Phillip Blond: "the politics of the future will be anti-oligarchical"
Phillip Blond is currently visiting Australia. He is an English philosopher and theologian whose work has helped define an emerging new politics that aims to restore civil society and human association from its corrosion by the oligarchies of Left and Right. His approach to social innovation emphasis the recovery of voluntary association in civil society rather than the corporatist agenda of partnerships between Big Government, Big Business and Big Charity.
Our political bankruptcy demands a renewed political idealism
"Both the collectivism of the left and the individualism of the right are over. They are finished because they are the same; they represent the same interests and have the same outcomes. Each empowers an elite and disempowers the remainder. And, paradoxically, each produces the other. An individualist economic culture is reliant on individuals competing, but this leads to zero-sum capitalism where some win it all and everybody else loses. This creates the necessity of the welfare state - if we have a society in which most are impoverished, we will require some sort of safety net to stop them falling into utter destitution.
Likewise, the legacy of the collectivist states was not equality - just visit Russia or Ukraine, where self- serving individuals have captured all shared goods and ensure that they keep them through state authoritarianism and criminal organisation.
Curiously, of course, modern welfare requires the type of capitalism that causes the problems we have, for as the needs of the poor increases so does the tax demand to supplement and support them. This system has no future, not least because it threatens the very class that is required for political support. As Francis Fukuyama recently put it, "the current form of globalized capitalism is eroding the middle-class social base on which liberal democracy rests."
The real politics of the future will be anti-oligarchical - it will require a new right and a new left. For increasingly, from the perspectives of those who are shut out, the elites of authoritarian and democratic states will look remarkably similar. The West used to produce self-sacrificing elites; now it has those who are assiduously self-serving. Too many of our institutions are corrupt, and too many of their leaders rest easy in the falsehood that their interests are ours. A revulsion against oligarchy will soon define both eastern and western states, and it will of necessity draw on new and unexpected resources to shape a new political idealism.
This new idealism will be romantic, ethical and quite possibly religious. It will craft a new political economy that multiplies ownership and maximises market entry. It will insist on life-long education and it will replace representative with participative democracy. Its means will be human association and its method will be relationship. Its foundation will be trust and its transmission will be fun. Its resources will be global but its response and concretion will be local. It will be the triumph of the micro and the defeat of the macro. It will be the horizontal over the vertical and the mainstreaming of the peer to peer. It will be periphery as the new centre. It will be consumer becoming producer and the client becoming the advocate. It will be ethical trade and moral market. It will be ends not means, and teleology not anarchy. It will be virtue not utility.
And it is coming sooner than you think....
So why has the right failed? Simply because it has yet to produce the win-win capitalism that Adam Smith so ably described. I agree with those on the right who argue that poverty can only be solved by wealth and not welfare. Why then do so many on the right argue for a form of capitalism that shuts out so many from ownership and opportunity?...
In terms of ownership, the right has simply failed to create a mass stakeholder society. It has instead backed big business against small, and market concentration against market participation. Where asset ownership is encouraged, it is in only one form (residential housing) - a form of asset that has proven particularly susceptible to becoming a liability.
Moreover, under the guise of free market rhetoric and a competition law framework that favours monopoly, economic wealth has drastically concentrated and barriers to market entry have been raised. Everyone knows that starting a small business has gotten harder, but this is not just because you can't raise capital or because of the crushing burden of regulation. Rather, it has become almost impossible to acquire a sustainable market share because big business - which tends not to pay taxes and benefits from all manner of insider advantage - simply shuts small businesses out before they even begin.
State regulation, which is introduced to control such monopolistic entities, itself favours incumbency as it requires an inordinate amount of resources to meet its requirements. It is little wonder, then, that so many small traders remain small or simply give up altogether, preferring to remain on wages whose purchasing value has so steadily declined.
The right, by way of contrast, wishes for a form of capitalism that benefits all - a tide that raises all boats, a cake large enough can feed all mouths and more still. But the reality achieved by the right is very different. The hopes of Regan and Thatcher were admirable, but ultimately undone by the means employed. Under the neo-liberal right, capitalism has not become a force of plural progress and multiple centres of wealth and opportunity; instead it has become, contra Hayek, the force for a new serfdom.Why the left has failed
Why has the left failed? Simply put, wealth redistribution can never catch up with wealth generation. In addition, redistribution over time creates a free-rider problem in that it permanently separates a group of people from production and therefore ownership. This group is then progressively and aggressively cut off from the rewards and returns of the rest of society.
Previously, with welfare functioning as a salve to conscience, we could safely ignore the poor because they merely represented the bottom 20%. But they have subsequently become the bottom third, and now with changes in the nature of modern capitalism they threaten to encapsulate the middle class itself.
By way of example, over 50% of American households are now reliant on some form of government welfare, up from some 30% in the 1970s. It is a reality that we cannot in the West maintain a middle class without welfare support. With the tax rises required to support such a situation, it is hard to see how a society so constructed can in the end either prosper or escape.
Welfare is simply an income supplement whose demand always tends to rise; it can never change the rules of the game and traps those who fall into it. One of the ways that it creates a situation of permanent dependency is that the state gives too little to make a difference and converts activity to passivity by penalising too quickly any initiative its recipients might show. Furthermore, the state, with its advocacy of one-way rights entitlement, creates a state of dependency that forces its supplicants to turn away from society, and so cuts its clients off from sociality and productive and mutually enhancing networks."