With his grungy appearance and flamboyant demeanour, Russell Brand seems far from your conventional economist. In fact, if I remember rightly, the first time I ever saw him was in a hilarious, yet vivid, sex scene in the film Forgetting Sarah Marshall. But nonetheless, the millionaire turned anarchist has released a book Revolution and is now in the process of producing a documentary with filmmaker Micheal Winterbottom.
The truth is, Russell Brand is not an economist, by his own admission: ‘I’m not supposed to get my head around economics, none of us are, it’s designed to be obtuse. Look at those f***ing NASDAQ, FTSE, Dow Jones things…”. But his ideals seem to blur the lines of Marxism and political ecology without understanding either of these ideas in depth. So how can we best summarise this?
Many of you might recall his surreal appearance on Newsnight where Jeremy Paxman quizzed him on voting and the imminent ‘revolution’. From my cosy sofa in Oldfield Park, said revolution seems far from pending, but his point does stand: politicians increasingly are distant from the inequalities that exist in society, whether you believe that apathy is the answer or not. It is from this idea that his broad, yet jumbled, beliefs emerge.
Overarching this is the necessary demise of “corporate tyranny, ecological irresponsibility and economic inequality”. These are, for all intents and purposes, Marxist-ideals held together by the call for a “spiritual revolution”. These ideas aren’t unique to Brand; simply look at Spain’s Podemos movement or the growing popularity of Green Partys across the UK. What Brand does offer is an incredibly incoherent set of questions and answers which delegitimise the entire left-wing movement.
Amongst these are calls for General Motors to stop their economic hegemony by exporting cars as “other countries have their own fucking cars”. But a simply supply-demand analysis of that statement would state that less than 50 countries in the world produce cars, so simply halting exports of the American-based company would solve very little. But it’s not the finite points that grossly belittle and humiliate his revolutionary cause, but his clear misunderstanding of major ideas.
Written in the book is the extraordinary statement, “if my vacuum cleaner went nuts and forced me to live in economic slavery, I wouldn’t roll my eyes and say ‘Oh well’ and humbly do its bidding. I’d turn it off and fuck it out the window.”
When asked to critically analyse this statement, Professor Chandran Kukathas, the chair of political theory at the London School of Economics, exhaustedly said: “Is the financial industry really like a vacuum cleaner? How does one turn it off? Or throw it out the window? Sure, this industry may need reforming – perhaps radically so. Does the manifesto have anything useful to say about how or in what ways?”
The problem with Russell Brand isn’t necessarily his intentions or beliefs; there is a myriad of reasons to emphasize with the far-left or even anarchists. It’s his oversimplification and clownish manner in which he presents himself. Economics implies theory, but political economics involves the human implementation of it. Leaders are needed for the latter and it becomes worrying when Russell Brand is the closest to it. He is more Groucho Marx than Karl Marx.
So what does this combination of politics and economics need: a very human leader. I’m not making any suggestions; just don’t let it be Russell Brand.
Photo credit: Kafufle