As 2009 approaches its dismal end and the next British General election looms ever nearer, the political parties are groping desperately for some new ideas and failing to find any. Even Vince Cable, the most articulate and believable member of the House of Commons, and one of the few certain to be there when the election is over, is saying little that is new.
The situation is desperate. Land areas are shrinking as the sea rises and becomes ever more acidic and polluted, but the world population, with ever more tribal and civil wars killing millions, goes on increasing in a world running out of food, water and sources of energy. We are hopelessly engaged in an ideological struggle in Afghanistan from which we will ultimately have to withdraw in humiliation, having strengthened all the forces of fundamentalist and primitive religion and nationalism that we think we are fighting, while politicians lie, cover-up the past disasters they have created, deny everything so incompetently that no one believes a word they utter, and certainly not the impossible promises of what they think they can do in the future. The lack of ability to run anything or to cope with crisis, or to come up with solutions is obvious to everyone. So here are a few ideas!
First of all we need to create new jobs. Many of them have little appeal except to the most desperate, which in the main means the poorest immigrants. Some require no skill, only willingness to carry out a simple routine. Why, in return for allowing three days a week of something interesting, such as being taught to teach, manage something or just acquire knowledge of a subject (anything from playing the piano, growing vegetables or building and repairing something), paid for of course, should one not for the other two days do something unpopular, such as clearing offices, delivering post or domestic work in a hospital, school or institution, all for the same weekly salary paid by the state. Above all we need to train people to run things, to know things, and to be able to advise those who have never been taught to look after themselves and their community with common sense, honesty, a sense of responsibility and an altruistic attitude. Self-advantage to the detriment of others is something we must learn to eliminate from our lives and natures- if this seems something like a Christian message, so much the better. All religions, whether one believes them or not, have some good principles. The Sermon on the Mount of Jesus, like many of his other sayings, was really a quotation from Hillel, a Jewish philosopher a generation older. Good ethics is the only possible basis for civilisation, which will only come into existence when we are willing to abandon Thatcherite global capitalism, which enslaves most people in a fashion-celebrity-commercial culture for the benefit of a ruthlessly wealthy few. Now that the bubble of debt-based illusory prosperity has collapsed, we can dream up a different society. Many of the Banks have now in reality been nationalised. The rest should be as well, and the world of finance brought under proper and ethical controls. This means looking again at Keynes, who advocated in times such as ours in declaring a moratorium on old debts for an indefinite period and financing a new fund to make things work. If this means rationing and national incomes policy, decided by the national treasury, then why not?
A whole generation of young people, whether in higher education or not, are in trouble, with income support not arriving or jobs not available. Capitalism has much of the blame. The first thing a company does when it takes over another one is to reduce the staff as much as possible. A new attitude is necessary: jobs are more important than profit.
My new idea is a simple one, that would benefit everyone, but it needs a state-owned bank to carry it out. It is that every citizen should be entitled draw on such a state owned bank over the course of their lifetime up to 100,000 starting at the age of eighteen, a small amount in youth to finance study where possible, or to back a sensible enterprise. This would require a large number of monitors or advisors, and this would need to bring a new profession into existence. Everyone from the age of eighteen should be supervised by two such monitors, one trained to watch financial progress and the other life-style, that is to say to encourage suitable interests according to taste, ability and special interests, to encourage cultural development and good citizenship in general. Perhaps the biggest single problem of life in the more advanced societies is the level of boredom, lack of opportunities, disinterest in ideas, culture and social communications, and general expectation of anything to make life other than drudgery and hopelessness. The Class system is one cause of this. The indifference and general ignorance of those in authority is another. But the creation of an educated class of monitors, each responsible for the well-being and financial and life-style wellbeing of perhaps as many individuals as a physician normally is, would be the answer to most of our crime, stupid mistakes and wrong decisions. Of course it would not work perfectly: nothing ever does! But it could create a revolution in our culture, bring unemployment to an end, and make life better in every way.
This is a brief outline of what is possible. The objections will come from special interest groups, but perhaps a few might think about it and a dialogue may begin. Everything has to start somewhere!
John Calder 14/12/09