Roberto Mangabeira Unger on the Knowledge Economy

An abandoned steel factory in Baltimore

The philosopher turned politician on building an economy that would allow humans to flourish.

The key idea in Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s new book, The Knowledge Economy, is compellingly simple: the problem with the global economy isn’t that there’s too much disruption, but that there isn’t enough. The most advanced technologies remain confined to a small number of firms. This predicament, writes the radical philosopher, is “the single most important cause of both economic stagnation and economic inequality”.

Cheap labour and low taxation have allowed traditional manufacturing industries across the world to prosper on borrowed time, creating a false illusion of continued prosperity. Meanwhile, the knowledge economy, a new “vanguard” of production that is as much about 3D printing and robotics as the social dimensions of work, has remained stubbornly isolated. Unleashing its power requires transformation of our economy, society and politics.

To his supporters, who include former Labour leader Ed Miliband, Unger is a heterodox visionary. The law professor once remarked that his “conversation is not very conversational”. The same could be said of his books. Among his recent are Free Trade Imagined (2007) and The Left Alternative (2009) – reading his heavy prose can often feel like wading through mud.

Unger first came to the US as a graduate student and imagined he would return to Brazil one year later. His plans were stalled when a military dictatorship staged a coup in 1964, and he remained at Harvard, winning tenure aged 29. What makes him distinctive is that, unlike many philosophers, his CV strays beyond academia; the Brazilian native served as minister of strategic affairs first under former Workers’ Party president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva (from 2007-09), and again under his successor, Dilma Rousseff (2015-2016).

When we meet in London at Nesta, an innovation charity, Unger is at the beginning …read more

Source:: New Statesman


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