Tuesday, March 13, 2007

I finally got published in the Beaver... There's a mistake though, the first paragraph ("the lead") should have quotation marks, because it was a quote by Bob Hancké... This bothers me.


(As this link does not work anymore, here is the article:)

In 2007, how Fabian is the LSE?

“When my father was my age, they thought that the revolution was around the corner, and my father always asked me why I’m so interested in what the Central Bank is doing and all that stuff, I said ‘because right now it’s not any longer about the world that’s going to come, but it’s about keeping unemployment down, keeping poverty down.’ Among the faculty what looks like pragmatism is coming to terms with how the terms of the debate shifted over the years.”

Although the terms of the debate shifted in the left-wing, the Fabian ideal lives on, says Bob Hancké of the European Institute. Social justice remains a very important priority when academics do their research, and the research is very much policy-oriented: LSE academics think about the ways they can actually influence the world to bring about social justice.

The LSE motto is “rerum cognoscere causas: to understand the causes of things,” as Eddy Fonyodi, President of the Grimshaw Club, tells me excitedly. Once you can make sense of the world around you, you can work towards changing it for the better. “They all work towards the same goal: Improvement of the society. To bridge the gap between academia and reality, to make a difference in the world and you can see that, both academics and students do amazing things to change the world.”

This very goal, however, requires flexibility, ability to look at the issue at hand from different perspectives.

“As society changes new questions arise so you have to adapt to be able to investigate the new and the challenging questions. To face the challenges that arise you also have to change yourself, your understanding.”

Nick Barr, Professor of Public Economics at the European Institute and a policy adviser, defines socialism “not in terms of its means but in terms of its objectives. Socialism is about the pursuit of egalitarian objectives. ” He says New Labour has the same goals as the Old Labour, but “it is more open-minded about how to achieve them…”

Higher education finance is a case where Nick Barr’s own views changed over the years. “I used to regard student loans as a nasty right-wing plot,” he says. “The logic of the argument turned me around 180 degrees. I realized that higher education financed by the tax payer is the average person paying for the degree of people who come disproportionately from better-off backgrounds, and it’s deeply regressive.”

Students may be very sensitive about tuition fees, but there is a perception that they are much less politically active than in the 1970’s. Hancké thinks this is a myth. “You always had students who knew exactly that they were coming to a place like the LSE for the return on the investment,” he says.

The real difference is, again, the terms of the debate. “When I was a student in the 80’s you had a lot of Marxist, Leninist, Trotskyite groups,” he explains. “[They debated on] the footnote in the Capital, you either have to interpret it like that or like that, and on the basis of that you wouldn’t speak to each other anymore… You were against the environment or in favour of the environment; Greens were the only ones who were in favour of the environment. Now [students] are fed up with the strict party politics but they care about big issues.”

Hancké describes this as a movement from a 1-0 world to a continuous world, where “different parties can start picking up bits and pieces.” He thinks this allows an accounting and finance student to bring his skills into a discussion about carbon emissions offsetting. He suggests that the Student Union can organize roundtable discussions where students from different disciplines discuss policy challenges.

Julian Le Grand is a professor at the Social Policy Department, who advised Tony Blair in health policy. He explains that while students do not call themselves Marxist or socialist any more, quite a few would have anti-capitalist and anti-globalisation views. However, they do not present a real alternative.

“Their analyses certainly haven’t got anything like the power of the Marxist view,” he says. “That was a very clear view – one that I think was wrong, but nonetheless, a clear analysis and a clear set of ideas as to what should be done. I don’t think there’s any equivalent to that among students today - or indeed among intellectuals of any kind.”

Hancké agrees. “My cohort didn’t come up with a lot of new ideas about where you might be looking. If I look at the courses I’m teaching, the kind of debates we have there, it’s not that we didn’t have ideas, it’s just that they were never put together in a way that they could have the battle of ideas.”

He thinks that the decentralized structure of the LSE does not encourage integrated thinking. Some academics start centres such as the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion, but they remain focused on one policy area. “You could probably put together a reader on alternatives to neo liberal thinking based on a lot of the research that takes place at the LSE. You need to ask somebody who would take in the research and say, ‘This is the political implication of what this research tells you. In terms of policy alternatives, this is where you might want to look on the basis of this research.’”

On an optimistic note, the LSE might be more Fabian than we think! When in doubt, there is nothing more reassuring than asking an American. Looking at students protesting and handing out flyers, Dillon Green, a postgraduate student at the European Institute, concludes that the LSE is “even more left-wing than Berkeley.”

Dillon, too, has his reservations. “You have this dichotomy between the social scientists who are all anti-globalisation and the kids who are doing finance and economics who all want to be investment bankers. The problem is that the investment bankers don’t seem to be that politically active and motivated, they are too busy trying to get jobs at the investment banks.”

No comments: