We can understand how to use and control power and we know how change can be brought about. We need understand how our perception works and is deliberately distorted. We must rule out violence and look to the design of institutions and processes that foster cooperation and collaboration.

Part 3

Part 3 looks at Power and Change. For an alternative politics based on cooperation a realistic approach to both incumbent power and new sources of power is vital. If we are serious and confident in our vision of a better society we cannot just talk about a peaceful transformation we have to have a much more deliberate and planned approach to change.

Part 3 On Power

Making politics about good governance does not remove the need to deal with power. However the way power is dealt with acts as a signifier - it shows how sincere the belief in an alternative is and therefore how likely people will be to accept it. It requires balancing ends and means in creative ways. There are practical (albeit challenging) ways to do this so that, although holistic political economy aligns with an ethical approach, it does so realistically. The case is built on the long term utility and efficacy of its approach.

Power is the stuff of current politics; our current political process is a competition to gain control of the state with the objective of getting control of the power of the state to implement ones preferred policies.

Usually persuasion, social control and coercion are used in politics. Coercion and force are used in war. Clausewitz statement that war is the exercise of policy by other means is quite well known, this points it up exactly. To go to war is to chose to use force and coercion as the means in the pursuit of an end.   

Since we can transfer power without bloodshed and violence we should not stop the consideration of power – there are still choices to be made about ends and means.

Both the group or the individual may have access to resources that help; they can buy influence or arms, resources can be offered as rewards or withheld as punishments. As soon as we start to think about using power we come up against one of the classic issues in philosophy – the relationship of ends and means.

Given the difficulties and dangers of power it must certainly be used carefully. By the circumspect use of power I mean using it in such a way that means are carefully crafted to complement ends and that likely utility is applied as the test before action is taken. In order to see how this is possible (and practical) I look at two sets of guidelines, one entirely pragmatic the other with an ethical basis.

Part 3 On Change

The basis for holistic political economy is an articulated vision of what good looks like. Only with a vision can we evaluate if the results will take us in the right direction or be able to evaluate the utility of the ends we use.

Change management is an integral part of business studies curricula and has a massive literature. It is a multidisciplinary subject making use of human behaviour and psychology. As well having academics, who carry out research, it has practitioners who make use of it or specialise in it. Anyone pursuing a career in HR will have studied change management.

In the discussion of The Nature of Managed Change I described change as a process and stated that it would include

  • Planning & Organisational learning
  • Involvement and Commitment
  • Facilitation, Team work & problem solving
  • Communication

Here I develop what this means for politics; policy making should be open, pragmatic (evidence based), non-partisan and non-ideological and in a change from what we do now it would represent a step towards a shared vision. The vision of what good looks like based on a deep understanding our ourselves as social primates and the human activity system which we all participate in.

Just by looking at The Nature of Managed Change we can see that nothing like this taking place in our current political economy, even from those who say that they want a peaceful transformation of society. So the big answer to what is stopping change is the absence of a clear shared vision of what good looks like, something I have addressed in Part 2 Vision. However we also know that change is always taking place and even though it is messy and contested we are often exhorted to embrace it. So change is happening but makes us uneasy, why? Firstly (its obvious) lack of shared vision means change is essentially directionless; we are either just deploying point solutions which, even though well intended, don't add up to a transformation, or change is being imposed on us by those with wealth and power. Secondly there is constant doing and undoing, the ideological driven change in one direction is reversed by its ideological antithesis in the other direction. It just depends on who has won the competition to control the state for the time being; nothing is ever settled.

Lets make the question, what stops change, more precise. What is stopping the sort of change that would make politics into a quest for good governance and insist that business be about improving the commonwealth?

We can do a lot, the first thing is to summarise what we have learned so far from the analysis of the human activity system, current politics, and vision.

For the use of power we need to adopt both an ethical and a pragmatic approach, this may be difficult and something of a balancing but it is vitally important. Chosing the appropriate means for our ends is the only way to ensure our actions will have utility in the long term. We need to reject the lure of short term fixes that can be forced precisely because they will not have longevity. All our individual behaviours, the language we use and the way our actions demonstrate commitment and confidence must become and integral part of the project. 

The discussion of managed and good change points to a way forward. If we summarise it we get a challenging list of what has to happen. How it can happen is the subject of Part 4.


On the nature and use of power, the balance between means and ends

On the ways in which change is prevented and how it can be managed

Using the discussion so far to outline what can be done