Written By: - Date published: 5:48 pm, November 6th, 2013 - 29 comments
Categories: activism, capitalism, democratic participation, economy, political alternatives, Social issues, unemployment, vision - Tags: inequalities
Sir Edmund Thomas’s recent Bruce Jesson lecture, “Reducing Inequality: A Strategy for a Cause’ is available online now: abridged version (h/t greywarbler). He outlines the key elements of “neoliberalism” that have resulted in vast inequalities that are damaging to our society and it’s future.
I particularly like his focus on the need to shift from values led by economics, to those that put people and communities first. It is from there that economic policies then flow.
(1) Values directed by the economic order
The first damaging feature of neo-liberalism I would identify is the fact that the economic order has been permitted to direct, if not dictate, the values and morality of the community. But the morality of capitalism is a pagan morality; a morality bounded by the profit motive and the obsession with consumerism and the materialistic values it engenders. The prime example of this perverted morality exists in the fact that a person’s worth is measured, not by the value of his or her contribution to the well-being of the community, but by their accumulation of personal wealth.
My immediate point, therefore, is simple; naked self-interest (for which it is easy to read greed) is a malign foundation for a healthy society. The free market should not be permitted to dictate or direct the values of the community. Rather, the community must determine its own values, and impose those values on the free market.
He mentions some “neoliberal” myths that need to be exposed:
“Trickle down” economics is a prime example. Other myths I touch upon are:
I have some misgivings on the way Thomas focuses on individualistic human rights, and the way he aims to recast capitalism rather than to replace it.
I take the view that the main vehicle for reducing this extreme inequality and bettering the lot of humankind will be in the area of human rights, more specifically, economic, social and cultural rights; the substantive human rights. Human rights are basically ego-centric. As a result, the enforcement of human rights by individuals – or groups of individuals – is compatible with individualism. The enforcement of human rights is probably now the most productive means of protecting the individual or groups of individuals from the harsh extremes of liberal individualism and capitalism.
He outlines various areas that need to be worked on to produce a more equal, fair and well-functioning society. One of the key ones he mentions, which I am in agreement with, is that it requires us to be working at a community level, and not to wait for the government to bring about necessary changes.
Economic, social and cultural rights, I suggest, are the key. These substantive rights embrace the right to work, in which I would include the right to a living wage, the right to health care, the right to freedom from poverty and an adequate standard of living, the right to security, the right to free and equal education, the right to a reasonable standard of housing, and the right to a habitable environment. Such rights must be articulated and pursued with a vigour that is capable of shaking and shifting the political and economic order. Discussion needs to be more focused and directed to generating sustained pressure from those deprived of their economic, social and cultural rights and those who aspire to achieve a fairer and more equal society.
In short, what I am suggesting is a focused campaign to promote substantive human rights. Not being indirectly enforceable in the courts, such rights will not have the force of political and civil rights, but the objective must be to ensure that they possess sufficient force for people to claim that the minimum social, economic and cultural standards they reflect are theirs as of right. Thus, such rights would have the same natural law underpinnings as political and civil rights. They would be demanded by those denied those rights with the same vigour and dedication as the community demand their political and civil rights
In spite of my misgivings, I like his statements about the need for a massive struggle from those disadvantaged by the current “neoliberal” order:
Consequently, change will come, if it is to come at all, as a result of the social dissatisfaction and unrest that would follow the more aggressive assertion of economic, social and cultural rights. With people viewing the various substantive rights, not as matters to be negotiated or compromised in an imperfect and indifferent political system, but as requirements that are theirs as of right, pressure for change would be unyielding. Just as people will vigorously protest against the suppression or denial of their political and civil rights so they would come to vigorously protest the denial of their substantive rights.
However, it does seem like a harsh and difficult struggle ahead of us.