A way back
Everyone is at a different stage of lockdown now. Nobody is seriously coming out of it, not even Wuhan. There are experiments taking place to see if the easing of lockdown precipitates a few more cases or a whole new wave of the disease. Getting economies back to work is crucial for jobs and livelihoods. Recession is guaranteed, depression threatened. The United States is being railroaded into starting up again because the President wants to get busy with his campaign for reelection in November. Everyone wants to get going. It’s understandable.
Mid-crisis, we should pause and think about what we really want. The economic model we have at present is one whose name we hardly dare mention. It is consumption and competition excess. It is killing the planet. For instance, since lockdowns started the air pollution over cities has improved dramatically. Well, obviously. We are burning less fuel. We are rushing about less. We are working from home. Rather like we used to when it was an agrarian society.
There are things for and against the slower pace of lockdown. It is hard for people who find staying at home difficult. It is against our nature to be isolated. We are social creatures, never more happy than when congregating to celebrate life’s milestones, full of contentment when we meet and get to know kindred spirits. Our greatest punishment is to be locked up in prison, deprived of human companionship for twenty-three hours a day. Freedom to do what we want is a right and a need.
On the other hand our confinement has allowed us to have more family time. We have learnt how to work across any part of the world that is internet connected. We have probably caught up with friends from the past, may, indeed, have revived relationships that had drifted away even though we have the technology to sustain them. If we are fortunate we may have acquired a certain calm and reflected on what is the purpose of life and whether we are fulfilling it to our own satisfaction. Many people are, I am sure. And I am sure that many people aren’t.
And then there are the questions of the poor, the jobless and the money. How can the average person survive without a job? It’s good for people to work, when they don’t they become a liability to society. Anyway, why should some people work hard to earn their living while others get it for no work at all? The minimum basic wage for everyone was tried in Finland and abandoned as unworkable. Free medicine for all in the UK is a great political gambit and works normally very well. In practice it is very wasteful and, in the long run, unsustainable.
What we earn as a global society is enough for us all. It’s distribution is patently unfair. We do not need to lose the dynamics of a capitalist society to make it more equitable, we just need the determination to educate people properly for life and to share the rewards of labour. And in those three words – “educate people properly” – is locked up the future success or failure of the world.
What I am going to suggest is based partly on the lessons we learnt about marketing. In my young years we were dealing with sledgehammers. We called them ‘mass media’ because they reached great swathes of society. We still have mass media – newspapers, tv, hoardings. But in our digital age we have realised that we can pinpoint individuals, identify the wishes and needs of each and every one of us and point our promotions specifically, not generally. Facebook, Linkedin and a host of other social media give us opportunities we never thought we would have. At last we can deal with people as we were meant to, one on one.
Given the structures of western government and welfare that we have at present it is inevitable that we will need to give money to those who, for whatever reason, don’t have any. It is perfectly acceptable that society’s giving should be conditional. It is equally acceptable that those who by background, upbringing or good fortune have done reasonably well for themselves should share their time and experiences with those less fortunate.
I propose that every reasonably financially successful family should be unpaid mentor-coach to a family on welfare with the objective of educating and helping that family to greater success and independence. They will demonstrate and inculcate the concepts of moderation, collegiality and sharing. The first and most important call will be to recent retirees and those nearing the end of their careers.
The secret of making this idea work will be to keep the admin and ‘process’ to a minimum. It cannot work perfectly because people are not perfect. But given responsibility of this sort the majority will respond. And, in return, they will learn a lot about themselves and their purpose in life. It will take a generation to see the full fruits of this. Twenty-five years from now it could be the basic model for a new society.
Too idealistic? Massively ambitious? Certainly. Unless we are those things in our search for A Way Back we will never succeed.
Humans now have a chance to become truly human.
Let’s take it.
If you want a longer article making a more comprehensive case for moderate capitalism, I recommend Martin Wolf’s Financial Times “How to reform today’s rigged capitalism” article reproduced in the Straits Times on 5th December 2019.