Review of Tariq Ali’s The Extreme Centre

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Ali, Tariq, The Extreme Centre: A Warning, Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research, Vol.2 (2017), pp.71-2.

The Extreme Centre: A Warning

Tariq Ali

London and New York, NY: Verso, 2015

ISBN: 9781784782627

200 pp.

I do admire Tariq Ali for his work as editor of the New Left Review, his novels, his media appearances and the air of magisterial outrage he is able to pull off while doing so, together with some of his other books. He makes admirably clear his rejection of colonialism and imperialism in all its forms and is able to articulate the damage that adventurist foreign policy is doing to the world and is just as trenchant in dealing with domestic politics. Both of these arenas are deployed in The Extreme Centre, in which Ali has joined together examinations of life in the contemporary UK, USA and elsewhere to provide a warning about his understanding of the state of the world today. True to Gramsci’s dictum advising the employment of pessimism of the intellect, it is fair to conclude that he does not think things are going very well.

The unifying concept is that of the extreme centre, which is a way of describing the current neoliberal political settlement and the seemingly unbreakable chokehold the forces of the bourgeois establishment have on the levers of power and the national coffers. As things stand, there is no difference between the principal political parties and, in the concluding chapter, he looks to the emerging political movements of Spain and Greece for inspiration. Of course, the book was written before the disastrous Brexit debacle and it would have been interesting to see how he would have incorporated that into his analysis. Both principal political parties in the current USA presidential election cycle have witnessed considerable success by candidates running as anti-establishment outsiders (under false pretences in one case) and the current understanding of the Brexit vote is being cast in the same light. This rather suggests that it is possible at the least to mobilise large numbers of people to protest against the extreme centre and, perhaps, even bring about some meaningful concessions.

The book is organized in six chapters, with an introduction and, as an appendix, includes a poem by Ian Birchall entitled ‘The Seven Ages of a Labour MP.’ The first chapter on ‘English Questions’ and the second on ‘Scottish Answers’ stick to the concept of the extreme centre, although the construction of these chapters is a little strange. He begins with the principal argument:

“We live in a country without an opposition. Westminster is in the grip of an extreme centre, a trilateral monolith, made up of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition plus Labour: yes to austerity, yes to imperial wars, yes to a failing EU, yes to increased security measures, and yes to shoring up the broken model of neoliberalism (p.17).”

This is then supported by a jeremiad principally based on New Labour and its failings and followed by 18 pages of descriptions of some former ministers who have subsequently been employed by companies which they might once have regulated through what Private Eye and others call the ‘revolving door,’ as well as the transcript of an interview with a professor of public health research and policy about the future of the NHS. It is easy to criticize the administrations of Blair and Brown, of course but telling the full story would acknowledge the good work that was done in those years, which often had to be accomplished more or less by stealth because of the relentless hostility of the majority of mainstream media in the UK. Polly Toynbee and David Walker (2001, 2005, 2011) have written a series of books aiming to provide a more nuanced approach by itemizing all the different policies, campaigns and initiatives that were taken to try to improve life for the people of Britain and to try to determine which would have taken place anyway and those which did not have the intended primary effect or suffered from unintended secondary effects. They are cautiously positive about the results and their explanations are persuasive. Tariq Ali sees nothing positive about the Labour government and, in the following chapters, sees little benefit from Labour’s previous electoral supremacy in Scotland and its replacement by the Scottish Nationalist Party and its People’s Vows. I might have expected him to take more of an internationalist perspective.

The next chapters deal with the European Union, NATO and the USA. In these chapters, the extreme centre concept is dropped (it is reintroduced in the final chapter) and the author is free to rail at familiar enemies:

“If unelected bankers are deciding upon the needs of people in a number of European countries, as they are, how can this move things forward? But this is not something understood today by the uncritical defenders of Europe. For them, there’s nothing wrong, Europe is great, it’s a great idea, don’t do anything to it (p.104).”

These chapters are somewhat unevenly written and some sections, at least, give the impression that they have been imported from other projects. The analysis can be quite superficial, as is notably the case with the treatment of the rise of China, which rests upon an inadequate set of readings. The book’s final chapter, ‘Alternatives,’ allows the purveyors of new political movements in continental Europe to describe their progress in their own terms rather than providing objective analysis of the possibility of such groups actually being able to take power and bring about meaningful change. Then, as previously mentioned, there is the concluding poem, which is really not very good.

I began this review by noting that I do admire Tariq Ali and his work and I will be happy to read others of his books, both fiction and non-fiction. However, this is not his most successful effort.

References

Toynbee, P. and Walker, D. (2001). Did things get better? An audit of success and failures (London: Granta).

Toynbee, P. and Walker, D. (2005). Better or worse? Has Labour delivered? (London: Granta).

Toynbee, P. and Walker, D. (2011). The verdict: did Labour change Britain? (London: Granta).

Review of Eric Schlosser’s Gods of Metal

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Schlosser, Eric, Gods of Metal, Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research, Vol.2 (2017), pp.69-70.

Gods of Metal
Eric Schlosser
London: Penguin, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-141-98226-7
122 pp.

When dealing with the military, whether or not in a country unhappy enough to have to suffer their relentless and systematic depredations, it is easy to forget just how ridiculous they are, with their coloured costumes, prancing about according to arcane and archaic protocols and tedious preening in the name of xenophobic nationalism. Hobsbawm (2007) identified this situation: “Separated from the rest of society by a life consisting (in peacetime) of fancy dress, instruction and practice, games and boredom, organized on the assumption that their members at all levels are generally rather stupid and always expendable, held together by the increasingly anomalous values of bravery, honour, contempt for and suspicion of civilians, professional armies tend almost by definition to ideological eccentricity (p.264).”

The second thing it is easy to forget is just how incompetent they are and how poorly they attempt to achieve their goals. The British ship pounding the jungle with cannon fire in Heart of Darkness may be read as a symbol of imperial power shredding the land but it might also be read as the futile attempt of bullies to enforce their way through bluster and chance. The tradition continues with the American drone fliers, who are demonstrably slaughtering citizens around the world in a supposed campaign against terrorism that could scarcely be designed to be more counter-productive. The misery suffered by victims of the military may be no less for the fact that most deaths are categorized as ‘collateral damage’ but it does indicate how poor a solution to complex real life problems violence is.

The incompetence is not manifested only on the battlefield, of course but throughout the whole range of activities. Some, not naming any names, specialize in bullying to death new recruits and enlisted personnel, human trafficking, abuse of power, conspiring to overthrow democratically elected governments, use of state assets for personal gain, money laundering, extortion and the corrupt purchase of bomb detectors that do not detect anything, aircraft carriers that do not float, zeppelins that do not fly, fighter planes that come with additional benefits and submarines that will never be able to be used properly. All of this while making false claims of moral superiority. Meanwhile, Nepalese troops deployed by the United Nations (UN) are strongly suspected of spreading cholera and killing thousands of people as a result. Reports of sexual abuse by other groups of UN peacekeepers are becoming legion. Then there is the case of the USA and its nuclear missiles, which is the subject to which Eric Schlosser has devoted himself in Gods of Metal. One would hope that the missiles, whether one believes them necessary or not, would be kept in good and secure conditions. Unfortunately not:

“For nearly forty minutes, I stood on the shoulder of a dirt road within throwing distance of a Minuteman complex. I didn’t see another car on the road, let alone a security fence with guns drawn. The short-grass prairie that stretched before me was windswept, gorgeous, dotted with small homes. You would never think that hidden beneath this rural American idyll, out of sight, out of mind, were scores of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Just yards away from my rental car, sitting not far below my feet, there was a thermonuclear warhead about twenty times more powerful than the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, all set and ready to go. The only sound was the sound of the wind (p.36).”

The laxity with which these powerful weapons are kept and which Schlosser documents, means there is a very real fear of accidental explosions – just one of which could be catastrophic in effect – and the possibility that terrorists or other ill-intentioned people could obtain access to one or more of them. These dangers are highlighted by the peaceful activities of protestors such as Sister Megan Rice and Michael Walli, who are among many who have more or less wandered into these supposedly high-security sites and enacting their protests by painting walls with blood or symbolically damaging some areas of brickwork that would not pose any threat to the weapons themselves. By demonstrating the vulnerability of the sites to infiltration (if octogenarian nuns can do it, so could large numbers of other people), the protestors have provided a valuable service for the US government and military. This is particularly true of the central event in this book, which is an infiltration of the Y-12 site in Tennessee. Of course, the response to such incidents almost invariably represents the embarrassed bluster of incompetent military forces probably operating under budget constraints caused by the insistence of the American right that putting disproportionate amounts of money into the bank accounts of a small number of the undeserving rich will benefit the country as a whole. At least we can console ourselves that, in the event of a nuclear conflagration, the rich are likely to be caught outside their fall-out shelters and be incinerated along with the rest of us.

Schlosser’s style is journalistic and his prose is readable and lucid. The research he has clearly done is sprinkled quite sparingly in the text. The book is an expression of the kind of long-form journalism that rather went out of fashion as a result of the spread of the online world and the concomitant starving of funds to the traditional media. Indeed, the original form of the text was published in the New Yorker and that has now been expanded for this Penguin volume that will bring a wider audience for it. The story ends with the author in a prison – he notes that he spends a lot of time visiting people in different prisons throughout the USA – where he is visiting one of the protestors who is spending his time teaching others how to read, playing Scrabble and being part of a Bible-study group: “The prison looked like an image on an old postcard, a haunting, uniquely American symbol of state power. And a thought occurred to me: the walls of the penitentiary guarding this pacifist were taller and more impenetrable than any of the fences at Y-12 (p.112).”

John Walsh, Shinawatra University

References

Conrad, Joseph, Heart of darkness and other stories (Ware: Wordsworth Editions, 1995).

Hobsbawm, Eric, Revolutionaries, revised and updated version (London: Abacus, 2007).

Review of Phongpaichit and Baker’s Unequal Thailand

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Phongpaichit, Pasuk and Chris Baker (eds.), Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power, Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research, Vol.2 (2017), pp.67-8.

Unequal Thailand: Aspects of Income, Wealth and Power
Edited by Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker
Singapore: NUS Press, 2016
ISBN: 9789814722001
XV + 186 pp.

Inequality has become one of the more urgent issues gripping the attention of the people of the world, especially since it became evident that the Crisis of Austerity was being used b representatives of the 1% to extract even more money from the 99%. Thomas Piketty’s epic Capital in the Twenty First Century (2014) demonstrated that intensifying capitalism strengthened control of money among the rich and the super-rich and prevented social mobility taking place. The importance of social mobility for maintaining a healthy and progressive governance system has been evident since the creation of the imperial examination system in the Han dynasty of China more than two thousand years ago (Min & Xiumen, 2010). In The Spirit Level, Pickett and Wilkinson (2010) show beyond reasonable doubt that those countries most unequal fare the worst in a wide range of societal indictors, ranging from educational outcomes to teenage pregnancies to crime rates. The best way to make any society happier and more stable overall is to reduce inequality and the best way to do that involves a combination of empowering the poor with shining a light on the possessions and lifestyles of the rich. The release of the Panama Papers, leaked from the legal firm Mossack Fonseca, very quickly showed how those who benefited from tax avoidance by using shell companies offshore tax havens could be brought to account when their activities came to light (e.g. Henley, 2016; MacAskill et al., 2016).

All in all, then, this would seem to be a splendid time to publish a collection of papers based on original empirical research into inequality in Thailand. After all, as a country that has undergone rapid economic development, urbanization and industrialization, Thailand has begun to embrace all aspects of capitalist development, for good or ill. Further, the country continues to suffer the drawbacks of Thai feudalism and the absolute blanket on any form of political dissent or even questioning maintained by the current junta. Such a book would investigate the roles and influence of powerful institutions set so implacably against progress such as the military, judiciary and network monarchy. It would question the role of the media and media ownership as an additional tool used as an intellectual state apparatus in promoting the concept of so-called Thainess (i.e. obedience, obsequiousness to power and unwillingness to question authority). Innovative attempts to identify the relationship between economic and social capital would have been welcome. However, unfortunately, this opportunity has rather been missed somewhere along the line of production, since too many of the papers veer towards the superficial and to lack firm supervisory guidance. The project was funded jointly by the Thailand Research Fund, the Bureau of Higher Education and Chulalongkorn University as part of the Distinguished Professor Scheme. It is certainly a good thing that only Thai academics were selected for this project, that they seem to have been well-funded and their papers extensively edited and supported for this book by near-legendary editors Pasuk Phongpaichit and Chris Baker. The problem nevertheless remains that too many of the papers (and some from the original project have been omitted altogether) are just not quite up to the required level.

Some papers do make a positive contribution. For example, Duangmanee Laovakul’s “Concentration of Land and Other Wealth in Thailand” is based on ground-breaking research among the newly digitized records of the Land Department. This research indicates that the ownership of land and other assets is even more highly concentrated than the ownership of income. It is shown that 10% of all landowners own more than 60% of total land. Unfortunately, no useful implications or policy recommendations are derived from this research.

Nualnoi Treerat and Parkpume Vanichoka have an interesting paper in “Elite Networking through Special Executive Courses,” which itemizes the presence and nature of such courses and identifies those who have participated in them. It is made clear that course-organizers take steps to ensure that network opportunities are maximized at these times and it is very evident that senior-junior relationships are established which are of considerable importance and value to both sides in future careers. The authors conclude that this ‘personal cronyism’ perpetuates elite power by promoting good relations and avoiding conflict among the elite and accepted new entrants, thereby preventing unwanted outsiders entering and “As a result power over the economy, politics and resources is more concentrated and circumscribed within a small elite.”
As a research paper, the outstanding chapter is provided by Chaiyon Praditisil and Chainarong Khrueanuan, who are able to draw upon many years of inquiry to inform their “Inequalities of Local Power and Profit: The Changing Structure of Provincial Power.” This is a fascinating account of how Chao Por networks have developed in provincial Thailand, how they have developed over time and reacted against the threat of outsiders moving in to their territory. It is shown that such networks have diminished in value over time as various elements of globalization have meant that power and resources are generated more from without than within. The conclusion drawn is that “The inequities in power and economic opportunity at the provincial level will diminish significantly only when advances in the rule of law and democratic decentralization make single faction dominance no longer possible.”

Of course, this being Thailand, we wait for the inevitable paper explaining how it is all really the fault of Thaksin and the uppity residents of Isan. Here it comes in the form of a contribution from Ukrist Pathmanand, whose work I have seen elsewhere and thought reasonably sensible. Since I have worked at Shinawatra University for a number of years, it is probably better if I do not comment on this paper for fear of being thought biased. After this, the book peters out with a fairly shambolic look at taxation and possible reforms to the tax system. The editors have done their best to try to remedy the shortcomings exhibited by the authors overall by trying to create an inclusive framework on inequality in the introductory chapter but this is only partly successful. Despite being published in Singapore, the text occasionally veers into American spelling and the index needs attention. Overall, the text is notable more for its omissions than from that which it does include.

References

Henley, Jon, “Iceland PM Steps aside after Protests over Panama Papers Revelations,” The Guardian (April 5th, 2016), available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/apr/05/iceland-prime-minister-resigns-over-panama-papers-revelations.

MacAskill, Ewen, Rowena Mason, David Pegg and Holly Watt, “David Cameron Left Dangerously Exposed by Panama Papers Fallout,” The Guardian (April 5th, 2016), available at: http://www.theguardian.com/news/2016/apr/05/david-cameron-left-dangerously-exposed-by-panama-papers-fallout.

Min, Han and Yang Xiuwen, “Educational Assessment in China: Lessons from History and Future Prospects,” Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, Vol.8, No.1 (2001), pp.5-10.

Pickett, Kate and Richard Wilkinson, The Spirit Level: Why Equality Is Better for Everyone (London: Penguin, 2010).

Piketty, Thomas, Capital in the Twenty First Century (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2014).

Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research, Vol.1, No.1 (2016)

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I now have the hard copy issue of the Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research, Vol.1, No.1 (January-June, 2016), of which I am Chief Editor.

Here is the final able of contents:

Editorial                                                                                                             v

Executive Summary                                                                                      vi

Editor’s Introduction                                                                                   vii

Original Peer Reviewed Papers

High Performance Work Practices Facilitating Employee Engagement: A Study of PSUs in Delhi NCR – Pooja Misra and Jaya Gupta                                         1

Determinants of the Mobile Handset Purchase Decision of the Youth in NCR India – Archana Singh and Ritu Srivastava                                                       16

Factors Affecting Retailer Perceptions for the Sale of Snacking Products through Traditional Trade Retail Outlets in India – Gagan Katiyar            22

Space and Workplace Issues for Nepalese Female Entrepreneurs, Street Vendors and Employees – Reema Thakur                                                                   33

Identity and Integration in the Asia-Pacific Region through the Prism of Tourism: Taiwan and Japan – Lin Fan, Lavanchawee Sujarittanonta and Arunee Lertkornkitja                                                                                                                              44

Foreign Direct Investment in Cambodia’s Telecommunications Industry – Fuangfa Ampornstira                                                                                             55

Book Reviews

Going Universal: How 24 Developing Countries Are Implementing Universal Health Coverage Reforms from the Bottom up – Cotlear, Daniel, Somil Nagpal, Owen Smith, Ajay Tandon and Rafael Cortez by John Walsh                            65

Capitalism: A Ghost Story – Roy, Arundhati by John Walsh   67

Editorial Policies and Guidelines                                                     68

 

 

Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research, Vol.1, No.1 (February, 2016)

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Volume 1, Number 1 of the Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research will be published in February, 2016 by Global College International, Kathmandu and the SIU Research Centre in Thailand, with myself as chief editor. ISSN: 2467-9356.

This is the table of contents of the first issue:

Foreword and Executive Producer by Prof. Dr. Karan Singh Thagunna  p.iii

Editor’s Introducion by John Walsh p.v

Original Articles

High Performance Work Practices Facilitating Employee Engagement: A Study of PSUs in Delhi NCR – Pooja Misra and Jaya Gupta pp.1 – 15
Determinants of the Mobile Handset Purchase Decision of the
Youth in NCR- India – Archana Singh and Ritu Srivastava pp.16 – 21
Factors Affecting Retailer Perceptions for the Sale of Snacking
Products through Traditional Trade Retail Outlets in India – Gagan Katiyar pp.22 – 32
Space and Workplace Issues for Nepalese Female Entrepreneurs,
Street Vendors and Employees – Reema Thakur pp.33 – 43
Identity and Integration in the Asia-Pacific Region through the
Prism of Tourism: Taiwan & Japan – Lin Fan, Lavanchawee
Sujarittanonta and Arunee Lertkornkitja pp.44 – 54
Foreign Direct Investment in Cambodia’s Telecommunications
Industry – Fuangfa Ampornstira pp.55 – 64

Book Reviews
Going Universal: How 24 Developing Countries Are Implementing
Universal Health Coverage Reforms from the Bottom up – Cotlear, Daniel, Somil Nagpal, Owen Smith, Ajay Tandon and Rafael Cortez by John Walsh pp.65 – 66
Capitalism: A Ghost Story – Roy, Arundhati by John Walsh pp.67 – 68

Guidelines for Authors pp.69-70.

Please consider the double-blind peer-reviewed hard copy journal the Nepalese Journal of Management Science and Research as a venue for your research paper. Submit to njmsr@gci.edu.np or directly to the editor (jcwalsh@siu.ac.th).