Thursday, December 27, 2012

Labor needs to “Take the High Ground” on the Economy

above: Australian Labor Treasurer Wayne Swan made the right call on the surplus
The Federal Labor Government's reversal on the Federal Budget Surplus was considered a failure by some, but grassroots Labor activist, Tristan Ewins argues that Wayne Swan has made the right call on this one: Although unfair attacks on sole parents, the disabled and others need to be re-thought in the new context. Labor needs a bold social wage reform package, funded broadly by progressively extracting a fairer contribution from the top 15 per cent.

nb: our Facebook group can be found here:!/groups/58243419565/

Tristan Ewins
December 27th 2012

The headlines of the Melbourne Herald-Sun on December 21st proclaimed “Julia Clean Bowled – Third Broken Promise as $1 billion surplus axed.” Other headlines further into the paper announced: “Swan comes clean on deficit” and “Budget blows credibility of Gillard, Swan.”

To be fair, within the pages of the Herald-Sun there was some deeper and more balanced analysis – admitting the objective necessity of abandoning the surplus at this particular conjuncture. But clearly the editors of the publication were aiming to influence via first impressions: via the power of headlines; and the likelihood that many readers would not actually read through all the material.

So what of the reality, then?
With a world economy in crisis, even affecting Chinese growth – Australia has been hit; and so too have Australian tax revenues – including the GST and Company tax. Notably business is actually supporting Labor with regard postponing the surplus – well aware of the “multiplier effect” stimulus has upon the economy, and thus upon consumer and investor confidence. Tony Abbott is decrying Labor as “spending like a drunken sailor” – but this is nothing more than a play upon people’s misassumptions and prejudices. In reality Labor has held tax revenues down as a proportion of GDP, and has ‘robbed Peter to pay Paul’ – hitting Single mothers and many disability pensioners to provide some ‘fiscal room’ for Gonski and the National Disability Insurance Scheme. (NDIS)

For his part, also, Abbott has to explain how he will deliver his Paid Parental Leave for the upper middle class, while withdrawing the minerals resource rent tax, as well as the carbon tax, and restoring upper middle-class welfare in the form of a broad-based Private Health Insurance Rebate. And Liberal support for the NDIS is compromised by hysterical and deceptive panic-mongering about its price-tag; projecting into the future – without explaining the context of inflation – to provide a distorted impression of its ultimate cost. Lastly: Abbott’s agenda of cutting expenditure at this particular conjuncture would be deflationary and contractionary – a criticism of him which Labor and the corporates seem to have in common.
At the same time Liberal State governments are imposing austerity in their irrational drive for a ‘surplus at any cost’. Again, this is about retaining the political advantage on “perceived economic competence”. Having consistently distorted the question of economic management as approximating the management of a household budget, at all levels the Conservatives cannot confess the truth without undermining their political position. Thus in Victoria Ballieu has gutted TAFE expenditure to achieve a surplus: when in fact stimulus is required; as is investment on infrastructure, education and training to overcome capacity constraints. User pays mechanisms – for instance increased public transport charges and increased costs for license renewal – are also being imposed to bridge ‘the fiscal gap’ from falling GST revenue. While the Liberals like to avoid the word ‘tax’ – the effect of these measures approximate regressive, flat taxation.
But what should be done?

Budgets need to be balanced – but not always: only over the course of the economic cycle. And this need not imply ‘small government’ during periods of growth either: so long as the ‘inflation genie’ is contained some way or another – preferably progressively via taxation on the wealthy and upon conspicuous consumption. (also inflation shouldn't be raised as an excuse for distributive injustice and exploitation) During times of relative stagnation (ie: right now!) – and in some parts of the world outright Depression – the time is still right to bring forward big infrastructure programs for quality of life and to overcome capacity constraints. Again: this has a ‘multiplier effect’ on growth and confidence. 
At a state level the Liberal State Governments also need to face reality. Without investment in education, health and infrastructure the economy will wither – and human beings will suffer. The Conservative State Governments have argued meekly for an increased GST to overcome the ‘fiscal gap’ – but surely they perceive the bind Labor is in: restrained by the same ‘small government and surplus at any cost’ mentality which the Conservatives themselves have nurtured. If the State Governments are to acquire the funds they need it is imperative that they come out consistently, openly, clearly and loudly in favour of increased taxes, and against the lie that surpluses are always appropriate. No matter how politically unpalatable it may seem, a bipartisan consensus is necessary right now, here - in the national interest.

And in other words the Conservative State Governments need to publicly refute the position taken so far on this theme by the Abbott Federal Opposition. Only by doing can they provide Federal Labor the “political breathing room” to do what is necessary to restore State Government finances. To avoid embarrassment, Abbott himself could finally be responsible: taking the lead in conceding that we still live in precarious economic times; and hence action on the tax/stimulus/services/infrastructure front is necessary.

Finally: both Labor and the States need agree to progressive taxation reform – which is fair both to most working class families and to the disadvantaged. Increasing a flat, regressive GST is not acceptable. Yet if these conditions are met – then ‘the ball will be in Federal Labor’s court’ – to reform tax, maintain and expand infrastructure and services, and provide economic stimulus in uncertain times.

But even this compromise should not be enough for a reforming Labor Government. Gonski and the NDIS need to be “locked in” (with a price tag of about $14 billion) – and without ‘robbing Peter to Pay Paul’ again with regards critical social programs – or else reducing ourselves to empty, token and distant promises. To ‘deliver the goods’ for 2013 there is a need to raise tax as a proportion of GDP.

As against the popular assumption any tax reform would comprise ‘electoral poison’ there is the contrary argument that improved infrastructure and services – paid for via the progressive targeting of the top 15% wealth and income demographic – could appeal to a broad class base of support. Such an emphasis would be electorally viable on the basis of the economic interests of most Australians; but broad-based enough to bring in meaningful revenue.

Specific measures could include removing superannuation concessions for the top 5 per cent income demographic – bringing in over $10 billion. Meanwhile reverting to 75% dividend imputation (tax concessions on investments) could bring in over $5 billion while affecting mainly the wealthy: and with other (small) investors compensated via tax and social wage reform elsewhere. Should an incremental approach work, here, Dividend Imputation could later be reduced to 50% - bringing in over $10 billion. (in today’s terms) Company Tax cuts could – and should – be put on hold indefinitely (business needs to contribute to the training and infrastructure it benefits from); and income tax reform could also target the top 15% income demographic. A minimum Company Tax rate could be imposed; land tax imposed on properties valued over $1 million; and further taxes imposed upon economic rent in oligopolistic sectors such as mining and banking. Finally the Medicare Levy could be reformed to broaden its scope, apply a more progressive and graduated structure, and provide a desperately-needed boost to Aged Care – caring for the most vulnerable, and removing regressive user-pays charges that hit working class families hard.

The aim would be to free about $25 billion of new money for socially necessary programs – including desperately-necessary funding for the States - while at the same time providing economic stimulus. To put this in perspective, this would comprise about 1.5 per cent of a $1.6 Trillion economy) Further funds could be freed via even better targeting of programs such as the Private Health Insurance Rebate.

The programs that would emerge from such measures there must strike a balance between providing for the most vulnerable (the aged, the disabled, single parents, the poor); and in providing broad-based improvements of infrastructure, welfare and services that favour the “mainstream” – ie: the great majority of citizens, workers, families.

But time is running out for Labor. Vague and unrealized promises for the future will not be sufficient for the revival of Labor’s fortunes in 2013. Labor needs to ‘deliver the goods’ with infrastructure, services and social welfare programs well before the approaching 2013 election. And in doing so it could also do worse than to nail down the Conservatives’ economic irresponsibility in opposing stimulus and crucial social investment with their deceptive ploys on the theme of economic responsibility.

A Labor government which remains authentically on-message; succinctly explaining such themes as stimulus, economic multiplier effects, capacity constraints, and the economic role of infrastructure, education and training – could outflank the Conservatives with their claims to economic responsibility and competence. They could break the myth of Conservative economic credentials and competence.

Julia Gillard herself proclaimed at one point that Labor is a cause: and not a ‘brand’. Yet if the Labor cause is authentic, constantly “robbing Peter to pay Paul’, with “one step forward, two steps back” should not be acceptable. And neither should incessant mutual attacks upon character be considered a substitute for policy substance.

Labor needs to reconsider its recent attacks on single parents and disability pensioners. It needs new initiatives provided without unfair austerity elsewhere. We need to overcome infrastructure backlogs progressively; without inefficient, Ideological and perhaps even corrupt Public Private Partnerships. A public fast-rail line along the east coast could revolutionize transport logistics for business, and provide opportunities for citizens. And we need to implement the NDIS and Gonski; but also provide for other crucial yet less-politically convenient causes such as reform of Newstart. We need big new initiatives in Aged Care and mental health – because the most vulnerable of all cannot afford to wait.

Crucial to these initiatives could be the concept of ‘collective consumption’. That is: If we do not pay for health, aged care, infrastructure and education progressively (and relatively cheaply) as taxpayers – we will instead pay more for these regressively as private consumers.

Swan and Gillard have done the right thing – and the responsible thing - in abandoning the surplus for the time being. While it may have seemed politically prudential at one point, to follow through now would undermine the economy, and also Labor’s credentials. Now Labor needs to turn the economic debate around – so it is possible to conduct that debate on its own terms. Yet even if Labor does all this, victory in 2013 is not assured. Best, then, to lock a big reform agenda in: reforms in tax, social services, infrastructure and welfare that will put the Conservatives on the defensive; reforms they will not dare to wind back.

$25 billion in new social expenditure – and more accommodated through socially progressive savings elsewhere – could provide the vital ‘Labor war-chest’ – to provide much ahead of the 2013 election – and to promise even more in its wake. Yet even this is relatively modest in the big picture of a $1.6 Trillion economy. That sense of perspective is so often missing in Conservative critiques of Labor programs which (just like Conservative initiatives) necessarily go into the hundreds of millions or even billions. Even on the Labor Left - which is largely acquiescent on the issue of 'small government' these days - learning to think on this scale is necessary in coming to grips with a genuine reform agenda.

The bottom line is that an end be put to Labor’s decades-long retreat: that by appealing to and providing for both the disadvantaged and vulnerable – and to the ‘mainstream’ of working Australia – we can consolidate an electoral bloc, and begin anew ‘the steady march forward of Labor’.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

“Wisconsin Uprising Labor Fights Back” Book Review by Chris White

above:  In his work 'Wisconsin Uprising - Labor Fights Back - Michael Yates puts the case for labour movement militancy against austerity and abrogation of the rights of labour. The struggle for workers rights and public sector jobs in Wisconsin, America, mobilised tens and tens of thousands.  And in this book review of Yates' work - Australian labour movement authority and activist, Chris White examines the lessons from that struggle, including those lessons relevant for the labour movement in Australia as well.

Readers are also welcome to join our Facebook Group at the following URL:!/groups/58243419565/

“Wisconsin Uprising Labor Fights Back edited by Michael D Yates (Monthly Review Press)
Book Review by Chris White

In February 2011 at the same time as millions were rising up in Tunisia and Egypt in the ‘Arab Spring’, the workers’ uprising in Wisconsin with 150,000 militantly protesting and the occupation by union members and social justice activists of the state capitol in Madison electrified and inspired the US labor movement.

Wisconsin workers showed their colossal display of solidarity and outrage after decades of union passivity and defeat.

In Part One, ‘On the Ground in Madison’ five chapters record the excitement. Michael D. Yates:

‘First, as one who was there much of the time and who participated as one of the throng, not as a leader, there was most definitely something special happening, and everyone present knew it. For much of my adult life the actual prospects for social change seemed slender…The Wisconsin protests reaffirmed what many Americans had forgotten or never knew: that when people come together in solidarity directed toward social justice they are capable of great sacrifice and unrivaled joy. When there is a sense of solidarity, of hope, of dynamism, everything changes. The feeling this engenders, this bonding, is like breathing fresh air for the first time.’

Workers responded to the ruthless ruling class assault by ‘Tea Party’ rightwing Republican Governor Walker destroying collective bargaining rights and public sector services.
Connor Donegan in the first of 16 chapters in ‘Disciplining Labor, Dismantling Democracy: Rebellion and Control in Wisconsin’ describes Walker’s Budget ‘Repair’ Bill:

 “It was a monstrosity designed to destroy public sector unions, expand executive power over all government agencies, and slash health and social services by $50 million while restricting eligibility, raising fees, and excluding undocumented workers. He also aimed to privatize public utilities in no-bid sales.

…the entire public sector will be ‘right to work’, the state will no longer deduct union dues from paychecks, contracts will expire if union representatives fail to receive support from a majority of members in annual elections, employees’ contributions to pensions will increase to half the actuarial costs, and collective bargaining will be limited to wages. Certain university and health care workers will have no right to organize whatsoever. The legislation promised to land a deadly blow to all of Wisconsin’s public sector unions, on top of an immediate drop in take-home pay totaling roughly $1 billion each year.

…an equally monumental offensive on public education is pushing its way into law….that will defund public schools while establishing a parallel system of private schools, funded by the state.

…Then the downward pressure on public sector wages and conditions and taking away union collective bargaining rights.’

Connor Donegan gives begins with the occupation of the Madison capitol building with some 300 teachers and students attending the public sessions of the Budget ‘Repair’ Bill, and then calling on others to attend. They did in their thousands.

‘On February 15th 2011 700 students marching in the snow for miles to join an already huge number of 10,000 protesters, with teachers already organizing rallies, and the Wisconsin Education Association calling out for sick days teachers and the closing of schools, and then this infecting others with urgency and militancy. When the Senate was to vote those occupying organized blockades of doors and stairways and the Democrats left the Chamber and the State to try to ensure there was no quorum to vote and the police were powerless. Left groups demands of ‘Tax the Rich’ and ‘No Concessions’ became popular. But Governor Walker tactically changed so that a quorum was not needed and the Bill was ready to pass.

Despite calls for a strike, union leaders backed down arguing for a movement to collect signatures for an electoral recall of Republican Senators.

Despite the following days seeing 150,000 rallying, the scene was set for the mass movement to follow the Democrats down the electoral path, while many new solidarity actions and groups and large May Day rallies followed, the efforts were on the raising of signatures for successful recalls but ended in by-elections that disappointingly fell short by one of ending the Republicans’ Senate majority…(I add as well, after this book was published, the result of the mobilization to recall Walker, saw him later defeat his Democrat opponent.)

After the measures became law, public sector unions offered concessions on wages and conditions in return for their existence, but Walker refused winning the day getting both.’

‘Subjecting public sector workers to such conditions is a central component of the ruling class’s strategy to manage capitalism’s crisis. This is the same worldwide with “austerity measures” on working people while the rich and corporations do not bear the burden, and the high unemployment has the labour market disciplining workers further.’

In the Afterward, after the Wisconsin uprising, Michael D. Yates is encouraged by militant actions of the left OWS movement targeting the 1% ruling class:

‘One especially important opening is the possible alliance between those who are organizing OWS efforts and the labor movement.’ He recounts unions both joining OWS and attempting to co-opt the struggle. 

In Ohio a referendum defeated similar anti-union legislation.

In Oakland, the OWS and unions shut the port of Oakland with controversial debates. ‘Another problem is that organized labor has to confront legally binding collective bargaining agreements and a hostile labor law that usually prohibits various kinds of strikes and solidarity action. The ILWU, for example, has issued a statement saying, “To be clear, the ILWU, the Coast Longshore Division and Local 21 are not coordinating independently or in conjunction with any self-proclaimed organization or group to shut down any port or terminal, particularly as it relates to our dispute with EGT in Longview [Wash].” Members were advised as well that a public demonstration was not a picket line as defined by the collective bargaining agreement.’ 

Left socialist mobilisation was evident and how to develop class unionism is back on the agenda debated by a number of writers in the 16 chapters.

Chapters include analysis by Andrew Sernatinger on ‘Capitalist Crisis and the Wisconsin Uprising’ providing the context of the 2008 capitalist financial and public debt crisis and the Wisconsin response. He gives his account of the events, the first week mobilization without union and Democrat leaders and then the drama of the occupation of the capitol, the debates on whether to strike or not and assessment of in the end the lack of capacity of the working class to sustain the action.

‘After decades of neoliberal attacks and union demobilization, there was a serious lack of working-class organization, historic memory, and collective experience. Most people who showed up in February and March had never been to a protest in their lives, and fewer had been part of a strike. If there had been another strike of any kind, it would have been miraculous, but a general strike was solely a point of agitation; even so, it should give us pause that throughout the struggles in France and Greece the mass strikes that did materialize were not capable of repelling austerity measures.

 In the Wisconsin moment, there were no standing networks of rank-and-file unionists who could agitate to make it more likely that their unions would do what was needed to navigate a militant course for the movement.

Nor were there channels for community members and unorganized workers to meet and develop their own plans.

 …Despite setbacks and defeats, each struggle informs the next in kind, and statements of solidarity are sent from place to place in an understanding of common struggle. If we learn something from these places, it is that a radically democratic, “from below” orientation is not just a good idea or something we would like to see, but critically necessary for success in the battles to come. There is no simple move or strategy to take us out of this situation, but clearly we will have to prepare ourselves for patient, committed organizing and movement building.’

Lee Sustar in ’Who Were the Leaders of the Wisconsin Uprising?’ gives a detailed recounting of actions of rank and file unionists, from every sector of organized labor both public and private. Lee argues the recent Wisconsin history of resistance in the private sector helps explains why workers acted in solidarity. Public sector unions had to fight against former Democrat cutbacks.

 Militant unionists debated with union leaders over concessions or not, for more rallies and to widen the fight broader than collective bargaining. Appeals for strike action are hotly pressed with discussion on how to build a general strike - but not taken up. The turn to electoral recall politics is contested.

 ‘After a thirty year anti-union offensive by corporate America and its public sector counterparts, there is at last a two-sided class war.’

Dan La Botz in a ‘A New American Workers’ Movement Has Begun’ develops the important rise of service and public sector workers and their unions, combined with Wisconsin’s history of union struggle.

 He argues…’when a real labor movement arises, that is, a movement not merely of thousands or even tens of thousands but millions, it necessarily becomes transformative. Labor union officials who hesitate, who waver, or who knuckle under will soon find themselves challenged by new, younger leaders who will either force those officials to fight or push them aside. Such a movement will change the unions—often by changing the leadership first and sometime by changing the very institutions themselves….’

He recalls the debates over union leaders who channeled worker mobilization into the electoral recalls and to support the Democrats. One difficult debate is that of developing a party for working people. 

Frank Emspak analyses the right wing media appalling ‘reports’ but also importantly left media channels presenting the workers’ account. He tells of much of the excitement in the struggle, how workers organised and the efforts needed in the recall campaigns where all the eggs were put in this basket.

 ‘The Lessons of Wisconsin’ are summarized in the beginning of Part Two:
Grassroots, rank-and-file organization is critical to the success of any program of action; workers should always seize the moment and stay on the offensive as long as possible; compromise with capital is futile, given that capital wants the whole ball of wax and the working class is disorganized, confused, and insecure, easily manipulated and exploited; aggressive actions such as strikes are never outdated; traditional labor politics is a problem for and not a solution to the plight of workers; and workers always have power, whether they are in unions or not. A key lesson of Wisconsin is that a radically new labor movement will have to be built, from the ground up, if successful class struggle is to be waged.’

Rand Wilson and Steve Early in ‘Union Survival Strategies in Open Shop America’ survey how unions survive right-wing Republican anti-union States. They show the problems of public service unions with union dues dependence and workers as passive consumers of services who are not surviving. Where laws take away collective bargaining rights, they recount examples of how unions can survive with democratic organization and centres of mobilization for workers’ needs.

 Stephanie Luce in ‘What can we learn from Wisconsin’ promotes 5 lessons.

1. Mobilizing a Fightback Takes Organization

‘But despite some claims to the contrary, the upsurges are not built from scratch on Facebook and Twitter. No doubt these are tools that organizers can use, but whether it’s Egypt or Wisconsin, the large-scale protests were built upon existing movement infrastructure and organization.

Madison is well known as a center of antiwar and student organizing in the 1960s and 1970s, and the city and state had a progressive tradition long before that. In the 1990s, Wisconsin unions and community groups built Progressive Wisconsin, a statewide independent third party connected to the national New Party.’ She recounts more radical history of struggle.

‘…The key point is that the structures of organizations were in place. Though they are not all strong, they have access to resources, including politicians and staff in the legislature, steward systems in the unions, long lists of contacts, and some independent media. …activists sometimes want to find some kind of technical solution or magic bullet to organizing, and though the Internet and blogs can be useful, they cannot take the place of good old-fashioned person-to-person outreach and organizational structures.’


2. The Right Wing is making this the Fight of a Lifetime.

‘The Republicans have employed a number of other outrageous tactics.
I am not saying this to suggest Democrats don’t also pull dirty tricks. I am simply pointing it out to remind us that the opposition may stop at nothing to push their agenda. Just as organizers do during a unionization campaign, we need to be prepared to inoculate potential supporters—warning them of the range of tricks the opposition will likely try, including ones that are illegal.’

3. We have to be Bold.

‘Because the right has been so powerful, the left has often been timid, afraid of alienating “the middle” and losing everything. We temper our demands to sound “reasonable” but usually end up just ceding all ground. The protests in Madison did not start from a position of “reasonable.” Graduate students and public school teachers marched to the capitol to demand, “Kill the Bill.” They did not wait to see what focus groups or polls said about their message.

The head of the state’s largest police union defied orders to kick out the
protesters at one point, saying that despite what the legislature told them, they knew the difference between right and wrong.

 The solidarity was not just between unions. The protests against the bill were from workers angry about cuts in their health care and attacks on their unions, but also from thousands of people worried about the impact of the bill on public services overall.

…Protesters did not just oppose Walker’s plan, but asserted, “We are Wisconsin”—that public employees themselves, along with their allies, were the heart and soul of the state. In this way they did not start by ceding ground to the Tea Party/Republican mantra of smaller or no government.

…Of course, not all participants took such a bold stand. Leaders of the large statewide unions immediately and unilaterally agreed to the fiscal concessions in Walker’s proposal, against the wishes of local leaders and members. …Some Democratic Party officials tried to get the protesters occupying the capitol to leave so that others could negotiate a settlement…and tried to convince protesters to leave things in the hands of the lawyers pursuing legal challenges.

But the message here is that taking a bold stand can often build more support than pragmatic leaders might have you believe. …The realm of what is possible can change quickly. …There is also a lesson for political leaders, and this is that you sometimes need to step out of the way of the members…The status quo is against us, and many of the rules are not in our favor. Building a fightback movement will require us to disrupt the status quo, to break the rules, and to take risks.’

4. Hold Politicians Accountable from the Left

‘This highlights the question of accountability. One thing we learned in third-party work in Wisconsin and which the Tea Party seems to highlight is the need for a left pole: social movements and organizations that steadfastly make demands for what is necessary, and not just what is possible.’

 As well amongst the left…’ I am not saying that the differences in positions do not matter, because they do. …But instead of focusing so much energy on trying to persuade one another, we need to spend a lot more time talking to the millions of people who do not usually engage in political organizations and actions.’

5. Our Movement has to be Inclusive.

‘One of the reasons the Wisconsin fightback was inspirational is because it was so broad. Whereas the trigger point for many was the attack on collective bargaining, the protests were about more than that. The protesters at the capitol did not just talk about their unions, but about a whole way of life in Wisconsin. Teachers’ rights were connected to students learning.  Public sector bargaining was attached to the bigger vision of democratic rule. Unfortunately, too many of our unions have become narrowly focused on the immediate needs of their members.’

‘We are fighting for a democratic society in all aspects, and where our economy is centered around human need. We are for fighting collective problems with collective solutions. We cannot accept the lure of framing our demands to play best with focus groups or highlighting only the most “respectable” parts of our movement. This will only serve to divide us and then weaken us, and to limit our dreams.’

Recurring themes are that US unions have too much political reliance on the Democrats. Often Democrats in government fail to protect the public sector, go down the privatization road, and do not defend union collective bargaining rights. Michael D. Yates:

 ‘The Democratic Party has delivered next to nothing to labor for decades, except the knowledge that Democrats are not Republicans. Labor and progressives have been triangulated…Both options, it is now obvious, are dead-end streets, and the Wisconsin revolt only crystallized the point.’

The US politics is now consumed with the election and whoever wins the Presidency - and I believe Romney has to be defeated and Obama re-elected, even though he did not deliver for improved workers’ rights - many workers are now more schooled in these struggles and debate alternatives.  


Part three is on broadening and deepening the struggle. Key debates are on whether public sector unions struggling will survive or re-bound, changed, membership driven and militant. After Wisconsin, the September 2012 Chicago teachers 7 day strike won against Democrat Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who wanted to erode the power of the union insisting on concessions and advancing a billionaire backed “education reform” agenda. The Chicago teachers’ win shows union direct action and militancy grows – see

Michael Hurley and Sam Gindin in ‘The Assault on Public Services: Will Unions Lament the Attacks or Fight Back’ using Canadian experiences has important challenges for our public sectors in struggle now against the same right-wing policies. 

‘... We are living in one of those historic moments that cry out for rallying the working class to build new capacities, new solidarities, and concrete hope. The crucial question is not how far the attacks on the public sector will go. The question is how far we will let them go. How will working-class activists inside and outside the unions respond?’

‘An effective response requires a social movement much stronger than we currently have; and this raises the issue of the attack on unions. We obviously need to fight back; we know from experience that if we don’t, it only invites the other side to be even more aggressive.

But given what we are up against—a state determined to change the rules—it’s also clear that “business as usual,” even if more militant, won’t be enough….

The point is that “politics” needs to be redefined as building the kind of working-class organizations and capacities that can ensure that our needs are taken seriously. This means public sector unions using their significant resources to advance a political agenda that includes the entire working class.’

I argue similarly that changes are needed in Australia for workplace and political organizing by public service unionists to take more strike action, militant community protest and with a class orientation.

David Bacon in ‘Marching Away from the Cold War’ reports on the necessity to involve millions of immigrant workers joining revived huge May Day rallies.

‘One sign carried in almost every May Day march of the last few years says it all: “We Are Workers, Not Criminals!” In the largest U.S. May Day event in 2011, marchers were joined by the public workers who had protested in Wisconsin. May Day marches and demonstrations over the last five years have provided a vehicle in which immigrants protest their lack of human rights and unions call for greater solidarity among workers facing the same corporate system. The marches are usually organized by grass-roots immigrant rights groups, which have been increasingly cooperating with labor unions and the AFL-CIO.’

Michael Zweig in ‘Seeking New Priorities as Labor Challenges War’ argues for the importance of US Labor against the War

and the unions’ campaign to shift military spending to health, education, housing, welfare priorities and impose a millionaires tax and tax on financial transactions. See Organizations like USLAW and New Priorities are necessary in Australia with US marines in Darwin and the upgrading of US bases in the containment for war with China.

Fernando  Gapasin details Union City experiences in ‘Building Communities of Solidarity’. Ellen Leary argues that ‘Wisconsin is overwhelmingly white, and most of the protesters were white. It is not possible to build a labor movement without the active participation and leadership of people of colour.’

 I met the ILWU International Longshore and Warehouse Union in San Francisco and learnt how this union implements “An Injury to One is an Injury to All”. The union takes militant direct action against the anti-union laws winning against a corporate attempt for a greenfield non-union site as recounted by Michael D. Yates ‘Class Warfare in Longview, Washington: “No Wisconsin Here”. The ILWU did not rely on the Democrats and class unionism was victorious.

I agree with editor Michael Yates. ‘These essays are outstanding. The accounts of the events in Madison in the winter and early spring of 2011 are the best I have seen in writing, with context, detail, and analysis…the connections of the Wisconsin revolt to the existential questions facing the labor movement are handled with a clarity, intelligence, perspective, and urgency that is exactly appropriate to the task. This book is a fundamental historical document in its own right and will stand the test of time. … The writers, high quality US labor journalists and scholars, on the ground at the time, examine the causes and impact of the revolt, and debate lessons to be learned by union leaders and left activists on how the labor movement might proceed in this new era of union militancy.’

These debates for Australian unionists and left activists are similarly pressing. Much of our corporate and LNP’s right-wing politics with state governments O’Farrell, Newman etc are from the same Republican tactics, no more so in their attack on workers rights and wages and conditions, their laws to destroy public sector unionism and savage ‘austerity’ cuts to public education, health, welfare etc services. Abbott as PM will try on the same attacks. See

The lessons for Australian workers and their unions are the same in developing the fight for mass struggle against this rich class assault. Like US unions, the ALP political dominance over unions, ‘laborism’ and voting in ALP governments in Australia demands a debate to change the politics of our unions.

 While Australian unions defend more strongly workers’ interests with wins with community unionism campaigning, like US unions, we are not developing class unionism - needed in the challenges working families face against the ruling class assault.

Michael D. Yates concludes: ‘Those of us who have written for this book have, to use Gramsci’s memorable phrase, always had an “optimism of the will.” It might be time for an “optimism of the intellect” as well.’

Connor ends with Rosa Luxemburg: ‘The organization does not supply the troops for the struggle, but the struggle, in an ever growing degree, supplies recruits for the organization.’

With this book we can join in the debates and assist in showing why workers struggle.

I posted reports on the uprising. I now have these chapters on my blog - search for ‘Wisconsin Uprising’.

Chris White worked for unions for 27 years and was Secretary of the UTLC of SA. He now lives in Darwin and is an Honorary Senior Research Fellow at The Northern Institute, Charles Darwin University.


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Reforming Australian Curricula: Why is Kevin Donnelly afraid of a Robust Democracy?

above:  Kevin Donnelly's vision of education curricula in Australia excludes education for active and critical citizenship

The following article puts the case for curriculum reform promoting active citizenship and critical thinking amongst young Australian students.  Specifically, the author argues there should be cross-partisan consensus were all parties truly committed to democracy in practice...

nb:  The Left Focus facebook group can be found at the following URL, and provides regular updates of new material here at the blog itself: See:

Tristan Ewins; November 18th, 2012

Conservative Education commentator, Kevin Donnelly has again been in the headlines – attacking progressive aspects of secondary curricula in Australia.  On November 3rd in Melbourne’s “Herald-Sun” Donnelly was quoted as criticising the lack of emphasis on Britain in the origins of Australia’s system of government. But Donnelly also went further – condemning civics and citizenship provisions in curricula as encouraging students to become “cultural warriors for the Left”.  Indeed Donnelly indicated he was “concerned” by the “active citizenship” emphasis. 
(Herald-Sun, 3/11/2012, p 22)

I have a number of arguments in response to Donnelly’s stance.

To begin – to be opposed to “active citizenship” ‘in principle’ is suggestive of a disdain for democracy..  Active and critical citizenship are the foundation for any robust democracy as any genuine liberal and/or democrat should be able to grasp. Democracy only functions when an informed, mobilised and engaged citizenship is capable of (and inclined and willing to) hold the powerful – including politicians – to account.   When active citizenship decays, so too does democracy – and in this sense the cynicism and disengagement of Australian citizens is a genuine threat.  

But in order to engage constructively citizens require certain ‘intellectual tools’ – to help in formulating cohesive values systems, a sense of their interests, and of different perspectives on the proper rights and responsibilities of citizenship.  Arguably what is required is “education for ideological literacy” and the imparting of ‘skills of deconstruction’ which assist tomorrow’s active citizens in discerning the ways in which ideologies and institutions themselves (both on the Left and the Right) have been socially and historically constructed.  For some the word ‘deconstruction’ is synonymous with ‘nihilism’; but this need not be the case if we do not choose for it to be so.  There remains scope for a certain kind of deconstruction side-by-side the positing of certain ‘universals’: the value of life, liberty, community and a sense of universal humanity; of kindness and altruism; and the value of culture and science as forces driving improved quality of life and self-realisation for all of us.   

Both the Labor Party and the Liberal Party are experiencing severe organisational decline in Australia – and have been for some time.  You would think there would be a cross-party commitment to the principles of active citizenship as a remedy for the drift towards the scenario of a “detached political caste” governing over a disillusioned and disengaged populace.  Education for active and informed citizenship need not simply be a ‘Trojan horse’ for either the Left or the Right – but rather should be considered a revitalising factor for democracy generally; and an empowering factor for all young people.  An emphasis on active and ideologically literate citizenship is about encouraging young people to think critically and empowering them to see through the ‘spin’ employed by all political parties in today’s society, with its emphasis on the short term media cycle.  The result of a more robust ‘active and critical’ civics and citizenship education curriculum would be a stronger democracy; with young citizens capable of ‘reading against the grain’ whether the texts in question are of a conservative, liberal or socialist perspective. 

As a consequence we would have not only more committed liberals or socialists – but also more committed conservatives.  While we might see some young people gravitating towards socialist, labour and human rights organisations, we could just as easily see other young people grappling with economic liberalism; engaging with the ideas of values of, say, Hayek or Burkean Conservatism; or of ‘Christian social welfare centrism’.  Underscoring an active/critical agenda would be an inclusive pluralism as the basis for cross-party consensus.

And this could be achieved in the context of education regarding the principles of the ‘liberal democratic settlement’;  a settlement of agreed liberal, social and democratic rights which provide a ‘framework for relative conciliation’ for societies such as ours.  (although in the spirit of critical enquiry even this would be open to relativisation from critiques both from the Left and Right; including those seeking ‘a new constitution’; which is the substance of any political revolution)   The point would be to consider the role of democracy in ‘setting oppositions free’, but also resolving them peacefully; though accepting civil disobedience as a legitimate strategy where differences are irreconcilable – but not accepting a descent into escalating violence. 

Why is Kevin Donnelly so determinedly opposed to such a scenario?

Both the authoritarian Left and the authoritarian Right would likely “have problems” with an education system which seeks to empower and mobilise individuals to think deeply and critically, and encourage them to express themselves, organise, and participate.  But leftists, liberals, democratic conservatives – should all at least hold to a ‘shared political ground’ when it comes to empowering young Australians with tools of ideological literacy and criticism – not as a ‘Trojan Horse’ for either the Left or Right – but on the assumption that ‘democracy is a good in of itself’.

Perhaps Donnelly has a point: that education about Australia’s historic cultural and political ties to Britain are important – even though ‘unfashionable’ for those planning and formulating this nation’s curricula.  But if there is an important place for recognising the place of Britain in the Australian nation’s cultural heritage, surely there must also be a place for ideological and cultural literacy. 

In part this means communicating the experience of people otherwise excluded in Australia’s historical cultural narratives: including the experiences of women, migrants and indigenous Australians.  But it should  also involve critical engagement with other sources of Australian identity and tradition: whether ‘the ANZAC spirit’, or ‘the spirit of Eureka’.  Importantly: curricula need to be pluralist, inclusive and balanced with regards such content.

English can play a central role in encouraging critical thinking and critical writing – regardless of any ideological prejudice.  The study of History, meanwhile, could be framed in such a way as to critically interrogate values systems – whether that means exploring critiques of capitalism looking at the Great Depression; or exploring the sources of totalitarianism in both its Stalinist and Fascist forms.  To be balanced there could also, for instance, be a consideration of ‘both sides’ of the debate with the retreat of the welfare state and mixed economy from the 1970s. And Politics can provide for a more direct engagement with the political philosophies which underscore our pluralist society: whether socialist, liberal or conservative.   

Finally Pluralism itself needs to be the underlying principle of all such attempts, also: to maintain a cross-partisan consensus on the need for education for active and critical citizenship. 

As a socialist I can nonetheless appreciate the wisdom in Edmund Burke’s words: "All that’s necessary for evil in the world to triumph is for good men to do nothing”.   An active/critical civics and citizenship education model is about encouraging students to think carefully about what is right, and then to stand up for that in the context of participatory democracy.

I implore Kevin Donnelly: think again about your opposition to education for active and critical citizenship.  Commit yourself to a new consensus – based on a genuinely pluralist curricula – which can only strengthen the democracy that we all claim we believe in.  

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Righteous Mind - A book review by Eric Aarons

above: the author of this week's book review by Eric Aarons, Jonathan Haidt       

In this week's 'Left Focus' post we have a book review by former Australian Communist leader
Eric Aarons.     Aarons reviews Jonathan Haidt's '  "
The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion".   In summary, the book concerns the search for the social and psychological sources of morality.  

Jonathon Haidt (pronounced ‘height’) has written an interesting book titled The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. He is professor of psychology at the University of Virginia and a visiting professor of business ethics at New York University’s Stern School of Business. He writes clearly, and employs metaphors to make his main points.

The flyleaf introduction says: ‘His starting point is moral intuition – the nearly instantaneous perceptions we all have about other people and the things they do’, adding that ‘These intuitions feel like self-evident truths, making us righteously certain that those who think differently are wrong’. Though noting that those intuitions differ across cultures, he concentrates on the United States and in general on the WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic) countries, thereby including Australia.                                                          

Haidt’s first metaphor is ‘the rider and the elephant’. The huge and powerful elephant is the embodiment of the instincts (not mentioned by the author , though I don’t see how they can be excluded) intuitions, feelings and emotions we all have, and are expressed, particularly in our values. Instincts are generally taken to be the ‘hard-wired’ or gene-determined aspects of our nature; intuitions arise from our life experiences and, together with our instincts, fashion our patterns of behaviour that can be roughly described as our ‘cultural characteristics’, in striving to secure our needs, pursue our wants, and reach our goals.

The rider is our reasoning self whose task, according to Haidt, is to serve the elephant by steering it away from dangers it cannot see or comprehend: ‘Brains evaluate everything in terms of potential threat or benefit to the self, and then adjust behaviour to get more of the good stuff and less of the bad.’ (p. 35) Overall, in the author’s view expressed in his second metaphor: ‘We are 90 Percent Chimp and 10 per cent Bee’ (p. 187) – proportions we could argue about while accepting the principle.

There are two aspects to this. Though not everyone sees humans in this light, it is no great surprise that many think we are basically self-centred, often violent and dictatorial individuals like Chimpanzees with whom we share 99 per cent of genes, with a minor mix of the social behaviour of bees. These insects are characterized by living in hives and having a division of labour, with the Queen delivering all the offspring of the relatively few sexual males (drones), with the rest doing all the work of hive-building, and nectar collection that in the process fertilizes plants with pollen for their reproduction. This other aspect has been elaborated by biologist and naturalist Edward O. Wilson in his latest book The Social Conquest of Earth (2012), which is intended as an essential moral lesson for modern humanity. The flyleaf introduction expresses this, proclaiming that ‘the origin of modern humanity was a stroke of luck, good for our species for a while, bad for most of the rest of life forever’.

Importantly, Haidt warns that though he does not discount such major issues as ‘the meaning of life’, he uses his metaphor in this book mainly to solve such puzzles as ‘why it seems like everyone (else) is a hypocrite and why political partisans are so willing to believe outrageous lies and conspiracy theories [and] to show how you can better persuade people who seem unresponsive to reason.’ (p. xiv)

David Hume

Haidt gives credit to David Hume (1711 – 1776) for his contribution to the understanding of morality. In his day, Hume was the foremost representative of the view that morality was an inborn ‘sense’, an organic part of human nature. He opposed the Rationalists who held that morals were a later product of reason, particularly on the grounds that reason was not of itself a spur to action, whereas the ‘passions’ had precisely that implication. This stance, inadvertently and wrongly, led to the view that Hume was advocating the principle that no ‘is’ can give rise to an ‘ought’ – that is, from no factual condition existing in the world can it be deduced, or the conclusion drawn, that a moral ‘ought’ to do anything about it can logically flow.  This was enshrined by some philosophers as ‘Hume’s Law’ and was so cited by the founder of neo-Liberalism, Friedrich Hayek: ‘Nobody was more critical of or explicit about the impossibility of a logical transition from the is to the ought.’ (HumeA Collection of Critical Essays Edited by V.C. Chappell, 1966, p. 344).

The issue arose from a passage in Hume’s conflict with the rationalists, analysed by Steven Buckle in his Doctoral thesis (published as a book Natural Law and the Theory of Property, Grotius to Hume, 1991):

All the rationalist moral theories, with their attempts to found morals entirely in reason, or abstract rational relations, implicitly deny the reality or significance of moral sense. So, when these theories introduce the word “ought”, they have introduced a new relation which they cannot explain. This is a decisive failing. A moral theory without obligation is no moral theory at all, since morality is a practical matter, and the obligation is precisely the action-making element – the motive force – in moral practice. (p. 282)

We’ll meet Hume again later, but if there were ever a time in which the connection between existing facts and a moral ‘ought’ obligating us to act stands out more prominently than at any other, it is the here and now, with the factual twin challenges of global warming and the resource sustainability of our planet!

The Political Centerpiece

The  author’s main conclusion to the first chapter is this advice:

If you want to change someone’s mind about a moral or political issue, talk to the elephant first. If you ask people to believe something that violates their intuition, they will devote their efforts to finding an escape hatch – a reason to doubt your argument or conclusion. They will almost always succeed. (p. 50)

Haidt leaves no doubt that his book has political aims. He is worried about the negative consequences that would flow from a continuation of the present trend, becoming world-wide, of increasing violence in language between different sides of the political fence, carrying threats of actual violence, and in not a few cases the act itself. In the extreme form we have terrorism, which has its own specific sources, but in today’s globalized world, everything tends to interact.

I will not try to describe all those multiple sources, but hazard the view that peoples, from the WEIRD to the underdeveloped and repressed, sense that something like what Haidt calls a Rubicon Crossing (as in Julius Caesar’s crossing of a river of that name to gain control of the Roman Empire) is in the wind. A decisive part of this is climate change and planetary sustainability, but we now also experience a flashback of nearly a hundred years to an economic catastrophe that few people alive today experienced, and a repeat of which people had been assured could never recur. We also have a revolt against long oppression in Arab and other countries, a challenge to American dominance and assurance of security to the rest of the WEIRD countries. And if these and other problems are to be adequately confronted, social changes of ‘Rubicon Crossing’ dimensions will have to be made.

Haidt has implied and others have told us that intuitions, formed from past experiences in life, form the basis of the elephant’s trajectory, and are generally acted on immediately as being true. But now many of the old truths no longer apply; people feel this, but new intuitions are not immediately formed, nor do previous theories work  as they did or appeared to do before. The times are experienced as being topsy-turvy, and it may take some years for a new, socially workable plateau to take shape. These are often called ‘revolutions’ of which there have been not a few in human history, and they do not need to be violent.

Haidt’s central metaphor for Part 111of his book is that ‘We are 90 percent Chimp and 10 percent Bee’ – the Chimp dominating, often violent, and self-centred; the bee socially oriented and even altruistic. We do in fact share 99 percent of genes with Chimpanzees, and often suffer from the dominating ways of top males and a general lack of cooperation. But having read Christopher Boehm’s 1999 book Heirarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior,  and works of Franz de Waal, he accepts that egalitarianism prevailed for scores of thousands of years, and that those early peoples found ways to deal with ‘free loaders’, prior to the advent of agricultural society.

Moral Matrices  

Somewhat on the left in American terms, Haidt wants it to overcome its disadvantage in competition with the Right by correcting the too narrow base of its ideological position. This he does by defining what he calls the modules of ‘the moral foundations’. There are six of these: Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Authority, Sanctity and Liberty, which he clarifies by placing them in conjuncture with their opposites:
Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/degradation and Liberty/oppression.

Haidt believes that the American Left pays too little attention to all except the first two of these, while the Right, gains by the wider scope of their moral and cultural concerns. Some Australian writers, for instance David McKnight in his 2005 book Beyond Right and Left: New Politics and The Cultural Wars, has covered similar territory, while climate change and planetary sustainability surely constitute a new moral (values) foundation that neither Right nor Left has so far adequately grappled with, either in America, Australia or other WEIRD countries.

Connection between the inside and the outside – mind and body

A psychologist cannot be expected to give equal attention to body as well as mind and, though he does quote Antonio Damasio’s treatment of the connection between our emotional and cognitive faculties, he pays little attention to what goes on outside the mind. That is, the activities that are needed to maintain a body that can sustain the brain by providing it with enough energy from the particularly high blood supply it needs to think, intuit and respond to the demands of instincts. These include automatic reflexes, for instance that of bodily balance. But many thinkers did pay attention to these aspects of humanity, including Adam Smith and David Hume, and a number of others including one who wrote:

In every inquiry concerning the operations of men when united together in society, the first object of attention should be their mode of subsistence. Accordingly as that varies, their laws and policy [and one could add their ways of thinking] must be different.

No, it wasn’t Karl Marx; it was William Robertson, who wrote it in 1812, four years before Marx was born.  Marx wrote similarly, elaborating and extending the idea, though I doubt he actually knew of Robertson’s conclusion. Marx’s work in this field was fruitful, but contained faults, ignoring other factors, including and in particular, neglect of morality and values.

In pointing out that the Liberty/oppression module changed things after that long period of egalitarianism, Haigt does not canvas any of the reasons involved, other than psychological and moral ones. I believe the central factor was that agriculture, in its various forms, raised the productivity of labour, thereby providing a surplus above purely survival needs. For instance, slavery before this was not an option when each person in a group could, overall, produce only enough for their own survival. And, during the long transition to inequality,  there arose in a number of places what were called ‘big man’ societies, where dominant owners, feeling the pressure of the earlier egalitarian culture, would strive to satisfy it by putting on festivals and feasts. As such overlaps weakened, the dominance of concentrated property, and ultimately financial wealth, took on more oppressive and even brutal forms, though ideological hegemony has up to the present been predominant in the WEIRD countries.

Evolutionary theory

The second part of Haidt’s book concentrates on the theory of evolution, naturally beginning with Darwin. Specifically it canvasses the possibility of competition between groups as well as between individuals resulting in the natural selection of the fittest group. There is also evidence of a cultural practice achieving genetic status. When herding of milk-producing animals occurred about 10,000 years ago, children alone could produce the enzyme that split the sugar lactose into its two digestible parts. But most adults today can now produce that enzyme, and consume large quantities milk, cheese and other dairy products. Haidt gives a couple of other examples purporting to have a like trajectory, but it seems to me that these examples, even if true, are not likely to play a major role.

Selfish Genes

‘The selfish gene’ is a clever but misleading metaphor created by Richard Dawkins and used as the title for his best-selling 1976 book . Haidt gives far better definitions of ‘selfish’ and ‘groupish’:

When I say that human nature is selfish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our own interests, in competition with our peers…, When I say that human nature is also groupish, I mean that our minds contain a variety of mental mechanisms that make us adept at promoting our group’s interests, in competition with other groups. We are not saints, but we are sometimes good team players.

Yet in his work and in that of many biologists, and now psychologists, there are what I believe to be questionable dichotomies .

Selfish’ seems often to be taken to be the antonym of ‘altruistic’, individualism often equated with individuality, and cooperation sometimes taken as a denial of that individuality.    Dawkins has 4 index references to altruism, none for cooperation. Haidt has 22 index references to altruism, none for cooperation, though it is referred to in several places in his text. Altruism is not unimportant, and displays of it are elevating and praiseworthy. Nor do I cavil at Haidt’s  preference for the term ‘groupishness’, because of our limited capacity for meaningful relations with a virtually infinite  number of others. But I do think it tends to obscure the centrality of cooperation for early, and indeed in all states of human social existence.

Cooperation neither detracts from individuality, nor requires disregard of self. It was characteristic of all early humans, such as Australian indigenous peoples. They arrived on the continent about 60,000 years ago, spread over the whole of it, and survived several major extremes of climate change and other hazards. Now comprising about 200 groups they refer to as ‘nations’ they are basically kinship groups, speaking 230 distinct languages and perhaps 500 dialects. They are hunter-gatherers on their particular parcel of land which they regard as ‘owning’ them rather than the other way around. I think the tragic results of European invasion are well enough known, but no one who has anything to do with these people can fail to discern the ‘common humanity’ that I believe underlies the cultural and psychological spheres, whether or not some particular aspects of them may now have become genetically involved.

Haidt himself seems to be aware of the quantitative and time aspects of this issue, writing:  ‘I don’t think evolution can create a new mental module from scratch in just 12,000 years … (p. 216), He is also aware of the dangers of the present trend of heightened political conflict, where previous give and take in negotiations enabled conflicts to be mitigated and sometimes lasting ‘settlements’ arrived at between various components of the society. The present challenges I have outlined are, I trust, at the top of his priorities when he writes: ‘Who among us will still be alive a year from now? Will it be the biggest, strongest and most violent individuals in each town? Or will it be the people who manage to work together in groups to monopolize, hide, and share the remaining food supplies among themselves?’ (p. 217).

I like to think that humanity can do better than that, and will in time undertake what I believe (after Karl Polanyi) to be ‘The Greatest Transformation’ ever, in which all nations and peoples will, for the first time in history, have perceived the necessity to cooperate and live sustainably on our planet – our only possible home – for an indefinite stretch of centuries ahead.

Structure and Agency; the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’

We return again to David Hume to discuss relationships between structure and agency that have long featured in discussions about society, especially in sociology. In particular, the point at issue has concerned the relative degrees of causality in outcomes brought about by individuals or groups, and already existing social structures  (now including the natural environment and the rest of the earth’s biota).
And, on another ‘structural’ front, though in this case differentially for separate countries, we are rapidly reaching the point at which the peoples of the whole world, whether they like it or not, will find that they cannot double every 20 or so years our ‘take’ from the earth’s resources of oil, gas, coal, water, timber, many minerals, fresh water, fish … because they won’t be there. No human ‘agency’ can surmount such objective facts.

David Hume lived at the beginning of the capitalist era, and belonged to its progressive wing. But he did perceive its flawed underside, which he described by saying that: ‘ unlike other passions which are quite inconstant, material interests are constant and difficult to restrain [and that] this avidity alone of acquiring goods and possessions for ourselves and our nearest friends, is insatiable, perpetual, universal and directly destructive of society.’ (A Treatise of Human Nature , second edition ed. Selby-Bigge, p.p. 491-2)
I quote this not because I think that capitalism alone led to these outcomes, or that its practices are evil, full stop. But I do so because its extremes have got out of hand, as did the extremes of Marxist socialism. We have now reached the point where ‘sufficiency’ ought to replace the ‘avidity’ Hume refers to. 

Today’s politics                

Haidt’s ‘six mental foundations’ modules approach:  Care/harm, Fairness/cheating, Loyalty/betrayal, Authority/subversion, Sanctity/ degradation and Liberty/oppression , are useful, especially for a modern left in today’s conditions. The Right is having severe troubles that are likely to remain virulent for several more years. But the Left has yet to fully identify with building a coalition of social forces strong, enlightened and moral enough to cross the Rubicon we face.  

The increasingly  urgent nature of the environmental and fiscal dilemmas facing humanity needs to be addressed by all people. Both sides are in the same earthly ‘boat’, and as such need to listen to each other. Jonathan Haidt  suggests a possible pathway.   
What would a society accomplishing that feat be like?
It is neither possible nor advisable to attempt to give a detailed description of changes that will require two or perhaps even three generations’ efforts and struggles to fully bring about. It will be a state of affairs that will have ended excessive emissions of global warming gases and won the battle for ‘sufficiency’ in our take of resources from the earth’s great but limited bounty. It will establish economic arrangements that do not require endless growth in material production and ever-greater gains for rich individuals and enterprises. It will have  begun to reduce the inequalities within and between nations, and slowed the rate of growth of the world’s population. It will have tamed the financial sector by changing profit to yield thereby radically reducing the danger of economic crises, and levelled power on the economic playing field.

It will have established a different view of ‘progress’
At first encounter this may seem to be ‘going backward’ from where you were or currently are; but think of the many benefits: It will lay the basis for a far more egalitarian existence for all the world’s peoples, both within and between nations. It will have begun to switch the focus of the majority of people away from social status based mainly on acquisition of wealth, to the development of cultural pursuits and deeper multi-dimensional  relationships. It will expand our horizons with better health, education, caring and gradual elimination of all forms of discrimination. It will have begun to solve the work/life conflict – that is, helped to establish a harmonious combination of these two sides of most people’s lives, the absence of which is one of the biggest issues in the search for the elusive ‘happiness’. It will have preserved our beautiful and majestic environments and the creatures it harbours into the indefinite future of untold generations.
Should we be able to find and communicate with other intelligent beings, it would represent Homo sapiens’ gift to the universe.

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