Our current politics is essentially organised across a political-economic spectrum anchored by the core ideas of Adam Smith on one hand, and Karl Marx on the other. At one extreme the government controls nothing, while at the other the government controls everything, one offering perfect economic freedom and the other perfect economic security. Our political choice is thus essentially organised around the degree of government control over the economy – a dial of economic freedom-security that voters can periodically adjust. But Wealth of Nations was published in 1776 and Das Kapital in 1867. Much has changed since then.
My premise is that a rapidly growing number of people are stepping outside of this Right-Left, Smith-Marx, control-freedom spectrum and are approaching political-economics from the direction of objectives and data rather than from values, identity and ideology. Such people are scientific and believe in evidence, they celebrate individual freedom and diversity, they’re non-judgemental and they’re urgently concerned about our deepest social and environmental problems. Mostly young, they’re not interested in old fights about who runs what – they just want it to work. And today’s political-economics clearly isn’t working.
This narrative project is an effort to develop a coherent and communicable synthesis from emerging economic ideas, concepts and policies. Specifically, it is an attempt to weave together Kate Raworth’s Doughnut, the policies of carbon fee and dividend, monetary reform, land value tax and a basic income, and the singular idea of the commons. The goal is to tell a new political-economic story outside of the spectrum between and the argument among the twin extremes of market and state – a political-economic story that’s fit for the modern 21st Century. The goal is to offer a credible and coherent ideological alternative to the failing Left-Right political-economic stalemate.
That new story might go something like this:
It is a self-evident truth, easily verified by looking at any newborn baby, that all human beings are created equal. And it is a self-evident truth that, by the very virtue of their birth, every single living person is the inheritor and part owner of a vast and diverse pool of very real and very valuable intellectual, social, natural and other capital. It is therefore the fair, just and moral right of every single person to receive a share of the considerable returns on this collectively-owned capital, paid as a basic income sufficient for a dignified life with access to real social and economic connection, choice and opportunity.
In more practical and popular terms, the story might be something like this:
We own the atmosphere – if you want to dump your waste CO2 into it, then pay us. We own the monetary system – if it works to benefit anybody it should benefit us. We create the real value of property in New York, London and other cities – so we should get a share of the return. We own the oceans, the justice system and the back catalogue of Mozart. We own oil, gold, great buildings and vast estates. We own the intellectual property behind the vaccines you give your children and the protocols that give you the internet. We own our own data and thus a share of aggregate data. We, each of us and all of us – rich, poor, conservative, liberal, urban, rural, young and old – are wealthy. And each of us have a right to a share of the considerable returns from that vast and productive wealth with which to live and to compete – or not – as we choose and are capable, in the free and open market.
From a market perspective the story might look like this:
The global free and open market has lifted us from poverty, created wondrous innovations and given us vast choice, opportunity and freedom. But for the market to be truly free market actors must participate freely, and not under threat of destitution. And for the market to be truly responsible, all costs and resources must be paid for, including serious environmental and social costs and the use of public resources. In a free and fair playing field all compete freely and equally and there are no favours, subsidies, unpaid costs or players without choice. Market responsibility is inseparable from market freedom.
In dry economic terms I’m speaking of resource royalties, pigouvian taxes, helicopter money or monetary financing, property tax reform and associated savings all funding a citizen’s dividend – but that’s not going to set anybody’s soul on fire.
Real change requires politics and politics is grounded in values and stories. Telling stories and connecting through values is an art as well as a science and both that art and that science are different in a hyper-connected world of social media. In many important ways the story and the communication of that story are the same thing. Not only is the medium the message, but the message is also the medium. My point is that in political-economic stories as in all other stories – it’s not just what you say, it’s how you say it.
The ‘deliverables’ from this narrative project are therefore twofold: (1) a book outlining the core, systemic ‘meta-problems’ of debt, incomes and the environment, the three emerging corresponding policy solutions of monetary reform, a basic income and carbon dividends, and a synthesis narrative based on rigorous evidence and deep shared values; and (2) a business plan outlining a social and community platform focused on the viral communication of this narrative (both organically and through highly targeted advertising), and directing response towards strategically influencing political-economic discussion and politics.
If the 2008 crash, Donald Trump, Brexit and the melting arctic haven’t convinced you that something is deeply wrong in the world of political-economics, then nothing I say is going to convince you. In the midst of widespread and mounting voter discontent the political centre is steadily losing ground to the extremes, some of them alarming. A vast and increasing demand for deep, structural, fundamental change is being expressed in almost every election and is probably the one thing that most people agree on. Politics itself is changing.
Since economics is at the heart of politics we think politically in terms of political-economic narratives that paint a picture of how our economies operate and who should get what. But those 18th and 19th Century narratives are no longer working and are not carved in stone. It’s time for something new.
My work in this area can be found in my writing and in earlier experiments in communicating these policy ideas in Facebook and Twitter memes. I am actively seeking support and constructive collaboration in this project and welcome partners with something positive and practical to contribute.
We have to radically and quickly reduce the use of carbon and other pollutants in our economies. We have to dramatically increase individual economic security. We need a medium of exchange managed for the good of the entire economy and not in the interests of private bankers. We need to take speculation out of the market for the human necessity of a home. And we need to do all this and more in a way that balances the core universal values of economic freedom and economic security, that draws real political support from both the old Left and the old Right, and that can be implemented gradually and carefully within existing institutions.
I believe that we can have economic freedom, fair equality, universal security and environmental sustainability all at the same time. But such a free, fair, safe and sustainable world requires a new story.
You can find out more, follow my progress and support and contribute to my work on this political-economic narrative project through my Patreon account.