Governing for people; not property and profit

by Robin Thorpe

In December last year, Neal Lawson and John Harrison presented an outline of their proposal for new socialism. With many European nations still circling the edge of the economic abyss and people starving to death in Africa is now a pertinent time to look again at the way in which we organise our world?

Each generation seemingly gets a chance to make a paradigm shift in the way in which their brand of civilisation is governed. Apart from a very few cases, they opt for evolution in the place of revolution. The consequence of this evolution is that despite the diminishing role of aristocracy and landed wealth, most world nations remain capitalist economies.

For the majority of the so-called civilised nations, the primary objective of governance has for centuries been as an enabler in the pursuit of profit and the expansion of capital. Historically this was because the ruler and the ruler’s peers were the primary holders of capital. More recently, because the professional political class are the acolytes of the wealthy and the preservers of the capitalist economy (particularly in the USA where election depends on the size of your marketing budget). Even our celebrated legal system only exists because of our forebear’s predilection to the preservation of private property rights.

The people of Greece, Spain, Italy, Ireland and to some extent the other European and North American nations are being asked to submit to severe austerity programmes. Austerity measures that could be described as being designed to protect the investments of bankers and venture capitalists (often illustrated by the expression “socialise the risk and privatise the profit”). Although they are justified with vague notions of national interest they are not specifically for the benefit of the citizens of any individual nation.

Outside Europe famine has once again brought death to Africa. The saddest thing about famine, in any part of the world, is that the globe provides enough nutrition to support the entire world population; it is not, however, equitably distributed. Unfortunately for the Somalians, “the markets” do not see fit to provide them with enough food and water to live. A market economy based on private ownership does not seem to me to be able to solve any of the social or political challenges that have emerged in the last century. Indeed the financial crisis was entirely created by the issue of private ownership; more specifically the debt created to finance private home ownership. Why then do more people not question the very nature of the economy? A global conversion to socialism with major countries abandoning the all pervasive markets isn’t likely. But why is an economy based on the private ownership of capital and the religion of market efficiency, held up as an untouchable panacea?

Chomsky describes this as the ‘Muashar doctrine’ after a quote from Carnegie endowment Middle East specialist Marwan Muashar, formerly a high official of the Jordanian government: “There is nothing wrong, everything is under control”.

In a speech in Amsterdam, in March 2011, Chomsky pointed out that a greater danger yet could occur if short-term profit is given a greater priority than the environment. The fate of the species could be threatened (the US congress has already cut funding for measures that could mitigate environmental catastrophe). He concludes that, “All of this, and much more, can proceed as long as the Muashar doctrine prevails. As long as the general population is passive, apathetic, diverted to consumerism or hatred of the vulnerable, then the powerful can do as they please, and those who survive will be left to contemplate the outcome”.

If there is to be any potential for change, then meaningful leadership must be forthcoming. But meaningful must meant more than merely populist: idealist. Across the Western world, the political leaders are, without exception, intelligent and well-educated, But in the search for electoral success they follow only populist motions, always seeking to control the enigmatic middle-ground to ensure their power.

It must be accepted that contemporary voters load politicians with paradoxical demands; both reviling the political system and expecting political leaders to solve all their woes. However this does not mean that these leaders should hide from the bigger challenges by debating only the scandalous and the provincial.

Democratic leadership should not be predicated on marketing strategy or research, but on strongly held beliefs and a vision in securing a brighter future. Leadership, in any field, is categorized by the ability to helicopter over the field of reference, make decisive strategic decisions where it matters and the ability to inspire a greater collective response than that provided by the sum of the individuals.

The markets, whoever they are, cannot provide the answers to any of the questions on equality, justice, environmental preservation and security that are important to millions of people across the world. Only people can provide these answers. And no doctrine that promotes the importance of the individual and of private property over the collective society will ever come close to resolving these challenges.

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