Behind Marx’s “hidden abode”: a public lecture by Professor Nancy Fraser on February 5th

Sarah Bierstock HeadshotsOn Wednesday, February 5th, Nancy Fraser, Diane Middlebrook / Carl Djerassi Visiting Professor, University of Cambridge and Loeb Professor of Philosophy and Politics, New School for Social Research will give a public lecture titled “Behind Marx’s “hidden abode”: Toward an expanded conception of capitalism”.

The event is hosted by the Centre for Citizenship, Globalization and Governance, and will take place at 5pm in Building 2, Room 1.089. It will be followed by a drinks reception. Please RSVP to


Olympic-style mega-events reach new frontiers – at a cost

By Will Jennings, Reader in Politics

A shorter version is cross-posted at The Conversation.

There is a law-like tendency with which the costs of large scale international events such as the Football World Cup and Olympic Games far outstrip the initial forecasts of planners. Optimism bias is observed in the systematic occurrence of cost overruns in organisation of the Olympics – averaging over 200% between 1976 and 2012. The spiralling of costs for the upcoming Sochi Winter Olympics is no different, rising from $10 billion in the original bid to $50 billion according to some estimates. This runs counter to a growing sensitivity of organizers to the many risks associated with putting on these grand spectacles. Today, mega-event managers are typically in the business of compiling extensive lists of prospective hazards and threats to inform their strategies and operations. Despite pressure from authorities such as FIFA and the IOC, the costs of these events continue to grow and the array of risks that organizers face continues to proliferate. Why? 

While there have been cost overruns ever since the first modern Olympic Games in 1896 the recent explosion of the mega-event industry has exposed event planners to new pressures and temptations. Commercialisation has brought money flooding into sport and made such mega-events desirable once again to ambitious politicians and governments in search of personal credit or an economic boost. It has also increased the financial liabilities at stake should things go wrong. Significantly, the recent trend of mega-events moving into emerging markets – such as the Football World Cups due to be held in Brazil in 2014 and Qatar in 2022, and the upcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi – has given rise to a new set of risks. Indeed, the changing world of the mega-event industry suggests that the governance of mega-events may become increasingly problematic in future, for a number of reasons.

Bidding Wars and Showcasing: Despite continued upward pressure on event costs, mega-events remain a sought after prize for city, regional and national governments looking to showcase their economic and/or political power on a global stage. Bidding competitions fuel the optimism bias in planning, pushing expectations skywards, and once preparations are underway the pressure to impress a potential global audience of billions can encourage a mind-set among political overlords that ‘no expense be spared’ in designing and delivering the event – with such mega-projects often serving as expressions of political ambition and fiat.

Lack of Infrastructure: Staging mega-events in emerging economies with under-developed infrastructure and facilities has implications both in terms of cost and event delivery. The high price tag for the Beijing 2008 Olympics, put by some at around $40 billion, was linked to the huge sums that were invested in the infrastructure (even the security bill for the event was highly inflated by installation of a vast CCTV surveillance system that remained in place in Beijing after the event). The high cost of the Sochi Winter Olympics has similarly been put down to lacking most of the needed infrastructure, requiring it to be built from scratch. As mega-events increasingly are awarded to emerging markets in which infrastructure development is needed, and part of the deal, total costs will rise – as will the propensity for cost overruns, as the associated portfolio of mega-projects also grows. This local context is crucial, since the two Olympics typically presented as being textbook cases of financial restraint are US-based Games which necessitated minimal infrastructure or venue construction: Los Angeles 1984 and Atlanta 1996.

Corruption and Construction Standards: In comparison to advanced democracies, emerging economies tend to suffer from higher levels of corruption, which are a potential issue in containing construction costs, procurement and breaches of venue safety (such as allegations relating to EURO 2012 in Ukraine and Sochi 2014 which has been associated with organised crime and stolen funds). Corruption is highly problematic for the governance of mega-events, since organisations like the IOC rely upon ‘value-based’ brand that events are built upon. Less tightly regulated markets also lead to poor construction standards and worker safety, especially when organizers are running behind schedule with a deadline that cannot be missed. In the run-up to the Delhi 2010 Commonwealth Games, the collapse of a footbridge close to the main stadium highlighted the chaotic state of preparations and unfinished venues and infrastructure. Construction standards of stadiums in Brazil have been the focus of concerns ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics. Shocking reports about the treatment of migrant workers in Qatar ahead of the 2022 World Cup highlight poor safety standards and worker exploitation commonly linked with weakly regulated labour markets in emerging economies.

Globalisation of Risk Portfolios: As mega-events have increasingly expanded their global reach, becoming embedded in the cycle of global economy and society, they have increasingly become vulnerable to complex interdependencies of states and economies. Threats to international sport from illegal betting and match-fixing, for example, are a product of globalised forces, in the activities of criminal networks that operate across borders and exploit global audiences (and betting markets) for major events. Human trafficking and ticketing fraud similarly are risks that face event organizers which require joined-up responses.

Democracy and Weak States: With mega-events increasingly being awarded to authoritarian regimes, such as Qatar and China, or weak states that cannot fully control their borders and populations, there is increased risk of disruption both from democracy campaigners on the one hand, and terrorists on the other. For example, the 2011 Bahrain F1 Grand Prix was postponed and later cancelled due to civil unrest and pro-democracy protests. Militarized zones are often used to secure mega-events, but lead to the dispersal of unrest and terrorist activities to other regions, such as terrorist attacks in the Xinjiang province in China in the lead up to the Beijing Olympics and the Volgograd bombings in Russia ahead of Sochi. The award of mega-events to countries with poor human rights records and weak state institutions is another problematic trend in terms of the risks facing event organizers and transnational sporting authorities. Human rights abuses associated with preparations for the specific event represent a major headache for bodies such as the IOC and FIFA who are often left defending the indefensible.

Growth in the mega-event industry and its movement into emerging markets has left it facing an array of new and often poorly understood dangers. Over the next ten years, the world’s largest events – the Olympic Games and the FIFA World Cup will be held in a number of emerging economies – in Brazil, Russia and Qatar (and in recent years major events have been staged in China, South Africa and India) – against a backdrop of fast-changing global risks. The shift towards emerging markets offers exciting opportunities for major sports events to reach new audiences and be modernised in a way that is more in fitting with the 21st century and both the Global North and South, in place of the traditional Western dominance of international sports events. They also, however, present serious problems in terms of their governance and spiralling financial and human costs that are interlinked with the selection of host cities and countries with limited physical and state infrastructure, weakly regulated markets and poor records in human rights.

For more detailed analysis of Olympic bid budgets see Chapter 4 of Olympic Risks, and for an analysis of the budget for London 2012 see ‘Why costs overrun: risk, optimism and uncertainty in budgeting for the London 2012 Olympic Games’, Journal of Construction Management and Economics 30(6): 455-462.

Global justice, inequality and natural resources: a debate

By Chris Armstrong, Professor of Political Theory

As we are often reminded, ours is a world of massive inequality. A paper of mine called ‘Sovereign Wealth Funds and Global Justice’ has recently been published by Ethics and International Affairs (available free). In it I argue that those of us concerned about global inequality should turn our attention to Sovereign Wealth Funds. These are vehicles for immense wealth, but their workings are subjected to very little debate. Neither are their purposes. Hoarding assets in these funds is presumably a sensible idea – at least if we can judge by the sheer number of such funds set up in recent years. But what, exactly, is the money being stored for? How should it be spent?

The question should be of interest, to those working on global justice, not only because of the sheer size of the funds, but also because of the source of the money contained in most of these funds. With some exceptions, these funds tend to be filled with receipts obtained from selling natural resources like oil and gas. But theorists of global justice have often asked questions about why such resources are to be considered the ‘property’ of individual nation-states in the first place. Aren’t the world’s natural resources to be considered a common heritage for humankind, to be shared by all of us? Political theorists very often thought so in the past. Why not now?

The question raises a whole set of interesting issues, and Ethics and International Affairs has just published an Online Exchange on my paper which pursues many of them. Four experts – including political theorists, economists, and experts on sovereign wealth funds – pose a series of challenges to my argument. Moreover, a discussion forum is now open. If you’re interested in inequality in today’s world, make your own contribution!

The Polling Observatory makes the news

Our most recent instalment of The Polling Observatory, charting the relative stability of support for all the parties in recent months has been picked up by the Daily Telegraph blogs, attracting a fair bit of comment from their readers. It will be interesting to see whether that stability continues into 2014 or whether we will see a shift in the political weather at some point.

What does it mean to “think without a bannister”?

In this video Jonathan Havercroft interviews Tracy Strong about his new book Politics without Vision: Thinking without a bannister in the Twentieth Century.

Prior to the 19th century, political theorists could draw upon comprehensive political visions to offer guidance on questions of governance and political order. However, beginning in the mid-19th century philosophers began to critique the very foundations of these traditions of grand theorising. Much political theory in the 20th and early 21st theory have responded to these attacks upon philosophical foundations. Yet critics of these post-foundational works of philosophy often argue that these works are morally relativistic and anti-democratic. Strong surveys the writings of seven influential post-foundational political theorists – Nietzsche, Weber, Lenin, Freud, Schmitt, Heidegger, and Arendt – to see how they thought about political order during what political theorist George Kateb calls “the morally worst century ever.”

Politics without Vision was awarded the American Political Science Association’s 2013 David Easton prize.

Polling Observatory #32: Running Down the Clock

This is the thirty-second in a series of posts that report on the state of the parties as measured by opinion polls. By pooling together all the available polling evidence we can reduce the impact of the random variation each individual survey inevitably produces. Most of the short term advances and setbacks in party polling fortunes are nothing more than random noise; the underlying trends – in which we are interested and which best assess the parties’ standings – are relatively stable and little influenced by day-to-day events. If there can ever be a definitive assessment of the parties’ standings, this is it. Further details of the method we use to build our estimates of public opinion can be found here.

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After a brief Christmas ceasefire, Britain’s politicians have returned to combat in earnest, with the early shots of 2014 reflecting the mood of the times: help for the poorest struggling with eroding wages, more broadsides against Britain’s little loved banks, and a high crescendo of panic about migration leading to crushing disappointment in some parts of the media (and UKIP) when the promised tidal wave of Romanian and Bulgarian benefit seekers failed to materialise.

How have the parties fared over this not-so-festive season? Pretty much as they did in last month’s report. We estimate Labour at 37.6%, down 0.2% on last month and the seventh straight month our estimates have placed them in the 37-39% range. The Conservatives tick up a measly 0.1% to 31.0%, so they also continue to hold steady at the same level seen since the early autumn. The Lib Dems come in at 7.8%, continuing a flat line trend which extends all the way back to early 2011. UKIP move up 0.2% to 12.1%, also in line with the figures for the past five months or so.

The public’s mood currently is settled into a steady state, with support split across four parties and Labour holding a modest, but consistent lead. Neither the economic recovery, nor the A2 migration “crisis”, nor the various much trumpeted policy initiatives floated by government and opposition have yet had any discernible impact.

No news on the polling front is better news for Labour than it is for the Conservatives. With a general election now less than 16 months away, every month without movement on the polling front brings them a small step closer to defeat. Our research into historical polling (with Stephen Fisher of Oxford and Christopher Wlezien of University of Texas-Austin) suggests that British polls become steadily more predictive of election outcomes starting from about 18 months out from a general election, particularly for the Conservatives. With each month that ticks by without movement, the Conservatives’ prospects of turning things around become a little weaker, and Labour’s prospects of holding on to polling day become a little more certain.

As polling day gets closer, the ticking clock will loom larger in the parties’ minds, too. If the Conservatives poll share remains static as evidence of a robust economic recovery continues to pile up, pressure will build on David Cameron and George Osborne. Conservative backbenchers and activists who currently shower them with plaudits for the return of growth will soon turn against them if this growth does not deliver new voters. In particular, the tensions arising from UKIP’s continued double digit polling will only worsen, as the party divides between those who insist success requires imitating Nigel Farage and stealing his proposals, and those who worry that “out UKIP-ing UKIP” is impossible and damaging to the Conservatives’ credibility with moderate voters. Conversely, on the Labour benches, each successive month of steady leads will calm the nerves of those worried about Ed Miliband’s weak personal poll ratings, and anxious that the economic recovery undermines the credibility of the party’s focus on the “cost of living crisis”. Dissenters within the party are unlikely to raise their voices when they risk jeopardising a small but sufficient lead in polling, and each month of relative unity and harmony will help Labour’s image as a credible governing alternative, particularly if the Conservatives are wracked by conflicts over UKIP and Brussels.

Stable poll numbers are not great news for the smaller parties either. If their poll numbers continue to stagnate at alarmingly low level, rank and file Liberal Democrats may start to question the party leadership’s strategy of “divergence” within Coalition and call more loudly for out and out conflict with their Coalition partners or to exit the unhappy political marriage altogether. Stagnant poll numbers also hurt Nigel Farage’s argument that UKIP are the rising force in British politics – rising poll numbers are a key source of the oxygen of publicity UKIP need as an outsider force, and the radical Eurosceptics’ support levels are not yet healthy enough to convince many that their insurgency can be converted to Westminster power under Britain’s unforgiving first-past-the-post electoral system.

Labour can take some comfort from the status quo, which suits them, but they should not fall into the trap of thinking it cannot change. The story of polling since 2010 has been one of long periods of calm weather, interspersed with stormy spells where the political climate changed rapidly: late 2010 – when the Lib Dems slumped and Labour surged; early 2012, when the Tories briefly closed the gap before slumping back following the “omnishambles” budget; and spring 2013, when (as Anthony Wells notes) the Conservatives halved the gap on their Labour rivals. There will be plenty of weather-making political events in 2014 – the spring Budget, the first when George Osborne will be in a position to hand out good news (and maybe some giveaways); summer’s local and European Parliament elections and autumn’s Scottish independence referendum. A busy year is in prospect for politicians, pollsters and pundits.

Robert FordWill Jennings and Mark Pickup

Should Citizenship be for Sale? An update…

By Professor David Owen, Politics & International Relations

Commentaries from the Citizenship Observatory forum debate on the sale of citizenship, which include commentaries from Professors Armstrong and Owen of @sotonpolitics (also published on this blog here and here), have now been published as a EUDO Working Paper. You can reach it directly by following this link .

This is excellent timing because there is a the plenary debate on the issue in the European Parliament, scheduled for later today, 15th January during the 15:00 to 23:00 session. For those interested, the debate can be viewed live online here or be downloaded afterwards.

Most of the political groups in the European Parliament have tabled their drafts for an EP resolution on the issue (with the vote to be held on Thursday) which you can read here (item 183: EU Citizenship for sale).

The EUDO Working Paper has been disseminated to all MEPs, and an earlier version was sent to chairs of all of the party groups. Although none of the draft motions cite the working paper, some of the arguments (and even phrasings) developed in the contributions are raised in these motions too. We believe we can reasonably deduce some impact on policy-makers’ deliberations! It will be interesting to see the outcome of the debate.