It’s simple: our current economic system can’t be repaired. It must be replaced.

Natalie Bennett

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

 

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What do we need to understand to move forwards in British (and global) politics? What’s the simple message we need to get across?

I would suggest that this message is that our current economic system is broken; it has hit the buffers economically and has hit the buffers environmentally. It has to radically change.

This is a global phenomenon, but it’s particularly acute in the UK where we’ve been playing out some of the worst excesses of Anglo-Saxon capitalism. We have an economy that can no longer even guarantee the very basics of human existence – food in our bellies, a secure roof over our head, useful things to do; what else is an economy for? The people should not serve the economy, the economy should serve the people.

The explosion of UK food banks accompanying widespread food poverty (more than 500,000 people now using them accordingly – a very conservative estimate from Oxfam) is only one aspect of a bigger problem. Without food sovereignty, without developing the ability to grow much of our own food and with our fragile, expensive supermarket distribution system producing the fastest rate of food inflation in Europe, we are going to see more and more people going to bed hungry. This in the world’s sixth-richest country. The situation in the US (the exemplar model of capitalism that we’ve been worshipping) of course has it even worse.

As for a roof over our heads – well, many people lack that basic security, while a million homes sit empty across the country. Beyond that, we have millions in fuel poverty, with a government not currently spending a penny of its own money on home insulation schemes, which could create jobs, keep homes warm and cut carbon emissions.

And then moving on to jobs – or at least useful occupations. One of David Cameron’s chief European objectives appears to be getting rid of the working time directive, so we can all have the right to be tested by a junior doctor doing their 100thhour of work this week. He seems extraordinarily relaxed, however, about the nearly 1million young people who are unemployed, and another million of their elders in the same boat – content to blame those individuals, to harry them into unpaid slave labour such as stacking shelves in Poundland and to force them to eke out an existence on £71 a week, always “available for work” that under the current system is unlikely to arrive.

But those are only the signs of the fundamental crisis of the current system – a machine broken beyond repair.

Environmentally, the crisis is very obvious. Global warming is the issue that is most talked about, but its only one of many issues when the human race is living as though we have two Planet Earths, using the resources of both, when of course we only have this one and no alternatives if we trash this one. Soil degradation, destruction of fresh water and pollution of the oceans… The list of problems at crisis point goes on and on.

But what is also clear is that economically we’ve hit the buffers. The massive rise in inequality in the past four decades after the Great Levelling up to the Seventies, the explosion and taking to its logical endpoint of shareholder value capitalism and the fact that now Chinese workers are starting to demand decent pay and conditions that means there’s no large, fresh, controlled global workforce to exploit …. It’s clear that this isn’t a system that can be fixed.Tinkering at the margins isn’t an option. 

Change and uncertainty are tough to contemplate. But they are coming, whether we are ready or not.

What we need to explain is that change can meet our needs in a way that our current system isn’t – we need to bring manufacturing and food production back to Britain, restructure away from globalisation towards strong local economies built around small businesses and cooperatives, make companies pay their taxes so the government can provide the roads, schools, hospitals, security and other services essential for those businesses to continue to operate. This change must also deal with inequality – making the minimum wage a living wage and the introduction of a 10:1 (or lower) ratio of top to lowest pay, ensuring everyone has enough for a decent life.

This is a society that in some ways looks much like today’s – keeping particularly the key technologies such as Internet connection, the positive medical advances and the spread of higher education.

But in other ways it looks very different – there’s no landfill sites, a lot less physical “stuff” like short-term fashion and consumer tat, a lot less commuting and long-distance travel, and far fewer paid working hours with no involuntary unemployment (NEF points a very attractive picture of the 21-hour working week as standard).

It is a better life, a more prosperous life, in the kind of form presented by Tim Jackson’s excellent Prosperity Without Growth. Thats what we have to work towards and it means huge changes in our politics, our economics and our society, changes from which everyone can benefit.

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  1. Posted by Simon

    People cannot get their heads around how they are part of a collective effect. That’s a problem that any campaign like this has to get through to.

    People still want the bankers to take the entire blame for the credit crunch, yet the banks weren’t responsible for high house-prices or the clearing of one credit card with the balance of another (which, together led to the credit crunch). That was everyday people lying and hyping to gain money – no different to the morality of banking. Governements who have realised this can’t turn around and shout at people for it or they lose their voting base, so the problem remains embedded.

    Equally people don’t realise that our oil, gas, plutonium, alloys etc all have to be fought for now. Literally. So every bit of demand we give to the system, whether it’s through driving, loving gadgets, sitting in a lit pub (etc) feeds this problem too. And what of the endless indurable and/or disposable products that don’t stand the test of time?….

    As long as people have the “innocent little me vs big bad government” belief in their heads we are never going to make changes. And this is the bit, I believe, that is going to be the real struggle.

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  2. Posted by David Flint

    Here’s the problem. The current situation in unsustainable and we can see the shape of the future we want. But how to get there from here? The forces of reaction, selfishness and, yes, simple fear are strong.

    On our side the Green Party has the right ideas but struggles to be heard – and believed. The Labour Party, by contrast, is widely heard advocating the wrong ideas. It would be great if the many good people in the Labour Party could gain some influence over their supposed leaders.

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  3. Posted by Robin Thorpe

    @Simon – I agree with your comment. The problem of perception will be the biggest stumbling block. I wrote a piece for Labour Uncut this week on some policy proposals for job creation that originated from the International Labour Organisation (therefore well researched and evidence based). The comments on the article were all negative – either the govt steals our money and we should pay less tax or there is no future in green jobs. Some people don’t get that EVERYTHING is going to be more expensive. Energy isn’t more expensive because of the tiny amount of subsidy that wind energy gets; but because coal and gas are now largely imported. Most people also don’t seem to understand that taxes aren’t taking YOUR money but recouping the investment that the state has already made in things that enable you to earn a living. Transport, schools, healthcare and paying for old-age pensioners.
    [http://labour-uncut.co.uk/2013/06/13/the-international-labour-organisation-offers-ed-the-policies-for-jobs-and-growth/]

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  4. Posted by Dorene McCormack

    Due to the mismanagement of the economy and although promising to get the country “out of the mess”, the current government has actually made things worse. If the Labour Government are successful at the next election they will have their hands tied by the economic difficulties the Tory government will leave. Therefore, there seems no alternative to the austerity continuing.

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  5. Posted by Stan Rosenthal

    Excellent article Natalie The big question is how we get from here to there. We are up against the vast majority who have been conditioned to want the great colour supplement dream, corporate entities who are determined not to let anything get in the way of the profits associated with that dream (even though the dream could become a nightmare) and a protest movement which knows broadly what it’s against but has little knowledge of what it is for and how to get it). At the very least we need to convince that protest movement to unite behind the vision described in Prosperity without Growth and in Andrew Simms Cancel the Apocalypse, not to mention the Good Society of Compass. Only then can we think about really taking on the vast forces ranged against us.

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  6. Posted by Michael Bassey

    An excellent exposition of our predicament and of positive ways of tackling it. The living wage and the 10:1 ratio are essential features of future survival but you didn’t mention citizen’s income as the safety net for those out of work. We need to move towards self-sufficiency in both food and energy. (I’ve just had a week on the Isle of Sark and it was good to see a society without motor cars, workers using tractors, others bicycles or walking.) May I mention my “Convivial Policies for the Inevitable: global warming, peak oil, economic chaos” – published last autumn ? It seeks to put a philosophical basis (conviviality) to green ideas.

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  7. Posted by Will Bolton

    Fortunately, whatever this country’s faults, the UK is a democracy and your totalitarian vision has no chance of coming to fruition.

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  8. Posted by James Hall

    Every effort must be made to combat the SNP effort to make Scotland independent. The party has NOT thought things through clearly and intelligently. Instead, we should revert to the original stated plan, ie that Devolution should be spread over the complete UK. This will lead to better decisions from Regional parliaments MUCH CLOSER to the problems and would lead to a smaller Westminster parliament and abolition of the House of Lords. We would be doing no more that following the pattern used by many other nations. We have lagged behind efficient government for far too long. Such an organisation would be very much cheaper to run and immeasurably superior in its operation. And we would retain the UK which is absolutely essential

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  9. Posted by Andy Harvey

    Good piece and some interesting responses, many of which ask ‘how to get from here to there’. One piece of the solution must be to re-frame the private sector so that it goes back to doing what it is good at such as innovation of new products and the manufacture and distribution of them, but stays out of the ‘easy pickings offered by entry into the public realm. The private sector hates risk which is why it is sitting on billions of pounds of reserves. Hoovering up safe and profitable public contracts offers an easier route. Until we push the private sector back to where it came from then these prescriptions will come to nothing as the private sector crowds out many local and co-operative initiatives which do not have the resources to effectively gain a good foothold in the market. This is just one step but a necessary one I think.

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