Book reviews : The End of Politics & 50 Marathons in 50 days

I have been reading Chris Dillow's blog for some time. He is a data driven economist and as a bonus appears to know which questions data can't answer. He also writes a column for the Investors Chronicle which is typically examines issues such as the effect of QE on the price of Guilts, shares, bonds, etc or why Christmas is bad for the economy. I bought his book "The End of Politics New Labour and the folly of Managerialism" based on his other writing and started reading it while on holiday in late May, but finishing it a few weeks ago. This should not reflect on the book beyond it is a book that needs some concentration and I had other things to concentrate on which delayed finishing it somewhat.

The style is basically to take a policy, examine the literature relating to that policy and its theoretical unpinning by drawing on philosophy and economics literature, examine what the evidence really says, what would work instead and what open questions remain. We get the feeling that Chris is not a big fan of Tony and Gordon, has thought about their policies long and hard, pulled out the data and applied some critical economic analysis. I am not an economist (think I would rather be an economist rather than an accountant), so I don't know if he only applied selective economic analysis, but the arguments make sense.

So the thread of the book is that New Labour have tried to apply clever policies to manage the trade-offs between conflicting values, in essence replacing politics by management. The evidence he presents is that this approach has failed because a government can not have the knowledge and rationality required to derive and implement effective policies which would for example reduce inequality or improve economic efficiency.

I have seen this play out in the majority of organisations I have been involved in for the 20 years of my working life (those I have not was probably because I was not there long enough). Management typically believe that they can implement better policies which will lead to more efficient operations but typically it does not. The alternative which I am privileged to have been part of twice in my career at Sun has been ideals based and those ideals shared by the groups via unwritten, but a clear understanding of the mission, beliefs and values (in place before I got there). There were also highly effective in their mission from a sharehold/stakeholder point of view. I have also seen the same style of operation be very effective in organisations outside Sun and all the incarnations I have seen it work have been organic. This experience support the assertion Chris makes that managerialism must be replaced by a debate about conflicting ideals, but I suggest it goes much wider than how the Labour party play with our lives.

One of the problems for us poor UK voters in the coming 6 months is that the 3 main alternatives in UK politics (and from my observations the same is basically true in the important minor parties such as Plaid Cymru and The Greens, an informed comment would be very welcome indeed) all by and large follow a managerialist agenda.

Good book, well written and much of the material made my head feel like it was expanding. Don't read it unless you want to be challenged in your thinking.

On a slightly different topic, "50 50 Secrets I Learned Running 50 Marathons in 50 days - and How You Too can Achieve Super Endurance" by Dean Karnazes. From reading the book the author is for sure a great runner, but is either very much up himself or just a genuine bloke. The cynic in me thinks the former, my experience of life suggests that he could also just be a really nice guy who drives himself really hard and is bothered about other people and that it is best not to judge. I raise this as a warning that if you have a cynical side, tuck it into bed with a hot water bottle before you pick up this book.

There is no doubt what so ever that Dean is a great runner with a impressive history of achievements behind him and that running 50 x 26.2 in 50 days is a tremendous achievement. Here at the other end of the endurance running scale there were many useful tips which made sense to pick up from this book (not sure about breathing through a straw for 5 minutes a day) which made it a worthwhile read. It was not a great story and if you are not already wondering how to get yourself to go further faster, it probably won't be of much interest. If you want a running book which is also a interesting read my I recommend Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith, even my wife is a devote non-runner enjoyed reading it.


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