Wednesday, 19 December 2012

We need social solutions for social objectives.

We need social solution to social problems. For too long society has been regarded as simply an aggregate of self-interested individuals. I would say the rot was established in the 1980s. The then British prime minister, Mrs Thatcher, famously said there was no such thing as society. We hold personal success more highly than we view social endeavour. Our attitudes to people has been dominated by consideration of financial success; we measure worth in money terms rather than the benefit others may give or receive from others; making a fast buck over social vocation. In truth we have found social excuses for the excesses of selfishness. Some even suggested that excessive selfish behaviour benefits all by some miraculous trickle-down to the poorest. Someone forgot to wave the wand because it didn't trickle down. The poor got poorer; the rich got richer.

The argument was that the rich getting richer was good because it provided jobs and opportunities for others. This has all come crashing down to earth. One thing the financial crisis has led to is a questioning or how some were able to make so much money without really doing very much. And now we know that some of these people pay little or no tax; they give little back to the society they exploit. Many of them are greedy takers.

Not long ago if I was to say all this, the response was that this was the politics of envy. This of course was another smokescreen for the rich to exploit others and often poorly paid workers. Quite frankly it stank but so many of us were involved in creating the stink we failed to smell it.

Companies failing to pay tax in the UK is not new.  It didn't suddenly appear since, say, 2010. Companies like Starbucks, paying its workers poverty wages and paying no corporation tax, didn't suddenly appear. They have been a part of the financial game in the UK for a long time. We just chose not to question it. We turned a blind eye to it. If it is a disgrace now when austerity is hurting, it was always so even in the good times. How could the parliamentary select committee have been so surprised by it; why did they not question it before?  It was a disgrace, just as it was always a disgrace that bankers paid themselves excessive bonuses. They were ripping us off.  It couldn't last because it was unsustainable. It was a mirage. It had no foundation; debt, bad debt was being created and sold on. The banks were acting like pimps. Selling the sin of ever more debt.  Public debt became private debt as more were encouraged to over-mortgage themselves to buy houses. Meanwhile the social stock of housing was sold off and we stopped building. Cars, televisions, computers, mobile phones, a consumer bonanza fuelled by debt. We were selling our future; or more correctly we were selling the future of our children.

These companies were ripping off Britain, libraries are now closing, services are being cut, benefits slashed, the unemployed treated a 'scroungers' and even the disabled attacked for being work shy. This is an appalling state of affairs. Our salvation won't come from get-rich-quick buccaneers. It will come from steady investment in growth. It will come from social solutions to the need for housing, health and welfare. But the government will blame almost everyone other than the wretched people who got us into this mess in the first place. We need to establish social objectives and we must consider how best these objectives can be achieved. The poor must not get poorer; it must be an objective that they fairly share in the wealth they are helping to create. We must create a fairer society. We must no longer assume that growth for growth's sake is sufficient.

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