Whilst the national conversation has been dominated by talk of Corbyn and the rebirth of the parliamentary left, an intellectual revolution has been taking place behind the scenes. Grace Blakeley, author of Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation, is one of its leading luminaries and it’s easy to see why. Her ideas are as inviting as they are well thought out, blending an understanding of the mechanisms underlying the global financial system with a Don Draper esque ability to condense complex ideas into catchy and easily understood soundbites. I sat down with her to learn more about her work.
Her flagship proposal, a People’s Asset Manager (PAM), is the perfect example. People are generally familiar with the concept of asset management – we come across it every day, most commonly in the form of pension funds. It’s the act of curating a collection of investments, traditionally making decisions with the goal of maximising value. Blakeley takes this core concept and redirects it, envisioning investment decisions made on the basis of democratically decided goals instead of growth. Investment could be directed towards firms and organisations seeking to solve the world’s greatest problems, or to those in which the British people have a vested interest in seeing succeed. Crucially, these investments would also afford the state a degree of direct control over the decision making processes in companies that receive investment.
People can immediately relate to the idea, and it has so many potential applications that it sets the imagination alight. This intuition, though, masks a raft of far-reaching implications – a sufficiently well funded PAM could, for instance, effectively nationalise troubled firms. Or incentivise innovation in a particular direction. Much like Thatcher’s instrumentalisation of the state to entrench her ideology, proposals like the PAM utilise state resources to drive Britain towards a democratic socialist future. Blakeley’s vision stretches further than just the United Kingdom, though.
In fact, Blakeley’s internationalism shines through in every aspect of her work. She has bold plans for how the British state can be utilised to empower the global south. “Firstly, we need a kind of Marshall Plan as part of the Green New Deal”, Blakeley argues, but, characteristically, she injects some much-needed imagination into the classic idea of financial transfers. Aid and financing would be accompanied by technology transfers, to undermine the “ridiculous patent system which allows huge amounts of technology to be kept within the global north, which underlies the ongoing disparity in productivity between the north and south”.
She has considered and has plans to deal with international opponents to the project, too. The United States does not worry her; “US imperial power is not, in the long course of history, unassailable”. In fact, she sees the current trade war between the United States and China as a “fairly central determinant of what happens to Chinese versus American power over the next couple of decades”, framing the conflict as one between “an empire in decline versus one which is coming up”. Providing we manage to avoid climate disaster, opponents to an international socialist project may well fade away of their own accord.
She has answers for domestic opponents, too. As with any significant gain made by the left, there’s a risk that we can lose it. Blakeley has a plan, though. Drawing inspiration from the NHS, she argues that the best route forward would be “to create institutions that command so much public support that it is difficult for any future opposition to dismantle it”. This approach would apply to more than just the ideas outlined in her book, too. “The model of forming institutions, rather than tinkering around the edges in terms of changing tax policy, changing welfare is really important. It’s harder to dismantle institutions, especially ones which you’ve built a narrative around and which can command public support”.
This understanding of how best to enact irreversible change can be seen in another of her big ideas, a public banking system. This idea, the state offering the same services as traditional retail banks, brings with it a host of benefits. Aside from loosening the grip of private finance on the world, which Blakeley argues creates financial instability as a result of far too much light-touch regulation, this would provide a simple way for indebted Britons to refinance on much fairer terms. “If you create a public banking system, and loads of people have current accounts with it, and its lending to small businesses, it’s going to be very difficult for a Tory government to come in and get rid of it straight away.” This combination of an imaginative take on economics coupled with clear political nous creates a rallying point for modern socialists and should be a serious concern for any Tories.
Blakeley is more than just an academic, too. Her fiery rhetoric of “doing to the banks what Thatcher did to the unions” and steadfast determination not to “alter the platform to appeal to the so-called ‘median-voter” make her an invaluable asset for the left today, and one whose next contribution will no doubt be just as impressive as her first.
Grace Blakeley has a book out, Stolen: How to Save the World from Financialisation and has a column in the New Statesman as the economics commentator.
Image Credit: Repeater Books