Tough on neo-liberalism, tough on the causes of neo-liberalism!

by Elias Blum

Some general ideas for consideration:

(1) We should focus more on promoting well-being than promoting ‘growth’.  I’m rather sceptical of ‘growth’ (in the quantitative, GDP sense). Often, growth, conventionally measured, is a sign of failure, not success: if people buy more crap burgers and ‘tonic wine’, then have to be treated for heart disease and stab wounds, that increases GDP, but doesn’t do much for ‘well-being’.

(2) We should recognise that usury, greed and cupidity are sins. Much of what the ‘financial services industry; offers (i.e. opportunities for speculation and usury) is parasitical rather than helpful to the common good. The ‘real economy’ – the economy that makes the goods and provides the services that we actually need – could well be run without for-profit banking. We have already nationalised the banks: all we need to do now is decentralise them and mutualise them, so that each town has its own ‘community bank’ to promote local development on a non-profit basis (i.e. all profits form part of a community fund which is held in trust for the local people).

(3) We should reject the cult of the gigantic in favour of the small. Reject the myth of ‘economy of scale’ in favour of local production, at human scale, for local use.  Change the planning laws, trading hours laws, and employment laws, amongst other things, to encourage small businesses and prevent excessive growth.

(4) The separation of management from ownership in the corporation is dangerous, because it privileges the maximisation of shareholder value over all other considerations. Instead of the corporation, we should encourage the formation of guilds (self-governing associations of independent craftsmen), mutuals, and co-operatives.

(5) ‘Free trade’ produces a race to the bottom, decreasing quality and depressing wages. The solution to this – and to much else besides – is to promote greater self-sufficiency where possible and ‘fair trade’ were necessary.

(6) The economy has to be regulated by democratic institutions, otherwise the rich and powerful will use their position for their own advantage at the expense of others. There have to be regulations in place to protect workers, consumers and the environment.

(7) The economy has to be directed, because the ‘invisible hand’ is unsteady, and does not necessarily produce liveable communities: co-operating with the guilds, trade unions and chambers of commerce, the local state (the Council) should take an active role in planning the economy and promoting the well-being of communities.

(8) Unemployment is bad, but jobs often not much better. As few people should have jobs (i.e. selling their labour) as possible. Instead, as many as possible should have livelihoods (i.e. selling their goods and services, and having personal ownership, either as sole-trader or as part of a mutual or co-operative, of productive property). This means the recapitalisation of the poor, the working class and the middle class – achieved through endowments, non-profit micro-finance and mutuals. It also means enabling small businesses to survive and prosper by removing the unfair advantages of large corporations (see points 2 and 3).

(9) We cannot have a linear model of production and use in a finite world. We have to think in circles: recycling and reusing, living in harmony with our ecology. That means less stuff and more care, less consumption and more use.

(10) Democracy only works best on a small scale. While there would still need to be the election of representatives to a national assembly, the mayoral election and the council meeting should also be important sites of democracy. There are also opportunities, at the local scale, for more participatory forms of democracy – the ‘town hall meeting’ and the ‘citizens’ assembly’. Many public services might be provided much more locally, under the control of local Councils, perhaps acting through guilds, mutuals and co-operatives. There would still be a role for the central State – although I think it would be more of a co-ordinating, enabling, regulating and encouraging role, rather than acting as a direct provider of services.

(11) Society is important. We are not just free-floating random individuals. We are ‘whole persons’, rooted in relationships and in places. We should respect that and encourage it. Much of the traditional social glue – the religious community, the family, attachment to a place – had a stabilising, sustaining, supporting role that not only protected the individual put also gave the individual purpose and direction – we have gained in ‘freedom of choice’, but it comes at the expense of ‘status anxiety’, restlessness, disatisfaction and ‘existential angst’.

(12) Let’s not be too busy. The neo-liberal economy is all about maximisation, rushing, striving, competition. Only a madman would want to live that way. The things in life that really matter take time. We should learn to live more slowly and promote policies that encourage that: let’s have more public holidays and a maximum working week. Rather than letting commerce rule our lives, with its demands for 24 hour shopping and consumption, let’s aim for balance and harmony – we need stuff to live, but if the getting of stuff obscures living then we’ve made a faustian bargain. There should be time for family, time for civic life, and – this is a crucial one – time for silence and stillness. There’s too much noise.