Sunday, 18 June 2017

Classism and Employment Contracts

The leadership in the UK blindly trundles on believing that there is nothing in the British capitalistic system that would cause a person to pursue an action against the state (i.e. terrorism). I argue that this is blindness to the very structure and organisation of the capitalist system. Martin Luther King Jr. (1968) saw that the civil rights movement had achieved changes in race relationships but the underlying issues of racism, materialism, and militarism remained. The struggle had to continue for the poor of any race and for poor nations. This struggle must continue since colonialism, classism, materialism, and militarism are not dead. They continue to drive our society in subtle ways and are engrained in many of our attitudes.

What I believe King was seeing is the impact of a framing story, a story that we live by. Our framing stories do not change overnight or simply because there is a law change. A framing story requires conceptual change. A change in the way we think and the assumptions that we use on a daily basis. The old colonies may have been given their independence but if we are continuing to try a dictate how they develop then we still have a colonial attitude. The class system may be dismantled but if we endeavour to keep someone in a particular state of employment then we still have classism.

I see the problems of framing stories on a daily basis. They come across in the way news is presented and in the reactions to disasters or acts of violence but they also come across in daily workplace interactions. This became clear again to me through the process of discussing workloads and contractual status for the next academic year. What do I mean?

I have touched on the ideas of economic slavery in previous posts (21 February 201523April 2017, 14 May 2017). In those, I have argued that the type of work or the employment position dictates someone's status in the economic order. However, I want to take this idea further in this post. I am going to contend that employment contracts can and are used as a way of keeping people in their place. It was clear in discussions that I have had this week that what my employment contract says is more important than what I am capable of doing or even might be interested in doing. The discussion wasn't simply about my work for the next academic year, it was also about the lack of prospects for those on similar contracts. I was left in no doubt that those on contracts like mine should not expect to do anything else but be a teaching slave (my terminology) and they should accept that as the basis of their employment contract.

This isn't about promotion since promotion is possible within my contract. This is about the nature of the work and the expectations that people on my type of contract should have. It assumes that a person accepting my type of contract, accepted it because all they wanted to do was teach and not to explore the subject or how to communicate the subject. Most of those that I have talked to took the contract because they wanted to pursue an academic career. Many like myself found it difficult to obtain lecturer status because they didn't yet have the research background or because their field of research isn't widely supported or encouraged, or there were family reasons for not moving from their current location. Mobility is assumed when it comes to career paths but mobility isn't always possible.

Having grown up in a society where stepping outside the bounds of contractual agreements was encouraged and working to change things for the better was fostered, this attitude of contractual containment irritates and frustrates. What I see in contractual enforcement is simply another form of classism. The original class structure seemed to be about who your parents were or the class into which you were born (I still see this existing even in more liberal societies). This modern form of classism seems to be about what your employment contract is or says. There is no understanding of individual potential (25 March 2017) and definitely no encouragement to pursue creativity outside the limited sphere of your contract.

As the civil rights movement saw changes in the law to end segregation and to achieve voter registration for all, they also saw an increase in riots primarily initiated by the poor or disadvantaged. This I believe is what we see now with the acts of violence in our society. Some who feel trapped in the system of poverty or employment contracts or conformity to western capitalistic attitudes find their escape through attacking the very culture that makes them feel trapped. The riots of the 1960s tended to be against property but what we are seeing in the current wave of violence is that it is against people. Maybe this says something about the current feelings of entrapment within the system. The poverty or lack of status isn't about ownership or access to ownership (i.e. property or possessions). It is about the way they are treated or respected. An employment contract or the enforcement of an employment contract can be a catalyst for feeling mistreated and disrespected. It can be a way of keeping a person in their place. The difficulty is that this attitude is implicit in the way they are enforced and upheld and many who express this attitude do not realise what they are saying to those who feel entrapped by the contract and system.

One place where we can start to address this particular issue is through the focus of education and shifting the focus to enabling potential and away from employability but this same attitude can apply to employment contracts. A employment contract can seen as tool to keep someone in their place, just as the class system did, or we can see the employment contract as giving space to develop and grow according to a person's potential. This is about respecting the individual for who they are and not simply treating them as part of the system.

Reference


King Jr., M. L. (1968). Where do we go from here: Chaos or community? Boston: Beacon Press.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

A Call for Peace Building Programmes

This week has seen a suicide bomber kill people in Manchester, Jeremy Corbyn state that UK foreign policy is implicit in and part of creating terrorists, Theresa May condemn Corbyn for excusing terrorists actions even though he never did, receiving an announcement about a peace and conflict studies MA at Coventry University, and this morning reading a story about an American soldier in the Iraq war's struggle with despair and loneliness (Arnold, 2002). My conclusion is that all who pursue the course of violence as a solution to conflict or who build weapons to enable violence are equally at fault. No government that has entered into a war is innocent of killing and maiming innocent people who live in these territories. They also send their young people to be killed in wars that have little meaning other than in the power struggles of the leaders.

A quick search for possible statistics on the arms trade reveals the following headlines: “Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world” (Stone, 5 September 2016), “UK weapons sales to oppressive regimes to £3bn a year” (Doward, 28 May 2016), and “America's arms exports dominate despite global competition” (Soergel, 27 December 2016). The list of articles goes on but are these based on accurate statistics? Few, look at the consequences of this trade on world peace or the nations to which this weaponry is sent.

The search also uncovered the following statistical sources: The UK government statistics on defence and security export for 2015, and UK trade statistical bulletins. The trade statistics may hide some of the military exports in other classifications such as the sales of aircraft but for 2016, the sales of arms and ammunition was £884 million pounds out of a total export of £160 billion. Aircraft sales was over £8 billion and I am assuming some of that is military aircraft. The March 2017 statistics show similar trends. UK defence and security export figures are available separately (see references).

What left me horrified was the apparent openness to accepting these military sales as just another part of the export trade. Like all trade, increased trade in defence and security is seen as good and decline in trade is seen as bad despite the evidence of the misuse of this equipment. It seems growth in the arms trade is desirable regardless of the consequences.

If I come back to the debate, I see the UK having a vested interest in fostering violence in other parts of the world. It is good for UK exports. The problem is the complete disconnect between this fostering of violence elsewhere and the increase in violence at home. It seems that it is alright for us to commit acts of violence on foreign soil but not alright for those people to react back in violence. That sounds like parents hitting their children to apply discipline.

Our acts of violence are not the only way that we show that violence is the way to deal with international problems or that drive individuals to feel not wanted or enabled in society. The government attitude of penalising those already suffering (i.e. the unemployed, homeless, and poor) also adds to alienation and not feeling part of society. The message that we portray is that if you are disadvantaged or suffering then expect to be accused of it being your fault. There is no understanding of the implications of the reactions of people when they are trapped and depressed. There is even less awareness of the consequences of inequality on the quality of life and cost structures of society.

We need new ways of looking at international conflict and dealing with inequality. Continually seeing it as the fault of the other person doesn't heal the wounds and bring peace. This is where I see the value of more emphasis on peace and conflict studies. Shouldn't we spend as much or more in peace studies and peace-building as we do in research on armaments. ways to destroy each other, and armament construction?

As I write this, I am wondering about whether I am prepared to take the risk of losing my current income in order to learn more about peace-building and how to apply it internationally and locally. This seems to me were solutions to our current world crisis can be found and not in the weapons of war.

Not directly related but I don't see the current education system with its focus on grades and employability delivering solutions to the current crisis. Shouldn't education be working alongside people so they develop the skills, thinking ability, and critical assessment skills so that they can search out the evidence rather than simply pull what someone else has said as a solution to the problem? Doesn't this also start with relationship building or peace building and not a judgemental system that is sole destroying to the participants.

References


Johann Christoph Arnold (2002) Escape Routes for people who feel trapped in life's hells. Plough Publishing House.

Jon Stone (5 September 2016) Britain is now the second biggest arms dealer in the world. Independent, Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/britain-is-now-the-second-biggest-arms-dealer-in-the-world-a7225351.html.

Jamie Doward (28 May 2016) UK weapons sales to oppressive regimes to £3bn a year. The Guarden, Available from: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/28/uk-weapons-sold-countries-poor-human-rights-saudi-arabia.

Andrew Soergel (27 December 2016) America's arms exports dominate despite global competition. U.S. News, Available from: https://www.usnews.com/news/articles/2016-12-27/americas-arms-exports-dominate-despite-global-competition.



Department of International Trade Defence and Security Organisation (26 July 2016) UK defence and security export figures. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/uk-defence-and-security-export-figures-2015.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

When the people lead, leaders will follow

As I have read more of Martin Luther King's writings and speeches, I am reminded of the quote attributed to Mahatma Gandhi: “When the people lead, leaders will follow”. I am particularly reminded of this when King (1967) in the third of his Massey lectures for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation talks about the young negroes ceasing to imitate “whites in dress, conduct, and thought in a rigid, middle-class pattern” and “began initiating” (p 46). The result of this change was that the young negroes changed from being followers to being leaders of social change.

In the fourth lecture, King talks of the laws being in place and commissions having written reports but still no change was happening for those in poverty and segregation was not being broken down. It was not until the people took to nonviolent resistance being willing to go to jail in their masses that the political leaders began to implement what the law and commissions had already said was what should happen. The people caused the change in direction. It was not the elected leaders or the industry decision makers, those in business leadership, those with a stake in keeping the system as it is. These were the people who failed to provide the leadership for change. The leadership for change had to come from the people.

Why do I think this is relevant for now? I see in the British election an attempt of a leader to strengthen her hand for the changes that she wants to make in British Society. She, Theresa May believes that she has a majority backing of the people to take Britain out of the European Union. This is the will of the people she keeps telling the 48% who voted remain. What she is not saying is whether all the other policies that she wants to force through are the will of the people. She would prefer not to talk about those.

However, the key issue here is that she in her so called position of leadership seeks to follow the will of the people as fashioned by an election campaign. If she gets the majority in the forth coming election, it will not just be Brexit that she will claim is the will of the people but the whole package of social reforms tucked into a manifesto that few will actually read. She will swear adamantly that the vote for a Conservative Government means that Conservative policy is the will of the people.

However, there is another element of King's message that is easily overlooked. This is the place of the middle-class. King in the third lecture goes on to say “It is ironic that today so many educators and sociologists are seeking methods to instil middle-class values in Negro youth as ideal in social development. It was precisely when young Negroes threw off their middle-class values that they made an historic social contribution. They abandoned those values when they put careers and wealth in a secondary role. When they cheerfully became jailbirds and troublemakers” (p p 46-47).

Hidden in this message is the power of middle-class thought to control the population and restrict the prospect of change. This message still applies today with the British education system instilling in the youth of today the middle-class values that will hopefully make them followers rather than free thinkers. The problem is that "Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave." (Lord Henry Brougham). The type of education desired by leaders is the education that encourages conformity to the current middle-class norms but education should encourage critical analysis and when that occurs the people will in time revolt against the indoctrination and attempts to enslave.

However, there is also another way to look at this message and this is how do we encourage the middle-class to seek the changes that are necessary and not simply to go along with the way things are? We have to challenge those middle-class norms and the comfort that the middle-class feel they have obtained. Racial segregation would never have been removed from the US if the middle-class had not felt that their position and status was under threat. It was as their felt sense of security declined that they became willing to change. Lecturing people on the monetary system or inequality will not bring change. Those who want to hear listen to lectures. We need to motivate change by challenging the security of the middle-class so they are motivated by their self interest to support the required changes.

King's fourth lecture to some extent addresses this issue because following the nonviolent resistance that brought down segregation, there were riots in the US that King describes as being against property. King didn't support the riots but understood what motivated the rioters. However, this raises the issue of what is the best approach to expose evil in the system and bring about the changes that are necessary?

Martin Luther nailed his proclamations to the doors of the of the temples of his day. Could we nail our proclamations on the doors of financial services organisations, the temples of modern society? Or should we camp outside these temples as the Occupy movement endeavoured to do without success? Or should we as the civil rights marchers did hold our ground nonviolently in resistance being willing to fill up the jail system for the changes we believe are required? Or do we implement our own solutions that disrupt and expose the corruption of the current system? Or should we like the rioters physically attack the physical buildings (not the people as terrorists tend to do) that these institutions operate from? Or do we use some other invasive attack that destroys the financial infrastructure? I exclude terrorism or attacks against people but I also would argue against destructive attacks against property or systems.

The course to change is motivating the people so that in large numbers they demand the changes required. Ideally, I would contend we achieve this through nonviolent resistance and through working to build the alternative structures required as the current system comes crashing down. The 2008 financial crash was an opportunity for change but no one believed there was an alternative system or way of operating. The wheels need to be in motion for the alternative as the current system begins to crumble under the pressure of the masses rising up in protest against its suicidal path.

References

King Jr., M. L. (1967). The trumpet of conscience. Boston: Beacon Press.
King Jr., M. L. (1967). Youth and social action The trumpet of conscience (pp. 37-51). Boston: Beacon Press.

King Jr., M. L. (1967). Nonviolence and social change The trumpet of conscience (pp. 55-66). Boston: Beacon Press.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

What drives terrorism?

Martin Luther King Jr. (1967) in one of his Massey Lectures quotes Victor Hugo who said “If the soul is left in darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.” King used this quote in the context of talking about riots in the US against segregation and unequal opportunities. King wasn't endeavouring to justify the riots but was showing that he understood why the repressed might accept violence as an option.

For me, what is key in Victor Hugo's comment and in King's talk is that the oppressors or those causing darkness blame the rioters or those rising up against their regimes. In our case, the western world is blaming those rising up to oppose them as being at fault. This blame is revealed in the name that is given to them (i.e. terrorist). There is little consideration given for why they are rising up in opposition to western regimes. That would be to acknowledge that we have done something that caused them to feel downtrodden or neglected or ... and that we are causing the “darkness”. The “terrorists” are “terrorists” because of their attitudes and nothing to do with our actions.

If this sounds a little like blaming the poor for being poor because they are unwilling to work and you don't believe this lie then you are getting my message. The poor are poor because of the nature of the system that we work under. A system that rewards (transfers the wealth to) the rich and enslaves everyone else. Our system relies on some people taking on less skilled essential work at lower rates of pay in order to survive. Because it is seen as low skilled work, it is believed they are easily replaced (i.e. they are just another resource in the system that can be replaced if required).

What I call “economic slavery” is the foundation of western capitalism and free markets. A market requires consumers preferably with artificial needs and in order to be come a consumer, you have to contribute to production. That is we will engender false needs in order to create a need for something that has no value and then force people to work to produce meaningless outcomes.

Despite all the claims of equal opportunities, this just isn't the truth of how the system operates. The market driven economy puts a price on everything including human life and the environment. By insisting that people must work to have an income and then controlling their status in the system and what they are paid based on perceived market value, we are simply enslaving people to the system. A system that is unwilling to pay the price for unskilled essential work to be done. A system which through a education process increasingly aimed at employability and competition squashes people into roles and lifestyles based on their assessed ability. A system that doesn't look at a person's potential but simply looks to fit them into a cog in the system.

Under such a system should we be surprised that there is increasing dissatisfaction with the established elite?

References


M.L. King Jr. (1967) The Trumpet of Conscience. Boston: Beacon Press.

Is the record stuck? The issue of leadership

Those of us who recall vinyl records for our music can remember when scratches on the surface caused the needle to get stuck and it repeated the same portion of a track over and over again. That is what the UK elections seem to be about. Despite efforts by some politicians to move on, much of the British News media is stuck on BRExit and Corbyn's ability to be Prime Minister. Of course there is the usual themes of the Conservatives are better financial managers (not supported by the economic facts – see https://mainlymacro.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/economic-competence-revisited.html) but the crunch really should be what type of society do we want.

The issue with Theresa May is that she is stuck in a record of strong economic management and the need to be strong for a 'hard' BRexit. So far, she seems to have shown little willingness to listen and seems dogmatic on an approach to exit that doesn't seem to be taking into account realities. As a leader, she seems to welcome the use of military force and unwilling to hear messages that suggest the economy and society might be racing in the wrong direction. Her message seems to be trust me, I know where I am going but what I see is that she hasn't a clue where she is going or she is totally unable to communicate it.

Is Jeremy Corbyn and Labour the solution? I see Jeremy Corbyn as a leader struggling to maintain his own principles in the face of a parliamentary party that largely disagrees with him and a membership that seemed to back his ideals. The result is policy that is neither what he really wants nor what the parliamentary party desires. As a compromise there is no clear message to the public and for better or worse what appears to be weak leadership. Corbyn seems to be in a no win situation unless the parliamentary Labour Party listens more to its membership and less to its concerns about gaining power.

What is a viable solution? The Labour party seems to have ruled out the possibility of a progressive alliance with other parties who hold some similar views. Labour like the Conservatives seems to want to hold on to a first past the post electoral system even though this clearly favours the Conservatives. The Conservatives seem to be able to support diversity and disunity in their ranks better than the Labour Party. Unless Labour is able to work with a diversity of views on the left, I see the UK continuing with a Conservative government and a race to 'hard' BRexit. The solution has to be in the melding of a stronger opposition grouping, a progressive alliance, to the Conservatives. One that is prepared to allow diversity of views but not allow itself to be disabled by that diversity.

I doubt whether either the Conservatives or Labour could work as a minority government having to negotiate policy with minor parties or each other for the best for the UK. The idea of government and opposition is so ingrained in British politics that they do not know how to arrive at a consensus to deliver government that is the best interests of the nation.

I see neither major party leader as someone I really want as Prime Minister and neither party as the government that I want to see leading during this time of upheaval. I want to see neither party having a majority in the house and I would prefer that none of the minor parties entered into a formal coalition. What I would prefer to see is that the minor parties would pledge to support the highest polling party on any vote that would bring down the government but would have the freedom to vote according to their party policies on any legislation brought before the house. However, this takes a different attitude to those shown at present by the Conservatives and Labour.

In or out of Europe?

Let me say up front that I do not believe Britain is in a state where it can leave Europe without economic consequences. I say this because of the “single”/”global” market mentality. This mentality says we have to export what we produce in order to have a local economy. It argues that we need access to the European common market in order for Britain to survive.

Is there an alternative to dependency on Europe or some other external market? I believe there is and I believe it doesn't mean isolation from the rest of the world. Let me try to explain.

The health of any nations economy tends to depend on the health of the world economy. This is because we have headed toward global markets. As a result, an economic blip in one country tends to vibrate around the world causing economic shocks or blips in other nations.

What would happen if instead of focusing on a global market, we focussed instead on vibrant, sustainable local markets and communities. This isn't to eliminate trade between communities but it is about giving priority to the health of local markets over the larger world market. If local markets are healthy and providing the bulk of the essentials for a local community then there is less likelihood that a local glitch in one economy would rebound through other local economies. This doesn't stop local economies and communities helping each other when times are tough but does remove the effect of global economic impacts.

A local sustainable market would have its own currency and have control over its own currency. The objective of the local currency should be on ensuring that local resources can be interchanged in an equitable manner to meet needs. This means it can be used to facilitate the local economy without concern for wider economic activity. To understand how this might happen, you need to understand monetary systems including the way money is created and how the money supplied is maintained. There should always be enough money in a local economy for it to buy and sell the goods and services that it produces provided there is no over supply of those goods and services. The foundation of money is a promise to supply goods and services to the value of the currency. Just a word of caution, I place the emphasis on meeting needs and not on building artificial markets. The way we construct local markets will influence rates of resource consumption and wastage. Excess goods and services produced by a community is what it uses to exchange with other communities for goods and services which it is unable to produce for itself but again the focus should be on need and not maximising profit or growth. Being sustainable means that it wants to ensure a continued viability in the local market and community and not extract current goods and services for short term gain at the expense of longer term viability.

There are other advantages of local economies and these relate to community spirit and community building. The global economy tends to draw people away from their local community and consequently decrease local dependency and interaction. This also means a decrease in the awareness of need within the local community. Restoring a local economy helps get people interacting on a local basis and builds more awareness of each other's needs.

Interaction between local communities starts at regional level and then a national level finally leading to exchange between nations. At all levels, the focus needs to be on satisfying needs and ensuring sustainability. As soon as it switches to maximising profit or return on services, the community spirit is destroyed and inequality will increase.

So, I could accept BRexit if I saw more vibrant sustainable local economies operating in the UK. Since I don't and I don't see any group advocating BRexit promoting such a strategy, I don't believe BRexit is a good idea.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

“I am not your negro”

Last night, we went to watch a documentary movie called “I am not your negro” (Baldwin and Peck, 2016). For me, it clearly emphasised the attitude toward people of black skin that existed and continues to exist in some areas. The film makers are clearly looking back but at the same time, they are commenting on more recent events in the USA that relate to the way people of colour are treated. In an interview sequence in the film, an academic is brought in to join a TV discussion of the race issue and he tries to broaden the issue to say that it isn't a race issue but an attitudinal issue toward people of different status. Like Baldwin, I agree that it is predominately skin colour that determines the position of the black American. It isn't the black person's social status or work status.

However, I want to also emphasis that there is still social class discrimination in existence in a number of places around the world. At this moment in time as the UK faces an election, I want to say to the UK's political elite, “I am not your economic slave”. When I hear many of Britain's political elite talking about making the economy work for the people and I look at the statistics available on wealth or income distribution over the last 70 years (Office of National Statistics, 2017; HM Revenue & Customs, 2017), I have to conclude that by “the people”, they mean the wealthy or what they might call “the wealth generators”. In watching a Murdoch Mystery, I heard one of the actors talking about the impact of automation saying that the people would enjoy the new leisure time and wealth as a result of automation. The political elite and the Murdoch Mystery writer share the belief that somehow the system will distribute the wealth even to those put out of work by new technologies or in labour intensive jobs. The reality is different. Wealth accumulates where wealth already exists.

The clear message from many politicians holding the more conservative framing story of the world is that we have to work to pay our way and if we don't work, we shouldn't expect to receive a living. So who actually gains from automation or improving production. Is it the workers or do we have to create meaningless jobs to ensure the displaced workers still have a way of earning money.

The clear message is that we have to work. That is we have to be economic slaves. So where Baldwin and the film maker want to say “I am not your negro”, I want to cry out, “I am not your economic slave”. Yes, I am willing to work but the elite have to ensure that what I receive for that work enables me and those like me or worse off than me to enjoy the same benefits of the so called economic progress.

On a more personal note, I want to say to many employers and work colleagues, “I am not your 'work position' slave” or “I am not your intellectual inferior”. I want to say this because I see the attitude of eliteness or discrimination as a basic problem in societies. I have heard in discussions comments along the lines of 'person x' should not receive any more since they are not contributing to the new knowledge, new product, new … or 'person y' shouldn't be given the position in field z because they are using the methods of that field and we don't think those methods are appropriate (i.e. are not as good as the methods my field uses). These are attitudes of snobbery and elitism that lead to the problems of slavery and exploitation.

So like Baldwin, I want to say there is no place for giving status based on skin colour but Like Martin Luther King, Jr., I want to recognise the wider problems created by inequality, our current economic thinking, and discriminatory practices.

References:

James Baldwin and Raoul Peck, 2016, I am not your negro. France: Velvet Films.

Office for National Statistics (2016) Equivalised disposable household income (dataset). Available from: https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/personalandhouseholdfinances/incomeandwealth/datasets/equivaliseddisposablehouseholdincome.

HM Revenue & Customs (2017) Personal income statistics 2014-15. Available from: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/608854/National_Statistics_T3_1_to_T3_11_publication_2014_15_revised.pdf.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Economic Principles

As I reflected on King's (2012) sermon Paul's letter to American Christians” (pp 141-150), I began to reflect on the meaning of the neo-liberal principles and the progressive principles that we have developed with a group of others here in Birmingham, UK.

The principles are:

Neo-Liberal PrinciplesProgressive Principles
Free marketsEnabling potential
Small StateSustainable environment
Low taxEqual society
Individual LibertyParticipatory democracy
Big defenceAn economy for the common good

In this blog, I am going to look at these principles and how I interpret their meaning. On the way, I will look at alternative wordings and the criticisms that I have of these alternatives.

Free Markets

The first neo-liberal principle is free markets. The emphasis of criticism of this principle often focuses on “free” and its interpretation. As a result, people talk of regulated markets as the opposite to free markets. Free markets in my view isn't about equality, equity, or the meeting of needs. Free markets are about the powerful and wealthy being able to exploit the weak and poor for their own gain. Free markets might work if the playing field was even and all were able to compete on equal terms. The reality is that those with the resources or access to the resources have the advantage and can dominate the market.

The alternative proposal of regulated markets is aimed at trying to reduce the exploitation. It is argued if the markets are regulated then you restrict the exploitation and endeavour to balance the economic harm of the markets.

This raises my real concern. The debate shouldn't be about free verses regulated or some other form of market. We should be asking whether markets is the best way to organise our interaction with each other. Markets are not about meeting needs or satisfying needs. Markets are about protecting one's self-interest supposedly while meeting a need (market demand) of society. The market requires that I sell my services or produce in order to meet my needs. What happens when the service or product that I supply becomes redundant. Anyone who has looked at history and especially family histories will come across stories where a family was prosperous because the income earner offered a service that was in high demand. Then as new technologies were developed, their service or skill was no longer required. In a very short time, they went from self sufficient to living in the poor house. The market says they should have retrained and adapted to the needs of the market but is that always possible.

Here I share something from my own experience. In 1990, after entering the computing industry through studying computer science in the early 1970's, the computing industry began to use smaller equipment. I learnt on machines that were called mainframes although in reality they had less memory, disk capacity, and processing power than any current personal computer and smart phone. I had seen these machines grow in capacity and processing capability over that nearly twenty year period. In the early 1980's, the PC became a viable tool and the mainframe and mini computer (yes, there was another reduction in size from the mainframe before the PC and I had transitioned that change) but in 1990 when I looked to change jobs and move into what I saw as the new direction of computing, I was told categorically by an employment agent that I would never be able to program these new PCs. In his view, I was a mainframe programmer and would never understand the demands of programming a PC. In his view, I was now redundant and should expect to scrape for an existence and never expect to receive the rewards of the new market for programmers that was represented by PCs.

Let me add a little more context. I learnt my programming skills using punch cards on a machine that could only run one program at a time. That moved to a mini-computer system that had a terminal attached (printed output and keyboard input). My first programming job saw me use early terminals and work in an environment where we were implementing the first network of terminals. That saw me develop an early build system to address issues of sharing code with others from a central repository of code. It also saw me working with low level network protocols and moving from networks where each terminal device was connected by its own cable to the computer to networks where the devices shared a cable and had a unique address. I also worked with some of the early network controllers that would manage small networks of terminals and that interacted with the mainframe. We had to understand what happened when a network connection failed and how to restore process as though no network failure had occurred when the network was restored. I had also been involved in the early PC based bulletin board networks called Fidonet and the transition to the initial public release of the Internet. To be told that my personal learning was irrelevant and that only my work history on mainframes was relevant to job seeking showed to me what markets are about. Markets can throw people on the scrap heap. They have no concern for the individual. They are based on supply and demand.

I don't believe that supply and demand is a sound basis for organising the interaction between individuals and ensuring an equitable distribution of resources. However, this is the foundation of a market philosophy. As I write this, we see in the UK, education taking on this market philosophy supposedly as a way of improving education. Schools now advertise their rating as a way of drawing customers (sorry pupils). Universities are now rated so that customers (students) can decide which university provides the best educational opportunities. Educational success is measured in the pay pack and not the ability to solve the real problems of life and society. Research is becoming about what can earn funding and not about what is important to improve life, educational outcomes, etc.

Yes, I am possibly over emphasising the negatives but lets take a look at what markets actually do. The market forces a company to compete but not just to compete. It forces companies to produce new products regardless of the demand because they need to keep selling to survive. Technology companies are not interested in longevity of their products or recycling since that would work against profitability, a key requirement of a market driven economy. Marketing moves form helping people to be aware of the options that are available to meet their needs to generating a demand for something that people really do not need. Waste becomes a necessity and an unwanted byproduct. Industries are developed that deliver nothing of value except meaningless jobs since people must earn an income. Technology wise, the quality of life seems to improve but the real quality of life declines as mental health deteriorates and stress levels increase through dependence on meaningless work.

So why do we want markets? We want markets as a way of meeting needs but we have lost sight of the needs and focused on the return on investment, the personal profit, the personal gain. Satisfying needs has to become the priority and not the market. Education has to focus on quality of life and not conformance to a system that enslaves people to work. So what would be a better principle? Need fulfilment? Gift economy? That is a big shift in thinking.

Small State

The argument for small state comes from the view that a large state infringes on the market and anything that infringes on the market is bad. Markets in theory should be self balancing. The supply and demand curve should ensure that redundant markets vanish and only what is really needed continues to thrive. State is about control and intrusion, It isn't seen as ensuring that there is fairness in the distribution of resources. In my very cynical view, a small state means reducing regulation so that the wealthy and powerful are not restricted in their exploitation of the weak and poor.

I am not particularly keen on regulation and large state but I don't want markets to dominate the interaction between people. If a larger state is what we have to pay for to ensure greater equity in our market operations then I support a big state but are there other options based on local sustainable communities and relationship building? Is it possible that like the market driven economy, we have lost sight of the local relationships that controlled exploitation and ensured equitable distribution of a community's resources? The question shouldn't be about the size of the state. The question should be about how we ensure equitable distribution and how we ensure that we are living a sustainable lifestyle in relation to each other and the environment in which we live.

If small state helps bring about cooperative communities, sustainable communities, and sustainable environment then I vote for small state but if it simply means the increasing of wealth for the few then I vote for large state and regulation. Let us make sure that we have the right focus.

Low Tax

Low tax is a natural outcome of the small state but it is also about maximising the return for self and not the community. There is another element here of small state and low taxes that is not immediately obvious. This is about who controls the money supply. We could have low taxes with a large state if we did not leave the money supply in the hands of private banks (Jackson & Dyson, 2012; Jackson, 2013).

I would go further and argue that money is part of the problem because it is about accounting for our transactions so that I can ensure that I come out of a transaction better off than you. What would happen if our method of accounting for transactions was based on whether needs were satisfied and the environment was cared for? Would we need taxes or would we all be thinking about how we cared for the things that we pay taxes to get the government to care for (i.e. waste disposal, transport infrastructure, …)? If our focus is incorrect then we get the wrong outcomes and at a cost that exceeds what is possible.

So what is my alternative to low tax? Similar to small state, I am thinking in terms of relationship building, local empowering, empowered communities, or maybe as the progressive principles say “participatory democracy” although I see that terminology hiding the underlying principle of relationship building.

Individual Liberty

This is about me being able to do as I want without interference from you. From the perspective of neo-liberalism, it is about ensuring that nothing blocks my ability to profit and store up treasures for myself at the expense of all others. This completely contradicts any concept of recognising the relational nature of communities and the strengths of working together.

We used to use an idea about privileges and responsibilities, and actions and consequences when doing inductions at an educational institute that I worked for.

PrivilegesResponsibilities
ActionsConsequences

We purposely talked of privileges rather than rights. To claim a right is to claim something for self. To claim a privilege is to recognise what society has made available to me. However, claiming a privilege carried with responsibilities back to the community that provided the privilege. This helped us recognise our responsibility to others and that we are part of a community and not simply individuals seeking our own survival. The second part simply recognised that out actions carried consequences not simply for ourselves but for the community that we were a part of.

Individual liberty degrades this understanding of being part of a wider community, of sharing in the benefits that the community offers, taking on the responsibilities to maintain that community, to act responsibly with the community in mind recognising the consequences of our actions.

However, I want to go further. Our responsibility includes helping others fulfil their potential. Our lives are not solely about us. Our lives are about others and what they can achieve. There has to be a balance between our own privileges and the privileges or opportunities that we help make available to others.

Big Defence

To me, it is a contradiction to talk about small state and big defence but big defence is the consequence of the keeping for self that these neo-liberal principles promote. Big defence is about security and in particular that element of security that focuses on keeping what I have for myself. If you lack equality then you need defence to ensure that you keep that advantage. Defence is about giving some the feeling of being a part of something bigger while using them to protect something that they have no access to.

In a military campaign, it isn't the politicians or the military strategists that are putting themselves at risk. It is the lowly soldier who we claim as heroes that put themselves at risk at the command of people who to a large extent are focused on maintaining their position of superiority.

Peace is not achieved and never has been achieved by military force. Peace is achieved by understanding the issues that separate us and the wrongs that we have done to each other. It is about being willing to repent of the things that we have done against others and the environment and work toward restoring a positive relationship. It is my belief that if we were to focus on peace-building rather than defence, we would require smaller defence and we would have stronger relationships. As long as we are focused on keeping out and maintaining our advantage then we will need big defence.

Again, I am arguing for a paradigm shift in our focus. Security doesn't come through big defence or walls and partitions. Security comes through building relationships and breaking down the barriers. Security comes through building a more equal society, by working to help others achieve what they are capable of, by focusing on the common good, and not what we can achieve for ourselves.

Enabling potential

For me, this is about seeing what others are capable of and helping them to reach that potential. It isn't about conforming them to society but helping them see how the gifts they have been given benefit society and how in the process of working with others, their gifts are maximised and they can help others maximise their gifts.

From an educational perspective, this is a moving away from regimented, over assessed learning, to a focus on building the individual strengths and overcome weaknesses. Enabling potential is relational and not individual. It is recognising that we are part of a whole.

Sustainable environment

Enabling potential also is about enabling our environment to be what it should be and not about extracting all that we can from it. However, enabling potential isn't enough. We must learn to live in sustainable ways and not by maximum exploitation. For free markets, everything is there to be exploited. For sustainability, needs become important and the focus shift from what we can extract to what we need and what others and the environment need.

Equal society

Evidence suggest that more equal societies have less crime, require less defence, and are healthier environments in which to live.

Participatory democracy

To some extent, I have some negative feelings about this principle. Democracy is a decision making process but it is one that favours the majority over the minority. Often however, in a democracy, the so called majority is the majority of a minority that bothered to participate in the process. Participation can only be guaranteed where people feel part of the decision making process, where they feel they are being heard and that their concerns are being meet. This comes through relationship building and not voting processes. I would prefer consensus rather than democracy and relationship building rather than participation. However, we need a start in a process of moving away from the individualism of neo-liberal principles and participatory democracy provides a starting point. I simply hope that it isn't the end point.

An economy for the common good

I have no problems with the idea of working for the common good and see that as a key part of relationship building. However, economy is a throw back to concepts of markets and accounting for exchanges. If you follow some of my critique of the neo-liberal principles then you will realise that I am not in favour of balancing transaction but I am interested in balancing outcomes (i.e. equality or equity). If economy for the common good means equality and equitable transactions then I am in favour but if the accounting processes remain as they are favour maximisation of return for the individual or corporate then I am not in favour.

Peace-building principles

One of the difficulties for me in the process of developing the “positive principles” was and is our long held perspectives or views, what some would call framing stories. We strongly believe in economic transactions, of paying our way, of contributing to society, of being secure, etc. These deep seated convictions influenced the outcome of our process but I am not feeling disenfranchised simply because the wording isn't what I would desire. The principles give me a framework for challenging the current neo-liberal framework with an alternative that to a large extent, I know others support. That doesn't stop me pushing further toward what I call peace-building or relational principles. I hope that you have see these as I have critiqued the neo-liberal and progressive principles.

How would I word what I see as peace-building principles. At the top of my list is relationship building. King's (2012) book and I believe the Christian bible would place this emphasis on peace-building through brotherly love. The second principle is helping people understand alternative perspectives. This doesn't start by stating our views but starts by understanding where we are in our journey and where others are in their journey, and through sharing openly with each other seeking to understand our different perspectives. I believe that it is a gradual process to change our framing story. Vygotsky (1978, 1986) called it a zone of proximal development. We are open to accept ideas that are within a zone of our current understanding. As our understanding broadens so does that zone. Education has to work with that zone for each learner as an individual but not to indoctrinate them as a lot of current education tends to do but to open them up to other alternatives and to be able to reason about those alternatives.

My third principle is to empower and support nonviolent organisations. This means working for unity and shared understanding. It also means work for equitable outcomes. Equality often isn't what is required. What is need is to support each individual according to their needs and to where they are right now. We don't treat a child as an adult and we shouldn't treat all individuals as though they were identical with identical needs and requirements.

My final principle is building nonviolent solutions. A nonviolent solution will be based on relationship building and greater equality.

When I reflect on society, I want to see a change in the way that we interact with each other but I also want the tools and environment to be able to show others ways of thinking and doing things that bring greater empowering and enabling. My principles don't talk about enabling potential but if I am building a relationship with you then I want you to feel positive about your contribution and what you are achieving. I can only do that if I am giving you space to use the talents and skills that you have been given. Sustainability and equality flow from relationship. Participation in decision making occurs when you feel that you have a voice, and the common good becomes our focus when we are focused on relationship and not our individual needs.

For me, our path forward is through relationship building.

References

King Jr., M. L. (2012). Paul's letter to American Christians A gift of love: Sermons from Strength to Love (1963) and other preachings (pp. 141-150). Boston, Massachusetts: Beacon Press.

Jackson, A. (2013). Sovereign Money: Paving the way for a sustainable recovery. London: Positive Money.

Jackson, A., & Dyson, B. (2012). Modernising money: Why our monetary system is broken and how it can be fixed. London: Positive Money.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. In M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, & E. Soberman (Eds.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). Thought and language (A. Kozulin, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.