In part 1 in this series, Colin Tudge reminded us that economic strategies worldwide take precious little account of the world’s real problems. He said politicians lack seriousness and often have a very limited agenda. In part 2 he develops the theme further and holds out the hope that things can improve.
In the recent autumn statement Chancellor Jeremy Hunt offered some sweeteners but continued to embrace economic neoliberalism. This is a philosophy which fails to recognise the importance of the natural world and is designed single-mindedly to maximise profit and bring about ‘growth’. It ignores the fact that indefinite growth is impossible in a finite world unless the economy is completely uncoupled from natural resource, and that is impossible.
Governments like ours fail to acknowledge too that the main economic problem in rich countries, and indeed in most of the world, is not lack of wealth per se but economic inequality. The neoliberal competition for more and more wealth in the global market is bound to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. That indeed is what’s happening. Hunt’s sweeteners are crumbs from the rich man’s table, and the government’s solution is to make the table bigger so that it can deliver more crumbs. And that, quite simply, is absurd.
In truth, when governments, corporates, financiers and their selected advisers hold what they pretend and possibly believe are serious talks on serious matters, they invariably bring two quite different and contradictory agendas to the table. To be fair, most are broadly cognisant of the problems they are discussing and really would like to solve them. After all, most of the delegates are not monsters, and they all live on this planet whether or not they – or the rest of us – like it. Many have children and are aware of something called ‘the future’ (albeit with a highly truncated view of what ‘the future’ is, or could be). Most of them must know, even if Donald Trump does not, that global warming is real, and could make nonsense of everything else we may aspire to do – and that global warming is not the world’s only problem.
Expensively and narrowly
But for the most part our trusted leaders are badly educated. Expensively educated, to be sure. Oxford is a much-favoured alma mater. But narrowly: typically with a solid grounding in neoliberal economics, though not in economic alternatives, or in anything much outside economics. The Covid Inquiry has revealed that the man in charge of Britain’s Covid strategy, Boris Johnson, educated in classics at Balliol, was hopelessly at sea in all matters vaguely scientific, which does seem a drawback when the problem in hand is primarily one of epidemiology. But that did not stop him imposing his will. Ideology trumps actuality every time. What the brain cannot easily grasp the makers of policy ignore.
To a man and woman, the people with most power tend to be conservative, meaning they are anxious to conserve the status quo. After all, if you’re perched at the top of the tree you don’t want the tree to be blown about. Politicians ill-versed in science and technology are wont to put their faith in the nostrums of Bill Gates et al just as Julius Caesar and Ronald Reagan put their faith in soothsayers (really!), and Vitalstatistix of Asterix fame relied on the advice and ministrations of the wizard Getafix, who cured all ills with mistletoe cut with a golden sickle. But as fully trained neoliberals our present leaders take it for granted that all human activity of whatever kind must be profitable, preferably maximally so, and anything that isn’t they deem to be ‘unrealistic’, the ramblings of hippies. So although radical solutions are obviously needed, any thoughts outside the mainstream are dismissed.
We can do better
Truly we need to do better than this. We need to ask fundamental questions, not merely asking what is most profitable in the short term, or what is most convenient for the people with most influence. We should ask what is really needed to make the world a better place, to secure better lives for humanity and our fellow creatures, not just until the next election or for a few more decades but for millennia to come. And to this end we need to get back to the bedrock principles of morality (compassion, humility, the sense of oneness) and the serious, eclectic science of ecology.
Neoliberal economics ignores both principles and clearly is not what we need, and winning the next election by whatever dubious means should not be our leaders’ priority. Truly we need the Renaissance, and it needs to be led and driven not by the present-day powers-that-be with their hype and their less-than-global one-day global “summits” but by us, people at large, or at least by those who really give a damn and want the world to be kinder and more secure.
Other relevant blogs on the website include:
Of HS2 and GMOs, 31 October 2023; The philosophy of technology, 7 June 2023; From story book to cloud cuckoo land one easy step, 1 June 2023; Who are the real friends of science? March 14 2023; GMOs: Seven obvious questions in search of straightforward answers, 28 December 2012.
Editor’s note: The views expressed are the author’s own
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