In four new instalments of the RSA Radio podcast, Matthew Taylor explores if ideas really have the power to change the world by revisiting some of the most influential books on public policy and social change published in recent decades.
He talks to four authors about their big idea, its impact, how the world has changed since their book was published and the relationship between ideas, government and social change:
Why is it so difficult to turn people's concern for their own children into policy which improves the prospects for the next generation as a whole? Matthew talks to David Willetts about how seven years after he published his book The Pinch (2010) inequality between the generations is still growing.
David talks about his chairing of the Resolution Foundation’s Intergenerational Commission which is compiling a body of evidence looking at the impact of housing wealth, pensions, pay and working age benefits on different age groups and which should carry a trigger warning for millennials. Recorded before Britain’s recent snap general election was called, the policies discussed in this podcast - tuition fees, the triple lock on pensions and funding for social care - played a significant role during the election. As David Willetts suggests, appeals to the welfare of future generations might be becoming an increasingly powerful political language.
Are governments running on an out of date operating system? Matthew talks to Geoff Mulgan, CEO of Nesta, about Connexity the book he wrote just before he went into the 1997 New Labour government.
Back then Geoff wagered that a growth in interconnectedness called for new forms of government and new political thinking beyond left and right. Trying to implement those ideas in government proved difficult, with politicians and civil servants schooled in a “19th century economic view of how you maximize things”. Geoff talks about resilience, our capacity for an evolution in human consciousness, the misguided turn towards political faith in “big men” and Nesta’s research on using digital tools for participatory democracy. Whether it’s fake news, a lack of international cooperation or data privacy it certainly looks like we’re still struggling with the problems of a more connected world.
Do we all now agree that inequality is bad for everyone? Matthew talks to Kate Pickett co-author with her husband Richard Wilkinson of The Spirit Level (2009). The book argued the overall of burden health and social problems was worse in more unequal countries.
Kate talks about how inequality gets under the skin (how anxiety about our status puts the body under stress) and how although the well-off may be said to benefit from inequalities in educational outcomes, their absolute level of attainment may be worse than their counterparts in more egalitarian places. Perhaps equality really is better for everyone but we are still waiting to see who will be the agents of change to remedy it.
When economies stop growing they go into crisis, but it seems impossible for them to grow forever without causing ecological catastrophe. Matthew talks to Tim Jackson about his book Prosperity without Growth (2009) and it’s recently updated second edition (2017).
Tim talks about the complex psychological drivers behind our desire for novelty, what it was like to publish a book which questioned growth in the midst of a recession and the surprise interest the book gained from unusual places. Tim argues economics is about the “conditions of the society in which we want to live in” and whilst ideas about alternative measures of prosperity have waned in the mainstream political discourse, an intuitive understanding of how to redefine prosperity is on the rise in the counterculture.
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