Trobo que aquest article de Simon Kuper explica molt bé, sense ni tan sols referir-s’hi, com la nova política només és el fum amb el qual omplim el buit que ens han deixat les ideologies del segle XX i els seus grans discursos. 

In 1978 the documentary Scared Straight! recorded an exciting new idea in crime fighting: a group of juvenile delinquents was taken to visit a prison, where inmates screamed at them about the horrors of criminal life. The idea was to “scare them straight”. The film ends with the teenagers saying they don’t want to go to prison. Scared Straight! won an Oscar, ran on US television, and inspired many new “Scared Straight” projects.

There’s just one problem, says Lawrence Sherman, professor of criminology at Cambridge university: Scared Straight doesn’t work. Multiple studies have shown that the programme seems to increase crime among young participants. The US Department of Justice now discourages its use, though some cities still itch to introduce it.

The story of Scared Straight! is typical. Most policies fail. Voters have learnt this the hard way. Many have given up on big ideas, and now just seek candidates who pretend to be authentic. However, there is hope. We have entered a new age of evidence-based small ideas.

In the middle of the past century, big ideas still ruled. Freud claimed to explain human behaviour. In economics, Marx and Ayn Rand, sirens of left and right, faced off in a battle of grand theory. Generally, mid-century intellectuals thought big. “What is man?” was a popular question from the 1930s until the 1970s, writes Mark Greif in his recent The Age of the Crisis of Man. A budding intellectual often needed just one conversation — typically in a university dorm room aged 19 — to equip himself for life with a theory that explained the world.

But one by one, the big ideas failed. A former member of a Maoist cell in Amsterdam once described to me his group’s final meeting, circa 1985. “We all admitted to each other that we didn’t really believe it any more,” he said. “So we dissolved.” Marx, like Freud, had finally died.

The democratic left’s big projects also hit obstacles. Western countries had been making social policy for centuries, so the easy pickings — providing clean water, for instance — had already been picked. The remaining problems — giving poor children a good education, say — proved almost intractable.

Briefly, the right’s cult of free markets was the last surviving big idea. Then the financial crisis of 2008 killed it off almost everywhere outside the US Republican party.

In the 1990s, centrist leaders such as Tony Blair and Bill Clinton had started the search for small ideas. Blair rejected “outdated ideology” in favour of “what works”. If a Tasmanian programme to educate poor kids reported good results, his wonks would introduce it in Britain.

This sounded great until social scientists increasingly began to test “what works”. It turned out that very little did.

Testing is even harder in social sciences than in medicine. However, social scientists have tried to recreate medicine’s randomised controlled trials, and to aggregate lots of past studies. Testing suggests that many policies, such as Scared Straight, are actively harmful. Others, such as microcredit for poor entrepreneurs, just seem ineffectual, says Esther Duflo, development economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

One response is despair: “Nothing works!” Certainly, many voters have lost faith in anything but angry nationalism. Even a new messiah such as Donald Trump doesn’t claim to offer big ideas. He just offers himself: I can fix the US because I’m me.

But growing numbers of academics in fields from development economics to psychology have a more hopeful response. They think rigorous testing can reveal policies that work, at least in some places, sometimes. “I believe in small ideas,” Duflo told me. In Isaiah Berlin’s famous phrasing, she is a fox, who knows many little things, not a hedgehog who knows one big thing.

Some small ideas have been supported by evidence. Putting police in “crime hotspots”, even for just 15 minutes, appears to cut crime, says Sherman. To encourage teachers in poor countries to come to work, pay them if they can show a photo of themselves taken with their class each day, says Duflo. Cognitive behavioural therapy often helps troubled people, says Nuala Livingstone, psychologist at Queen’s University Belfast. (They all spoke at last month’s fascinating conference on “evidence-based policy” at France’s Académie des Sciences.)

Admittedly, these ideas might fail in different contexts. Pilot them at small scale, and expand them if they deliver, recommends Duflo.

Today’s most influential thinkers on society are evidence-based. Angus Deaton, this year’s economics Nobel laureate, is known for innovative statistical techniques. Daniel Kahneman, Steven Pinker and Thomas Piketty aren’t grand theorists like Marx or Freud. They argue from experiments, datasets and statistical analyses. To refute them, you have to dispute their evidence.

This isn’t as exciting as a politician who can explain the world in 15 minutes. Duflo admits: “It’s harder to seduce people with small ideas.” Small ideas tend to be complex, boring, and produce modest results at best. But they do bring us a tiny bit closer to that elusive moving target, the truth.

Fa unes setmanes, vaig recollir en el FT aquest article de Michael Ignatieff, publicat a propòsit de la victòria de Trudeau a les eleccions generals de Canadà. Ignatieff em sembla un escriptor i un polític mediocre. La seva biografia d’Isaiah Berlin és tan grisa com ho pot ser un deixeble massa enlluernat i convençut. En general, els liberals d’avui acostumen a ser bastant cretins, i Ignatieff em recorda alguns intel·lectuals nostrats d’imaginació escassa que, sense haver viscut cap guerra, utilitzen Gaziel i Josep Pla per anar contra la vida i perpetuar vells prejudicis. Dit això, l’article que transcric em va agradar. Crec que pot ser útil en el panorama tan encès i tan confús que tenim a Catalunya.

One of the essential skills of democratic politics is to know the difference between an enemy and an adversary. An adversary wants to defeat you. An enemy wants to destroy you.

If you treat your opponents as the enemy, you conduct politics as if it was war and all means become fair. If you regard your opponent as an adversary, all means are not fair: you are hoping to turn an adversary today into a friend or an ally tomorrow.

The deeper meaning of Justin Trudeau’s triumph in the Canadian general election this week — and its potential influence on democratic politics even beyond his own country — is that he showed how a politics of adversaries can defeat a politics of enemies.

The Liberal party candidate won not just because Canadians wanted a change of regime but also because Canadians wanted a change of politics. Instead of stoking the partisan ire of his supporters in his victory speech, he quietened a rapturous crowd by reminding them: “Conservatives are not our enemy. They are our neighbours.”

After nine years of partisan rancour in the nation’s politics, this set a new tone. Mr Trudeau’s victory proved, he said, that you can conduct a democratic campaign without attack adverts or cheap shots at rivals. “You can appeal to the better angels of our nature,” he said, “and you can win.”

Stephen Harper, the Conservative prime minister he defeated, was a master of the politics of enemies — attacking the patriotism of his opponents; selecting wedge issues to divide the electorate; attacking the vulnerable to solidify support among the comfortable. This reached its nadir when he stoked fears of Muslims and what a member of his team called their “barbaric cultural practices”. Voters en masse rejected the ploy. Mr Harper unleashed a barrage of negative adverts asserting that “Justin’s just not ready” — but the young candidate proved he was more than ready.

Mr Harper did not invent the politics of enemies: he imported most of its elements from the US. But he perfected their application in a British-style parliamentary democracy: attack opponents for who they are, not for what they say. If you can deny them standing — the right to get a hearing at all — you need not even bother with their arguments.

What Mr Harper discovered is the politics of enemies makes it impossible to win new friends. It also poisons a politician’s legacy. He was a formidable politician — I should know, he beat me soundly in the 2011 election — but as he passes into history, only his diehard supporters will remember him with affection. Many Canadians will recall him not as an honourable conviction politician but as one who let an air of mean-spiritedness overshadow his decency.

The challenge for Mr Trudeau is not to disappoint the yearning that a politics of “sunny ways” and democratic civility have awakened. In a politics of adversaries, the illusion to be resisted is that everyone can be seduced and brought over to your side. He will learn — as did his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, following his own spectacular election triumph in 1968 — how resistant to seduction an electorate can prove to be, how quickly hope can curdle into disillusion. He will learn, as his father did, that to govern is to choose and to choose is to disappoint.

Mr Trudeau will soon discover that the hunger for democratic reform that his campaign evoked may challenge his own authority as leader. If a prime minister wants a quiet life, he keeps his MPs on a tight leash. If he wants to revive parliamentary democracy, he must loosen his leash, allow free votes, empower parliamentary committees, open the doors of parliament to the people, reach out to them online, release documents to foster democratic debate and embark on the perilous path of electoral reform.

Reviving democracy makes for anything but a quiet life for a prime minister. He will have to choose how much democracy his political authority as leader can allow. But these are the happy challenges of victory. He has won a mandate to renew Canadian democracy and, if keeping this promise will tax all his political skills, he wakes up every morning from now on knowing he has the power to try.

Un dels aventatges que les ciutats europees tenen respecte de les asiàtiques i les americanes és la personalitat que els dóna la història. A Londres-París-Barcelona parlo de la profunditat que la continuïtat i la personalitat donen al poder, i també de com algunes societats es venen el passat quan ja no tenen força per treure’n un profit creatiu. Europa té història, però l’economia dels seus països rics s’ha anat tornant dependent de les inversions urbanístiques generades pel capital provinent de països autoritaris. Això es nota en el paisatge urbà i és possible que cada vegada es noti més: “Potser el destí de les ciutats globals és assemblar-se totes a Hong Kong”, escric en el llibre. John Gapper ho explica en aquest article  a través d’un concepte que m’agrada molt: “Generic city”

Everywhere one ventures in cities, skyscrapers are being built or planned. Even Paris is getting one. The French capital last week backed plans for a 180-metre high triangular tower by Herzog & de Meuron of Switzerland, its first in four decades.

There may never have been a better time to be an ambitious young architect. For an office skyscraper at the World Trade Center site in New York, James Murdoch, scion of the media dynasty, has just replaced a design by Britain’s venerable Lord Foster with a jazzier idea by Bjarke Ingels, the 40-year-old Danish architect.

There is plenty of work to go around for any global “starchitect” who can produce an iconic museum, office or residential tower from London to Chongqing. Mr Ingels is building a campus for Google with Thomas Heatherwick, the UK designer; Herzog & de Meuron are to remodel Chelsea’s football stadium; Rafael Viñoly is finishing an apartment block at 432 Park Avenue that is New York’s second-tallest building.

Every first-tier global city, and many a second and third-tier one in Asia, wants to put itself on the map with an iconic tower, or several. This creates plenty of strange shapes on the skyline — a firm of architects in Melbourne has just unveiled plans for an undulating 68-storey apartment and hotel block inspired by the fabric-clad dancers in a Beyoncé video.

Such expressions of architectural individuality have the paradoxical effect of making cities look more and more like each other. Once upon a time, Chicago and New York were skyscraper-villes, while European capitals such as Paris and London had muted streetscapes. Now, many are converging on what Rem Koolhaas, the avant-garde architect, dubbed “the generic city”.

This worries some designers. Moshe Safdie, the Israeli-American architect who has designed towers in cities including Chongqing, says some skyscrapers are “objectified, branded ego trips” that are more like giant sculptures than buildings forming parts of a public space. In Asia, “hundreds of towers are being built but you do not get a city from it, just individual pieces”.

Continue reading

Com que a Catalunya el discurs està intoxicat de provincianisme espantadís i les posicions més centrades sovint són titllades de quixotesques o feixistes, tinc una feblesa especial pels articles de la premsa estrangera que defensen el mateix que jo. Una de les coses que miro d’explicar a Londres-París-Barcelona és que les grans potències militars ja no seran, per força, els països que oferiran una vida més agradable i més interessant. Els països que tenen la bomba atòmica, per exemple, fa temps que baixen en totes les classificacions dedicades la qualitat de vida. A diferència del que passava fins a la caiguda del mur de Berlín, els grans Estats amb una demografia i un exèrcit potent ja no tenen el monopoli absolut del món i, si no hi ha un altre cataclisme, els països petits tindran cada vegada més oportunitats. John Kay, que té un discurs molt proper als interessos de Catalunya, va publicar l’altre dia aquest article al Financial Times que ho explica. Mentre aquí continuem oscil·lant entre la via irlandesa i el vell imperialisme hispànic del temps de Prim i de Cambó, el món ens va deixant enrera.   

Every five years, the United States National Intelligence Council, which advises the director of the Central Intelligence Agency, publishes a report forecasting the long-term implications of global trends. Earlier this year it released its latest report, “Alternative Worlds,” which included scenarios for how the world would look a generation from now.

One scenario, “Nonstate World,” imagined a planet in which urbanization, technology and capital accumulation had brought about a landscape where governments had given up on real reforms and had subcontracted many responsibilities to outside parties, which then set up enclaves operating under their own laws.

The imagined date for the report’s scenarios is 2030, but at least for “Nonstate World,” it might as well be 2010: though most of us might not realize it, “nonstate world” describes much of how global society already operates. This isn’t to say that states have disappeared, or will. But they are becoming just one form of governance among many.

A quick scan across the world reveals that where growth and innovation have been most successful, a hybrid public-private, domestic-foreign nexus lies beneath the miracle. These aren’t states; they’re “para-states” — or, in one common parlance, “special economic zones.” Continue reading

Cada vegada que m’arriba notícia de l’última bestiesa perpetrada per Podemos, per l’Ada Colau o per Ciutadans recordo un article de Janan Ganesh que vaig llegir l’abril de l’any passat, quan Cameron encara semblava a la corda fluixa. Molta gent dirà que els partits independentistes són igual de populistes i és veritat. El populisme sempre és fruit de la impotència. El populisme espanyol s’alimenta de la frustració que va escampar Zapatero, i de la constatació que Espanya no és un país tan normal com deien els mites de la Transició. Pel que fa al populisme indepe, ha esclatat amb el simulacre del 9N. Tothom veu que sense enfrontar-se amb l’Estat espanyol la independència és impossible, però cap polític català no gosa encara assumir-ho obertament. Aquest article explica bé el fenomen i dóna algunes claus per intentar afrontar-lo.

The UK Independence party does not represent the start of a revolt but the culmination of it. A spirit of anti-politics began permeating the country around the turn of the millennium when Tony Blair, the last politician the British allowed themselves to love, broke their hearts by turning out to be a prime minister and not a miracle worker. The disillusion intensified after the Iraq war, a work of naive over-ambition forever remembered as an act of heinous deceit. Then came the crash, the expenses scandal and much more immigration than voters were told to expect.

Cynicism verging on nihilism is the closest thing modern Britain has to a national ideology. It has become common sense to assume the worst of anyone in public authority. Nigel Farage, Ukip’s leader, profits from this foul zeitgeist, not because he is a manipulative genius but because he is the nearest populist to hand. If it were not him, it would be some other jobbing demagogue with the dumb luck to be here now.

It is not obvious how to take him on. But it is increasingly obvious how not to. Hounded by the mood of anti-politics, Britain’s political class has become self-loathing and scared of its own shadow. Mainstream politicians ape the language and manner of populists. They vie to disown a “metropolitan elite” that they themselves constitute. They hope that nodding along as voters express their scorn for them will somehow spare them from it.

Politicians used to wound each other with accusations of incompetence, immorality or intellectual wrongness – all slurs grounded in substance. Now they try to define each other as “out of touch”. When David Cameron, the Conservative prime minister, attacks Labour for indulging dependency culture or withholding a referendum on EU membership, he points to the party’s estrangement from public opinion. When Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, attacks the Tories for overseeing a fall in living standards, his point is that millionaires cannot care about the plight of the ordinary.

The measure of a politician’s worth is how much he is like “us” and not like “them”. Mr Farage’s real achievement is not electoral – his party has no MPs and runs no councils – but cultural. He has spooked the mainstream into emulating the values and priorities of its own tormentors.

As a ploy to neutralise Mr Farage, this self-abasement gets nowhere because it concedes his basic point – that Britain is run by a conspiracy of malign people – and radiates the most lethal weakness in politics: inauthenticity. Mr Cameron is the highest-born prime minister since Alec Douglas-Home half a century ago. Mr Miliband is a professor’s son whose main detour from north London’s cognoscenti was a year teaching at Harvard. They stand for major parties. When they or their similarly rarefied lieutenants play at being the man in the street, it looks craven and affected.

The political classes believe they are unpopular because of something they have done. Certainly, expense-fiddling compounded their scuzzy reputation. And their sheer narrowness is alienating, too. Parliament has become a job guarantee for apparatchiks and activists who relax by watching television dramas set in other political capitals. In Britain politics is not just showbiz for ugly people but for weirdly obsessive people too.

The rise of populism, however, is not primarily the fault of any person – even Mr Blair – or any event. It is powered by structural trends that have been in train for decades. Prime among these is the fragmentation of class loyalty, which has cut the vote share commanded by the two main parties from 97 per cent in the 1951 election to 65 per cent in 2010. More votes are up for grabs, giving rebel parties a look-in.

Another trend is economic. Wage stagnation and structural unemployment, themselves born of even deeper trends to do with global competition and automation, have cultivated a sizeable class of people who feel frozen out by mainstream politics and its economic orthodoxies. Ukip, which would have come to nought in the age of full employment, only needs to stand still to make gains among these voters.

Then there is Britain’s ageing population. Ukip relies on older voters, of whom there are more and more. Against all these trends there is not much mainstream politicians can do. They are as unlucky to be around in this phase of history as Mr Farage is fortunate. He will prosper at next month’s European elections but his test comes with the general election a year later, when voters will get serious.

And here is the rub. Instead of smearing themselves with tar and feathers, mainstream politicians should remind populists that they do the hard work of politics: representing constituents, reconciling competing claims and taking an interest in dry corners of legislation that affect people’s lives. Most politics is necessary drudgery. Seen from this angle, the “elite” are the people who get their hands dirty. And populists who damn the whole spectacle from cosy sidelines are the truly decadent ones.