Tuesday, 2 August 2011


A couple of short snippets from The Future of Socialism on the need to rethink.
[T]oday, conservative or indolent-minded people on the Left, finding the contemporary scene too puzzling an unable to mould it into the old familiar categories, are inclined to seek refuge in the slogans and ideas of 50 years ago. But Keir Hardie cannot provide... the right focus with which to capture the reality of the mid twentieth century world.
[W]hen the wrongs were so manifest, we all knew what to do, and where the enemy was, and what was the order of battle; it was exhilarating to fight for such clear-cut and obviously righteous aims. But now the certainty and simplicity are gone; and everything has become complicated and ambiguous. Instead of glaring and conspicuous evils, squalor and injustice and distressed areas, we have to fuss about the balance of payments, and incentives, and higher productivity; and the socialist finds himself pinioned by a new and unforseen reality.
Personally I think we need another period of revisionism on the Left, and this must involve going beyond New Labour's view of what was right. Tony Blair cannot provide the right focus for the problems of the early twenty-first century world.

In the bit of the world that I inhabit what I see is the emergence of a plutocracy, driven in no small part by the continuing rise in executive pay. Labour must challenge this, because no-one else will. And to do so must involve an unprejudiced look at what our recent attempts to rein in executive pay have achieved. We must, in particular, get past the dominant idea (dominant because it is uncontroversial and is inherently part of the existing theoretical approach) that the principal problem is 'rewards for failure'. Clearly this must be dealt with, but the much, much bigger and more difficult problem is to address the increasing amount of money extracted by the executive class from public companies. To answer this problem with the slogans of the last decade "more disclosure, greater shareholder oversight" is simply to repeat the failed approach of recent experience.

I don't claim to know what the answer is. But I am pretty confident that a purely market solution - relying on the 'owners' to police pay because it is in their 'self-interest' - is a dead end, due largely to the nature of ownership and the owners themselves. Labour needs to start some deep thinking about this if it wants to make a difference.

No comments: