Ed Miliband’s announcement that Labour would freeze energy prices for 20 months has attracted many plaudits and rightly so, there is little doubt that the energy giants need to be tackled. In many ways it marks progress from the Blair years and the windfall tax because it is accompanied with proposals to tackle the fundamental inequities of ownership within the energy market where as the windfall tax was a superficial solution to a deep-rooted problem. It also marks the evolution of a new strain of socialist thought which is moving away from producer led redistribution to consumption led redistribution, it is, the socialism you may say of 38 Degrees. Underpinning this historic shift in thinking is the historic weakness of collective producer, ie, trade union power.
However appealing it may be, it is a limited way of addressing the fundamental inequities of capitalist economic structures because it accepts consumption should be the motor of economic growth. Consumption is in fact a very volatile and bad way to drive economic growth that is sustainable and the credit crunch should have taught us that but it still seems we have a way to go to learn this lesson. Regulated, rationally and democratically planned production remains a better, far more effective, way of stopping the boom and bust cycle. An element of that is implicit in supply-side socialism but it stops short of the logic of its own positions.
Supply-side socialism also faces the problems caused by a globalised system because it can only be effected within national borders or at best transnational blocs like the European Union. This makes it a short-term, albeit welcome, potential spell of temporary respite for Britain’s hard-pressed people. In taking this stance Ed Miliband has shown some courage and dash which should be applauded, however, rather than actually solving the problems we face he is starting to hint at some possible solutions. It is a shame, for example, these measures are not to be accompanied by encouragement for the growth of energy co-operatives, although some will no doubt be amoung the beneficiaries of these proposals. As things stand, supply-side socialism is an interesting work in progress rather than the all encompassing vision it needs to be.
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