Who can bring about change? the problem of agency.

17 07 2009

thumbnailCATV6JYWSome readers of this blog have suggested that it has become an unofficial Dave Cameron adviser. In the limited dealings I have had with shadow Tory ministers it is clear that they are thrashing around to come up with answers for the problems created by the recession. But for reasons that are well rehearsed on this blog, the Tories are hardly more likely than Labour to be able to tackle the deep seated problems of the UK economy. The Tories have modelled themselves on the short term, presentational and market research driven approach pioneered by New Labour. They have no coherent plan for the future nor any vision for where the UK should go. In short they are as trapped in the present crisis as the party they wish to replace.

All of which raises a very painful dilemma. If New Labour is done and the Tories represent nothing new, how is it possible to affect the political and economic agenda? In the past there were two ways of thinking about capitalism. One was that the market was fine and should broadly be left to its own devices, with some support from the state. The other was that it could not consistently develop the economy, was crisis ridden and exploitative and should be replaced by some form of socialist society. In the latter case the agency for change was seen as mainly supported by the working class.

The demise of the socialist project has left only the market option on the table for the time being. And now even those who own and run the economy are doubtful that the market on its own can deliver. The need to give huge  amounts of state support to the financial and manufacturing parts of the economy have shaken belief in the market amongst the capitalist class itself. Even the Financial Times ran a critical series earlier this year called ‘the future of capitalism’. The employing class has little confidence in its own system and is open to the suggestion that market led economic growth is dangerous for the environment and damaging to society’s peace of mind.

In that sense it is pointless to try to model any response to the recession around what appear to be the interests of either the working class or the employing class. As agencies for positive change and progress they are, at least temporarily, bankrupt. So what is the point of maintaining a critique of the options on the table if there is no obvious agency for change? I do not have any easy answer to this question. However I think it is important that some people do stand back and try to look at the problems facing society as a whole, to attempt to create some coherent picture within which others can understand what is really going on.

As this is not a narrow class based approach it may mean that some possible solutions appear to be to the immediate detriment of some working people or some employers. For instance, the suggestion that defunct industries should not be propped up by the state. But, in this case for example, it is to the greater good of society as a whole that productive industries replace unproductive ones. Growth and prosperity depend upon innovation and investment in new dynamic industries not old failing ones. Nobody benefits from economic decline. Challenging anti-growth sentiments in society at least put the issue of the need for material progress on the agenda. Any revival of  political activity in any section of society which supported that would be welcome. For the same reason it is also encouraging when people stand up for their own interests and combat attempts to impose austerity.

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One response

17 07 2009
neilfutureboy

“…is open to the suggestion that market led economic growth is dangerous for the environment and damaging to society’s peace of mind”

seems to be the problem. Economic growth is good for everybody of all classes, except possibly politicians who gain power as regulators & dispensers of limited goods. If you decide you don’t want growth then obviously the recession ceases to, except insofar as getting others to embrace poverty is a proble,.

When can get out of recession easily, indeed it takes less effort than staying in it, & we have many examples in the world of it from Ireland, Estonia & Singapore to the BRICK countries so there is no mystery. Whether the Tory politicians will be significantly more willing to let us than the present lot is the only question.

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