02 September 2013

Guest Post: Social Democracy and the Next Settlement, by James Cone

Intro by Tim

I attended a public meeting organised by Generation Zero about New Zealand's lamentable record on greenhouse gas emissions, and the current Government's obsession with building motorways at the expense of all other transport option - which reminds me to say: please write a submission against the Government's proposed Basin Reserve flyover! (Submissions close Friday.)

At this event, James Cone asked a question which I thought was very interesting, but which it was hard for him to get across briefly. Talking to James afterwards, I suggested that the issue he raised might go better as a blog post - and here it is! See what you think.

Social Democracy and the Next Settlement 

Social democracy, the way the English-speaking countries were governed 
after World War II,  until the first peak oil in the 1970s, was a deal.
 Government authorised unions to bargain and strike, so workers got paid well, so they made things for manufacturers to sell, so manufacturers made a profit, so they could pay workers well.

To understand how deals like that work, it's probably worth-while to 
take a short side-trip into what 'because' means.  Aristotle 
recognised four kinds of cause.  A final cause is what something is 
for.  A formal cause is what plan it follows.  Efficient causes are 
the ones that we take for granted now, where the ankle-bone moves,
 because the hip bone is moving, and they are connected via the knee
bone.  Material cause took me a long time to understand; it is where 
an object, such as a table, is there because its outline is full of
 stuff, such as the wood that it's made of.

Social settlements have to satisfy needs for final causes (often
 expressed as people thinking they're fair), formal causes (the rules 
can be written) and efficient causes (the manufacturer, worker and 
customer in my example are all well-enough off).

That deal makes two assumptions: that having more stuff is good for 
people, and that there is no constraint on the raw materials and
 energy that go into making it.  The second is now definitely false,
and the first is being re-examined.

In the new conditions, I do not know what the next social settlement
 is, yet.  I think that I'll recognise it when I see it.  I'm looking
 for a plan where the children of beneficiaries and minimum-wage
 workers eat a diet with enough first-class protein and no unavoidable
 conspicuously harmful features, as a natural consequence of the way 
the rest of the political-economic world is organised.

Bio: James Cone

James is a 'lost', a magpie, and a cognitive barbarian.  So far, he 
has studied four years of Computer Science, had one career in
 computing, completed two thirds of a sociology degree, and now walks
 someone else's dogs (names removed to protect the guilty) on a 
voluntary basis.  He has been collecting small, shiny ideas since
 almost before he could talk.  Given a situation that resembles a
 Gordian Knot, he thinks that the right response is often to imagine a 
novel slice through it.  If you ask, he may talk to you about 
non-violence theory and wicked problems, but this will not make your
life simpler.

EDIT: My thanks to Colin James for drawing my attention to the role of economic theory; see for example page two of: http://www.colinjames.co.nz/speeches_briefings/Treasury_conference_comments_12Dec11.pdf


Helen McKinlay said...

I liked this Tim.The way it is written makes it sound believable...whatever I mean by that.
But it's like a prose poem.
This guy is a poet!

James said...

Hi Helen,

Thanks. People used to accuse me of poetry when I was asleep on my feed; interesting that I can now make sense at the same time.

James said...

Here's someone pitching a view of the next social settlement:


It seems to be small-holding, informed by soil science, biodynamic and biointensive approaches.

James said...

This is probably another formulation of the same problem, but possibly without an understanding of some of its roots: