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Thought Prompted by the Petrol Strike Debacle

"We are likely to find ourselves as intellectuals or political philosophers facing a situation in which our chief task is not to  imagine better worlds but rather to think how to prevent worse ones."
Tony Judt
In a week where cabinet ministers appear to be urging voters toward Buddhist-style self immolation, I thought that perhaps an automobile metaphor might be apposite. If you imagine society as a motor vehicle then the capitalist market is its engine and social democracy is its braking system. Hands up everyone who wants a car without brakes. OK, just Osborne and Clarkson then...

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  1. Dick, your metaphor sums up what's wrong with social democracy as currently practised. It needs to be the steering wheel, in fact the whole control system of the car, making the engine take us where we want to go, not just slowing things down. Remember when we were told that automation and increasing productivity would lead to leisure so unlimited we would have trouble knowing what to do with ourselves? Whatever happened to that idea? Instead the way capitalism is taking us is making everyone work harder, except the super rich that is, and forcing us to retire later too. That's wrong. But I don't hear Ed Milliband, or Barak Obama, or Francois Hollande suggesting we should take the wheel and drive the huge productivity of capitalism to deliver what ordinary people want - such things as free education, good healthcare and the freedom to retire at a reasonable age as we wish. It doesn't help much trying to put the brakes on by marching with big signs saying "NO". There has got to be some route planning with a destination in view, to shift the world economy towards meeting the needs of ordinary people.

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  2. That is indeed the problem Tim, but the metaphor nevertheless has a lot of truth to it. The brakes on a car are not only for stopping it, they're essential to negotiating bends and safely interacting with other vehicles. The steering wheel of the car is ideology, and currently social democracy lacks a coherent ideology as you rightly observe: political correctness and multiculturalism were two failed attempts to provide one. That also implies though that social democracy can coexist with a variety of ideologies - neoliberalism isn't one of them because it almost explicitly demands the crushing of social democratic safeguards. My point is that social democracy, as the braking system, MUST be retained while we argue about who's going to drive and to where...

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