When nothing works

From cost of living to foundational liveability

By Luca Calafati, Julie Froud, Colin Haslam, Sukhdev Johal and Karel Williams

When nothing works
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  • ISBN: 9781526173706
  • Publish Date: Jun 2023
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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  • ISBN: 9781526173713
  • Publish Date: Jun 2023
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
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    Book Information

    • Format: Hardcover
    • ISBN: 978-1-5261-7370-6
    • Pages: 312
    • Price: £85.00
    • Published Date: June 2023
    • Series: Manchester Capitalism


    It's hard to escape the feeling that in Britain today nothing works. In the face of mounting inflation and widespread industrial action, this book offers an incisive analysis of the UK's problems and a new approach to tackling them.

    Economic growth and higher wages, the traditional responses of mainstream politicians, are simply not enough. This is because the so-called 'cost of living crisis' is only the face of a deeper crisis of foundational liveability. The UK is confronted not only with squeezed residual incomes but also failing public services and decaying social infrastructure. The only way out is to embrace a political practice of adaptive reuse that works around the constraints that frustrate mainstream policies.

    Presenting a new model for the three pillars of liveability - disposable and residual income, essential services and social infrastructure - When nothing works challenges the assumptions of left and right in the UK political classes and offers a fresh approach to the economically visible and politically actionable.


    'Commentators, politicians and economists now suddenly agree: Britain isn't working. Yet their suggested fixes usually fall laughably short. Not this book. Its authors have been warning of the brokenness of Britain's politics and economics and business for years, and here they deliver a devastating diagnosis. From how thousands of pounds have been taken from your pay to the nonsense of Westminster's fixation on growth - it's all here, along with practical suggestions of how to use our political system to deliver improvements. Read this and you won't look at a front page the same way again.'
    Aditya Chakrabortty, The Guardian

    'A brilliant book making hope realisable, outlining the passion that is needed.'
    Danny Dorling, University of Oxford

    'What if progressive politics are trapped in a no-win game, where growth and rising wages become impossible? From this bleak starting point, the authors map out strategies to deliver redistribution and social justice by focusing on the most basic question: what can be done - by people, households and communities - to improve the quality of life around them.'
    Paul Mason, author of Postcapitalism

    'Economic failure, elite myopia and outdated methodologies and policies have mitigated against any chance of attaining foundational liveability for the UK. This clever book uses meticulous argument and new thinking to make households the focus of a renewed placed based analysis that shifts the terrain of how we might address our economic woes. Social infrastructure, essential services and higher residual incomes boost quality of life for ordinary households; clear sighted ideas around starter polices and social innovations describe how this could happen. This is a set of visionary proposals from a group of people who actually know what they are talking about! Everyone should be reading it, and most especially our MPs.'
    Henrietta Moore, Institute of Global Prosperity, UCL

    'An essential articulation of the principles of the foundational economy, and the work required to build it. The authors elegantly outline the problems with the current system of extractive neoliberalism, anti-democratic political centralization and elite groupthink. Fixing these problems, the authors show, requires us to move beyond our collective obsession with abstract concepts like GDP and build an economic policy framework around the concrete concept of 'liveability'. They provide a set of clear, and easy to implement solutions to make the UK a more 'liveable' society, which makes the book an invaluable guide to policymakers and political leaders across the UK.'
    Grace Blakeley author of Vulture Capitalism

    'This book represents one of the most hopeful and important developments in political economy for a long time. It points to new ways of thinking, new programmes and policies, ones with a chance of working in the new context in which we live.'
    David Edgerton, author of The Rise and Fall of the British Nation

    'When nothing works is a radical, searching critique of the political consensus that has led us to our current economic impasse. It puts on the agenda a new politics squarely focused on raising the living standards of middle and low income households by improving essential public services, expanding free social spaces, and increasing disposable incomes. It is a hugely stimulating book that should be required reading for anyone interested in charting a way out of the economic turmoil of the past few years.'
    Ben Jackson, University of Oxford and co-editor of Political Quarterly

    'An intriguing search for a down-to-earth, bottom-up alternative to centralized technocracy controlling and failing in the production and delivery of public goods and services to ordinary people. The book outlines novel arrangements combining representation and self-government, building innovation on adapting extant public institutions and engaging social movements in the local production of collective well-being. Essential reading for the impending post-neoliberal reinvention of democracy and the state.'
    Wolfgang Streeck, Max Planck Institute

    'How could we think anew about the deep economic challenges we face? Focusing on the very real challenges of British households this rich and fascinating book uses empirical data to ask new questions about our current reality and points to practical ways we could create a liveable economy - one in which every household could thrive within the boundaries our ecosystems can support.'
    Hilary Cottam, author of Radical Help

    'When nothing works eviscerates the focus of elite policy makers, with chart after chart exposing the long, slow decline of liveability in a majority of UK households. As neoliberalism unravels, and its attendant ecological crises impose new ways of life on humanity, this book's plea for a shift in focus to liveability is timely, important and pragmatic. The focus of economic policy henceforth must be on how to sustain and improve household and neighbourhood liveability as we walk the cotton-thread-thin environmental pathway we have left ourselves.'
    Andrew Pendleton, Global Action Plan

    'This is an insightful and imaginative approach, worthy of examination.'


    Introduction: behind the great anxiety

    Part I: Why we need to change the lens
    1 Economic policy as quagmire

    Part II: Rethinking the economy
    2 Households and foundational liveability
    3 Inequalities between households and places

    Part III: The mess we're in
    4 Nothing works
    5 Why the low paid need more than a pay rise

    Part IV: What to do
    6 What to do? Politics and policy



    Luca Calafati, Julie Froud, Colin Haslam, Sukhdev Johal and Karel Williams are principals in the UK-based Foundational Economy Research Limited, whose recent research reports can be found at:

    They are also members of the Foundational Economy Collective of mainly European academic researchers, whose website gives an overview of their outputs and activities at:

    When nothing works

    By Luca Calafati, Julie Froud, Colin Haslam, Sukhdev Johal, Karel Williams

    Hardcover £85.00 / $130.00

    Paperback £14.99 / $21.95

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