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September 15, 2010


Ian Christie

A brilliant post.

A deep problem for the Coalition, and for many on the Left too, is that they want the social bonds and bridges associated with religious sensibilities and ethics of obligation at the same time as the dynamism and individualism of capitalism. Capitalism needs that social capital but corrodes it at the same time, as Daniel Bell and others argued long ago. Mulgan is right about the paradox of the Coalition's stance. Cameron et al have yet to explain just what it was that 'broke' society, and when it happened, and why indicators of brokenness have worsened the more we have deregulated the economy, created structural unemployment, marginalised religion and assisted the erosion of the traditional family, all developments aided and abetted by neoliberals of both the nominal left and right. The Coalition has yet to face up to the damage done by neoliberalism, and that is about to be inflicted by the proposed spending cuts; and it has got to do some smart thinking about new forms of livelihood that combine welfare with paid work and local volunteering.

Will Davies

Thanks, Ian. And agreed on what you say of neo-liberalism.

I suspect (in generosity to the more intelligent wing of the government) that the Coalition would happily cost social 'externalities' into their preferred model of capitalism, if only it were possible to do this. But it isn't. It's too complex and the chains of causality are too opaque and long-term. This means that the only solution is to stop viewing them as 'externalities', and start committing to certain organisational principles in more normative or 'social' (whatever the hell that word means any more) terms.

Ian Christie

Thanks Will.
I agree with this, although would like to see some attempt made to provide incentives to companies to internalise social and ecological costs - eg via differentials and penalties in the corporate tax system. I doubt if they will make the effort, given the complexities, as you say.
Another approach is to capitalise new forms of social enterprise - eg the Employee Mutuals we promoted at Demos circa 1998 - that could generate new livelihood models that blend benefits, volunteering and part-time paid work. But that requires a level of imagination they may not have - although ResPublica could push them that way - and a level of investment that they would resist as they press on with The Cuts.
What other routes are there, beyond the re-Christianisation of the CEO classes (and now I am really fantasising)?


The situationists were riding a 1950-60s wave of optimism about the potential of "automation" to reduce the hours of necessary labour. They didn't expect capitalists to willingly donate this freed up time to the workers, but the council-communist revolution they expected to confiscate it was unrealistic (though for a few weeks in May 68 it didn't feel so). More naive still was their faith in the preference of the working masses for a life of artistic/creative leisure over one of bourgeois luxury.

Even so Jospin's Socialist government did achieve the 35-hour week in 2000, showing this aspiration wasn't entirely dead in France (though never alive in the Anglo-US Protestant/neoliberal zone).

Will Davies

Plus there is still the somewhat surreal - nay frustrating - experience of visiting Paris during August, Dick.

Dick Pountain

Indeed. I live in Italy part of the year where we distribute the resistance more evenly: three to four hours in the middle of every week day, plus most of Monday. "Dolce far niente"

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