Monday, 22 September 2008


Ok so, I know I was supposed to be writing a follow-up to the thing on The Secret, and that will come. But given the events of the week, I feel compelled to put in my two penneth.

Now normally I wouldn’t actually be that aware of the events of the week. I have no TV, so the emotional rollercoaster that is The News usually passes me by and I get along just fine. But this week I was interviewed on radio 2 so I thought I’d better take an interest, with a view to not coming over like a babbling, out-of-touch fool. Ha. Fooled em.

And I didn’t swear either.

Anyway, I might be wrong but…

… during the foul reign of Demon Thatcher, one of the quotes I remember her coming out with was ‘You cannot buck the market’. This became gospel. Even the Labour party acted as if this was as obvious as the law of gravity. Until this week.

This neo-conservative approach to economics is, and always has been, a foolish position for a Government to take. The idea that people with nothing on their minds but self-interest and short-term gains can somehow, between them, bring economic well-being to all is preposterous.

It’s like putting a bunch of kids in charge of a sweet shop and then being surprised when you get back and find a bunch of fat kids lying in pools of sick and no sweets left on the shelves. The ‘invisible hand of the market’ is flicking the rods at the vast majority of the people on this planet, and ripping the innards out of the planet itself. But it gives us our choice of grande iced flappa-wacker-skinny-chino on rye to go, in like, two minutes, for only five quid, so we don’t really mind. Like the kids in Pinocchio, we don’t realise that, at this very moment, we are becoming donkeys.

This week even Bush and Brown had to wade into the market. They bucked it right up the arse, to the tune of billions of dollars (which is our money by the way, and we will be paying off the debts of the bankers for years to come – now who’s bucked?). So apparently you can buck the market. Big time. Even when you are a neo-conservative glutton living in the post Reagan-Thatcher political wasteland of the Now. But this time the bucking was in the interest of the bankers, rather than the people, so I guess that’s different.

Anyway, not to dwell, moving on. As Schumacher, the Buddhism-inspired economist said, the economy should serve the people, not the other way around. And economics needs to once again take it’s rightful place among a range of factors on the table when any decision is made. At the moment, if something is considered ‘uneconomical’, it is tantamount to saying it is a bad thing to do. Well, a school is uneconomical – it costs society money – but I think it’s a good thing. Leaving coal in the ground is uneconomical – it’s free money just lying there. And yet to dig it up and burn it is to bring a swifter end to life on this planet.

Let’s get our values straight. As one Buddhist ruler (the king of Bhutan) said, let’s measure our nation’s wealth in terms of Gross National Happiness, not Gross National Product. Happiness and ‘stuff’ are not the same thing. And this is even more true when that ‘stuff’ is only owned by 5% of the population.

We need to develop an economy that can look further ahead than the next AGM, or the next election. We must invest in sustainability now. All that money that has been shovelled into the banking system – let’s have an equivalent amount pulled out of the hat for renewable energy projects. Let’s have the Western world running on solar, and let’s have that powering our electric cars.

We must let go of the idea of economic growth. We must look at re-developing small-scale, local economies, not international conglomerates. Why have your apples shipped in from New Zealand when you can grow them in your back garden? How healthy can an economic system be in which such a thing is considered economical???

And we must learn to trust our local networks again. The move towards needing a standardised certificate in order to do anything is a move towards robotism and anonymity. If you want to know whether someone will do a good job, ask the people in your community who have used them. And if you don’t know people in your community, get to know them. This is the way to stabilise the international markets. When things are small again, when they cannot be standardised and homogenised, then we will have balance.

And those aspects of our economy, and society, which need to be on a large scale should be, gasp!, run by the Government – that is, we allow others to run our businesses on our behalf, and for our benefit. If they are not run well by the Government, this is not a sign that public institutions cannot run well, it is a sign that we need to change those in power to others who are more competent.

The utility companies, the health service, the transport and communications infrastructure, and so on do not need to be profit-making, they just need to break even. Looking after this (and defence) is all the Government should be there for, as far as I can see. The rest of it only really works if it happens on a fairly small scale, in our own communities. As Thoreau says (who I am re-reading at the moment for an upcoming project – of which more to follow), "That government is best which governs least."

Now this idea is a dangerous one for sure. It has been hi-jacked by the right wingers to mean that we should let those with no scruples do as they please, and make preposterous sums of money in the process. But really, we must educate our children so that they grow beyond such things before puberty, or at the very least before they choose a career. We are a nation of infants, and thus we require a Government to act as our parent. And what a bad parent the Government is. It sits half of us in front of the telly all day, while the other half wreck the house and steal our toys. No, this is not the way. We must be reared, and matured. We must self-parent and parent each other. And the Government must relinquish its power over us and shrink away, as we become capable of taking on that power ourselves.

But of course, as is the case with most teenagers, this is not a mature handover to a mature young person. It is a power struggle; an ongoing negotiation which takes place over many years.

There is no perfect system, but as systems go, democracy is as far as I can make out, the best. And real democracy – rule by the people – happens at community level. And in the end it happens at individual level. If we police ourselves, why would we need police? If we censor ourselves, we can confidently do away with the censors.

1 comment:

becky said...

Brilliant, Padma. A "common sense" (that isn't very common these days) approach to economics...

Thank you for articulating these truths so plainly, and cogently.

Best wishes,

becky kemery
Author of "YURTS: Living in the Round"