Monday, May 28, 2012
Say three "outrageous" left-wing things a day
Look across the North Sea and you find Scandanavian countries doing well, economically, socially, artistically and in many other ways. They are riding out the economic storm much better than we. They also have excellent free-health care, maternity and paternity benefits, free university education, free schooling, and so on. Every child gets the same spent on its education in Sweden - you can't buy your kid a leg-up through private schooling. Finland has a fully comprehensive school system (no selection before age 16) which produces some of the best-educated children in the world. These countries have high rates of social mobility as a result (very much higher, ironically, than the "land of opportunity" USA, which should perhaps now be relabelled "land of least opportunity").
But Scandanavian taxes are very high.
We used to have some of these same State-funded benefits too, of course, but even what we had is being slowly dismantled by successive Tory regimes. And Labour too, to some extent. The current Government is accelerating the demolition job. At the same time as the dismantling has gone on, economic inequality has also increased enormously.
What I find interesting is the way in which the economic and social arguments in favour of continued movement in this direction pan out. The justification is almost always economic - we need to get real and recognize that the economy needs "rebalancing" (but not in the Swedish direction, of course!). Private good, public bad. Competition always improves services. Cut taxes on the rich and the wealth will "trickle down". Tax them more and talent will leave the country. There's a whole industry devoted to the production and dissemination of this kind of right-wing apologetic, and while there may be some truth to some of it, most of it appears to be cut-and-paste slogans people have learned to repeat without thinking too much about them.
What's really driving economic policies that endlessly erode tax-funded State provision? Apply the cui bono test. Ask - to whose benefit? Scratch below the surface and answer is almost always the same: the wealthiest top 1% and big business.
However, over the last few decades it has become hard to say these things in public, and even harder to say something "outrageous" like "Why not renationalize the railways?" (which cost taxpayers far than they did when nationalized) or "Why not tax 90% above £500Kpa?" The reason is that the right-wing have largely captured the cultural zeitgeist. Say something fairly left-wing and you'll find people roll their eyes and imply you're a silly, outdated, naive fool. And so we lefties self-censor. We don't dare say what we think anymore.
However, we now have a five- or ten-year window of opportunity. Across much of the country, the penny is beginning to drop that (i) the Tories are, in fact, little more than a machine for manipulating the economy to the benefit of the top 1% and Big Business, that (ii) these wealthy elites are to a very significant extent controlling our Governments - even Labour Governments - and our media in their own interests, and (to a lesser extent) that (iii) decent State pensions, free university education, decent State schools and excellent, free healthcare are, actually, affordable and compatible with a successful economy.
As a result we might, for a little while, be able to shift public opinion enough to reverse much of - no let's be ambitious: all of - what has happened over the last few decades and take Britain significantly in the direction of the successful and equitable Scandanavian model.
In France, Hollande was able to get elected with a promise to tax the rich significantly more (75%) only because another candidate, Melenchon, started saying out loud "Let's tax 100% above E473K". Given the price-anchoring effect, Melenchon's 100% figure suddenly made Hollande's 75% look quite reasonable, when previously it would have seemed outrageous.
So, in short, we lefties need to stop self-censoring. We need to take back the zeitgeist. Make a point of saying three "outrageous" left-wing things a day, out loud, in public. If we all start doing it, the country's cultural and political centre of gravity will start to shift, and the Labour party might eventually be prepared to stick its head above the parapet and take some effective action.
Takes some courage, though, doesn't it?
(Cue eye-rolling and poo-pooing...)