Undeveloping Britain

By Martin Vogel

Back in January 2019, Matt Bishop and Tony Payne at Sheffield University’s Political Economy Research Institute (SPERI) posed the question of whether Britain might be the world’s first example of an undeveloping state. By this they meant that the characteristics that sustained the UK’s development over four hundred years as a pioneer of capitalism and industrialisation may have turned into pathologies that hold it back in the modern global political economy:

“Britain could again be first, albeit in a league table not of its choice! It could be the first of the ‘early developers’ to be forced to grapple with the implications of sustained ‘undevelopment’. This is defined here straightforwardly as the dismantling, rather than the building, of a viable, functioning political economy that satisfactorily serves its people.”

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought this thesis visibly to life. Britons have spent 2020 discovering that the securities they have for decades taken for granted are in fact very fragile. I won’t rehearse the catalogue of incompetence that has characterised the British Government’s approach to the coronavirus. But, lest it becomes too normalised, I commend keeping to hand the excellent Sunday Times investigations whose titles say it all: 38 days when Britain sleepwalked into disaster and 22 days of delay and dither on coronavirus that cost thousands of British lives.

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Learning from art: Roni Horn at Tate Modern

By Martin Vogel

you are the weather detail
You Are the Weather (detail), Roni Horn

Roni Horn is a contemporary artist who chips away at our certainties and presents a world which seems familiar yet turns out to be quite elusive.  It’s an experience to be commended to anyone who presumes to lead people or to understand the environment with which they are engaged.

An exhibition of her work is at Tate Modern.  It consists largely of sculpture and photography.  There is a great deal of repetition and variation on a theme and it’s easy to view the work quickly and think you have grasped it.  But it gets under your skin and eventually challenges your preconceptions, encouraging you to question perception itself.

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Never to get lost is not to live

By Martin Vogel

Loch Lomond, Scotland

Book review: A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Rebecca Solnit

Rebecca Solnit writes non-fiction as if it were a work of poetry. A Field Guide to Getting Lost is part cultural history, part philosophy: a meditation on loss and being lost.

The meaning of these experiences – the familiar falling away and the unfamiliar appearing – is different today than it was in the past.  19th century travellers thought nothing of being off course for days at a time; for us, anxiety sets in within minutes of losing our way.  People had the skills to navigate the natural landscape and with this came a sense of optimism about their ability to find their way and survive.  Today,  even those who walk in the wilderness lack this familiarity with the landscape and rely on mobile phones to get them out of trouble.

For Rebecca Solnit, to live this way is to miss something of the very essence of life: “Never to get lost is not to live.”  Indeed, her theme is less the hazards of getting lost and more a hymn to losing oneself – the life of discovery that comes with living with uncertainty.

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