Waste and Decentralisation

From Stumbling and Mumbling

In one respect, the Left should be a little worried by the Conservatives’ failure.
To see what I mean, consider John Kay’s claim that there’s an intellectual vacuum” on the Left:

The search for a practical political philosophy for the left in Europe has…moved backwards since 1997. Market fundamentalism is out of favour, the failings of socialism are still not forgotten. Social democracy seems inevitably associated with high taxes and obstructive and overbearing public sector trade unions.

Now, there is in theory a solution to this. What the left needs is to pay much greater attention to questions of ownership. It needs to break away from the post-war social democratic view that the evils of capitalism could be tempered by trades unions and state action alone. I mean this in four ways:
1. Some form of worker ownership would abolish the toxic class conflict that has bedevilled some (yes, public sector) industries such as Royal Mail or the tube.
2. Intelligent cuts in public spending can only be done through decentralization, because workers on the ground know better than Whitehall where the waste is.
3. The financial crisis was not (just) a market failure, but a failure of ownership. As John himself writes in Obliquity:

[Banks’ bosses] supposed they were in control of large financial institutions, when in reality the floors beneath them were occupied by a rabble of self-interested individuals determined to evade any controls on their own activities.

This means the Left should abandon its view that ownership structures are a question best left to the private sector.
4. In a globalized world, it’s difficult to redistribute income through the tax system, partly because taxes on profits are shifted onto wages. Giving workers ownership might, therefore, be a more feasible egalitarian strategy.
Leftist thinking should, then, pay more attention to issues of ownership.
And this is where Cameron’s disappointment is, in a sense, my disappointment too. His “big society” idea went down about as successfully as Nigel Farage’s plane. A big reason for this seems to have been that people just don’t want to take control of local services.
Which raises the disturbing possibility. Could it be that a possibly coherent theme for the Left – empowering workers – would be unpopular with voters because they don’t want the responsibility that comes with power?

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James A
James A
11 years ago
11 years ago

Having tried to set up a Mondragon style co-operative in the mid-nineties, and see it fail in part because of a massively ignorant professional ecosystem (yes this means accountants, lawyers and other such expensive ignoramuses) which was ignorant because de-mutualisation was at their most fashionable, fashionable in part because educational institutions had failed to continue to educate about other diverse commercial organisational possibilities, let alone research their potential.

It’s going to be an uphill battle because we’re starting from scratch. Even is we used “established forms” based on the principal of mutuality legislative ablation over the past 40 years of legal persons such as co-ops in taxation, credit and corporations law has created generations of factually ignorant people.

Such that when I went to our credit union of 15 years on behalf of the housing co-operative to organise a mortgage, they wanted us to pay their lawyer to tell them that a co-operative could borrow money. And even though originally credit unions and co-operative in Tasmania were based on the same legislation I didn’t ask them to pay our lawyer to tell us that their organisation could legally loann money out to us, we went with Bendigo and let the morons at mystate financial become einer kleiner bankchen (they’ve merge with Tasmania Perpetual to co-manage the state govie’s super and own 30% of Gunns Tasmania)(Losers).

If anyone wants to put me to work supporting such ideas I have some extensive experience that the current labour market is unable to to gainfully employ, and if paid, I’ll even try and be polite, if only in a professionally courteous way.

Also, I agree with what Sharryn Kasmir says in The Myth of Mondragon(1996), State University of New York Press.

Also Making Mondragon looks interesting too.

11 years ago

Do workers want to be empowered?

Clearly the teachers who are unhappy with the way NAPLAN test results are published on the MySchool website want more power. But we have a culture of teacher bashing. Do we trust the professionalism of a teacher who completed high school and university and teachers college to teach your troublesome youth when you don’t herd said brat to bed before 10pm and give them $5 to buy a Red Bull for breakfast. Parents who didn’t complete high school often don’t provide home environments conducive to study ie poor attitude to teachers and no provision of quiet space to study in. But it’s the teachers fault.

Worker bashing allows managers to pay themselves large bonuses as worker wages form a smaller slice of the pie.

I would like to get rid of the labour hire firms. Clearly there is money to made even in the provision of job agencies for disabled workers – see Therese Rein. The agency owners get rich and people are employed in the agencies but I doubt there are more jobs created

11 years ago

It’s funny that they complain about Royal Mail — I buy stuff from ebay all the time that, in terms of sticker price, is almost identical in the US and the UK (but strangely not Australia). However, I almost always get stuff from the UK because Royal mail is so much cheaper than any of the US postal services, so whatever its faults, at the consumer end it’s far better than some of its equivalents.

11 years ago

Billie, I think it may make a difference what kind of power you are talking about. If I understood correctly, which is a big if given the political chasm between stumbling and mumbling and me(!), the point of the post was the different kinds of power.

‘Old left’ power – unions, redistribution – are in a sense power without responsibility, or at least without direct tangible responsibility. That is the kind of power your teachers want – the power to do what they want, but not the responsibility of being punished or rewarded accordingly.

Of course in the long run you can’t evade responsibility, just ask Greece. But you sure can bury yourself deeply before it catches up with you… just ask Greece.

The power s&m is suggesting, that of ownership, is power with responsibility. Sure if you own the company you can make it double the salaries. But then as an owner you are directly responsible for the company’s subsequent demise. This may explain why the very worker-centric model in Germany has produced significant wage restraint.

11 years ago

Possibly we are heading off topic, but parents were disempowered some time ago, so if teachers are feeling a gaping space where someone should be covering their back, that’s probably because a lot of parents gave up ever expecting to have a say in their child’s education, and figure that the teachers (with all their certificates etc) wanted the job, so they can do the job.

Besides, a typical family has both parents working 8 hour days to pay to a mortgage, plus 2 hours per day travel time because the house they can afford is nowhere close to work. Why expect them to spend the handful of hours that they do see the kids, jumping up and down trying to discipline them? Bugger that, if Johnny wants to sit up and watch TV, then sit with dad and at least veg out together like some sort of family unit. Turn to the parliament channel and Johny can learn a useful skill such as spontaneous abuse hurling. Anything less would be un-bloody-Australian.