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Crisis, point

It’s quite a list

  • The financial crisis

  • Austerity

  • Brexit

  • Covid

  • The war in Ukraine

  • Truss and Kwarteng

And you can throw in

  • Strikes

  • Fake news

  • The politicisation of immigration

  • Fragmentation of political parties

  • George Floyd and the aftermath

  • #MeToo

At ANHH we’re proud of our burgeoning relationship with Keele University. I’ve written previously about a conference that we sponsored and, at the start of this week, I felt honoured to attend another gathering of intellects (and me).

Entitled “The continuing crisis: Exploring the moral significance of the developments in politics, economic policy and the law since the 2008 banking crisis”, the workshop was hosted by the Law School.

It brought together, yes, lawyers, but also historians, political scientists, ethicists, a creative writing PhD student, philosophers, and a governance nerd.

We heard contributions in the room and down-the-line from Germany.

We were asked to consider the previously unrecognised interconnectedness and shared causation of:

  • paranoia in politics (in the UK, USA, and as a nation/state’s typical response to crisis)

  • commodification of land (in the UK and Africa)

  • the public’s evolving relationship with the military and public services, and servants, more generally

  • the impact of social media as part of the cult of personality and as a means to narrowcasting

  • lay participation in criminal trials in Argentina, and

  • disability and suspicion in times of crisis

Oh, and the models of Don DeLillo’s “Cosmopolis” (2003) and Stiegler’s “Neganthropocene” (2018) were proffered as backdrops to the shift from utopian aim to dystopian reality. (Me neither!)

The beauty of explorations such as these is that everyone leaves the room with flabbers gasted and thoughts provoked – but each in subtly different ways. Since I’m the one at the keyboard, here are my two principal take-homes on which I have placed my own spin.

Firstly, there is neither equality nor equity in crisis

For equality to be in play, each individual or group of people must be given the same resources or opportunities. Well, I don’t think it’s too political or biased a view to suggest that that hasn’t been the experience of the last 15 years. Or ever, in fact.

For equity to be in play, decision-makers and takers firstly must recognise that each person faces different circumstances, and then must allocate resources and opportunities (share the pot, if you will) in ways necessary to reach an equal outcome. Again, the computer says “no”.

Put more simply, it is the already vulnerable in society who become even more vulnerable in times of crisis.

ANHH has been working over the last twelve months to direct a major programme of work in Birmingham and Solihull (watch this space for more details and reflections in the coming weeks). As part of that, we have studied disparities in society:

  • People living in the lowest 20% income bracket in Great Britain are 2 to 3 times more likely to develop mental health problems than those in the highest

  • Black people are 4 times more likely that White British people to be detained under the Mental Health Act

  • People with severe mental health conditions die on average 15 to 20 years earlier than their peers

And there are many more such facts. And, in case you haven’t made the link, there is irrefutable evidence that economic crisis leads to increased stress, anxiety, loneliness, and depression – and higher rates of alcohol and drug use – and mostly amongst those lacking the resources needed to cope. Again, succinctly, a lack of money detrimentally affects public health.

Secondly, redemption lies in History

In so far as I have an academic alma mater, it lies in my first degree in Mediaeval and Modern History. I was struck (and delighted) by how many contributors – most, indeed – referred to historical precedents when describing society’s extant challenges.

The war in Ukraine can also be framed as the first European War since 1945.

The world faced a similar imminent threat of mutual assured destruction in 1961 (and probably on many other occasions that we don’t know about).

Covid is the latest pandemic in a list stretching back to Spanish ‘flu, polio, typhoid, cholera, and the black death.

There were banking crises akin to 2008 in 1929-30, 1866, 1841, 1825-26, 1815-15, and 1772. And I’m referring only to this country, the worldwide list is several pages long. And there’s more than a whiff of another one in the air right now.

My thesis, which I dropped like a rock into the room at the workshop, is that listing earlier examples of current problems is only one step in the right direction. The purpose of history is to teach us about the present. The value of History (i.e., the academic discipline) is that it gives us the tools to analyse and explain problems in the past, and then positions us to see patterns that might otherwise be invisible in the present so we can alter the future.

If you consider the list of antecedents above – and the many others that were highlighted by the papers – there is one, telling, compelling thing that unites them. The world, the nation, society got through them. And how were they managed? Yes, partly through stoicism and good luck – ‘twas always thus – but mostly through the intervention of the best and smartest and most informed minds, who worked on and through the challenges. That’s what clever people do best.

So, we may well be in crisis, but the real point is that we can have faith that there’s a way out of it. We may never have faced this precise set of circumstances before, and probably never all at the same time, but humanity has certainly faced similar challenges, possibly on multiple occasions, so we should be optimistic that we can get through it this time too.

Our purpose at ANHH is “doing good”, and it drives us every day. We stand ready to support those at the workshop to take their thinking to the next levels. And, as consulting partners, we will always use the examples of challenges past and best practice present to help organisations build the better governance that their clients and users need and deserve.

You know where to find us.

Crisis? What crisis?

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