The previous post contained a distillation of Will Hutton’s deconstruction of the USA as an economic and political beacon for the UK to follow.
He admonishes us to look away from US to Europe. Its a powerful argument so long as we don’t oversimplify the issues.
For UK sustainable development our culture, via the Government (and enterprise culture as a whole) needs to enable economic development and growth in the longer term by reducing (penalising?) the short termist, shareholder-profit focus of ‘US style’ companies. This in favour of a holistic approach that treats staff (and even customers) as owners, or at least stakeholders, of the business (some of these do exist in the UK already, of course), and not disposable commodities after the US model.
Underlying this is a need to not only accept that ‘society’ exists and has a culture that is not like that oif the US, and to embrace it and encourage participation as part of corporate life and its interaction with the rest of life. The ‘social contract’. The US pays lip service but its a fundamentally dog-eat-dog society where individual freedom is paramount over all as enshrined in the Constitution, and thus US society fragments and Ghetto-ises even the rich (gated communities anyone?).
The ‘West’ would do better with the US on-side, no doubt. But not the current neo-con US, thank you very much. Gore’s ‘defeat’ in 2000 has been a major stumbling block to ‘world progress’ in my book, and possibly Will’s.
So what does he suggest as an alternative?
Not a cow-towing enslavement to Europe but an engagement, with our own solutions where approriate. He also feels that we can heal many of our own ills. An example is pension provision. Barbera Castle, in the mid 1970’s, proposed a system of national pension to exist in parallel with private mechanisms and extend national insurance. This now appears remarkably insightful, and its very sad that it never came to be. Many people face an uncertain old age in the UK because of the pensions debacle and will have to rely on the generosity of future Governments. Many European countries have similar better state pension systems, and if they are struggling in some ways, its only because they are being cautious and saving to meet the needs of thier elderly – we’ve not been doing in the UK, and that’s really worrying.
The social contract – a theme repeated in the book, one pretty absent from UK politics for some decades. And yet many of us do not want to go the American way of widening the poverty gap, social incohesion, fundamentalism and human value secondary to shareholder value – short term profit focus as opposed to the longer term view taken in Europe.
What do we (as British people) want that the US population is systematically being denied?
- high quality public services (health, education, local services)
- properly functioning and non stigmatised public transport
- decent social provision
All traditional Labour calling cards. Only this time, Labour have been acting very Conservative.
Gordon Brown’s government will be judged, at least by me, on how he addresses these points while hopefully, edging us away from the vacuous and ethicallybankrupt US neo-con model.