Across the industrialised world we face a set of problems, that are destined to be the problems of all people across the whole world.
The affordability of the social-democratic State is in question, particularly in a low growth and resource constrained world. The inevitable time constraints on resolving this issue means that if it is not solved with progressive ideas, it will be resolved otherwise – most likely with a collapse into chaos, followed by an authoritarian (likely right wing) response.
Demographic and environmental pressures only serve to compress the urgency of this challenge.
- Debt dependency, private and public, of the status quo.
- Infrastructure for adaptation delinquency: demographics and environmental.
- High cost of living, most especially affecting the great majority whose ability to make outsized economic contributions is limited.
- Low incidence of opportunities to leverage up wealth through exploitation, obviating the relevance of 20thC models for rebalancing.
- Disassembledge of society through growing inequality, amplified by dysfunctional democratic systems that stymie change, leading to disillusion and atomisation, and eventually exposing our society to machiavellian forces that appeal to the basest instincts of fear and survival when the situation destabilises.
Interventions (because that is the kindest description they deserve, for solutions they are not):
- Subsidising low wages with cash benefits
- Higher minimum wage
- Basic income
These are all attempts to use economic levers to solve social problems, and they are all ultimately self-defeating because they are manipulations that distort the markets they seek to use and coerce the people they seek to help. The first by artificially lowering costs, the latters by artificially increasing costs.
The central fallacy is the attempt to pay for solidarity, for cohesion, for society, with monetary instruments.
The true crisis is one of living cost, a cost artificially inflated by an attempt to replace mutual effort with monetary reward.
The fundamental problem we appear to face is one of a lack of resources, currently exhibited in high levels of debt and a failure to invest in necessary infrastructure. But this is only true because we have constructed a system that deliberately excludes our most abundant resource: the mutual exchange of effort, in return for the promise of mutual safety.
The only natural form of cohesion that has ever existed is one in which a promise of safety is exchanged for a commitment to mutual effort.
Our core focus must be on delivering the promise of mutual safety, and preparing to harness the bounty of mutual effort.
Mutual safety is a set of basic life-sustaining services, the “bare necessities”. The safety is found in the unequivocal and universal availability of these services, irrespective of circumstances. It is well within the capacity of a modern, industrialised society to deliver this set of basic life services as a universal entitlement of citizenship, but only when delivered as a replacement for the current system of monetary benefits. Because the affordability of such mutual safety is dependent on the mutual effort to deliver them, an effort that cannot be unlocked without the guarantee of safety. Their universality precludes the use of monetary compensation, because money is always and inevitably conditional.
The solutions to our social, fiscal and environmental problems are found in tackling the cost of life, and not in seeking to elevate our incomes to meet an ever inflating illusion of affordability exclusive of mutual effort.
The challenge before us is to articulate the vision for a joyful and affordable society based on mutual safety, and contradictory to the purely material construct pervasive in the currently established paradigm. To go beyond fear we must establish a concrete and believable objective of mutual safety, within concrete and attainable short-term timeframes.
A political effort within the context of our democracy is the only honest way forward. Such a political effort must necessarily be estranged from and devoid of the legacies of the 20th century. The urgency of the situation, and the brief window of opportunity available to us, requires a new political initiative rather than the slow persuasion of established forces. A new effort will require a bold commitment of resources and reputations, commensurate with the awful alternatives that seem inevitable. If we are not prepared to make a full-bodied commitment to the future of our civilised society, then who is?