Skip to main content

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...

Comments

  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.

    ReplyDelete
  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...

    ReplyDelete

Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A New Age of Sabotage

I haven't posted much recently because every time I think of something to say, the extraordinary pace of events makes it sound lame by the next morning: New York under water, Obama re-elected, News International in the dock, rockets falling on Tel Aviv, and that's even before we reach the Mayan apocalypse on Dec 21. However I've finally plucked up courage to wade into the torrent of the miraculous-horrific thanks to a fortunate discovery on the web. In this previous post I confessed an increasing interest in the radical Norwegian-American economist Thorstein Veblen, but that interest was quite narrowly based on reading only three of his works, namely The Theory of the Leisure Class, The Theory of Business Enterprise and his important essay The Socialist Economics of Karl Marx and His Followers. This wasn't just due to laziness but to the difficulty of obtaining many of Veblen's books, which have been out of print for a long time.

But I re-read Veblen's Wikiped…

Trump of Doom?

Thought for the day. The type of economy we call social democracy depended for its success on a willingness of the majority of the population to cooperate as well as compete with one another, giving up a portion of their income in taxes to be spent on various public goods like medicine, education and transport. If the population loses its willingness to make these reasonable sacrifices then it becomes impossible to maintain a social democracy.

The UK population was so willing for at least 30 years following WWII, to a large extent thanks to the experience of necessary cooperation among the generation who fought that war. But over the *last* 30+ years that willingness has been steadily eroded by many factors, including (but by no means confined to): greater individualism stemming from precisely the relative affluence and economic freedom that post-war social democracy conferred; successive economic crises (some related to oil, some to financial recklessness); industrial decline, outsou…

Collapse of the Left

The devastating setbacks recently suffered by the Left in the UK, USA, Turkey, Hungary and Poland (perhaps soon to be followed by more within the EU) have not yet lead to any satisfactory explanation of what is going wrong. They're still largely discussed in terms of Right v Left, but using partially outdated definitions of what these terms imply.

For the first half of the 20th century, the democratic Left was associated with socialised services, economic regulation, high wages and worker's rights,, while the Right espoused militarism, privatised services, free markets and low wages. The 1960s counterculture crucially changed the beliefs of the so called New Left in the direction of pacifism, minority rights and social libertarianism, and these positions have now merged into the mainstream Left to produce a bewildering range of different combinations and sects.

The Right still likes militarism, free markets, and individualism but has also adopted substantial parts of New Left …