How important is Carillion?

Or the climate?

A few words first about the lesser evil.

The behaviour of the former CEO of Carillion is capitalism at its worst, but as long as economic growth remains the ‘obvious’ unquestioned norm, hands will be wrung, but governments which include ministers such as Chris Grayling will mostly be more popular with voters than other parties which worry about social justice – or saving the planet for the future. Neither Richard Howson nor Grayling seem likely to have so much as their knuckles rapped for their conduct in this affair.

A mind set change will deal with both issues. Most of you wIll not remember the war, as I do – the real war that is, not Iraq, or even the Falklands. The mind set circa 1945 was of having to pull together to defeat a common enemy. Inequality had been high before the war. I have vivid memories of my father retailing just how nasty a party the conservatives had been, but the war forced bitter political enemies to co-operate. Inequality fell after 1938, and due to a post-war consensus whilst Harold Macmillan was conservative leader, remained low, reaching a historic Gini coefficient of 0.24 in 1979. (0.0 – complete equality; 1.0 – 1 person earns everything).

During the Thatcher years, the Gini Coefficient rose sharply to 0.36 in 1991 (though this trend occurred throughout the English-speaking world, but not elsewhere in developed economies). It then rose slowly to 0 .363 until the 2008 recession, when it returned to 0.36, resuming a very slight rise since then.

Once the post-war consensus on social justice had been broken, Thatcher and then Blair capitalized successfully on the aspirations of a sufficiently large proportion of the electorate. Inequality, and scrounger-bashing became the ne norm.

This is the mind set we have to change. The likes of Carillion will not prompt governments to put humpty together again. That is merely the latest outrage. Neoliberalism is much too firmly entrenched.

But this week has seen a rather more serious news item.There is a common threat – to the ecosphere. The neoliberals are divided on this. Many, like Trump, actually believe the denialist propaganda, but others, notably Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Foreign Secretary of State, have switched sides. But they are still hamstrung by the Tragedy of the Commons. You will also find an explanation of this in the ‘Pages’ in this blog which mentions aspects often missed: briefly no one player in a globalized, competitive world can stop competing. The buccaneering strategies which for more than two centuries produced enormous wealth – as long as here was scope for growth – are now destroying the ecosphere – not just the climate, though that is the biggest threat, but ocean acidification, coral bleaching, over-fishing, habitat loss, desertification . . .

Yuval Noah Harari (Sapiens), points out that we humans are supremely co-operative. But the Tragedy explains how such an intelligent species can make such a ghastly mistake, and spends so much time and effort fighting.

Perhaps someone will think of a better idea than the unconditional basic (citizen’s) income, world wide, but until they do, it will allow whole societies to stop trashing the planet. Moderating the worst behaviour of capitalists will be one of its additional benefits.  Oddly enough, so-called ‘primitive’ tribes met the Tragedy, and proved intelligent enough to evolve sharing strategies which still left scope for individual enterprise. Neoliberals should approve. Come to think of it, Milton Friedman did.

The Basic Income will make the necessary mind set change (paradigm shift) possible. Unfortunately it is running into difficulties precisely because this mind set change has not yet happened. Its advocates are focussing on social justice. Fine, but

Meanwhile the planet’s habitability is in danger.

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