Frontline Debates “Four Horsemen”

June 13, 2012

By Jim Treadway

A charming evening at the Frontline Club focused on a remarkably difficult theme: increasing disparities between rich and poor, powerful and powerless, and what they imply for our future.

Director of the think tank ResPublica, Philip Blond hosted the event, infusing it with humor as he led the panelists in a debate about the documentary Four Horsemen, which premiered in London at Frontline on 27 April. The documentary blames neoliberal and neoclassical economic theory for paving the way to an increasingly unjust, unstable, and unequal world.  Last night, the film’s director Ross Ashcroft elaborated its points with clarity and passion.

Daniel Ben-Ami journalist and author of Ferraries for All:  In Defense of Economic Progress, argued that the documentaries biggest mistake was to underestimate the role of the state in today’s crisis. Emeritus economics professor Victoria Chick, meanwhile, commented on the documentary’s suggestion that we return to the gold standard.  

"I sort of flinched," she said.  "Everything I’ve always known about the gold standard was so repressive, and it was a very deflationary regime.  [I] like the courageous quality of Minsky who said, ‘alright, I know banks are unstable, but they’re worth it, because they provide productive investment.’  Well that was when they did lend for productive investment.  And now they no longer do."

Giving voice to the sentiment of the evening, Mark Braund author of Four Horsemen:  The Survival Manual complained,

"We have democratic institutions which aren’t delivering democratic outcomes.  And that’s because I think too few people are interested enough to engage with what are quite complex ideas about how the ecomony works."

"X-box, cheap lager, and mass media" were Ashcroft‘s culprits for the public’s malaise in the face of a system that he believes is increasingly stacked against them.  

At several points, panelists emphasized that change would have to come "from the bottom up," but as one audience member regretted, what change "from the bottom up" really meant seemed hard to elucidate.

Amidst today’s troubling trends, Blond noted with optimism that ethics had returned to conversations about society and economics:

"This is an exciting time we’re in:  the left is arguing for ethics, when for many years ethics was akin to fascism and authoritarianism and being oppressive…  I think that’s genuinely a transformative, interesting moment."

Yet he ended the night on a sadder note, recalling a recent trip to his hometown of Liverpool:

"I was going around the northern neighborhoods, and people there haven’t worked since the first wave of globalization.  The deindustrialization there has essentially condemned three generations to endemic poverty.  What’s going to happen next is there’ll be a second wave, or a third wave, or a fourth wave, of automation, and that will take out middle class jobs.  And that’s already happening:  teaching, accounting, lawyers, etc….

Watch the full event here: