Books

Another automation is possible

A review of The Glass Cage: Where Automation is Taking Us by Nicholas Carr.

Automation is everywhere. From robots on production lines to the cockpits of planes; from automated market trading to highly skilled medical diagnosis via a whole range of blue and white collar occupations, few jobs seem to be immune to the replacement of human, living labour by computerised systems.

One report has recently predicted that as much as 47% of US employment is at risk. This is not just futuristic hype: the US has just gone through a “jobless recovery” from the 2008 crisis.

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A brave new world?

Author: 

John Cunningham

According to the authors we are entering a “second machine age”.

The first came with the invention and development of the steam engine by James Watt and others in 1775 and now “Computers and other digital advances are doing for mental power — the ability to use our brains to understand and shape our environments — what the steam engine did for muscle power. They’re allowing us to blow past previous limitations and taking us into new territory.”

A review of The Second Machine Age: Work, Progress, and Prosperity in a time of Brilliant Technologies by Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee.

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“Back to the 70s” will not reverse inequality

Author: 

Matt Cooper

The 970 pages of Thomas Picketty’s Capital in the Twentieth Century have been summarised in the three characters: r > g.

Expanded, this means, in recent years, the rate of return on the capital of the wealthy (r) has been greater than the rate of growth of the economy (g); the proportion of wealth owned by the richest becomes greater and inequality grows.

A review of Inequality: What can be done? by Anthony B Atkinson (Harvard University Press, 2015).

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Britain's New Corruption

Author: 

Pat Yarker

“Old Corruption has passed away, but a new, and entirely different, predatory complex occupies the State... with its interpenetration of private industry and the State... its control over major media of communication, its blackmail by the City, its reduction of the public sector to subordinate roles, and its capacity to dictate the conditions within which a Labour Government must operate...”

E P Thompson, “The Peculiarities of the English”, 1965.

A review of How Corrupt Is Britain? Edited by David Whyte (Pluto Press: 2015).

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Fighting union busting

Author: 

Jim Denham

Trade unionists have known for decades that employers operated blacklists, whereby records were kept on militants and activists (and, indeed, not particularly militant or active trade unionists) in order to exclude them from employment.

The practice was especially rife in the construction industry, where simply raising a concern over health and safety could be enough to ensure that you never found work. Countless working class lives were destroyed by the blacklist.

A review of Blacklisted, the secret war between big business and union activists by Dave Smith and Phil Chamberlain (New Internationalist).

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The hinterland of the contemporary left

Author: 

Pat Yarker

This book presents six occasional essays in which the American novelist Benjamin Kunkel gives an account of recent work by contemporary thinkers of the left.

A review of Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis by Benjamin Kunkel. (Verso 2014).

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The hegemony of neoliberalism

Author: 

Martin Thomas

Philip Mirowski addresses the left, very broadly defined — “people who have taken it as a fundamental premise that current market structures can and should be subordinate to political projects for human improvement” — but with “a simple message: Know Your Enemy before you start daydreaming of a better world”.

He dismisses most already-circulating “better world” schemes as helpless against the dominance of neoliberalism.

A review of Never let a serious crisis go to waste: how neoliberalism survived the financial meltdown by Philip Mirowski (Verso, 2013).

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A record of plutocracy

Author: 

Martin Thomas

All the main storylines of Cameron’s Britain are there in this book. The food banks. The explosion of payday loans. Plunging wages for young workers, soaring rents and house prices, and almost no social house-building.

A review of Cameron’s Coup: how the Tories took Britain to the brink, by Polly Toynbee and David Walker

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The AWL, Labour and the Left: 

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A union which belongs to its members

Author: 

Gemma Short

Uetricht begins his account of the transformation of the Chicago Teachers’ Union (CTU) and their 2012 strike by counterposing two incidents representing the opposite faces of teacher trade unionism.

A review of Strike for America: Chicago teachers against austerity by Micah Uetricht.

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The rise of “Islamic state” in Iraq and Syria

Author: 

Simon Nelson

Cockburn’s 160 pages are an introduction to the rapid rise of Islamic State (IS) across Iraq and Syria.

Recycling material from articles in the Independent and London Review of Books Cockburn charts how Islamists from various groups came to dominate the Syrian rebellion after 2012 and changed it from one of predominantly secular and democratic opposition to the ultra-conservative. In which Saudi Wahhabism and Saudi and Gulf state funding played a big role.

A review of The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution by Patrick Cockburn.

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