A story in need of a name

I concluded last week’s post by pointing out what I consider to be the desperate need for the political opposition in this country to develop a counter narrative, one that provides an alternative political story to the one being told by the Conservative Party. I actually pointed the finger at the Labour Party, but on reflection I think it the responsibility of all those on the left or who support ‘progressive’ politics. In fact, the first task maybe to agree a unifying name for this oppositional narrative. In many voters’ minds ‘the left’ is too closely associated with both the traditional Labour Party and to Marxism in general. Whilst I’m more than happy to consider myself to be well and truly on the left of the political spectrum, I think that this is considered a negative term by many who are not directly involved in politics. ‘Progressive’ is better, but I see no reason why an adherent of neo-liberal economic policies could not consider the changes that they want to bring about as ‘progress’. No, the first key element to this new narrative must be a good name – a name that sparks both the imagination and an emotional response in the electorate. Suggestions more than welcome!

Following the ideas expressed in both Mariana Mazzucato’s new book (Mission Economy: A Moonshot Guide to Changing Capitalism) and Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics, one element of this new narrative will be the aim to restructure how we do economics – and in particular, the role of national government in our economic model. We need an economic model that truly meets our needs, the needs of everyone (not just the wants of a few), but, even more importantly, will allow future generations to meet their needs. And we need governments to be far more ambitious in what they want to achieve, far mare pro-active in how they go about achieving stuff, and far more risk taking in what they do. We need governments to inspire and to take a far longer term view than what the electorate will think of them at the next election. And even more importantly, we need governments that will promote long-term economic planning in the business sector, perhaps even to penalise short-term economic planning aimed solely at raising executive pay and shareholder dividends.

In order to meet these needs and guarantee the long-term wellbeing of human society on this planet we will need to learn to live within certain natural boundaries. And in order to do this we will need to retell and re-understand both the relationship between human society and the rest of the natural world, and between different human societies, nations and cultures. With regards to the former realignment, in the words of Aldo Leopold, this will change the role of humans on this planet “from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it.” The old narrative sees the natural world, both the living world and the mineral world, as one vast storehouse and repository to raid and plunder at our will. Our new narrative needs to tell of our very complex and interdependent relationship with the non-human world. And with regards to the latter realignment, our new narrative needs to tell a story of cooperation between groups of people, not competition. It needs to acknowledge that all of our major challenges and threats are global in nature and will only be resolved through our working together and supporting each other. This will not be a story of national greatness, but one of international solidarity and humility. In short, it will be a story of how humanity finally came to understand its place in nature.

And finally (for now), and to pick up a theme from last week’s thrilling episode, we will need to slay the dragon of excessive wealth. Excessive wealth needs to become the villain of this new story, this counter narrative, not the hero. People like Jeff Bezos, for example, the CEO of Amazon. Rather than be seen as an example of what we can all achieve if we work hard under capitalism (we can’t, it’s a fallacy) he should be seen as someone who has accumulated wealth by exploiting, by effectively stealing it from, others. Nothing will convince me that even the most talented, creative and hard working person amongst us can be worth 187 billion US dollars. Yes. 187 billion. Just stop and try to imagine just how big that number is. He’s so rich that he can afford to spend 500 million US dollars on a new yacht. And once you’ve comprehended just how big these numbers are, try and imagine how much good this amount of money could achieve if spent on alleviating poverty. Or at the very least, if spent paying the Amazon workforce a decent wage! No, such wealth is exploitation of and theft from humanity as a whole, and needs to be seen as a crime against humanity.

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