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Let’s talk about power

Power plays an important role in our lives and society. However, we mostly pretend that our organizations and relationships are governed by common sense and democracy. But hierarchical position often puts more weight in the scale than good arguments. And market power is commonplace in our economies, although largely absent in economic theories, models and policies. Furthermore, national governments are only in name sovereign. Domestic policies are increasingly restricted by international markets. By putting their competitive position high on the political agenda, as most countries do, they implicitly acknowledge the power of international markets. Finally, in interpersonal relations, power plays also its part, in e.g. gender and race inequality. So, power is all around us, although we hardly talk about it.

Power is unavoidable where people live together. The argument is not to get rid of power, but, instead, to acknowledge the role of power. Than we can learn how to deal with power in a better way. We can understand the logic of power and its dynamics, both to individuals and between institutions. One crucial characteristic of power is that it is always relative to the power of others. Therefore, the desire to increase one’s power doesn’t end. Managing power properly has been a quest through human history and democracy emerged as important step forward. The absolute power of the King was replaced by the separation of powers into the executive, legislative and juridical. This created a balance of powers. It also shows the direction to find contemporary ways to rebalance power. This is needed, for power has become more concentrated in the last half century, which sheds some light at current societal problems, such as populism, inequality, obesities and climate change. Discussing and studying the dynamics of power, can help us to find new ways for societal progress.

My interest in how power works and how we can manage it better, resulted in my essay ‘Power and policy making’, which can be downloaded here. The European flagship project Enlightenment 2.0 provided me the boost to arrange my thinking and write it down. Based on a handful of very useful books, I sketch some main properties of power and the dynamics in power structures. This certainly is not more than a kick-off. I hope my essay stimulates that power will be discussed more openly. Let’s talk about power.

Download my essay Power and policy-making.

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