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Author: David Runciman and Catherine Carr

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Corbyn! Trump! Brexit! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting. TALKING POLITICS is the podcast that tries to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to his regular panel along with novelists, comedians, historians, philosophers - and even a few politicians - and ask them what they think is going on... Democracy is feeling the strain everywhere. What might happen next? How bad could it get? As it unfolds, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It’s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.

Talking Politics is brought to you in partnership with the London Review of Books, Europe's leading magazine of books and ideas.

182 Episodes
Green New Deal?
This week we talk about another side of capitalism: the innovation economy. Can capitalism deal with climate change? How much depends on the role of the state? And who will pay? We compare the Green New Deal to FDR's original version: does history show us how to get this done? With Bill Janeway, author of Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy, Diane Coyle and Helen Thompson. Plus: David and Helen catch up with the latest comings and goings in British politics: are the two main parties starting to break apart? More - much more - next week.Talking Points:The basic idea behind the Green New Deal is that an innovation economy faced with an existential crisis will need massive state investment. Is it being pitched right? - Putting climate change on the agenda is an important first step. - How do you make this a legitimate political mission? The language of war has been debased; you can’t use that. - We don’t have the technologies needed to allow 50% or more of the grid anywhere in the world to be supplied by intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind. The mission needs to allow the state the latitude to experiment and build this technological base.The state has longer time horizons and has to be a part of fundamental investments in technology. - The time horizons for venture capitalism aren’t appropriate for tackling climate change. - The idea of industrial strategy/industrial policy is coming back. - State coordination is also necessary to set technical standards and figure out how infrastructure will be funded.Eventually, the productivity benefits of technical changes comes through, but it can take decades. Are we on the cusp of that with digital technology? - It’s not just about using a new technology to do what you’re already doing, but using the new technology to change what you’re doing. - This requires infrastructure investments and corporate reorganization. - It can take a long time to see the full benefits because it’s not just about technical change, it’s also about social change.These are all international issues, but the frameworks are still domestic. - To what extent will politics constrain progress? - Technological innovation has been heavily politicized: there is no way to do this kind of innovation on a global scale that would escape geopolitics.What about the independent group? - When it was just the Labour MPs, it was more a critique of Corbyn’s leadership. - With the defection of 3 conservative MPs, it looks more like an anti-Brexit formation. - It may be more difficult for Labour MPs to defect now. - But these groupings don’t change the parliamentary arithmetic.Mentioned in this Episode: - Bill Janeway’s book, Doing Capitalism in the Innovation Economy - Diane Coyle’s blog, The Enlightened Economist - Simon Wren-Lewis on funding the new deal for The New Statesman - The Solow productivity paradoxAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:

Green New Deal?


The Nightmare of Surveillance Capitalism
We talk to Shoshana Zuboff about The Age of Surveillance Capitalism, her game-changing account of what's gone wrong with the world of big tech and how to fix it. What is surveillance power and why is it destroying the things we value? How have we allowed this to happen? Where will the resistance come from? Plus we ask whether the real problem here is technology or capitalism itself. With John Naughton.Talking Points: In her new book Zuboff writes, “"surveillance capitalists know too much to qualify for freedom.” - What is the relationship between knowledge, freedom, and capitalism? - The neoliberal argument is that markets must be free because they are so complex that they are ineffable. No one knew anything, so everyone must be free. - Today, the major tech companies are claiming the same thing. But in fact, these same arguments are the opposite of what Hayek and Smith intended because surveillance capitalists make it their business—literally—to know everything. - Surveillance capitalism is a radical asymmetry of knowledge, and this knowledge creates a new and unique form of power.Surveillance capitalists have succeeded in part because of an ideology of inevitablism. Blame the networks, this is just how they are. - This is insidious because it threatens free will and human autonomy. - Democratic society is impossible without the notion that individuals have the capacity to choose their actions and shape the future.What can be done? - Lifting the veil: naming what’s going on allows us to deem it intolerable. We need a sea change in public opinion. - Building better systems: people do not want to be trapped in the current environment. There is space for someone to forge an alternative path to the digital future. - Collective Action: Power is not just exerted in the economic domain—it’s everywhere all the time. How do we come together to tame this kind of capitalism?Will this be enough? The excesses of raw capitalism during the Gilded Age were tempered by the World Wars. The historical conditions today are different. Democracy was in trouble before Facebook. - Thomas Paine says that every generation needs to fight for democratic values. These principles are never won for all time.In surveillance capitalism, we are not the customers or the employees. This is rogue capitalism that is cut loose from society. - Are predictions of human behavior legitimate products that should be sold in the marketplace? Should we have markets that trade in human futures? - Information technology always produces more information. Who gets to know, who decides who knows, and who decides who decides who knows? The Chinese state sees in surveillance capitalism the means to its own political ends. - The conflation of authoritarian power and instrumentarian power is the ultimate nightmare—and this is a realistic prospect for the future of humanity. - A happy ending is not inevitable, nor is it impossible.Mentioned in this episode: - Shoshana Zuboff’s new book, The Age of Surveillance Capitalism - Eric Schmidt in 2009 on privacy - Democracy Hacked: David talks to Alan Rusbridger and Martin Moore about fake news, democracy, and the changing information environment - Toronto, Google, and resistance to the “smart city”Further Learning: - John on Shoshana’s book for The Observer - The Talking Politics guide to… Machine Learning with Jennifer Cobbe - The Talking Politics guide to… Facebook with John NaughtonAnd as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
Back to Brussels
An extra episode as David and Helen try to work out where we've got to with Brexit after this week's votes in the Commons. Can Tory unity hold? Can EU unity hold? Something's got to give - but what?  And when?Talking Points:Is there a contradiction in offering to renegotiate the backstop? - If a no deal means a hard border and economic chaos, then maybe there is a good argument for reopening the backstop? - If you’re sitting in Dublin right now, you might be nervous because the chance that Britain leaves without a deal seems higher than it was. - Would the other EU states abandon Ireland? The big loser of the week was the second referendum. There does not seem to be stomach in parliament for stopping Brexit. - The massive tactical problem that May now faces is that Feb. 14 is way too soon - An extension of Article 50? For what purpose? 60% of the UK electorate sees extending Article 50 as stopping Brexit. - Does this mean that events are leading toward either a deal or no deal Brexit? - A general election seems like the logical way out. - But both Labour and the Tories would have a lot of problems in a general election.There could be some common group between the ERG position and the EU position if all parties could be 100% confident that the backstop would not materialize. - But it is also possible that we are totally trapped.Mentioned in this Episode: - New numbers on the EU economyFurther Learning: - The FT on Germany’s current position - Our recap of Theresa May’s crushing Commons defeat - Can May get her deal over the line?And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:

Back to Brussels


The Problem with Political Leaders
This week marks the 100th anniversary of one of the most influential lectures ever given on politics: Max Weber's 'Politics as a Vocation', first delivered in Munich on 28 January 1919. David and Helen talk with Jonathan Powell, Tony Blair's former chief of staff, about some of its lessons for the age of Brexit. Where have all the good leaders gone? Is the party system to blame? Are we suffering from an excess of conviction or a lack of conviction? And who will be responsible if we see a return to violence? Recorded before a live audience at Trinity Hall, Cambridge.Talking Points:The British two-party system, which Weber admired, was intended to organize political divisions; however the plebiscitary politics of the Brexit referendum introduced another set of divisions. - Divisions over Brexit cut across the parties. - This demonstrates the danger of mixing different types of politics. Another problem is that the UK is a multinational state.Is the current failure of leadership about the leaders we have chosen or the dilemmas they face? - Right now, there doesn’t seem to be an opposition that is ready to take over. Does this suggest the need for a new party, or parties? - In many ways, Tony Blair represented Weber’s ideal of charismatic leadership. But he also discredited that model for many people. - Regardless of what you think of May or Corbyn, it’s clear that neither of them is in it for the money. - May and Corbyn are a generational step back; right now, there aren’t any new leaders emerging.When Weber wrote his lecture, the stakes of politics were remarkably high—there was a real risk of civil war. - In a world in which large-scale violence is unlikely, is charismatic leadership still the answer?Mentioned in this episode: - Max Weber, “Politics as a Vocation” - Jonathan Powell’s essay in the New Statesman, “The Rise and Fall of Britain’s Political Class”Further Learning: - Jonathan Powell on the backstop - David on how divisions between the old and the young are threatening democracy. - The Talking Politics guide to… the 1970s, in which Helen explains the turbulent decade - Who is Jeremy Corbyn? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
Talking Politics Guide to ... Existential Risk
David talks to Martin Rees about how we should evaluate the greatest threats facing the human species in the twenty-first century. Does the biggest danger come from bio-terror or bio-error, climate change, nuclear war or AI? And what prospects does space travel provide for a post-human future?Talking Points:Existential risk is risk that cascades globally and is a severe setback to civilization. We are now so interconnected and so empowered as a species that humans could be responsible for this kind of destruction. - There are natural existential risks too, such as asteroids. But what is concerning about the present moment is that humans have the ability to affect the entire biosphere. - This is a story about technology, but it’s also about global population growth and the depletion of resources.There are four categories of existential risk: climate change, bioterror/bioerror, nuclear weapons, and AI/new technology. - Climate Change has a long tail, meaning that the risk of total catastrophe is non-negligible. - Bioterror/bio-error is becoming more of a risk as technology advances. It’s hard to predict the consequences of the misuse of biotech. Our social order is more vulnerable than it used to be. Overwhelmed hospitals could lead to a societal breakdown. - Machine learning has not yet reached the level of existential risk. Real stupidity, not artificial intelligence, will remain our chief concern in the coming decades. Still, AI could make certain kinds of cyber-attacks much worse. - The nuclear risk has changed since the Cold War. Today there is a greater risk that some nukes go off in a particular region, although global catastrophe is less likely.These threats are human-made. Solving them is also our responsibility. - We can’t all move to Mars. Earth problems have to be dealt with here. - There are downsides to tech, but we will also need it. Martin describes himself as a technical optimist, but a political pessimist.Mentioned in this episode: - Martin Weitzman on long tail risks and climate change - The Stern Review on climate change, 10 years on - A review of Jared Diamond’s Collapse. Further Learning: - Martin’s new book, On the Future: Prospects for Humanity - The Centre for the Study of Existential Risk at Cambridge - The Talking Politics Guide to Nuclear Weapons - Who wants to colonize Mars? And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here:
Talking Politics Guide to ... Bretton Woods
David talks to Helen Thompson about the economic order that was created in the aftermath of the Second World War.  What was agreed at Bretton Woods, how did it work, why did it eventually fail, and can any of it be revived?Talking Points:The Bretton Woods system: - Established a system of fixed exchange rates with the U.S. dollar as the international reserve currency (other currencies were pegged to the dollar, and the dollar was pegged to gold) - Created the IMF and the World Bank - Established capital controlsOn the surface, Bretton Woods is a success story. - The following three decades were a period of economic growth and relative stability. - But there are other parts of that story too, such as low oil prices. - The system had to be patched up many times from 1961 onward, in part because of the misaligned role of dollars and gold. - Bretton Woods also created a problem for U.S. presidents who had to balance domestic and international pressures on the dollar. The election of Richard Nixon in 1968 marked the beginning of the end for Bretton Woods. - Nixon didn’t like Bretton Woods because it imposed domestic constraints that were at odds with his protectionist message. - In 1971, Nixon ended dollar/gold convertibility. By 1973, it was clear that there was no longer the will to sustain Bretton Woods.The Bretton woods system was a function of American power—there’s no going back now. - A system like Bretton Woods needs an anchoring power. - China doesn’t have a currency that is convertible in the same way and the Chinese are wary of the domestic pitfalls of becoming the international currency.Further Learning:   - In the Talking Politics Guide to… the 1970s: Helen discusses the decade in which the Bretton Woods system broke down. - The panel speaks to Oliver Bullough about “Moneyland,” and how a handful of London bankers helped break Bretton Woods. - Why did the architect of Bretton Woods spy for the Soviets? - David and Helen talk to historian Adam Tooze about the global financial crisis.And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: your alarms… for Thursday when David talks to Martin Rees about how we should evaluate the greatest threats facing the human species in the twenty-first century.   
Comments (5)

Jason D'Cruz

solid episode

Dec 4th

Richard Kay

Neoliberal talking shop.

Oct 27th

Samuel Baeza

generally on the money, but sometimes it gets a little pompous

Oct 25th

Dave Anderson

Samuel Baeza the title is a loaded question

Oct 27th

Colin Erskine

This podcast is where I discovered podcasts and it's still the best listen. That one on the seventies I've listened to thrice and counting. I'd like to hear more on the sterling crisis?

Jul 30th
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