The article was published in the Spring 2006 edition of It’s Simpol, the magazine of the International Simultaneous Policy Organisation.
What makes the Simultaneous Policy initiative so different from most political ideas is its explicit acknowledgment that national governments can no longer solve domestic social and economic problems in isolation. In a global economy, politicians can only effectively respond to citizens’ concerns through international cooperation towards common ends. The root causes of injustice are now embedded in global economic arrangements which are beyond the reach of national politics.
This separation of national politics and global economics is the result of deliberate policies on the part of previous generation of politicians. Whatever their motives, they bequeathed us a global economy which favours minority wealth and corporate power, which assures a steady widening of the gap between rich and poor, which offers no framework for addressing the environmental crisis, and which leaves national democracies quite unable to promote majority interests.
The economic revolution of the last quarter century is considered by most advocates of greater social justice to be a bad thing, but while it undermines democracy and threatens the survival of our civilisation, it could also represent a tremendous opportunity.
Karl Polanyi coined the phrase ‘double movement’ to describe the process by which, each time the wealthy minority change the economic rules in their favour, an opposite reaction occurs in the shape of social measures implemented to redress the balance. In pre-democratic times, this was not so much a matter of social justice as of preserving the fabric of society, which then as now, was stretched to breaking point. The question today is whether the reaction element of the double movement is achievable on a global basis. The only possible form that reaction can take, it seems to me, is the path prescribed by SP.
Globalisation should be viewed as an opportunity not only because it forces nations to work together on solutions to common problems, but because, as the world is brought closer together, we are constantly reminded of how people of different cultures hold very similar core values. The most common argument against the possibility of progressive social change is the purportedly insurmountable obstacle of cultural difference: different groups holding quite different and irreconcilable values. But in my experience the reality is quite the opposite: the one thing that all human cultures and populations have in common is a set of core values, principal among which is a strong desire for economic independence.
Worldwide, people desire the freedom to work for their own wellbeing and to receive a just reward for their efforts. Equally, people of all cultures dislike the injustice in economic arrangements which allow a small minority to enjoy the privilege of unearned wealth. In poorer countries this injustice is more acutely felt because poverty is absolute and the contrast between rich and poor is therefore more apparent, and because it is more obvious that the source of the undeserved wealth of the minority is the under-rewarded labour effort of the poor majority.
The values which are supposed to set us apart, and to make a world based on mutually beneficially cooperation impossible, are corrupted values which only emerge when people are denied the basic economic freedoms to which all citizens have a natural and equal right. Of course people behave competitively when such behaviour is the only way to ensure their children are fed. Of course they allow their values to be compromised when they hear nothing from their elected leaders about justice and equity.
The values of economic independence, equity in access to economic opportunities and justice in the distribution of the rewards arising from economic effort already feature prominently in the policy content being formulated by SP adopters. These are precisely the values held simultaneously by people the world over. But the challenge now is to persuade people in sufficient numbers, on a worldwide basis, that SP offers a framework through which these commonly-held values can be translated into globally realisable policies. Despite growing support for SP, conventional politics remains stuck in the belief that there is no alternative to current economic arrangements and that competition between nations reflects a natural and unassailable order.
History suggests that inclusive values usually find a way to counter the forces of minority privilege, but this has never been tested on a global basis, and never have the stakes been so high. Such a unique challenge demands a unique response, but to provide that response SP requires a fully functioning democracy and the informed participation of millions of people.
We need to breath life into democracy so that it delivers structures and policies which promote majority interests and neutralise minority power. The scale of the change which SP implies for global political and economic structures will need to be matched by a similarly giant leap forward in people’s perception and understanding. Support for SP needs to reach a tipping point past which it gathers a momentum of its own and enters the political mainstream.
To have any chance of achieving this, SP must talk about values. Economics without values is an empty discipline which cares only for abstract statistics and nothing for human wellbeing. SP must counter the assumption that human nature makes competition the only possible basis for relations between people, nations and cultures. It must reach out to people at all points on the political spectrum, and it must appeal to those not especially interested in politics – can anyone be blamed for giving up on politics given its current febrile state? Most of all it must be ambitious: there is no halfway house between our current unjust and anti-democratic global society and a world based on cooperation, inclusion and sustainability.
SP is ideally placed to shape the debate about the future prospects for humankind. If it can put itself the heart of an international democratic mass movement for progressive change, then the Enlightenment aspiration for a world in which freedom and justice are the privilege of all citizens may finally be realised.