Starting our first works over.

by Elias Blum

We are now, after 30+ years of basically unquestioned neo-liberal doctrine, having to re-learn a lot of things that were widely understood in the early and mid twentieth century:

(1) If you want a good society, where most people enjoy the capacity for a healthy, flourishing life, you cannot base that on a system of selfish greed that enriches the few and enslaves and degrades the many.

(2) The market has a place, but it’s place must be limited by a system of law and regulation that reflects public ethics and protects workers and consumers.

(3) Freedom is not achieved by unrestrained competition amongst people with vastly unequal bargaining power, and so trade unions and collective labour agreements have an active role in protecting those in weak positions from abuse.

(4) There are some public services that are good for overall prosperity and well-being, which should be paid for out of general taxation and should be rationed according to need, not price.

(5) A healthy democracy requires a broad equality of wealth, otherwise it degenerates into oligarchy.

(6) The rich should pay more tax than the middle class, and the middle class should pay more than the poor.

(7) People have families. They need some economic stability. Short term or zero hours contracts are not good.

(8) People also need time off and reasonable working hours. A good life involves a balance of work, rest and play. The eight hour day, the weekend,  paid holiday: all brought to you by the combination of social democracy and trade unions.

(9) If you want people to be healthy, they need safe, dry, warm, affordable houses, preferably with a garden.

(10) Risks such as illness and unemployment can befall – and ruin – anyone, and it makes sense to pool these risks on a mutual and reciprocal basis, and it makes sense to use the state to facilitate that risk pooling.

During the last few decades, these propositions have been perceived as more-or-less ‘leftist’ statements, which most politicians dare not utter. But if you go back a little bit further, to the world before 1979, they would have been commonplace notions, which were widely accepted by all but the most extreme and reactionary conservatives.

The challenge for the left today, as I see it, is not to shout at the fringes, but to occupy and reclaim the centre – to drag the whole political spectrum back into a sane place.