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"I had a desire to rescue the world!" - Grace Blakeley, the Tony Benn of TikTok

“I had a desire to rescue the world!” – Grace Blakeley, the Tony Benn of TikTok


While in the midst of writing her latest published work, “Vulture Capitalism”, Grace Blakeley experienced what her mother deemed a “midlife crisis.” Blakeley admits, “I came to the realization that my actions and my perceptions were negatively affecting my mental well-being. I constantly felt on edge and unable to connect with others in genuine and candid manners. There was a moment where I questioned whether I could continue down this path.”

At twenty-nine years old, one may seem too young to experience burnout. However, as a radical economist with socialist beliefs, Blakeley has dedicated the past few years to advocating for her ideas on television and social media. This has placed her in the middle of a fiercely intense period of political involvement. In order to recharge and distance herself from the constant attention of the public, she traveled to Central America for a nine-month break.

She refuses to use the excuse of being a woman on the internet to explain her struggles, stating that her ego played a significant role. She believes that when someone puts themselves in the spotlight like she did, they are searching for something, but often end up finding other things that may not necessarily be positive.

She seems to be describing the paradoxes inherent in the online left, to which she belongs. She believes that the impact of the digital era is a complicated issue: “On one hand, it has made organizing protests and forming networks that translate into real life easier. However, with the rise of platforms like TikTok and the influence of Generation Z, it also contributes to a focus on individualism. It reinforces the concept of personal human capital and the importance of one’s personal brand in defining worth and societal value.”

During Blakeley’s time in primary school, Naomi Klein’s No Logo argued that the left had overlooked an important aspect: while they were debating terminology during the first wave of political correctness, globalization was actively restructuring the world and increasing poverty among disadvantaged groups. Blakeley does not fully agree with the idea of a new divide within the left between those focused on representation and identity and those focused on traditional material analysis of class, wealth, and power dynamics, but she acknowledges the tension between the two. She believes that both aspects are crucial – material structures and identity – in the debate but that the terms may need to be reconsidered.

She makes a valiant effort to negotiate and apply concrete analysis in a world dominated by emotions. As an academic economist, she possesses the ability to distinguish between Pareto optimality and Ricardo’s theory of comparative advantage even in challenging situations. She demonstrates a thorough knowledge and effectively explains the intricate connections between corporations, financial institutions, governments, and central banks. Despite being a tech-savvy millennial, she brings to the discussion a set of political beliefs that are typically associated with the 1970s, possibly even as far back as the 1870s, likening her to a modern-day Tony Benn for the TikTok generation.

Vulture Capitalism is a vigorous rejection of the liberal idea that if only some enlightened government were to tweak its policies correctly, democratic capitalism would bring prosperity to all. She believes that the problem is capitalism itself: that it is inherently anti-democratic, that it stifles rather than promotes liberty, and that far from being kept honest by “market forces”, it everywhere resists them.

In the book “Vulture Capitalism,” author Blakeley poses a fundamental question: What if we actually took Friedrich Hayek’s ideas seriously? This may seem surprising, considering Hayek is known for his beliefs in free-market economics. However, Blakeley starts by acknowledging Hayek’s emphasis on individual freedom and the dangers of trying to plan an entire economy. She then proceeds to challenge Hayek’s claims by examining the realities of “actually-existing capitalism,” providing strong arguments with specific examples.

According to Blakeley, there has been a traditional division in political economy since the mid-20th century, with one side advocating for limited government involvement in the economy (represented by Hayekians) and the other arguing for government intervention through spending (Keynesians). However, she believes that in reality, there is already a level of wealth redistribution and planned economy in place, but it mostly benefits those with money and power. This leads to a decrease in freedom for ordinary people, as seen in examples like Amazon workers being subjected to strict rules and Boeing prioritizing profit over safety. The concept of Vulture Capitalism, where companies prioritize profit above all else, was already evident before news of another Boeing mishap emerged, such as a cabin door blowing out on an Alaska Airlines flight.

Blakeley asserts that the failures seen in various case studies, like that of Boeing, cannot simply be attributed to a lack of regulation or the recklessness of profit-driven executives. The company’s close ties with the government, both financially and through personnel, have heavily influenced the regulatory climate that permits the operation of dangerous aircraft. The success of large corporations is not solely determined by economic factors, but also by political ones. Surprisingly, the actual products produced by a company may not be a significant factor in their prosperity, as demonstrated by Ford’s success in reinventing itself as a financial services business while also producing automobiles on the side.

According to her, the key to understanding our current situation is not to focus on artificial divisions between state and private sectors, but to examine who holds the real power. She views political economy as a battle between the upper class who own the means of production and the working class who do not. Essentially, it all comes down to Labor versus Capital, in traditional terms. She finds it humorous when I mention her previous support for “Lexit,” which resulted in an unlikely alliance with Nigel Farage. However, she admits that her beliefs align more with old-school 1970s communist ideologies. As an example, she quotes Tony Benn to illustrate her point.

Blakeley’s criticism of multinational companies dominating the market, government bailouts, powerful tech corporations, and large companies influencing regulations is similar to that of Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz, who identifies as center-left. However, their views diverge in that Stiglitz advocates for a properly functioning capitalist system while Blakeley believes that getting rid of capitalism is the solution.

Her political views were largely influenced by the concept of “austerity.” While studying economics and politics in university, she observed standard economic practices that did not align with her own beliefs. At the time, she had a strong desire to make a positive impact on the world, which she now finds embarrassing to admit.

Interestingly, the route she embarked on with the belief of making a difference in the world closely mirrored that of David Cameron. She received a private education, pursued PPE at Oxford University, joined a think tank, and surprisingly, even worked briefly at KPMG. So how did one of them become a spokesperson for financier Lex Greensill while the other wrote a book criticizing Greensill from a Marxist viewpoint? What caused her to become radicalized? (I apologize for using this term, but she considers it a compliment.)

“I was diagnosed with ADHD,” she explains, “and I had a rebellious streak. I was asked to leave many private schools.” When asked why, she responds, “Just typical teenage mistakes and rule-breaking. I believe I have a naturally rebellious nature – I don’t enjoy being told what to do. That’s probably why I struggled with traditional employment.”

Her maternal grandfather was a communist shop-steward in the Transport and General Workers’ Union. Her mother went from a “very bad comprehensive” to Cambridge University, “met my dad, they were all Nicaragua Solidarity Campaign, travelled round the world teaching English. When they went to Nicaragua, they were going to help pick coffee beans for the revolution but they realised that they didn’t quite have the dexterity. They were told: ‘You’re useless, go and make revolution in your own country.’”

What is their current occupation? Are they still working as English teachers? “No,” she explains, “they are now consultants.” Specifically, management consultants? “My father works as an executive coach.” I can imagine that leads to some awkward Christmas discussions. “Actually, they are politically aligned with me. And I believe they are proud of my career. However, it’s certainly not in my best interest financially to have the same political beliefs as I do, correct?”

I inquire, is it not true that numerous individuals who share her beliefs now exhibit a greater dislike towards the Labour party compared to the Tories? “Yes, that is correct. I can understand why. There was a strong belief that things would improve. The shattering of that belief was incredibly challenging for many.”

How understanding is she towards Keir Starmer’s belief that the Jeremy Corbyn platform was not viable in elections, and the Labour party is limited in its actions unless it holds power, therefore it must make compromises? “I disagree with that assessment,” she states confidently. “Having knowledge of the Labour party, I am aware that Starmer’s actions are not solely based on his personal beliefs; they are also aimed at reorganizing and adjusting the party’s internal systems to prevent a recurrence of Corbynism and to remove many individuals involved in it.”

Some dads who hold moderate views may find it difficult to agree with the ideas in her book. One of the main challenges is understanding how to get rid of global capitalism. She believes that eliminating the divide between those who own possessions and those who work is crucial in building a socialist and equitable society, but the specifics of this are still unclear. Even Marx did not offer concrete solutions, as he famously stated, “I will not write cookbooks for the chefs of the future.”

Source: theguardian.com