Today's strikes have led to complaints about kids' education being disrupted. This, though, poses the question: why fret so much about the loss of one day's schooling and so little about the countless other things that undermine good education, from the bad management that forces thousands of teachers to leave the profession to the anti-intellectual culture that devalues learning?
My point here isn't a partisan one. It's rather that party politics sees some things but not others. And it is often blind to very big socio-techical changes. For example:
- On those rare occasions when politicians deign to notice the plight of the low-paid, they focus upon the small impact that immigration has, whilst generally ignoring the bigger impacts of globalization, technical change and increasing capitalist power.
- The share of incomes going to the richest 1% has almost doubled since the 1970s. And yet, until recently, there was little mainstream debate about the desirability of this.
- There's been little debate about the massive change in the nature of middle-class jobs. The question has been rarely asked: do we want better pay (in some cases) in exchange for more stressful working conditions?
- The dominant ideology of our time is managerialism. And yet there's little party political debate about the desirability of top-down hierarchies. Sure, New Labour accelerated managerialism in the public sector, but it did so as piecemeal reform and didn't ask whether we want to be subject to a form of totalitarianism.
- Whilst economists have been debating secular stagnation, politicians have pretty much ignored it, except for George Osborne's weak denial of its existence. The question: what sort of policies would we need in the event of long-term stagnation? isn't asked.
- The possibility of robotization poses the question: how can we ensure that technical change benefits everyone, not just a few? Again, this isn't being asked.
You might object that these questions aren't being asked because they have no good answers, and politicians set themselves only such tasks as they can solve. I'm not sure. For one thing, lots of mainstream political questions don't have solutions - such as how to increase long-term economic growth. And for another, some of the questions that they don't ask are answerable; I suspect we could reduce the incomes of the 1% if we wanted (though there might be a cost of doing so).
What I'm suggesting here is that party politicians are to some (large?) extent like corks in the sea - they are shifted by tides which they cannot control and of which they are unaware. A lot of big socio-technical change happens without their intervention, whilst they are fretting about smaller matters.
And a damned good thing too, rightist libertarians might say. A bit of me, though, thinks the left might welcome it to. The transition from feudalism to capitalism didn't happen - for the most part - because politicians willed the change. And perhaps the transition to socialism will happen despite politicians too.