This edited collection is the first book-length publication of Goldsmiths’ new Political Economy Research Centre (PERC). PERC was launched in early 2015 alongside its new PPE (Philosophy, Politics and Economics) degree. It aims to promote research into and debate around alternatives to mainstream neoclassical economics. Its board and members range across heterodox economics, political economy, cultural economy, economic sociology and economic history. The main elements that unite PERC members are a sense of interdisciplinarity and an insistence that economics cannot be separated from social and political influences and events. Although based in academia, the centre also encourages exchanges with interest groups, think tanks and others across civil society.
This particular book comes out of the PERC Papers series. The items in this series began as short papers—crosses between a blog and an academic working paper—and all were first published online throughout 2015 and early 2016. They were to combine scholarly, informed writing with polemical commentary, applying this mix to contemporary events. Authors came from academia, journalism and campaigning organisations.
All pieces were especially commissioned under the theme of the economics of public knowledge. Each explores what is happening to types of public knowledge in its varied forms and settings, from mass media to public libraries and education, from financial markets to public policy-making in health care and defence. Each author observes a very real erosion of the kinds of information, media and public knowledge that are considered essential for polities, markets and societies to function properly. The most obvious causes appear to stem from the pervasive influence of neoliberal free market thinking, which inculcates competition into every area of social and political life.
However, declining public knowledge also has many other causes. The online world has destabilised the long-term business models by which journalism, publishing and many forms of popular culture operated. Public knowledge and culture are hard to evaluate and justify in an era in which audits and quantification are becoming the key mechanisms of modern political and market management. In a prolonged period of austerity and cuts, public knowledge in all its forms often suffers the first and deepest reductions. But in a time when knowledge is more specialist, fast-moving and complex, it is also short-lived. Knowledge redundancy is hard-wired into everything, from news to operating systems, from clothing fashions to investment fashions. Under such conditions, it is only large corporations and the very wealthy that can afford to keep paying for specialist knowledge—but they guard it fiercely for themselves. Thus, extremes of information inequality both reflect and contribute to those of material inequality.
In conclusion, I would like to thank all those who gave their time and own expert knowledge to writing a short piece for a fledgling centre and website. Thanks also to all who have lent much-needed institutional support to get PERC and PPE up and running in their early years, including Pat Loughrey and Roger Burrows, and to the core PERC management team of Will Davies, my co-director, Johnna Montgomerie and Zoe Lake Thomas. Lastly, thanks to Sarah Kember, Michelle Lo and Adrian Driscoll at Goldsmiths Press, as well as the team at MIT Press for their work in taking on this project.
Co-Director of PERC