Economics by Kate Raworth – Book Review by Paul de Hoest

Doughnut Economics is not just about economics, it’s a wide ranging political book about life itself, the future of our planet and the role that economics plays in shaping our future.  It is a visionary book that portrays a future collaborative possibility in which everyone’s basic human needs are met whilst at the same time not destroying our shared ecological habitat. It is an easy read, you certainly do not need an economics qualification to understand it, although it is a book that deserves to be read by both economists and non-economists alike.

You might think that the implied goal of public policymaking, nationally and globally, to ensure that everyone’s human needs are met whilst not destroying our shared habitat would be uncontentious but I am not aware that it has ever been expressed in that way by any one in office and, as Raworth points out, we are a long way from achieving it.  The two great achievements of Raworth’s book are firstly that she proposes an intuitive framework in which to consider that policy problem (“The Doughnut”) and second, she demonstrates that the current political obsession with “economics first before everything else follows” is wrong-headed and the economy needs to be thought of as embedded within the living world so that the current policy measure of choice, GDP growth, becomes incidental to other policy objectives rather than it having any merit as a goal in itself.Doughnut 1 Jpeg Scan

The essence of the Doughnut is that there is a social foundation floor of well-being that no one should fall below and an ecological Doughnut ceiling of planetary pressure that we cannot safely go beyond. Between the two lies a safe and just space for all. These are presented pictorially as two concentric circles – the inner circle represents the social foundation floor and the outer circle represents the planetary ecological limits.  The safe and just space for mankind is represented by the space between the concentric circles.

Raworth comes to the unsurprising conclusion that we are currently operating both inside the inner circle (e.g. billions of people in the world in absolute poverty, lack access to basic education, have no political voice or have no access to clean water) whilst at the same time we are operating outside the outer circle (e.g. climate change, excess resource extraction, land degradation and bio-diversity loss).  The challenge therefore is to manage living standards upwards for millions of people whilst managing downwards the excessive pressures placed on ecological resources. Unsurprisingly therefore much attention is given to how to reduce global inequality and better manage resources.Doughnut 2 Jpeg Scan

The great insight of the book is that the current policy obsession with money GDP ignores the scope to unleash the powers within the un-monetised household and commons sector and the role of the state to support these as well as the market.  The book demonstrates that the economy is not a mechanical model that responds predictably to external stimulus but rather should be thought of as a living organism that behaves more like a complex system than a machine.  Such an organism is self-directed, creative and constantly evolving.

Raworth does not pretend to have all the answers but she presents many examples that have been implemented all over the world that are thriving despite acting within the current self-imposed straightjacket of finance and GDP hegemony.  There are sufficient examples to provide a glimpse of a possible future and demonstrate that there is so much untapped potential to be unleashed through, for example, open source communications and collaboration, that it is entirely credible to believe it is possible to achieve the twin goals of reducing global inequality whilst restoring our impact on the earth.

This is an optimistic book that should be read by anyone interested in understanding why we are failing to tackle inequality, climate change and resource depletion and what can be done to change this.  Raworth says that “we are the first generation to properly understand the damage we have been doing to our planetary household, and probably the last generation with a chance to do something transformative about it.”  Once you have grasped that there really is a choice then this book points towards a more equal, inclusive, happier and more human future without destroying the Earth if only we have the courage to change our current economic mindset and try.  There is not much time left to make that choice!

Buy it from Amazon or better still your local bookshop.

Paul de Hoest

 

 

 

 

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Brexit: This is a 1940 moment in history.

It is becoming increasingly clear that exiting the EU is not in our best interests and will do great harm. The Japanese ambassador sums this up clearly in There won’t be a deal better than the single market. We are for Japan a main channel for their export of cars into Europe as he says.

 

Some compromise like remaining in the single market or customs union will not give us the seat at the EU table that is in both our interests and those of the EU. We need to continue to exercise our leadership as we have done for many years. On our own, a small country, we will have less influence in the world. That gives us more power in the world than if we are outside, not less.

 

The repeated mantra “It’s the will of the people” is propaganda, an untruth. Only 37% of electorate, representing 26% of “the people”, voted for Brexit. We also need to challenge “when we leave the EU”, as if it were a foregone conclusion, another piece of propaganda.

So 74% did not vote for Brexit. Many parts of the United Kingdom did not want to leave. There were huge differences depending on age. Sixteen and seventeen year olds, amongst those likely to be most adversely affected, had no vote. It is clear that a referendum was inappropriate for such a complex issue. And it was explicitly advisory. Most MPs, about 73%, are in favour of Remain.

 

Furthermore there are grave concerns about whether the referendum was legitimate. Did voters have, could they have had the abundant information we have now about the harm it would do and is already doing to our economy and many other aspects of our society? For example the dire effects on the NHS, skill shortages hampering our industries and many areas that are already emerging. There are also grave concerns about the legitimacy of the referendum- for example funding and the part played by social media manipulation 

 

We know that the Brexit vote was in part a protest about the consequences of an economy that had failed to meet the needs of many people for over a generation. We know that young people will suffer most. We know that our cultural industry and many more will suffer. Polls show a large and increasing majority of young people are against Brexit – the then 16 to17 year olds did not have a say nor do they now.

 

Unlock Democracy believes the EU Withdrawal Bill is a power grab, plain and simple that will trample on our rights, puts more power in the hands of Westminster and threatens hard-won devolution settlements in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and it must be resisted. They are asking for funds to continue their campaigns .

 

There is confusion in the Tory government. It is like a nest of vipers. We need an about turn. The situation requires the majority of MPs of whatever party to demand this about turn. And the government to say: sorry, we were wrong. It is now clear that Brexit is a mistake. Where is the courage to do what’s best for the nation?  

What can you do? Urge your MP to speak up, challenge the mantra “It’s the will of the people” and demand an about turn and a new approach to reforming the European Union. And support Unlock Democracy http://www.unlockdemocracy.org/

  Bruce Nixon is author of The 21st Century Revolution: A Call to Greatness

Pothole Britain and the Health of the Nation

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Potholes in our roads symbolise Britain today. The fifth richest country in the world as measured by GDP but with third world roads. When I drive over a pothole I always think of George Osborne and his illiterate Austerity policy. He is not an economist but an English Lit graduate, now an excellent journalist.

 

We know that filling in potholes is a waste of money because they soon break up again. The most cost effective solution is to resurface the whole road. Short term fix but long term pain. This symbolises the underlying problem with British government: ideology, cuts and short-sightedness. The failure to look forward and tackle fundamental challenges such as creating a new sustainable economy for the whole nation.

 

Economic Consequences

The past twelve years have been a disaster. For most people there has been no improvement in their real income or living standards. The prospects for young people have declined. There is a lot more insecurity in a gig economy. Britain is in the midst of a severe and prolonged household debt crisis. Household debt, not including mortgages, is on the rise again. It has increased 20% in the past 2 years and is now £239bn, higher than just before the crash in 2008. Jubilee Debt Campaign. There’s zero good about Brexit for vulnerable workers. 3.2 m in insecure work, 11% of women in insecure jobs, 810,000 in zero-hours contracts, 75% part-time workers are women. In the North East of England insecure jobs 67% of all new roles.

Austerity has had adverse consequences in almost every sector of our economy and society. For instance, the causes of knife crime are complicated but in part are attributed to cuts in services for young potentially alienated youths and policing. The same is true of the Grenfell disaster – a cost cutting mentality led to fatal flaws in the building.  Also there was an underlying attitude towards the inhabitants some of whom thought they were regarded as less than human. Cuts have contributed to high levels of violence, drug taking, depression, self-harm, suicide and failure to rehabilitate inmates in many prisons.

 

Austerity has resulted in a slower recovery from recession and lower productivity than our main European neighbours. The underlying flaw is a lack of long-term strategic economic planning and a failure to invest. Nor are our banks adequately fulfilling their role in supporting enterprise, as is the case in Germany. We need banks that support enterprise.

We did have a Green Investment Bank designed to create prosperity out of refurbishing our “leaky housing” and support a growing sustainable energy industry. But it was starved of funds and recently sold off. Quantitative easing was pumped into the banks, rather than where investment was needed.

 

Add Brexit, an own goal, predicted to lead to poorer economic performance for ten years. That is apart from all the alienation of enterprising people from other countries who enrich our economy and culture. This has created staffing problems in many public services and other economic sectors including fruit and vegetables. The Home Office has created staff shortages in the NHS by denying entry to trainee Doctors from other countries. Of course we failed to invest in training our own people. The Brexit vote to a significant extent resulted from the failure to address more than a generation of economic decline and deprivation in areas where old industries were not replaced by new.  Government was content with a prosperous south east as opposed to enabling the whole country to prosper. It all adds up to incompetent, not joined up government.

 

As to Brexit, I said in an earlier blog post: We’re allowing ourselves to be ruled by knaves and charlatans, more concerned with their political ambitions than what is best for the nation and democratic decision making.

 

The nation’s health depends on an economy that serves everyone and a political system in which everyone feels represented and engaged. Instead we have a deeply divided nation.

See my article Re-imagining Politics – A Collaborative Democracy . In particular young people are disadvantaged: difficulties in finding good work, high levels of debt, if they went to university, and difficulty affording to rent or buy a home. There is a link between income levels and mental health.

 

Above all Britain needs a long-term economic strategy. The UK could learn a lot from Germany . As a share of its economy, Germany’s manufacturing sector is twice the size of Britain’s – 23% of national GDP, compared with 11%, according to the World Bank. Unlike Britain, it runs a large surplus on trade in goods.

It has a good banking system and collaborative relationships with trades unions. Mark you, it may be argued that the Euro currency has enabled Germany to extract wealth form other European countries, particularly those in the south. See The problem with Europe is the euro.

Health

 The latest crisis is in the NHS NHS trusts in England have reported a combined financial deficit that was nearly twice the amount planned. There was a deficit of £960m in the last financial year compared with the £496m they had planned for, the regulator NHS Improvement said. The NHS in England has nearly 100,000 jobs unfilled, a situation described as “dangerously” understaffed.

Taxes are going to have to rise to pay for the NHS if the UK is to avoid “a decade of misery” in which the old, sick and vulnerable are let down, say experts. The Institute for Fiscal Studies and Health Foundation said the NHS would need an extra 4% a year – or £2,000 per UK household – for the next 15 years. It said the only realistic way this could be paid for was by tax rises.

However I shall argue in this article that taxpayers should not be required to pay considerably more tax.

Prevention is better than Cure

Much of the NHS crisis has been caused by lack of emphasis on prevention. Health education should begin early in a child’s education and would be parents should be offered the same.

The government failed to invest sufficiently in the NHS. They tried surreptitiously to privatise it– see How to Dismantle the NHS 10 Easy Steps. They imposed essentially ideological reorganisations that did not involve the people “on the ground”. They have been doing the same in school education, alienating teachers, causing extra stress and thus losing experienced staff. Mental health until now has been a low priority, particularly for the young, and access to reasonably local services have not been provided. Many local 24 hour A&E emergency services have been closed.

 

UK has relatively low health spend The UK is ranked 6th out of the seven countries that form the G7 (a group of large developed economies) for healthcare expenditure as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product (GDP)

Crimes against Humanity?

 The proportion of overweight and obese people is enormous. The WHO report predicted that 74% of men and 64% of women in UK to be overweight by 2030.  Worldwide obesity has nearly tripled since 1975. In 2016, more than 1.9 billion adults, 18 years and older, were overweight. Of these over 650 million were obese. Much Ill health can be attributed to lack of health education from an early age, unhealthy life styles including lack of exercise and poor posture.

Child obesity is alarming. A growing number of children are becoming obese as young as four or five years old, is sparking renewed concern about the obesity crisis although this is starting to decline. Almost 60% more children in their last year of primary school are classified as “severely obese” than in their first year, according to Public Health England figures for England and Wales. Childhood obesity at primary school age twice as likely in poor areas. Food producers should reduce fat, salt and sugar content, with taxes levied on junk food, say campaigners.

The Local Government Association (LGA) said this shows children are becoming fatter as they go through school . One in 25 children aged 10 or 11 ‘severely obese’. UK anti-obesity drive are at risk from new US trade deal, doctors warn.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are 1.1 billion smokers and tobacco kills up to half of its users. Tobacco kills more than 7 million people each year. More than 6 million of those deaths are the result of direct tobacco use while around 890 000 are the result of non-smokers being exposed to second-hand smoke.. A Tobacco tax could lead to ‘a cigarette-free world by 2040’.

In my view this is wholly inadequate and should be introduced rapidly.

Similarly those corporations causing air pollution, responsible for 40,000 deaths per year in UK and much ill-health, should pay. The World Health Organisation estimates that 7 million premature deaths annually are linked to air pollution.

 

All of this is harmful commerce.  Ultimately causing these harms should be regarded as harmful commerce and crimes against humanity – leading to a new UN Crime against Humanity.

 

Should the burden fall on the taxpayer when we are being ripped off?

Meanwhile, surely the businesses responsible for ill health, premature deaths and rising costs should be held responsible and required to contribute substantially to the NHS. We need to go upstream and charge a hypothecated Corporate Ill Heath Tax specifically for the NHS. This includes the production and promotion of unhealthy food containing excessive sugar, promoting alcohol consumption and tobacco. Ultimately causing these harms should be regarded as crimes against humanity – leading to a new UN Crime against Humanity.

 

The Taxpayer is ripped off by the Pharmaceutical Industry. According to Global Justice Now, the UK spent £2.3 billion on health research and development (R&D) in 2015.1 About a third of new medicines originate in public research institutions and even medicines discovered by drug companies are often built on a large body of scientific work done in the public sector. Some estimate that the public pays for up to two-thirds of all drug R&D. In spite of this, there is no guarantee that these medicines will be accessible to patients in the UK or worldwide. Instead, the commercialisation of these discoveries by pharmaceutical companies has generated huge private profits out of public funds. Pharmaceutical companies claim that high prices are needed to recoup R&D costs. However, evidence suggests that pharmaceutical companies often spend more on either marketing and/or buying back their own shares to artificially boost their shareholder value than on R&D for new drugs. In many cases, the UK taxpayer effectively pays twice for medicines: first, through investing in R&D, and again, by paying high prices to pharmaceutical companies for the resulting medicines. The NHS spent more than £1 billion last year alone on drugs whose development substantially relied on UK public research funding, while two of the five drugs with the highest costs for the NHS were developed in large part through UK publicly funded research.

It is beginning to be recognised that an independent cross party long-term strategy is needed for the NHS .

 

Resources for Action

 

Bruce Nixon, author, writer and speaker. His latest book is The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness

 

Wellbeing and Well Doing

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I have got up and just outside our bathroom window I can see and smell an old crimson climbing rose with rain drops on its leaves. A fragrant Jasminium is starting to climb into the rose.   

 A House with four Rooms

There is an Indian proverb or axiom that says that everyone is a house with four rooms, a physical, a mental, an emotional and a spiritual. Most of us tend to live in one room most of the time but, unless we go into every room every day even if only to keep it aired, we are not a complete person”.  Rumer Godden, author of A House with four Rooms.

 

The Mental Room If we follow this axiom we’ll do better at whatever we do. As a writer, I spend much time in my head, the mental room, thinking about what I am writing and sometimes several other things as well. Like so many people I find the news distressing, for instance the toxic behaviour of many politicians, the mass slaughter of men, women, children and babies in Syria and the denial of human rights. Yet I can’t close my eyes and ears. I need to know and research in order to write. I write to make sense of things and suggest to others what they can do to change things for the better. But to be able to do this, and for my own wellbeing, I need to dwell in or at least visit all the other rooms each day.

 

The Spiritual Room Lying in bed early in the morning at this time of the year I hear the birds singing. When I got up I this morning I opened the bathroom window and saw the red climbing rose with raindrops on it and fragrant Jasminium climbing into it. That raised my spirits. For me, the garden is a spiritual place with all its different fragrances of earth, different leaves, herbs and blossoms. I grow vegetables and fruit amongst the flowers, old roses and shrubs and a vine under our windows at the back of the house. We have fragrant shrubs like Philadelphus, known as mock orange. Cutting our own salad, sowing seeds planting, getting my hands into the earth, putting waste into the compost heap is simple healing work.

 

Eating outside on a warm evening in the midst of it all is healing. Yet I get caught in my mind when I see the multitude of jobs requiring attention – then I feel pressured and tired. I often find myself trying to do several tasks at once and in a hurry. I notice I am carrying several things upstairs to my study, all but one of which need to go somewhere else downstairs! When I am full of angst there is wisdom to hand. Like “just one thing at a time”. And I remember the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

 

Life is not about getting to a certain place. Life is a path. Walking meditation is a way to practice walking without a goal or intention. Everything we are looking for is right here in the present moment. Thich Nhat Hanh.

 

Then, next morning, after sleeping well and having a good dream that I cannot remember, I find I am in the zone and I can write.

 

The Emotional or Heart Room Yesterday, what did me the most good, and gave me a good night’s sleep was visiting my little 22 month old grandson and his mum and dad. He gave me such a smiling welcome. He is just so funny, lively, happy when not teething, constantly learning, strengthening his body, discovering, sometimes falling over, pushing the boundaries, feeling frustrated if not allowed, all his emotions so spontaneous, and quickly recovering by crying and getting a cuddle. What a lesson to us more complicated adults. I have learnt that sometimes I too need a cry and a cuddle. This is where the four rooms get mixed up: being kind and compassionate is heart stuff but it is key for a leader, especially one who believes in servant leadership.

 

Humans are community animals. Not all but most. We are uniquely co-operative animals. That is the basis of civilisation. After four hours in my study I feel lonely. I go off into the town to shop or go to my favourite café to read. I have my head up, eyes looking forward and my lungs open, as I have been taught by my Alexander trainer . I catch myself if I am stooped. I do not have an I-Phone in my hand. Again one thing at a time: when I am walking I am walking. Invariably I get a lot of smiles and “hello” mostly from people I don’t know. In my older age I have grown cheekier, friendlier, kinder, more interested in people who disagree with me and bolder and I laugh a lot more. I’d have been a much better independent management consultant if I had been like that years ago. And not only have I made more friends, I sell a lot of books in the town too. I chat with all kinds of people in a friendly interested way; I am interested. My favourite café is Sicilian and the staff multinational. I feel as if I am in Continental Europe.

 

The Physical or Body Room I try to get exercise every day I can: walking, especially to the woods, going to the fitness room, doing the RCAF Exercise programme which I have done since I was thirty, or gardening.  I do not use machines of any sort and I have always had a human driven Husqvarna lawn mower. The trouble with gardening is stooping – instead kneel on a mat – and digging are not good for the back. I walk at least once a day into the town, rarely using the car. I see stairs or escalators as opportunities for exercise unless I am very tired. Every Monday evening I go to a yoga class. From Yoga I have learned a simple meditation that gets me back to sleep if I wake up in the middle of the night and panic. Once a month I get a massage and go to a chiropractor. Like gardening, yoga, and walking to the woods are spiritual as well as physical.

 

I reflect that if everyone were offered the advantages of learning to live in these four rooms, there would be far fewer people suffering and requiring treatment for chronic illnesses physical or emotional. It would save an enormous amount of human suffering and cost to the National Health Service.

 

Resources

 

Review of A C Grayling’s book Democracy and Its Crisis

This is one of the most important books I have read in years. The opening words are

“This book is about the failure of the best political system we have: democracy. And how to put it right”.

Our democracy is not working Its shortcomings are the main obstacle to tackling the great challenges facing us early in the 21st century, creating a good society that benefits everyone and playing our part in the world. The nation has been hoodwinked first by the economically illiterate Austerity policy which has done and is still doing enormous harm to every aspect of our society and, especially, to the most vulnerable. The flawed Referendum is doing more harm. If Brexit goes ahead even more damage will be done. There is much anger and distress in a deeply divided United Kingdom.

The book is an exquisite delight to read. It is a passionate, revolutionary, rich in insights and written by an erudite and highly articulate academic. It is an exposé of our now deeply flawed democracy. As I read, I grew angrier. All of us have played a part in this decline: citizens, the media and members of parliament. This book should be read by all MPs. Every citizen needs to this book’s key messages. Otherwise we’ll continue to be victims of chicanery.

Democracy is precious. Men and women fought for it over the centuries, many giving their lives. Many other countries, including so-called People’s Democratic Republics, are dictatorships intolerant of human rights and careless of human life. Unless we are content to be deceived and exploited, all of us need to play our part in protecting our democracy by being well-informed and, when necessary, activists. We need a democracy fit for the 21st Century. Reform has been obstructed by those in power for generations. An essential feature of democracy is that MPs are there to represent us. Yet around half of us are disenfranchised because we are not represented under first past the post. Nevertheless, we need to engage with our MPs – vigorously if need be. All of us need to use our precious vote. That is the foundation of representative democracy.

The United Kingdom European Union membership referendum took place on 23 June 2016 supposedly to gauge support for the country either remaining a member of, or leaving, the European Union. But it was all about Tory party interests. It is a shocking example of how citizens can be misled and exploited by a ruthless and irresponsible faction.

The constantly repeated mantra “Brexit is the will of the people” is clever propaganda designed to mesmerise us! How can we be so gullible? Certainly, 52% of those who voted, voted leave and 48% voted to remain. However only 37% of electorate, representing 26% of “the people”, voted for Brexit. So 74% did not vote for Brexit. Did all those wanting to leave do so for the same reasons? Did they have a clear idea, involving practical details, of what would follow? Many parts of the United Kingdom did not want to leave. There were huge differences depending on age. Sixteen and seventeen year olds, amongst those likely to be most adversely affected, had no vote. It is clear that a referendum was inappropriate for such a complex issue. And it was explicitly advisory. Most MPs, about 73%, are in favour of Remain.

Though a relatively short book, just over two hundred pages, it is quite complex. My aim in this review is to summarise its analysis and solutions and add my thoughts on aspects that in my view are not addressed.

PART I is a history of democracy from Plato, Aristotle through to De Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill. It describes the dilemmas and difficulties that had to be overcome in establishing a representative democracy and deciding who should be participants in it. It took many centuries to devise a system that would give the mass of people a say, and not descend into chaos or tyranny. The main issues were: who should be qualified to vote and who was competent to vote. It is primarily concerned with the evolution of Britain’s democracy. However some aspects of the history of USA and other countries are relevant. The author suggests that, unless interested in the history of democracy, the reader may choose to go straight to Part II.

PART II chapter headings are: Alternative Democracies and Anti-democracies, Why It Has Gone Wrong, Making Representative Government Work, and The People and the Constitution, followed by Conclusion. There are two appendices: Brexit and The Failure of Democracy Elsewhere.

If you wish to gain a quick understanding of the book, I suggest you read the excellent Introduction, Conclusion and the two appendices.

What Has Gone Wrong and Why

Summary:

  • In a representative democracy parliament, not the public, is sovereign. In the UK it is the House of Commons that is sovereign and the House of Lords the reviewing chamber.
  • De facto the executive has become sovereign. With a single vote majority it can enact or suspend any law whatever, any civil liberty or human right and has absolute power. Ministers can use the ‘Henry VIII clause’ to amend or repeal legislation covertly without the need for parliamentary scrutiny. The absolute authority of the executive has grown greatly through a subservient majority in the House of Commons.
  • For representative democracy to work requires the independence of MPs. With the exception of election manifesto commitments, party discipline, “whipping”, threats, bullying, bribes, blackmail should not be allowed to decrease the independence of MPs.
  • The Tory party has been bedevilled by the far right for years. Labour has similar difficulties.
  • Judicial review by the courts is restricted to those bills which are incompatible with the Human Rights Act.
  • The absence of a written constitution makes it difficult to hold the executive to account.
  • The failure to equip the “demos” or citizens with the civic education makes it harder for representative democracy work.
  • Lack of popular engagement and responsibility and citizens who are uninformed, uncritical and self-interested. Myopia is a danger to sound government.
  • Manipulation by those in power, big business, big money, partisan and vested interests. Failure of the systems because representatives use democracy for their own class or party self- interest. Also interference through social media and cyber-attacks.
  • First past the post regularly produces governments with large majorities in the House of Commons on little more than a third of votes cast. Those who vote for losing candidates are disenfranchised; thus roughly half the electorate is unrepresented.
  • The picture of vigorous democratic debate is idealised. In reality it involves spin, dirty tricks, half-truths, untruths, distortion, propaganda, and attacks on individuals. All aimed at inflating the positives of one party and the credibility of the other. The Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Express are examples. We need to lower the temperature.
  • The cumulative consequences: anger, hopelessness, cynicism about politics, diminished respect for MPs and fewer able people wanting to become MPs.

 

Making Representative Government the Best it Can Be

 “The failings and frailties of human institutions, like those of individuals are inevitable; but there are many things that have to be done to be the very best they can be….because of what is at stake. Government falls into this category.”

What is required:

  • Parliament should be sovereign and representative. The task of managing competing needs and demands in a complex society is best managed in a representative democracy. Our parliament is not representative.
  • Proportional representation is essential.
  • MPs need to be independent in order to represent their constituents. Thus, except on manifesto commitments, end party discipline and whipping. MPs must be held to account by their constituents.
  • Representative democracy should have no truck with referenda.
  • A bicameral legislature with a more directly elected second chamber that enables proposals to be reviewed – the safeguard of second thoughts.
  • Media reporting and lobbying rigorously kept to standards of probity and accuracy. People should be reliably informed about what is happening in government and politics.
  • Complete transparency about funding involved directly or indirectly in campaigns. Limits on the amount that can be spent on campaigns to create a level the playing field.
  • Compulsory civic education in schools and compulsory voting for all aged 16 and above.
  • A written Constitution, based on consultation, to enable Judicial Review. An unwritten constitution is vulnerable.
  • Smaller government is needed in a more mature political activity.

Further Proposals

A Collaborative Democracy is essential if we are to bring about the changes needed and create a democracy fit to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. Progressive parties need to work together if they are to gain power and bring about reform. It is essential that poiliticians learn to find common ground, rather than wasting energy in conflict. Here are my comprehensive proposals based on those of the Electoral Reform Society, Unlock Democracy and the Green Party with some features added by me. A different kind of Political Leadership is also required, one that unites people, rather than wasting energy in division and conflict.

 How you can use your power to transform our UK Democracy:

 Bruce Nixon is an author, writer, speaker, blogger and activist.

 

 


	

Creating a Prosperous Economy that Works for All

Every time I walk in my town, I see deteriorating infrastructure: rusting railings, damaged pavements and pot holes in the roads. And like many other many other local councils our council is selling off assets and privatising public facilities in order to make ends meet . It is as if we, the fifth richest economy in the world, were a third world country.

Investing in Northern and Midland Rail infrastructure could make an enormous difference.  This is an exceptionally insightful and useful article by Will Hutton. You have heard of the north-south divide. Now how about the west-east one? It says The Social Mobility Commission state of the nation report published last December showed disproportionate disadvantage in the east where the Brexit referendum was won. Birmingham and Manchester England’s next biggest cities after London need to be bigger and governed as regions to capture the agglomeration effects that lead to the prosperity that creates the greatest social mobility effects. This will be helped by HS2 linking Birmingham to London and Europe and to Liverpool and Leeds via HS3. I say the sooner these rail links are built the better it will be. And that can be enabled now with Sovereign Money without any more borrowing or taxes.

In the USA bonds are the normal US way of raising capital for public investments (eg New York Subway). As I understand it, the Government simply guarantees to repay the bond by a fixed date and then gets the capital very cheaply on a triple A security.

Should we be taking back public services into public ownership? Lord Adonis’s recent article Grayling’s rail bailout echoes the grave errors of New Labour makes a strong case for taking the railways back into public ownership. A useful model for transport is London’s TFL. This could be adopted in the regions.

The Carillion collapse suggests that management of the construction of hospitals and schools and management of services should be taken back in house. Capita’s woes cause further concerns about outsourcing . However an equally important issue is how infrastructure is financed. Government and local government need to rethink the use of private finance in the public sector. Its use is often an ideologically based decision, not a rational one.

Public Finance Initiatives In particular the use of Public Finance Initiatives (PFI’s) as a way of funding investments in hospitals and schools have turned out to be hugely expensive and not necessarily effective. There are also problems with secrecy. Both parliament and the public are unable to obtain essential information about these contracts including tax avoidance .

It is shocking that 85% of MPs don’t know where money comes from The commercial banks make money from creating 97% of our money supply . Thus they are incentivised to create debt, hugely increasing the nation personal debt. Instead, our money supply should be created by an independent public body to meet the nation’s needs. The proper role for banks is to provide funds for businesses. Germany has a far better banking system that provides better services that support economic development at local, regional and national levels.

The good news is that there are better ways of financing public investment. There is no justification for arguing that large infrastructure investments are best funded by outsourcing them to the private sector in order to provide the finance without government borrowing. People’s QE or Sovereign Money can be used to finance them without creating debt. Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn is giving this serious consideration

J M Keynes, Milton Friedman and Martin Wolf have all advocated the idea of sovereign money. Most recently, Lord Adair Turner has proposed similar ideas, highlighting that ‘there are no technical reasons to reject this option’. Like Quantitative Easing (QE), Sovereign Money relies on the Bank of England creating money and putting this money into the economy. But whereas QE relied on flooding financial markets and hoping that some of this money would ‘trickle down’ to the real economy, Sovereign Money works by injecting new money directly into the real economy via government spending.

Funding rail infrastructure, hospitals and schools. Sovereign Money, as argued above, can be used to fund new rail infrastructure in the North to support the Northern Power House without incurring debtincurring debt . It can enable new hospitals and schools to be funded without borrowing. Sovereign money could also enable investment in building affordable homes and refurbing leaky homes , and schools to invest in renewable energy, saving them thousands of pounds, and community or regional power  generation.

Every time I walk in my town, I see deteriorating infrastructure: rusting railings, damaged pavements and pot holes in the roads. And like many other many other local councils our council is selling off assets and privatising public facilities in order to make ends meet . It is as if we, the fifth richest economy in the world, were a third world country.

No longer is there any excuse for Austerity with all its deplorable effects. Brexit is another great folly. It all adds up to incompetent government.

If you want to make all this happen lobby your MP and support ney Positive Money . You can get together with others and form a local group.

More about all these issues and solutions can be found in Chapter 7 An economy that works for all in my recent book The 21st Century Revolution – A Call to Greatness. and Chapter 2 Understanding the Financial Crisis and Chapter 10 New Money of A Better World is Possible

Re-imagining Politics – A Collaborative Democracy

In the 21st Century, we need a completely different political leadership model. Until now human history has been about building empires and nations fighting each other for power and resources. The British Empire, backed by a huge navy, was the most successful example. We were the best at war. We were however not alone in committing atrocities on a massive scale. Now the challenges facing humanity are existential: we’ll self-extinct unless we reverse climate chaos and destruction of our habit. We risk nuclear war unless we learn to resolve conflict without violence. Collaboration between nations, especially in the age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, offers the possibility of vastly greater wellbeing human beings and all life. That vision led to the creation of the United Nations after WW2.

 

In its extreme form old leadership leads to horrendous crimes against humanity. The Arab Spring offering the hope of democracy in nations ruled by despots was  crushed.  Horrendous crimes against humanity are still being committed in Syria by a leader unwilling to compromise. Babies, children and their parents are being slaughtered. Similar atrocities have been committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya people. There is a danger that the hopes of the Turkish people for democracy and a solution for Kurds will be destroyed by President Tayyip Erdogan. Catalonia is another example of the need for building consensus and compromise.

 

British politics is bedevilled by old style leadership. It is about winning power and imposing change when what matters most is the wellbeing of all. The current adversarial system places leaders in the position of putting party before national interest. One of the consequences is a deeply divided nation. Conservative and Labour alike are divided over various forms of Brexit or Remain. Despite Corbyn’s declared intention to democratise Labour and give power to constituents, the reality is factions still fighting for control of the party.   

 

 I listen to the usual Radio4 Today formula. Put two people with opposite views together and let them fight. Often they are unable to listen to each other, they talk over each other and cannot wait to get their word in. Many of us hate this approach and switch off. It contributes to a general gloom and pessimism about British politics. Essentially it is violent talk, when people are looking for vision and hope.

 

In PMQ in the House of Commons, a kind of warrior mentality is fostered by the opposing rows of seats in the antiquated House of Commons chamber. Like a student debate. Who can be the wittiest combatant in the arena rather than having a sensible inquiry into what will work best. Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn try to score points over each other with accusations and answers which are at best selective truths. May quotes rising employment figures; Corbyn counters with low pay, insecurity and poor employment conditions. The same is true of much of the media. An accusation is made; it is contradicted by the other side. Claims about the amount of money pumped into the NHS avoid the fundamental issue that it has insufficient resources and needs radical reform. More nurses and midwives are leaving than joining the profession . Medical students are shipped in to help in the NHS crisis. 2.8 BN school funding cuts risk educational outcomes . School heads are asking parents to contribute more and more money. In both cases staff are worn out and frustrated by changes imposed on them without their involvement – a basic leadership failure. Many dedicated people quit as a result.

 

We learn by making mistakes. How refreshing it would be if Tony Blair said “I apologise for the appalling consequences of the Iraq war but I have learned”. He would earn great respect. Gordon Brown did well in handling the aftermath of the 2008 global financial crisis but he might well say, “I made a mistake when I continued to use PFI contracts (a way of avoiding borrowing appearing on government books and outsourcing services). The Carillion collapse has precipitated a complete rethink about outsourcing. Amongst the devastating consequences of ideological policies are record levels of child poverty and homelessness .

 

George Osborne (recently appointed Hon Professor of Economics at Manchester University!) has a lot to answer for. His illiterate Austerity policy, including a public sector pay freeze, reduced staffing of public services, delayed economic recovery, put people out of work, reducing tax take, resulted in the decaying infrastructure and continues to damage almost every aspect of British society. It failed to cut the deficit . His support for the Northern Powerhouse is admirable. However much needed investment in rail infrastructure in the North (rather than HS2) on which this depends, need not be delayed if Peoples QE or Sovereign Money is used instead of borrowing. Botched implementation of Ian Duncan Smith’s Universal Credit has had and continues to have dire consequences for vulnerable people. Instead of ideological strategies, governments need the advice of expert bodies such as IPPR , Rowntree Foundation, Resolution, Sutton Trust and New Economics Foundation, Kings Fund, Royal College of Nurses.

 

One party government not only leads to incompetence. It wastes the talent of potential government ministers. It causes distress and alienation amongst the population who have a different view and feel disempowered and unrepresented. This applies to people working in schools the NHS and other public services who are not involved in vital decisions. It is increasingly recognised that cross-party collaboration, in a Commission, is required to create long-term strategies for such vital systems as the nation’s health, economic policy and education. Such a system works well in Parliamentary select committees.

 

Re-imagining Democracy A Collaborative Democracy

  • A written Constitution
  • A Citizen-led Convention to determine the Constitution.
  • Parliament to be the principal decision-making body of Government
  • First Minister as head of Government elected by Parliament as a whole
  • Proportional representation for national, regional and local government
  • 50:50 representation for women and proportionate representation for Black, Asian and ethnic minorities.
  • Devolution of power from Westminster to regions, local government and communities – the principle of subsidiarity
  • An elected reviewing chamber
  • Total recall for all elected politicians
  • A cap on individual funding and complete disclosure
  • End the so-called “revolving door”
  • Votes from age 16
  • The Rights of Future Generations to be recognised

(Main source Green Party and  Electoral Reform Society )

We’d all be better off if there were equal numbers of female and male MPs in Parliament, the next governmet was formed by a Progressive Alliance and the Prime Minsister is again a woman but from this Progressive Alliance.

 

Re-imagining Political Leadership.

Here are some ideas in no order:

  • Compassionate – compassion is the most important factor in making decisions
  • A servant leader
  • Presence rather than charisma
  • Enabling – a leader of leaders
  • Getting the whole system into the room, involving all stakeholders, using Citizens Conventions in making change
  • Far-sighted
  • Strategic
  • Collaborating to bring about change
  • From Heroes to Hosts
  • Modelling good leadership for others such as valuing difference, non-violent communication and listening
  • Able to unite a highly talented team as Clement Attlee did
  • Internationalist – wanting all nations to flourish. Peacemakers
  • Inclusive, involving diverse people in creating a vision for the future. Standing for diversity
  • Integrity – truthful, values based, able to admit mistakes, putting national interest rather than party interest first
  • Not engaging in silly point scoring

My experiennce is that women often make better leaders than men.

 

Britain should be among the nations setting an example for the world. We have a choice. Do we continue with an outdated democracy? Or do collaborate to bring about fundamental change. It won’t happen unless many more of us decide that to get involved and campaign for positive change.

 

What you can do to use your power:

  

Bruce Nixon is an author writer, speaker, blogger and activist.