The Revenge of the Real by Benjamin H. Bratton – Review
By Alex Mair
For over 40-years there has been one economic consensus in the West; deregulate, privatise, shrink the size of the state, shrink the welfare state. Then sit back and let the market do its thing. If the cost of living gets too high, then no bother. If you can’t afford a train from London to Liverpool because the price of a ticket on your new privatised railway service is now £307 then no worry. Everybody will be kept afloat with artificially high wages created by cheap foreign labour and a buoyant housing market. And the best thing is, if this all falls to pieces, you, the taxpayer, get to shell out for the cost of a nice, big fluffy pillow of notes for the banks and energy companies to land on. What could possibly go wrong?
Coronavirus could go wrong. Having survived a total disaster in the 2008 financial crisis, the western economies were shaken from top to bottom when Covid-19 ground their economies to a halt in March 2020. Revenge of the Real, a slim volume from Verso Books, by Benjamin H. Bratton is the latest in the first slew of books detailing the covid-19 crisis, what went wrong, what went right, and crucially, what could be done differently next time.
Bratton argues that 40 years of Thatcherite economics under both Labour and Conservative governments left Britain uniquely vulnerable to a massive crisis. Covid-19 has revealed our acute vulnerabilities; our health service left under-funded, carers who are demoralised and under-paid, a Treasury left underprepared for meeting the cost ordinary citizens would need to keep their heads above water during the crisis and a population unused to central government telling them what they can and can’t do.
Revenge of the Real is an enjoyable, nourishing and (relatively) quick read, if at times not as accessible perhaps for the general reader as it might be. Bratton constructs his book along the lines of a straight forward chronology of the crisis, which makes it easier to follow. His views are often far-sighted, which helps make sense of some of the bewildering side effects of this pandemic. For example, Bratton has interesting things to say about the wave of anti-lockdown, anti-vaccination, anti-science protests that took place in London and Berlin last year. Right now, anti-vaccination crows are gathering outside primary schools in the UK.
Bratton’s words on this phenomenon are haunting; ‘libertarians, anti-lockdown celebrities such as Robert Kennedy jr, Steve Bannon, troops, actual Nazis, New Age yoga instructors, anarchists, “health freedom” advocates, conspiracy theorists in the mold of David Icke and Piers Corbyn, and possibly some of your friends and acquaintances – together found common cause’. It’s a scary thought. The long-term impact of the covid-19 crisis is yet to be felt, but if the past 13 years since 2008 are anything to go by, it could get very ugly in the long run.
‘Revenge of the Real: Politics for a Post Pandemic World’ by Benjamin H. Bratton is published by Verso, £10.99 hardback