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Information for Social Change

Information for Social Change

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ISC 18. Part Four : Any Other Business

12. Reviews

Capitalism is dead: peoplism rules: creating success out of corporate chaos, Alec Reed, McGraw-Hill, 2003, ISBN 0-07-710369-6

Reviewed by Keith Nockels

Alec Reed is the man behind the Reed Executive plc group. He has coined the term 'peoplism' to describe the current model of the economy, which he argues has replaced capitalism. Reed argues that land and capital are now of limited importance and that the most important drivers of value creation are the enterprise and creativity of individuals.

The title begs a question: is capitalism dead? I am not sure it is. "Peoplism" does seem a useful model, but perhaps it co-exists alongside capitalism.

Reed maps out the current state of society: incomes are up, citizens have more power, world poverty will be halved by 2015 (I think this was a Department for International Development aim rather than anyone's prediction as Reed suggests, but the rather cursory reference makes it difficult to trace. All the references are rather cursory). Relationships of security are changing, with the church and community dissolving. My blood pressure rose when I saw asylum seekers and refugees described as a 'problem' (p. xxvi), and fluctuated rather when on the next page the argument is advanced that people with the skills to succeed can thrive regardless of their country of domicile (p. xxvii). However, read on to page 31 where there are interesting things said about the way we treat refugees and immigrants in this country while at the same time poaching trained staff from other places overseas to fill our skills shortages, thus depleting others' human resource. I am intrigued by the idea (p. xxix) that scientific knowledge will be doubling every 73 days by 2020. There is no reference to this, but it will mean that I need more staff!

In the chapters which follow, Reed writes about the implications of this peoplism for business. I began to warm to the book when I read (p. 12) that peoplism was not necessarily any more amenable than capitalism. I had worried up to this point that it was being presented as a better alternative.

Reed argues that individuals are now 'naked'., Government cannot provide for the diversity of choice that people expect. (Plenty of people have no choice, of course, and you could argue that too much choice at the expense of others is no choice, but Reed does not seem to take this line). Companies offer pensions and health insurance in the way that they used to offer tied houses, and they will offer peer groups and the sort of support that the state might once have provided. Reed has read somewhere that the NHS accidentally kills 20000 people a year, but there is no reference to where he read it, and no indication of how choice might help you here.

Chapter 2, on disconnected thinking, argues that product lives are getting shorter, and so are attention spans. 50 percent of people apparently don't look beyond the first page of search results (p. 19, and no reference), and will wait only 8 seconds for a website to download before they get fed up and move on (same page, cursory reference). Do my users do this? If Medline does not appear within 8 seconds, where do they go? If the key paper is on the second page, do they miss it? We should be educating against this lack of patience.

In this chapter Reed argues that in rewarding sales, in perpetuating gender and age inequalities, and in having lots of overseas students who don't stay, we can see this disconnected thinking. I found this all very interesting, and wholeheartedly agree with the arguments on gender and age bias. Surely, though, there is a role for higher education in promoting a widening of everyone's cultural horizons. Of course my University would be financially poorer if it did not have so many students from outside the UK (or even outside Scotland!), but it would be culturally much poorer, and the students who did come would miss the benefits of being in such a diverse community.

Reed then looks at management structures, arguing that the wrong structure can make a dysfunctional organisation. He then looks at corporate social responsibility, the role of HR and accountants (interesting ideas on what counts as an asset), and of communications in dealing with the advent of peoplism. I liked very much his comment (p.153) that the Internet must be used to augment and improve rather than eclipse the traditional business model.

In the final chapter, we see a vision of the future (headed with a warning that it is frightening). If we do all end up with a citizens' account, to which are charged all the services we use that were previously the preserve of the state, and from which are taken payments once we reach the limit where tax starts, then I am worried. What happened to the idea that we all help each other by paying tax to provide services for everyone, even to groups to which we do not belong? But I rather liked the idea that a tax on GDP would help redistribute wealth to more developing parts of the world.

This is an interesting book. I did not like the referencing style, and some of the arguments, particularly in the early part of the book, annoyed me. But there is a lot to think about here and it is good to read a business book which raises an eyebrow at the big pay-offs made to big bosses who make big mistakes. If peoplism has really arrived and society is really like this, then users of 'my' library might be like this too, and may have the same expectations of us as they do of their supermarket, whether I like it or not. I also liked reading about familiar examples, as most of the examples are from British business (there go my cultural horizons!).

I am off to develop a badge (see chapter 3) to emphasise the distinctiveness of my service, and to create a management dashboard (see chapter 6) to record the key indicators that matter to my 'business'. I don't want to be a business, but there is a lot in this book to stimulate the mind.

Developing a Needs Based Library Service, John Pateman, Lifelines 13, NIACE, 2003, ISBN 1862011834

Attempts have been made to modernise public libraries without real success. What they require is a radical transformation of strategy, structure and culture to met the needs of their diverse communities. Offering a synthesis of skills, experience and knowledge, research and cutting-edge good practice, this indispensable guide offers a step-by-step approach to creating a fully inclusive public library service. Drawing on current government thinking and extensive research, this guide will help you to put the needs of your community at the very centre of your public library service.

This is one of the latest titles (number 13) in the NIACE Lifelines in adult learning series. This series provides straightforward information, accessible advice and useful examples of good practice for all practitioners involved ion adult and community learning. Focusing in turn on different areas of adult learning, these guides are an essential part of every practitioner's tool kit.

  1. Community education and neighbourhood renewal - Jane Thompson
  2. Spreading the word: reaching out to new learners - Veronica McGivney
  3. Managing community projects for change - Jan Eldred
  4. Engaging black learners in adult and community education - Lenford White
  5. Consulting adults - Chris Jude
  6. Working with young adults - Carol Jackson
  7. Promoting learning - Kate Malone
  8. Evaluating community projects - Jane Field
  9. Working in Partnership - Lyn Tett
  10. Working with Asian Heritage Communities - David McNulty
  11. Learning and community arts - Jane Thompson
  12. Museums and community learning - Garrick Fincham
  13. Developing a needs based library service - John Pateman
  14. Volunteering and volunteers - Jan Eldred
  15. Sustaining projects for success - Kay Snowdon
  16. Opening up schools for adults - Judith Summers

Political Affairs

This Journal of Marxist thought "reflects our evolving views on ideology, politics and culture and the need to engage others in a broad critical discussion of the burning theoretical and practical issues of our day. Such a debate can only lead to a deeper understanding and common action."

This issue (November 2003) contains an interview with Walter Moseley and an article about the US Communist Party archives by Mark Rosenzweig (of the Progressive Librarians Guild). There is also an interview with Robert Meeropol, son of executed communists Ethel and Julius Rosenberg.

This excellent journal contains many book reviews of fiction, biography/memoirs, labour and class struggle, fighting racism, war and the international scene, struggle for democracy and Marxism: Theory and Practice.

Copies can be obtained from 235 West 23rd Street, New York, NY 10011, Phone: 212-989-4994, fax: 212-229-1713 or email: paat


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