Ooh, little bit of politics there.

Jon Husband spotted Billy Bragg’s piece in the Guardian.

Bragg suggests that our current economic crisis can be traced back to Mrs Thatcher’s defeat of the miners and the ideology this established. It’s worth reading in full and (as Jon suggests) checking out the comments for a variety of endorsements and challenges.

I was in my first year at Uni when Thatcher came to power, and all of my adult life has been lived in a system where her economic viewpoint seems to have prevailed: at its worst, extreme individualism, greed-is-good, and the equation of economic failure with personal character flaws. During that time, I’ve certainly played the game myself but never really felt like I belonged in this system.

As the comments to Bragg’s article bring out, it’s not as if what she replaced was all that virtuous either.. but I think the huge downsides of what Oliver James calls Selfish Capitalism are now becoming very clear.

And, like a lot of others, I do feel pretty angry with the “leaders” both in government and business who’ve helped get us into this mess. I particularly loathe the notion of a system of financial rewards that seems to be based a series of absurd assumptions:

1. There are very few people talented enough to run large organisations.

2. Unlike the talented people that I meet day-to-day (mere mortals), they get so little pleasure from using their talent that they must be compensated with astronomical amounts of money.

3. That when the organisations they head are successful, it’s really because of their leadership, and not the efforts of many, as well as a huge number of completely random variables.

4. Conversely, when those organisations fail, this situation is completely reversed.

5. That giving a tiny minority of people huge amounts of money is going to make for a happier society in which people feel willing to pull together for the common good.

While I’m on the soapbox, I’m also angry that our economic system treats natural resources as if they are abundant when the looming truth is that they are actually getting very scarce. Meanwhile we treat ideas as if they are very scarce and must be protected with patents and copyrights – whereas in truth ideas are naturally abundant, and the sharing of them is one of most innate social characteristics of mankind.

However, I also believe that we’re in this together, and that if we go far down the path of scapegoating individuals I’m just going to perpetuate the model I want to challenge. Pointing the finger at everyone but themselves is one of things I find most infuriating about politicians and bankers. And although I think anger is a good thing and very energising, I also believe that the challenge we face in this crisis is how we channel that anger for peaceful rather than violent change. So I’ll probably take a pass on blaming Mrs T (and a certain Mr B) for all this, because I think they are really emergent properties of a more complex system.

For me, all this starts with a measure of looking within, and recognising how I have bought into, and continue in some ways to buy into, the system I feel like denouncing. One thing I realise I’ve done that contributes to the problem is to skirt round politics on my blog. I think it’s time for that to stop.

And if you’re also into a little bit of politics, you might want to join me and a few others in We20.

3 thoughts on “Ooh, little bit of politics there.

  1. Jon Husband

    Excellent and thoughtful parsing of the Guardian piece, Johnnie, and I think you are quite correct about the past twenty years or so all being elements of a larger emergent system (in a sense by definition, please pardon my pedantry).

    There will (seems to me) obviously be a massive struggle between trying to remain in a “system” many thought they understood versus the “whatever it is, we’re all going there together” brave new world that is busy being grown.

  2. CV Harquail

    Ralph Stacey of Hertfordshire University talks about how the nature of leadership is such that we elevate people (i.e. make them into heroes, as in ‘hero CEO’) in order to then destroy them. These two things are mirror images of each other. We allow them to be paid huge amounts of money so that we can then blame them – the two things are connected. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the mainstream media who whip up heroes, then simply whip them in an eyeblink.

    Which means that not playing the blame game and using our anger to drive other more creative behaviours is very important I think.



    The first step is admitting that we bought into selfish capitalism (however incompletely and begrudingly). The second step is deciding to stop that. The third step is joining with others to begin to do something. hooray for you for taking the first three steps, and for articulating your reasons so clearly.

    I’ve been noticing in these past several month a number of different groups, concepts, and movements that are each pushing for one kind of positive, progressive change, each at a different place in the system…. if you see any of these (in addition to we2.0) will you let me know?

    In the meantime, the seven/eight absurd assumptions are a great way to clarify just what specific pieces of the system are wrong, and begin to fix them.

    Thanks so much for this post.



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