We are moving from a failed economy to a failed societ. It doesn’t have to be this way.
Robin McAlpine is the director of the Scottish think and do tank Common Weal
Cross-posted from Common Weal
It is hard not to feel something approaching utter fury at the world which has been created around us. You can pretty well take your pick from a list that includes corporate profiteering, widespread impoverishment, reckless climate destruction, the tide going out on democracy wherever you look and the wanton, provocative idiocy of what passes for foreign policy.
In fact you can pretty well choose between fury, fear, bewilderment or broken resignation at any of the above. You could then feel further fury at your own broken resignation, or fear of the fury you can feel around you.
Then you can get your fury, roll it up in a ball and hurl it at the political classes, the last people in the country to realise there is a crisis. As that fury bounces straight off the shields they have built around themselves you can roll up your broken resignation into a ball and hurl it at the system.
When that doesn’t work you can take your fear and direct it inwards. You can let it eat away at you, break your self esteem, induce anxiety and depression. The politicians will mouth sweet nothings about wellbeing and then put you on a two-year waiting list to get help with the anguish their policies have created
Or you could do something else altogether. You could take the lot of it, all that fear, anger, pain, confusion, alienation. You could wrap it all up into one ball, and you could syphon off all the destructive energy contained within it and you could use that energy for something else altogether.
First you could dream. You could believe that this isn’t inevitable, that something else is possible. That something else is possible now. Now you have a dream it provides you with an endlessly renewable source of hope. Even as the politicians take bits of your dream and tarnish them, even as they fail you, you can do more.
Because hope can be freely transformed into determination, and determination can be freely transformed back into hope. No energy is lost in this process. Your hope tells you it can change, your determination gives you means to at least try and make it change. But you also need a plan.
Make no mistake; this whole shitshow is not going to fix itself. Our crap, broken politics is not going to fix itself. So its up to you – fury or determination?
At Common Weal we feel all the fury that everyone is feeling. But we choose hope. We choose it because we believe in it. There is really no need for poverty, no need for profiteering, no need for environmental destruction, no need for elites to roll back democracy to protect their empires.
A nation with bountiful renewable energy need never have inflation in its energy bills. If we build proper renewable infrastructure, are realistic about the cost of maintenance and keep it in public ownership, then it will always cost the same. The wind isn’t any more expensive and nor are the things you have already built.
Of course it would be much better if they were made out of your own material resources. Actually anything is better made out of your own renewable resources. Things that you make out of organic materials (trees, hemp, bamboo) with stably-priced renewable energy rises in cost according to the rise in cost of trees. I.e., not at all. They keep growing, we keep making things with them.
But you need a workforce that can do the growing, the harvesting, the processing, the manufacturing. They need somewhere to live, food to eat, clothes to wear. But houses only become more expensive if politicians and bankers make them more expensive. And they are only more expensive to build if you’re not using your own sustainably-grown construction materials.
Food grows when we care for the soil and when we nurture plants. Between our vast land resources and our capacity to adopt new technologies we can keep those plants growing – any plants we want. Since our inputs are energy and organic materials, those plants don’t get more expensive either.
And if we went back to making clothes out of high-quality materials and caring for them, there too we could meet all our human needs and wants without the assumption of endless and inevitable prices rises. Bamboo, hemp, nettles – you’d be amazed the quality fabrics we can make in Scotland.
That’s the thing about economies; the corporate lobbyists and their tame politicians would have you believe that economies are really complicated, beyond your understanding, something almost mythical – innovation, entrepreneurs, disruption, financiers. This isn’t realistic – the vast majority of the economy is really routine. It is cornflakes and socks and fuel bills and toilet paper.
To extract more and more money from you they try to make it more and more complicated, but most of it isn’t. Take finance – a bank is somewhere to put your money, somewhere to get a mortgage, somewhere to get a loan if you have big lump-sum expenditures to make. Most of the rest of it we can broadly live without.
Instead the finance industries are trying to extract wealth at any opportunity they can see. And when businesses and their suppliers have their wealth extracted then they need to put their prices up. As the banks prey on them, they are forced to prey on you.
Of course that isn’t the end of the story. It may be true that by far the bulk of the economy is really just the provision of basic goods and services, but we are a creative species and we have built wonders. The phone in your pocket is a marvel, and incredibly useful. The games console you or your kids play is quite miraculous and enormous fun. Modern life without a fridge freezer is unpractical.
We do not need to sacrifice these things in a better world; not at all. We can have more of them, on two conditions. The first is that we need them to be the best build quality we can get, so they last. The second is that we need to look after and maintain them. If you chuck them out, you are just draining your own bank account.
Which means they’re more expensive – if you buy them in one go. But if you look after them, if you buy one that lasts and not three you throw away, then over their lifetime they are much cheaper. So to make them cheaper don’t buy them in one go – lease them over a lifetime.
Don’t mistake the potential here – domestic manufacture can’t compete with low-cost labour if you’re in a battle to save ten quid on a washing machine. But if you are building to last, building to be repaired, and if you’re spreading the cost over its lifetime then ten quid here or there doesn’t matter. We can make things again.
All of this creates good jobs and a more equal society with a much bigger tax take as it cuts out corrupt corporations from the picture. We can end insecurity with a Universal Basic Income. No-one needs to fear the future.
And with a stable, secure quality of life we can focus on making our democracy and our culture the best it can be – and so, so much more.
So no, we wouldn’t be entirely inflation-proof because the pour souls who live in countries dominated by corporate corruption will be seeing their prices continue to soar and there will inevitably be things we buy from them. But if that is a much smaller part of our economy then it is a much smaller driver of inflation.
That (and much more) is the Common Weal dream, a society driven by mutualism not constant greed, an ambitious society that works for its citizens and not its elite. A creative and innovative society that gives people the lives they actually deserve.
So if that is the dream, the hope – where does our determination lead us? That is the other driver of Common Weal, the determination to find ways to make this possible. We won’t get there in one jump, but we can make serious progress quickly.
There is far too much to tell you all of the ‘how’, but you can always look at the Big Ideas section of our website or work your way through our extensive policy library. You’ll find proposals for a National Energy Company, a National Infrastructure Company, a mutual Citizens’ Bank, a Universal Basic Income, a housing policy to constrain house prices rises while improving houses.
You’ll find economic strategies for a resource-rich country which boost manufacturing and self-sufficiency. You’ll find extensive detailed plans for decarbonising the country and moving us to a real circular based economy. You’ll find tax plans and plans for democratic innovation. You’ll find no end of determination on our part to say ‘this is not good enough and something better is definitely possible’.
You’ll find all of this and a lot more. And soon we will pull it all together in one comprehensive vision for what an independent Scotland could become.
So cling onto your rage and your fury, extract the energy and let it help you dream. When the hope comes to you, convert that into determination. Because, if enough of us do it, we build a different place.
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