Friday, 15 November 2013

Why politics needs no little plans

I apologise for my temporary absence (let's hope it makes the heart grew fonder).  I've been busy setting up a new co-operative think-tank, the New Weather Institute, and this post is adapted from the one there

Being a helpful kind of guy, I have written a number of blog posts elsewhere about what frustrates good decisions by governments - and how easy it is to get sucked into making bad ones. Sometimes appalling ones that echo down the decades.

You can read my top ten here.

But what about the good decisions? There has been huge debate about the peculiar tiff between Russell Brand and Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight about corporate control of government decisions, and what might be done about it.

Leaving that topic aside, the source of so-called apathy – often rather principled, in fact – is often that sense of the sheer powerlessness of government: perhaps because of the sheer complexity of the system they are dealing with, perhaps because they don’t want the basic structures of power, on which they now rely for so much, to unravel.

What can be done? The New Weather Institute is dedicated to optimism, and that change – the right kind of change – is not just possible but inevitable.

So to speed the process along, here is my list of the top ten decisions UK governments could take to tackle the sheer intractability in which they so often find themselves.

10. End privileges for out of town and online shopping: We must keep our town centres alive, and it makes no sense to give such tax and parking advantages to the out of town retailers and the big online ones which operate out of Luxembourg, like Amazon. If we want thriving UK retailers, we need to be on their side.

9. Measure well-being and resilience as our main economic objective: Money just confuses matters, and especially now that Ofsted no longer require schools to promote resilience. We need to know whether the economy is doing a useful job or not.

8. Tax bonuses at 90 per cent: All bonuses are pernicious as measures for effective working, and can be disastrous. When bankers get them, they also cause inflation.

7. A speculation tax: the $1.4 trillion that pours through the world’s computers every day, dwarfing the available resources of central banks, is a clear and present danger, and we could do with the revenue. Nearly all of this avalanche of money is speculative.

6. End payment by throughput in public services: Too many service contractors are paid by the number of people they process, so there is no reason why they should make services more effective – especially when they are paid to process them over and over again. This is essential if we are ever going to make services affordable.

5. Institute a right-first-time system in public services: This is the implication of No. 6. It means minimising interventions, rather than maximising them, and putting people directly in touch with human beings with the power and experience to help them, once and for all. It means Human By Default.

4. Build a secondary housing market: No more renting – what we need is home ownership for everyone, which means building social housing and giving 99-year leases away for £30,000, on condition that it can’t change hands for any more than that during the lease (plus what has been spent on it since). This will finally bring down the value of all homes.

3. Major anti-trust action: We need to revitalise enterprise by enforcing the guidelines that no company should build up more than ten per cent of the UK market. Monopoly is antithetical to enterprise. This also means splitting up the big banks and turning them into more useful local and regional networks, capable of providing enterprise with the credit it needs.

2. Create more public money: This means shifting the way money is created from credit – usually in mortgage credit (which will slow down as we ratchet down house prices) – to interest-free direct creation by governments, spent into circulation by creating the green infrastructure we need.

1. Provide a citizens income: To every man, woman and child in the country, as of right, to give them the basics of life, ending the bureaucracy around income support and setting people free to earn, create or work as they see fit.

Do any one of these and the current crises could be transformed; do them all, and the situation may be unrecognisable. All of these measures are designed to give people more independence, and other objectives would yield a different list.

This list doesn’t, for example, include a land tax. It doesn’t do a whole range of things that progressives are supposed to want. That does not make them correct – they may have serious side-effects which would make them counter-productive.

But here is the problem. To discuss solutions with this kind of scope, it means that you would have to do so outside the mainstream political structures, all of which seem to be dedicated to the tiniest imaginable changes.

I’m inclined to think that conventional politics may not recover until it encompasses big debates as well as the smallest ones. Until you can bring big ambitions (I don't mean personal ones) into the party with you, then really – people will say – what’s the point?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Spot on ;)