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The Coded World: Loss of Democracy and Abandonment of Knowledge

by Andreas Kolbe Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015 at 1:36 PM

Neoliberalism is the enemy of knowledge. Specialized knowledge and the experience of skilled workers are sought less and less in a world ruled by simple numbers and algorithms. Through economization, powerful private enterprises manipulate or withhold information.


by Andreas Kolbe

[Neoliberalism is the enemy of knowledge. That is the central thesis in the new work of the sociologist Colin Crouch. Years of experience of skilled workers are sought less and less in a world ruled by simple numbers. Private enterprises manipulate knowledge at pleasure for their advantage. This book review published on 9/10/2015 is translated abridged from the German on the Internet,]

Something is going wrong in Great Britain’s public service. Colin Crouch has no doubt about this from the first line of his book. The so-called New Public Management, the inclusion of free enterprise methods and structures in public service, has led to absurd developments in many places whether in the public health system, the schools or the public administration. One example is the police.

“Neoliberal policy earmarked success rates for the English police in solving car thefts and burglaries because analyses showed that citizens’ subjective sense of security was harmed by these criminal acts. A decline in this area would have given special credibility and persuasiveness to the promise of effectively fighting criminality. In several English cities, police authorities ignored the organized sexual abuse of children since these crimes only played a minor role for their performance numbers.”

Colin Crouch calls this the logic of the financial markets: viewing as many areas of life as possible under a private enterprise lens and ultimately reducing them to numbers of money values. That is the central solution of neoliberal policy which wins more and more followers and influence worldwide according to Crouch.


Parents of school age children or patients needing treatment can compare the offers of public schools or clinics. They can decide themselves instead of being assigned a place by government agencies. The providers should be forced to improve services and efficiency.

“The arrangement also has its shady sides. With a great probability, the actual quality of the respective service is distorted like its significance for clients.”

Crouch compiled ample evidence for such malformations: physicians who diagnosed dementia too often because they gained bonuses for that. The program sought to recognize dementia sicknesses earlier. Universities concentrate their curriculum on subjects that promise graduates a high income. Good vocational prospects become one of the decisive numbers in university ranking. Gaining knowledge and cultural progress are not important any more.

Examples from Crouch’s homeland Great Britain have a forerunner role in neoliberalism. In a detailed way, he enters into the English school system – because his wife has worked in this system for years. She compiled large parts of the material for the book as the author admitted in the acknowledgments.

The many examples illustrate the problem in an entertaining and shocking way. But the system behind the examples is crucial. Neoliberalism is the enemy of knowledge. That is the central thesis. Specialized knowledge and the experience of skilled workers over years are sought less and less in a world ruled by simple numbers and algorithms. Through the economization of many areas of life, powerful private enterprises arose that manipulated or withheld information and knowledge at pleasure to their own advantage.


“The democratic community has to suffer tremendously under this power structure since reliable information is its elixir of life. The community becomes the hostage of their self-interests as soon as the controllers of influence over power suppress information or supply the public with one-sided, misleading or manipulated information.”

Here Crouch goes back to his earlier reflections on post-democracy where large parts of society are brainwashed while a few sit at the levers of power and stage a pseudo-democracy as a show-event to quiet the masses.

“Our epoch is not the first in human history in which the simple people are basically defrauded by the great and powerful. Rather this has been one of the constants of human socialization. The problems raised here are pressing because they claim to satisfy high demands for transparency and responsibility, not because they are somehow new or in unusual format. This could have catastrophic consequences […]. Our dependence on knowledge changed into a dependence on representatives of private interests hose conduct is only oriented in the morality and ethics forced or not forced by the market.

How the author structures and arranges his reflections is impressive. Right at the beginning, he sketches the thesis, argumentation and development of the book so the reader can find his way in Crouch’s very complex intellectual working model.

The original English title “The Knowledge Corrupters. The Financial Takeover of Public Life” focuses on the central theme. The public sector is crucial. Our democracy is threatened, not only our knowledge.

As with many contributions in political debates, Crouch decries two malformations and raises vital questions. He does not offer prefabricated or completed solutions for the problems. Questions remain.

“I believe we must regain lost trust. This means more intensive communication between experts and citizens in public service and better exchange of information and knowledge. There are good initiatives in the public health service and in schools where this works. Applying numbers instead of trust leads us. Only very limited information is exchanged. Thus we must regain trust through better communication.”

Colin Crouch: “The Coded World – How the Logic of Financial Markets Threatens our Knowledge”

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