We’re probably all doomed – but that doesn’t mean give up and go home

depressing sea

If we don’t get rid of it, capitalism is going to destroy society. It’s a system geared around delivering ever-increasing profits to big business, and enriching the sociopathic corporate elite that runs the economy. To do that, it needs constant economic growth. To fuel that growth, it needs fossil fuels and never-ending consumerism – and in one mad, 150-year binge after 200,000 years of relative human sobriety, it’s brought the ecosystem that supports us to the brink of catastrophic breakdown.

But we’re not doing anything about it. That’s despite melting icecaps, acidifying oceans, soaring temperatures, the loss of half the planet’s wildlife in the past forty years, and the loss of a third of its farmable land in the last thirty. Continue reading

Disagreeing with Corbyn about growth

6-McDonnell-Corbyn-Get.jpg

Corbyn & McDonnell at the Labour Conference, just after John’s (very growthist) Shadow Chancellor’s speech

I was always going to have to write this post eventually. It’s about an annoyingly difficult moral problem I’ve found myself faced with since September.

That month, Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell, two men I’d seriously consider sacrificing one of my lesser appendages to see put in power, became leader of the opposition and shadow chancellor. It was stupendously unexpected, and probably the best thing that’s happened this decade.

But it quickly raised a big, fat, inconvenient moral-strategic question: what do you do when the two people you’ve long considered the finest protectors of the public good in parliament end up leading the Labour Party – and, in addition to a vast array of stuff you completely agree with, end up doing, saying or standing for one thing you majorly don’t?

Do you start publically disagreeing them with them on the one and only issue that separates you? Or settle into the groove of loyally bigging them up in each and every way you can, and countering the fusillade of media hate and state-backed propaganda that’s being hurled at them? Unfortunately, when the contentious issue in question concerns the most important thing in human affairs, silence isn’t an option. Continue reading

Osborne, Budget ‘Responsibility’ and the Hall of Mirrors Society

Prime Minister David Cameron Visits Manchester

George Osborne has announced his intention to make budget deficits illegal. The government is going to ban itself from spending more than it receives in taxes. Its ultimate aim is a permanent budget surplus – government always spending less than it brings in each year, and therefore turning a profit.

If you’ve done A Level politics, you’ll appreciate how transparently meaningless and PR-motivated a measure that is. No parliament can pass a law that a future parliament can’t change or reverse. So, in essence, what the Tories are doing is making it a legal requirement to do something they’re ideologically committed to doing anyway – by passing a law that can be immediately repealed by the first government that wants to get rid of it.

And if, unlike George Osborne, you’ve studied A Level economics, you’ll appreciate how earth-shatteringly stupid the fixation with balancing budgets is in the first place. Continue reading

Modern Socialism #1: The Craze Not Sweeping The Nation

modern socialist triangle

Not the Modern Socialist triangle, but nice and spinny nonetheless

THE GIST: As the name suggests, Modern Socialism is an attempt to modernise socialism. It’s not about ‘modernisation’ in the toxic, principles-shedding, status quo-pandering New Labour sense of the word. It’s about revamping the radical left into something far more open, accessible, flexible and ecologically-focused.

The Marxes and Engelses of the world thought they’d created a ‘scientific’ socialism, one based on processes and principles they’d divined from studying economics, sociology and history – and that therefore was much better than the wishy-washing moralising of the socialisms that had come before. But a lot of their ‘scientific’ analysis was wrong. A lot of their predictions didn’t come to pass. Meanwhile, it’s always going to be wrong that millionaires exist in a world where people starve.

Rather than some grand, sweeping theory of everything, Modern Socialism needs to be more humble – a values system and a set of priorities used to approach the problems the species faces. A lot of these (appropriately) red lines should be the same ones the Left has always had – egalitarianism, libertarianism, public ownership of crucial services and industries, etc. But there are also areas the conventional Left has tended to neglect, and, unfortunately, they happen to be staggeringly important.

Unforgivably often, left-wingers have ignored immense human suffering in the global South, caused by entirely preventable poverty, starvation and disease. They’ve also been distinctly rubbish about embracing eco-politics on a planet where another hundred or so years of the status quo will probably leave the environment irreparably damaged – and our prospects of survival along with it.

To be properly viable in the twenty-first century, we need a socialism that’s both radically humanitarian and ecological – that takes humanitarian suffering as seriously as it takes anything, and that aims at making genuinely sustainable, egalitarian societies free from dependence on economic growth. Continue reading

Doing It For The Kids: The Environment, The Future, and Whether They Have One

Melting polar ice caps

Melting polar ice caps

Modern mummies and daddies pedestal their progeny to an almost nauseating degree – but without radical change, there won’t be much of a world left for them to inherit.

We’re living in a society where people obsessively dote on their children. Contrary to what practically everyone seems to think, that’s not a good thing. It’s not the doting itself that’s the problem, of course – that’s natural. It’s the extent of it, and what that means for everyone else in the world.

Dismayingly often, modern parenting boils down to prioritising your own little brood over everyone else’s little brood, if not the rest of the species. “You-and-your-family” politics was re-established with a vengeance back in the 1980s, but it’s been hammered ever deeper into the popular consciousness by every government since. It’s pure Thatcherism – really just the cuddlier-sounding flip-side of “there’s no such thing as society”. Strip away the frilly language and you’re left with the “fuck you, buddy” individualism of countries where any notion of social responsibility beyond your own four walls has been decisively smashed. Let the other poor saps’ kids drown – we’ll put little Billy through private school so he’ll come out ultra-competitive/emotionally stunted enough to make it big in market society, while doing his bit to perpetuate horrific social inequality.

Of course, it’s quite a lot to ask of parents to think of other people’s children when they’re proving so spectacularly bad at thinking of their own. They keep popping out sprogs left, right and centre – but most pay startlingly little attention to the world they’re bringing the poor things into. Continue reading

Oh dear: Growth, Mr Osborne and the ‘UK economy’s’ lovely recovery (Part Two)

Spot the 'recovery'

Spot the ‘recovery’

Read Part One here.

The strange thing about neoliberalism – privatisations, deregulation, ‘the market always knows best’, tax cuts for the riches, implacable hostility to government intervention in the economy and the redistribution of wealth – is that despite the general, all-consuming obsession with economic growth, it’s not the best way of bringing it about.

Its fervid disciples will claim it is until the cows come home to find the dairy’s been closed and they’ve all been made redundant. It’s a way of growing the economy, certainly – very far from the best. But it’s definitely the most reliable way of growing the economy in a manner that benefits the richest people the most – in the same way that austerity isn’t the best and only way out of the financial crisis, just the one that inconveniences the rich and powerful the least, leaving them very well placed to consolidate their hold over politics and economics in the ensuing chaos. Continue reading

Oh dear: Growth, Mr Osborne and the ‘UK economy’s’ lovely recovery

Doing very nicely thank you very much

The City: doing very nicely thank you very much

The ‘UK recovery’ isn’t really the UK’s at all – it’s the richest 10%’s, and represents the revival of the kind of grossly unequal, unstable and ecologically catastrophic economy that got us in this mess in the first place.

George Obsorne was on the telly talking about growth, and he looked very pleased with himself. Not a last-minute hormonal spurt making him finally tall enough to ride the log flume at Alton Towers, not the sudden, much-delayed maturation of his long-lost empathy glands making him go home and rethink his life – growth of the dry, dead-behind-the-eyes economic variety.

The Office of National Statistics has reported that the UK economy grew by 0.8% over the last three months. Compared to the sluggish expansion we’ve seen in the six years since the financial crisis, that’s relatively fast. More significantly, it’s taken us above where we were in 2008 – for the first time, the UK economy is now bigger than it was before the financial crash knocked it off its steady upward trajectory. Continue reading