Thursday, 3 March 2011

Commodify thy neighbour

I've been meaning to post for sometime about the phenomenon of the 'social' right. By that I mean right wingers who claim to be er..... well a bit lefty, having a social conscience and all that. Although that seems like a bit of a contradiction it can't just simply be dismissed by socialists. Do these people, like Phillip Blond, who is an advocate of 'Red Toryism', have a useful contribution to make to solving social problems?

The basic idea seems to be to make capitalism work for the poor and to enable the poor to build up assets making them wealthier and active participants in a capitalist economy. Like the neo-liberals these right wingers decry the welfare state which they claim only induces dependency in the recipients. But how are the poor going to build up assets? Blond offers some possible solutions but in a capitalist world nobody is going to willingly transfer assets to the poor. The idea of giving the poor vouchers so they can invest in shares doesn't deserve a serious response. His recipe for making the poor into social entrepreneurs sounds superficially seductive but it won't work.

Welfare dependency is a problem. But it is a problem created by years of economic failure of right wing economic policy in the UK which has depended solely on the market to create jobs and wealth. Since the Thatcher years we have had communities blighted by unemployment with generations living on the dole. What the right seek to do, as usual, is blame the victims of this economic failure for their own dependency. The welfare state was only ever intended to be a temporary support for people between jobs, but because of economic failures it has become a way of life for some. It is not the poor who are responsible for this state of affairs but the rich.

The fundamental problem is the inequitable distribution of wealth that is created by capitalism. Workers create wealth, and if they were to receive a fair share of the wealth they created there would be no poor and no rich either! There is a fundamental flaw in all this social conservative thinking, well meaning though it may be. Capitalism is a great big economic engine which drives the inequality in society. It cannot be used to create social and economic equality. This is what Blair and Brown claimed to be trying to do, using the 'free' market to make the poor better off. All they succeeded in doing was increasing inequality in the UK.

The answer to all this is collective provision, such as the NHS, supported, but not necessarily controlled, by the state. This is what provides people with the security and stability that they need in their lives. Only the state in a democratic society can marshall the forces to get us out of this economic mess and that's how it should be. We need more intervention not less. The problem for the right is that collective provision is anathema to them. Everything has to be mediated by personal gain and money - commodify thy neighbour. If the market cannot create jobs and wealth, and it has demonstrably failed to do so, the state must step in and provide people not just with meaningful work, but the means to establish social enterprises (i.e. co-operatives). This can be done initially by grants backed up by long term loans at low rates if interest. I have discussed these ideas in other posts.

Just one final point. People like Blond appear to assume that we can all become 'Dragon's Den' entrepreneurs thus lifting ourselves out of poverty. Even if this were possible it is probably undesirable. Someone has to do the work and empty the dustbins. People need doctors, teachers, nurses, firemen and even bank clerks. Why should all these people who aren't 'wealth creators' live in relative poverty whilst the dragons cream off the wealth? (don't believe the neoliberal hype - those people are wealth creators) Every working person deserves to have a decent living wage. If that happened, combined with what I've suggested above, there wouldn't be any poverty.


Anonymous said...

The funny thing is a lot of people who write about the rights and wrongs of welfare dependency live off the fat of the land. They live in pretty countryside, drive complany cars and generally don't see that they're part of the issue. How do we get to address this? As poverty is a reality, not a theory


Howard Thorp said...

The right wing pundits who denounce welfare dependancy know exactly what the real cause of it is. They need to perpetuate poverty in order to maintain, or increase their share of the wealth.