Repairing a damaged Nation: Squeezing the Poison out of Society.
In a previous article in this site, “How to Destroy a Nation: Undermine its Foundations”, I described the dire effects of neglect of the key foundations that bind a nation as a community. Much of the damage has been wreaked by deep beliefs in such philosophies as Neo-Liberal economics and a hatred of the role of the State. These have been magnified by treating citizens as Consumers rather than active participants in the community – and the growth of psychology-backed advertising techniques, causing large numbers of people to seek to maximise their ownership of consumer goods and experiences.
Deep Poison in the arteries of Society
It really began with Margaret Thatcher who was UK premier from 1979 to 1990 and leader of the Conservative Party from 1975 to 1990.
Thatcher had deep beliefs in the power of individuals, a conviction that individuals should be able to compete a free market unconstrained by the state, the only roles of which were to maintain law and order and defence of the realm. Her beliefs can be recognised by the following taken from a speech:
“I think we have gone through a period when too many children and people have been given to understand ‘I have a problem, it is the Government’s job to cope with it!’ or ‘I have a problem, I will go and get a grant to cope with it!’ ‘I am homeless, the Government must house me!’ and so they are casting their problems on society and who is society? There is no such thing! There are individual men and women and there are families and no government can do anything except through people and people look to themselves first.”
Thatcher’s deep beliefs, and the convictions fed by numerous Institutes, Societies and Academic departments, which have poured out what amounts to Free Market, neo-liberal “propaganda” for years (see the “Ideas” section in this website) have led to a sort of poisonous infusion which has infected the public dialogue. Margaret Thatcher brought neo-liberal theories which had been in the background for aeons to the surface in the formation of public policy. This was also accentuated by the work of The Chicago School, which is widely credited, as a cradle of the neoliberal movement, and professor Milton Friedman as the most influential person. The main tenets of the Chicago School are that free markets best allocate resources in an economy and that minimal, or even no, government intervention is best for economic prosperity.
The growth of the advertising industry, and the infusion of Psychology into its practices. The fusion of mass psychology and Free Market ideology has been a huge force in changing the very roots of s modern society
A vast flow of ideas and actions flowed from Free Market, policies, which have influenced society in the most dramatic manner.
- The growth of selfish individualism. People become defined as individuals rather than members of a community
- The definitions of Citizens as Consumers and “Taxpayers”
- “Winner takes All”. Winning in the market is crucial and Winners are entitled to keep the fruits of their labour. This has morphed into the notion of “Hardworking Families”, contrasted with the less deserving ,members of the community.
Amongst Margaret Thatcher’s most influential actions were the de-regulation of the financial and banking systems and the sale of public housing, which had been created by public authorities, to individuals. The effects of these two strategies have been dramatic.
“Wealth” takes over
But much more important, was the transfer of power from Government to Wealth. The burgeoning enrichment of the financial sector, led by the banks and the sinister growth of influence on government policy, especially fiscal policy and taxation, as well as the behaviour of central government politicians, changed the nature of society fundamentally.
It is no exaggeration to claim that society has been run in the interests of the rich and powerful, rather than the bulk of citizens.
The Blair “New Labour” Party shifted the balance somewhat from the rich to the majority, especially when it came to education and health policy. But, the Blair/Brown government did little to alter the balance of power away from the finance and banking sector. The result of this massive error was the banking crash of 2007/8. Gordon Brown, as finance minister and latterly Prime Minister. Brown worked miracles in saving the national and world economies from the collapse of the International banking sector, but laid himself open to the claim by the right wing that it was excessive government spending that had led to the crash
This was completely misleading, but it led to a return of the right wing in the form of the Cameron/Osborne government. In particular,
The slaughter of the State
Osborne as finance minister, embarked on a programme of “Austerity”, which meant stringent cut backs on all government spending. The pretence for this clearly ideological attack on the nature of society was a pretence that the Blair/Brown Socialist governments had so overspent on government programmes. Based on this Lie, twelve years of right wing ideology have so undermined the very nature of government that it is no longer capable of supporting an advanced Society. This can be clearly seen by reference to a prior article in this website.
Refer to How to destroy a nation, Undermine its Foundations, which lays out the damage done to the UK society by unfettered Free Market ideology
Now… What Can be done to restore a healthy Society?
Britain and in particular England, still have a right wing Conservative government, with a new Prime Minister, Liz Truss, whose basic beliefs appear to be very right wing, in particular, a conviction that the free Market, together with a small state, with the least government involvement in the economy and society will create a healthy outcomes, with growth and prosperity for all. Truss seems to view herself as a successor to Margaret Thatcher.
Given the almost indisputable facts that The Free Market, underpinned by neo-liberal economics are the fundamental causes of the condition of contemporary Society, it is extremely unlikely that more of the same, rooted in the beliefs of Premier Margaret Thatcher, will result in more damage and a series of “fixes” that will have little fundamental benefit.
The first and most important factor that must underpin beneficial change is to challenge the roots of neo-liberalism, in particular;
- The belief in “freedom” as characterised by competition in a lightly regulated “market” is a basis for general prosperity
- The conviction that governments block progress and stifle initiatives
What Society needs Now
Deep change and reform based on a number of fundamental precepts:
- Acceptance of a more nuanced set of philosophies:
- Replacing tooth and claw competition by the enactment of a deep belief in Collaboration as the essential foundation of the economy and Society.
The implications of this apparently simple prescription are profound
- Introducing the principle of Social Benefit into the foundations of commercial enterprise. So commercial enterprises would be tested against the effects they have on customers and the community as well as the returns they realise of financial investors and shareholders.
- Here is a definition of Social Enterprise produced by the UK government:
- Rather than the interests of financial “owners” and top Managers being the nearly sole sources of power and decision making, the Community and Employees’ interests would have to be taken into account as well. (if this is thought to be too idealistic, it is deeply practical, and is practiced in most Scandinavian countries)
- As there are several forms of Social Enterprise, and many examples, including the East Coast main line rail company, which was successfully run as a Social Enterprise, before being hastily re-privatised by a Conservative government. A government with a strategy to progressively “De-privatise” Water, Power and Transport over time would be able to do this, with the strong support of a majority of the public.
- Fundamentally overhaul the Education system, introduce a much more nuanced Curriculum, based on thinking and exploration of ideas, rather than a frenetic obsession with passing examinations as the basis of success. In particular, a main plank must be exploration of ideas about Society and critical appraisal
- The English education system is classist, elitist and has several levels of privilege. The so-called “Public School” system, in reality funded by private parental moneys, is a thorn in the side of a decent society. For a start, Public Schools must not be treated as Charities for tax purposes. And despite the furore that will be caused from the privileged classes, the System must be progressively diminished over time. (Fact: 70% of senior lawyers and top managers in the finance sector went to public schools). This enables them to relate comfortably with Conservative politicians.
- Introduce the principle of Collaboration into the British Political system. An effectively two-party system, based on conflict, has caused untold damage to Society. Over time, a different electoral system is necessary to heal society, but in the short term, incentives for political parties in national and regional politics to collaborate are essential.
- Root and Branch reform of the Taxation system. In Britain, taxation is regarded with suspicion and as a burden on individuals and corporations. So “tax reduction” has become a watchword of Conservative politicians.
- In some other countries, less in thrall to neo-liberal Free Market dogma, where people are regarded as citizens first and foremost, paying tax is regarded as a contribution to the health of society. This tends to be the case in some Scandinavian countries.
So, the principles behind taxation reform should be:
- Citizens and people domiciled in the United Kingdom should pay national taxes on all their earnings
- The existence of “offshore” tax havens should be challenged and in due course abolished
- Corporations that earn revenue in the UK should be forced to pay UK tax on all their earnings and not set up tax havens like Luxembourg.
- Radical reform of the advertising industry; especially advertising of Gambling on TV. The introduction of psychology into the Advertising industry before the second world war and the rapid growth of TV and online media has resulted in a flood of consumer influences. The effect of this is to characterise citizens as consumers, who need to buy in order to keep up with influencers. This has fed rapidly into social media platforms, which are virtually unregulated.
- Strong investigation and regulation of content and quantity of online influencers, and the organisations promoting it is necessary to restore the health of the public domain
- Last, but not least… A strong female figure in the background:
Most were very saddened by the death of Queen Elizabeth the Second recently. Although the Queen had no formal political role, she was a source of calm background calm and wisdom. She also met with prime ministers and kept abreast of political, developments. So, she was an influence and became a pillar of Society over time.
What will become of the role of the monarchy with the accession of King Charles the Third remains to be seen. But the re-introduction of Princess Anne into a more influential role is encouraging.