If you like substance and things that matter, it’s not been a very good few months to be alive. Feudal-revivalist royal birthday celebrations. The eye-bulging jingoism of Euro 2016. An abyssal new low for establishment post-truth politics with the EU referendum. False-start leadership elections, grubby will-they-won’t-they political coups. And then the Olympics, where grotesque, mind-mangling amounts of money and resources get blown on a hyper-nationalist willy-waving competition.
But at very least, in its abundance of rubbishness, the summer has left us with some fairly big clues as to what’s gone wrong. We are, after all, hurtling towards a point-of-no-return ecological tipping point, having done more environmental damage in 150 years than any other species has managed in three billion – all to build a civilisation where the richest 10% own half the wealth, use 60% of the resources, and 20,000 people starve to death every day.
It took about six months, but last week I finally got to a Momentum meeting.
Momentum’s a left-wing campaign group – the boisterous, PLP-spooking successor to the grassroots uprising that made Jeremy Corbyn Labour leader, and about the most promising vehicle for non-sectarian radical politics currently out there.
It’s far from perfect. Already, there are things I don’t like about it. I think (even as a Corbyn supporter) there’s a danger it could become a bit too pro-Corbyn – fawningly pro-Corbyn, to the extent that it risks degenerating into some sort of Church of St Jeremy personality cult.
Economics is supposed to be the study of how limited resources can be used to meet unlimited needs. We’re well on the way to shredding the ecosystem with our frenzied excess, so we need it to be that more than ever.
But modern economics isn’t that at all. For a lot of people, that definition doesn’t have anything to do with the E-word as they understand it.
The way economics is presented to us, you’d think it was all about money, banks or business – and those things are definitely hugely important to the type of economics that we’re stuck with at moment. But it would be equally possible to have economics that didn’t involve any of those things.
The reason that suggestion strikes most ordinary modern people as insane is because, in the mainstream, the E-word has been reduced to unsubtle cheerleading for an incredibly specific, biased and ethically dubious way of conducting human affairs. Economics has basically become the study and practice of capitalism. And so, if you’re looking to explain modern economics, that’s where you need to start.Continue reading “What is economics, what is capitalism”→
This is the first post in a new series about economics. Economics is earth-shatteringly important. And yet most people know practically nothing about it. This has had several unfortunate consequences over the years – perhaps most notably, the commanding heights of the modern economy being given over to a lawless cabal of white-collar sociopaths, who are currently in the process of sacrificing what little remains of civilised society in order to make themselves richer and more powerful.
I did 17 years in full time education, including a history degree at what’s supposedly one of the best universities in the world, and came away knowing almost nothing about economics. I emerged, blinking, into the harsh light of adulthood without ever having had a single lesson on the subject, and without a basic understanding of interest, inflation, where money comes from, and a whole host of other colossally important bits and pieces about the way the world works.Continue reading “Economics for Non-Sociopaths: An introduction”→
There’s probably not a god. Life has no big, grand, capitalise-able ‘Meaning’. It’s just physics and biology. Humans are just sacks of chemical reactions. But there’s still right and wrong. And it’s intimately linked to our millennia-spanning pedigree as social animals.
It’s bad to hurt others. It’s good to help others. And it’s bad not to help others when you can help others. Without those basic moral precepts, humanity wouldn’t have survived anywhere near this long.For prehistoric hunter-gatherer societies, hyper-individualism wasn’t an option. You helped each other out, played fairly, shared the spoils equally. Or you died. For 90% of human history, nearly two hundred thousand years, that’s how we lived – millions of years if you count the earlier hominids we evolved from. And it was that social, co-operative lifestyle that the species uniquely adapted to suit. It fundamentally shaped what we are, and what humans need to life emotionally healthy, fulfilling lives.
Radical Atheism is about taking that basic morality – and the implications of atheism more generally – to radical conclusions. If it’s got a central, overriding belief, it’s this: that in an incalculably vast, godless, meaningless universe, the only thing left that really matters is human suffering.Continue reading “Radical Atheism and Human Suffering”→
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.
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 “Modern Socialism #1: The Craze Not Sweeping The Nation”→
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 (Part Two)”→
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 “Oh dear: Growth, Mr Osborne and the ‘UK economy’s’ lovely recovery”→