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"...public opinion deserves to be respected as well as despised" G.W.F. Hegel, 'Philosophy of Right'

social democracy: on the defensive « Previous | |Next »
May 11, 2011

An interesting article in The Guardian by Olaf Cramme and Patrick Diamond based on research for the annual Progressive Governance Conference on 12-13 May in Oslo. The conference theme is that social democratic parties appear to have lost the ideological, intellectual and organisational vitality which enabled them to leave such a strong imprint on the 20th century.


The context is the global financial crisis in which over 80 million jobs were lost worldwide and many cores of countries have emerged from the crisis with weakened financial systems and huge public debts. These nations may be condemned to slow growth and insufficient job creation for years to come. It's a crisis of global capitalism.

That might have been an opportunity for the centre-left, yet social democrats remain battle weary and defensive.The crisis of global capitalism has been redefined as a crisis of public debt and government deficits. It is the state – its size, role, and efficiency – that is now at the centre of political debate, not the inherent instability of markets and free, then the avenue to economic dynamism is to let capitalism be true to its atavistic, red-in-tooth-and-claw instincts. Capitalism is the survival of the fittest.

Cramme and Patrick Diamond say:

Today, voters are palpably frightened by the concentration of power in the market economy. This is mirrored by lack of faith that democratic politics can properly uphold the public interest. The unease is most visible in people's apprehensiveness about the dominance of large, multinational corporations. The overwhelming majority agree that large companies care only about profits and not about the wider community or the environment, but voters have a low estimation of government's ability to stand up to vested interests. Strikingly, most believe that who you know is usually more important for getting on in life than hard work and playing by the rules.

They add that if the moment of the global financial crisis has passed, then the centre-left must capitalise on its aftermath by framing a forward-looking agenda for shared prosperity.

This is what the Gillard ALP is failing to do: it is not framing a forward-looking agenda for shared prosperity. It is not showing how to make capitalism work best to meet the ambitions and needs of ordinary people eg.,

(1) They no longer talk about justice as fairness; that capitalism without fairness becomes toxic as it creates ever great inequality in income and wealth.

(2) They imply that that the poor largely deserve their plight because they could have chosen otherwise: they could work harder, save and show some initiative.

(3) They continue to subsidize the Big Miners with the Fuel Tax Credits scheme.

(4) there is little public investments in cleantech infrastructure to break our reliance on climate-changing fossil fuels.

(5) there is an increasing embrace of the 'no work, no rights' workfare model that originated in the United States and has spread to Australia and many other countries.

The appeal to Labor values in the Gillard Government's budget with respect to welfare to work reform disguises the underlying neo-liberalism that is pushing the vulnerable-- single mothers, those with a disability etc--into low paid insecure jobs without any opportunity for getting ahead.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 12:27 PM | | Comments (6)


Traditional social democracy, ie one that guaranteed certain collective goods and the egalitarian goal of redistributing wealth and power to maximise the quality of life and security of middle- and lower-income working people – in the context of a capitalist economy became doomed during the 1980s. It ended in 1996.

There has been a tentative embrace of the Third Way--an acceptance of the need to embrace markets and competition in economies that could not be planned, and where consumers of public services were demanding choice.

But people are not encouraged to criticize the behaviour of great corporations (Big MIners or the fossil fuel industry) or make this behaviour a matter for public debate, as this smacked of anti-capitalism and was hostile to private enterprise. Private business interests are off the agenda.

With the problem of corporate power sidelined the Third Way movement was limited to the debate over the quality of public services.

The Big Miners have too much power in Australian democracy. They are often able to determine a country’s fiscal, energy or regulatory policies by running campaigns against an elected government.

Their actions over an ETS and the tax on mining super profits show that they wield too much political power.

Well, "survival of the fittest" is such a vague term. What does it mean to be the "fittest" in todays world? Is it about having the wisdom to make the correct business decisions, or is it about the cunning to cultivate the best political connections?

Actually, I suspect that cultivating the best political connections IS a good business decision!

If "survival of the fittest" related entirely to managerial skills, the finance industry would be extinct.

As always, things will change when the HAVE TO. Just ask the people in Tahrir Square.

What does it mean to be the "fittest" in todays world?

The losers can go to hell. They do not need help. Dump the welfare state

Gillard Labor has undertaken welfare reform. This is not about bashing those on benefits but lifting them out of disadvantage and poverty--to prod and encourage people who have been marginalised in the economy to become full economic participants.

However, getting people off welfare into the workforce can be very difficult. It requires slots of resources such as training programmes to upskill people, so they have the capacity to do the work and operate in the workforce. Those skills include financial management, health management, intensive counselling etc.

Lack of access to good affordable education one thing that hold people back, since developing skills is critical.

Though the Gillard Government sells the National Broadband network as a nation-building exercise it said nothing about a raft of investments available to the government to enhance the NBN’s potential.

That means it hasn't developed any strategies for digital productivity. So the e rhetoric of developing knowledge-based industries is pretty empty.