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July 28, 2005



"Or are you all just bleeding hearts and big gobs?" Oh no, those plus a malevolent disposition towards Western Civilisation in general, and British in particular.

Paddy Carter

mutualist ... inspiration maybe, but that chap has one foot in the "it's all a globa imperialist capitalist conspiracy against the oppressed" camp, from what I've seen. And his positive proposals for alternative economic organisation look paper thin. But then again, I only spent a few hours on the site, perhaps I ought to look again.


"What positive proposals do have to improve the condition of the working class, or any oppressed group, in the western world?"

Build a shitload more social housing in London, for one thing.

Rob Read

Price controls and special favours for left-wing official-Victim groups don't work. If there's one thing London doesn't need it's more ghettos for Benefit addicts. I would rather the tax money extorted from me not be spent subsidising and therefore encouraging unemeployment in the most expensive city in Europe.

The left have to face up to the fact that their entire "philosophy" boils down to counterproductive jealousy (punish the innocent but financially successful), and the slavery of forcing people to work harder and longer for the same living standards.

Paddy Carter

from the Marglin you link to (itself a quote from a novel):

To tear down a factory or to revolt against a government...is to attack effects rather than causes and as long as the attack is upon effects only, no change is possible. The true system, the real system, is our present construction of systematic thought itself, rationality itself, and if a factory is tom down but the rationality which produced it is left standing, then that rationality will simply produce another factory. If a revolution destroys a systematic government, but the systematic patterns of thought that produced that government are left intact, then those patterns will repeat themselves in the succeeding government.

ah yes that's it, the left must focus on changing our systematic patterns of thought. if the revolution isn't suitable for the people, change the people!


Well I'd be worried if you didn't disagree, Rob.

Kevin Carson

Many thanks, Chris! I'll have to take a pass on the massive increases in foreign aid thing, though. And I'm not much on the idea of a basic income, I'm afraid, although it would certainly be an improvement on the bureaucratic welfare state.

Paddy: if that's your assessment after "a few hours," you've already probably exhausted the vein of whatever meager gold it had to offer. You should probably just write off the time already wasted as a sunk cost. Ah, well....

Robert Schwartz

I thought your idea reeked. Sort of the worst aspects of AFDC combined with universality. I see drug addiction, shattered families and packs of young savages taking over our cities.

Let's face it the left is done. Finished. The era of great revolutions ended, thank God! they were disasters on every level. Philosopher kings will not redeem the world. Time to move on.

john b

First of all, I'd introduce horsewhipping for people who use ridiculous hyperbole about how The Left has destroyed civilisation.

However, in terms of pragmatism, how about this for starters:

1) Make all narcotics available to addicts for free on prescription. Robbery and burglary plummet; the incentive for people to sell narcotics plummets (since you've lost your most valuable customers to the doctor); fewer people die of taking dirty cut drugs or guessing the strength wrong.

2) Invest in adult literacy and numeracy programs. For anyone who isn't currently literate in English and/or numberate (and isn't mentally disabled such that they're incapable of becoming so) provide these for free as part of the benefit programme *and* make them compulsory in order to claim benefits. Also make them available on the same basis to all prisoners - only grant parole to those who attend.

3) University expansion has disproportionately benefitted not-very-bright middle class children, while not doing as much as hoped for bright working-class kids. Cut university attendance numbers by 30%. Invest in technical training for the groups that are no longer able to go to university. Abolish student loans and replace with a graduate tax (which imposes the same financial burden as now, but doesn't carry the debt stigma that currently deters working-class kids from going to university).

4) Keep comprehensive schools, but re-introduce streaming in all academic subjects.

5) Disestablish the Church of England. However, create a new state body that encourages and financially supports moderate, watered-down C of E-style happyclappy religion, whether Christian, Muslim or Hindu...

Paddy Carter

like your thinking john b (puzzled by 5 tho)

isn't one of the questions that the left needs a better answer to:

where, and how, can the state intervene in the economy to the benefit of the badly off (at acceptable cost to the better off?)

or something more elegant.

for some reason I still think of myself as a lefty, even though I'm pretty much a free marketeer, but if that's the case, can I call myself a lefty? Or can I be a lefty because of my views on regulation, how much tax and what tax is spent on etc.

john b

"Numberate"? Bugger, I clearly need compulsory literacy classes myself.

Paddy: the logic in 5 is that if adherents of minority religions were only religious to a C-of-E extent, it would reduce isolationism and tribalism in religious politics. And probably the number of people trying to blow us up... And I agree absolutely with your question formulation, and the whole free-market-left quandry.

Paddy Carter

Roemer's definition of socialism, written this year, for the Palgrave dictionary, has a crack at the future of socialism:



Good ideas!

The quandry of the free-market left is it has more in common with the free-market right (at least, the less reactionary elements) than the technocratic statism that predominates on the existing centre-left, but has an emotional attachment to being leftwing, by which all you mean, I guess, is 'progressivism'.

Socialism was doomed from the start because almost every branch had some notion of economic planning, or else had to come up with a workaround, what Ken Macleod calls 'funny money'. But the underlying problems, especially the land or property problem and various forms of social unrest, haven't gone away, they've just become less obvious 'cos we're richer.


John: adult literacy and numeracy programmes already are free, for the most part - and quite well funded, too, such that becoming a basic skills tutor is quite lucrative these days.

Otherwise, I'd agree with you on that point - although not really for economic reasons (James Heckman's work tends to tell against it there) but to promote wider social participation.

Re your point 5 (and only for mischief), though: will it support moderate, happy-clappy atheism, too? Because I seem to recall that except for the recent Islamist issues, we had more problems with hardcore atheists this century past?

Chris Williams

(1) Democratic control of pension funds. Sure, most people wouldn't give a toss, or would vote for maximum return every time. But the only way is up.

(2) That drugs thing of John B's.

(3) Elect _all_ local government policymakers. Including cops. Oddly enough, this is closer to Tory than NuLabour thinking, right now.

(4) Various poor-friendly bits of tinkering with the tax and benefit systems.

(5) Enforce the bloody minimum wage for a change.

(6) Green stuff. You know the drill. But add nuclear power.

Paddy Carter

Chris Williams - is there anything especially left wing about those ideas?

Chris Williams

(1) and (5)? Well Paddy, I was trying to respond to the demand for positive policies. I have loads of negative suggestions (notably strengthening trade unions) that would add radical content to the above list in practice.

On the other hand, I was asking myself the same question on the way to work this morning, and reached a conclusion. While statist leftie types (Social democrats, Fabians, Stalin, etc) tend to want to get into power and use government to make things better (or in the case of the Stalinists and Fabians, different), people like me who bang on about being democratic leftists, aren't very happy with this kind of shopping list-driven top-down approach to politics.

We're more into the idea that social movements should mobilise the people to do things for themselves, create vibrant and radical democratic institutions that pervade society, occupy the factories, etc. Government can stand in the way of movements like this, but they can't really substitute themselves for them, nor would we really want them to.

That's the theory. Our practice, therefore, needs to be democratic at all levels, and to encourage democracy, as much as it points out the beneficial ends to which this political movement can direct itself.

The open and consultative budget-setting process in Porto Allegre looks like one illustration of this process. In the British context, the localisation policies followed by my old mates on Walsall council in 1996 (before Blair threw them from the Labour Party for something or other) might also be a worthwhile model to follow.

angry economist

1) create more wealth
2) try and distribute it more fairly
3) whilst trying not to distort the markets too much that create all the wealth
4) stop telling people what to do so much but help enable them to access opportunities
5) try and put practical mechanisms in place for green 'stuff' instead of wittering badly elaborated theories or policy spoutings that public sector bods like me have to respond to.
6) the market in itself can be made to work better for equity and social welfare
7) intervention is not the first nor best response

the list goes on...

Paddy Carter

interesting stuff Chris W, but again I wonder whether there is anything especially left wing about wanting to create vibrant democratic insititions (wouldn't a right-libertarian also back it?). What would a democratic factory look like? - wouldn't it also need to be collectively owned if there is to be effective collective decision making? What decisions would you then like to see these vibrant democratic institutions then making? Left wing ones? What would they look like?

Angry economist - so would you see a defining characteristic of being left wing as a belief in state intervention to "make the market work better for equity and social welfare?" and presumablly that state intervention has some role in 1) creating more wealth and 2) distributing it more fairly. Or am I barking up the wrong tree with state intervention?

I don't disagree with your goals, but what would the tangible left wing policies to achieve them look like?

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