Our current economic model, commonly referred to as neo-liberalism, now dominates every corner of the earth. Thatcher and Reagan won. They sold us on an ideology of competition in every aspect of life. They began the process of removing as many barriers to competition as possible. They crushed unions, stripped away regulation there to protect workers, consumers and the environment we live in, all in the name of increasing competition. This ethos of competition now drives a large part of our human behaviour. We don’t think like communities or even as a unified nation of people any more. It’s dog eat dog, survival of the fittest. The real tragedy is that unfettered competition is supposed to benefit us by increasing choice and cutting bureaucracy, but in reality it has done the opposite. Big business is getting bigger and more powerful at the expense of small independent traders that provide real choice and originality. Real choice has been replaced by the monotony of large chain stores, restaurants and coffee shops and personal service has been replaced by call centres and self service via the internet as businesses get bigger by cutting costs.
Our transport, communications and energy infrastructure has been sold off to big business, so now our governments are left impotent when it comes to tackling global problems like climate change. In short, they’re no longer in charge. Our democracy is a sham. So much power has been handed over to the private sector that our politicians are powerless to act. Or so it seems.
Unwilling to interfere with the market to install the infrastructure necessary to quickly switch our energy supply to clean renewable sources. Unwilling to interfere with the free market to put in the infrastructure to pave the way for a switch to electric cars. But hang on, don’t we provide millions in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry every year? And what about the deal with Eon to build and run the new Hinkley nuclear power station? Huge subsidies proposed, which has now led to a legal challenge by one of our fellow EU members.
It’s clear therefore that it isn’t just about ideology and an unwillingness to interfere with the ‘free market’, our problems are amplified by greed, power and vested interests. How many government ministers have links to the fossil fuel industry and the big energy companies? How many of their friends and supporters are wealthy landowners who benefit from agricultural subsidies? Those in power support privatisation because it is a transfer of public money to private interests. From the 99% to the 1%. They do this because they believe in a ruling elite and they want to maintain this status quo. Growing inequality? They simply don’t care.
Globalisation and neo-libralism are not compatible with securing a safe and stable planet for the future. The pursuit of continuous economic growth at the expense of all else can’t continue indefinitely. We can’t continue to base our economic system on competition at a time when we need collaboration to deliver a safe and secure future for ourselves. Tell me, how can we expect over 200 nation states to agree on a way to limit CO2 emissions whilst simultaneously competing with each other for business; the same business that is producing the CO2 in the first place based on a competitive market economy that only services to drive up consumption? We can’t.
Is change possible?
There is certainly a growing number calling for a change to the economic system. It probably started with the Occupy movement, which has now been joined by a growing grassroots environmental movement. The problem is that whilst we know what we want, we don’t know how to get there. Politically, many on the left will vote Green this time around, but will that be enough? The best we can hope for is a few seats in parliament and perhaps a little more influence on the Labour Party if they form a minority government with the support of the Left.
The problems with UK politics run deep. Most people can’t think outside of the existing political orthodoxy that is represented by the three main parties and the corporate media because it’s not debated and reported on in mainstream channels, and most people vote how they’ve always voted anyway. That’s if they vote at all. Only 65% voted in the 2010 General Election and most of those votes were meaningless in our First Past the Post system, where only people in ‘marginal seats’ affect the outcome. It’s a dire thing to admit, but our democracy is not democratic enough to be relied upon to drive the real change we need.
After this election and its aftermath is over there are 3 things that need addressing: 1) we need constitutional reform – a new voting system based on proportional representation, regional devolution and an elected 2nd chamber of parliament; 2) we need to free the press and media from corporate ownership and vested interests; and 3) reform party funding to make it fair and equitable and out of the grasp of corporate power.
We might then finally begin the journey that closes the gap between the country we have now and the country and world that most people would surely prefer.