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About Tony Curzon Price

Tony Curzon Price was Editor-in-Chief of openDemocracy from 2007 to 2012, where he is now contributing editor and technical director. He blogs at

Articles by Tony Curzon Price

This week’s front page editor

Julian Richards

Julian Richards is managing editor of openDemocracy.

Constitutional conventions: best practice

Is Thatcherism dead?

Gideon Rachman is the emblematic "good liberal" of my generation. He viewed the world from his office at the Economist since the late 80's and saw the unfolding of the idea of individual freedom---a sort of British, whig ideal of the Victorian era--- and reported its good progress. Since moving to the FT a couple of years ago, that view has been harder to sustain. In December '08, he became a europhilic advocate of world governmen. During the latest Gaza war, he reported the thrill of the return of history in our lives. And today, he almost writes that Thatcherism is dead.  Almost, because he feels that if the Alternative cannot supply an alternative "ism", the last hegemony holds its place.  Although I don't think that is true --- beliefs can be generally seen to have failed before a new model emerges --- he is right that the difference between 1979 and 2009 is that Thatcher used the economic crisis of the winter of discontent to launch a coherent assault on all that was wrong with the late bi-partisan Keynesianism of 1966-1976. But Gideon choses the wrong date for comparison, I think. 2009 is like 1974, not 1979. The failure of modernising Keynesianism was clear then, in its response to the oil shocks. But the inertia of old system  extended its life for another five years. During that time, the ideas of Chicagoism was turned into the politics of Thatcherism.  Expect the same sort of timetable today. Our political systems, entirely captured by the finance industry (read this De Long post, please), will have a final go at making money manager capitalism work. It will fail just as the reflation of '74-5 failed. The game-changing election to prepare for is 2015.

Catastrophe and passivity

Cannon Dr Alan Billings in the homily slot on the BBC's morning news program suggests that crumbling banks and crumbling buildings are a good moment to hand trust over to God. For Voltaire, these were moments to retract that trust. More positively, for Rousseau, they are moments to understand that we are not a passive audience in the face of destruction.


The G20's sins of commission

In the profusion of commitment, the lack of domestic credibility of economic policy-making weakens the ostensible succes of the G20 agreement

Monopoly powers

From the FT on what's happening at the G20:

"A large police presence kept under control a small group of protesters playing a game of Monopoly outside the London Stock Exchange on Thursday morning."

I hope no one cheated and that the police kept an eye on that, too.

Join the Avaaz poll on the world economy

Paul Hilder from Avaaz will give us a write-up of what the poll tells the G20 leaders.

Balance: thinly spread and unpopular

March 30th 2009. Join the Group Read. Chapter 18. A first balance

(Instructions on how to join are at the bottom of the original post)

This is the first chapter attempting to balance-up consumption and production. While the story told so far of the raw energy potential from renewable sources shows an ecouragingly close race to maintain our rich lifestyles with sustainable energy sources, a little digging provides much disappointment. Between the potential and the realisation lies a factor of over 100! From a production potential of 180 kWh per day per person, we get to an actual production figure of just 1 kwh/d/p and a "realisable" estimate of 18 kwh/d/p---a full ten times less than our consumption.

Looking at the heart of the physics problem, David MacKay points to the geographically diffuse nature of renewables: each person needs a huge amount of land, tidal exposure, wind per person to make the sums add up. The sustainable potentials, as David emphasises, need "country-sized solutions". "To get a big contribu- tion from wind, we used wind farms with the area of Wales. To get a big contribution from solar photovoltaics, we required half the area of Wales. To get a big contribution from waves, we imagined wave farms covering 500 km of coastline. To make energy crops with a big contribution, we took 75% of the whole country."

Yet protection of species, habitats, nature, beauty etc. all move the same people who want to reduce fossil fuel dependency to limit the installations. Something will need to give to balance our energy ...

Exodus or Odyssey?

Comment on Rabbi Sir Jonathan's Sachs' G20 Homily:


Anthony Barnett's "What Next?" - grainy recording

From The BigChill, Kings Cross, London. 26 Mar 2009

I tried out my first iPhone audio blog on Anthony's "What next?" proposal earlier this evening to the Convention on Modern Liberty post-event party. Turn up the volume and get close to the speakers -- next time I'll try and be closer to the speaker:


Blogs, truth and power at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office

When the diplomats get blogging, the bloggers get diplomatic ...

Three Kings, Clerkenwell, London. Thursday Mar 19 2009

openDemocracy's quarterly London meeting. Bill Thompson led a discussion on journalism, the web and civil liberties

Clearly easing

There is nothing specially odd or dangerous about how quantitative easing works. The real questions are about social capital and political credibility

Needed: globally coordinated bank nationalisation

Needed: a globally coordinated bank nationalisation

Mind-changing facts

"When facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?" And how far will the econbomic crisis go in changing minds? A review of Martin Wolf's "Fixing Global Finance" suggests it could be some way.

Drilling deep holes and making bombs

March 15th 2009. Join the Group Read. Chapters 14 and 15. Geothermal and Public Services

(Instructions on how to join are at the bottom of the original post)

It matters where the energy is: lots of heat just 100km under our feet doesn't help much although manufacturing earthquakes might, just a bit. We're not Iceland which can rely on geothermal heat closer to the surface to operate huge aluminium smelting plants. So we can (almost) forget geothermal. Public "services" like a well-equipped army or well-heated academics also consume. Maybe some demand should be counted as production if it can be sustainably avoided by our efforts?

Next week is the first chapter looking at the overall balance of demand to potential renewable supply.

Tides and Stuff - March 8, Chapter 14 and 15

March 8th 2009. Join the Group Read. Chapters 14 and 15. Tides and Stuff

(Instructions on how to join are at the bottom of the original post)

Tide farms, tide barriers and two-way tide pools sound very attractive. And they won't make the world stop turning. Unfortunately, even for the rather tide-rich British Isles, we can only really hope to cover something about equivalent to our lighting and gadget energy consumption this way. And the economics of building large installations are not yet clear. Stuff, on the other hand, is much less attractive. Just making and transporting it -- TVs, food, drink, packaging, cans, computers ... -- is our biggest single consumption category. Reducing the stuff-intensity of well-being seems like a good goal.

Modern Legitimacy

The Convention on Modern Liberty started the national conversation that Labour promised but never delivered

Group Read. Energy without hot air. Wave and Food

Feb 23 2009. Join the Group Read. Chapters 12 and 13. Wave and Food

(Instructions on how to join are at the bottom of the original post)

In which we learn that to get by on wave power you need to be very very insular -- that is, have a small number of people per unit length of exposed coastline (sounds like a nice place to me, but the British Isles don't fit the description) -- and also that our food habits, especially for red-blooded carnivores with meat-eating pets -- amount to more than half our driving habit in energy. There is a real energy case to be made for vegetarianism (approximately twice as efficient) and even more for veganism (another doubling).

What's love got to do with it?

Many of the sessions at the convention here today are about the state of our politics. We have had 30 years of governments who talk the talk of Liberty. They have presided over an era of centralisation, nannyism, a drip-drip erosion of civil liberties and a perpetual disregard for the spirit of democracy? What can we do about it?

In this context, a session on "Love and Liberty" may seem strange, almost an embarrassment to bring "love" into play at a political convention. The proposition we are exploring -- even proposing -- here is that "love", somehow understood, is a critical missing ingredient in our attitude towards the social and political world, and that without it we have no foundation for civil society or for the true flourishing of humanity that is at the heart of liberty.

Our four panelists will all bring a different interpretation of what that "love" is. For Mike Edwards, thinker, writer and development expert, there are personal attitudes and dispositions of care and friendship which can build mutually reinforcing cycles of political and personal change. Sheila Rowbotham, historian and philosopher of feminism, describes in her recent biography of Edward Carpenter a life that seeks to unite "inner" and "outer" democracy, making a politics out of the everyday experiences of work, sex, home and community. Marina Warner, cultural critic and feminist writer, highlights the importance of the imaginary and the aesthetic in shaping political possibility. Satish Kumar, a spiritual voice of ecology, brings the love of nature and the change of consciousness it requires to centre of building a good, just and sustainable world.

So what has love got to do with it?

For the very radical early nineteenth century Jeremy Bentham, a world ordered by the calculation of utility---the greatest good for the greatest number---is one that has at its core all the natural sympathy and egalitarianism that progress requires. Social problems become technical problems of calculation; society is a causal and computational nexus of utilities. Utility was a kind of civic religion.

However, the "short 20th century" was marked by the horror of the hubristic, dehumanising reason that this sort of technocratic view eventually produces. We should remember Hannah Arendt's view of totalitarianism: it is not evil that creates horror, it is action in the absence of thought. Much of the loss of civil liberty that forms a reason for our coming together can be seen as excused and caused by that view of politics as "the rational adminsitration of things" (in the words of Saint Simon, strange John the Baptist for the database state). Security and efficiency, all go with discretionary executive power.

We will be exploring the role of the emotional, affective, aesthetic, personal, cultural and dispositional in creating another sort of politics, one which really can deliver a modern liberty. There is a long tradition of the serious examination and analysis of "civic religion" -- of the types of consciousness that society must make possible in order to be a good, just and free society. From Rousseau through JS Mill, as well as later in the syndicalist and anarchist traditions, there is a sense that the emotional attachments to society matter to politics. This is what this session is about.

Who exactly is cleaning up?

It's the banks cleaning up, not the government

Energy group read, Week 6

Feb 23 2009. Join the Group Read. Chapters 10 and 11. Offshore and gadgets

(Instructions on how to join are at the bottom of the original post)

Offshore wind seems intuitively a nice option for an island liuke Britain - out of the sight, a sort of power belt that you can see from high places on a clear day. The energy is indeed there - about as much as we use for our heating and cooling. But you'd need an aweful lot of turbines and a massive investment. (Would we then have to worry about the birds?)

What about our chargers and gadgets? There is a myth that they are responsible for the developing "power gap" -- all those new power stations we will need over the next 20 years as the big nuclear power stations are decommissioned. Well, it turns out to be quite small - about the same energy consumption we use for lighting.

Just like to repeat a big thank you to David MacKay who has been very supportive of this project, and to William Sigmund without whose amazing html and perl skills I do not think we would have had an online version to work with.

Week of Feb 9 on the front page

I've just completed my second turn on the front page rota, handing over to Kanishk tomorrow, who hands over in turn to David, who hands over to Tom, then Rosemary then Susan. The system is getting a little less hectic, both in terms of my own preparing for the weekbut also with all the sections on the site getting used to highlighting material that should be considered for the front page. The goal is to make a distributed publication with components all sharing a "family resemblance" that amounts to the openDemocracyy core brand and values. It requires a trade-off between control and freedom that proving exciting to experiment with.

The week had some excellent reflections on the Iranian revolution (I particularly liked this). We carried a lot of material on civil liberties---a current focus given our sponsorship of the Convention on Modern Liberty---for example these posts on the disturbing question of the UK as a torturing state, and a long, three part piece that I have been working on for a while about the relationship between technology and liberty (here, here and here). The Russia section is producing a lot of excellent material, for example distressing piece on the economy of the regions.

We had just under 110,000 page views this week on the main site - that excludes forums and the wiki (about 15,000 pageviews on top) but includes the sections. The most popular articles are shown in the picture here:

Time for the taxpayer to make the rules

Tony Curzon Price (London, oD): Yvette Cooper says (Today, Radio4) that banks that need money from the taxpayer from now on will be subject to tight bonus and pay caps. The good news is that this is all the big British banks. The taxpayer has provided two types of capital to the banks in the last 18 months: cash in the form of share purchases (the "part nationalisations"), and there are some banks, like Barclays and HSBC who have avoided using this form of financing. But all of the banks have used and cannot survive without the second form: the swap of bad, illiquid assets for Treasury Bonds under the Special Liquidity Scheme. Under this facility, the taxpayer is taking on the risk represented by the bad assets. The banks would not today be standing without access to the liquidity we have underwritten. So, it would seem, those bonuses can be constrained from today according to Cooper's pronouncements.

Put some of those out-of-work bankers into Whitehall. Quickly.

The government is being rolled in flour by the banking lobby. It is painful to watch and should stop.

The liberty of the networked (1)

Benjamin Constant, at the dawn of the industrial revolution, warned we needed both indicidual and collective notions of freedom to survive if modernity were not to turn into tyranny. In this new technological dawn, we face the same threat and should look once again at Constant's lessons

Group read, energy, week 4. Will solar energy let us fly to the sun in winter?

Feb 7 2009. Join the Group Read. Chapters 5 and 6. Flight and Solar

(Instructions on how to join are at the bottom of the original post)

Will solar energy technologies allow us to sustainably take those long-haul flights to get our winter dose of sunshine? On the way, we discover that flying intecontinentally once per year has an energy cost slightly bigger than leaving a 1 kW electric fire on, non-stop, 24 hours a day, all year, despite the fact that modern planes are twice as fuel-efficient as a single-occupancy car. It may be no surprise, therefore, that Airline businessman Michael O’Leary, CEO of Ryanair, has developed a Swiftian the solution to the problem: " The best thing we can do with environmentalists is shoot them."

Just like to repeat a big thank you to David MacKay who has been very supportive of this project, and to William Sigmund without whose amazing html and perl skills I do not think we would have had an online version to work with.

Solomon: wisdom or luck?

Dixit and Nalebuff's "Game Theory - a guide to success in business and life" offers a glimpse into what went wrong with economics. Jovial economics is a genre that will come seem very pre-crunch. 

"Energy without hot air" Group Read

Join the Group Read of David MacKay's book: "Energy without hot air". Chapter 2 - how to answer the question of "one planet living" (or even "one nation living")?

Sunday Jan 11 - handing over to Kanishk

I hand over front page duties to Kanishk next week, then David, then Susan, then Rosemary then back to me. Anthony will join in when the Convention is over.

Why the rota? The idea is that we all work on various parts of the site, commissioning, writing and editing. But bringing the front page together everyday requires thinking about all sorts of trade-offs and about the contribution of each part to the whole. There is no better way of making each part aware of the constraints of the whole by having many people take the reins for a period.

When I explained to a mathematician friend the basic constraints ofpublishing on oD - what capacity we have for articles on the front page; how many readers per day we have; how the various parts of the site develop their own readership, and I further explained that I thought everyone should have responsibility for a part of the whole - heclaimed that sharing in space and sharing in time should come to exactly the same thing. It would be as good to divide the front page into some number of zones, with each person with responsibility over "theirs" as to divide up the year into slots where each person would have responsibility. Clearly, he had taken the level to a level of abstraction too high - splitting in time still imposes the task of creating a unified whole, from quote to lead to which block goes where to pacing ... which a split in space of the front page would never have offered. Anyway, we're experimenting with the sharing through time rather than space.

I'm working hard with Julian to make the publishing process -- everything from picture research to sub-editing to creating shortened versions for syndication and preparing the emails for dispatch -- so standardised that we can start to expand the distributed network of helpers and volunteers. 

Between the rota and the volunteer-based publishing network, we're moving towards the goal of having a mechanism that will wikify the production of agenda-driven analysis.... 


Wed Jan 7 - Gaza, Economy, Greece

Today was pretty Gaza-dominated on the site again. Over in the forums, Gaza-related threads are getting very long and heated. Just asn an example, Iron Mike posted this one on Hamas being the blame for the war, and it now has 110 replies. I think that Avi Shlaim's devastating history of Israel's post-1947 treatment of Palestinians should be read by all those in that thread. It is very powerful to hear this story told by "someone who served loyally in the
Israeli army in the mid-1960s and who has never questioned the legitimacy of
the state of Israel within its pre-1967 borders."

We published on the economy too. Godfrey Hodgson celebrates the return of the economically powerful state, while Simon Zadek sees the hope for real accountability in capital allocation mechanisms. Simon links the solution of the financial crisis and the environmental crisis: both are failures to hold the powerful to account for all the consequences of their actions. I hope Simon is right. I feel that the solutions may be less technocratic than he seems to suggest---redesigning incentive systems is unlikely without a firm purpose, and that needs a strong, positive vision to take hold. On that, we could do better.

 There is a very moving story of vision in Jane Gabriel's interview of legend film-maker Theo Angelopoulos. He is interesting on the riots ... but also on the optimism of his own generation: 

I belong to an older generation, a generation that believed that
change was possible, that it was possible to change the world, that it
was possible to open up a new path. My generation believed that it was
possible not only to dream of a new world, but also to turn dreams into
realities. It didn't happen. I think we are all carrying the shadow of
disappointment and failure. "

 But read to the end. It is brimming with hope.

We have a huge amount of good material coming in. That's one thing crises do -- send thinking people to write. We don't have the capacity to transform all of it into publishable material. Hat tip to the volunteers in the publishing network without whom output would slow to a trickle!

Oh ... and yesterday's intruder on the Gaza box. He's now written suggesting some writers we might like to commission. That's an improvement in method :)

Thursday's FP, readership spike

Denis Dutton at Arts & Letters Daily featured Theo Hobson's very interesting Milton piece and we got the spike in readership that comes from Denis' selection. I have written about the ALDaily effect, over here in relation to the unbundling of editorial roles that is happening all over publishing. If you go to the comments on the Milton piece, the 15 from Sunday are, I assume, from amongst the followers of Denis' recommendations. They are articulate, intelligent, opinionated---just the sorts of readers we love to have. Thanks, Denis!

Our own unbundling had a slight hic-up today. First, I spent a good part of last night restoring 2 new computers replacing the stolen ones. (Digression: my laptop had a Time Machine on an external hard-drive in the house. I got a total clone of the computer that was stolen in hours. Selina's had key files backed up on Mac's iDisk which was much less smooth restoring. Of course, iDisk is somewhat safer in that it is off-site. The lesson is that we should always be backing up both on and off-site, both complete mirrors and critical files).

Then there was a big ModernLiberty planning meeting -- exciting things happening there, more news soon. And finally our twice weekly physical group get-together... So it was great that the publishing team got  Sophie Roberts'  piece on the disappearances of civil society and opposition figures in Zimbabwe. She tells the history of Zimababwe's first post-colonial "dirty war" againstZapu-supporters and analyses disappearance as a tactic of putting people in a place that is beyond law. People disappear, and, this way, so too does accountability.

Tomorrow -- the traditionalism of the French Socialist party, three scenarios for Somalia ...

Polymeme Feed

I added the Polymeme feed to the front page the other day. Polymeme was created by openDemocracy author Evgeny Morozov. It is Evgeny's own semi-automated news aggregator, and I had found myself selecting so many of Evgeny's stories in my "The World" entries that I eventually saw the web logic of this -- why not  spread the energy and just give Polymeme its own slot.

Evgeny has built a database of a huge number of sites and blogs which he has categorised into broad subject areas. Every day, his machine discovers which stories are being referred to by several of these sites. He then does a manual cull for the most interesting ones. The result is a very interesting and distinctively personal selection of news stories.


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