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30 October 2014

Market rule isn’t working, but we can build a new world

The way we have run our economy is fundamentally flawed. 

By Jon Trickett

Writing under leaden grey autumn skies, it is easy for a pervasive cloud of pessimism to dull one’s consciousness.

The way we have run our economy is fundamentally flawed.

Listen to Pope Francis: “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? . . . Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

And yet the people at the top continue to suggest that our economy is the best attainable.

They argue, for example, that:

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  • The market is the most effective and efficient mechanism we have to distribute goods and services. The provision of public services should be left in private hands even when those services are funded by the taxpayer.
  • The government should stand aside in case it ‘crowds out’ the private sector.
  • The town square should only be a commercial market place, rather than a place of everyday encounters between friends, neighbours and acquaintances to share common experiences and even to contest the existing order of things.
  • The rich should be incentivised by filling their boots with gold whilst the poor need to be incentivised by being paid less.
  • Gross inequality is a fundamental condition of human society and the most powerful oligarchs rather than working people are the source of all wealth.

These are the precepts by which people at the top think we should be governed.

But they are mistaken. You only need to see the failure of the international banking system, or the dismal record of the British housing market, or to look to the American health system to see how private provision of social goods can fail. And yet you could be mistaken in believing that they are incontestable truths.

So deeply entrenched are these ideas that it is easier to imagine the end of our planet (or at least the end of humanity as a result of some disaster) than it is to imagine that we human beings can build a different kind of country with a different set of values.

But that has to be our task. And it may not be as hard to achieve as we imagine.

Because most people know that the present system is bust. There is a spirit of dissent in the country. It is the common sense of our times that Britain is not working properly for the millions, though it works well for the millionaires.

There is a cynicism about the media who perpetually fail to report the truth as most people experience it. And there is contempt for a Westminster government which is seen as remote and failing to address the fact that so many are feeling increasingly hard up.

Only this week, the Resolution Foundation found that 5m people are now in low paid jobs – that’s up by 250,000 in one year alone. We have also seen an explosion in zero hour contracts. 1.4m people are now believed to be in a job without a guaranteed number of hours. Underemployment, temporary work and false self-employment have all increased.

Yet David Cameron still stands up in the House of Commons and tells us that more jobs are being created and the economy is growing.  And the masters of the New World Order purr with contentment when he does so. But the utter complacency of the closed circle of the rich and powerful on whose behalf he speaks jars daily with the difficulties of ordinary life as it is experienced by millions.

And so it falls to each one of us to contest the dominant ideas which promise additional riches for the most well-off and continued servility for the rest of us.  It is the task of every citizen to imagine a better future. Because in the absence of hope we will fall into despair. And when the latter gains primacy over the former, social catastrophe looms.

And in undertaking this task each citizen will not be alone. For there are millions who have to one extent or another dreamt of how things might be if there were a different set of social, political and economic arrangements.

I have spent all my life active in the broader Labour movement and for me this remains the best hope for a brighter future.

But there are also all kinds of other organisations and active communities which are equally expressing their dissent from the attempted reduction of human interaction into a set of self-interested commercial exchanges. Or the way in which we have entered into an exploitative and indeed destructive relationship with our beautiful planet and our fellow creatures.

Interestingly, the explosive development of modern technology, the internet and social media now allows direct and informal communication between citizens without mediation by the rich and powerful who throughout history sought to control our thought processes.

And so a new world is possible, and the means are at hand. Our task is to develop the movement which will give expression to the dissent which so many people feel.

Jon Trickett is Labour MP for Hemsworth, shadow minister without portfolio and deputy chair of the Labour party 

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