I’m very pleased to say that Reinventing the State: Social Liberalism for the 21st Century has been reprinted with the first print run having sold out. The editors (myself, Duncan Brack and David Howarth) have taken the opportunity to relate the book to recent events by including a new foreword which explains why we think the ideas contained in the book are more relevant than ever. Among other points, we have said:
The collapse of the banking system worldwide has revealed the ultimate dependence of what had previously appeared to be free-standing market relationships on straightforwardly state institutions, such as central banks and ministries of finance. The asymmetries of information, and thus the lack of trust, that lay at the heart of the sub-prime and asset-backed commercial paper crises have now started to affect the whole edifice of banking as a private enterprise, and the whole of the banking system is falling into the hands of states.
It would be easy for those who were always sceptical of the wilder claims of economic libertarianism smugly to say ‘told you so’. But in fact, at least for social liberals, the new situation should be seen as containing dangers as well as opportunities. A vast expansion of state power into the financial system could carry with it a vast expansion of state power into individual lives, which is something liberals must guard against. We are witnessing what is in reality a vast centralisation of power, which is always something liberals should resist.
The central idea of this book is that the state does have a role to play in ensuring liberty, equality and prosperity. Indeed, using the state creatively is crucial if we are to tackle the major environmental challenges we face. But to play that role in a way that does not itself become threatening of liberal values, it must itself be radically reinvented in the direction of the local and the democratic. That will mean a state in which power is radically devolved, so that state action becomes about creative and powerful local government being the first place in which people come together to tackle their shared problems. In a world in which economic forces are pulling in the opposite direction, that task of reinvention is becoming more, not less difficult. But it is also more important than ever.