reinforced in society and lead to an inclusive future for all. Even with access to the best pool of resources and networks, accelerating grassroots innovation is not a guaranteed smooth-sailing journey. The simple answer is: it is tough. A more objective answer is: it requires a coherent and holistic hand-holding ecosystem to be built around it for sustenance. Crowdsource global innovative ideas to deliver on the SDGs The importance of sustainable solutions came to the forefront in 2020 as communities across the world faced the twin threats of climate change and the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2021, this urgency continues to grow. Innovation and sustainability are inextricably linked at the grassroots level, and we can only be sustainable by generating measurable long-term social and environmental development benefits applicable to local communities. Encourage local governments to become an active stakeholder Around the world, local governments are increasingly tasked with regulating environmental concerns that do not conventionally lie within their purview. In local government policymaking, affected residents are the grassroots. Citizen participation in local government is an effective method to educate citizens about governmental activities and remove barriers to advancing the SDGs. Foster a grassroots community to share research, know-how and talent A basic principle of grassroots innovations is to not depend on external systems and incentives for solving local problems. Whether innovation is induced through an […]
a radical economic theory born in the 1970s. It broadly means shrinking rather than growing economies, to use less of the world’s dwindling resources. Detractors of degrowth say economic growth has given the world everything from cancer treatments to indoor plumbing. Supporters argue that degrowth doesn’t mean “living in caves with candles” – but just living a bit more simply. How do we save our planet? Some economists believe the only way is to radically scale back our global consumption of resources. This is a key premise of degrowth – a political and economic theory that is gaining traction as fears grow over climate change. But is it workable? What is degrowth? Degrowth broadly means shrinking rather than growing economies, so we use less of the world’s energy and resources and put wellbeing ahead of profit. The idea is that by pursuing degrowth policies, economies can help themselves, their citizens and the planet by becoming more sustainable. Practical degrowth actions might include buying less stuff, growing your own food and using empty houses instead of building new ones. Degrowth as a term was coined in 1972 by Austrian-French social philosopher André Gorz, according to the website Degrowth.info. As a movement, degrowth started to take off in the early 2000s, according to media platform openDemocracy. Modern degrowth protagonists include French economist Serge Latouche, who argues that society’s current model of economic growth is unsustainable. Why does Degrowth matter? Government policies have focused on growing and expanding economies ever since. With increasing awareness about climate change, the degrowth debate has accelerated. If economic growth continues to be the default goal, it will lead to climate catastrophe, the argument goes, with no hope of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees. It seems to be no coincidence that global warming caused by humans started around the 1830s, scientists believe, when the world’s […]
There is an entrenched relationship between the consulting industry and the way business and government are managed today which must change. Mariana Mazzucato and Rosie Collington show that our economies’ reliance on companies such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group, Bain & Company, PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY stunts innovation, obfuscates corporate and political accountability and impedes our collective mission of halting climate breakdown. Mariana Francesca Mazzucato is an economist with dual Italian–American citizenship. She is a professor in the Economics of Innovation and Public Value at University College London and founding director of the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose. Rosie Collington is a PhD candidate at the UCL Institute for Innovation and Public Purpose, where she researches the political economy of outsourcing. The ‘Big Con’ describes the confidence trick the consulting industry performs in contracts with hollowed-out and risk-averse governments and shareholder value-maximising firms. It grew from the 1980s and 1990s in the wake of reforms by both the neoliberal right and Third Way progressives, and it thrives on the ills of modern capitalism, from financialization and privatisation to the climate crisis. It is possible because of the unique power that big consultancies wield through extensive contracts and networks – as advisors, legitimators and outsourcers – and the illusion that they are objective sources of expertise and capacity. To make matters worse, our best and brightest graduates are often redirected away from public service into consulting. In all these ways, the Big Con weakens our businesses, infantilises our governments and warps our economies. Mazzucato and Collington expertly debunk the myth that consultancies always add value to the economy. With a wealth of original research, they argue brilliantly for investment and collective intelligence within all organisations and communities, and for a new system in which public and private sectors […]
Denis Muller, Senior Research Fellow, Centre for Advancing Journalism, The University of Melbourne News Corporation is cutting its staff by 5% globally, including in Australia, after its news media division recorded a second-quarter earnings decline of 47%. The decision inevitably reopens questions about the future of the company’s newspapers, particularly once Rupert Murdoch is gone. The company’s chief executive officer, Robert Thomson, said a surge in interest rates and inflation caused the earnings decline, and that these effects were “more ephemeral than eternal”. However, structural complications in the corporation suggest these “ephemeral” factors are only part of the problem. “Eternal” factors – such an interesting word where Murdoch is concerned – include the performance of the tabloid newspapers that have played a pivotal role in the development of the organisation. It casts a large shadow over the organisation’s future direction and structure. A glimpse of this has emerged since the public became aware in October 2022 of a proposal to reunite News Corp, which is the newspaper division of the empire, with Fox Corp, which focuses on television and streaming services. The two were split in 2013 to quarantine Fox from the taint of scandal arising from the phone-hacking in the UK, perpetrated by News International, a subsidiary of News Corp. The reunification proposal ran into strong resistance from the market for two reasons. First, there were misgivings among shareholders in News Corp about the business merits of Fox Corp, and vice-versa. Second, there were lingering reputational concerns hanging over from the hacking scandal. In January 2023 it was announced that reunification would not proceed, at least for now. As if to reinforce the relative strengths and weaknesses of the News and Fox divisions, in the same quarter that the newspapers showed such a dramatic earnings decline, Foxtel Group’s subscriber base grew 10%, and the subscriber […]
McKinsey & Company is the most prestigious consulting company in the world, earning billions of dollars in fees from major corporations and governments who turn to it to maximize their profits and enhance efficiency. McKinsey’s vaunted statement of values asserts that its role is to make the world a better place, and its reputation for excellence and discretion attracts top talent from universities around the world. But what does it actually do? In When McKinsey Comes to Town, two prizewinning investigative journalists have written a portrait of the company sharply at odds with its public image. Often McKinsey’s advice boils down to major cost-cutting, including layoffs and maintenance reductions, to drive up short-term profits, thereby boosting a company’s stock price and the wealth of its executives who hire it, at the expense of workers and safety measures. McKinsey collects millions of dollars advising government agencies that also regulate McKinsey’s corporate clients. And the firm frequently advises competitors in the same industries, but denies that this presents any conflict of interest. In one telling example, McKinsey advised a Chinese engineering company allied with the communist government which constructed artificial islands, now used as staging grounds for the Chinese Navy—while at the same time taking tens of millions of dollars from the Pentagon, whose chief aim is to counter Chinese aggression. Shielded by NDAs, McKinsey has escaped public scrutiny despite its role in advising tobacco and vaping companies, purveyors of opioids, repressive governments, and oil companies. McKinsey helped insurance companies’ boost their profits by making it incredibly difficult for accident victims to get payments; worked its U.S. government contacts to let Wall Street firms evade scrutiny; enabled corruption in developing countries such as South Africa; undermined health-care programs in states across the country. And much more. Bogdanich and Forsythe have penetrated the veil of secrecy […]
The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet Generations of people have been taught that population growth makes resources scarcer. In 2021, for example, one widely publicised report argued, “The world’s rapidly growing population is consuming the planet’s natural resources at an alarming rate.… The world currently needs 1.6 Earths to satisfy the demand for natural resources … [a figure that] could rise to 2 planets by 2030.” But is that true? After analysing the prices of hundreds of commodities, goods, and services spanning two centuries, Marian Tupy and Gale Pooley found that resources became more abundant as the population grew. That was especially true when they looked at “time prices,” which represent the length of time that people must work to buy something. The authors also found that resource abundance increased faster than the population―a relationship that they call “superabundance.” They conclude that, on average, every additional human being creates more value than he or she consumes.
In ‘The Man Who Broke Capitalism’, David Gelles, “Corner Office” columnist for the New York Times, focuses on Jack Welch (1935-2020), CEO of GE from 1981 to 2001, whom he sees as “the personification of American, alpha-male capitalism, a pin-striped conquistador with the spoils to prove it.” Welch joined GE in 1960 after completing a doctorate in chemical engineering, soon rising through the company’s ranks. Notoriously “impatient, impulsive, and crass” as well as ambitious and energetic, when he took over as CEO, he lost no time inaugurating his vision—and that of economist Milton Friedman—of “maximising profits at the expense of all else.” GE had been known as a caring company that gave its workers exceptional benefits. Welch shattered that reputation, enacting massive layoffs, carrying out extensive mergers and acquisitions, and turning GE into “a giant unregulated bank.” When Welch ascended at GE, writes Gelles, “half of GE’s earnings came from businesses dating back to the Edison era: motors, wiring, and appliances. Yet Welch, an extremist in all he did, drastically overcorrected.” Instead of trying to fix American manufacturing, he effectively abandoned it, and would soon start shuttering factories around the country and shipping jobs overseas. His influence was far-reaching. By the time he retired, 16 public companies were run by men “who had studied at his knee.” However, remarked a Goldman Sachs board member, “they were just cost cutters. And you can’t cost-cut your way to prosperity.” Gelles capably traces GE’s downfall from being the most valuable company in the world in 1993 to its begging for a bailout in 2008, and he exposes the many business titans who followed Welch’s strategies. He sees hope, however, in the “handful of idealistic capitalists”—leading businesses such as Unilever, PayPal, Patagonia, and Seventh Generation—who consider their companies’ impacts on employees, the environment, and society. […]
by Eliot Brown and Maureen Farrell This is the definitive story of the rise and fall of WeWork by the real-life journalists whose Wall Street Journal reporting rocked the company and exposed a financial system drunk on the elixir of Silicon Valley innovation. The plan was for WeWork to be worth $10 trillion, more than any other company in the world. It wasn’t just an office space provider. It was a tech company—an AI startup, even. Its WeGrow schools and WeLive residences would revolutionise education and housing. One day, mused founder Adam Neumann, a Middle East peace accord would be signed in a WeWork. The company might help colonise Mars. And Neumann would become the world’s first trillionaire. This was the vision of Neumann and his primary cheerleader, SoftBank’s Masayoshi Son. In hindsight, their ambition for the company, whose primary business was subletting desks in slickly designed offices, seems like madness. Why did so many intelligent people—from venture capitalists to Wall Street elite—fall for the hype? And how did WeWork go so wrong? In little more than a decade, Neumann transformed himself from a struggling baby clothes salesman into the charismatic, hard-partying CEO of a company worth $47 billion—on paper. With his long hair and feel-good mantras, the six-foot-five Israeli transplant looked the part of a messianic truth teller. Investors swooned, and billions poured in. Neumann dined with the CEOs of JPMorgan and Goldman Sachs, entertaining a parade of power brokers desperate to get a slice of what he was selling: the country’s most valuable startup, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a generation-defining moment. Soon, however, WeWork was burning through cash faster than Neumann could bring it in. From his private jet, sometimes clouded with marijuana smoke, he scoured the globe for more capital. Then, as WeWork readied a Hail Mary IPO, it all fell apart. Nearly $40 […]