This Thursday, we’re excited to be hosting SFU Geography professor Geoff Mann who will be speaking about his new book In the Long Run, We Are All Dead: Keynesianism, Political Economy and Revolution — a groundbreaking debunking of moderate attempts to resolve financial crises. As a preview to the book launch, we had the opportunity to ask Mann about some of the themes of the book and his stand out title.
What advice would you offer to someone with very little understanding of Keynes and the concept of political economy if they were to pick up your book ?
I suppose that at least at first, my advice would be the same as most authors: jump in and you will find not only what you need to understand, but also that you already know much more than you think you do. But assuming that words like “Keynes” and “political economy” don’t immediately get people as excited as they get me — probably a pretty safe assumption — then, if given the chance, I would say to a would-be reader that these words name: first, Keynes, the most important economist of the 20th century, whose ideas and influence has radically shaped their life in crucial ways; and second, political economy, which is (no exaggeration) the science of governing. It is the knowledge that states and rulers use to understand and then try to manage modern capitalist societies. So between Keynes and political economy, we have the science of modern rule and the most sophisticated modern thinker about that rule. Hopefully that will entice someone curious to pick up the book and take a look. And then they will discover what I said at first: that you will find some help, but also find you are already very invested in what the book is all about.
What was one of the most challenging aspects of writing this book?
One of the most significant [challenges] for me was figuring out a way to communicate the real energy that saturates much of what the book is about: revolutionary politics, fears for the future and for the world we are leaving our children, the fate of local communities and solidarity of communities struggling with change.
These are the real heart beneath the dry surface of modern capitalist societies, and our urge to try and make them work better for us is a response to these heated dynamics, not to the boring surface that is exposed to the public. So I wanted to dig into what look like boring technical matters like monetary policy, taxes, the “welfare state” — even 19th century German philosophy and 20th century economic models — and try to get across not only how much this stuff still matters (enormously) but also how much real life and energy is at stake in them. I wrestled for 8 years with this book, in the hope of making this stuff come to life in a way that people could really care about it, because it really matters that they care about it.
What are some main themes that you look forward to highlighting at the book launch?
The main ideas I want to highlight come directly from the book. First, that our struggles to determine the best relationship between the state and capitalist markets is one of the defining themes of what we call the “modern” era, and that this struggle has been conducted almost entirely on terms set by elites. Since this relationship is one of the main factors shaping most people’s life chances, this one-sidedness is a big deal.
Second, and one of the main outcomes of this history, is that we have for the most part come to assume that poverty is just a tragic fact of modern life, as if it is inevitable that some people are going to be poor and marginalized, and the main goal of communities is to figure out the best way to live with that tragedy in the least disruptive way possible. But this is not true — poverty is not inevitable, and we need to build a progressive politics that does not start from the terms set by elites and their allies at the helm of the state.
Third, because our challenges right now feel very much like a struggle to avoid ecological and economic disaster, this tragic sensibility has come to shape even progressive politics in many ways, because it seems like the best or even only option right now, given how little time it seems to we have to figure things out. So the goal of organizing has come to be a way of figuring out how to get the poor to live willingly with their poverty so we can put off disaster, buying time in the hope that something better will come along. This is a self-defeating and unnecessary process, and it can be otherwise.
Lastly, you have such an arresting title for the book. What are you hoping to convey to people who may just be browsing through their local bookstore?
The title of the book is actually drawn from one of John Maynard Keynes most famous quips, a sharp critique of the mainstream economic ideas of his time, which were based in the idea that governments should not try to soften the blow of isolated shocks to economic well-being because in the “long run” free capitalist markets would work things out for the best.
To this, Keynes said: “But this ‘long run’ is a misleading guide to current affairs. In the long run we are all dead. Economists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if in tempestuous seasons they can only tell us that when the storm is long past the ocean is flat again.” In other words, if we don’t do something now, in the long run the whole system might not survive at all.
I think this sentiment is true, but for Keynes and Keynesians, the conclusion is that is not that we need a radical effort to overcome poverty and powerlessness now. Their conclusion, rather, is that because poverty and powerlessness are inevitable, we need to work out a way to make them livable, or the poor and powerless will become so unruly they will destroy civilization itself. A few chapters in the book show how this conclusion basically underwrites much of modern economic knowledge and political economy, even in “progressive” circles.
Instead, my book tries to begin from a similar place — in the long run we are all dead — but to head in a different direction: we don’t need to accept the tragedy of poverty, we need to expose it as the fiction it is, right now, and doing so will be the best way we make to the long run together.
Join us at 7:00 pm this Thursday, October 12, in the Djavad Mowafaghian World Art Centre for the book launch with Geoff Mann. Copies of the book will be available for sale. This is a free event and everyone is welcome!
*UPDATE: Below is the full video recording of Geoff Mann’s talk at his book launch on October 12.