Book review: Why It’s Still Kicking Off Everywhere by Paul Mason

When Paul Mason decided to re-edit his bestseller Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere’, he could have had little inkling of the demonstrations to come in Brazil, or the riots in Istanbul. But I suspect he would not be surprised. Recent events prove his basic thesis right. In fact before too long he may need a third edition.

I have to confess a quiet admiration for the author. I enjoy watching him on BBC Two’s Newsnight as economics editor, regularly making Jeremy Paxman squirm ever so slightly with his thinly disguised left of centre analysis and cultivated west Manchester accent. His epistemology is rooted, I can hear Mr Mason drawing deeply from the tradition of EP Thompson’s The Making of the English Working Class based on his experiences over the Pennines in Leeds.

The theme is popular dissent and frustration with the established methods of political engagement, widespread corruption and economic mismanagement. He gets to grips with the expressions of a younger generation who can mobilise through Twitter and Facebook and finding its voice and sense of identity across the world, well beyond the Arab Spring which surprised us all.

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The weakness of Mr Mason’s approach is that both books are long on anecdote and description but short on synthesis and solution (if solution is really an adequate word). They are entertaining, even intriguing and stirring, but what does it mean and, incidentally, what does it mean for financial services?

Perhaps partly what it means for financial services can best be described by an incident I experienced one evening talking to bankers in smog-bound Singapore. We had been discussing the spreading rate-fixing Libor/Sibor/Hibor/Shibor shambles and the parliamentary report on banking standards in the context of falling markets in Asia. What can be done, we asked? The established practitioners spoke of caution and strengthening the financial infrastructure, but the younger group was more critical. How can shareholders be real ‘owners’ if they hold shares for seconds? How about a broader model that recognises all kinds of stakeholders, including those who are affected by financial decisions, tax evasion and market rigging?

I would have thought little more of it, except that when I got back to my hotel, I watched a local television station to catch a discussion of how insulated financial services were from everyday issues and real financial responsibility. Transparency, naming and shaming and consumer boycotts, they suggested, might help and a reformed long-term shareholder definition might give impetus to shareholder action. This is stirring stuff on this side of the globe. It may just prove Mr Mason’s point.

Published by Verso Books