Thursday, January 27, 2005

An alternative vision

Sock Thief links to an interesting article in the LA Weekly, A Vision of Our Own: Four ideas for the left to redefine itself, by John Powers. The first part laments the decline of the left in America, and correctly points out that it is due essentially to laziness: the American left took their dominant position in the 60's and 70's for granted, and rested on their laurels. Meanwhile, funded by a small group of wealthy ultraconservatives, the right was building a network of political committees, media organisations and thinktanks - the infrastructure which underlies their curent ideological dominance. But behind this is a deeper problem. As Powers points out,

Forty years ago, the left represented the future - it crackled with pleasurable possibility - while the right symbolized the repressive past, clinging to dead traditions like shards of a wrecked ship... These days, all that has been stood on its head

Now it is the right that has the clear vision: a market society in which capital is totally dominant, it's holders a new and entrenched aristocracy of wealth. While the left has a good critique of that, it doesn't seem to have a positive vision of its own to offer as an alternative. Now that communism is dead and buried, unable (as Powers says) to act as either a threat or a promise, we are seemingly adrift.

Powers' solution is simple: the left needs to once again define what it stands for. As a starting point, he suggests reclaiming virtue, freedom, pleasure, and utopia from the clutches of the right. These are good ideas, and fleshed out provide a definate alternative vision: a tolerant state, where people are respected regardless of gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation; a state which maximises real freedom for all, rather than focusing on a stunted formal freedom which benefits only the rich; a "leisure society" where a universal basic income frees people from the necessity of having to work simply to eat, and gives them the freedom to make work suit their needs rather than those of employers - or at least one where workers enjoy substantial protections to prevent their employers working them into the ground, and where the goal is to have fewer people working for less time, not more. Mixed together, these are hardly utopia - and besides, utopias are dangerous - but certainly provide a vision that is far better than what we have now.

If all this seems familiar, it's because it's the sort of thing I've been advocating here in various proportions for the past two years (coupled with a strong emphasis on a just international order, rather than one which is simply a tool of the powerful). The alternative visions are out there (given the sheer breadth of the left, they've always been there), it's just a matter of publicising them.


>a "leisure society" where a universal basic income frees people from the necessity of having to work simply to eat

And how is this supposed to work? Perhaps the government just magics some money out of thin air?

Seriously, this is an appalling statement, and it shouldn't take a minute's thought to deem it totally unworkable. What if every person decided that they'd prefer not to work enough to support even themselves? Instead, it relies on the majority of people to be motivated enough to not only earn enough for themselves to eat, but to support the bludgers who can't be bothered. Add in the cost of managing it that is siphoned off the top, and you have a pretty convincing argument why communism could never have worked.


Posted by Anonymous : 1/28/2005 02:46:00 PM

The reason the left doesn't know what it stands for anymore is that its arguments have been well and truly defeated. The "alternative vision" fleshed out below is based on the premise that government is good and private enterprise is something that, at best, is to be tolerated. When thought through in detail it is a sickening vision and one that really at heart has no respect for individuals, morality, and freedom. The society I want is one in which private enterprise is free to do its thing and government is minimized. In the 21st century, it is now abdundantly clear that such societies maximize wealth for *all* citizens and that they have greater respect for individuality, morality, and freedom.

Brian S

Posted by Anonymous : 1/29/2005 10:50:00 PM

Greg: check out Greyshade's stuff on a universal basic income. It's perfectly workable - and according to Keith Rankin, between our welfare system and low-income tax credits, we almost effectively have one in New Zealand (we just don't call it that, obviously...)

As for everyone deciding simply not to work, I think most people want something to do with their time, and most people want to enjoy more than a minimal standard of living. The chief difference is that under a UBI they will be able to be a lot pickier, seeking work they find more rewarding and refusing work that doesn't compensate them properly for their time. Which would mean changes; I expect that several parts of the economy would become unviable. Others would flourish.

From the right's point of view, the chief advantage of a UBI is that it would allow the minimum wage to be much reduced or totally eliminated, allowing various jobs to find their price. The flip-side is that employers will no longer be able to rely on starvation to force people to take whatever conditions are offered. But I guess it depends on whether you value a free-er market, or employer power...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/29/2005 11:36:00 PM