Re-framing the economic debate
Framing matters in politics. The intellectual framework a debate happens in defines everything about the contours of that debate; it is therefore a tragedy that the left is poor when it comes to framing its own arguments. This is especially true when it comes to the economy.
The first cardinal sin the left commits is to frame everything, and I do mean everything, within its desire for some kind of nebulous and ill-defined future society – ie, socialism. On Newsnight last week a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party spoiled a perfectly legitimate critique of workfare by drifting into a bug-eyed rant against the generalised and vague inequities of the capitalist system. At this point even viewers who were tending towards sympathy would have switched-off, not least because the hapless man indirectly led credibility to the charge that opposition to workfare was the sole province of ‘Trot extremists’.
Even on the soft-left, most imagine themselves as proto-Lenin’s, pioneers of the brave new world, while lacking the feel and self-awareness of the world around them to make them nearly as influential as the man himself was. Speculating over the future shape of socialism is pointless – the whole point of a democratic socialist future is that we give people the power to define this for themselves. I know this is a novel idea for most on the left but its how the first pioneers truly intended it. Feeling the need to make abstract propaganda for socialism is robbing us of our ability to make concrete demands in the here and now which empower people and while, it is of course right to draw attention to the structural failings of capitalism, no obligation exists to do this every time we open our collective mouths.
So, let’s turn to the economy. We are in, we are told, a crisis induced by excessive state spending. The political right taps into a popular sentiment caused be peoples personal debt mountain being caused by increased credit-dependency and binging on cheap and freely available electronic money. However, this in no way corresponds to reality. It is the private, not the state-sector that has brought our economy to its knees. It depressed incomes and increased credit dependency – furthermore, it has bled the state dry on every level and frittered the money away in reckless speculation.
If Britain had entered this crisis with a stronger state-sector wed be in a better position now. If you don’t believe me, ask the Chinese. Instead successive governments worshipped at the altar of private enterprise seeing it as the primary engine of wealth creation when in fact, its the primary engine of wealth destruction. The proceeds of its successes are concentrated in the hands of the few and, shock-horror, the system inevitably enters meltdown because socially depleted wealth is siphoned off to feed the greed of the few.
Above we have the germ of a viable framework which would be accepted by the vast majority of the population. Not only does it identify the cause of the crisis but it steals the right-wing ‘credibility clothes’ and leaves its ideology as naked and bankrupt as it actually is; it also leads inevitably to socially redistributative solutions and left-wing politics. It would open-up peoples minds towards to the need for the unparalleled scale of social transformation that is the only rational and credible response to the abject failure of what has gone before.