There is a great interview with Johann Hari (in two parts) here and here. He discusses a lot, from the media, to Chomsky, to Hitchens, to Galloway, to Israel, to Iraq. And, in my mind, what resonates in the points he makes is a combination of common sense (a commitment to reality over dogma) as well as a real belief in leftwing principles (democracy, economic inclusion etc.). I can’t think of a columnist who I read more avidly than Hari (Krugman and Monbiot are close I guess: Monbiot’s almost as good; and I like Krugman, although there is a lot in his older work that I disagree with and he suffers from economists’ arrogance).
Interestingly, in the interview, Hari comes close to a mia culpa on Iraq too. There is certainly an admission of great uncertainty, which is refreshing (and what is missing from the writings of Hitchens, Cohen and Harry’s Place). [Dislosure: Unlike Hari I opposed the invasion but did so with considerable uncertainty too.]
Really, there’s only a couple of things I’d take issue with in the interview: first Hari’s characterisation of Galloway as anti-abortion. Which, as I understand it, is unfair. Galloway, I think, is personally, morally opposed to abortion but doesn’t think it right to impose his beliefs on other women. While there is plenty to dislike about Galloway, I don’t think this position is unreasonable (plent of pro-choice people I know hold it; Bill Clinton said (paraphrase): “I think abortion should be safe, legal and rare”). And I certainly don’t think that it is fair to label this position as anti-abortion as – as I understand it – Galloway still supports the right of women to have safe, legal abortions if they so choose.
The second thing is Hari’s claim that “markets create wealth”. This is wrong(ish) although only in a pedantic way. Really, if you are talking about why our quantity of life (rather than quality because that is a more complex issue) is much higher than it was 100 years ago (cars, washing machines, medication, running hot water, super markets - which is what I understand by the meaning of the word “wealth”) then the answer is actually technological change.
Markets may be the best way of providing the incentives necessary to drive technological change but markets and technology are not the same thing. Indeed, many of the major technological changes that have taken place in the last 200 hundred or so years have come from either:
* Eccentric scientists who followed an idea because of their love of knowledge not their love of profit.
* State funded research (computers, planes etc.)
* Serendipity. (I doubt I’d be alive at present if it weren’t for antibiotics; it’s strange to think that there discovery was entirely an accident).
This isn’t to say that markets don’t serve a social function. Quite the opposite, they do provide some incentives and are a pretty good way of distributing goods (if you can mange inequality they are certainly better than Soviet style bureaucracy). They, also (if you can manage market failures well enough) are probably the best way of maximising utility without unduly restricting liberty.
Yet I don’t think that it is strictly correct to say that they create wealth. It certainly would be wrong to say that they are the only way of creating wealth.