300 episodes

Corbyn! Trump! Brexit! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting. TALKING POLITICS is the podcast that will try to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to the most interesting people around: novelists, comedians, historians, philosophers - and even a few politicians - and ask them what they think is going on... Democracy is feeling the strain everywhere. What might happen next? How bad could it get? As the crazy stuff happens, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It’s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.

TALKING POLITICS David Runciman and Catherine Carr

    • News
    • 4.7, 497 Ratings

Corbyn! Trump! Brexit! Politics has never been more unpredictable, more alarming or more interesting. TALKING POLITICS is the podcast that will try to make sense of it all. Each Thursday, in Cambridge, David Runciman will talk to the most interesting people around: novelists, comedians, historians, philosophers - and even a few politicians - and ask them what they think is going on... Democracy is feeling the strain everywhere. What might happen next? How bad could it get? As the crazy stuff happens, TALKING POLITICS will be on it. It’s the political conversation everyone is having: please join us.

    Brexit, Trump and Aldershot FC

    Brexit, Trump and Aldershot FC

    This week David and Helen talk with the historian David Kynaston about his diary of the 2016-17 season in football and in politics, when a lot happened both to the world and to his beloved Aldershot FC. It's a conversation about loyalty, identity and belonging, and about what sorts of change we can tolerate and what we can't. Plus Helen reflects on her life as a West Ham fan.


    Talking Points:


    For David Kynaston, football is about identity.
    - We all have our personal myths.
    - Continuity of space, even colours, is also important.


    Football in Britain has derived a lot of meaning from the relationship between club and place.
    - The continuity between location and fan base broke at some point in the 1990s, maybe earlier. 
    - And then there are questions of ownership, management.


    For David Kynaston, football is rooted in place; politics is not.
    - Small and medium sized towns feel ‘left behind’; these places have also been left behind in the football sense. 
    - But anger about the inequalities or the premier league doesn’t have a lot of political purchase. 


    What is the relationship between the planning period of the 50s and 60s and Brexit voters?
    - People who lived through that maybe had reasons to distrust people telling them what was best.
    - There was also a coarsening of popular culture, led by Murdoch and the Sun.


    Mentioned in this Episode:
    - David Kynaston’s new book, Shots in the Dark
    - Anthony Powell, A Dance to the Music of Time
    - Colin Shindler’s books on Manchester United and Manchester City
    - Our post-Trump episode 
    - David Goodhart on somewheres and anywheres
    - Liverpool’s vote and Sun readership
    - The Financial Times editorial on Trump and Portland


    Further Learning:
    - Helen on West Ham
    - Helen on coronavirus and the Premier League


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 43 min
    Whose Work is it Anyway?

    Whose Work is it Anyway?

    David and Helen talk with Diane Coyle about what the pandemic has revealed about the changing nature of work. Who is doing more of it? Who is still getting paid for it? Which jobs are not coming back? Plus we explore the impact of the digital revolution on how we get rewarded for what we do and we ask whether the big tech firms can continue to hoover up so many of the rewards. Is Jeff Bezos really worth it?


    Talking Points: 


    Since the post-war era, unpaid work in the home doesn’t get measured in formal economic statistics.
    - At the time, people argued it would be too hard to measure.
    - When women went out to work in the paid workforce, the market started growing.
    - The digital revolution brought a lot of things we paid for back into the home, for example, online banking.


    The pandemic has exacerbated existing social patterns and trends.
    - Women are more likely to have been laid off and furloughed. The hardest hit sectors, such as hospitality and retail, employ more women. 
    - All working parents have been hit hard.
    - In a self-inflicted recession, the service sector has been hit hardest (instead of manufacturing).
    - Key workers are not our best paid workers. Those who can work from home are, broadly speaking, more well off.


    Official economic statistics are analytical and statistical constructs. 
    - If we ran surveys about what households are doing, we would have measures of these things. 
    - You can’t devise good policies about social care or pensions about understanding who is doing what. 
    - The statistics we have were created in relation to a particular mode of economic management: Keynesian demand management. 
    - We no longer think that’s a sufficient way of thinking about economic activity, or the more human issues around economic activity.   


    The financial market economy today bears little relationship to the real productive economy.
    - This is essentially because central banks have (intentionally or not) propped up markets with asset purchases.
    - We will see a continuation of the trend since 2008 of greater asset inequality.  


    What has the pandemic done to people’s economic psychology?
    - Fear might make recovery harder. 
    - Certain sectors like hospitality and entertainment depend on people moving from one place to another and gathering in close proximity.
    - People’s expectations from the government may also have changed.
     
    Information technologies have become part of our fundamental economic infrastructure and often these markets are dominated by only one corporation.
    - After 2008, large companies like Amazon that weren’t making profit at the time still had access to huge amounts of cheap credit and could engage in share buybacks. 
    - The end of people’s ability to physically go shopping has been a huge boon to Amazon in particular. Online retail doesn’t suffer like the high street.
    - Right now, Amazon is seen to be providing a vital service. Does this make it less likely that policymakers will take it on?  


    There may still be a shock coming, especially when the furlough scheme winds down.
    - Is it too late to save the brick and mortar economy?
    - If we are moving towards a more digital economy, we’ll have to rethink taxes too.


    Will the pandemic take us back to an earlier version of the digital economy? Will we go back to living further apart? 
    - There’s a limit to how much you can do online. 
    - The shift towards urban centers took off in the 90s, before the tech revolution. It’s probably more about the shift away from manufacturing towards service-sector economies.


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - Diane’s article in the New York Times, ‘Why did it take a pandemic to show how much unpaid work women do?’
    - Our last episode with Diane
    - The Economics Observatory: questions and answers about coronavirus and the UK economy


    Further Learning:

    • 42 min
    Revisiting Yuval Harari

    Revisiting Yuval Harari

    This week we go back to the first ever interview we recorded for Talking Politics, when David talked to Yuval Noah Harari in 2016 about his book Homo Deus. That conversation touched on many of the themes that we've kept coming back to in the four years since: the power of the big technology companies; the vulnerability of democracy; the deep uncertainty we all feel about the future. David reflects on what difference those four years have made to how we think about these questions now.


    Talking Points:


    In Homo Deus, Harari distinguishes between intelligence and consciousness.
    - Intelligence is the ability to solve problems; consciousness is the ability to feel things.
    - Humans use their feelings to solve problems; our intelligence is to a large extent emotional intelligence. But it doesn’t have to be like that.
    - Computers have advanced in terms of intelligence but not consciousness.
    - What is more important: consciousness or intelligence? This is becoming a practical, not theoretical question.


    Artificial intelligence could create a new class—the useless class.
    - Institutions or mechanisms might become obsolete.
    - In humanist politics, the feelings of individuals are the highest authority; could algorithms know your feelings better than you do?


    The idea of the individual is that you have an indivisible inner core and your task as an individual is to get away from outside forces and get in touch with your true, authentic self.
    - According to Harari, this is 18th century mythology.
    - Humans are dividuals: a collection of biochemical mechanisms. There is nothing beyond these mechanisms.
    - In the 20th century, no one could understand these mechanisms. 
    - We haven’t abandoned humanism—the rhetoric is still there—but it is under pressure.


    In a long-tail world, everyone has a little bit—there’s lots of tailored, personal politics—but there’s also a huge concentration of power and wealth.
    - Think of Google or Facebook: they are basically monopolies.
    - Technology is not deterministic: it could still go in different ways.
    - There is human pushback. 
    - Voters may be right in sensing that power is shifting, but are they right about where it is going? 


    In the four years since this interview, machine intelligence hasn’t hugely advanced.
    - Machines are more a part of our lives, but they aren’t necessarily smarter.
    - Are we becoming less intelligent as we adapt to a world increasingly dominated by machines?
    - Human agency is not just under threat from machines. It’s also under threat from corporate power. Amazon is much more powerful than it was four years ago. 


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - Homo Deus
    - ‘Inside Out’
    - David’s review of Homo Deus
    - Our episode with Brett Frischmann
    - Dominic Cummings’s blog


    Further Learning: 
    - The Talking Politics Guide to… Facebook
    - On ‘Inside Out’ and the philosophy of self
    - Sapiens


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 45 min
    Twilight of Democracy

    Twilight of Democracy

    David talks to the writer Anne Applebaum about her highly personal new book, which charts the last twenty years of broken friendships and democratic failure. We start in Poland with the story of what happened to the high hopes for Polish democracy, including what we've learned from this week's presidential election. But we also take in Trump and Brexit, Hungary and Spain. What explains the prevalence of
    conspiracy theories in contemporary politics? Why are so many conservatives drawn to the politics of despair? Is history really circular? And is democracy doomed?


    Talking Points:


    Yesterday, Poland’s incumbent president Andrzej Duda narrowly won re-election.
    - Anne thinks that this shows divisive politics can succeed.
    - A central issue was LGBT rights: Duda said that LGBT was an ideology worse than communism.
    - The ruling party now has 3 more years to continue undermining the press and the judiciary and putting pressure on anyone the party sees as a threat.


    The new illiberal way of thinking is not a totalizing ideology.
    - These are medium-sized lies, conspiracy theories.
    - You can use conspiracy theories to undermine people’s trust in political institutions.
    - Should we differentiate between conspiracy theories and opportunistic lying?


    When elections become about ‘who is really Polish,’ whoever wins gains a sense of legitimacy in excluding and discriminating against the ‘others.’
    - Can these arguments stand when the results are this close?
    - The Polish government has tools to harass its opponents. It’s a vengeful state.
    - The opposition now will probably fragment—this is what happened in Hungary.


    How did Brexit bring together figures like Johnson, Scruton, and Cummings?
    - Politicians, journalists, and propagandists can manipulate feelings of nostalgia into a political campaign and ride it into power.
    - Did nostalgia have to be anti-European Union? In some ways, the EU is a bulwark against certain features of modernity.
    - But to a certain breed of nostalgic British conservative, the EU would always be foreign. To them, the idea of negotiating, or co-deciding was fundamentally unacceptable.


    In places with a shorter modern democratic history like Greece and Spain, democracy has proved surprisingly robust. 
    - The degree to which these forces win or lose is dependent on the local context.
    - History shows that democracies do fail; if you neglect rotting institutions they can bring you down.
    - Both complacency and cynicism can threaten democracy.


    Mentioned in this Episode:
    - Anne’s new book, Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends
    - Anne’s writing for The Atlantic
    - WaPo’s Trump lie tracker


    Further Learning: 
    - A review of Anne's book in The Guardian, ‘How my old friends paved the way for Trump and Brexit’
    - More on Poland’s election
    - From our archives… Simon Szreter on conspiracy theories
    - David’s lecture on conspiracy theories and extremist ideologies
    - TP's History of Ideas on Fukuyama and History
    - David on how democracy ends


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 42 min
    Helen's History of Ideas

    Helen's History of Ideas

    David talks with Helen to get her take on the history of ideas - both what's there and what's missing. Why start with Hobbes? What can we learn from the Federalist Papers? Where's Nietzsche? Plus we talk about whether understanding where political ideas come from is
    liberating or limiting and we ask how many of them were just rationalisations for power.


    Talking Points: 


    Should we start the story of modern politics with Hobbes?
    - Hobbes poses a stark question: what is the worst thing that can happen in politics? Civil war or tyranny?
    - Is Hobbes’ answer utopian?
    - What are the consequences of the breakdown of political authority—and how do they compare to the consequences of empowering the state to do terrible things? 


    Who has the authority to decide is a fundamental question in politics.
    - But there are lots of ways of thinking about politics that avoid this question.
    - If you accept the notion that political authority is essential, what form should that authority take and how can it be made as bearable as possible for as many people as possible?


    Constant says that the worst thing that can happen isn’t civil war; it’s the tyranny of the state.
    - To him, the French Revolution showed that when people who hold the coercive power of the state also hold certain beliefs, the damage can be much worse.
    - Constant wants to say that the beliefs people have in the modern world are a constraint on political possibilities.
    - What does the pluralism of beliefs mean for politics? 
    - Constant is also more direct about the importance of debt and money.
     
    From the French revolution onwards, nationalism became the dominant idea by which the authority of states was justified to those over whom it exercised power.
    - Sieyès equated the state with its people.


    The idea of federalism as enshrined in the US constitution is also important: Hobbes did not think sovereignty could be divided.
    - How do you reconcile constitutional ideals with the horrors they justified?


    Nietzsche forces a reckoning with the religion question.
    - This blows up the distinction between pre-modern and modern.
    - He presents a genealogy not just of morality, but civilization, ideas of justice, religion.
    - For Nietzsche, Christianity is the manifestation of the will to power of the powerless.
    - Nietzsche tells us how we became the way we are—it didn’t have to go that way.
    - In exposing contingency, he forces us to engage with political questions we don’t really want to think about.


    What do ideas explain about human motivation in politics, and to what extent are they rationalizations of other motives?
    - Helen thinks that the history of ideas can make political action seem too straightforward. 
    - How should we think about the relationship between ideas and material constraints (or opportunities)?
    - Studying history more generally leads to at least some degree of cynicism about the relationship between ideas and power.


    Mentioned in this Episode: 
    - Talking Politics: the History of Ideas
    - The Federalist Papers
    - The Genealogy of Morality
    - Our episode on Weber’s ‘Politics as a Vocation’


    Further Learning: 
    - David on Abbé Sieyès for the LRB
    - How the U.S. constitution was pro-slavery
    - In our Time on The Genealogy of Morality


    And as ever, recommended reading curated by our friends at the LRB can be found here: lrb.co.uk/talking
     
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    • 48 min
    James Meek on Healthcare: from WHO to NHS

    James Meek on Healthcare: from WHO to NHS

    David talks to the writer James Meek about what the Covid crisis has revealed about how we understand healthcare and how we think about the organisations tasked with delivering it. A conversation about hospitals and community care, about Trump's America and Johnson's Britain, and about WHO and NHS. James's writing on these themes is available on the LRB website https://www.lrb.co.uk/




    Amy Maxmen on Ebola, Covid and the WHO
    https://www.talkingpoliticspodcast.com/blog/2020/243-ebola-covid-and-the-who
     
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    • 37 min

Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5
497 Ratings

497 Ratings

HokieTechie ,

Just what I need every week

This is a key piece of how I escape the bubble of U.S. political media.

Beccaaz746 ,

Native American pandemic

A fan of this thinks covid could get as bad as the diseases that roped out natives. Be careful...

Bob from Illinois. ,

I can't wait to hear Helen and David every week.

David Rinciman does a fine job of putting this podcast up but I listen for a chance to hear Helen Thompson. Together they provide a calm and very well informed discussion of current issues. I started listening to try to make sense of Brexit. Those times seem quaint and simple now. But still Helen and David along with interesting guests provide the best discussion of these issues I've found.

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