Tuesday, 9 November 2010

I'm not stupid, it isn't the economy

James Carville is credited, I believe, with getting Bill Clinton to the White House with the simple campaign  'It's the economy, stupid'. Mr Carville was/is a clever man with a brain a bit bigger than mine but I would like to think that his phrase, or his choice, has been used inappropriately for long enough. I may be stupid, but I don't think it was the economy.

Public pronouncements have a way of being hijacked by loud mouths. We probably all remember Cherie Blair suggesting it was possible to understand the motivation behind the mothers of Palestinian suicide bombers. Within hours the story ran that she was defending suicide bombers, a hopelessly inadequate assessment of a fair comment which should have led to a reasoned debate. Anyone suggesting it isn't all about the economy in public would survive for about five minutes as a serious politician so, thankfully, I'm neither a politician or a public figure. So let me explain myself.

My Liberal past, the one influenced by John Stuart Mill http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Stuart_Mill and William E Gladstone and a rag bag bunch of free thinkers, Galbraithian economists and talkative alcoholics led me to believe in the power of society. The seventy or so years we tread the earth should be as enjoyable as possible, the enjoyment derived from interaction within the society you inhabit and contact with the societies you reach out to or are touched by. I fear, though I'm not unbending in my belief, that social Capitalism may well be the best way to achieve this but my starting point was, and remains, that any economic or political structure should be aimed at supporting the ability of an individual to prosper without undue impact on the prospects of others.

On social Capitalism, I recently listened to an interesting debate (Start The Week) on Quaker Capitalism, the belief by founding fathers of major British companies that Capitalism wasn't just about making money, possibly very little to do with making money, but the more to do with the establishment of a welfare state. But I digress.

The economy, however it is driven, is vital in achieving the aims of me and my economic heroes but, and here is my point, it's what the economy does for you that is important. For some, this will be a house in Monaco, for others a desire to let go the restraints of the society that made them but for a goodly majority I think its the absence of fear, the confidence of security, the platform for life that motivates. If it's just about the economy, we could be China, India, we could perhaps go further and become the slave dealing states of ancient worlds or the Imperialist African hungry economies of early and pre-Victorian societies.

Without the means to realise goals we are doomed but without the ability to reach for them we are equally defeated. Like fire and water, the economy is a good servant but a poor master; if we base our future on achieving financial goals we dispense with the need for Government, we are lost. But if we plan for the best possible outcome for everyone we may take the economic decisions that restore our society to balance.

I don't think James Carville meant it was all about the economy to the exclusion of all else but I think many Tories do. I've always thought that. What worries me is that the Liberal party seem increasingly to be trapped into thinking that way, the way of social and economic Darwinists. It's the John Stuart Mill, stupid.

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